Paris may not look especially kid-friendly at first glance. There are those tiresome metro tunnels and stairs that require hauling strollers up and down. There's the endless list of cultural attractions that seem a bit daunting, especially for younger children. The first impression for most is that the city seems built primarily for culturally savvy adults. But visiting Paris with the young ones in tow doesn't need to be a headache: there are plenty of great things to do with young visitors. It's just a matter of planning your vacation around a few attractions that you're likely to enjoy—and in most case, learn from, too.
Let's face it: a day or two at Disneyland Paris is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The on-site resort facilities, including a golf course, Disney Village, and Davy Crockett Ranch camping grounds, can make the experience an amusing and relaxing one for adults, too. Meanwhile, the Disneyland Paris hotels also offer a fun, laid-back environment for the whole family.
Parisian state parks are known for their stately, impeccably groomed and presented lanes, lawns, and flora, but they are also wonderful places to play and discover. From old-world pastimes like sailing toy boats at the Jardin du Luxembourg, riding ponies and enjoying vintage puppet shows, to fun and games on sleek, mentally stimulating new playgrounds, the city's parks and gardens can provide an ideal opportunity for parents to relax a bit while the kids let loose.
Entering via a narrow-gauge train through a wooden stretch of the leafy Bois de Boulogne park, this 49-acre amusement park and garden built in the 19th century hosts a house of mirrors, an archery range, a miniature golf course, zoo animals, a puppet theater, shooting galleries, and "La Prévention Routiere," a miniature train and railway operated by the Paris police. If all the attractions wear you out, the garden is full of beautiful flowers and grassy areas to picnic, as well as a mill-stirred lagoon where boats can be rented. The kids will love it—and parents will perhaps appreciate that it's a far cry from the corporate sameness of Disneyland. It's also a lot less expensive.
It may be a little old-fashioned, but that's the point. The Musée Grevin is one of Europe's oldest wax museums (it was inaugurated in 1882) and today boasts around 300 life-sized wax figures, from Leonardo da Vinci to Marilyn Monroe and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This is a fun and sufficiently odd outing for kids and parents to enjoy, and the museum's "Kid's Discovery" tour will allow younger ones to learn about how wax artists bring famous personalities to (near) life.
Nestled in Paris's ultramodern Parc de la Villette in the northern tip of the city is a vast museum dedicated to learning about science—the fun way. The Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (Museum of Science and Industry) regularly curates exhibits designed to captures children's imaginations and pique adults' secret curiosities—shows like "Snot," which explored common human body functions in a comical, matter-of-fact manner.
Jardin des Plantes' Menagerie (Zoo)
The Menagerie, which was founded as a public zoo after the French Revolution, hosts dozens of species of rare animals, in a format that is decidedly out of date. The zoo still has its charm, somehow, though, and can provide a welcome outing for parents looking for kid-friendly activities in Paris.
Inaugurated in 2002, Paris Beach (or "Paris Plage" in French) is a free summer event that transforms several spots in Paris into full-fledged beaches, each with a distinct theme. The beach has become a permanent fixture in the Parisian summertime scene. From sunning in the sand to swimming in pools suspended over the Seine, kayaking, or enjoying an evening concert, Paris Plage offers activities that both kids and adults will enjoy.
Opened in 2013, this adorable haven for felines and the humans who love them is a great place to take kids (assuming they have no known allergies to cats). Enjoy some tea or a light bite, admire and pet the 12 friendly resident cats here—all rescues from the SPA.
Le 104 Arts Center
This large communal art space and recreation center hosts an array of activities, both indoor and out. From the children's play area inside to the vintage pizza truck and lending library outside, parents can bask in the sunlight on a brightly colored lounge chair, while the kids are fully occupied. Through a series of changing exhibitions, concerts, and outdoor film events, this idiosyncratic space boasts plenty of evening activities as well. For parents (and kids) looking to enjoy Paris off the beaten track.
Opened in March 2011 to much fanfare, this modern cultural institution is devoted to exploring mixed-media and digital art forms. Located within a beautifully restored 19th-century theater in the ultra-trendy Marais neighborhood, the Gaite Lyrique hosts a rotating calendar of events that range from music and multimedia performances to design, fashion, and architecture exhibitions. There is even an interactive room dedicated to video games. Older kids will enjoy the colorful and stimulating exhibits often focused on aspects of play.
Made famous by Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, the sewers of Paris truly resemble an underground city—they even feature clearly labeled "street" names. Touring through the maze at the Musee des Egouts, visitors are met with various vintage equipment and clothing used throughout the sewers' history. In the summer, rising temperatures can make the smell of the tunnels quite tough for adults, but even more enjoyable for the children.
Launching from the modern, verdant Parc André Citröen in the 15th arrondissement, the Balloon de Paris offers a unique way to see the city from above. The balloon shoots straight up to an altitude of 492 feet but stays tethered to the ground, providing the kids with a fun, yet safe, experience, while parents can take in the view and steady their cameras.
Crime buffs and older kids (from 12 onward) will probably enjoy this free Paris museum hidden on the second floor of the police station of the 5th arrondissement. The floor is packed with photographs, letters, drawings, and memorabilia documenting some of the most sensational crimes in the city's history. The more than 2000 relics also include a guillotine, old uniforms, and what's left of a firing post from World War II. A word of caution: some of the material may be upsetting for younger children.
Not far from the Eiffel Tower sits a state-of-the-art aquarium boasting more than 9,000 fish, 26 sharks, and 4 million liters of water, including the largest tank in France. Complete with 16 projection rooms, live shows, and hands-on workshops, children and parents alike will easily be entertained and educated about underwater life.
Last renovated in 2007 and housed within a beautiful 18th-century mansion in the Marais, this decidedly quirky museum explores the relationship between humans and nature through the sport of hunting, which remains quite popular in France. The intentionally musty space features an eccentric collection of taxidermy (from pigeons to polar bears) and antique weaponry. There's also a room dedicated to the mythology of unicorns, adding some fairy-tale-style fun to the visit that kids will likely enjoy.