With its grandiose parks, idyllic, wide-pavemented boulevards and the ever-scenic Seine, Paris is the perfect destination to explore with kids. Just wandering around and ogling the obvious attractions should provide entertainment aplenty, but there’s lots else worth doing if the weather doesn’t play ball – notably the opportunity to snaffle chocolate and crêpes at every turn (even for breakfast). The following are 35 other things to do that’ll delight kids in Paris. Be warned: after a fun-packed weekend exploring the City of Light, you might struggle to get les enfants to leave.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Paris
Best things to do with kids in Paris
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is basically one giant playground, with streams to play in and a gazebo atop the hill. Children will love the alcove (complete with raging waterfall) or the view from the suspension bridge over the water. The hills make for some treacherous hikes, but that just means there’s ample opportunity for tumbling down the grassy knolls. Down around the central pond, donkey rides and carnival games are a great way to round out the experience.
The Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes has big cats, red pandas and a primate house to go ape over. While not the biggest, it’s the easiest zoo to get to and is extremely child-friendly. Fun fact: Parisians raided this zoo in 1870 during the Prussian siege, when sources of fresh protein were scarce. Kangaroo for tea, anyone?
This recently opened 300-square-metre studio space dedicated to digital art is a delight for little ones. A former iron foundry, this building remained empty for nearly two decades until Culturespaces decided to launch the city’s first digital art centre. Its goal? To give the works of one artist – so far, they’ve had van Gogh and Klimt – the attention they deserve by projecting them across the ten-metre-high walls using first-rate equipment including 140 film projectors with BARCO lasers.
The Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne is a stonking success with French and foreign kids alike. Here you’ll find pony rides, puppet shows, acrobatic obstacle courses, a farm with livestock from the plains of Normandy and even an aviary with more than 200 birds. Jardin Plage is ideal during the summer, allowing kids to cool off with water-themed activities. There are enough workshops, nature-based attractions, physical activities and rides to keep them busy for days.
Disneyland Paris is just as fun as its American counterparts, with added European exoticism (Mickey speaks French fluently). It’s a short train ride from the city, but worth the trek, because the two parks can be tackled in one day. Fans can meet and greet everyone from Goofy to Captain Hook. In autumn Disneyland hosts celebrations for both Halloween and Christmas. Consider the Fast Pass to avoid enormous queues.
The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature brings together the trophies from various noblemen’s quests to Africa and beyond, and is one of many kid-friendly visits in the historic Marais area. The old mansion and its taxidermy displays will certainly capture their attention, as will the rooms packed with all sorts of rifles, crossbows and other hunting devices.
The original Paris Catacombes were built between the 17th and 18th century, right at the start of the city’s effort to shore up its former stone quarries so as to reinforce the streets above (and prevent buildings collapsing). But with public burial pits overflowing during the Revolutionary Terror, the bones of six million Parisians were transferred here. These sinister tunnels 20 metres below the ground will never stop fascinating Parisians and tourists alike – especially younger ones.
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. The nearby playground is the standout here, with plenty of things to climb and jump on, though there is a small entry fee. The entire playground is fenced in, so mother hens need not worry about their little chicks running off too far.
The Grévin wax museum predates Madame Tussaud’s, but the idea is the same. Just near the Grands Boulevards’ covered passages, the museum offers a goofy but worthwhile dose of French culture. Wax models of everyone from Napoléon to Céline Dion offer the chance to play ‘who’s who’, and there’s a weekend workshop that takes children through French history via their many wax mannequins.
The beautiful Château de Versailles can get very crowded, very quickly, especially in summer – so we recommend heading out first thing in the morning to explore the Palace, or stick to the gardens and grounds, which are free. Grab a picnic from the local market (close to the station) and find a patch of grass in the park or by the Grand Canal. You could even hire a rowing boat for a gentle paddle.
Every Sunday on Île de la Cité, the flower market comes alive with hordes of squawking and chirping birds. Kids will get a kick out of the parrots, chickens and canaries that line the market, right next to Cité metro station. Vendors sell other animals like ferrets and mice, but children are usually especially keen on the dwarf bunnies (which can be petted).
The 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 and the virtual lack of a queue means a no-fuss ascent. From atop the dome, Paris is at your feet, and children who make it to the top successfully will feel triumphant knowing they are nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower.
