Paris is top of most people’s travel wish lists and with good reason – it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But how easy is it to visit with children?
The good news is that the city has more than enough to entertain every member of the family, whatever their age. You can easily combine visits to the cultural sights with trips to the numerous parks and those all-important stops for ice cream and hot chocolate. The trick is finding those activities that children will find fun and engaging. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Paris with kids.
Paris, like most big cities, can get very busy, with long queues at many of the most popular sights. With this in mind I’ve included tips on avoiding queues wherever possible.
Look for the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame
The gruesome monsters at the top of Notre Dame are some of the most famous gargoyles in the world. If you climb all 387 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase you’ll be able to see them close up and be rewarded with spectacular views over Paris. This is the world made famous by Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Don’t miss the chance to go inside the 800-year-old Gothic cathedral where Napoleon had himself crowned. Arrive before it opens to avoid long queues to climb the tower.
The cathedral of Notre Dame is open every day and visits are free. The tower can be climbed every day from 10am until 6.30pm. It is open until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August. Adults, €12; under 18s, free.
Watch a puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg
The beautiful Luxembourg Gardens are home to the oldest puppet theatre in France – there are shows three times a week and every day during the school holidays. These grand gardens, complete with statue-lined promenades, fountains and old men playing chess under the trees, are a Parisian institution and the perfect place for children to let off steam. There’s a good playground, sandpits, a vintage merry-go-round and pony rides. You can even hire model boats to sail on the pond.
Visit the bird market on Île de la Cité
Every Sunday, the flower market near Notre Dame is transformed into a bird market. You’ll hear the squawking and singing of the birds well before you arrive and your children will love seeing all the parrots, canaries, budgies and mynah birds for sale. You can cuddle rabbits here too.
Find the best hot chocolate in Paris
The hot chocolate in Paris is thick and creamy and more like melted chocolate than the watered down version we get in the UK. It’s usually served in a jug, with extra cream to make it even more indulgent. It’s fun for kids to embark on a quest to find the best hot chocolate in the city.
We like the Belle Époque splendour of Angelina’s near the Louvre where Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn used to come. Another favourite is Un Dimanche à Paris on a cobbled passageway on the Left Bank. The rich hot chocolate here comes with the very welcome addition of three miniature cakes.
Brave the underground tunnels of the Catacombes
The bones of over six million people have been carefully arranged along the walls of the underground tunnels which run under the city. These are the bones of the victims of the French Revolution, the Plague and the guillotine. There were so many deaths that by the late 18th century the public burial pits were overflowing and so millions of bones were transferred down into these old mineshafts.
The 45-minute tour takes you down a spiral staircase and along some of the tunnels. You’ll only see a fraction of what is down here – the tunnel network is 200 miles long and during the Second World War they were used as hideouts by both members of the Resistance and the Nazis.
The Catacombes are open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am until 8.30pm. Adults, €12; children, €5. To avoid the queues, get here before it opens or book a guided tour – these cost more but you won’t have to queue.
Watch a magic show in the Musée de la Magie
This quirky museum in the Marais is a must for aspiring magicians. Down in its 16th-century vaulted cellars you’ll find a treasure trove of tricks, props and illusions from the 18th century to the present day. It’s all brilliantly interactive, with distorting mirrors, secret boxes, handles to turn and illusions to figure out.
All kids will love the magic show which is included in the price of the ticket.
The Musée de la Magie is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm until 7pm. Adults, €9; children, €7.
Take the bus around some of the best sights in Paris
Why pay for a sightseeing bus tour when you can go on a local bus for a fraction of the cost? The number 69 bus takes you past the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Marais and Bastille and finishes at the Père Lachaise Cemetery where famous figures like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Jim Morrison are buried.
Be a news presenter in the TV Studio at Cité des Enfants
This science and technology museum is widely considered to be the best museum in Paris for children. It’s crammed with fun and interactive activities to help children explore scientific phenomena. In the area for two to seven-year-olds you can work with other children to build a house or fix a car, take part in circus acts or find objects using your senses.
