At first glance, Paris may not look especially kid-friendly. There are tiresome metro tunnels with stairs that require hauling strollers up and down and endless cultural attractions that seem daunting, especially for younger children. The first impression for most is that this city is meant to be enjoyed primarily by culturally-savvy adults. But visiting Paris with little ones in tow doesn't need to be a headache. With parks, aquariums, historical icons, tours, and zoos, it not a matter of what to do with the kids, but rather which attractions to pick.
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 ground make the experience both amusing for kids and relaxing for adults. Disneyland Paris hotels also offer a fun, laid-back environment for the whole family. With lodging themed around New York City, America's National Parks, and a seaside resort, they transport you from one culture to next in typical European fashion.
Parisian parks are known for their stately, impeccably-groomed lawns and flora, but they are also wonderful places to play and discover. Engage in old-world pastimes like sailing toy boats at Luxembourg Gardens and riding ponies at Parc Monceau. Enjoy modern and mentally-stimulating new playgrounds, too, like the one at Les Halles where parents can drop their kids with an animateur who is responsible for looking out for them.
Enter this 49-acre amusement park and garden by taking a narrow-gauge train through a wooded stretch of the Bois de Boulogne park. Built in the nineteenth century, this garden attraction 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 that sound like too much to put on your plate, stroll through the beautiful flowers and grassy areas or picnic beside a mill-stirred lagoon. You can even rent a boat to float this enchanting water feature.
It may be a little old-fashioned, but that's the point. The Musée Grevin is one of Europe's oldest wax museums (inaugurated in 1882) and boasts around 300 life-sized wax figures. See replicas of Leonardo da Vinci, Marilyn Monroe, and the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This fun and sufficiently odd outing, complete with a Kid's Discovery Tour, unveils the steps it takes wax artists to bring famous personalities to 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 regularly curates STEAM (science, technology, engineering, and math) exhibits designed to capture children's imaginations and pique adult curiosities. Shows like "Snot" explore common human bodily functions in a comical, matter-of-fact manner. Kids will get a kick out of it.
You might want to skip a visit to the world's most popular paid attraction (due to crowds and lines), but a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower with kids is worth the effort. Book tickets online months in advance so you show up ready. Then, opt for an elevator lift on the way up and stroll down the stairs on your descent. The view from the top will make your kid's jaws drop. And the walk down should tire them out for bed.
The Menagerie—founded as a public zoo after the French Revolution—houses dozens of species of rare animals amidst historically-significant buildings. While the cages may seem small and outdated, the park prides itself on accepting small and medium-sized animals threatened to extinction, rather than the typical large zoo draws. The zoo is full of charm and provides a welcome and economical outing for parents looking for kid-friendly activities.
Paris Beach (or Paris Plage in French) is a free summer event that transforms several spots in Paris into pop-up beaches. This fixture of Paris' summertime scene includes beaches and pools suspended in various locations over the Seine River. Enjoy kayaking, catch an evening concert, or splash around in the fountains. Then, head back to your hotel exhausted but knowing you experienced the city like a true local.
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 sun on a brightly colored lounge chair, while the kids are fully occupied. Enjoy exhibits on fine arts, painting, design, fashion, film, literature, and more. Changing exhibitions, concerts, and outdoor film events make this idiosyncratic space perfect for evening activities, as well.
Opened in 2013, this adorable haven for felines (and the humans who love them) is a great place to take kids, assuming there are no known allergies to cats. Enjoy tea or a light bite to eat, while admiring and interacting with the 12 friendly resident cats—all rescues from the SPA. Do note, however, there are rules. Everyone must wash their hands before entering the cafe (it's best to wash them after, too) and you can't pet the cats if they are sleeping and eating (which may be hard for young children and toddlers).
There's no better way to experience Paris than to eat your way through the city. And while parents may favor a more adult-like wine and cheese tour, family food tours can be equally as fun. Hire a local host to take you from patisseries to cafes, to bistros, while enjoying food like traditional baguettes, French chocolates, and even oysters. Family food tours are 100 percent catered to kids and include games centered around all five senses.
This modern cultural institution, which opened in March of 2011, is devoted to mixed-media and digital art forms. Located within a beautifully restored nineteenth-century theater in the ultra-trendy Marais neighborhood, the Gaîté Lyrique hosts a rotating calendar of events that range from music and multimedia performances to design, fashion, and architecture exhibitions. They even have an interactive room dedicated to video games. Older kids will enjoy the colorful and stimulating exhibits focused on all 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. While touring the maze at the Musee des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum), visitors can see the vintage equipment and clothing used throughout the sewers' history. In the summer, rising temperatures make the smell of the tunnels quite tough for adults, but children get a kick out of the "ick-factor."
Launching from the modern verdant Parc André Citröen in the Fifth Arrondissement, 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 families with kids a fun, yet safe, experience. Take in the view, point out landmarks, and snap a few family selfies while you're at it.
Crime buffs and older kids (12 plus) will enjoy this free Paris museum hidden on the second floor of the police station of the Fifth Arrondissement. The floor is packed with photographs, letters, drawings, and memorabilia documenting some of the most sensational crimes in the city's history. More than 2000 relics are on display, including 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 young 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. See marine life from Polynesia, the West Indies, the North Atlantic Channel, and Paris' own Seine River. Complete with 16 projection rooms, live shows, and hands-on workshops, children and parents alike will learn something new about underwater life.
Cruising in a glass canopy boat is the perfect way to enjoy the sights of Paris in a calm and relaxing environment. Take a sunset cruise to see the city come aglow, or book a spot on the night boat to revel in the big city lights. Informative commentary via headsets is available to all passengers, giving you the freedom to tune in and out as you like. The one-hour cruises are a perfect match for a kid's short attention span, but adults can enjoy a three-course dinner cruise alone or a luxury cruise with champagne included.
Renovated in 2007 and housed within a beautiful eighteenth-century mansion, this 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 fairy-tale fun to a visit that kids will likely enjoy.