Paris with children
WHY GO? As the old Cole Porter song goes, you can’t help but love Paris any time of the year for its splendid beauty and endless charm. But it’s not exclusively for romantics with dreamy eyes, gourmands with a well-developed palate, art fanatics hopping between art galleries, and fashionistas strolling down Avenue Montaigne. The city often mistakenly considered to be grown-up territory is also fantastic for little ones who are on the way to becoming all that.
Paris is too beautiful to dabble at the surface as a visitor, an outsider and a mere tourist. Savour it slowly and let the children be Petits Parisiens. How? Let them play with the local children at the pretty playgrounds sprinkled around the city; pick up a baguette or two with them in the morning at a local boulangerie; watch their faces light up at the sight of the magical patisserie window; let them have endless fun walking along the river and around the enchanting streets.
At the end of the trip, they will claim their love for Paris whether it ‘drizzles’ or ‘sizzles’.
WHERE TO STAY?
1. Hotel d’Aubusson: A great luxury option on Rive Gauche. Most of the sites you want to visit with children are within easy walking distance. Chic and elegant, if its literary connection with Camus and Sartre appeals to book-loving parents, the spacious rooms (they have an option for even larger apartments) and lovely courtyard are a rare bonus by Paris standards. 33, rue Dauphine, the 6th arrondissement.
2. Pavillon de la Reine: If you want tranquility and sheer luxury the Pavillon is a real treat. This uber stylish hotel offers adjoining rooms and junior suites for families. Hip stores, restaurants and exquisite small museums are nearby, as well as multiple playgrounds.
3. Rent an apartment: The best way to live the Parisian life is renting a property. Kid & coe gives a wide range of stylishly decorated houses and apartments for families but the locations are often not ideal. Airbnb offers more options. The best location to explore the city is somewhere in the 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissements near Blvd St-Germain north of the Jardin du Luxembourg toward the Seine.
WHAT TO EAT? Breakfast – ‘Tartine avec berre et confiture’ is served at any cafe. If something sweet is preferred, chausson aux pommes is a slightly healthier option than the usual decadent pain au chocolat. Don’t worry about it if you have picky eaters. Most bistros offer croque monsieur or a simple omelette with cheese or ham.
WHAT TO DO? – TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN PARIS
1.Eclectic mix of old grandeur and hip vibes in Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissement):
Filled with stunning mansions built for the French nobility and abundant in beautiful museums and art galleries, Marais is grand and magnificent architecturally and trendy and fashionable in atmosphere.
What will also surprise you is the number of playgrounds, gardens and squares sprawled around the town. Have lunch (you must) at one of the Jewish restaurants on Rue des Rosiers called ‘Pletzl’ (little square in Yiddish) in the Jewish quarter. If you’d rather have simple but freshly prepared sandwiches and light fare in the enchanting courtyard try Cafe Suedois (11, rue Payenne).
After stocking up on cute Bensimon shoes at Autour du Monde (12, rue de Francs Bourgeois) or K. Jaques sandals (16, rue Pavée), head to Place des Vosges, arguably the most beautiful square in Paris and once home to Victor Hugo. For an afternoon pick-me-up, go to Carette, a salon de thé situated on the north side of the square for a variety of delicious pastries.
If children prefer a scoop or two of ice-cream, Berthillon on Île Saint-Louis is the place to go. This family-run business since 1954 offers artisanal ice cream and sorbet with creative flavours such as ‘foie gras’ but they have plenty other flavours that will appeal to children’s palate. If you have no patience for a long line (it’s less crowded before noon) try Amorino down the street, which offers organic varieties and an unlimited choice of flavours per whatever size cone or cup you choose.
2. Relaxed glamour on Rive Gauche – Jardin du Luxembourg and nearby sites (5th and 6th arrondissement).
If you didn’t start the day with bread from your local boulangerie (try ‘Gerard Mulot‘ or ‘Eric Kayser‘) go to Bread and Roses (7, rue de Fleurus) for ‘tartine avec beurre and confiture’ (sliced baguettes with butter and jam, the standard breakfast served at any cafe). Modern and serving bread and food with high-quality ingredients, it’s a great place to drop by for a quick breakfast before the trip to the Luxembourg Gardens located only a block away.
If you’d rather go to a traditional French cafe, try the famous Cafe de Flore or Les Deux Margot on Boulevard St. Germain.
Go to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the morning before the crowd arrives. The garden itself is beautiful, with the Medici Fountain, the museum and the large round basin to the south of the museum. But the biggest attraction for children is the playground in the south-west side of the garden. If it seems pointless to go to a playground when you’re in one of the prettiest cities in the world, you will immediately find yourself charmed by the playground’s leafy and creative setting and the antique carousel outside it. Admission is €2.50 per child and €1.20 per adult.
For lunch, it’s lovely to have a picnic in the garden with quiche or sandwiches from Gerard Mulot or Paul. If you’d rather try something other than the same old French bistro menu — and don’t mind the rather steep price for burgers — try Le Germain (25, rue de Buci). Its modern European menu offers dishes such as mac & cheese with ham (‘coquiellete avec jambon et fromage’) and burgers served on Poîlane bread. The atmosphere is dominantly bourgeois, with chic Parisiens and hardly any tourists.
After lunch, don’t miss the beautifully intertwined small streets in the area: Rue Jacob, where the quintessentially French brands like Isabel Marant and Jerome Dreyfuss are found; Rue de Seine, which is lined with art galleries; and Rue Bonaparte, home to Soeur (one of Inés de la Fressange’s favourite shops), which is a concept store for Parisian teenage girls. If you’re the kind of mother who buys your basics at Petit Bateau, this is the store for you.
