My sweet friend Karilyn who is a travel blogger at No Back Home, asked me to share my top twenty things to do in Paris with kids. Firstly, I’d like to dissuade the notion that traveling with kids can be a bummer. Non! If you are planning for a horrible time, you will end up miserable but prep yourself in advance for those unexpected meltdowns and keep these tips up your sleeve and you’ll be asking yourself why didn’t we travel with our kids sooner?
We got Liv’s first passport when she was three, now she is nine, she has traveled to twelve countries, far more than Antz and I travelled by her age! So, let me help you make your traveling with kids blues fade away by following my guide to Paris.
I don’t travel anywhere without these must-haves:
- Multi-function backpack – I cannot walk around all day with a purse. It never works for me, I carry too much stuff and I love to be hands-free so I carry this Goodordering backpack/tote. This has been my go-to travel bag for two years now. It has padded straps so it doesn’t hurt my shoulders and I love the extra pockets in the front to hold tickets and extra camera batteries. I use the side pockets for my water bottle and umbrella which you will read more about below. Invest in a reliable travel bag! I’ve seen too many Mom’s struggling with bulky diaper bags and flimsy purses.
- Hand Wipes – Always handy with kids, I’m not a germaphobe but public spaces can be gross, so it’s always wise to have these on you for wiping ice cream filled faces. I also carry this hand sanitizer spray.
- A scarf – I have used a scarf as a picnic blanket in the park, to wrap my hair up on a windy day and covered myself up when visiting a church out of respect. I have this lightweight one from J.Crew.
- Water bottle – There are lovely public water fountains all over Paris. Having a water bottle is essential to surviving a long day in Paris with kids.
- Cell phone chargers – I have one for each of us because we play Pokemon Go, the Flash Invaders app and taking photos quickly drains our battery power. This one by Anker works great and it has multiple ports. Bonus: If you are an Invader fan, check out my Instagram stories.
- Kids Headphones – If you are planning a long road trip, these are a necessity! Now that Liv is older, she prefers to listen to her own music and we can crank our old people tunes without any side-eyes from her. Plus I rather use my own headphones during guided tours than use the cheap ones they give you. Liv uses these.
- Snacks! – This one is a must-have for kids. Liv gets cranky when she’s hungry and Parisian restaurants close from 3pm – 7pm so I always have fruit, nuts or granola bars in my backpack.
- Small, travel size umbrella – I strongly recommend bringing an umbrella, even during the summer, the sky has been known to suddenly start pouring and it’s so frequent you will be happier you had it than not.
- Backpack for your little one – I always let Liv pack a bag with her camera, a few books for long rides, her special lip gloss, a few small toys, a portable mini fan and her phone and charger. It makes her feel like she’s a big kid having her own things to bring when we travel. She has a Fjallraven Kanken backpack which was expensive but she’s had it for going on five years now.
- I bought Liv her own instant camera and it has been a game changer for our trips. She loves playing photographer and it helps keep her busy when we are at museums or art galleries when she would normally run wild.
- A retractable selfie stick – This one may be controversial. I really hate seeing these sticks all over touristy landmarks however, too many times I have ended up with no family photos or blurry, horrible photos taken by a stranger so I have given in to the selfie stick peer-pressure. This one is strongly recommended by my friend Kelly, who used it during her three month sabbatical while traveling solo. It has a built-in tripod and a remote. Just be aware most popular museums do no allow tripods or selfie-sticks.
Please keep in mind, you must say “Bonjour” when entering a business, to the bus driver or before speaking to any Parisian, not speaking first is considered rude. It’s always a good habit to teach your little ones how to say Hello, Goodbye and Thank you in the language of the country you are traveling to.
Okay, now that you are all prepped and ready to go, here’s your first stop.
