Parc de la Villette
211 Ave. Jean Jaurès, 19th
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
Place du Panthéon, 5th
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.
Palais de Tokyo
13 Ave. du Président Wilson, 16th
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.
Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle
36 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 5th
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
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 Ave. Corentin Cariou, 19th
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
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
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.
19 Quai de la Tournelle, 5th
It’s casual and cozy here, which is the perfect backdrop for the rural French food on offer. We come for the delicious roast chicken on Sundays; since most restaurants are closed, it can get quite busy, but in a low-key convivial way. Ask for a table by the window overlooking the Seine.
Le Comptoir du Relais
9 Carrefour de l'Odéon, 6th
If you find yourself with a day alone, grab one of the single occupancy tables outside which face onto the small square; that said, if you’re saddled with the little ones, this spot is blessedly kid-friendly, too. A bottle of red and the boeuf bourguignon—served with lemon rind, pasta, and pine nuts—is the meal to get here.