Paris is an adult city in many ways. I know plenty of children live and play there, but even the youngest French citizens just seem so civilized and classy. Maybe it’s all the berets and trench coats, expensive cafes and brasseries, world-class art museums and fancy chocolatiers. But when I think of Paris, kid-friendly is about the last thing that comes to mind.
However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel with tots to the City of Light. You can – and should – take your children to Paris.. for the art as well as the chocolate. Just watch your wallets, and check out these inexpensive, fun things for kids to do in Paris.
The Madeline Tour
Do your kids know and love Madeline? If not, get them hooked ASAP. You might think the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” is of no concern to boys. But mine really enjoy the story (maybe it’s the scar on her stomach?).
We pulled out the book a few weeks before our trip and read it occasionally. I made sure to pack it in my backpack so we could whip it out in front of the famous landmarks and compare the illustrations to actual places.
This turned out to be an excellent way to keep the boys interested and give them a reason why their four and six year-old selves should be interested in things like opera houses.
Examining the Garnier Opera House in the book and real life.
This website gives great information about where to find the locations illustrated in the book. However, it’s not comprehensive so you’ll need to do a bit of detective work yourself to figure out the other locations (hint: the Sacré Cœur isn’t listed on that site). See this thread in the TripAdvisor forums for comments on the location of Madeline’s house.
Cost: The DIY tour is free, but you’ll need to pay for transport to get yourself to the various sites.
Carousels are practically a Paris institution. They can be found all over the city, and children of all ages will love whizzing around on fairy-tale horses and grungy motorcycles.
The carousel at Montmarte.
The merry-go-rounds are scattered all over the city. Click here for a list of the six most beautiful and here for a more detailed list.
Cost: During the month of December, many of the carousels around Paris are FREE! However, we found that not all carousels were gratis; only the ones with signs stating so. Otherwise, the best value we found was 10 euros for 6 tickets (nontransferable to other carousel locations, sorry).
The Champs Elysées may be one of the most expensive and fashionable shopping streets in Paris, but you might be surprised to learn the boulevard offers something for the young and young at heart… auto showrooms.
Car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, BMW, Toyota, and Fiat compete to have the most elaborate display of their innovative models. The best part for little boys? Some showrooms allow customers to actually sit in the cars. My boys went nuts when they got to sit in a “real racecar” at Peugeot.
Kids going for a test drive. This car is a bit above their pay grade, no?
Click here for a manly take on some of the showrooms, and here for another post with loads of photos.
This is kind of a no-brainer for us. We always visit local playgrounds wherever we go. Paris has some lovely parks and play equipment, but the locations are not as plentiful in the city center as you might think. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a notable exception (for the location, not for the amazing playground) as is Luxembourg Gardens which deserves its own section below.
A small playground can be found here, behind the Notre Dame and just to the right.
A few other playthings are located along the south side.
A few Paris playground locations to add to your Google map:
- Champ de Mars. Big toys are located at the non-river end of the park (with your back to the tower, it’s to the right). Pony rides, puppet shows, and go-carts are in the center of the park.
- Parc des Buttes Chaumont. More wild and natural than your average play place.
- Place des Vosges
- Parc de La Villette
- Monceau Park
Also, Lulaville has a gigantic list of Paris playgrounds that you can find here.
Cost: The playgrounds listed above are free. However, attractions such as pony rides and puppet shows cost extra.
Another Madeline location, this is THE top park recommended for kids in Paris. Adults will love the peaceful atmosphere and the gorgeous fountains, statues, and monuments. Parents will appreciate the fenced-in playground for big and small kids (note the cost, below) and the bathrooms complete with changing tables and kiddie potties.
Kids will be thrilled to watch the marionette puppet show which comes highly recommended even if you don’t speak French as well as riding the park’s classic carousel and floating boats in the pond.
An hour too late to visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Doh!
Lucky Little Travelers gives a great write-up of the park here. If you visit in winter, keep in mind the park closes quite early in the afternoon.
Cost: The Luxembourg Gardens are free, but an admission charge applies to the kids playground, carousel, and the puppet show.
The Centre Pompidou
If you’ve flipped through photos of Paris, you’ve most likely seen the Pompidou Center, a funky building that was designed to literally be built inside out. It houses modern art that adults can (hopefully) appreciate as well as interactive exhibits just for kids.
Petit Paris offers an excellent guide to visiting the Pompidou Center with kids including a breakdown of what’s interesting for each age group.
Cost: Check the center’s website for current admission prices. If you’re on a strict budget, you can pay the nominal fee to ride the escalators to the roof for a lovely view of Paris. Or, just enjoy the vibrant atmosphere in front of the museum.
Given the success of our boat tour in Brugge, I knew my boys would have loved to see Paris from the Seine. However, we plum ran out of time. I’ve already got it down on our wish list for the next visit.
Boat Tours leave from here on the Île de la Cité.
Several companies run Seine boat tours. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf seemed to be the most reasonable, offering both day and night cruises.
Cost: Prices are rather steep for walk-ups. Visit their website in advance to book decently discounted tickets for adults and children.
I know that love locks are a “thing” in various locations all over the world. Sheesh, there’s even a bridge practically in my own back yard that’s piled high with padlocks. But seeing as Paris is the quintessential city of love, you really should make a stop and look at the gobs of metal declaring eternal L-O-V-E.
My boys are intrigued by the concept, but they don’t quite get it. T-Rex wanted to dive to the bottom of the river to find all the keys and open all the locks. I couldn’t explain to him the sheer futility involved in that (but maybe this episode of The Amazing Race would help).
Pont des Arts in the quiet of the morning.
Visit the Pont des Arts in the early morning to have the place to yourselves. If you want to attach your own steely statement, purchase one in advance. I’ve heard vendors hawking locks can be found at the bridge, but I didn’t see any.
Cost: Free – plus the price of a lock if you so desire.
At the beginning of the Christmas season, the city of Paris sets up several ice rinks for residents and visitors to enjoy. The most well-known location is in front of the Place de l’Hôtel de ville.
T-Rex learning to ice skate.. all he wanted to do was learn tricks like the hot shot hockey players swishing around. Actually ice skating wasn’t on his agenda.
Popular ice rinks are located at Place de l’Hôtel de ville and Montparnasse. I also noticed a small one at the Place du Trocadéro Christmas market. Since ice skating in Paris is as fun as it sounds, it’s understandably popular. The wait time for those needing rentals (especially at the Place de l’Hôtel de ville) is utterly horrendous.
Cost: Admission to the rink is free. Skate rentals cost extra (5 euros at the time of writing).
Christmas markets are all the rage in Europe, and the whole family will love walking along the stalls, admiring the wares and sampling the food. Note that some markets are still up after Christmas, but some close before the 25th of December.
We only walked through one market at the Place du Trocadéro, but I liked this location better than many other markets I’ve seen in France and Germany. Each booth had its own country as a theme and sold various treats and trinkets from that land. Delightful!
Check the Paris Info website for locations, hours, and dates of operation.
Cost: Admission – free.
Printemps and Galeries Lafayette Window Displays
If you happen to be fortunate enough to visit Paris during the Christmas holidays, make a point to walk the window displays at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. When we neared the mega-stores, I wondered what all the fuss was about. As we pressed closer, I understood… they’re animated! Music! Lights! Wonder!
The displays are obnoxiously crowded, and you’ll have a hard time navigating with a stroller. Let the kids sit on your shoulders for a better view. And, speaking of views, don’t forget that Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have some of the most amazing free views of Paris!
Even MORE Delightful Diversions for Kids in Paris
Have your own list of budget-friendly attractions for children? Add a link in the comments below!
What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids?