A family city guide to Paris

A family city guide to Paris

Published August 30, 2023

11 min read

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Dogs in handbags, whimsical fountains, rogue Statues of Liberty and cakes like jewels. Paris mesmerises all ages with its sights, sounds and spectacles. Introducing the kids to the Mona Lisa or scampering up the Eiffel Tower are bucket-list highlights. But there’s also an inherent charm in walking through neighbourhood parks and elegant tree-shaded boulevards, marvelling at magical window displays, scoffing sugar-dusted crepes on a cafe pavement terrace and catching street performers on bridges across the Seine.

The French capital is easily walkable, with a family-friendly fleet of hop-on-hop-off river boats, open-top buses, bikes and electric scooters to save tired legs. On the metro, families can pretend they’re train drivers as they whoosh through the tunnels in the front carriage of automated lines one and 14, or watch city life unfold on Parisian streets from overhead lines two and six. 

(A family city guide to Barcelona.)

What to do in Paris with kids

Toddlers: Explore Paris’s art heritage through play at the kid-focused Musée en Herbe, a five-minute walk from the Louvre. Seasonal exhibitions include rainbow-coloured tunnels, mirror illusions and other interactive elements, and the museum also runs one-hour art workshops.

Young children may be fascinated by the marionette puppet show at the Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park in the enormous Bois de Boulogne woodland on central Paris’s western fringe, with old-school carousels, playgrounds and funfair attractions. There’s also walking trails perfect for pushchairs, and the splash pool and water misters are a godsend on hot summer days.

Northern Paris’s wildly popular science museum, Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, is also likely to be a hit with curious children; its ‘build, explore, experiment’ play sessions are aimed at two- to seven-year-olds. Book online well in advance and take a picnic to enjoy afterwards in the surrounding Parc de la Villette, with multiple playgrounds and other attractions for children.

Children under 10: So much of Parisian life revolves around its green spaces and the historic Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the city’s grandest. Chasing vintage toy sailing boats with a stick around the ornamental pond has long been a boisterous family activity. Fans of New York’s Statue of Liberty can use the gardens as a starting point for a treasure hunt to find Paris’s five replicas, one of which is here.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower is justifiably one of Paris’s most popular family attractions. Book your online ticket carefully to ensure the most appropriate stair/lift combo for you and the kids — it’s 674 steps or a lift to the second floor, from where a final obligatory lift whisks everyone to the top. Assuming bedtimes allow, consider an evening visit when crowds thin out and sunset spins its magic.

On a rainy day, young inventors will enjoy sheltering in Le Marais’ Musée des Arts et des Métiers, an 18th-century museum of technological gadgetry. Rent the kids’ audio-guides to learn about its fascinating wacky inventions with an English-speaking robot.

Tweens and teenagers: While it’s not recommended for under 13s, the macabre Catacombes — where 18th-century Paris laid its dead to rest in subterranean tunnels — is usually a big hit with older teens. Self-guided tours take the almost mile-long circuit winding past bones and tomb markers deep underground; book online seven days in advance for the best chance of getting tickets. 

While the Cathédrale Notre-Dame isn’t reopening until December 2024, the Éternelle Notre-Dame experience now installed under the cathedral’s forecourt has proved a huge hit with teens. Participants don a backpack and virtual-reality headset, to be transported up to the roof of the cathedral where they can admire its rose window up close and learn about its 850 years of history.

The free FlashInvader app is another good option for teens, sending families all over Paris on hunts to find pixelated ceramic mosaics by anonymous French street artist Invader. There are around 1,500 to find and flash for points; the highest piece of pixel art is at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Family-friendly places to eat in Paris

Toddlers: Parisian brasseries are open all day, which makes them great for early dinners. Book a table for sausages and mash, and delicious Paris-Brest ice cream at the new Brasserie des Prés. When booking ahead, there’s an option to include a toddler in the reservation to ensure pushchair space. For mid-afternoon snacking, try the croissants or apple-filled chausson (puff-pastry ‘shoe’) from Du Pains et des Idées near Canal Saint-Martin; the shared table outside is ideal for plopping down with a pushchair without fuss.

Children under 10: Paris is good at crowd-pleasers, and a meal of savoury and sweet crepes at Breizh Café in Le Marais is a Parisian rite of passage. Patisserie is another highlight — try the spellbinding cakes and tarts, artfully designed to resemble fruits and flowers, by celebrity pastry chef Cédric Grolet. You can buy to take away or treat the kids by taking a table in the cafe above his patisserie shop on avenue de l’Opera. For savoury meals, another Parisian family favourite is the farm-to-fork brunch and an exhilarating run-around at the urban farm and arts centre Le ReCyclerie, on Paris’s abandoned Petite Ceinture railway line.

Tweens and teenagers: Impress older children with a rooftop meal at Le Perchoir Porte de Versailles, a 30-minute metro ride from the Eiffel Tower. It’s housed in a large urban rooftop farm and the chefs use seasonal produce grown on site — DJ sets run most evening. The exuberant party vibes at food hall La Felicità and Italian trattoria Libertino, both by Paris’s wildly popular Big Mamma group, are also good fun and likely to prove a hit with outgoing teens.

Where to stay in Paris with kids

Toddlers: Tucked down a quiet lane, a five-minute stroll from enchanting Place des Vosges and the Seine, Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc is a peaceful family address in the low-tempo Le Marais neighbourhood. Its two-room family suites are spacious for a city notorious for small hotel rooms. On the Left Bank, the less-crowded area between Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes is a leafy spot that will appeal to families: here, Pepper & Paper has 17 well-equipped studios and apartments, with a shared summer garden for running around.

Children under 10: Less than a mile from the Eiffel Tower, Yooma has quirky features such as a robot concierge and doughnuts for breakfast, as well as the practical benefits of a laundrette and six-person rooms with sleeping pods and bunks for larger families. Or for an inspiring budget choice, try the caravans, six-person chalets and riverside tent pitches at Camping de Paris in the far west of the capital. It’s easily connected to the city centre via a shuttlebus to the nearest metro station, or confident cyclists can rent bikes to pedal the four miles from the campground through the Bois de Boulogne park to the Eiffel Tower.

Tweens and teenagers: It’s a toss-up between interconnecting doubles at floating Hôtel Off, which is moored on the Seine near Gare d’Austerlitz; or chic rooms with summertime film screenings and garden dining at Mob Hotel in Saint-Ouen, which is home to one of Europe’s largest flea markets, Marché aux Puces. For those who want to be closer to the action, choose a family apartment eyeballing the Eiffel Tower, with a shared indoor pool, gym and coworking space at Adagio Paris–Tour Eiffel.

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