Very few children want to spend their holidays traipsing around museums, but whereas the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay may cater for more mature tastes, other museums and attractions are far more kid-friendly. Better still, exploring Paris with a child gives you the perfect excuse to stop for treats at the tempting patisseries that line the streets.
Visiting the Jardin d’Acclimation is like Christmas Day and birthdays all rolled into one: Part funfair, part zoo, and part amusement park, this attraction in the Bois de Boulogne, by Porte des Sablons, offers everything from bumper cars to gokarts, camel rides to canal rides (la riviere enchantée), and puppet shows to mini golf. The museum also has an interactive exhibition introducing under-12s to European art, a high-tech Explor@dome, and a theatre. The park even has its own circus.
Parc de la Villette
Situated in the 19e between Jean-Jaurés and Corentin-Cariou, the Parc de la Villette
is home to the Cité des Sciences and plenty of wide open spaces for picnics and running wild. Various child-friendly gardens are connected by a walkway called the Promenade des Jardins. Some of the park’s so-called follies incorporate children’s activities: There’s video editing in the Folie Vidéo and a game-filled crèche in the Petite Folie.
The Parc Floral
, in the Bois de Vincennes, is the home of fun and games in Paris. The playground is wonderful, with ping-pong, pedal carts, Paris-themed mini golf, an electric car circuit, and a mini train accompanying the traditional slides and swings. Children’s theatre, magic performances, puppet shows, and clown antics are regular occurrences.
Jardin des Enfants aux Halles
Let your little people loose in the Jardin des Enfants aux Halles, right in the city centre, just west of the Forum des Halles. The compact but ingeniously designed space contains an entire network of fantasy landscapes. Child-care professionals supervise the children at all times, with adventure games organised on Wednesdays. Under-7s are permitted on Saturday mornings as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
Older children will probably get a creepy thrill from the catacombs, packed as they are with millions of bones from the city’s old charnel houses and graveyards. Enter near the cemetery on place Denfort-Rochereau and you will see the remains of an estimated 6 million Parisians, interred between 1785 and 1871 due to lack of space in the city’s graveyards. For younger children, bear in mind that the catacombs are several kilometres in length, and they become quite claustrophobic on busy afternoons.
Disneyland Paris may eclipse all of Paris’s other theme parks, but Parc Astérix
is more interesting, less crowded, and better value. Use car hire to drive 38km north of Paris to Plailly, off the A1 autoroute. Your children will absorb history without even noticing it when they explore fascinating sections labelled Ancient Greece, Roman Empire, Gallic Village, the Middle Ages, and Old Paris. Favourite rides include a ghost train called Transdemonium and the Trace du Hourra, a bobsled that descends from a great height at high speed.