Carousel and Eiffel Tower, iStock.com/isaxar
The City of Light is variously described as a romantic gastro haven and a cultural paradise – rarely though as kid friendly. But as Ramsay Short discovers on a trip with his family, you’ve just got to know how to do it.
It’s true – Paris is crammed with grumpy locals for whom even the cutest child will be nothing more than a pest. But you can forgive this when you consider that on top of living in one of the most densely populated metropolises on Earth over 17m foreign visitors come to the city every year. What’s not true is the generally touted idea that that Paris isn’t a city for children. Plan your trip well and you’ll find a wealth of kid-friendly experiences that adults can enjoy too. And the October/November school half-term vacation is the perfect time to go.
First up – you’ll need a place to stay. There are a plethora of good hotels in the city, it’s Paris after all and from boutique to luxury, but in my experience travelling with children staying in your own apartment makes life so much easier. Two companies providing top-notch spaces to stay are Paris Made Perfect and Haven in Paris. Both have a number of fabulous and comfortable options in the city all well located for must-see Paris attractions as well as the lesser known places guaranteed to show your munchkins a good time.
Like the Musée en Herbe in the 1st arrondissement, a fantastic interactive museum designed to familiarise the young with art. There are workshops and specific events for children aged below and above five along with parents and plenty to learn. On our visit we saw clever optical and graphic abstract art from Victor Vasarely, my eight-year-old was challenged to answer questions and play with tactile exhibits, and my four-year-old ran around happily among brightly coloured posters and pictures. Until the end of November you can experience a wonderful exhibition here on Belgium’s favourite detective TinTin, great for the kids and great for us adults who grew up reading the comics. The children also loved the picturesque Rue Montorgueil nearby, with its shops and stalls offering a mouth-watering, typically Parisian display of fresh fruit and veg, cheeses and pastries that are perfect for snacks.
Even though it’s on a hill in Montmartre, the basilica of the Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris, is still a must-visit. The kids enjoyed the little funicular that takes you from the Place Saint-Pierre up to the edge of the church. We avoided entering the basilica – all the children wanted to do is run about – and instead walked around it to find the lovely Parc de la Turlure, a haven of quiet just metres from the crowds. Paris is full of these wonderful hidden ‘pocket parks’, many with functioning playground equipment. The Place des Vosges, on the border of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in the old Jewish quarter of the Marais, is a place where kids can build sandcastles surrounded by a pretty 17th- century housing project. It’s the city’s oldest and arguably most beautiful square, planned by Henri IV and where Victor Hugo lived – a nice aside to tell older children who may know Les Misérables.
Hanging out at the Place des Vosges, iStock.com/LembiBuchanan
The streets of Paris are in many ways works of art themselves, and exposing your little ones to as much of them as possible is a good thing. East of the Sacré-Cœur, where Rues Feutrier, Muller and Paul Albert meet, is one such beautiful spot – a crossroads in the middle of Montmartre but somehow cut off from the bustle of the city; you can even hear birds here. It’s worth pausing for ice- cream on the terrace of café Soleil de la Butte.
Your children may not want to traipse through a museum or art gallery at this point – and the 18th arrondissement is not known for them – but one that they might love is nearby. The Espace Dalí on Rue Poulbot is a stunning permanent exhibition of eye-opening Salvador Dalí sculptures, illustrations and art guaranteed to wow the kids with its hint of madness and the absurd.
Eating – never an easy thing with children – may prove to be your biggest challenge, but Parisian brasseries have suitable enough food as a rule. The celebrated Chartier on Rue de Faubourg Montmartre, back in the 9th arrondissement, is a good find, with professional if not overtly friendly service.
I’d also recommend Angelina in Rue de Rivoli, the gorgeous and popular salon de thé that serves the richest hot chocolate imaginable – nothing makes children happy in the Autumn like a good hot chocolate. And if you do hit the Eiffel Tower, and really if your children haven’t been you must take them, along with the views you can eat at Le Jules Verne on the second platform which is a just a lovely sky-high experience.
Of all the great galleries south of the Seine, my kids loved the Musée d’Orsay most. We arrive one day after a pretty walk along the left bank from the heart of the Latin Quarter. The Orsay, a former railway station turned museum in neo-classical style houses the largest collection of Impressionist, Symbolist, Fauvist and late Romantic art in the world dating from 1848-1914, and although your young ones may not realise, it’ll be Gauguin, van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Daumier, Renoir, Matisse, Cézanne and countless other big names they’ll be looking at. They’ll also love running around its immense main space under the arching, glass-roof dotted with sculptures of lions, demons, angels and even a polar bear.
For some real live animals and a chance to smell the flowers, a visit to the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement is always fun. The botanical gardens house a small, strangely compelling menagerie while the nearby Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle is chock-full of dinosaur bones.
Missing the Musée Rodin is not an option. Next to Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement, Rodin’s statues spill out into the surrounding garden, and the children love running about and touching them. Coffee and cake at its superb garden café will make everyone happy.
Then there’s the Cité des Enfants. You can easily lose a day in what is perhaps Paris’s best children’s museum next to the futuristic Parc de la Villette filled with imaginative play structures such as an enormous dragon slide, a bamboo maze and a garden of mirrors. You will have to drag them away from the museum space here filled huge space with many clever, well-planned, science-related activities for kids aged two to 12. Make sure to buy tickets in advance and arrive early – we didn’t and had to come back another day.
One final must do: a bateau-mouche cruise down the Seine. Yes it’s clichéd and yes it’s a touristy way to see Paris but one that is wonderfully so and is so much more fun with youngsters for whom boat rides are always magical. The glass-enclosed boats chug up and down the river and underneath its famous bridges giving you a close-up view of life along the quais of the Right and Left banks.
To say Paris is not a city for kids would be a lie. It is, and in a wonderfully historic, romantic and stylish way.