Paris en Famille
Judging from the number of couples holding hands and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes as they walk along the Seine, past the Eiffel Tower, one is convinced that Paris remains a premier honeymoon destination. Practically speaking, the honeymoon is a newlywed couple’s vacation taken 1) when they have a rare, extended amount of time off work; 2) as a reward for tireless wedding planning; and 3) perhaps most important, because it may be the last time they travel without children in tow! But, traveling with kids in Paris can actually make the city come alive in a different and equally enjoyable way.
Fortunately for those who missed Paris in their child-free days, the world’s most beautiful city can be easily enjoyed by Francophile parents WITH their children. Visiting adults can appreciate Paris’s glorious history and rich culture while children experience the delightful pleasures of French childhood. The French expect their children to partake in adult activities, therefore most of Paris’s attractions consider a young audience. The visitor to Paris is likely to be reminded that children and adults profit equally, albeit differently, from cultural excursions. Upon some reflection, this makes sense, because the French way of life cultivates the well-being of the person, regardless of age.
Here are three starter items for a child-friendly Paris itinerary:
Eiffel Tower/Champ de Mars
See the Eiffel Tower from above or below; maybe lunch at 58 Tour Eiffel, the restaurant at the first floor of the tower (great views!), or bring a lunch and picnic on the grass. Then head toward the Ecole Militaire for a large, modern playground and some special, typical Parisian amusements: pony rides, go-karts, merry-go-rounds (manѐges) and, of course, crêpes! At 4 p.m. take the children to see Guignol. This Punch and Judy–style puppet show is a gem known and loved by children throughout France. Be sure to bring a little snack (goûter) for intermission. It seems to be a sacred ritual for French children to rip into a little cake or pastry as soon as the curtain goes down for intermission.
Exhibitions at the Musée du Louvre/Musée des arts décoratifs
Adults and children are awed by I. M. Pei’s glass pyramids in front of the Louvre, a good introduction to the potentially overwhelming museum. Since there are often long lines, it’s best to buy tickets in advance. Bonus tip: adults with a child in a stroller have the right to advance to the front of any museum line in France. This is one example of the remarkable respect that the French have for family life. Also, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
Before visiting, it is also useful to consult the Louvre’s website to register for any convenient ateliers adultes et enfants (family workshops) for an in-depth experience. Another engaging activity for children that allows for adult viewing of the art is to buy some postcards at the museum store and take the kids on a hunt to find the featured works. For older children, the hunt can include identifying the names of artists. If energy levels allow for it, include a visit to an exhibition created for children at the Musée des arts décoratifs, a separate but connected museum where there is usually a small show about toys. There is currently an exhibition about Babar the Elephant, on view until September 2, 2012. Finally, finish the day with some fresh air at the Jardin des Tuileries, across from the museum, where there are more playgrounds, a manѐge and wonderful outdoor terraces selling much-needed café!
It’s considered the most beautiful avenue in the world, and a visitor to Paris is almost obliged to walk this busy commercial street now occupied with American chain stores like Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch, as well as McDonald’s (called “MacDough” by the French) and Britain’s Marks and Spencer. More exciting for the American traveler may be a visit to the French car showrooms of Peugeot or Citroën (certainly for the young boy), as well as the marvelous patisserie Ladurée, where one can share Marie Antoinette’s decadent pleasure in the macaron. After a recent fire, Ladurée’s renowned tearoom is temporarily closed, but the whole family will still be impressed by the beautiful colors and flavors of these delicious almond and buttermilk treats, skillfully displayed to be chosen for a takeaway treat in a precious pastel box. The stroll down Paris’s former royal promenade concludes with Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe, where one can brave the 284 stairs to the top, or take the elevator, for a view of Paris and the mesmerizing traffic around the busy Etoile rotary.
There are countless other ways to fill your days in Paris en famille. Picnic in one of the impressive flower-filled parks, with samples from any Parisian bakery (boulangerie) or specialty, prepared-foods store (traiteur), such as Gérard Mulot near the Jardin du Luxembourg. Explore historic or upcoming neighborhoods like the Marais or Canal St.-Martin (between Gare du Nord and République in the 10th Arrondissement), respectively, while stopping at quintessential cafés and interesting playgrounds, where one can hear the French language beyond that used in the tourist industry. Or Parisian-loving parents could simply seek out a private bilingual workshop like Atelier for Kids to stimulate the children’s creativity, while the grown-ups take a moment alone to rekindle romance in la Ville Lumière.
Atelier for Kids
Editor’s note: One great way to save when touring Paris en famille is to subscribe to our travel club membership program.