Be it the kid-friendly extraordinaire capital or rural hinterland, France spoils families with its rich mix of cultural sights, activities and entertainment – some paid for, some free. To get the most out of travelling en famille, plan ahead.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Paris

Interactive museums, choice dining for every taste and budget, and beautiful green parks seemingly at every turn make the French capital a top choice for families.

  • Normandy

Beaches, boats and some great stuff for history-mad kids and teens give this northern region plenty of family lure.

  • Brittany

More beaches, boats, pirate-perfect islands and bags of good old-fashioned outdoor fun. Enough said.

  • French Alps & the Jura Mountains

Winter in this mountainous region in eastern France translates as one giant outdoor (snowy) playground – for all ages.

  • French Riviera & Monaco

A vibrant arts scene, a vivacious cafe culture and a beach-laced shore riddled with seafaring activities keeps kids of all ages on their toes.

  • Corsica

Sailing, kayaking, walking, biking, or simply dipping your toes or snorkel mask in clear turquoise waters: life on this island is fairy-tale belle (beautiful).

France for Kids

Savvy parents can find kid-appeal in almost every sight in France, must-sees included. Skip the formal guided tour of Mont St-Michel, for example, and hook up with a walking guide to lead you and the children barefoot across the sand to the abbey; trade the daytime queues at the Eiffel Tower for a tour after dark with teens; don't dismiss wine tasting in Provence or Burgundy outright – rent bicycles and turn it into a family bike ride instead. The opportunities are endless.

Museums & Monuments

Many Paris museums organise creative ateliers (workshops) for children, parent-accompanied or solo. Workshops are themed, require booking, last 1½ to two hours, and cost €5 to €20 per child. French children have no school Wednesday afternoon, so most workshops happen Wednesday afternoon, weekends and daily during school holidays. Most cater for kids aged seven to 14 years, although in Paris art activities at the Louvre start at four years and at the Musée d'Orsay, five years.

Countrywide, when buying tickets at museums and monuments, ask about children's activity sheets – most have something to hook kids. Another winner is to arm your gadget-mad child (from six years) with an audioguide. Older children can check out what apps a museum or monument might have for smartphones and tablets.

Outdoor Activities

Once the kids are out of nappies, skiing in the French Alps is the obvious family choice. Ski school École du Ski Français (www.esf.net) initiates kids in the art of snow plough (group or private lessons, half or full day) from four years old, and many resorts open fun-driven jardins de neige (snow gardens) to children from three years old. Families with kids aged under 10 will find smaller resorts including Les Gets, Avoriaz (car-free), La Clusaz, Chamrousse and Le Grand Bornand easier to navigate and better value than larger ski stations. Then, of course, there is all the fun of the fair off-piste: ice skating, sledging, snowshoeing, mushing, indoor swimming pools…

The French Alps and Pyrenees are prime walking areas. Tourist offices have information on easy, well-signposted family walks – or get in touch with a local guide. In Chamonix, the cable-car ride and two-hour hike to Lac Blanc followed by a dip in the Alpine lake is a DIY family favourite; as are the mountain-discovery half-days for ages three to seven, and outdoor-adventure days for ages eight to 12 run by Cham' Aventure. As with skiing, smaller places such as the Parc Naturel Régional du Massif des Bauges cater much better to young families than the big names everyone knows.

White-water sports and canoeing are doable for children aged seven and older; the French Alps, Provence and Massif Central are key areas. Mountain biking is an outdoor thrill that teens can share – try Morzine. Or dip into some gentle sea kayaking around calanques (deep rocky inlets), below cliffs and into caves in the Mediterranean, a family activity suitable for kids aged four and upwards. Marseille in Provence and Bonifacio on Corsica are hot spots to rent the gear and get afloat.

Entertainment

Tourist offices can tell you what's on – and the repertoire is impressive: puppet shows alfresco, children's theatres, children's films at cinemas Wednesday afternoon and weekends, street buskers, illuminated monuments after dark, an abundance of music festivals and so on. Sure winners are the son et lumière (sound-and-light) shows projected on some Renaissance châteaux in the Loire Valley; the papal palace in Avignon; and cathedral façades in Rouen, Chartres and Amiens. Outstanding after-dark illuminations that never fail to enchant include Paris' Eiffel Tower and Marseille's MuCEM.

Dining Out

French children, accustomed to three-course lunches at school, expect a starter (entrée), main course (plat) and dessert as their main meal of the day. They know the difference between Brie and Camembert, and eat lettuce, grated carrot and other salads no problem. Main meals tend to be meat 'n' veg or pasta, followed by dessert and/or a slice of cheese. Classic French mains loved by children include gratin dauphinois (sliced potatoes oven-baked in cream), escalope de veau (breaded pan-fried veal) and boeuf bourguignon. Fondue and raclette (melted cheese served with potatoes and cold meats) become favourites from about five years, and moules frites (mussels and fries) a couple of years later.

