Friday, August 14, 2015

Fun Things To Do With Children In Paris

There’s no disputing that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Paris, however, is not known for being the most child-friendly city – or people friendly for that matter.  

Therefore, as soon as my husband and I booked our trip to Paris and planned to do a road trip to Provence, I started to feel some reservations about taking our 7-year old to the city that is known more for its aesthetic beauty, culture and romance rather than joyous atmosphere. 

Then again, even for grown ups, visiting Paris can be daunting, and as breathtaking as the city may be, dealing with the locals can be about as pleasant as the trip to the dentist office – actually, our dentist is much nicer than the surly Parisian waiters. 

Regardless, after being away from Paris for almost a decade, I knew it was time for me to go back and introduce our son to the city of light.

We started to prepare him for the trip and generated some excitement.  We told him all about the food – oh, the food!  The delectable pastries that were like a slice of heaven and baguettes that tasted like nothing else he’s ever eaten.  He already knew that the Eiffel Tower was there and made it clear that he wanted to climb to the top of it.  Although my husband and I never felt the need to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in all the years we’ve lived and visited Paris mainly because we absolutely detest standing in line for anything, if that’s what our little boy wanted, we were happy to oblige.

Then, a few weeks before our trip, I started to panic and wondered whether we had enough activities planned, things to do and places to go with our little boy who would literally climb the Eiffel Tower if he was bored.  I mean, we couldn’t very well sit in our hotel and stuff ourselves with pastries the entire week.

I combed the internet in search of “fun things to do with children” and found it sparse and disturbing that the majority of the list comprised of activities that seemed eccentric even for adults.  Taking a 7-year old to an underground sewage system or a cemetery – seriously?!?

Ultimately, we discovered plenty of fun things to do in Paris and found that the city is filled with lesser-known draws that are authentic and a pleasure to visit as a family.  The secret to discovering Paris like many other big cities in the world is to explore the neighborhood’s microcosm of parks, bakeries and cafes.  In other words, when in Paris, do what the Parisians do. 

I’m happy to say that we had a wonderful time, and here are some of the awesome places and fun things we did in Paris.

Les Berges de Seine 
In a city that prides itself on maintaining its tradition and old world atmosphere, innovative leisure spaces have been created all over Paris.  In one of the latest urban renewal projects, Les Berges de Seine offers Parisians and visitors a new space to relax and unwind.

The city has closed almost 1.5 miles of its UNESCO World Heritage-designated Seine riverbanks to car traffic and created an area solely for pedestrians, filled with restaurants, immaculate gardens, 'zen' spaces, and children's play areas complete with climbing wall.  It also offers some of the most picturesque views of the city.

The easiest way to reach Les Berges de Seine is just by Musée d'Orsasy via the grandiose Emmarchement staircase, which links the upper quai to the lower quai.  Other access points are Port des Invalides and Port du Gros Caillou.

The Jardin du Luxembourg 

The Jardin du Luxembourg has always been one of my favorite places in Paris!  I love the beauty and the elegance of it all.  When I lived in Paris, it was a sanctuary where I could go to think and write.   

Being back in the Luxembourg Gardens with our son, I discovered that it was a delightful place for kids as well, and there were many activities for children to enjoy.

Our little boy’s favorite was renting a sailboat (2€ for 30 minutes), and he loved navigating and watching his little boat float across the boat pond (the Grand Basin).  The sailboats are not remote control, and the boats are controlled with a long pole that your child will be given at the time of the sailboat rental.  The sailboats are marked by flags of different countries around the world, and as your child will be able choose their boat, they will know exactly which boat is theirs.

However, keep in mind that this is a very popular activity among tourists and locals, and during the weekends and summer holidays, it may take up to 30 minutes to get a boat. Nevertheless, seeing the joy on our little boy's face made the wait worthwhile.

Also, there is a large playground located in the Luxembourg Garden as well.  However, it didn’t sit well with me that we had to pay an entrance fee (2.60 euros for kids over 18 months, 1.60 euros for adults) to get into a playground – it didn’t feel very égalité. 

Jardin des Tuileries 
As I've always said, traveling with a child can be such a blessing, as it has allowed us to interact with the locals and be in an environment that is more authentic to the place that we visit.  Traveling with our son has also enabled my husband and I to see and experience a whole another side of the places we’ve visited many times and thought we knew so well. 

Although I’ve always known and enjoyed the lovely parks and gardens in Paris, not until we returned with our little boy, have I realized the wonderful nooks and crannies of it.  For instance, I didn’t know that there were so many wonderful areas for kids in the Jardin des Tuileries. 

Contrary to the playground at Jardin du Luxembourg where you have to pay, the former is free. There are slides for big kids and toddlers alike, jumping platforms, metal merry-go-rounds and net hammocks among others. The ground is also covered with sand or a foam-like material so kids don’t hurt themselves when they fall.  For an fee, you can also head to the trampolines just around the corner and a carousel.

Bateaux Vedettes du Pont Neuf 

In all the years I’ve lived and traveled in Paris, I’ve always put off taking a boat tour of the Seine, as it seemed – well, a bit too touristy. 

