Shopping around the Canal Saint Martin is a fun, trendy way for kids to feel like they are doing something typically 'Parisian'. Famed Antoine et Lili right on the canal’s bank features three boutiques for home furnishings, women’s clothes and children’s goods, each quirkier than the last. Along Rue Beaurepaire there is Ideco for fun gifts, toys, and things everyone wants but doesn’t need. Along Rue Bichat, on the east side of the canal, Pop Market also sells a selection of oddball, cutesy products for the young and young at heart. Wandering the streets is the best way to discover something new, as long as you grab a pastry at Du Pain et des Idées on Rue Yves Toudic just a block away.
On the Ile de la Cité each Sunday, the flower market comes alive with all sorts of squawking and chirping birds. Kids will get a kick out of the parrots, chickens, and canaries that line the market, right next to metro Cité. Prepare to answer questions like, 'Why would anyone in Paris need a chicken?' over a nice lunch of coq au vin. Vendors sell other animals like ferrets and mice, but children are especially attracted to the dwarf bunnies that are available for some intense petting. It’s a great way to spend some time after braving the queues at Notre Dame, just be sure to bring some hand sanitizer for afterwards.
Disneyland Paris is every bit as fun as its American counterparts, with the added element of European exoticism (yes, Mickey speaks French fluently). It’s a short train ride outside of the city, but it’s worth the trek for a guaranteed day of smiles – if even just a little pouting during the queues. The two parks can both be tackled in a day, and fans of the legendary characters can do meet and greets all over, with everyone from Goofy to Captain Hook. In the autumn, Disneyland becomes even more magical, as it hosts celebrations for both Hallowe'en and Christmas, turning the park into each holiday’s respective wonderlands. Themed parades and shows in the streets provide entertainment while running off to the next ride. Consider the Fast-Pass system to avoid enormous waits with the kiddies.
Shopping around Rue du Bac is the perfect solution for fashion-conscious kids. Children’s couture reaches new levels at Bonton at the intersection with Rue de Grenelle. Further down on nearby rue Sèvres, Le Petit Bateau is a less expensive, yet still stylish place for babies and toddlers. Rose et Théo at number 80 Rue du Bac is also a great place to peek in before heading to the Bon Marché department store where the whole family can heat up the credit card. Also don’t miss trendy Pylones for quirky and design-savvy accessories and home décor. Petit Pan at no. 95 can round out the experience with child-friendly textiles and furnishings for the little one’s bedroom.
Puppet shows in Luxembourg or Buttes Chaumont, called the guignols, are great ways to entertain younger children aged 2 to 8 years old. Sure, they’re in French, but they’ll be able to recognize some of the familiar stories and fairy tales like those involving three gullible pigs and one seriously mean wolf. The old world puppets are certainly a change of pace from iPads and videogames, and both parents and youngsters will appreciate the throwback to simpler times. The theatres are open year round but shows don’t happen daily. Check the well-maintained websites for Luxembourg and Buttes Chaumont ahead of time for prices and schedules. Afterwards, you’ll be able to take advantage of all the other kid-friendly activities that these parks have to offer.
Head to the top of Galeries Lafayette for some great aerial views of Paris. The shop itself doesn’t do much in the way of entertaining kids (though the perfume section does sport a rather fancy glass cupola). But ride the escalators all the way to the top (for free!) and check out the observation deck atop the famed department store. It may not be the most time-consuming way to distract the little ones, but it’s a great bribe to allow mom and dad do a bit of shopping. There are kids clothes and food items available as well, so feel free to splash out on a little Parisian couture for the gamins.
Get a diabalo menthe in a café for a kid-friendly beverage. You want wine or coffee, but how does one hydrate children in France? On warm days, the diabalo menthe cures all problems, both satiating and silencing children at the café. The alien-green drink comes out with a rare Parisian commodity – ice. The chilled cocktail is part mint syrup, part limonade, all delicious. The freaky colour and unexpected minty taste is a cultural experience in itself and inexpensive to boot. Some cafés serve them with other syrups like raspberry or peach, in case the minty devil is a bit too devilish for certain kids.
We talk and talk about boat rides on the Seine, but what about the city’s other aquatic thoroughfare? The canal barges are a great way to cruise Paris and to climb and descend the old locks of Paris. Children will gawk at the way the boat climbs the canal as the old doors open and water rushes in and out of each lock. It also goes underground at one point, just to change things up a bit. Depending on which way you travel the canal, you will either start or end in the Parc de la Villette, one of our top recommendations for keeping kids busy. The two and a half hour trek is commented in several languages and all boats have covered portions for rainy days. Book online to save a few euros.
The line for the towers of Notre Dame seems never to end. But the almost-equally impressive climb to the top of the Sacré Coeur is a kid-friendly way to explore religion and architecture while ensuring a good night’s sleep. Some 300 stairs await you after purchasing a ticket, and the virtual lack of a line means a no-fuss ascent to one of the most beautiful views of the city. From atop the dome, Paris is at your feet, and children who make it to the top without conking out will feel triumphant knowing that they are just nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower, for a fraction of the price and wait time.
For those looking to get some hands-on experience in one of the world’s foremost culinary capitals, why not take a cooking class? For more advanced chefs, aged 13 and over, La Cuisine Paris offers two to four hour cooking classes for croissants, pastries, or even an entire meal. You can even take a market class where you’ll shop for your ingredients at a local outdoor food market before heading back to the school to prepare a meal. Group classes can be found online, but private classes are easily available for families with younger children on request. The informative and entertaining classes in English, directed by real chefs, are a great way to explore the culinary traditions that have put France on the map. Come hungry and don’t plan a meal anytime soon after.