Paris with Big Kids (6 and Older)
Hot-Air Balloon Ride
Visiting the Eiffel Tower, as you can probably imagine, is not something Parisians do regularly (would you willingly climb to the top of Lady Liberty?). The lines for the elevator or stairs, plus the one for security, will probably curb your enthusiasm anyway. The Andre Citroen Park is not the most famous in Paris but it is a ten-minute car ride from the Eiffel Tower and offers hot air balloon rides—the world’s biggest, ladies and gentleman—which is pretty hard to beat in terms of wow-factor for children, not to mention the views. Ticket prices are on par, but there won’t be as many people. Call ahead to make sure that weather conditions are safe. Insider tip: mornings and weekdays are best. The balloon also acts as a billboard of sorts for the city’s air quality, with flashing lights that change colors based on pollution levels, meaning that there’s an educational element to the activity.
After a quick ride across the Pont Mirabeau (the one from Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem, “sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine”) try the pasta at San Francisco. It’s probably the best Italian in Paris and the restaurant of choice for the ‘60s and ‘70s jet set—with décor to match—but who cares when the food is that good.
Palais de la Découverte (and Other Rainy-Day Solutions)
In case of a rainy day, the Palais de la Découverte is a dream come true for children who enjoy exploring chemistry, astronomy, physics, and other natural phenomena. (It also has the power to spark interest if your child usually doesn’t like that stuff at all.) It’s obviously all in French, but most of the visuals and experiences will speak for themselves. Personally, I just love to go for the building. If it’s raining again on day two, go to the Cité des Sciences, the neighborhood is not as charming but it will make your little ones very happy!
For an easy double feature on the same rainy day, with a break in between at the café—try the Petit Palais (it’s divine even when it’s overcast), do Palais de la Découverte and the Musée Jacquemart-André: If you want to travel back in time—like, two centuries back—and picture life in a traditional right bank “hotel particulier” (or mansion, in layman’s terms), this is the perfect place to get in touch with your inner Duchesse. My favorite museum in Paris, and probably the city’s best small museum, the Musée Jacquemart-André is home to a huge collection of art and furnishings from the 19th century. The collection was assembled by a couple: Édouard François André and his artist wife, Nélie Jacquemart-André. It includes French painters Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jacques-Louis David, and François Boucher, plus Dutch masters like Van Dyke and Rembrandt. The Belle Époque mansion itself is a major attraction. If your girl (or boy) is obsessed with princesses and royalties, this is much easier to access than Versailles.
Musée du Louvre Treasure Hunt
Excellent news: children seem to really enjoy the Nintendo 3DS self-guided tour, while adults can easily download the Louvre smartphone app. But kids get tired—and of course, bored. Try THATMuse, a scavenger hunt organized by expat Daisy de Plume. Teams of two to four people follow clues to various works of art and take a photo for proof, then all scores are tallied afterward. The hunts are themed: love, food, animals, or kings, among others. For those weary of tackling the Louvre with youngsters, this is a good alternative to a guided tour—a little competition while exploring amazing works of art creates a happy museum experience.
Lunch at the Café Marly is always a good idea, though the view of the pyramid is perfect any time of day. Another good option is Loulou right in the garden—if the weather is beautiful. Book this one in advance as it is the loveliest place in the garden and a hotspot for Parisians.
Right in the heart of Paris, take your little to the Conciergerie, the oldest remaining part of the Palais de la Cité, the former royal residence of the kings of France and a prison during the French Revolution. Hundreds of prisoners (the most famous being Marie Antoinette) were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed by guillotine (kids can’t get enough of those guillotine stories). Definitely worth an hour-long visit. You can walk around and see different areas of the prison, from actual cells to the courtyard where the women would go for recess to Marie Antoinette’s personal belongings, which is brilliant.
Since you are so close, go for a walk on the Place Dauphine, my absolute favorite place in Paris. Not touristy at all, it’s simply perfect to sit on a bench and people watch. The restaurant Paul has been there since forever (my grandfather would take me here when I was a child, for the food but also because his name was Paul) and is a very solid option for a traditional Parisian lunch.
