Puppet shows and pony rides are just the beginning at the Luxembourg gardens. The famous carousel, the city’s oldest, was designed by the same architect behind the Opéra Garnier. Older children can try to catch brass rings with a wooden stick as the horses go around, and competitive types may need two or three rides before being satisfied. The nearby playground is the standout here, with plenty of things to climb and jump on, though there is a small cost to enter. The entire playground is fenced in, so mother hens need not worry about their little chicks running off too far.
Head to the Parc de la Villette playground for slides and various jungle gym-esque activities that will tire out even the most sugar-rushed child. In the north of the city on the bank of the canal, the park is full of attractions that will entertain adventurous children. The Jardin des Dunes et des Vents is an activity centre with kid-sized hamster wheels and zip lines for older kids. Games and carnival rides nearby will fill any extra time, with ample supplies of cotton candy to sustain even the most arduous playtime. Rest up on the lawns along the canal afterwards.
The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is basically one giant playground, with little streams to play in and a gazebo atop the hill to suit even the youngest princess. Children will love to discover the alcove with a raging waterfall or catch the view from the suspension bridge over the water. The hilly park makes for some treacherous hikes upwards, but that just means there’s fantastic tumbling down the grassy knolls. Down around the central pond, donkey rides and carnival games are a great way to round out the experience. Pack a picnic and stake out a spot on one of the many lawns either around the water or up on a hill overlooking the rest of the park while the kids practice their cartwheels.
The Jardin d’Acclimatation in Boulogne is the it place for French and foreign kids. Pony rides, puppet shows, an enchanted river ride? What more could any toddler or tyke want from this city? On the weekends, ride a camel or try the acrobatic obstacle course. Maybe visit the aviary with over 200 birds or the farm with livestock from Normandy. Or head to the Jardin Plage, an ideal option for the summer, allowing kids to cool off a bit with various water-themed activities. There are so many workshops, nature-based attractions, physical activities, and rides that you’ll wonder why anyone ever said that Paris is difficult for children. Make sure to thank Emperor Napoleon III for this one, kids.
The playground at Jardin des Tuileries is a big hit for kids around five and above. The mostly metal structures and rope tunnels seem like a hazard, but what kid doesn’t like a challenge? Various spinning, bouncing, and swinging apparatus will keep them occupied while parents enjoy the beauty of the gardens designed for royal parents (who had teams of servants to watch their children for them). There’s also a carousel if they want to take a few spins. During the summer, a carnival fills the garden, meaning extra smiles as children can dare the rides and games, including a Ferris wheel with a fantastic aerial view of the city.
Head east to the Bois de Vincennes for some nautical adventures aboard your very own rowboat. The enormous park hosts all sorts of child-friendly activities and festivals, including a medieval castle, a late spring carnival, and a soon-to-be-reopened zoo. It’s a breath of fresh air just a few metro stops away from central Paris on the line 1. There are also boats on the enormous lake, open for a spin when the weather’s nice. Parisian families congregate here on sunny weekends for a breath of fresh air after a week cooped up in the city – one hour of rowing starts at around €10, and hopefully dad won’t have to do all of the work.
Take a hike along these old elevated train tracks, now called the Promenade Plantée. It’s the original urban renewal project that inspired New York City’s Highline. It’s quirky and unexpected, and kids will hopefully have a ball strolling above the streets. It heads up and down a bit, going through tunnels and wooded areas before ending up near the Bois de Vincennes. There are no games or obstacle courses, just good old fashioned strolling across a landscape that’s different enough to distract the little ones for an hour or two. And since you’re still in the city, you’ll never be far from a bakery or water source when hunger and thirst hit.
Who doesn’t love the zoo? The Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in the Latin Quarter has big cats, red pandas, and a primate house to go ape over. While not the biggest zoo in Paris, it’s the easiest to get to and is extremely child-friendly. They offer special visits and encounters as well, which are posted on their website. For a fun fact to make the kids squirm, note that this was the zoo that Parisians raided in 1870 during the Prussian siege when sources of fresh protein were scarce. Explain how to prepare kangaroo ceviche while exploring the quaint but entertaining array of beasts.
There are plenty of buildings to scale, but why not ride the hot air balloon at Parc André Citroën for a unique aerial view of Paris? Tickets are on par with the other towers, (€12 for adults, €6 for kids) but there won’t be nearly as many people as at the infamous Eiffel Tower. Call ahead if you can though, to make sure that weather conditions won’t prevent an ascent on the day you chose to visit. It’s in a pretty park, in a pretty neighborhood, but there’s not a whole lot else out there. The revamped balloon today acts as a billboard for the city’s air quality, with flashing lights changing colours based on pollution, so there’s an educational aspect to force upon your offspring as well, if you choose.
Play in the Arènes de Lutèce, jumping around old Roman ruins and pretending to be gladiators. This Roman amphitheatre was 'rediscovered' in the 19th century and outfitted with Wi-Fi in the 21st. We’ve come a long way since the battles to the death of yore. Plenty of stone steps, walls, and parapets allow for energetic play and discovery, and a bathroom on the upper level helps take care of other certain business. Today, kids are always playing soccer or just kicking the ball around, so it could be your son or daughter’s chance to try out their French communication skills with the locals.