Updated May, 2015
The 15 Best Things To Do with Kids in Paris
- Tip: Buy tickets in advance for the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Versailles, and Musée d’Orsay.
Reviews • How to get up the Eiffel Tower (photos & info) • Opening Times
Kids love the Eiffel Tower. Your biggest decision will be whether to take the stairs or the elevator. I prefer the stairs as the lines are shorter, the price is cheaper, and you get a better sense of the structure of the tower. The stairs are wide which allows faster visitors to pass resting families easily. The stairs will only take you to the 2nd level however. To get to the 3rd level (the top) you can take the elevator all the way up or stairs to the 2nd level and from there an elevator to the top. The queue for the elevator on the 2nd level is shorter than on the ground floor but can still take up to 45 minutes. You can only buy tickets in advance for the elevator (not the stairs) and you can purchase them up to 3 months in advance. The website will often show tickets are sold out but if you keep trying back you might get lucky as additional tickets are often released right up to the day before. If you can’t get advanced tickets consider visiting at night as lines are shorter. If possible visit on a clear day – and yet there is nothing more mysterious than seeing the tower disappear in the low misty clouds in winter. You can see as far as Chartes cathedral 80km away. It is also very windy up there and cold, so be prepared. Visiting at the end of your Paris visit can also be a good idea as kids will recognize different sites from around the city. There aren’t many shops near the Eiffel Tower so if you want to picnic on the grass around the tower then buy supplies before arriving. In winter there is an ice skating rink on the first floor. There are two restaurants both family friendly but they need to be booked well in advance on the website. There’s a small playground and carousel at the south end of the Champ-de-Mars. The best view of the Eiffel Tower is from across the Seine at the Trocadéro. Closest Métro to the Eiffel Tower: Bir Hakeim or Trocadéro.
Reviews • Open daily, 7am to 1 hour before sunset.
A beautiful park with a great playground, a fountain pond for sailing small wooden boats, a marionette theater (puppet shows at 2:30, 3:30, and 4:30 in summer), an old fashioned carousel (designed by Charles Garnier, who also built the Opéra), and many statue-lined paths to explore. Beware that the costs can quickly mount here as most attractions have a fee – even the playground. A visit here will show how much you can miss about a city if you don’t have kids. This is the place to discover just what it is like to have a privileged Parisian childhood. The park with its old men playing chess under the trees has been cloned across the Francophone world, so it may seem strangely familiar even to first time visitors. Ernest Hemmingway was a hard up parent and used to push his son around the park in his pram. When the policeman wasn’t looking, he would quickly lure a pigeon over with some grains, strangle it, and take it home to cook. Nearby Rue Vavin has some extremely stylish childrens’ shops and it is a short walk to the Tour de Montparnasse which offers amazing views across Paris. The streets around Marché Edgar Quinet is the place to eat crêpes. Open daily: 07.00-dusk, winter 08.00-dusk; Métro: Odéon
3. Jardin des Plantes and Natural History Museum
Reviews • Gardens: Open Daily 07.30-20.00 summer, 08.00-17.30 winter. Museum: Open Daily 10am to 6pm, closed Tuesday.
This park in the east of central Paris was laid out in 1626 as a medicinal garden. In the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, The Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (pictured above) depicts a wide range of animals and highlights the diversity and evolution of life. The museum has a lot to see (my kids loved the butterfly display) and can easily fill 3 or 4 hours. The nearby Galeries de Paléontologie et d’Antatomie has a fascinating old fashioned collection of skeletons. Also in the park is the Ménagerie – the oldest public zoo in the world. It opened in 1793, when after the Revolution the last surviving animals from the King’s private zoo at Versailles were brought here. The third giraffe ever to set foot in Europe moved here in 1826. It is small and intimate zoo, classically Parisian in feel, and small children love it, even if it does not have the big safari animals. Madeline roared at a lion here in the children’s classic by Ludwig Bemelmans. When you’re done with the park head for Rue Mouffetard. It’s a cobbled street that was once a Roman road. Mouths will water at the tasty array of cakes, cheeses, and ice cream shops and there are plenty of cafes to relax in. The Mosquée de Paris opposite the Natural History Museum has an oriental café where you can taste the North African influence on France.
Reviews • Open daily 10am to 5pm, closed Monday. Last entrance 4pm.
