The Ultimate Family-Friendly Trip to Paris, France
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
Paris is one of my go-to “happy places”. But traveling with teens can be a different beast. As such, I am happy to share my personal experiences and list of places and activities that my teen boys also loved. Typically, I make a “half-agenda”, aiming for one museum or major site per day (tickets in advance), and then let the spirit of “la flânerie” (wandering) take over.
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Where to stay in Paris, France
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Things to do in Paris, France
Museums in Paris
Atelier des Lumieres: While not technically a museum, this installation in an old forgery building is one of the most impressive exhibitions I have ever seen. Anywhere. Ever. The Klimt and Viennese artist show brought me to tears. I cannot recommend it enough, and frankly, it outshone anything else we did. Don’t do much research else you spoil the surprise of the feelings it will invoke; just go and let it work its magic on you. Do go for the first show if at all possible (more room to wander, less crowded) and do check to see how many elements will be shown (the first time I went I saw only one, not realizing there were several to see). Don’t miss the bar inside (air conditioned and a nice place to sit for a bit), the mirror room and the photo booth for kicks. Plan anywhere from an hour or more. It is not in an area of town with much else to do or see, so mid-morning is an ideal time, to allow yourself time for lunch elsewhere after.
The Army Museum is worth a full morning, perhaps a day. This is one of the most interesting, strategic overviews of WWII history I have seen. My husband lost himself in the historical collections that fill the rest of the museum. Kids love the armor and weapons. Napoleon’s tomb is in the back (whether it includes a certain, ahem, appendage is still disputed).
The Musee d’ Orsay wins my preference over the Louvre. While still crowded on occasion, it is open late on Thursdays, making for fewer people. Its vaulted ceilings (it is an old 1800’s train station, after all), and beautiful layout make it easier to tour and not as overwhelming. I used to go to sketch the statues within (it contains mostly French art).
Musee Carnavalet, housed in two old mansions in the Marais, is a fascinating stroll through Parisian history and was recently completely revamped. It contains paintings, coins, scale models, signage, fragments of buildings… truly a catch-all of Parisian history. It is easy for kids to stroll through at their own pace (though if you don’t speak French, the audio tour is helpful).
The Pompidou Center usually houses a massive collection of works from multi media pieces to Picasso. The performers who are usually out front juggling, performing magic and lying on boards of nails are often worth the trip alone. And the building itself, once considered a blight, is indeed an eyeful. Notice that the pipes on the outside are color- coded (blue for circulating air, yellow for electricity, green for water, red for elevators and escalator operations). Stroll around the area (though perhaps not late at night). Don’t miss the beautiful fountain next to the museum and the iconic piece of wall art, Chut.
Rodin Museum: Even if you aren’t a die-hard fan, the gardens will appease you — they alone are worth the entrance fee. Pack a picnic or chose from some of the delectable salads, sandwiches and desserts at the garden cafe. Rodin’s artwork, which speckles the estate and the mansion where he lived for a time, is a bonus. His Gates of Hell stopped me in my tracks (not to mention the photo opp it provided when a gaggle of nuns stopped to look). Challenge your kids to replicate some of the poses of the statues in the garden, especially the Thinker — it’s tougher than it looks.
Marmottan Museum and the Museum of l’ Orangerie: If you have a child interested in Monet, or would like to introduce them, you can chose from the large lily canvasses in l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Gardens (it’s a lovely stroll to get there), or make an adventure of heading out to the Marmottan near the Bois de Boulogne. The house itself is a trip through time, and lovely. In addition to Monet, it has Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Renoir and more. Plus, the Marmottan is not far from the Chalet restaurant (see below), which requires a short ferry ride to get to it and Louis Vuitton Foundation for some memorable architecture and modern art pieces (picture a horse hanging from the ceiling).
Deyrolle: A Paris institution since 1831. A curated store of preserved and taxidermied animals that feels more like a small museum, from pinned butterflies to stuffed quadrupeds, and other curiosities. (There is a wonderful party scene in the movie, Midnight in Paris, filmed here). Easily accessible on the Left Bank — stop by en route to Luxembourg Gardens, perhaps.
