Paris with the Kids Part 1

When I was single in Paris (a period I wistfully refer to as Paris B.C. - Before Child), the city held daily promises of leisurely brunches, romantic dinners, and aimless wandering. An hour spent in a café reading a book? Perfectly possible - let me hop into the metro and head over to my favourite café. A new exhibit at the Grand Palais? Just let me get my coat. A quick drink with friends before heading out to dinner? Meet you in 30 minutes.

Paris A.C. (After Child) tilted my Parisian world a bit. The words 'availability' and 'spontaneity' suddenly disappeared from my vocabulary, and I found myself having to plan each weekend accordingly. And yet, despite the initial dread of having my familiar Parisian routine taken away from me, I discovered that Paris with kids makes you see the city from a different perspective, in a more creative, energetic and fun-filled way.

People travelling to Paris with children may find it a bit daunting at first; but parents, take it from me: there are a lot of activities that will keep your young ones amused here. And, believe it or not, you'll be thoroughly entertained as well. Paris is, after all, a city for all ages. So if you find yourself in Paris for a week, here are some activities and places you should consider fitting into your itinerary:

Jardin du Luxembourg

With or without kids, you're bound to visit this grand 23-hectare park when you are in Paris. The gravel and lawn garden offers a dramatic view of the Palais du Luxembourg, which was built in the 1620s to appease Marie de Medici's longing and desire for the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, where she grew up.

For the kids: The huge, octagonal Grand Bassin is always a hit for children, with toy sailboats that can be rented for a few euros. Afterwards, take in a puppet show at the Theatre des Marionnettes du Jardin du Luxembourg. Children will be happy to release all their pent-up energy on the playgrounds as well. Kids from 7 to 12 can head over to the green-coloured half, and those aged 7 and below should be in the blue-coloured half. Pony rides for the smaller ones are a hit too - two euros buys them a little loop around the park. The ride only lasts around 5-10 minutes, but the pictures you'll take of them sitting high and mighty on their ponies are priceless! The Jardin du Luxembourg also has the oldest carousel in Paris, dating back to 1879 and sketched by Charles Garnier, the architect of Paris' Opera house. It's a great piece of history that your child can partake in.

For the parents: Lounge in one of the park's signature green chairs, grab a drink or an ice cream cone from one of the many kiosks around the park, and spy on the Parisians.

Jardin des Tuileries

As it is with the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Jardin des Tuileries is a popular destination for Parisians and tourists alike, with its wide-open spaces being a great place to let off steam.

For the kids: If you missed the sailboats at the Jardin du Luxembourg, don't despair: toy sailboats are available here as well. Pony rides and playgrounds are also a staple in the gardens. There is also a trampoline park, which, judging from the long lines to get a ticket, seems very popular.

For the parents: Yes! There are chairs scattered around the Tuileries gardens as well, so it's a great place to rest your weary feet. A walk through these gardens make for a charming afternoon stroll, especially when you know they were designed by André Le Notre (who also created the Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte gardens). Also take note of the beautiful statues around the grounds.

Palais-Royal

A quaint place to spend quiet afternoons with kids, the Palais Royal is always an instant hit.

For the kids: While there are no playgrounds or ponies, the garden's southern side houses the Buren Columns. These controversial, black and white columns of uneven heights were created by Daniel Buren in 1986. It angered Parisians and sparked debate on issue of contemporary art in historical sites (anyone else thinking of the Pyramids of the Louvre?), but there is no denying that it is a wonderful place for kids to run around in. On summer days, kids in rollerblades and scooters shriek in delight as they navigate their way around the columns.

For the parents: Gaze at the world's oldest national theater, the Comédie Française, founded in 1680. Indulge in some window-shopping at the Galerie de Montpensier and the Galerie de Valois, where art galleries, designer shops, and jewellery stores can be found.

Jardin des Plantes


What was once Louis XIII's medicinal garden in 1626 is now Paris' botanical garden, loved by everyone for the vast number of activities ready to be tackled at any season.

For the kids: There is no shortage of things to see and do for kids here. For good weather, there is a medium-sized zoo which was established in 1794, and a stroll through the gardens will lead you to the charming Dodo Manège - animal carousel - whose rides feature extinct or nearly-extinct animals. Older children will appreciate the Musée National D'Histoire Naturelle - it gives you a tour of natural history across three buildings but is slightly old and in need of renovation. The Grande Galerie d'Evolution, in contrast, is newer and quite a crowd-pleaser, both for children and parents, with life-sized animals of all shapes and sizes dominating building's grand hall.

For the parents: Who wouldn't want to do all the activities the kids are doing? Botanical gardens are the best! Afterwards, take the exit at rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and cross the street to the Grande Mosquée de Paris, where you can enjoy a mint tea and some pastries at the mosque's beautiful terrace café.

Cité des Sciences at the Parc de la Villette

Are you a fan of large, sprawling spaces? The Parc de la Villette in the northern tip of the city is where you should head over to then. Housed on 55 hectares (35 hectares are outdoors), there is something to do for every age group here, but I'd like to focus on the Cité des Sciences.

For the kids: The Cité des Sciences is a haven for children. Apart from their permanent collections and temporary exhibits, it also has a special section called the Cité des Enfants: a veritable playground filled with hands-on activities, scientific experiments, mazes and even a waterworks workshop with running water and water guns (don't worry, they supply protective coats for children, but you better stand a bit further from the action). It is so popular that entrance is in shifts (4 times a day), and children can only spend 1.5 hours inside the area. They are also segregated by ages - an 2-7 group and a 5-12 group, so activities remain are age-focused and appropriate. There is a cut-off number per group, so buy your tickets online, and early.

For the parents: I've never met a parent who got bored at the Cité des Sciences.

Jardin d'Acclimatation

In the heart of Bois de Boulogne is Paris' first amusement park. Resembling an English-style garden and opened in 1860, this amusement park exudes a retro and nostalgic aura about it.

For the kids:There is a boat ride through a "jungle", carousels, bump cars and roller coasters, as well as the old-school 'toss the ring' or 'catch the duck' booths. Also further up is a little zoo, as well a huge sprinkler park for the hot summer months. The park is dotted with playgrounds for all ages. For a dramatic entrance into the park, take the "petit train" - an old school train that departs from Porte Maillot, cuts through the Bois de Boulogne and arrives at the entrance.

For the parents: Spread out on the grass, or lounge on the many park benches and enjoy the scenery of the park. There are also a number of restaurants scattered around the park. Try the roller coaster too.

Read the Part 2 of Spending a Week in Paris with Kids, where I'll talk about day trips and seeing Paris from different perspectives.

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