“Forget the Paris you think you’re supposed to see, and you’ll get much more out of the Paris that’s actually there,” says Pamela Druckerman in her recent article, “Travel Guide: Paris for Kids” for The New York Times.
Since Paris is one of the world’s most visited cities, seeing its best-known monuments and museums can require wading through masses of people and waiting in long lines, she writes. However, Paris is filled with lesser-known treasures that are authentic, often queue-free and a pleasure to visit with kids. The secret to a successful family visit, she advises, is to discover these sites at a leisurely pace, and to also take time to explore the parks, bakeries and cafés sprinkled throughout your hotel’s neighborhood.
Surprisingly, Druckerman says, Paris is compact, safe and covered with playgrounds and kid-friendly places. Here are a few of her faves:
Museums with a twist
Opt for smaller museums that you can tour in an hour or so, which is about as much as most kids (and grown-ups, to be honest) can absorb. The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) mixes art and natural history to great effect. Displays include antique dog collars, a gorilla posed in front of still-life paintings, and a pair of stuffed lions who appear to have wandered into a drawing room.
The Jardin des Plantes, the most popular botanical garden in France, covers 69 acres and houses the Natural History Museum (check out the striking collection of animal skeletons at the Grand Gallery of Evolution), a small zoo (La Ménagerie ) and a labyrinth. Consider breaking up the day with strolls through the 17th century gardens, rides on the merry-go-round, and lunch.
Don’t miss the eye-popping, ever-popular Pompidou Center with its free hands-on children’s area, La Galerie des Enfants, featuring rotating exhibits designed by artists. Consider following that with a brief tour of the main collections on Levels 4 and 5, a stunning view across Paris from Level 6, a jaunt through the terrific ground-floor gift shop, and lunch next door at one of the cafés opposite the amazing Stravinsky Fountain, and you have yourself a lovely day out.
Of course, no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral, both a speedy and awe-inspiring place for children. Make sure to take a breather at the shady little park in back. Then make your way to the nearby Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux, the flower and bird market on the Place Louis-Lépine (birds sold only on Sundays).
Ah, French dining
Let your kids’ love affair with Paris start with an authentic French breakfast. Any typical café serves tartines (open-faced sandwich) and sliced baguettes with butter and jam. They can dip their bread in chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) or spoon on some gooey oeuf à la coque, a soft-boiled egg served in the shell. (The egg holder, a coquetier, makes a great souvenir.)
A welcome addition, there are now several “kid-friendly” Parisian restaurants, a concept so new that the French use the English expression. Les 400 Coups has a play area for kids, and it’s a good springboard to an outing in the nearby Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
Le Comptoir Général, open daily, is an Africa-themed bazaar and canteen for the bourgeois-bohemian families, known as bobo’s, who live near the Canal St.-Martin. On weekends there are mini flea markets, curiosity cabinets and, most important, brunch!
The Café Suédois inside the Swedish Institute features yummy freshly-made sandwiches and desserts; you can eat in its spacious courtyard or walk to the grass near the playground at the nearby Parc Royale. And for an afternoon pick-me-up, pick up homemade pastries from Du Pain et des Idées.
And if you need a break from restaurants, Pink Flamingo Pizza (several locations) will deliver exotic pizzas right to your picnic blanket along the Canal St.-Martin or the Place des Vosges. Once you order, you’re given balloons to identify your location, then the bicycle deliveryman finds you!
Vive la France!