It’s a hot May day in Nîmes, and a gladiator in the ring of Les Arènes winks at my kids.

Giddy, they wave their handkerchiefs and parrot a prayer to the sky god Jupiter. Sat around us are some 12,000 spectators. But we’re not here to watch a rugby or football match. Instead, we’re cheering for chariots under the watchful eye of a toga-clad Emperor at the annual Grands Jeux Romains (Great Roman Games), a rip-roaring reenactment that completely immerses my kids in the ambiance of Antiquity.

Over the years, travel in France hasn’t just delighted my daughters; it's also served as a crash course in history. We’ve admired prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux IV and hurled water balloons from medieval catapults. We've watched a falconry show at Provins, dressed up in Renaissance garb in Loire Valley châteaux, crawled through WWII bunkers — and that’s just the start. 

There have been beach breaks and alpine hikes and urban escapades, too. Through it all, I've found that family adventures in France have enriched my own travels with a sense of novelty, discovery and awe. Here are the best things to do with kids in France.

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Adorable toddler girl walking on fallen autumn leaves near the Eiffel tower
From famous sights to fallen leaves, France is set up for little ones © encrier / Getty Images

Is France good for kids?

Combining crowd-pleasing favorites and offbeat thrills, France is an easy sell for family travel. From giant marionette parades to the Fête de la Musique, the country that exudes joie de vivre is all-inclusive for children. Just look at the culinary ritual of the goûter. The afternoon snack isn't just enjoyed by kids when they get out of school in the afternoon; it's part of the cultural fabric, a Proustian moment even channeled by pastry chefs on chic restaurant menus. 

The tourism infrastructure is excellent. Even small rural villages have dedicated tourist offices with children’s activities such as themed jeux de piste (treasure hunts). Likewise, French museums set the standard for kid-centric games and workshops. Many museums offer free admission for kids, or a forfait tribu (special family rate) for two adults and two children. 

Playgrounds are as prolific as pâtisseries. When it comes to navigating cities, umbrella strollers are practical for sidewalks (and naps) — but it's best to bring a baby carrier to avoid the headaches of cobblestone streets, not to mention the ubiquitous stairs in the Paris metro.

Children are not frowned upon at restaurants. From a young age, kids eat multi-course meals with their parents (fromage included). That being said, we’d only recommend bringing your enfants sages (well-behaved children) to a Michelin-starred establishment if they won't disturb other diners. Searching for a family-friendly spot? All-day brasseries and casual crêperies are good options. There's often a good-value kids’ menu, inclusive of drinks and desserts. 

If you’ve rented a self-catering holiday home and need to stock up on food and nappies, keep in mind that supermarkets in the countryside often close on Sundays, and sometimes for a post-lunch period.

two children looking at beautiful castle of Carcassonne in France
France is a huge country with plenty of choice, especially if you've only got little legs © margouillat photo / Shutterstock

Where is best in France for kids?

From the tidal marvels of the Baie de Somme to the big-wave surf of Basque Country, the French coast offers a dizzying array of delights. For a beach break, the wide sandy shores of the Atlantic coast are a draw, as are Brittany’s secluded coves. The Côte d'Azur may be known for unabashed luxury and next-level hedonism (picture bronzed revelers on Plage de Pampelonne in St-Tropez). Still, you can find your own slice of family-friendly paradise (my kids vote for the port town of Menton).

Culture-packed Paris is a feast for all ages. Where else can you make a date with Monet in the morning, climb a medieval tower in the afternoon, followed by a Seine river cruise and a cone of chocolate mousse from Chocolat Chapon

And la cerise sur le gâteau (the iceing on the cake)? Jumping on a trampoline surrounded by palm trees in the Jardin des Tuileries. Another kid-approved playground: the Dordogne Valley, where you can combine river canoeing with prehistoric cave art, châteaux, and fortified villages. Then there’s the Loire Valley, where you can relive the glory days of the French monarchy in extravagant châteaux.

For outdoor adventure, make a break for the French Alps. Summertime thrills include wildlife spotting, hiking and rafting, while the winter season lures families in droves to the pistes. Kids are welcomed in ski resorts’ dedicated jardins de neige (snow gardens) starting at age three.

Woman carrying baby girl through vineyard, Bergerac, Aquitaine, France
Beaches, parks, museums: France has plenty for toddlers and babies © Gu /Getty Images/Image Source

Best things to do in France with babies and toddlers

Stay on a car-free island

Is there anything better than frolicking on an idyllic French beach? What about enjoying those frolics on a car-free island, where you don't have to worry about chasing a toddler away from traffic? A few top recommendations: Île de Batz and the pink-granite Île-de-Bréhat in Brittany, Île de Porquerolles in the Riviera's Hyères archipelago and – our personal pick – Île d'Aix, a small 129-hectare island from where you can see Fort Boyard off the west coast.

Take a deep dive at a museum

France has a museum for every hobby and taste, and most major institutions give new parents priority access that allows you to cut the queue if you’ve got a baby in tow. For older kids, museums organize ateliers (workshops) on Wednesday afternoons and weekends. Along with audio guides, some monuments like the Conciergerie in Paris offer what they call ‘HistoPads,’ digital tablets with headphones that allow kids to discover the past through 3D and virtual reality.