After years of renovation work, the Parc Zoologique (known colloquially as the Zoo de Vincennes) is finally back in business. The Grand Rocher centrepiece is complemented by spots of woodland, a greenhouse, an aviary and five ‘biozones’. Efforts have been made to grant the animals more living space and promote the protection of endangered species, and it’s a refreshing break from the bustle of the city.
Just across from the Eiffel Tower, in the Palais Chaillot, Aquarium de Paris brims with an entertaining array of fish and marine life. Look out for clown fish, puffers, sharks and stingrays. While there are no dolphin or sea lion shows here, there are plenty of workshops and demonstrations every day. Films and other activities geared towards les enfants flesh out the experience, and there are even shows featuring pirates.
All creatures at museum-cum-shop Maison Deyrolle are stuffed, labelled and for sale. Wander as you please and see eye-to-eye with a gigantic brown bear or a taxidermy unicorn (seriously). Established in 1888, Deyrolle knows how to combine serious natural science with fantasy. It’s the eccentric staging of these fabulous beasts that makes it so original. Avoid with toddlers and very small children due to the lack of space and abundant glass.
The playground in the Jardin des Tuileries is a big hit among kids around five and above. Assorted spinning, bouncing and swinging apparatus will keep them occupied while parents enjoy the beauty of the royal gardens. There’s also a carousel, a carnival with a giant ferris wheel in summer and even the odd goat grazing on the grass – although humans should keep off.
Back in 2002, then-Mayor Bertrand Delanoë began the tradition of lining the banks of the Seine with sand, deckchairs, food stalls and volleyball nets, creating a series of city beaches for those stuck in town during the long summer months. The project has extended along the length of the canal in Bassin de la Villette, creating an idyllic urban landscape of pétanque, picnicking, sunbathing and watersports.
The basement of this art deco palace, built for the Colonial Exhibition in 1931, contains the small but much-loved city aquarium and its crocodiles, brought from Dakar in 1948; other residents include cuttlefish, sharks and luminous deep-water species.
Back in the 18th century, a doctor turned animal and human bodies inside out for educational purposes – and you can see them here. There’s a man riding a horse, both flayed open, as well as various animals with their insides proudly on display, plus skeletons and other oddities. Truly curious children will be mesmerised. Others may vomit. You’ve been warned.
A trip down to the sewers is a great way to explore subterranean Paris while staying relatively dry (no splash zones down here!). The city’s wackiest attraction has been going since 1896 and never ceases to fascinate the curious traveller. Various displays and mannequins will help explain how this underground world functions. Go early, before all of Paris’s homes and restaurants are in full swing, to avoid the worst of the odours.
Head to the Parc de la Villette playground in the north of the city on the banks of the canal for slides and various jungle gym-esque activities that will tire out even the most excitable child. The Jardin des Dunes et des Vents is complete 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.
Covering seven hectares, 3,000 traders and up to 180,000 visitors each weekend, the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen is thought to be the biggest flea market in the world. Expect a series of enclosed villages, some covered and others with open-air streets and covered antiques boutiques. This is more like a museum than a flea market; kids will adore all the paraphernalia.
A five-minute train journey from Versailles, in Élancourt, five hectares have been transformed into a miniature France, complete with 116 hyper-realistic models. Follow a route through the ramparts of Carcassonne, a small Savoyard village, the Chambord castle (pirctured), right up to the port of Saint-Tropez.
These canal barges offer an alternative way to cruise Paris and tour the old locks of Paris. Depending which way you travel, you’ll either start or end in the Parc de la Villette, another one of our top recommendations for keeping kids busy. The two-and-a-half hour trek is in several languages and all boats have covered areas for rainy days.
As an alternative to scaling the Eiffel Tower, ride the hot air balloon at Parc André Citroën for a more original view over the city. Ticket prices are on par with the Iron Lady, but there won’t be nearly as many tourists. Call ahead if you can to make sure that weather conditions are playing ball. It’s in a pretty park, in a pretty neighbourhood, but there’s not a whole lot else out there.