- Metro station
(any Metro station)
You may think walking is the best way to get around Paris but the city is huge and little feet get tired fast. If you pop into any Metro station you can buy a book of 10 tickets (called a carnet) which can be used on the trains and buses. I prefer taking a bus around the city so you can sitesee and enjoy a less chaotic ride to your destination. Keep in mind, you can no longer purchase tickets for the bus from the driver, so you have to go to the Metro to buy them. The French public transportation is very easy to navigate and convenient (but it can be crowded and smelly). They even have the arrival times posted on most bus stops. Believe me, you will be doing plenty of walking later.
- Jardin des Tuileries
Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris
This is the Parisian equivalent to Central Park, located near the Louvre museum. Here you will find something for all ages. Playgrounds and sculptures are scattered throughout the impeccably manicured tree lined paths. During the summer and winter months there is a fun fair with games and carnival rides. You will find a carousel, snack stands, a puppet theater and my daughter’s favorite, the trampolines! They cost a few euros for 15 minutes of jumping so make sure you have cash on you.
The museum de l’Orangerie is located in the south end of the garden which houses the impressive Claude Monet Water Lilies.
- Jardin du Luxembourg
Closes at 4:30 pm during the winter months
This is another popular park, it’s massive and lovely. There’s so much to see here you can easily spend a whole afternoon there! The most fun thing for kids is renting a sailboat and spending 30 minutes playing captain of the sea. Don’t worry, I am referring to a small toy boat and you get a stick to launch it into a lake. Each boat has a different country flag so be sure to choose one that you can tell you little one about.
Liv chose Mexico which is where her Grandmother Maria was born. There are pony rides, ice cream vendors and stunning gardens, please be aware, you cannot walk on the grass here and you will get whistled at by security if you do!
- Try the snails at Cafe Charlot
38 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
7 am – 2 am
I know, your kids are probably like mine and will only eat buttered pasta or chicken fingers but I dare you to test their taste buds by ordering escargot at this trendy cafe in the Marais. Our kid refused to try them until we moved here, then she discovered all her French friends ate them, now she loves them. It is open all day, everyday (which is rare) and the waiters are very friendly towards Americans. I tend to opt for an early dinner so we are dining before the restaurant gets too busy and there isn’t much room for drama. Plus I like to get the best table for photos, of course. Be sure to grab a seat inside if you don’t want to be near the smokers on the terrasse and order a Saint Germain cocktail like the cool Parisians do.
Cité des sciences et de l’industrie/City of Science & Industry
30 Avenue Corentin Cariou, 75019 Paris
If your kid is a science geek like mine, this place is for them. There is a science museum, exploratorium, IMAX movie theater and VR experience. The entire area is perfect for kids with a park, boat rides on the canals and a small carnival. Try to go during the week so it’s less crowded.
- See the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night!
Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris
It is a no-brainer if you come to Paris you must see the incredible Tour Eiffel! Yet, I don’t want you to miss the nightly sparkle of the tower. There are always large crowds at the tower during the day and the adjacent Trocadero but much less in the evening. Please note, you can no longer go underneath the tower without going through a long security check line so plan to be there ahead of time. The tower sparkles from sunset every hour until 1 am, it’s magical.
- Princess Crepe
3 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris
What is better than a Parisian crepe? A Japanese Kawaii cheesecake filled crepe! This tiny place is nestled in the Marais village and often has a line of people outside. Try the cheesecake and strawberries crepe, you’ll love it. Definitely Olivia approved.
- Disneyland Paris
Boulevard de Parc, 77700 Coupvray
Liv insisted I add the happiest place on Earth to this list. I will say, I adore Disneyland and it is much less crowded than the one in California. We take the RER A train from Chatelet/Les Halles station which takes about an hour to arrive at the Disneyland station. They have most of the same rides as the US Disneyland but with a European flair. Jack Sparrow charmingly speaks French on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. There is a Queen of Hearts labyrinth maze. I have heard they even have a pineapple whip (similar to Dole Whip) but it’s only available during the summer. The lines are much shorter and there is a seperate Walt Disney Studios park that is very cool.
- Montmartre Village/the majestic Sacre-Coeur Basilica
1 Parvis du Sacré-Cœur, 75018 Paris
Montmartre is arguably the most well-known quarter in Paris. Kids will enjoy taking the funicular up the hill. If you look to the right of the church, you will see a small fence at the bottom of the stairs, you can take this fun photo (slightly tilted) so it looks like the houses are sinking.Then walk around the street to your left past the funicular, at the corner you will catch a glance of the Eiffel Tower. Keeping walking up the hill and you will arrive in Montmartre village. There you can buy tickets for a ride on the Petit Train de Montmartre which will take you on a tour of the area. I highly recommend it.
Skip the souvenir shops in the village and walk towards square Jehan Rictus to check out the Mur des Je’taime (Wall of I love you).
Afterwards, you can have an unusual dinner experience at…
- Le Refuge des Fondus
17 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris
Opens at 7pm (no reservations)
Due to a heavy wine glass tax, this tiny restaurant now serves all drinks in baby bottles. There are two items on the menu; fondue cheese and meat all served with skewers. This place is a total tourist trap that no locals would ever be seen in, but it is such a blast! The table seating is family style so people have to climb over the tables to be seated along the benches. The staff are notoriously mean and rude but I was somehow able to win ours over. He gifted us with a few baby bottles to take home as souvenirs.
226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
10 am – 6 pm
This place is a major tourist attraction but it is worth the wait. Located across the street from Jardin des Tuileries, it is a bakery that specializes in its signature, decadent, hot chocolate. I was so surprised to find out they also have white hot chocolate which is equally good, and I want some now!
- The Natural History Museum
57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris
Every large city has a Natural History museum and Paris is no exception. There is a fascinating exhibit of the kingdom of animals on the second floor of this vast museum. In another building is Liv’s favorite, gems and minerals. It reminds me of the Natural History museum in Los Angeles and is definitely worth spending the day. It is located in the Jardin des Plantes which is especially pretty during the spring. Make sure to stop at the Dodo Manège carousel which has animals that are sadly all now endangered or extinct. There is also a zoo within the jardin des plantes but I recommend the next zoo.
- Parc Zoologique de Paris
Avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris
This zoo is located in the 12eme arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris in the enormous bois des Vincennes. I had low expectations for Parc Zoologique because in my opinion, there is no better zoo than the famous San Diego zoo, so I was delighted to see animals I have never seen in person before. LIKE A SLOTH! I could have stayed there all day watching this sweet guy move in slow motion. We went on a very hot day so we had to keep moving along. Antz took a photo of a spider bigger than my hand but I won’t subject you to that nightmare. Kids will definitely love the animal feedings so be sure to check the schedule.
- Choose your own Adventure
Sports Saber League
46 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 Paris
This one is perfect for days you are feeling burnt out on museums and crowds. We like to ask Liv if she could pick one thing to do, what would it be? She was asking about fencing for awhile but the classes were the same day and time as her ballet so I found a similar alternative, Star Wars LightSaber fencing. There is a beginners class on Saturdays and they provide you with a lightsaber if you didn’t pack yours. Antz and Liv did it for two hours and loved it. It’s nice to ask your kids what they want to do because you may find something you wouldn’t have thought to do.
- Sip mulled cider at the Christmas Market
Tuileries Christmas Market
Marche de Noel La Defense (the biggest one)
There are several Christmas markets throughout Paris that are open during the holidays (beginning Dec 1st). I have only been to two, La Defense and Jardin des Tuileries, but there are several within the city. There are booths like a farmers market selling Christmas homemade goods, games for the kids and food. There are raclette booths which are huge wheels of gooey cheese that are melted and dripped onto bread. The market at the Tuileries has rides and an ice skating rink. It’s a must do if you are in Paris during the holidays. Mamma’s be sure to try the hot wine “vin chaud“, it’s mind-blowingly good.
- Eat dessert American style in Paris
Rue d’Aboukir, 75002 Paris
We love wandering around our neighborhood which has a delightful American expat community. We have gotten to know many of the friendly business owners at Boneshaker Donuts, Jean Hwang Currant cookies and Clove Bakery. Please make sure to let them know that Elizabeth sent you there! You will find every type of cuisine on a stroll down the famous rue Montorgueil. We love picking up a kilo (a French pound) of cherries to snack on during the summer.
- Musée des Arts et Métiers
60 Rue Réaumur, 75003 Paris
Super cool, off the beaten path, museum of technology and mechanics located in the upper Marais. Your kids will love the room full of antique trains, cars and machinery. This museum is never crowded and will captivate your child’s imagination. We have been several times and still haven’t seen everything it has to offer.
- Rougier et Plé (awesome art supply store)
15 Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, 75003 Paris(there are several other locations)
After all those visits to the art museums your young artists must be feeling inspired, so I recommend stopping by this mega store to pick up a few art supplies. A small paint palette, a canvas and a brush is all you will need. Then head over to Île Saint-Louis (located on an island behind Notre Dame Cathedral) and spend an afternoon painting the dreamy Paris landscape along the Seine.
Rue Jean du Bellay, 75004 Paris
Then stop by Berthillon for the best ice cream in town. Any of the brasseries on the corner of rue Jean du Bellay sells it. There is a fancy restaurant that you can sit down and enjoy around the corner too.
- Go on a bike ride along Canal Saint Martin
(for older kiddos)
Download the Uber app – If you click the bicycle icon it will show you on a map where the Jump/ Uber bikes are located. You can’t miss them with their cool, bright red paint. Once you scan them with your phone, you are all set to hit the bike lanes that run along the trendy Canal Saint Martin. The bikes are electric so it’s a smooth and easy cruise while soaking in the beauty of the canals. There’s also a two hour boat cruise that will take you through the canals many locks.
- Get Lost! – The best part of visiting Paris is wandering the cobblestone streets, you will always find something fun to do. There are so many photo booths (they make great souvenirs) and carousels scattered around the city. A few of my favorite kid-friendly stores to check out.
Tartine et Chocolat
Shakespeare and Company (English bookstore)
Bonus – Pre-Negotiate a deal with your kids for buying souvenirs
I have to add this because I have been there and know what a downer it is when your kid sees a gift shop and the begging commences. I have worked out two options for Liv which has saved me from many tantrums. She collects souvenir coins which are mostly found in churches and museums all over Europe. So far she has collected over 30 coins! They cost €2, and she knows she can have one so she doesn’t ask for everything in the shop. The second option is when she finds something she cannot resist (which is everytime) she can pay for it with her own money. This has been a great solution because she earns money by doing chores at home. She has learned to save and not do much impulse shopping.
A few years before we moved abroad, I bought Liv a toy set of world landmarks. I wanted her to learn about different world landmarks so she memorized the city and country of each one. I also bought this gorgeous book, Maps which is informative and beautifully illustrated, to research our trips. We now collect landmark souvenirs from every city we visit. They all are under 2 inches tall so they fit in her Maptote travel bag. I have been collecting patches from every place we travel to add to our vintage suitcase.
- Metro station
and finally, Master the art of Distraction
I try to keep a few tricks up my sleeve when my kid starts to get whiney or cranky. Usually it’s during a long train ride and she starts asking the question all parents dread, “Are we there yet?” I keep coloring books and a pack of colored pencils in my backpack. I also have a pack of Uno and playing cards in my bag. If that doesn’t work, I whip out the secret weapon… bubble gum! Liv is obsessed with gum, mainly because I only allow her to chew it during plane rides so for her, it’s a special treat. I give her some sugar-free bubble gum and tell her to try to blow the biggest bubble ever. It seems to cheer her up and we can move on with the rest of our day without a grumpy kiddo. Now that she’s older, we have fewer meltdowns but for years that did the trick. We also give her jobs to do, like find an exhibit in a museum or let her play creative director for our photos. Delegating tasks to kids gives them a sense of empowerment and she loves to feel like she’s in charge of us grown-ups.
Do you have any tricks to keep your children happy while traveling? Please let me know in the comments.
Always have fun!