Je ne sais quoi faire avec mes enfants à Paris
(I don’t know what to do with my children in Paris)
having fun in the City of Light with children during the holiday season
I am often asked what there is to do in Paris with children. This week was no exception. I thought it would be more efficient to write a short post than to send an email to each family (and the post may help others of you as well). That inspired this week’s simple pleasure: what to do with children in Paris during the holiday season.
Paris is a great place for children filled with visual and intellectual inspiration as well as things to amaze and delight their tummies. A couple of interesting organizational facts that may help you in getting around and interest them at the same time.
First, there twenty arrondissements (districts) in Paris and the arrondissement and street name are posted on the side of buildings on blue signs. If the street is named after an individual, the sign will identify the dates that person lived and their contribution to society (sometimes an interesting distraction for children as you are walking to your destination).
Second, the arrondissements are organized loosely like an escargot (a snail) shell. Beginning with the 1st arrondissement, the center of Paris where the Louvre lies (and where it all started), the arrondissement numbers circle up and around Paris in a clockwise motion. As Paris grew, so did the size and shape of this metaphorical snail’s shell.
My list of things to do with children during the winter time differs from those activities available in the summer months due to the weather. While it does not usually snow in Paris, it is chilly. Plan on the weather being about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring an umbrella and takes gloves, scarves and hats for the little ones and especially warm jackets or you will hear lots of “I am cold.”
Here are a few suggestion of places (with links) to take your family during the holiday season.
indoor activities when it is drizzling and rainy
American Library in Paris
(located in the 7th arr. , close to the Eiffel Tower)
This library has a host of English books, readings, and activities for children. It is particularly a great resource if you have a lengthy stay.
Paris is full of museums of all different types and sizes and the exhibitions change often so even those that you have visited numerous times before seem new.The museums are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. All of them have guided tours or audio tours, both of which are in English. There is also an independent tour group that has museum tours geared toward children. If you do not want to plan a children-geared tour yourself, this private company will do it for you.
These are my favorite museums for children:
(located on the right bank, in the center of Paris, closed Tuesday)
You cannot go to Paris and not visit the Louvre, it is a classic. It houses masterpieces (think Monna Lisa), sculpture, Italian paintings, Islamic art, the list goes on. I always tell people to pick one subject or do a visitor trail (a thematic trail 1 ½ – 3 hour tour based upon a subject i.e., the kings living in the Louvre, lions, still life or the Di Vinci Code). Or, you can pick an exhibition or a particular floor you want to focus on and call it a day. It you do not do this, it will be overwhelming, especially for children. The museum offers a 1½ hour guided tour of the masterpieces which covers the Vénus de milo, Monna Lisa, The Wedding Feast at Cana, The Raft of the Medusa or the Apollo Gallery.
The museum has workshops for children and families where you usually visit a work and then practice the technique or use tools and materials used for the original work. There are workshops for various ages (4-6, 6-8, 7-10 and 8-12). Check the site for schedule (often though the workshops pick up again after the New year when winter break is over).
Right now (until January 14) there is a exhibition of 95 paintings by Renaissance painter Raphael painted in the last years of his life.
Café Marly is right there and I like to eat there although the Louvre is central to many restaurants.
(located on the left bank, in the center of Paris, closed Monday)
Once a train station, the history and architecture of this museum alone make it a great place to take children. The fact that it is also the setting for the book turned movie HUGO CABRET also makes it interesting for children. It opened as a train station in 1900 servicing the south-west of France. It operated until 1939 and then was used for various activities such as a site for movies.In 9178 it was listed as Historic Monument. It took 10 years to design the museum (ironic since it took only 2 years to build the entire building initially). The museum was open in December 1986. It is dedicated to impressionism and realism and will have paintings that your children may have studied in school or recognize the artists names such as: Monet, Bazille, Renoir, Degas, Manet, Moreau, Degas, Delacroix, Millet, Courbet, Pissarro, Cézanne and foreign artists such as Munch, Hodler and Klimt. There are restaurants on the top levels (the top one is filled with tourists and so the service and menus are dedicated to that, the the lower one is a nice place for tea and dessert).
