The French capital is a perfect place to take children of all ages – it has open spaces, museums, grand buildings and family-friendly attractions. Here is my choice of ten interesting things to do with children when in Paris.
On a sunny day, there are few places better to spend the afternoon with the family than the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement. In front of the stunning Luxembourg palace, home of the French Senate, there are formal lawns and gravel paths but the big attraction for kids is a large circular pond where you can hire sail boats by the half hour (€3), with each boat representing a different nation. The boats sail merrily across the pond with even the slightest of breezes and the kids love nothing better than running around. The Jardin du Luxembourg also has a great playground (small fee) with swings, climbing frames, a sand pit and an aerial runway. Next to it, you will find a puppet theatre; the shows are in French but they are enchanting for non-French speakers nonetheless.
Metro Notre Dame des Champs, RER Luxembourg
Each summer, the northern section of the Jardin de Tuileries, the park that stretches between the Louvre and place de la Concorde, gets taken over by a large and noisy funfair. There are more than 50 rides, ranging from classics such as dodgems, chair-o- plane and a Ferris wheel to water zorb balls and bungee trampolines. To keep the kids’ sugar levels right up, there are also plenty of stalls selling candy floss, crèpes, waffles and churros. Bring plenty of money though – it’s not cheap.
Paris’ science museum is great for inquisitive children, even if you don’t speak the lingo. The labels are generally in French but when it comes to practical demonstrations of science, you don’t really need to know what it says. There are plenty of buttons to press, levers to pull and cogs to turn with fascinating results. The life sciences section is particularly good – there are colonies of ants and spider-packed webs you can peer into, electric fish and the odd octopus to marvel at. Unlike in the UK, you have to pay to get in , Open from 9.30am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday and 10am to 7pm Sunday (adults €8, children 6 and over €6, under 6s free; planetarium €3 extra).
Metro Champs Elysees Clemenceau
Art galleries can be a daunting prospect for children but the Musee d’Orsay is a delight. It was opened in the mid-1980s in a restored Victorian railway station on the banks of the Seine and specialises in art from the period 1848 to 1914 – and the child-friendly Impressionism movement is a strong focus. Paintings here that might particularly appeal to children include Edward Degas’ Ballet Rehearsal, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone, Pierre Bonnard’s White Cat and Edouard Manet’s On The Beach. But it would be a shame to only look at paintings on a visit here; there is a rich collection of sculpture including several by Rodin. It is open from 9.30am to 6pm every day except Monday with late opening on Thursdays. Children under 18 get in free; adults €9.
Metro Solférino, RER Musée d’Orsay
Gustav Eiffel’s splendid construction for the 1889 World’s Fair is the enduring image of Paris and many young visitors want to climb it to get a view of the city from above. If you value your sanity, book online in advance of your visit to avoid the ticket office queues. Ticket prices are here – it is cheaper to go up the stairs but probably too much for young ones.
Going up to the very top costs €6 more per person than going to the second floor viewing platform; views are fine from the lower vantage point though.
The tower also produces a booklet for children aged from 6 to 10 guided by a young boy Gus with a quiz, riddles and mazes. The tower is open from 9am to midnight in summer and 9.30am to 11pm the rest of the year. Unlike some other attractions, it is open on Mondays.
Visiting the Eiffel Tower doesn’t have to cost anything either – just seeing it from a distance or standing underneath and looking up is enough to satisfy many kids.
Metro Bir-Hakeim, Trocadéro, RER Champs de Mars-Tour Eiffel
From the beginning of the school holidays in summer for around four weeks, the roads running alongside the Seine are transformed from traffic-choked arteries to fun-filled stretches of beach. The main section is the three kilometres from Louvre to Pont de Sully where the road is taken over by sandy beaches and boardwalks and you can find deckchairs and free attractions such as crazy golf, rollerblading, climbing walls and boules as well as refreshment stalls. A watersports complex around Bassin de la Villette joined the beach party in 2007 and stretches from Rotonde de Ledoux to the former Magasins Généraux (in Rue de Crimée); here you can kayak and hire out pedalos and rowing boats.
Metro Louvre-Rivoli , Pont-Neuf, Châtelet, Hôtel-de-Ville , Saint-Paul , Pont-Marie Sully-Morland.RER: Châtelet-les-Halles (main section)
Metro Jaurès, Crimée, Laumière (Bassin de la Villette)
The title of this attraction is in honour of my mum’s favourite joke whenever we passed by a cemetery on our travels when I was a kid. I still think it’s funny, honest Mum.
Visiting a cemetery may sound like a morbid activity but Paris’ cemeteries are not just any old burial grounds – they are full of grand tombs and statues as well as the final resting places of many famous people they may have heard of. The three main cemeteries are Père-Lachaise (in the east), Montmartre (in the north) and Montparnasse (in the south) and all are worth a visit if you are in the area. Entrance is free of charge (as you might expect). The biggest, Père-Lachaise, is visited by more than a million people every year and opens from between 8am and 9am depending on the day and closes at 6pm. Go here for information on what to find at the cemetery.
Metro Philippe Auguste (Père-Lachaise); Edgar Quinet, Raspail (Montparnasse); Blanche, Place de Clichy (Montmartre)
The Louvre has the wow factor for young visitors to Paris. It sits in a grand palatial building on the edge of the Seine, there is I M Pei’s glass pyramid entrance hall and, of course, the vast collection that includes some of the world’s best known works of art. Many visitors here will make a beeline for the most famous of these – Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It is displayed on the first floor of the Denon wing in room 6 and is always surrounded by a crowd; resourceful younger children can of course push their way to the front and grab that all-important photograph from the front without anyone blocking the view. Other big draws are the armless statue of the Venus de Milo (ground floor, Sully wing, Parthenon room), the monumental human-headed winged bulls in the Richelieu wing and Louis XV’s 140-carat Regent diamond in the Department of Decorative Arts. Open every day except Tuesdays. Entry free for children under 18, adults €12.
Metro Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre
Think Paris and you think fashion and the clothes shopping here is a real attraction, particularly if you have teenage daughters. You could, of course, take your teens around the shops yourself but wouldn’t you rather let a local take them to all of the best places in the city. Viator sells tours organised by English-speaking locals that take in the places that Parisian teens go. At around £85 for a three-hour tour (not including any purchases) it is not cheap but could be the ideal birthday treat for your teen and their BFF.
The Bois de Boulogne, on the western edge of the city, is one of Paris’ great open spaces. The biggest attraction for kids is the Jardin d’Acclimatation at its northern end. The park covers an area of about 30 football pitches and contains a wealth of different things for kids to do. There is a farm with llamas and donkeys, remote-control boats, an aviary, pony and camel rides at certain times of the week and an enchanted river on which small boats take a five-minute loop around the park. The Dragon rollercoaster is well worth a spin. You pay a small fee to get into the park and then buy individual tickets or books to go on each attraction. Open every day from 10am until 7pm in summer and until 6pm in winter.
Metro Les Sablons