What could be more wonderful than Paris in the spring? People associate the city of light with haute couture, cuisine and culture but very seldom with high chairs. The truth is, Paris is a great place to go with children, and seeing it from a child’s point of view can make it even more enchanting.
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Paris with children:
1. The Bois de Boulogne just outside the 16th arrondissment is one of the oldest parks in France. This beautiful park is home to the Jardin de Bagatelle with its magnificent rose gardens, bridges, pools and cafes. As much as my daughters enjoy the rose garden, it does not compare to the peacocks strutting freely around the garden. The Bois de Boulogne also has a number of walking trails that loop around its two lakes, lac inférieur, which offers rowboat rentals, and lac supérieur that borders a racetrack.
2. At the northern end of the Bois de Boulogne is the children’s amusement park the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Opened in 1860, the park maintains its old-fashioned charm with pony rides, puppet shows, kid-sized rollercoasters and a carousel. Be sure to take a ride on “le Petit Train”, which starts from the Porte Maillot and takes you into the park. The hall of mirrors causes squeals and giggles as my daughters see themselves stretched extra long and thin or squashed into short and fat Tweedledee and Tweedledum look-a-likes. The labyrinth on the other hand, wielded cries of distress as they began to feel that the mirrored walls were closing in on them before finding the exit.
3. The Parc de la Villette is the largest park in Paris. There you will find fountains, sculptures and a canal offering boat rides. The Parc de la Villette also has a number of themed gardens, including the Garden of Mirrors with 28 free-standing mirrors, the Garden of Trellises with 8 terraces of climbing vines, the Garden of Dunes with its pedal windmills and the Garden of Movement, a play area with different kinds of moving equipment. During the summer months there’s a free open-air cinema and concerts.
4. The Parc de la Villette is also where you will find the children’s museum the Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie. My kids can spend hours experimenting and exploring the museum’s hands-on exhibitions. The complex’s concert hall, multimedia library and cultural center are also great ways to wile away the day. Located to the northeast of Paris, it’s a great day trip away from the usual tourist fare.
5. L’Orangerie is one of the smaller museums in Paris so parents will find that it’s manageable with children. The museum, with Monet’s Water Lilies on the top floor and rooms downstairs dedicated to Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir and Matisse, has enough famous art for parents to get their cultural fix, and is just big enough for young children to go through and enjoy before becoming restless.
6. Follow your art history lesson with recess in the Jardin des Tuileries. Kids can sail a toy boat, ride a pony or attend an occasional carnival set up in the garden. Or, if they are anything like my children, ignore all of the above and chase pigeons instead. Tuileries also has a number of sculptures in the garden, ensuring that parents are exposed to Paris culture as well.
7. I love the Champs-Élysées. Unless the weather is horrible, we skip the metro and take a leisurely stroll up the grand avenue, window shopping and people watching the entire time. A stop at Ladurée for macaroons gives the final Parisian touch.
8. Standing proud and tall at the top of the Champs-Elysee is the Arc de Triomphe. Climb 234 stairs to get the history of the monument presented inside on giant screens. The remaining 50 steps take you to the top of the arc and panoramic views of Paris and the 12 streets that lead to the arc. It’s also fun to see the busy roundabout where the arc stands from on high. I have no doubt that this scene has inspired a video game or two (Frogger, anyone?).
9. A trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Although we have braved the long lines and gone up the tower once or twice, the Eiffel Tower is just as enjoyable from the below. The girls freely run around the Champ de Mars or enjoy the street performers that populate the place du Trocadéro where you can get a great photo of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Outside of the Eiffel Tower is also the best place to score souvenirs. Rather than pay 5 euros a piece at the top of the tower, why not get 3 Eiffel Tower key chains for 1 euro from the street vendors in the plaza below the monument?
10. With the escalator that climbs the building through the plexi-glass tube, the pipes on the outside of the building and the colorful fountain in the plaza, where tourists and locals gather to watch the street performers, there is almost no need to go inside the Pompidou Centre. But then you’d miss the wonderful museum bookstore, cinema, library and oh yeah, the and museum itself with its excellent collection of modern art.