Promenade Plantee & Musée des Arts Forains
Take a hike along these old elevated train tracks, now called the Promenade Plantée—it’s actually the urban renewal project that inspired New York City’s Highline. Quirky and unexpected, your children will enjoy a little break in the quiet above the streets. There are no designated amusements really, just good old fashioned strolling and exploring the wildlife while escaping the agitation of Paris for an hour or two. Start behind the Opéra Bastille at the crossroads between the Rue de Lyon and the Avenue Daumesnil and finish at the entrance to the Bois de Vincennes. I recommend going on a weekday as the weekends are much more crowded. Right after or before your walk, try the Creperie Bretonne Fleurie..de l’epouse du Marin (the extra-long name translates to ‘flower-filled Breton crêperie run by a sailor’s wife’) for a straight-from-Brittany crêpe. This place is so charming and children love crêpes; these in particular will not disappoint.
The Pavillons de Bercy, also known as the Musée des Arts Forains (museum of fairground arts), takes you off the beaten track. Here, kids will discover a collection of objects from the performing arts of the 19th and 20th centuries: curiosity cabinets, carnivals, incredible gardens, and Belle Epoque funfairs. Equally charming, fun, and weird. Make sure to book in advance.
French Cooking Classes
Whenever we travel as a family, we learn how to cook something with a local chef—from Vietnam to Italy, it has always been a big hit. So while in Paris, you and your little ones can combine the pleasant and the useful by learning how to cook a traditional French dish. The cooking classes at the Ritz Escoffier School are probably the most serious in town and they offer a parent-child duo class (kids have to be between six and eleven years old) for 160 euros. You’ll get to cook a delicious meal with the guidance of a chef, and best of all, savor it together. Classes for teenagers are also available.
Garden of the Palais Royal and The Opera After Hours
A ten-minute walk from the Opera, the Jardin du Palais Royal is the most peaceful place—and truly Instagram heaven. So before you go for a tour of the Opera, do not miss the opportunity to relax for a moment in one of Paris’s prettiest gardens. There’s nothing specific for the kids to do other than running through the Colonnes de Buren—but do not skip it. Nearby, the Grand Vefour restaurant is one of the most delicious spots in town, so if you wish to completely spoil your kids and/or if they have a sophisticated palate, make sure to book well in advance. Note: it’s not exactly kid-friendly and probably easier at lunchtime.
Like all famous places, the Palais Garnier, or Opera de Paris, has a lot of mysteries, so consider taking your kid on an after-hours adventure. Your guide will share the building’s history via the story of Erik, the mysterious man with a hideous face, aka the Phantom of the Opera. (Think of it as subtly force-feeding culture to youngsters.) Right after your Opera tour try the Bouillon Chartier: cheap and loud with very old waiters who love to argue—a true Parisian adventure! For delicious Thai, Bambou is located in the most charming courtyard of the Sentier (the garment district), with very convincing colonial deco, friendly staff in flowery kimonos, and delicious curry—you will likely fall in love and plan a return visit. Make a reservation and try the sweet coconut rice and warm mango for dessert.
Les Berges de Seine
If the weather is nice, the Berges is a great pedestrian-only promenade on the left bank stretching from the Eiffel Tower to the Pont Royal with incredible views of many Parisian landmarks. You’ll find lots of fun activities to enjoy along the way: climbing walls, hopscotch, temporary cafes, and three floating docks with trees, plants, and seating. They even have board games in wooden crates to keep kids occupied. They can also partake in one of the many scheduled activities and crafting workshops. As a parent, I particularly love the oversized wooden lounge chairs. Totally worth your time.
A Ride in a Convertible 2CV (works for teenagers, too)
I know it sounds like a tourist trap, but it’s really not—I did it and had a blast! Here’s the concept: You get inside a Ministry of Ecology-approved electric 2CV and your driver-slash-guide will take you to explore some of the city’s most notable highlights. From Opera Garnier to the Ile de la Cité to the Louvre, you’ll get a great feel for the city and share a truly unique experience with your kids. I recommend the “secret Paris” tour because it takes you to less-obvious places, like the oldest house in Paris or the residence of Serge Gainsbourg, though the landmarks are great for first-time visitors. Either way, it’s the perfect situation if you child needs a nap but you want to enjoy the city!