Right now (until January 20) there is a great exhibit comparing themes of fashion and impressionism which matches famous works with dresses of the same period (granted, I have girls, so my fondness of this exhibition may be a little skewed).
(4th arr., closed Tuesday)
The museum is close to the Marais where there are many child-friendly stores, yogurt shops, and restaurants. The mere structure is fascinating. A buliding that shows its seams by wearing its heating and cooling systems, etc., on the exterior of the building. There are family workshops in English for ages 6 -10 to introduce children to modern art, design and architecture.
Right now (until March) there is a Salvador Dali exhibit. While some of the titles and works may be a little adult, there are plenty of pieces that kids will be fascinated by (melting clocks, a lobster telephone, etc.)
Just a note, south of the Pompidou on rue de Renard, toward rue de Rivoli on rue Verrerie there is a café called Le Second Empire (also known as Original Pizz’ Café located at 62 rue Verrerie), with indoor and outdoor seating. The people are nice and it is very low key so it is a good place to take the kids for a snack, hot chocolate, or meal (and just across is a toy store should you need a toy or a game to take back to your hotel or apartment or to bribe good behavior in the museum!).
Cité des Enfants is a section of the museum of Science and Industry devoted to introducing children to the world through science and technology. There are workshops, exhibits, 3-D films and other large screen movies. The programs are broken down into two groups based upon age (2-7 and 5-12). Check their site for current exhibit information.
Cité de la Musique
(19th arr. , in the Parc de la Villette, closed Mondays)
This is a museum of musical instruments and the history of music with a concert hall.
Palais de la Découverte
(center of Paris, right bank, closed Monday)
This museum is all about “discovery” through science, geophysics, math, physics, astronomy. It has workshops for children (“ateliers”) where they can learn to make perfume or to do science experiments. The workshops are geared toward children 8 and up. There are also lectures ranging in topics from dinosaurs to the planets. Check their website for current topics.
Musée des Arts et Métiers
(in the Marais, closed Mondays)
To get here the added bonus is to take the metro and getting off at my favorite metro stop: Arts et Metiérs (it is beautiful).
This is the museum of invention. On Sundays they have special programs for famalies with children ages 7-12. However, my girls are younger and they loved looking at the robots, bicycles, old cars, cameras, etc. On Wednesdays (Thursdays during holiday breaks) there are 2 hour workshops for children where you make an object and you visit the museum with a guide who will answer all your questions and you can bring with you the object that you made.
3. Cooking Classes For Children
Le Cordon Bleu (petitis cordons bleus)
(15th arr. left bank, south-west Paris)
Classes for children between 8 to 12 years. Children take home what they have prepared in class. Some of the classes are translated into English.
école de cuisine Alain Ducasse
(left bank, south 16 eme, west side of Paris)
Les mini pouces (the little hands) are classes for children ages 7-12. The classes are 2 hours. There are also classes for teens (teens en cuisine).
(in Le Pavillon Élysée Lenốtre,
south of the Champs Élysées in the 8th arr.)
LeNôtre has cooking classes for children 8- 11 years (les petites toques Lenôtre) and teens (les toques juniors) ages 12-17 years. Check their schedule.
Below the café they have participatory magic shows for children. They are in French but even if you do not speak French it is easy to follow along.
Everything to do with magic. Located in the 4th arrondissement, south of Rue de Rivoli. It is also close to a toy store.
There are numerous toy stores in Paris but this one has always been my favorite. “The blue elf” has classic children’s toys and costumes. I would said they are geared more for children under 8. It is in the 8th arrondissement right by the Place Madeleine (southwest side if you are facing the church)
outdoors: parks, rides, things to see
les lumières de la ville: Champs Élysées
At night, the City of Light is probably best represented by the Champs Élysées, from Concorde to the Arc de Triumph (Etoile), this famous street is lined with lights and every year the lights are done differently. This year (2012) they are hoops of neon and the colors change (red, yellow, blue). Light designer Gilbert Moity is responsible for the display this year.