Children's menus (fixed meals at a set price) are common, although anyone in France for more than a few days will soon tire of the ubiquitous spaghetti bolognaise or saucisse (sausage), or steak haché (beef burger) and frites (fries) followed by ice cream that most feature. Don't be shy in asking for a half-portion of an adult main – restaurants generally oblige. Ditto in budget and midrange places to ask for a plate of pâtes au beurre (pasta with butter) for fussy or very young eaters.

Bread, specifically slices of baguette, accompanies every meal and in restaurants is brought to the table before or immediately after you've ordered – to the glee of children who wolf it down while they wait. Watch for the fight to ensue over who gets the quignon (the knobbly end bit, a hit with teething babies!).

It is perfectly acceptable to dine en famille after dark providing the kids don't run wild. Few restaurants open their doors, however, before 7.30pm or 8pm, making brasseries and cafes – many serve food continuously from 7am or 8am until midnight – more appealing for families with younger children. Some restaurants have high chairs and supply paper and pens for children to draw with while waiting for their meal.

France is fabulous snack-attack terrain. Parisian pavements are rife with crêpe stands and wintertime stalls selling hot chestnuts. Savoury galettes (pancakes) make for an easy light lunch, as does France's signature croque monsieur (toasted cheese and ham sandwich) served by most cafes and brasseries. Goûter (afternoon snack), devoured after school around 4.30pm, is golden for every French child and salons de thé (tearooms) serve a mouth-watering array of cakes, pastries and biscuits. Or go local: buy a baguette, rip off a chunk and pop a chunk of chocolate inside.

Baby requirements are easily met. The choice of infant formula, soy and cow's milk, nappies (diapers) and jars of baby food in supermarkets and pharmacies is similar to any developed country, although opening hours are more limited (few shops open Sunday). Organic (bio) baby food is harder to find.

Drinks

Buy a fizzy drink for every child sitting at the table and the bill soars. Opt instead for a free carafe d'eau (jug of tap water) with meals and un sirop (flavoured fruit syrup) in between – jazzed up with des glaçons (some ice cubes) and une paille (a straw). Every self-respecting cafe and bar in France has dozens of syrup flavours to choose from: pomegranate-fuelled grenadine and pea-green menthe (mint) are French-kid favourites, but there are peach, raspberry, cherry, lemon and a rainbow of others too. Syrup is served diluted with water and, best up, costs a good €2 less than a coke. Expect to pay around €1.50 a glass.

Children's Highlights

Gastronomic Experiences

Energy Burners

Best Free Stuff

Wildlife Watch

Rainy Days

Tech Experiences

Hands-On History & Culture

Theme Parks

Boat Trips

Planning

When to Go

Consider the season and what you want to do/see: teen travel is a year-round affair (there's always something to entertain, regardless of the weather), but parents with younger kids will find the dry, pleasantly warm days of spring and early summer best suited to kidding around the park – every town has at least one terrain de jeux (playground).

France's festival repertoire is another planning consideration.

Accommodation

In Paris and larger towns and cities, serviced apartments equipped with washing machine and kitchen are suited to families with younger children. Countrywide, hotels with family or four-person rooms can be hard to find and need booking in advance. Functional, if soulless, chain hotels such as Formule 1, found on the outskirts of most large towns, always have a generous quota of family rooms and make convenient overnight stops for motorists driving from continental Europe or the UK (Troyes is a popular stopover for Brits en route to the Alps). Parents with just one child and/or a baby in tow will have no problem finding hotel accommodation – most midrange hotels have baby cots and are happy to put a child's bed in a double room for a minimal extra cost.

In rural France, family-friendly B&Bs and fermes auberges (farmstays) are convenient. For older children, tree houses decked out with bunk beds and Mongolian yurts create a real family adventure.

Camping is huge with French families: check into a self-catering mobile home, wooden chalet or tent; sit back on the verandah with glass of wine in hand and watch as your kids – wonderfully oblivious to any barriers language might pose – run around with new-found French friends.

What to Pack

Babies & Toddlers

  • Sling France's cobbled streets, metro stairs and hilltop villages were not built with pushchairs (strollers) in mind. Several must-see museums, notably Château de Versailles, don't let pushchairs in.
  • Portable changing mat, handwash gel etc Baby-changing facilities are a rarity.
  • Canvas screw-on seat for toddlers Only some restaurants have high chairs.
  • Car seat Rental companies rent them but at proportionately extortionate rates. In France children under 10 years or less than 1.40m in height must, by law, be strapped in an appropriate car seat.

Six to 12 Years

  • Binoculars For young explorers to zoom in on wildlife, sculpted cathedral facades, etc.
  • Pocket video camera Inject fun into 'boring' adult activities.
  • Activities Books, sketchpad and pens, travel journal and kid-sized day pack.
  • Water bottle Always handy (and great fun to fill up at water fountains found all over France, marked 'eau potable')
  • Fold-away microscooter and/or rollerblades
  • Kite For beaches in Brittany, Normandy and on the Atlantic Coast with strong winds.

Teens

  • France-related apps
  • French phrasebook
  • Mask, snorkel and flippers To dive in from a multitude of magnificent beaches on the Atlantic Coast and Med; only two or three marked trails countrywide rent the gear.