By the time children’s patience starts running out, walk down to Quai de la Tournell and head east. As you walk, turn around and enjoy the beautiful sight of Notre Dame. Even if visiting Tour d’Argent — the legendary restaurant that claims to date back from the 16th century — is an unrealistic option for children, drop by Les Comptoir de la Tour d’Argent, the food shop (‘épicerie’) situated next door on the corner of Rue du Cardinal Limoine. You can pick up jars of terrine and jams, and especially ‘Galettes Brettones’ (butter biscuits) in a pretty royal blue box that make a great souvenir.
Keep walking to the east of the river and on Quai Saint Bernard past Pont de Sully and you will find Institut du Monde Arabe on the right side and Jardin Tino Rossi (river walk) on the left. At the beginning of the garden, there is a playground where the children will love spending an hour or two.
For dinner, go to Le Comptoir du Relais (9, carrefour de l’Odeon), part of Hôtel le Relais St-Germain, for fantastic classic bistro dishes such as beef cheek stew and crispy pig’s trotter. Or get a glass wine accompanied by a chacuterie and cheese board while children eat croque monsieur or oeuf mayonnaise. Get there by 5 pm to avoid standing in line. For a lighter dinner option, get good crêpes next door at Avant Comptoir, owned by the same chef, Yves Camborde.
3. Glamour and sophistication around Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries (1st arrondissement):
Until their taste for art develops further in fidgety little children, the Louvre is best enjoyed from outside. Let them run around at Jardin du Carrousel under Arch de Triumph du Carrousel and through the perfectly trimmed bushes and sculptures. Keep going west toward Place de la Concorde past the large round basin and on the norhwest side of the garden is a playground and a beautiful carousel.
Out of the garden through the north entrance you will find Angelina (226, rue de Rivoli), a glamourous belle-époque salon de thê where Coco Chanel was a regular. Mont Blanc (sweet chestnut puree topped with whip cream) is their speciality. Milleu Feuille with an intense vanilla flavour is their second most popular item. Thick, rich and oh-so-decadent hot chocolate is a must-try. If you like something sweeter and creamy, try the white hot chocolate.
4. Eiffel Tower and Jardin de Trocadero
The Eiffel Tower might seem like a cliche site. It’s one of those places you can be fed up with even before you see it in person. Many French artists and writers despised it when it was first constructed. (Most notably, Guy de Maupassant hated it so much that he famously said he ate at the restaurant inside the tower so he didn’t have to see the tower.) But look at the tower through the eyes of your child and you suddenly realise how awe-inspiring this gigantic metal structure can be for children who only knew it in the form of cheap key chains from souvenir shops.
Paris never stops surprising you with its abundance of playgrounds and child-friend facilities. The Eiffel Tower is no exception, with a nearby playground and two carousels. Head across Pont d’Iena to Jardins du Trocadero, where the real fun begins. This is where you have the best view of the Eiffel Tower. Also, the large rectangular pool at the bottom of the Palais de Chaillot is adorned with elegant statues and its water fountains/canons to delight children and adults.
To eat, go either Les Cocotte de Christian Constant (135, rue St-Dominique) or Petit Cler (29, rue Cler) for classic bistro menus with a modern touch. While adults can get inventive dishes, these bistros also offer simple things like omelettes (ham or cheese) for picky children. These two streets are filled with many high-cuisine restaurants run by well-known chefs. Rue Cler street market is one of the best in Paris and you also will find many specialty food stores.
5. Up and down the Seine
‘Les Berges de Seine‘ is a 2.3 km pedestrian path along the Seine stretching from the Pont de l’Alma to the Pont Royal by the Musée d’Orsay. Completed in 2013 as an ambitious project to create an urban recreational space, it’s fun, innovative in design and original in concept (or even ‘quirky’ – what about renting a cargo container called ‘zzz’ for a nap?). For relaxation, there are floating gardens with deck chairs and outdoor tables with printed chess, checkers, and backgammon boards.
Surprisingly (and thankfully) Les Berges is still under the tourists’ radar. Children will be entertained for all 2.3 km with games of hopscotch, climbing walls, a chalkboard on the wall, and much more. This promenade is also full of places to eat and drink. Faust at the foot of the Pont Alexandre III is a great spot to sit and watch the sunset. Or sit down at the ’emmarchement’, a large staircase linking the Musée d’Orsay and the Seine. Children will love having a mini-picnic on the stairs while waving at the tour boats on the river. Click here to find out about other activities, restaurants and the map.
What makes the Seine so beautiful are the bridges. Along the Berges de Seine walk, be sure to pause and appreciate bridges such as the Pont Alexandre III. The most ornamental and majestic of all bridges in Paris, it’s breathtaking from every angle, the bridge itself as well as the view from it.
To throughly enjoy the beauty of the Seine, don’t skip the boat tour (no matter how touristy it sounds). There are multiple locations to buy tickets, such as Batobus or Bateaux Parisiens.
Get on the boat for the hour-long ride, sit back and relax for a change after days of walking the city. While children love hearing the echo of their own voices passing under the bridge, you might not help but feel like a young girl all over again reciting the poem ‘Le Pont Mirabeau’ by G. Appollinare. ‘Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine et nos amours. Fault-il qu’il m’en souvienne la joie venait toujours aprés la peine…’