However, on a 90 degree summer day, we couldn’t have chosen a more perfect way to see the sites and gain a whole new perspective on a city that I thought I knew well.

Boat tours in Paris is about as common as finding taxis in NYC.  However, we opted for Bateaux Vedettes du Pont Neuf because it was closest to our hotel, and it offered a great summer discount: 9€ morning cruise, 10€ afternoon and evening cruises.

The Parc du Champs de Mars & the Eiffel Tower 
Before leaving for France, our son was adamant about one thing; he wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  When we arrived at the Champs de Mars and saw the mile-long line for the elevator, he merely cringed and said he would rather play soccer in the park.

I realized that kids are more flexible and pragmatic than adults when traveling, and their happiness and joy doesn’t necessarily depend on seeing and checking off a list of tourist attractions but on the sharing moments and experiences.  Our son was happier playing near the Eiffel Tower rather than actually going up it.

The field in front of the Eiffel Tower (The Parc du Champs de Mars) is an absolutely lovely place for children.  The scenery is unbelievably French, and it was surreal to see our little boy and my husband playing soccer with the Eiffel Tower in the background. 

There’s also a nice playground at rue de Grennelle and a little crepe stand, where we had the best ham and cheese crepe in France!

Promenade Plantée
I absolutely love the High Line in NYC!  So, when I heard that it was inspired by Promenade Plantée in Paris, I had to check it out and see it for myself.

Created in 1988 by Philippe Mathieux and Jacques Vergely on the former railway line, which linked Place de la Bastille to Varenne-Saint-Maur from 1859, the Promenade Plantée mixes areas of wild vegetation that has sprung up alongside the railway line with more modern landscaped areas.

It begins behind the Bastille opera house and runs above avenue Daumesnil to the Jardin de Reuilly: it is the famous Viaduc des Arts. The Allée Vivaldi then comprises the shopping part of the walkway. Then, it continues through tunnels and trenches and ends at Porte Dorée and the Bois de Vincennes.

About halfway to Bois de Vincennes, there is a large green park with a pelouse (lawn) that's not forbidden to walk on as most of the green lawns are in Paris, and there is also a small playground.

Promenade Plantée truly is a hidden gem, and although the ambiance is definitely different from the High Line, it’s a perfect place for children – also, you won’t see many tourists here.

Stravinsky Fountain & Centre Pompidou 

One thing that was on my list of things to do that we didn’t get around to during our trip was seeing the Centre Pompidou.  I’ve read that there were great activities for kids: Children's Gallery (Galerie des enfants) on the ground floor and the Atelier des Enfants (a supervised activity center) that has a workshop on Wed and Sat from 2:30-4.

However, we did get around to seeing the Stravinsky Fountain, which our son really liked, and we loved watching the sunset from Le Restaurant Café Georges over the city of light, which was absolutely stunning!

Palais Royal 

As we were taking a nice stroll through the city one morning, we came upon the Palais Royal, and although it wasn’t a place we planned to take our little boy, it turned out to be an excellent place for him.  Our son loooved jumping up and down the statues (not sure what they’re called), and if he wasn’t busy jumping, he had a great time running around the courtyard.

Square d'Anvers & Sacre Coeur
The playground at Anvers station isn’t one of the more appealing places in Paris.  However, if your 7-year old has been walking all day and need a break, this little patch of greenery with few play equipment at the foothill of the Sacre Coeur might as well be Disneyland.  There’s also a nice carousel at the bottom of the stair way – the same carousel that appears in the millions of sketches of this world-famous monument.

Forum des Halles 
Despite its seedy reputation, I always love the area near the Forum des Halles.  It’s vibrant and edgy, and it’s one of the few neighborhoods in Paris, where you can really get a feel for the city's diverse culture and dynamic energy.

Unfortunately, the Forum des Halles has been going through a major renovation and construction since 2011 and due to be completed by 2016.  Equipped with two large playgrounds (2,500 sq.m for 7-12 year old and 1,370 sq.m for 2-6 year old), 8,244 sq.m of lawn, and 4 hectares of uninterrupted parkland, it will be one of the largest leisure spaces in Paris.  I look forward to taking our boy there on our next trip!

Practical Tips & Recommendations:
As mentioned in most travel guidebooks and forums, buying a book of 10 Metro tickets (carnet) is the best and the most economical way to utilize the public transportation in Paris.  There’s also a carnet for children (ages 4-9) that are ½ price of adults, which makes it a great deal!

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 if you’ve got a stroller.  Our favorites were buses 42 and 69 that stoped at all the major tourist attractions.

Although there isn't a shortage of charming, stylish and chic hotels in Paris, there are limited number of hotels that offer a room for families with children, and the majority of the hotels requires booking two rooms.  Therefore, we prefer to book an apartment hotels or a vacation rental instead.

Great shops for kids and adults alike: Hema, Village Joué Club, Au Nain Bleu, Pain d’épice 

More of my favorites in Paris


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