When it’s rainy out, why not tackle water with water? The Aquarium de Paris offers a restrained but entertaining array of fishes and other marine life, just across from the Eiffel Tower in the Palais Chaillot. All of our favourites are there, including clown fish, puffers, sharks and sting rays. While there are no dolphin or sea lion shows here (it’s not Sea World), there are plenty of small workshops and demonstrations each day. Films and other activities geared towards les enfants flesh out the experience if the rain won’t ease up, and there are even shows featuring pirates – check the day’s schedule before heading out.
The Bateaux Mouches boat rides across the Seine are usually covered, so it’s a way to stay 'outside' in the rain and still see Paris. Besides, what kid doesn’t like a boat? Depending on the company, rides around the river usually run for about an hour and offer panoramas of the city’s major sites. Different services leave from the Eiffel Tower, the Pont Neuf, Notre Dame, and Pont de l’Alma, so you can price compare online beforehand. Certain companies have a live commentary in French and English, while others feature audio guides. The 'Enchanted Cruise' is a special bonus for kids if you book it ahead of time, featuring costumed actors presenting their stories through song.
Paris's many covered passages offer shelter from the rain, but the Passage des Princes (5 Boulevard des Italiens and 97 Rue Richelieu, 2nd arrondissement) is the place for some serious toy shopping to please the younger set. The gallery is split up into different sections of toys, from dolls and stuffed animals to electronic games. You could spend a good chunk of time in here testing out the hardware while the rain pitter patters outside. It’s also the chance to bribe the kids with a new toy, even if it is just a French-speaking Furby (they do exist). Note that there is an underground arcade just next to the toy stores, in case the rain won’t’ let up and you’re in a pinch.
Wonder where all that rain goes when it falls upon the Parisian streets? A trip to the underground égouts, or sewers, is a great way to discover the answer while staying relatively dry (no splash zones down here!). Children will again embrace the novelty of entering into one of the city’s weirdest attractions. Still, it’s a visit that’s been going on since 1896 in one way or another, never ceasing to fascinate the curious traveler. Various displays and mannequins will help explain how this subterranean world functions. Go early, before all of Paris’s homes and restaurants are functioning at 100%, to avoid the worst of the odours.
Go to a kid-friendly café for some downtime while the rain falls. Moms and dads need to enjoy Paris, too. At places like Les 400 Coups or Le Poussette Café, special children’s corners are set up so that playtime for the bambinos can overlap with coffee time for the parents. Games, colouring, and kid-friendly food are available while the adults wait out the rain with something warm to drink. These places have thought of everything to make their cafés entirely baby-proof, from high chairs to plastic cups – no broken glass to be found. Kid-friendly brunches on the weekends are also worth looking into at Le Petit Café du Monde Entier, which means you don’t have to forgo eating out because your tykes are picky eaters.
When the rain is falling, the cinema comes calling. With more movie theatres per capita than most anywhere else in the world, Paris offers an easy solution to a rainy day. Note that movies in VF will be dubbed in French, while movies in VO will be in their original language. The bigger theatres with the most English-speaking choices can be found at Châtelet, on the Champs-Elysées, by the Opéra or at Bercy, among others. There’s usually a family-friendly movie or two playing at each theatre, so check out the cinema closest to you and forget about the drizzle.
It might sound kind of unadventurous, but riding a bus on a rainy day is a great way to soak up some of the sights while not drenching your shoes. Kids can listen along to the audio guides on the tourist buses, like Car Rouges or Open Tour, which offer various options for exploring the city while someone else navigates. Or, if you want to get really crazy, try your luck on one of the city buses and pretend to be a local. You can either just get on the first stop you meet when the downpour begins, or plan on catching one of the more scenic lines like the 72, 80, 86, or the famed 69 bus that packs in the monuments, taking care of some of that ever-important sightseeing.
The children’s gallery at the Centre Pompidou is a great way to engage those six and above with contemporary art. For kids who have ticked the Mona Lisa off their list, the workshops and exhibitions at the Pompidou are a fresh, hands-on way to learn about art. Check on their website to find out what’s coming up on the day of your visit. The rest of the Pompidou is itself a playground for children who will get a kick out of riding the escalator to the top for a panoramic view of the city from the hamster cage-like tubes that transport you to the top. In front of the centre there are always buskers, magic shows, or other spectacles to watch when the weather cooperates.
It’s going to rain but you want to do something fun and tasty all at the same time? Head to Sugar Daze cupcake boutique just south of Montmartre for a cupcake decorating workshop. New Yorker Cat Beurnier makes some of the best American-style confectionery in Paris and has equally beautiful decorations to adorn them. The two hour class can be scheduled privately if you have a group, or you can check out her site to see when the next event is happening (though try your luck at the last minute if the weather forecast is gloomy). And of course you then get to eat your own creations, and take them with you in case you need a pick-me-up later on when the rain continues to fall.
Is it quintessentially French? No. But do you know how to say 'spare' in French? Chances are your kids don’t either, so why not spend a rainy afternoon or evening at the lanes and witness how the French go bowling and learn a thing or two. The game may be entirely familiar, but like going to Disneyland Paris, everything is off just a touch, which is part of the fun. There are several lanes around town, including on Rue Mouffetard, by the Champs-Elysées, and a 'mini' bowling lane off Rue Oberkampf that could be especially enjoyable for younger athletes. If nothing else, it’s a great way to learn what shoe size you are in Europe.