The Great Elephant with passengers aboard, one of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes.
Kids of all ages will lover Les Machines de l'Île in Nantes ©Dutourdumonde Photography/Shutterstock

The best things to do in France with kids

Marvel at Les Machines

A street-theater troupe in Nantes launched this whimsical, steampunk-style project that feels as if it’s straight out of a Jules Verne novel. Made from sycamore and steel, a giant mechanical elephant carries 49 passengers through the streets while spraying water out of its trunk. The island headquarters for Les Machines is a wonderland for kids, complete with a multi-tiered carousel where you can ride fantastical sea creatures. Les Machines jas also branched out to Toulouse – beware the Minotaur with its life-like grumbling and steam pouring out of its nostrils. There's also a giant fire-spitting dragon in Calais.

Search for Invaders

The anonymous French street artist known as Invader has a global following for his mosaic artwork inspired by 1980s video games. He’s ‘invaded’ cities all over the world, but the majority of his mosaics can be found in his hometown of Paris. Download the Flash Invaders app and get points for each authentic artwork you photograph with your smartphone – it’s a fun way to get kids out exploring a new city, from Lyon to Lille.

Hit the theme parks

France doesn't just lay claim to Disneyland Paris, but a bonanza of theme parks. Futuroscope makes learning fun with high-tech cinematic experiences and space-age attractions. Parc Astérix celebrates the characters from the best-selling comic books, while Vulcania explores Auvergne's extinct volcanoes. In the Vendée, the popular Puy du Fou brings history to life with dramatic spectacles starring costumed characters. Attractions like Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse, Aquarium La Rochelle and Nausicaá in Boulogne-sur-mer are also firm favorites.

Nest in the trees (or in a lighthouse)

You can also take your trip up a notch by checking into wild and wacky accommodations. Sleep in a lighthouse keeper's house on the L'île Vierge. Check into a treehouse at the Loire Valley Lodges or go royal with a room at the nearby Chateau de Rivau. Bunk down in a snow groomer (ask for ‘Over the Moon’) on the high-altitude pistes of La Plagne (stunning Mont Blanc view included). Or sleep among the wild animals at the Safari Lodge of the Zoo de La Flèche.

Best things to do in France with teenagers and tweens

Pursue a passion

Why not invite your teen to be part of the travel decision-making and choose an activity based on their interests? Does your kid adore la cuisine? Sign up for a cooking class or food tour in cities like Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, and Paris. Love music? Get tickets to a summer festival such as We Love Green, Rock en Seine, or Jazz à Juan. Crazy about movies? Consider a film festival – and it doesn't have to be the red carpet of Cannes. Enjoy dance? Catch a performance at the Palais Garnier, Philharmonie de Paris, or Centquatre.

Our family trips have often morphed into bird-watching expeditions – we've spotted flamingos in the Camargue and spoonbills in the Parc du Marquenterre.

Terroir on two wheels

Whether you cycle with Tour de France stamina or prefer a leisurely peddle, biking in France is a fun way to cover a lot of ground while appreciating the scenery. The country is rife with routes, so you can choose your own adventure, whether it be a single-day outing through the vineyards or a week-long journey. A few examples: the 600km Vélo Francette connects Ouistreham in Normandy to the Atlantic Coast, and the ViaRhôna follows the Rhône River from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean. If that all seems like a bit too much effort, consider e-bike hires for the whole family – they allow you to cycle long distances with much less effort.

Look for outdoor thrills and spills

Even if your teen grumbles about ditching their devices, they’ll soon be distracted by the wonders of nature. Or you can at least give it a try. Spot a menagerie of marmots on a hike in the Parc National de la Vanoise. Commune with monkeys in the Vallée des Singes south of Poitiers. Look for dolphins on a boat trip to Île Sainte-Marguerite, the island off the coast of Cannes where the unfortunate man in the iron mask was imprisoned.

Rent an electric boat on the Bassin de la Villette in Paris (no captain’s license required). Or get your adrenaline pumping on a rafting trip along the Giffre River, between Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval and Samoëns in the Alps.

A father with two children on a high speed TGV train in France
TGV train in France are fast, comfortable and great for kids © freemixer / Getty Images

Planning tips

  • Skip the autoroute tolls and bouchons (traffic jams) and take the train instead. Children under four travel for free on the efficient French rail network. Frequent travelers (between 27–59 years old) should consider the Carte Avantage Adulte for 30% discounts on all train journeys in France and Europe, and 60% for up to three accompanying children (4–11 years).
  • In Paris, children under four travel for free on the RATP public transportation system and then get half-price fares until they are 10 years old.
  • To avoid disappointment, always double-check opening hours for restaurants and museums, and make reservations in advance.
  • Embark on a treasure hunt around the French capital courtesy of the free Paris Region Adventures app. Choose your own themed adventure, then find the mystery objects and identify the historical characters for the chance to win a prize.

This article was first published May 2021 and updated June 2023

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