At night, there are also spectacular light displays on the Gallerie Lafayette dome and boulevard Haussmann (this year by artist Yann Kersalé). On the other side of the seine, Thierry Peltrault did the light displays from rue du Bac to the rue de Grenelle.
the windows at the stores
Every year the windows at Printemps and Gallerie Lafayette (in the 8th arrondissement) are decorated with marionettes that dance and sing. This year Christian Dior sponsored the windows and there are marionettes in Dior gowns dancing, singing, and being glamorous in their hâute couture. There are always platforms with ramps for the little ones can get a front row view (I guarantee you they find the windows much more interesting than the contents of the large stores).
During this time of year, there are many holiday themed markets set up throughout the city.
Champs-Élysées: For the past two years, paris has set up “Christmas Village” on the city’s most popular street from the roundabout to the Concorde. This is the largest and longest running of all of the markets. There are more than 100 “chalets” which sell everything from cheese and sausages to chocolate treats and vin chaud. It runs from November 16 to the Epiphany (January 6). Use Metro lines 1, 6, or 9 .
Trocadéro. Just west of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine lies Trocadéro (take Metro line 6 or 9 to get to this stop), take a picture right there in front of the Eiffel Tower in the near distance, and then walk down to the chalets. There are 100 chalets (permanent carousels for the children where you can also purchase holiday hats for them). This is set up from December 13 until the Epiphany (January 6).
Le Village du Père Noël, Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. On right bank (and very central for tourists staying in the 5, 6 or 7 arrondissements), here there are 27 chalets on the Boulevard Saint Germain from December 6 until the Epiphany.
Paris Notre-Dame. There is an art and gastronomy market set up here at the base of the famous cathedral from December 15 to the 23rd.
Parc de la Villette
(19th arr. in the northeastern end of Paris)
This park is hugh and houses great museums for children (see above).
(center of Paris next to the Louvre)
There are year-round carnival-type rides and the Ferris wheel here as well as the sugared treats and crêpés that children think are fantastic. After a trip to the Louvre, it is a good energy release for the little ones.
(6th. arr., south of the Seine)
Hands down this is my childrens’ favorite park. In the summer you can race boats, but there is also zip line and lots of fun kid equipment (in an enclosed area) that keeps me in a chair watching them for hours. Don’t worry, for us parents there is covered seating…the rain does not seem to bother the little ones.
Temporary ice skating rinks are set up in the city during the holidays. Generally the rinks can be found at La Grand Palace and Hôtel de Ville (on Rue du Rivoli in the 4th arr.). Bundle up if you go to the latter location as the wind is cold.
eating: restaurants and treats
In France, children are expected to eat with the adults and eat the same food without the comfort of electronic devices to entertain them throughout the meal. Unless you are dining at a hotel or a restaurant geared toward children (i.e., a restaurant next to a tourist site) you are not likely to find a “childrens’ menu.” Brasseries and bistros are good places for children and there are plenty of them. See my recommended list for restaurants and look at their website to see if it would suit your family.
pâtisseries et chocolatiers
Visit any Patrick Roger atelier to see a Santa Claus made out of chocolate or a 10 foot chocolate tree trunk. He is so creative. I cannot imagine any pâtissierie or chocolatier that your children would not like, but there are a few that I think will appeal to them (and you) due to the design of the chocolate or the candy:
la Pâtissiere des Rêves
Located in the 16th arrondisement, the shop (which also has a tea shop in back), looks like a beautiful scienic room with the dessert until glass domes.
à la Mère de Famille
There are several locations (6th arr. 7th arr, 9th arr. and 17th arr.). They always have chocoalates in the shapes of animals and they have candies too.
39, Rue du Cherche Midi (6th arr.)
47, Rue Cler (7th arr.)
36, Rue du Faubourg Montmartre (9th arr.)
107, Rue Jouffroy D’Abbans (17th arr.)
30, Rue Legendre (17th arr.)
Maison Georges Larnicol
Chocolate creations in the shape of heeled shoes, ladybugs, basketballs, and pianos among other things. Creative and diverse (there are macarons, biscuits and an assortment of chocolate treats with nuts too).
14, rue de Rivoli (4th arr.)
132, Boulevard Saint-Germain (6th arr.)
These are just a few suggestions. If you have specific questions, post a comment or send me an email. I am always happy to help others discover the wonderful things my favorite city has to offer.
passez une bon temps !