Having your offspring with you will defuse any big-city ‘tude. There are plenty of kid-centric spots in Paris offering a variety of things to do from treasure hunts and boat rides to science museums and –star of the show – Disneyland.
Interactive museums and engaging art galleries
The best Paris museums for kids are the first-class Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum), home to the inventive Galerie des Enfants – a science museum for younger kids; the magical Musée de la Magie; and the must-see Cité des Sciences, which has more hands-on science exhibits than your family has hands.
On the arts front, the Centre Pompidou runs workshops for kids and teen events in dedicated studios. And the buskers out the front are always worth a look. The excellent Musée en Herbe is a specialised art museum for kids, with engaging exhibits and workshops. At the Louvre, kids can go on an arty treasure hunt with THATLou. There’s also one at the Musée d’Orsay (THATd’Or) and add-on treasure hunts through Parisian streets (THATrue).
Puppet shows in parks and Paris from the river
In the outside realm, the parks and waterways in Paris offer free fun and a bit of relief from the summer heat. The gorgeously manicured Jardin du Luxembourg offers puppet shows, playgrounds, pony rides and vintage sailboats bobbing on the pond. The Parc Floral de Paris is great for older kids, with concerts, climbing webs, super-long slides and a flying fox.
Down on the water, roam along the Canal St-Martin and watch the canal boats, or jump on a boat such as those run by Bateaux-Mouches and cruise along the Seine. These cruises are a tad cliché, but there’s no better way to see Paris from the river. It’s not Disneyland but on the western edge of Paris in the vast Bois de Boulogne is the Jardin d'Acclimatation, an amusement park with boat and pony rides, movies and art activities.
How to make the most of Disneyland Paris
You can ogle the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe all you want, but from a kids’ perspective, the only reason you’re here is to go to Disneyland Paris. It's certainly not cheap but if you can suspend cynicism, it’s a magical day out for kids. Some tips to ease the heat on your wallet and boost the fun factor:
- Unless you want to also visit Walt Disney Studios next door, you only need one day. Don’t buy into pricey multi-day packages where you’re a captive audience at one of the park resorts.
- Arrive early. Gates typically open at 10am – be there! You’ll have a good hour before the real crowds arrive, and queues will be at their shortest for the popular rides.
- Some of the pre-booked ‘Meet Disney Princesses’-type events are thin on inspiration: a costumed actor with nothing to say shakes your hand and pats you on the head. Avoid. But if you must meet one, book ahead online: you’ll have no chance of getting in if you just turn up on the day.
- Catch the train from central Paris rather than book a shuttle bus or attempt to drive. The RER A is affordable and fast, and it deposits you on the Disney doorstep at Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy station.
Spooky sights for teens
Taking the kids on the Paris metro is a quick, reliable and safe way to get around. Buy yourself a 10-ticket carnet to save some euros if you’re here for more than a few days. Kids’ carnets are available too. Most ticket machines don’t accept notes – it’s either coins or credit card.
Metro stations in Paris are often not very far apart. Get the kids to walk if their legs can handle it – you’ll see much more life up on the streets. Conversely, platforms within some of the main stations – Châtelet for example – are often ludicrously far apart. Be prepared to carry the kids up and down escalators, and leave the stroller (pram) at the hotel: pushing one through crowds and on/off trains is perilous. Better still, avoid the big stations altogether and change lines at smaller stations where possible (look for the white correspondance symbol on the metro map). Or, if you must pass through one of the massive stations, divide and conquer: send off a scout to find the ticket machines or the platform, rather than drag the wilting family around in search of elusive southbound Ligne 4…
Buses can also provide a scenic above-ground alternative and are easier for parents with strollers to access.
Note that the suburban RER trains are often less-crowded than metro trains. RER trains are also faster and are sometimes double-deckers – much more fun! Alternatively, for a bit of DIY sightseeing, take a ride on metro Ligne 2 or Ligne 6, both of which are partially above-ground.
Finally, it’s fair to say that French kids are rather demure and mostly well-behaved on public transport – there’s not much boisterous abandon on display. If your brood is prone to high-voltage misdemeanors, they might have to tone it down a bit or incur Parisian commuter wrath.
This article was first published in June 2015 and updated by Catherine Le Nevez in June 2017.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.