Paris With Kids
Paris is often promoted as an adult destination, but there's no shortage of children's activities to keep the young ones busy—even many of the city's top attractions have carousels parked outside them in summer. Make sure to buy a Pariscope (found at most newsstands) and check the enfants section for current children's events.
Paris has a number of museums that cater to the young and young at heart. They're great places to occupy restless minds, especially if the weather is bad. The Parc de la Villette's Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie is an enormous science center with a kids' area that's divided into two main sections: one for 2- to 7-year-olds, another for the 5 to 12 set. Interactive exhibits let inquisitive young visitors do everything from building a house to learning about communications through the ages. The Musée de la Musique, also in the Parc de la Villette, will appeal to more arts-minded children. The Musée de la Poupée, a cozy museum in the heart of the Marais, has a collection of 500-plus dolls dating back to the 1800s, complete with costumes, furniture, accessories, and even a "hospital," where "sick" dolls and plush toys come to be repaired. Labels might be in French, but they're not really the point anyway. The whole family can spend hours ogling exhibits about the natural world at the Grande Galerie de l'Évolution; its hands-on Galerie des Enfants, for children aged 6 to 12, is an added bonus. The Palais de la Découverte has high-definition, 3-D exhibits covering subjects like chemistry, biology, meteorology, and physics, so there's bound to be some interesting dinner conversation when the day is done. Many of the displays are in French, but that doesn't stop most kids from having a blast—the choice between this and the Louvre is a no-brainer. The Musée de l'Homme is a bit more of a grown-up museum, but the collection of 120 mummies will certainly wow kids.
Visiting a zoo is usually a good way to get kids' attention, although you might want to keep in mind that most European ones aren't as spacious as their American counterparts. A part of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (with its own exceptional butterfly collection and Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy with too many bones on display to count), the Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes is an urban zoo dating from 1794 and is home to more than 240 mammals, nearly 400 birds, 210 reptiles, and 900 insects. The country’s largest zoo, the Parc Zoologique in the Bois de Vincennes, lets you observe animals in realistic-looking habitats. The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in the Marais is another place to get up close and personal with ferocious lions, tigers, and one in-your-face polar bear—these critters just aren’t alive. The impressive collection of taxidermy trophies takes children on a safari to discover man’s relationship with animals.
What child could pass up the circus? There are several in the city, including the Espaces Chapiteaux at the Parc de la Villette. Pinderland, an attraction south of Paris, promises an interactive experience: the first European theme park dedicated entirely to the circus comes complete with a circus academy and themed museum. For traditional entertainment, try Les Guignols, French puppet shows. The original Guignol was a marionette character created by Laurent Mourguet, supposedly in his own likeness, celebrating life, love, and wine; today, shows are primarily aimed at children, and are found in open-air theaters throughout the city in the warmer months. Check out the Marionettes des Champs-Élysées, Champ de Mars, Parc Montsouris, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes. Even if they don't understand French, kids are usually riveted.
There's something about exploring underground that seems to fascinate kids, at least the older ones. Les Égouts, the Paris sewer system, has a certain gross factor but isn't actually that disgusting. It's worth noting, though, that the smell is definitely ranker in the summer months. At the redesigned Catacombs, in Montparnasse, dark tunnels filled with skulls and skeletons of 6 million Parisians are spookily titillating—provided you're not prone to nightmares. For some cheap underground entertainment without the ick factor, the métro itself can be its own sort of adventure, complete with fascinating station art such as the submarine decor at Arts-et-Metiers, the colorful Parisian timeline murals at Tuileries, or the Egyptian statues of the Louvre–Rivoli station. A good tip: métro Lines 1 and 14 feature conductorless trains that let you sit at the very front, and kids love the sensation that they're driving.
Many kids are oddly thrilled at the prospect of climbing countless stairs just to get a cool view. The Eiffel Tower is the quintessential Paris climb (especially now that the first level boasts a dizzying glass floor), but Notre-Dame gets extra points for the gargoyles, and the Arc de Triomphe is a good bet, since it's at the end of the Champs-Élysées. Parks offer other opportunities for expending energy. In summer, kids can work off steam on trampolines or ride ponies at the Jardin des Tuileries; the Jardin du Luxembourg has a playground and a pond where they can rent miniature boats; and the Bois de Boulogne has real rowboats, bumper cars, plus lots of wide-open spaces. For rainy-day rescues, La Galerie des Enfants at the Pompidou Centre has an indoor playground, as well as art exhibitions. In winter, consider ice-skating. From mid-December through February several outdoor sites transform into spectacular rinks with twinkling lights, music, and rental skates available; the main one is at Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, in front of City Hall.
All that activity will no doubt make kids hungry, and luckily there's no shortage of special places to stop for a snack. Crêperies always aim to please and you'll find plenty along the main tourist streets. Also be on the look-out for hot chocolate—the French version is deliciously thick and yummy, unlike what American children are usually used to. You'll also find plenty of places offering decadent ice cream. French children adore the pastel clouds of meringue that decorate almost every pâtisserie window—and, when in need, a chocolate croissant is never hard to find. After filling up, you can cap the day with perhaps the best treat of all, a boat ride on the Seine. It's the perfect way to see the sights while resting weary feet.
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