Gardens, Squares, Streets in Paris
Luxembourg Gardens: This is one of those places I go every time I visit Paris. Beautiful green expanses, open areas, regal statues, lakes with kids floating boats, rickety chairs on rocky paths, fountains, couples picnicking, men in caps playing boules; it’s some of the best of Paris wrapped up in a beautiful, little, verdant package. And when they plant the flowers in Spring, it is hard to tear away from this place. Keep in mind that the Pantheon is only steps away and there is a lovely café in the park, if you are creating an itinerary.
Canal St. Martin locks: This area is no longer “up and coming”; it holds its own. The canal was built by Napolean in 1802 and connects the waters of northeast Paris to the Seine via nine locks. It was used as a supply route into Paris. The neighborhood was used as a backdrop for the film Amelie. My boys loved strolling along, watching the boats and the swinging arm mechanism that allows the streets to swing open and allow them through. If your kids have never seen a lock work, it can be quite fun — stand on one of the bridges above to watch. (Don’t get on a boat, just watch from above; my favorite spot is Pont de la Grange aux Belles). There is some good street art around, too, so keep your eyes open. Chez Prune is a nice little place to stop for coffee — olive and mustard-yellow paint, vinesd decorating the walls, a copper bar and very friendly folks await inside.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is in an untouristy area (be prepared for a stroll, or think of taxi or metro to get there) and will give you a taste for the “real” Paris. Go for the view of the whole of Paris atop a butte, a picnic in the grass or a verre du vin at the café. It is quite an extraordinary place, like none I had seen. Built on an old quarry, the island in the center is topped by a small temple, surrounded by greenery. This is where you will climb to enjoy an incredible view all the way to Montmartre.
Pont des Arts: One of the most romantic spots in Paris, but your kids will like it, too. In spite of the tourists, and the cliché, bereted accordian player busquing for a Euro, the tourist-filled Bateaux Mouches will float underneath you, while you stare at Notre Dame/ Ile St Louis in one direction, and the Louvre and Tuileries in the other. If you are crossing to or fro the Louvre, don’t miss this beautiful spot. Note: this bridge used to be so covered with “love locks” that it was suffering damage, so the locks were removed. A new lock of love location has been established on the bridge just beyond Notre Dame.
Place des Vosges is beautiful little respite in the middle of the city. Originally part of Henri II and Catherine de Medici's palace, it is the oldest square in the city. I find myself here often to stroll through the greens, or under the cool archways. Cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries all have large windows for gawking — some of the artwork will intrigue you, sans doute. This square still has an old-world, luxurious feel tucked into the heart of the Marais. Maison Victor Hugo is also here, if you have any interest in seeing his restored home. See Carette Café below — one of my favorite spots or breakfast, lunch tea or a light dinner, and Pavillon de la Reine, if you are able to splurge on a little luxury for your overnight stay.
One of my very favorite “secret” gardens are in inner courtyard of the Palais Royale. You may need a map to find the entrances. Once inside this manicured, sweet, tree-lined park, you might stop at a fountain to take in the scene of flowers, blossoms and the quiet seclusion, even though you are in the middle of the bustling city. At any age, the kids will love the Columns of Buren on the far end of the park — climb, take pictures and have fun!
Cemeteries, Memorials, Mausoleums in Paris
Don’t shy away from these. These cemeteries are haunting monuments to lives past. Go for the sculpture, the history, the solitude and even for the star power within.
Père Lachaise: Permanent home of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf, Moliere, to name a few. It has rolling hills, lush greenery and on the Morrison site, always some interesting trinkets. This cemetery also has several powerful memorials to the tens of thousands of French Jews deported to Nazi death camps. Perhaps, also of note are the lines of cremains on the back lawn, a less expensive and more “organic” option for those who wish to be buried there.
The small, hidden, Picpus cemetery is remarkable mainly because of its most famous entombed, Lafayette. The only way into the cemetery is through a closed gateway attached to a cloistered nunnery. If you can find the bell, turn to the right to find the entry 'official' and pay a small fee. Find your way through a small garden to a low wall, which will lead you to the long, narrow cemetery. At the far end, under an American flag, is Lafayette. (This cemetery is in an out-of-the-way, relatively remote section of Paris — only for the purists!)
