For all its commotion and traffic-clogged boulevards, the French capital is actually a very child-friendly place to visit. Most Parisians have to raise their children in gardenless apartments, so the city powers ensure there is plenty of provision for youngsters to expend their energy outside the home: every arrondissement has spaces with playgrounds, and in the big parks like the Jardin du Luxembourg and Buttes-Chaumont, pony rides, sandpits, swings, puppet shows and boating ponds enliven the childhood of many a young Parisian. For your visit this summer, we've compiled a list of the best family-friendly activties: whether it's bright and sunny or raining cats and dogs, take your kids to one of these places.
Two Disney parks keep kids occupied for days, let alone hours: little ones get a kick out of Fantasyland, in the main Parc Disneyland, where the Cheshire Cat and the wicked Queen of Hearts await in Alice's Curious Labyrinth. It's a Small World takes you on a musical adventure past automated toy soldiers and animals. Meanwhile, over in Discoveryland, kids love helping Buzz save the world from little green men in the delightfully noisy Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. For older children (and daredevils of all ages) Disney's latest adrenalin ride, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Walt Disney Studios, Production Courtyard) takes the brave to the top of an old Hollywood hotel, before sending them plummeting down a 13-storey lift shaft.
Astérix's park is split into Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Land of the Vikings and the indomitable Gaulish Village. Thrill-seekers can defy gravity on Goudurix, Europe's largest rollercoaster, while younger kids can get wet on the Grand Splatch log flume. Roman-bashing Astérix, Obélix and friends wander around shaking hands with the kids while a jamboree of live acts adds to the animated atmosphere. On a sunny day, head for the Théâtre de Posédion or live dolphin shows. When the formation jumping is over, head down to the observation points and watch through the portholes as the graceful dolphins dance a streamlined water ballet.
Dotted with red pavilions, or folies, the park was designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and is a postmodern feast. The folies serve as glorious giant climbing frames, as well as a first-aid post, burger bar and children's art centre. As well as the lawns, which are used for an open-air film festival in summer, there are ten themed gardens bearing evocative names such as the Gardens of Mirrors, of Mists, of Acrobatics and of Childhood Frights. On a rainy day, take shelter in the Cité des Sciènces – a children-orientated science museum, in the Géode IMAX cinema, or the Cité de la Musique, which contains a fabulous music museum.
On a rainy day, this kitsch version of Madame Tussauds is a hit with kids, who can have their photo taken alongside waxworks of showbiz stars and personalities like football star Zinédine Zidane, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, the British Queen and Barack Obama. Great historical moments, such as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, are re-enacted in the 'Snapshots of the 20th Century' area, a small gallery at the top of a spiral staircase near the end shows how waxworks are made, and an impressive hall of mirrors (designed by France's fetish illusionist Arturo Brachetti and with music by Manu Katche) plunges you into scenes such as an Aztec temple.
The 'arts and trades' museum is, in fact, Europe's oldest science museum, founded in 1794 by the constitutional bishop Henri Grégoire, initially as a way to educate France's manufacturing industry in useful scientific techniques. Housed in the former Benedictine priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, it became a museum proper in 1819; it's a fascinating, attractively laid out and vast collection of treasures. It's also ideal for families, with an array of astrolabes, celestial spheres, barometers, clocks, weighing devices, some of Pascal's calculating devices, amazing scale models of buildings and larger exhibits such as Cugnot's 1770 Fardier (the first ever powered vehicle).
There’s no denying that the River Seine’s a good looker: its bridged curves are punctuated with some of the world’s most beautiful monuments, and its tree-lined quays sit like picture postcards on the water’s edge. By far the best way to drink it all in is from the panoramic deck of one of a Paris’s iconic Bateaux Mouches riverboats. Yes, they’re touristy (to the point where most Parisians shun them irrevocably), but sometimes it’s worth putting up with the multi-language commentary and the bum-bagged families to get an eyeful of something wholly beautiful. Plus, the kids love sailing along the water, imagining they're the captains, and reaching up, trying to touch the bridges' underbellies.
Heads rolled during the Terror, leaving many an aristocratic collection of exotic animals without a home; this ménagerie became the solution in 1794. Nowadays, its inhabitants include vultures, monkeys, orangutans, ostriches, flamingos, a century-old turtle plus another rescued from the sewers, a lovely red panda and lots of satisfyingly scary spiders and snakes. There's a petting zoo with farm animals for small kids, and older ones can zoom in on microscopic species in the Microzoo.
Set in the former passenger terminal at Le Bourget airport, the museum's collection begins with the pioneers, including fragile-looking biplanes and the command cabin of a Zeppelin airship. On the runway are Mirage fighters, a US Thunderchief and Ariane launchers 1 and 5. A hangar houses the prototype Concorde 001 and wartime survivors. A scale models gallery opened recently too.
Founded in 1860, this amusement park and garden has animals, a Normandy-style farm and an aviary, as well as boat rides, a funfair with mini rollercoasters, flying chairs, the Enchanted House for children aged two to four and two playgrounds. There's also a place to steer radio-controlled boats and mini golf. Many of the attractions cost €2.90 a go; others are free. A miniature train runs from Porte Maillot through the Bois de Boulogne to the park entrance, and has space for pushchairs (€2.70 return; €4.15-€5.60 with entry included).
As well as a beautiful château, the Parc de Thoiry, an hour from Paris, houses one of Europe's first animal reserves. Follow the long safari park trail, accessible only by car, and see zebras rub their noses over your windscreen and bears amble down tracks. In the adjoining zoo, rarities include Siberian lynx and Tonkean macaques.