“You’re taking a trip to Paris with your children?” friends asked us with shock as we planned a trip with our daughter when she was three. “Why? Isn’t the City of Light meant for couples?”
Au contraire! Paris can be a wonderful destination with small children—so wonderful that we returned often as our daughter grew and we included a baby son into the mix. We certainly had to adjust to visiting as parents rather than as a couple, but finding things to do in Paris with kids brought a whole new side of the city to life. Kid-friendly Paris takes many forms, and can be a delight for parents as well.
General Tips for Visiting Paris with Kids
Approaching a trip to Paris requires adapting to the local lifestyle, but you’ll be rewarded for throwing your usual schedule out the window. And if you’re a regular visitor to Paris, there’s even more you can do to pave the path for successful trips with kids.
Don’t recreate your schedule on the local time zone.
We were coming from California, so we had nine formidable hours to overcome. Since it didn’t really matter that we got all the way on the local time, we instead embraced an amorphous time zone. We’d wake up around eleven, have a late breakfast, do a mid-afternoon activity, go back and rest for an hour or so, and then go out for the long evening when the summer skies are light until 10:30, the people watching is fantastic, it’s cooler, and Paris is somehow even more beautiful than it is during the day. This adjusted time-zone approach allowed us to eat with the locals, who often dine at eight or nine in the evening; hang out in outdoor cafes; and take long, memorable evening walks. The kids still got their normal amounts of sleep and we got to see Paris at its best … and not be as exhausted and jet lagged.
Stay at the same Paris hotel each time.
If you plan to return to Paris with kids, finding a hotel that you come back to again and again makes it feel more like home. We often stayed at the Hotel St. Germain des Pres, which was well-located so we could walk to most things. Best of all, though, was its warm and welcoming staff who remembered the kids year after year. We’ve stayed in rental apartments as well, which are handy for the kitchen and more space, but I loved the contact with the staff and the return to the same spot that gave our kids a sense of place and the confidence of knowing a small corner of Paris.
Kid-Friendly Paris: Food Tips
People go to Paris to eat, but figuring out how to navigate the world-famous food scene with kids can be daunting. Here are two ways to boost your chances of success while eating with kids in Paris.
Picnics are Paris’ kid-friendliest dining-out option.
We learned to travel with a picnic blanket tucked in our luggage and had picnics often, usually at dusk when most of Paris seemed to have the same idea. Some favorite spots were the beautiful Pont Des Arts footbridge over the Seine, and along the banks at the point of the Ile Saint-Louis. Dinner picnics in Paris are a relaxed and fun way to enjoy French food with zero restaurant pressure for kids. It’s also a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture—especially in summer, when groups of Parisians meet up for picnics and there’s abundant music and socializing. We had some memorable meals, the kids could run around and come by for bites, and we were in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Part of our afternoon adventures would be to find an array of cheeses, charcuterie, fruit, bread, chocolate or pastries, and of course, wine in the many specialty shops, getting our kids involved in the choices along the way. The added bonus is that when we’d return to these small bakeries or cheese stores a day or so later, the staff would often remember us and the children. The kids would ask questions and want to try new things, and would be greeted warmly.
It doesn’t hurt to pack some picnic essentials like a small cutting board, a picnic knife (be sure to put it in your checked luggage), melamine plates, and lightweight but unbreakable picnic glasses so you don’t need to worry about getting once you arrive, although any French grocery store is well-stocked with picnic necessities.
You can have a great time at restaurants with kids, if you plan it right.
The French have fairly high standards around children in restaurants—French kids are well-schooled in not misbehaving in restaurants—but we found that, with a bit of attention and prep, we could comfortably eat almost anywhere. It helps to dress up a bit, make a reservation, come on time, and have some activities for kids. And if the kids got antsy between between courses, one of us would take them out for a walk around the block and return in time for the next course—hardly a hardship in Paris.
It also helps if the kids are not picky eaters, which is the stereotype of American kids in particular. And being blessed with adventurous eaters almost guarantees you a warm welcome at restaurants in Paris. When she was three, our daughter decided that her favorite food was escargot, largely because of the copious amounts of butter and garlic. When she ordered a dozen in halting French and then eagerly consumed them all, she earned the admiration of the entire brasserie, both staff and patrons.
Things to Do in Paris with Kids
There are so many things to do in Paris with kids. Kid-friendly activities abound, and while you may have to adjust your pre-kid Paris dream itinerary, you’ll be rewarded by adventures that are fun for the whole family.
The three-part trick for making Paris museum visits fun for kids (and their adults)
When planning things to do in Paris, many people put Paris’ amazing museums at the top of their list. But museum visits can be a huge challenge with kids. If you’re willing to be flexible, though, you can boost your chances of the whole family having fun when visiting museums in Paris.
Get a Museum Pass: At larger museums, we found it best to get a museum pass and to not spend too many hours in a museum. Instead, we’d return more than once (easy enough to do with a pre-paid museum pass) and take in a small amount each time—a tactic that works for adults as well.
Make Each Museum Visit a Treasure Hunt: Take the kids to the museum bookshop at the beginning of the museum visit and let them pick out a few postcards of art they like, then turn the visit into a treasure hunt during which they search for the art on their postcards.
Choose Your Museums Wisely: Paris has museums dedicated to topics that might be closer to your children’s heart than, say, Mannerism at the Louvre. Our son loved swords, so we spent a morning at one of the best collections of armor and swords in the world, the Musee de l’Armee. He was three at the time and we let him take the lead in showing us around. He walked with a confidence and purpose I hadn’t seen in him before, like this was the first place he’d been in his life that truly made sense to him. It’s one of our favorite memories. Plus, lesser-known museums tend to be much less crowded than the Louvre.
Paris parks are a wonderland for kids.
Paris is a city of fantastic parks that are perfect for kids. We’ve spent hours at the Luxembourg Gardens which features a fountain where you can rent tiny sailboats to push out into the water, go on pony rides, watch puppet shows, and ride a tiny carousel on which kids can try to hook rings with small lances to practice their knight skills. Beyond that, there are hundreds of gardens in which to take a break and let the kids run around, although take care to respect off-limits areas like many carefully groomed grass lawns. To combine a museum visit and a picnic, try the Rodin Museum garden grounds. The Jardin des Plantes (literally the Garden of Plants) features a small zoo, and kids will find endless delights at the the Tuileries and Palais Royal parks. Bonus: most Paris parks feature little cafes where parents can relax enjoying a coffee and snack while the kids run around.
The metro is a kid-friendly Paris attraction, too.
The metro sounds like an odd attraction, but our kids found it pretty fascinating. And when they were slightly older, I taught them the basics of public transit navigation and let them help plan journeys and lead the way underground.
Paris’ summer festivals are great for families.
While they’re probably not happening this summer, post-COVID-19, the rich variety of summer festivals will hopefully be back. One very popular Paris summer festival is Paris Plage. Paris closes the expressway lining part of the Seine and turns it into a beach, complete with sand, bands, outdoor chairs, and food.
The Summer Solstice brings the Fete de la Musique, when bands and singers are out on every corner. It can get crowded, so you might want to consult with locals on where the best neighborhoods are for families.
On the night before Bastille Day in July, the local fire stations host balls called Bals des Pompiers, with dancing from around 9pm until the wee hours of the morning. It is very local, great fun, and exactly when you’ll be glad you didn’t try to get on local time so that you were in bed at ten.
We’ve had some of our most relaxed, pleasurable, and memorable family moments traveling with babies and kids in Paris. It is totally possible, and easy, to create your own family memories and treasured time in this magical city.