Travel

The Paris Kids Guide

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While Paris might not come to mind as the most kid-friendly place, it’s actually kind of one giant playground, with some pretty incredible and accessible parks. That, plus the ease of being able to grab a crepe from one of the million stands dotted across the city make it kid nirvana.

Centre Pompidou

Place Georges-Pompidou, 4th | +33.1.44.78.12.33

This postmodern building revolutionized the world of architecture—and turned the rarified concept of a museum into something that could be unintimidating and fun. Designed by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfrancho Franchini, the Centre Pompidou is marked by an exterior lined with colorful tubes that hold the center's plumbing, electric, and circulation systems—inside, it's just as interactive. Home to a public library, a center for music and acoustic research, and the Musee National d’Art Moderne, since its inception in 1977 some of the most important modern art in the world has graced its walls, including pieces from Dali, Pollock, Warhol, and Picasso.

Le Jardin des Plantes

57 Rue Cuvier, 5th Arrondissement | +33.1.40.79.56.01

First planted in 1635 as a medicinal herb garden by Guy de la Rousse, Louis XIII’s physician, these days Le Jardin des Plantes offers 69 sprawling acres of botanical gardens, scenic trails, and a natural history museum. The highlight, though, is a small zoo, which was founded in 1795, making it the second oldest in the world that’s still in existence (it’s outranked by Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Austria). Once home to animals from Versailles’ royal menagerie, the zoo is now known for its unusual, exotic (and often endangered) species.

Musée de la Magie

11 Rue Saint-Paul, 4th | +33.1.42.72.13.26

Even though it occupies a 16th-century cellar beneath the Marquis de Sade’s house, the offerings here are thoroughly child-friendly: The museum showcases antique wands and hats, optical illusions, contraptions, and loads of gorgeously rendered posters and prints. And if you have a little one who loves magic, they do a show (in French) that will totally appeal.

Musée de la Poupée

Impasse Berthaud, 3rd | +33.1.42.72.73.11

Tucked away down a garden-lined alley, this private museum's collection encompasses two centuries of doll-making—making it both nirvana for doll-loving little ones, and a little creepy and cool, too. Besides the museum, there's an in-house doll-hospital, and of course, a shop.

La Maison des Contes et des Histoires

7 Rue Pecquay, 4th | +33.1.48.87.04.01

Tucked away in the Marais, this little art gallery is dedicated to illustrations (both antique and contemporary) along with storytelling for babies and kids up to 13. The exhibitions change every three months, and they pepper the offerings with workshops and outings.

Jardin d’Acclimatation

Bois de Boulogne, 16th Arrondissement | +33.1.40.67.90.85

Located on the northern edge of the Bois de Boulogne, this kids amusement park features a small farm (it was founded as a zoo), the Exploradôme museum (science), plus a full menu of other attractions, like a mini golf course, trampolines, and a house of mirrors.

Ballon de Paris

Parc André Citroën, 15th Arrondissement | +33.1.44.26.20.00

Head to the modern Parc André Citroën and you'll find a moored hot air balloon, which can lift 30 adults (or 60 kids) up above the skyline, offering tremendous views of Paris. This is a prime picnic spot in the summer when the kids can play in the fountains and the modern serial gardens (each is aligned with a different color) are in full bloom. Horticulturists shouldn't miss the two greenhouse pavilions, which are lined with exotic plants.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 18th Arrondissement | +33.1.53.41.89.00

Located at the summit of the butte Montmartre—the highest point in the city—a 234-step climb affords spectacular, panoramic views of Paris.

Palais de Tokyo

13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 16th | +33.1.49.52.02.04

Thanks to a 2012 expansion which takes the museum all the way to the bank of the Seine, nearly tripling its original size, the open plan Palais de Tokyo is one of the best spots in Europe to see contemporary and modern art. The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in the eastern wing houses more than 8,000 works of 20th century art (Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Delauney, etc.) and opens onto a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower. Complete with a comprehensive children's program, artists-in-residence, opening hours that extend until midnight, an excellent bookstore (distinguished by its chain-link fence walls), and restaurants (we like Tokyo Eats), the Palais de Tokyo can easily eat up the better part of a day.