While not a church or a cemetery, the Panthéon is the final resting places of some of France's most famous figures, from Voltaire and Hugo to Marie Curie and more recently, Simone Veil. It is also home to awesome Foucault's Pendulum, tracing the path of the Earth. The architecture is a “wow”, and the view equal to any in Paris. A tour of the rooftop-in-round is well worth the time, especially at the beginning of your trip where you can get the lay of the land.
The Archeological Crypt, in front of the Notre Dame cathedral, at the far edge of the plaza, is a relatively hidden gem: the Crypte Archéologique. While not a memorial or cemetery, it is a preserved site from Gallo-Roman Paris and the medieval era. It walks visitors through over 2000 years of Parisian (or Parisii) history and the story of Lutece.
Le Memorial de la Déportation: Next to one of the lights of Paris, Notre Dame, is a reminder of one of Paris’s darkest times. The Deportation memorial is dedicated to the 200,000 French Jews and others who were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps. It is a short, but poignant and stark reminder of the recent past, including the complicity of the Vichy government. What a breath of fresh air to emerge back onto the Seine with a few of Notre Dame.
Churches in Paris
Ste. Chapelle: Not far from Notre Dame, hidden in the Palais de Justice/Conciergerie is the more spectacular stop, in my opinion. Built in the 1200’s to house Louis the IX’s relics of Christ, it survived the Revolution and now stands regally after multiple years of restorations. There will likely be a line, but the wait is worth it to take in its absolutely incredible stained glass windows, blue, vaulted ceilings and towering steeples — and as a beautiful example of Gothic architecture.
There are several reasons you may want to duck into St Sulpice for a looksee: 1) it is in the path from the Luxembourg gardens to St. Germain; 2) It is a stunning piece of architecture; 3) it has an enormous organ, world-renowned, and often around 11:30 there are recitals; 4) it houses several orginal Delacroix pieces; 5) Hugo was married here; and 6 ) it is the setting for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Where to Shop & Stroll in Paris
Visiting Les Puces de St. Ouen, including marché Paul Bert & marché Vernaison is an experience that is almost a sensory overload…. stuffed foxes, bin upon bin of silverware, copper pans, chandeliers, vintage posters and old Ricard sets, and oh, let’s not forget the people. Try to guess what things are — there is some good history for kids- bed pans, copper bed warmers, silverware, posters, etc.
Marche aux Fleurs (flowers and birds) Marche des Fleurs, Reine Elizabeth II- on Ile de la Cite: Hosts birds, garden trinkets, flowers and more beautiful flowers. It is sheltered by plane trees and a cast-iron Art Nouveau pavilion. While it is only a half a block long, the smells and sights are such a lovely change from the tourist sights and throngs of bodies nearby. On Sundays there is Le Marché aux Oiseaux, where you can shop for live birds. Stroll through the flower market before or after your visit to Notre Dame.
Quai Voltaire (books): If you have seen a movie set in Paris, you have likely seen the bouquinistes, the wooden book stands along the walls of the Seine. While many of the wares are touristy gimmicks, you can still find some true gems. While you take in the views of the water, the activity below, the boats, the Louvre and Notre Dame, enjoy stopping here and there to gaze at a few charming pieces of history.
La Grande Épicerie, part of Bon Marché, is, yes, a department store. But, oh, what a store. I feel as if I have walked into the adult version of Willy Wonka's factory when these doors swing open. It is shiny (and expensive), with shelves stocked floor to ceiling with delicacies, gifts you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere, and never, ever, have I had the fortitude to walk out empty handed. It is a wonderful place to buy gifts to bring home, many of which will fit easily in your carry on.
Sennelier Art Store was a supplier for Picasso and Cezanne because of the unique colors — if Sennelier did not stock the color an artist needed, he would make it. This store, especially for artists who make pilgramages here, is a mecca of art supplies. Pop in for an eyeful, and if your kid has artistic tendencies, grab a pad of paper and some markers or pencils and head over to the Orsay a few blocks down for some sketching.
Rue Mouffetard: Just down the hill from the Pantheon. Every day except Monday and half-day Sunday… an eye-and-nose-full. Great little pop-in restaurants and pubs (raclette wheels will beckon you; succomb)! On Wed, Fri, Sun, it bumps right in to the marché Monge, so you get a twofer.
Books to Buy Before You Go
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke.
Paris, A Novel by Edward Rutherford.
Paris by Eugene Atget (photography).
A Paris Apartment: A Novel by Michelle Gable.
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz.
A note from Jody
Note on traveling with kids: Realizing that all kids are not alike, you will have to gauge your own kids’ tolerance for some of these activities. Mine, for instance, are not shoppers (hence the lack of shopping suggestions). My boys are also happy to eat at restaurants, though sometimes they prefer to opt for a quick crepe or sandwich on the go. (See notes on eating out in Paris below). Some kids are set on the triumvirate: Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame and the Louvre. However, if they are not (and you are not) set on those, I contend that there are sites and activities of equal or greater interest with far shorter lines and greater return on your time and money.
Places to eat & drink in Paris, France
Le Chardenoux: Classic bistrot, wonderful food and atmosphere, daily menus, etched glass and mirrors. (The Charlie Hebdo site is not too far from here, should you be interested in seeing it).
La Palette: A favorite for the location and theme and outdoor seating on a not-too-busy corner in the 7th/6th. White-aproned waiters with slicked back hair and “un air particulier” about them seat regulars up against the wall of the building, the best seats for people watching. The art-themed interior is spotted with palettes (as one might imagine), paintings and a toilet that fits only the slenderest of French women. The back room is often full of football fans — stick to the outdoor, shade-covered sidewalk for your rosé, cheese plate and “petit nerveux”.
Pavillon de la Fontaine: In Luxembourg gardens. Take a seat and have patience if you aren’t attended to immediately. The waiters are friendly, but often overworked here. And why wouldn’t they be in this stunning setting under shade trees where your snack or lunch will be the treat of the day — not for the food, though it isn’t bad at all, but for the view in every direction of statues, gardens, fountains, kids playing ball, lovers strolling by and regulars meeting for their weekly Ricard together. I could sit here all afternoon (and have).
Cafe Breizh: Crepes extraordinaire in the Marais. Make reservations, lest you be part of the line that weaves around the corner. The apple cider is a must, and next door is a gourmet’s delight — cheeses, butter, meat, tapenades…. Browse while you wait for your cidre. (There is also a Petit Breizh, more modern and larger, closer to St. Sulpice on the Left Bank. While the menu is the same, the feel is not. It is trendier, and less cozy. Not my preferred spot, but still a great stop if crepes and cidre are on your list!
Les Deux Magots: Yes, it's touristy and pricey, but have a cheese plate and a glass, enjoy the view of the oldest Church in Paris, watch the people passing by — it’s worth it. Not to mention the fun of sitting in the lap of history (pardon the mixed metaphors) where famous bottoms have been before you.
Ma Bourgogne, on Place des Vosges, is a good stop for sitting outside and watching people pass. Grab some mussels and late afternoon snack; they are known for their steak tartare if you are so inclined. Do a little stroll around the square after for some window shopping and gallery peering.
La Carette on Place des Vosges: Tea, macarons, coffee, omelettes, salads in a sweet, old world atmosphere. This place is easy to access, seats are usually available and food is French but not daring — often a comfortable place for teens to find something yummy.
Miznon: Very casual — don’t be put off if there is a line, as there are some seats in the back. People are here for a reason: it’s deeeelish. They are known for their falafel and beef bourgignon, so give those a try, if they aren’t sold out, and do not miss the roasted cauliflower and fresh pita. My friends and I agree that we would fly back to Paris just to have this meal again… we are only half joking.
Restaurant by the lake, Le Chalet des Iles: If taking a small ferry across a “moat” weren’t enough to pique your interest, perhaps eating smoked duck and melon, foie gras, gambas, veal in a velouté overlooking a sweet little lake on an enormous deck in the sun, or tucked, on a colder day, into a muralled room under antler chandeliers will tempt you. This whole meal is an experience: the getting there, experiencing a new part of Paris (it is not too far from Louis Vuitton Foundation, so make a pairing of the two) and loving the contemporary menu.