Under Paris there is a rabbit warren of tunnels and caves. If you sliced through the limestone rock below the city it would look like a gruyère cheese. At one point there were dozens of mushroom farms below ground and there are still tons of gold bars stacked under the Banque de France. In the tunnels known as Les Catacombes are the skeletons of six million Parisians.This is a great attraction for understanding the history of Paris. In the late 18th century the cemeteries were a breeding ground for disease and illness. The graves were emptied and the bodies stored underneath the city in the Catacombs. There are 6 million skulls and skeletons – victims of the plague, the French Revolution and the guillotine. Among the bodies were the revolutionaries Danton and Robespierre and the fairy-tale storytellers Jean de la Fontaine and Charles Perrault. The bones are laid out in spooky patterns and a spiral staircase leads down to this strange underworld. It isn’t as ghoulish as it sounds and most kids are not scared by the sight. My big warning here is the wait which can be anywhere from 1 hour to 4 so get here early and have some snacks. (There is a McDonalds and a grocery store nearby if the kids are hungry – one parent can stay in line). It’s most busy on rainy days. Kids get as much of a kick taking a look at the stinky sewers, Les Egouts. They were the star of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and the cartoon Ratauoille (2007). They were laid out by Baron Haussmann when he rebuilt the city in the 1850s. The sewers run parallel to the streets above in a strange underworld. Tours are conducted on foot and occur in Quai d’Orsay area. Closest Métro to Les Catacombes: Denfert-Rochereau. Closest Métro to Les Egouts: Alma Marceau.
Reviews • Open 8am to 6:45pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 7:15 Saturday and Sunday
A marvelously impressive building. It’s easy to spend a few hours walking in and around the church looking at the gargoyles, art work, gothic architecture, and intricate facade featuring biblical characters. Over 800 years old, this Gothic masterpiece sits on top of a Roman temple. During the Revolution it was used as a stable, in 1804 Napoleon crowned himself here and during the mass to celebrate the 1944 Liberation shots rang out. Start your tour of Paris here (it forms the core for much of Paris history) and get the most from the visit by watching Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) to give the kids a real feel for Paris in the Middle Ages. Point out the easily recognizable carvings of Biblical characters on the façade and the chancel screen that runs round the centre of the church telling the story of Jesus in a medieval style-cartoon strip. It’s a working cathedral so the kids need to show respect, but as it’s free you can just pop in for a few minutes, and then climb the towers to get a close look at the gargoyles and explore Quasimodo’s world. Don’t miss the Crypte Archéologique at the entrance on the square in front of Notre Dame. Here you can see the remains of the Paris that Asterix would recognize – the Roman city of Lutetia. There is a pretty playground behind the cathedral with fabulous views across the Seine. In winter go skating in front of the nearby Hotel de Ville and in summer enjoy the fun at Paris-Plages when the main road on the Right Bank is turned into a beach. Eat ice cream at Berthillon (closed August) or croissants at Boulangerie St Martin across the street. Closest Métro to Notre Dame: Cité.
Reviews • Open daily 11am to 10pm, closed Tuesday
The Pompidou Centre is a building turned inside out. Its pipes and escalators are on the outside. Water pipes are green, air-conditioning ducts are blue, and electricity cables yellow. The building is named after Georges Pompidou, who was President of France 1969-74. He loved all things modern and this quirky building designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano is his legacy along with the motorway that thunders along the Right Bank. Take the escalators to the roof for beautiful views across Paris. Inside is a fabulous modern art gallery. Best for children is the permanent exhibition of art from 1905-60. It contains work by Chagall who drew illustrations for the fables by Jean de la Fontaine. You can buy the book in the bookshop which has a great selection of children’s books. Besides the highbrow, there is the interactive Galarie des Enfants, aimed at kids, and a junior’s cinema that sometimes shows films in English. Kids love the street theatre in the square in front of the Pompidou Centre. It’s pedestrianized area and perfect for kids to let off steam. Good kid-friendly cafes are by the adjacent Stravinsky Fountain with its enchanting mechanical sculptures.
