The countdown to les grands vacances has begun. Soon, children will be on an extended holiday but before that can happen, their parents must scramble to find a place that is both kid-friendly and relatively entertaining for themselves. While Paris ranks high among travel destinations, its many paws-off pristine parks, bustling avenues and more adult dining options make it a less obvious choice.
But author Kim Horton Levesque says it shouldn’t be overlooked. Beneath the landmarks, museums and well-worn boulevards is an entirely different city, teeming with activities appropriate for kids. Kim culls her personal favorites and recommendations into an astute guide called “Paris with Children”, just released this week. Almost all of the spots Kim recommends to eat, sleep and play are also well-suited for visits without children, making this book an incredibly useful resource for all travelers (and let’s be honest, we all have friends with children who would love to receive a little gift from one of Paris’s beautiful kid’s clothing and toy stores so the shop references are invaluable!). Below, she offers a few tips for traveling to Paris as a family.
Describe what you love about France in three words.
History, Food, Artisanship
#1 tip for visiting Paris with kids/as a family?
Be flexible. It’s the same advice I’d give a parent traveling anywhere with their children. Any challenges we have at home, whether it be a picky eater, an erratic sleeper, or a child who has trouble behaving in a restaurant–all of those challenges follow us when we travel. More often than not, a trip abroad will exacerbate them. Expose your children to new foods before you leave, allow time in your travel plans to rest and recover from jet lag and practice eating in cafés and restaurants at home if you want to do it in Paris. It’s also a good idea to include your child in the planning process so that they’ll be emotionally invested in the trip. I like to take virtual art tours online with my girls (8, 5 and 3 years) before we leave –it’s easier to get them into a museum once we’re there because they want to see the work in person.
What do you think makes Paris and its surroundings particularly well suited for kids?
As a city, Paris embraces its children. Most Parisian kids have Wednesday afternoons off from school, so museums and parks organize an impressive variety of activities for them on those half-days and on weekends: art and movement classes, guided walks, workshops, puppet shows and concerts––and most of them work well for non francophones. I’d made many visits to Paris with my daughters before I researched this book, but we had always spent our time strolling and playing in the parks–I had no idea what we’d been missing!
Many of Paris’s principal sights are concentrated geographically which makes the city quite walkable with kids (depending on their age). And there are parks of all shapes and sizes near each attraction that keep kids, consequently parents, happy. The Champ de Mars park near the Eiffel Tower is a hoot––there’s a vintage carousel, pedal cars, huge jungle gyms and a puppet theater. The Louvre has the adjacent Jardin des Tuileries––kids can jump on trampolines, ride a merry-go-round, there’s also a great playground and a barbe à papa (cotton candy) stand. I’ve included over two dozen playgrounds in the book to help parents plan child-friendly itineraries that I hope will keep everyone content.
Favorite spot for kids clothes and books?
Can I give you two? Bonton in the 3rd is worth a stop for books, toys, gifts and clothes; it’s cheery, colorful and fun–like a Colette for kids and their parents. There’s even a candy shop-cum-tearoom for an afternoon snack (5, blvd des Filles du Calvaire, 3rd arr.). I also like Little French Trotters in the 11th. It’s a compact, multi-brand boutique with a wide selection of innovative French Indie clothing labels like Troizenfants, Zef and Finger in the Nose (28, rue de Charonne, 11th arr.).
The place few visitors think to go as a family?
I think travelers who visit Paris for a week or less often overlook the city’s parks, opting instead for museum and monument-rich itineraries. But I think life with children in Paris happens in its parks. Not only do the gardens offer some of the city’s most picturesque spots, but they give visitors a closer, more authentic glimpse into Parisian life. I’m always pleased and amazed at how my daughters, who don’t speak French, manage to transcend the language barrier and make friends with local kids on the playground. Inevitably my girls leave with a handful of new French words tucked away into their memory. These words later surface, shockingly, at contextually appropriate moments. As a family, we love the big gardens: the Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg and Champ de Mars because of the amenities for kids–but there are smaller, equally lovely parks within steps of Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur and Place des Vosges.
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[All photos courtesy of Kim Horton Levesque]