The five to 12-year-olds can head to the TV Studio to present the news and learn how to use a camera. They can also measure how fast they run and play water games.
The Cité des Enfants is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Adults, €9; under 25s, €7. Sessions last for an hour and a half.
Take a boat trip down the Seine
Make the getting around part of the fun. Taking a boat trip down the River Seine is a great way to get your bearings on your first day. The boats, which travel from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back, go past many of the most iconic sights in Paris. The tours usually last an hour and the audio commentary tells you more about what you’re seeing.
There are several companies. We liked Bâteaux Parisiens.
Ride on a merry-go-round
Your children will be delighted to find old-fashioned carrousels scattered all over the city, many of which are over 100 years old. Quite a few of them are in front of some of the most famous sights in Paris – the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Hôtel de Ville – so they make a great reward for tired little legs while you’re out seeing the sights.
Make it even more fun by copying the French children and playing the jeu de bagues. You’re given a stick and you have to try and spear the metal rings as you spin around.
Climb up the Eiffel Tower
My own children have assured me that you can’t go to Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower. If you really want to impress everyone back home then you should climb up the stairs instead of taking the lift. Not only much more fun, it’s also cheaper and the queues for the stairs are much shorter than those for the lift.
The stairs will take you to the second level and you can get the elevator to the top from there. To avoid the longest queues, book tickets in advance from the website. You can only book tickets online for the elevator. Tickets for the stairs are sold at the Tower.
The Eiffel Tower is open every day from 9am until 12.45am from mid June to early September, and from 9.30am until 11pm for the rest of the year.
Do a treasure hunt around the Louvre
Paris has some of the best art museums in the world so it’s a great place to get your kids excited about art. If you’re going to one of the big galleries, be sure to take it at their pace. Work out what you’re interested in seeing and just do those. That way you won’t get museum fatigue and you can spend time looking at what you’re most interested in.
My kids loved the Impressionists and the clock at the Musée d’Orsay and then we headed to the wonderful Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s spectacular series of waterlily paintings. This is a particularly good museum for children as it’s less busy and has more space for you to sit and gaze at the massive paintings.
For modern art, head for the Pompidou Centre. Children will love its crazy, colourful exterior and the interactive exhibits in the Children’s Gallery. Be sure to go up to the top floor for panoramic views over Paris and then spend time enjoying all the street entertainers in the square outside.
If you’re going to the Louvre, I’d recommend taking a fun tour like the Treasure Hunts offered by THATLou. In teams of two to four you follow the clues to various works of art in a scavenger hunt around the museum.
Eat lots of cake
With an amazing pâtisserie on virtually every street corner you can feel justified in indulging your sweet tooth while you’re in Paris. You’ll find macarons in every colour of the rainbow, lemon tarts, éclairs, Baba au Rhum and Paris-Brest. They’ll come beautifully wrapped in a pyramid parcel ready for you to enjoy beside the Seine or in one of Paris’s wonderful parks.
Cuddle a cat in the Café des Chats
Cat lovers will adore the Cat Café in the Marais where you can find over a dozen cats wandering around, curled up on chairs or sleeping in corners while you enjoy lunch or afternoon cake.
The cats have all been rescued and have been specially chosen for their sociability. They can all be cuddled (unless they’re sleeping) but young children will need to be supervised.
Le Café des Chats is open on Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm until 10.30pm.
Have an ice cream beside the Seine
Berthillon on the Île Saint-Louis serves some of the most famous ice creams in the world. When you’ve bought yours, follow the steps down to the banks of the River Seine. It’s a lovely spot to eat your ice cream while you walk beside the river, stopping to look at all the barges along the riverbank.
Learn how to make éclairs in a cooking class
Children can have a lot of fun learning how to create their own sweet treats by taking a cooking class. At Cook’n With Class in Montmartre, six to 12-year-olds are taught how to make molten lava cakes and French jam shortbreads. The whole family can take part in a two-hour choux pastry workshop at L’Atelier des Sens and learn how to make éclairs. Both classes are in English.
For more tips and ideas on travelling to Paris with kids, take a look at