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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Top 5 Things to Do in Paris with Kids

Paris may be the city of love, but this stylish vibrant metropolis will also enchant younger travellers with a myriad of delights and adventures. This is especially true in spring and summer, when the streets of Paris come to life with street fairs, kid-friendly shows and concerts, and plenty of outdoor activities to keep young travellers entertained. Here are my top 5 picks in Paris with kids:

#1 Paris with Kids: Ride the carousels

The carousels are gorgeous, old-style painted wooden horses and carriages, lavishly decorated with familiar music to swirl by around and around and around. These pop up unexpectedly all over the place, and will help turn your day into a spontaneous carnival, giving a sense of the city as a funfair.

They can be an enchanting moment of nostalgia for parents, climb on board too, and wave to the kids as you pass them!

If you don’t stumble across any in your travels, head for Luxembourg Gardens, the Jardin Des Tuileries, Parc du Champ de Mars, and down the hill from Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

#2 Paris with Kids: Go underwater & visit the dinosaurs

CinéAqua - The Trocadéro Aquarium is a tropical water wonderland, filled with colourful fish and exotic underwater species, and a favourite with my 8-year-old friend, as it contains a crocodile pit. See if they live up to the promise of 9,000 fish and 26 sharks, go on, count them all! Intriguing list of activities include an underwater sound studio, the ‘green wall of incrustation’, underwater robots a film program, cartoon workshop and daddy day camp. Located in the historic Trocadero area, you can eat in the museum at Cafe Petit Jules Verne or for more experimental food, try the gastronomic Japanese restaurant Ozu.

The main building in the Jardin du Plantes houses the perennially enchanting dinosaur museum, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Don’t let the description of “comparative anatomy, mineralogy and paleontology” put you off, this is where living reptiles can be seen in the reptiles gallery of the Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes. The fossil gallery contains objects that were part of the Cabinet of Curiosities of King Louis XIII. Explore their collection online with the kids before you leave home, and decide which exhibits they are most interested in seeing.

#3 Paris with Kids: Picnic in the park

Step back in time with a trip to Buttes Chaumont, built in the early 1900s, this park has an extraordinary landscape to explore, with panoramic views over Paris. The man-made river runs through mountains, into caves and down along waterfalls, and there are plenty of gorgeous picnic spots at the many grassy verges along its banks. It’s located in the 19th arrondissement at the Rue Botzaris, near two metro entrances: Botzaris and Buttes Chaumont.

Parc de Belleville is perfect for a summer afternoon picnic, and with a little exploring, you can find a spot for swimming along the river. This former village and 18th-century gypsum quarry, has been transformed into a beautiful garden which opened in 1988. The Maison de l’Air located inside the park offers educational workshops for children with explanations and demonstrations on the theme of the air, the atmosphere, and pollution. Give the kids an environmental perspective to write up in their school report. Rue des Couronnes. Metro: Couronnes.

The famous Jardin de Tuileries is a favourite with French families, dating back to the 17th Century. The public garden has great entertainment for kids, including a puppet show, ferris wheel, carousel, playgrounds with trampolines and toy sailboats for sailing on the pond. Between the Louvres to the Place de La Concord, the garden houses the only remaining structures of the original Palais de Tuileries, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume and the Musée de l’Orangerie, which displays Claude Monet’s water lily paintings, and will appeal to budding artists.

I highly recommend a trip to one of the markets for fresh bread, fruit and cheese, or you can stop into the many small grocery shops around for supplies. The kids will love to stop for authentic french crepes at one of the many stands selling them, and of course the perennial favourite ice cream is available everywhere. Berthillon, next to the bridge between Ile de la Cite and Ile St-Louis, has fabulous flavours of sorbet and ice-cream in raspberry, strawberry, lemon, pear, vanilla and chocolate, and offers a view of Notre Dame as you enjoy them.

#4 Paris with Kids: Science, industry, cinema

Kids will love the Cité des sciences & del'industrie

The Parc de la Villette houses the Cité des sciences & de l’industrie, a fascinating world of invention and technology, with a real submarine to explore, a satellite dish, and summer events including performances and music nights. There is a science museum designed for kids, the Cité des Enfants, you can also work on their language skills, as many of the explanations are in French, and it’s free with the Paris Pass.

The wide-open grass area is a perfect place to let the kids run around and expend some energy, especially on those hot summer days. Three of the gardens are built specifically for kids, the Jardin du Dragon with a wonderful playground and dragon-shaped slippery slide, the Jardin des Brouillards featuring water curtains and fountains, and a self-driven windmill in the Jardin des Dunes. A fun way to reach the Parc de la Villette is a boat trip along the canal, which also offers a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery. The 3 hour trip starts at Quai Anatole France and ends at the Parc de la Villette, bring your own food as there are no refreshments for sale on the boat.

In case you need to escape the rain, or as a relaxing alternative to another day of sightseeing, the Forum des Images offers film programs for a variety of ages from Touts-Petits Cinema to les scolaires. The button ‘Activities Enfants’ on the website has listings for all the films in the children’s programs at Cinema le Latina, 20, rue du Temple 75004. Métro Hôtel-de-Ville or Rambuteau.

#5 Paris with Kids: Theme parks & shopping tours

Sometimes, you have no choice but to give into your kids’ desire for Mickey and friends. Fortunately you can cover both the familiar options - namely, Disneyland Paris - and something entirely French, Parc Asterix, which is the 2nd-largest theme park in France with a distinct Gaulish theme to its rides and attractions.

Not your typical theme park: Parc Asterix, just outside Paris

If you have an older child, consider a Paris walking tour aimed specifically at kids, or Paris shopping tour aimed at teens.

If all else fails, consider a stroll along the Seine and let the kids decide. As a child, the Adventures of Madeline was one of my favourite books, the row of tiny yellow uniforms tramping up to the Eiffel Tower has always intrigued me, and I recently had the joy of visiting the Pont Neuf, where she falls in the water.

Entice your children’s imagination with their own French adventures before you head to the city of light, and they will walk around enchanted by being alive in this wonderful fairy tale city. You can buy them a Madeleine, and try some other authentic French treats, like Croque Monsieur, sure to appeal to a young palette. Strolling along the Seine from the Debilly Footbridge, which goes across to the Eiffel Tower is perfect for an afternoon walk, that will give you a new view of the city from the river, and allow you to experience the streets of Paris from another perspective as you wander.

City Walks with Kids: Paris is a wonderful book of cards with child-oriented maps, plenty of pictures and delights for young travellers. Let the kids take charge of the itinerary, giving you a break from making the decisions. Parents with teenagers might suggest a trip to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, to visit Jim Morrison’s grave, along with the many French artists, writers and musicians buried here.

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