7. Sacre Coeur
Reviews • Open daily 6am to 10:30pm
Perched on the top of Montmartre hill with incredible views of Paris from both the 423 foot high dome and the steps in front of the basilica. The surrounding neighborhood features a collection of charming streets, shops, and restaurants. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon exploring the area. There’s a funicular tram to take you up to the Sacre Coeur if the steps are too much. Parisians have mixed feelings about the sparkly white basilica of Sacre Coeur. It was built to celebrate the end of the Paris Commune in 1871, which was born and brought down in Montmartre. As a result it is a highly conservative building with some very nationalistic symbols. Look for Joan of Arc and King Louis IX on the front. You can climb to the top of the dome but the view from the hilltop is splendid enough. Be aware that there is a continual mass inside the cathedral and silence is the rule. The gardens in front have a beautiful old carrousel at the bottom. There is also a lovely little park behind Sacre Coeur. This is a beautiful spot for a family evening stroll when the crowds have gone home and Sacre Coeur is lit by the moonlight. The haunt of some of the greatest artists Place du Tertre is now a tourist knickknack heaven (and a short walk from the basilica), so ideal for kids who love key rings and fridge magnets. Older kids will enjoy the Espace Dali that has an interesting collection of works by the surrealist Salvador Dali. On Rue St Vincent you can see the Montmartre vineyard (the harvest celebrations take place in autumn). Away from the crowds, cool off in Square Suzzane Buisson on Rue Giradon. A statue of Saint Denis who was martyred here and gave the area its name sits in the centre of the square. Walk back down Rue Lepic, which has two of the many windmills that once dotted the hill and lots of interesting shops and cafes. It takes you to Métro Abesses, the deepest in the city.
8. Army Museum
Reviews • Open daily 10am to 6pm from April 1 to October 31. 10am to 5pm from November 1 to March 31.
Housed in the main building of the Hôtel des Invalides (built by Louis XIV to house injured soldiers) the Musee de l’Armee has an incredible collection of military weapons. Napolean’s tomb sits in Eglise du Dôme at the center of the huge complex. This is one of the best military museums in the world.
Reviews • Open daily 10am to 11pm from April 1 to September 30. 10am to 10:30pm from October 1 to March 31.
Wonderful views both day and evening of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, and the rest of the boulevards that radiate out from the arch. Lots of steps up a tight winding staircase to get to the terrace on top (there is no elevator). Napoleon celebrated his victory over the Russians and the Austrians at Austerlitz in 1805 by building this triumphal arch. When it was built it was in the fields on the edge of Paris. Since then occupying and liberating troops have marched under it and the July 14 military parade takes place here. First climb the stairs to see the view. The best time to visit is just before sunset as the arch sits in the middle of an axis that runs from the Louvre to the modern arch at La Défense, which is due west. Then admire the arch itself. Point out Napoleon in his emperor’s clothes on the left base. The shields on the top are engraved with his victories and inside are the names of his generals – those who were killed are underlined. The frieze on the northern side shows his troops breaking the ice in the frozen lakes so thousands of their enemies would drown. The tomb of the unknown soldier lies underneath. It contains one of the 1.5m Frenchmen who died in WW1. The eternal flame is relit in a small ceremony at 6.30pm every day. Time to refuel – then head for the belle époque teashop Ladurée, 75 Champs-Elysées, which serves the best macaroons in the city. After have a runabout in the Jardins des Champs Elysées and take a stroll across the city’s most beautiful bridge the Pont Alexandre III. It stars the cartoon Anastasia (1997).
10. Cite des Enfants and Cite des Sciences
Cite des Enfants reviews • Cite des Sciences reviews • Great hands-on fun at Cite des Enfants. There are 2 sections: one for 2 to 7 year olds and one for 5 to 12 year olds. Your ticket is good for 90 minutes and you can do both separately. It’s highly recommended to buy tickets online in advance. The Cite des Sciences is for older kids and adults, is largely in french with english audio guide available, and also has a planetarium. Open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 7pm Sunday, closed Tuesday.
Reviews • Facebook page • Open 10am to 11pm, Monday to Friday, 11am to 11pm Saturday and Sunday.
My favorite bookstore in Paris. It’s an amazing and enchanting shop that is larger than it looks from the outside and just across from the Notre Dame. There are childrens’ readings mixed among the regular stream of literary events.
Reviews • Facebook page • Open 12pm to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm Sunday, closed Monday.
A wonderful museum that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. You really do need to be a music lover who plays an instrument to fully appreciate it but if so you’ll love it. Great exhibits on instruments, composition, and the history of music. The audio guide is great and comes in english.
13. Louvre Museum
Reviews • Open from 9am to 6pm on Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. 9am to 9:45pm on Wednesday and Friday. Closed on Tuesdays.
The biggest challenge here is limiting yourself and having a plan. It would take weeks to see everything. Pick out 1 or a few paintings in advance, learn their history, discuss them with your kids, and then seek them out when you’re there. (The Raft of the Medusa is my favorite in the Louvre and is based on an incredible tale about a shipwreck that will leave any kid enthralled.) Buying post cards of intriguing art works beforehand and then searching for them is also a fun game. Kids love that the audio guides are on a Nintendo 3DS (which you can buy in advance and use to plan your visit). There are Visitor Trails based on particular themes that you can print in advance and will guide you about the museum searching for different art works. The building itself is incredible and worth time to explore and learn its history (Six things you may not know about the Louvre.)