Parc de la Villette

211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th | +33.1.40.03.75.75

Sited on a former industrial wasteland (the Parc de la Villette had served as a slaughterhouse since the 19th century until its rehabilitation in the '70s), this expansive cultural venue is the perfect marriage of old and new. Many of the original buildings—including the veterinarian hospital—are now exhibition halls, and 10 themed gardens, many of which are devoted to kids, dot the landscape. All-in, the Parc de la Villette now houses the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, three major concert venues, and the Conservatoire de Paris. Photograph by Arnaud Legrain

Panthéon

Place du Panthéon, 5th | +33.1.44.32.18.00

Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, this giant mausoleum houses the remains of some of Paris's most famous citizens: Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Monnet, Marie and Pierre Curie, Emile Zola, and as of 2002, Alexandre Dumas. And it was under the central dome that Léon Foucault constructed his pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth (the original now lives in the Musée des Arts et Métiers). In 2007, Jacques Chirac dedicated a plaque in The Pantheon to the thousands of French citizens who harbored Jews during the German occupation, saving them from concentration camp internment.

Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle

36 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 5th | +33.1.40.79.30.00

While the Jardins des Plantes’ Menagerie houses living endangered species (like red pandas and gaurs), its Natural History Museum houses taxidermy (like dodos and coelacanths), teaching kids and adults alike about the importance of conserving diverse animal life. Highlights include fossils and dinosaur skeletons in the Galerie de Paléontologie et d'Anatomie Comparée and meteorites in the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie.

Jardin Du Luxembourg

15 Rue de Vaugirard, 6th | +33.1.44.54.19.49

Sure, this is home to some serious business (the French Senate occupies the adjacent Luxembourg Palace and the formal gardens are some of the city's prettiest), but this giant park really shines when it comes to occupying little kids. Children can expend copious amounts of energy here, whether it's by sailing model boats in the fountains, watching shows at the puppet theatre, riding donkeys on the vintage carousel, or working the jungle gym at the large enclosed playground.

La Cité des Sciences

30 Avenue Corentin Cariou, 19th | +33.1.40.05.70.00

A planetarium, an aquarium, a submarine, an IMAX theatre? Check and check. The museum covers everything from microbiology to outer space, and kids ages 3-12 and 12-15 each get their own ‘Cité’ where learning is interactive. Plan to spend the whole day here, as it's huge (and fascinating), but avoid the weekends which get annoyingly crowded.

Parc Floral de Paris

Route de la Pyramide, Bois de Vincennes, 12th | +33.1.49.57.24.84

At 2,500 acres (about three times the size of NYC's Central Park) the Bois de Vincennes was ample enough to act as the royal hunting grounds in the 13th and 14th centuries, and serve as the site of most of the events during the 1900 Summer Olympics. 17 years later, Dutch spy Mata Hari would be executed in the park's fortress. But we digress: The Bois de Vincenne's Parc Floral de Paris is one of four botanical gardens in the city, home to 3,000 types of plant (including 650 varieties of Iris). There are peacocks, there's a bonsai garden, and there's an annual jazz festival in the park's amphitheater that draws big crowds.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

1 Rue Botzaris, 19th | +33.1.42.45.09.81

Opened in 1864, the Parc des Butte Chaumont was actually a giant public works project: It's called after Chauve-mont, which means bleak hill, because before its makeover, it was actually a dump (as well as a site where they displayed the bodies of hanged criminals). After years of terracing, planting, and construction (everything, from the man-made lake to the cliffs, was molded into shape), the park opened to huge crowds. Beyond just being a lovely place to pass the day (particularly when it's spent drinking wine at Rosa Bonheur), the grotto, waterfalls, and Temple de la Sibylle are big draws—along with a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel.