50 things for kids to do in Paris • Museums and culture
The Museum of Natural History has several galleries devoted to all sorts of animals both past and present. Be sure to check out the paleontology building for some dinosaur action, including dozens of skeletons and replicas of the mighty tyrants. The Gallery of Evolution, featuring a formerly-royal collection of stuffed animals from across the world, is a big hit with children. The animals from Africa – elephants, giraffes, and other familiar faces – seem to parade across the ground floor. Four levels of animal displays include giant whales hanging overhead, and creatures from all corners of the world. Head to the Children’s Gallery for a special treasure hunt exhibition for those aged 6-12 – parents can come, too!
The Magic Museum says it all, aimed primarily at future Harry Potters and other enthusiasts. Including a magic demonstration during the visit, with various artifacts from the world of illusion, it’ll be enough to entertain or at least bewilder the young ones. The museum is tucked away in the Marais in a vaulted cellar, and it also features a collection of over 100 automates, moving mechanical figurines from years past that will still captivate even the most iPad-savvy child. There’s even a magic store and a magic school if you want to organise a birthday party or other event with a group of children fancying themselves as wizards and sorcerers.
The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature brings together the prizes from various noblemen’s quests to Africa and beyond, and is one of many kid-friendly visits in the historic Marais district. Rooms feature all sorts of rifles, crossbows, and other devices used while hunting. Some interactive displays (not including such weapons) will keep the kids occupied, but the visit inside this old mansion and the taxidermy displays will be enough to capture their attention. A rearing polar bear in one room is just one of the many victims that will humour and frighten toddlers and tykes.
The Grévin wax museum predates Madame Tussaud’s, but the idea is the same. Located next to the covered passages, the museum is a goofy but worthwhile way to get a dose of French culture without putting the kids to sleep in front of another painting by some obscure artist. Wax models of everyone from Napoléon to Céline Dion will give you and your children the chance to play 'who’s who', and there's a weekend workshop that takes children through French history via their many wax mannequins. Don’t miss the opportunity to get a picture with one of your son or daughter’s new favourite French celebrity – or at least with Barack Obama.
The Catacombes, Paris’s underground cemetery, is a perennial favourite among children who appreciate the very much unexpected visit through the city’s old mineshafts-turned-mass grave. The visit features the bones of millions of citizens who were very artfully laid to rest here by King Louis XVI (before having his own head chopped off). Kids seem to forego any notion of claustrophobia while wandering the cavernous, chilling, but utterly captivating passages. Do be sure to arrive early in the morning if you want to be one of the first in line, or else tempt your chance after lunch. A wait is nearly unavoidable, but it will be worth it.
The Palais de la Découverte is where good students will enjoy exploring chemistry, astronomy, physics and other natural phenomena. Kids who beat those kids up will probably think it’s pretty cool as well. There are all sorts of demonstrations and shocking experiments testing electricity while a planetarium gives everyone the chance to look up at the stars and dream a little bit. There is no shortage of special exposés and workshops, so be sure to check the website. Sure it’s all in French, but most of the visuals will speak for themselves.
Going to the Louvre is a must, but kids get tired – and of course, bored. Try a treasure trail with THATLou, a scavenger hunt organised by expat Daisy Plume. Teams of 2-4 people follow clues to various works of art where they take a photo in front of it, and all scores are tallied afterwards at a café with the organiser. The hunts are themed, be it love, food, animals, or kings (among others). For those afraid to tackle the Louvre with the youngsters, this is the perfect alternative to a guided tour – a little competition while exploring priceless works of art may be just what you need to create a memorable museum experience. Note that the price of the hunt does not include entry into the Louvre.
The chocolate museum – need we say more? Choco-Story traces the history of every child’s passion with over 1,000 artifacts from across the world. The first part explores the Mayan and Aztec origins of the sweet before passing to its introduction to Europe and the royal courts and the industrialization of chocolate through the 19th century. The third part delves into chocolate today, including a demonstration of how chocolate is made, a mere hurdle before getting to every kid’s favorite part – the gift shop. The visit can include a hot chocolate at the end for an extra fee, but at least the inevitable visit to a chocolatier afterwards will be better informed.
The Cité des Sciences is a geek’s adventure land, and the place for kids to learn a thing or two without realising it. Permanent exhibitions include displays on transportation, genetics, light, sound and energy. Even if the kids don’t care for the information offered, the building itself is a whimsical, sem-futuristic experience. Don’t miss the 1950s submarine, l’Argonaute, which is open for visits. You can also kick back with a film in the Géode, the giant chrome sphere outside of the center. The engaging films touch on oceanography, arctic life, and prehistoric sea creatures among other topics – and some are in 3D. The Cité des Enfants section proposes special activities for kids aged 2 to 7.
We’re not really into freaking out your kids, but the Fragonard museum is a truly fascinating visit for the less sensitive children out there. A doctor in the 18th century basically turned animal and human bodies inside out for educational purposes – and they are still on display. There’s a man riding a horse, both flayed open, as well as various animals with their insides proudly on display among skeletons and other oddities. Think of it as the French version of the Bodies exhibit, except a bit older. The museum, part of the veterinary school, is just outside the city, easily accessible using the metro. Truly curious children will be mesmerised. Others may vomit. You’ve been warned.