14. Street Performers
Performers are found everywhere around Paris. On the Champs-Élysées, near the Notre Dame, in the subway. Don’t be shy about hanging out and watching.
Reviews • Open 9am to 6:30pm from April 1 to October 31. 9am to 5:30 from November 1 to March 31. Closed Monday and public holidays.
Last but not least, this is the big day trip outside of Paris (30 minutes by train and then a 10 minute walk from Versailles Rive Gauche train station to the palace). Versailles is an awesome combination of superb palace and stunning gardens. In 1661 Louis XIV decided to build Europe’s largest palace. It tells you a lot about his megalomania but also his weakness. As a child he had almost lost his throne in a noble uprising and Versailles was not only a palace but a virtual prison for the nobility, who were requested to spend large tracks of the year here so Louis could keep an eye on them. Up to 6000 people lived here! Versailles is a great day trip with kids as there is so much variety of what you can see and do. The gardens are vast, so try to visit on a fine day. Buy tickets online and avoid Tuesdays and Saturdays when Versailles is busiest (the website has an updated chart on what days will be busy and quiet). For a real treat book tickets for the sound and light and firework shows. The palace shop sells a very useful guide My Little Versailles. The key thing you need to know as a parent is that Louis regarded himself as the Sun King. Point out the sun motifs to the kids and the fact that he had his bedroom in the centre of the palace directly under the axis of the sun to drive home the point that he was the centre of the world. This was also the home of his grandson Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and where the mob stormed the palace in 1789 forcing them to return to Paris. Many of the rooms won’t be of much interest to children, so head quickly for the King’s Bedroom, where he was woken by a troupe of courtiers who washed and dressed him. Then on to the Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WWI, and the five year old King Louis XIV forced his minister to lie down on the floor for a game. Next it’s into the Queen’s Bedroom where courtiers watched her give birth. Now it’s out to the gardens. They were just as important to Louis XIV and he hired Andre Le Nôtre to drain the marshland and flatten the landscape. Louis held fabulous boating displays on the Grand Canal and had his own orangery. There are two mini-palaces where the royals escaped the pressure of life, The Grand and the Petit Trianon. Kids will love the Hammeau de la Reine, the pretend farm where Marie-Antoinette played at being a farmer’s wife but had a ballroom disguised as a barn. It is 20 minutes on foot from the palace but you can catch the mini-train, hire a bike or an electric car. If you want to buy a picnic, go first to the bakery Maison Guinon, that opened in 1802. There are also good restaurants on the grounds. If you have time it is well worth staying a night in Versailles at the Trianon Palace. It is a great child friendly hotel. The Sunday brunch is popular with local families and something the kids will not forget. It is especially good at Christmas, when Santa comes to call. Making a weekend of it will also give you time to see the an equestrian show in the former stables, pop in to the tennis court, the Salle de Jeu de Paume, where the revolution was sparked, and visit the Potager du Roi, where exotic vegetables and fruits from France’s colonies were grown. Final note on getting around: Palace Gardens are stroller friendly but strollers can’t go into the palace rooms. Be prepared for lots of walking. Bike rentals are available from both near the train station and inside the palace complex. There are row boat rentals at the garden’s Grand Canal.
How To Get Around Paris with Kids
The bus, the Metro, and the RER (suburban rail) are how tourists get themselves around Paris.
Map of the Paris bus and Metro.
The bus is the most scenic and easiest to board. The Metro and RER can require a surprising amount of walking (both getting to and getting through the station) and a large number of steps.
The same tickets are used for buses (in zone 1 and 2), the Metro, and the RER (in zone 1) – these zones include most of the major tourist attractions but not Disneyland. Tickets are good for 90 minutes with no limit on the number of transfers. But a single ticket can not be used for both bus and train. Buses are boarded at the front and tickets are validated by inserting them in a small machine. To enter a Metro or RER station tickets are scanned as you path through the turnstile. Entering with children under 4 can sometimes be tricky as there is no special entrance for families. You’ll sometimes have to catch the eye of the person working the ticket booth and get them to buzz you through.
Tickets for destinations outside of Paris are purchased as individual RER trips (e.g. Versailles).
Kids 3 and under do not require a ticket; ages 4 to 9 require a child ticket; and 10 and over require an adult ticket. Tickets can be bought as a pack of 10 (a carnet).
Best Places for Desserts & Treats in Paris
- Amorino (gelato)
- Berthillon (gelato)
- Angelina (hot chocolate)
- Laudrée (macarons)
- Pierre Hermé (macarons)