The Promenade Plantée, along a huge stretch of former train tracks, is the urban renewal project that inspired New York City’s Highline. It’s quirky and unexpected, and kids will have a ball strolling above the streets. Terrains and heights vary with tunnels and wooded areas, before ending near the Bois de Vincennes. There are no games or obstacle courses, just good old-fashioned footpaths across a unique landscape that’ll distract the little ones for an hour or two.
This rough-and-tumble old-world brasserie serves up basic French cuisine at even more basic prices. This is the place to let the kids go crazy and try snails or foie gras without breaking the bank. They’ll be captivated by the century-old décor and the way the waiter scribbles your order on the paper tablecloth. Get there early for dinner and don’t expect to be wowed by the food or service – but kick back knowing any uneaten food won’t be setting you back too much.
The Bateaux-Mouches boat rides along the Seine are usually under cover, so you can stay ‘outside’ in the rain and still see Paris. They usually last an hour and offer panoramas of the city’s major sites, with services leaving from the Eiffel Tower, the Pont Neuf, Notre-Dame and Pont de l’Alma. The ‘Enchanted Cruise’, featuring costumed actors acting out stories through song, is great for kids, but book in advance.
The Cité des Sciences is a knowledge hound’s paradise as the permanent exhibitions include displays on transport, genetics, light, sound and energy. Even if the kids don’t care for the information offered, the building itself is a whimsical, semi-futuristic experience. Don’t miss the 1950s submarine, the Argonaute or a 3D film in the Géode, the giant chrome sphere just outside. Perfect for kids aged two to seven.
Spend a day with Roman-bashers Astérix and Obélix at the Parc Astérix theme park. This is the ultimate antidote to Americanised Disneyland with zones split into Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Land of the Vikings, Egypt and the indomitable Gaulish Village. Thrill-seekers can defy gravity on the Goudurix rollercoaster, while younger kids get wet on the Grand Splatch log flume. For some serious handshaking, look out for Astérix, Obélix and friends wandering around.
This police museum is housed in a working commissariat, so prepare for an intimidating entry procedure (which kids will love). None of the displays are labelled in English, but the extensive collection is well worth seeing. Exhibits include a prison register open at the entry for Ravaillac, assassin of Henri IV; the automatic pistol used to assassinate president Doumer in 1932; a chilling collection of murder weapons including ice picks and knives, and less dangerous items such as a gadget used to snag banknotes from the apron pockets of market sellers.
This 19th century-style elegant tearoom may not be the obvious choice for those with kids, but the famed colourful macarons and other high-quality saccharine delights, like biscuit sandwiches from Nantes, French-style lollipops or marshmallows will tick most families’ boxes – as long as everyone can sit still for that long. Alternatively, most boutiques have a takeaway window. Just a heads-up: the hot chocolate is a rich, bitter, velvety tar that might be best kept among grown-ups.
Housed in a collection of Eiffel-era wine warehouses is this magical collection of 19th- and early 20th-century fairground attractions. The most wonderful hall is the Salon de la Musique, where a musical sculpture by Jacques Rémus chimes and flashes in time with a 1934 organ while a digital grand piano plays ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Twirl round on a gondola carousel in the Salon de Venise and play a ball-throwing game in the Salon des Arts Forains. It’s only open to groups of 15 or more, but call ahead for smaller guided tours.
The Museum of Natural History has devoted several galleries to all sorts of animals past and present. Check out the paleontology building for dozens of skeletons and replicas of dinosaurs. The Gallery of Evolution, featuring a royal collection of stuffed animals, is also a big hit with children. You’ll find African animals – elephants, giraffes and other familiar faces – on the ground floor. A treat for children and adults alike.
Inspired by similar ‘neko’ cafés in Japan, Paris’s first cat café, tucked away in the trendy Marais, offers a relaxed environment where you can enjoy your coffee and pastries in the company of felines. It’s set over two floors with lots of comfy sofas and a grand piano in the basement, and serves a range of cakes and pastries. Staff are young and slightly disorganised, but since everyone’s really there for the cat therapy, it’s fine.
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Even the locals would agree it’s impossible to see every sight, every piece of history, every glorious work of art in the City of Light in just one lifetime. Bof, they might say. Quel dommage. But don’t feel downbeat about it all. Our 101 best things to do in Paris should help you get a sense of this storied yet ever-changing city as it is right now.