Brasserie de l'Ile St-Louis (open Sundays): While this brasserie feels more German than French, it is an old timey, very Parisian experience which has been on this spot for decades. Mostly standard Parisian dishes, good comfort food (omelettes, frites, salads, and carafes of wine) and waiters who are as old-hat as it gets. Lovely spot to people watch if you can snag a table outside.
Jazz brunch on Sundays at La Bellevilloise. This is truly a hidden gem as you will not likely see it in a tourist guide. It is on the outskirts of Paris in a working neighborhood. Light and airy, sprinkled with potted olive trees, there is not a bad seat in the house. The brunch spread is as tasty (and slightly eclectic) as it is colorful. The "stage" feels more like a friend's backyard. Make reservations before your travels.
Pastry Shops in Paris
Fou de Pâtisserie Carries pastries from well-known names like Pierre Hermé and Cyril Lignac, Carl Marletti. There are éclairs, Saint-Honorés and fresh daily treats.
Senoble Famille Gourmande A pastry shop, ice cream parlor and tea salon. Try their macarons, pastries (fruit tartes, eclairs), chocolates and plenty of take home gifts.
Blé Sucré's signature pastries are worth traveling across town for: iced madeleines, millefeuilles, kouign amanns and croissants ( earned best-in-Paris status by many critics).
Stohrer: oldest pastry shop.
Candy & Chocolate Shops in Paris
(Many closed Mondays- check hours)
Jacques Genin: Delicious caramels & pate de fruit.
Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse: Ducasse does chocolate…’nuff said?
Paris Ladurée Royale: Macarons. Locations all over the city.
Compagnie Generale de Biscuiterie Cookies
Afternoon High Tea in Paris
Le Meurice 228 rue de Rivoli, 1th. Every day from 3:30pm-6pm.
Le Bristol Paris 112 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th.Every day from 3pm-6pm.
Karamel 67 rue Saint-Dominique, 7th. Mon-Fri from 7:30am-7:30pm. Saturday from 9am-7.30pm. Sunday from 9am-7pm.
A note from Jody
When Dining in paris:
A slight difference between dining in Paris (and France) and the US is the unusual sight of children at a table, and the not infrequent sight of a dog, often being fed from a fork and a plate… on a chair. General politesse is the same, but children are not often part of the party at restaurants, so make sure your kids are well-behaved unless you like the rushed treatment and hard-glare from the opposite side of the room. It is essential to say bonjour or bonsoir when entering a restaurant, and when you leave to say merci. Follow up with a Madame, Monsieur or Mesdames Messieurs if you feel so bold, for added bonus points.
I like to make reservations, though at the 7pm hour, when Americans typically eat, most restaurants will not need or require such (Parisians don’t dine until 9ish or later). But reserving does let them know you are coming, and relieves the pressure of searching-while-hungry. (Try La Fourchette for online reservations; they often offer deals- similar to OpenTable.) I might recommend trying your more expensive restaurant choices for lunch as their menu will be less pricey at noon, and/or a prix fixe set menu meal. Often, it’s the best thing of the night.
It is okay to ask for water by the carafe — those bottles of sparkling can get expensive (though I will admit to being a fan of Badois). Good vocab to know is, un carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait and gazeuse or plate (bubbles or flat). Don’t expect ice, (in fact, don’t even ask) nor doggie bags (though often the volume of food isn’t, like in the US, big enough to merit takeaways).
Need to Know
Logistics & Getting Around Paris
Paris is a walking town — my advice is to embrace it; make yourself a map on Google (star your saves) and pull it up on your phone as you walk through town below. I always take maps with me that I have made for Revolution points, sweets, fun facts and street art. Reach out and I am happy to share my finds! Oh, and take comfy shoes!
The metro system is moving to a card, rather than tickets. For a while longer, you may still buy a "carnet" — ten tickets on the metro; they should get you through a day or many more depending on weather and your walking shoes. Soon, children under 11 will ride free, so check before you go.
Consider buying a two-day Paris Museum Pass that grants unlimited entry to the permanent collections of 50ish museums and monuments. While you need to pick it up on arrival, it is an easy and lovely way to access the art and culture.
If you are looking for more family-friendly tips for traveling in France, check out my guide to Normandy: Family-Friendly Trip to Normandy, France!
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