In search of the perfect European vacation with kids

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After spending the last six weeks in Germany close to family and friends, we have realized one thing: our travel style is about to change radically!

No, no – we are not settling down – not for a long time! But with two baby nieces and a nephew on the way, we know that we want to instill a love of travel in the family’s next generation, so we are are already pondering where in Europe we’ll be taking them on family vacations as soon as they are old enough to start traveling with their Aunties! Instead of taking them on a plane just yet, we will be taking advantage of the relative proximity of Germany’s neighboring countries, all of which offer their own benefits for travel with kids – in Austria, we can introduce them to the mountains, in Italy they’ll get to know what real gelato tastes like and in Romania we can show them what old-fashioned village life in Eastern Europe looks like.

GelatoFrance holidays with kids

But first, we will take them to France! We both just love France, and when we lived in London, we took weekend breaks to the City of Love several times, as it was conveniently only 2-hours away on the Eurostar high speed train. There is just something about sitting in a street café in Paris sipping a café au lait, picking up a fresh baguette at a boulangerie and some sweet pastries at a patisserie, go to the fromagerie for fresh cheese and have a picnic in the park or strolling through the food and vegetable markets in the Marais neighborhood. That stuff is only fun for grown-ups, though, we know that. That’s why we are re-evaluating and looking at ways to have fun their with the kids as well.

A few days in Paris will be the perfect introduction to a country that is not too different to what they’re used to and close enough to be able to drive there.

paris chez marie cafeHow to enjoy Paris with kids

The most obvious destination for Paris holidays with kids is of course Disneyland, where they will meet Mickey and Minnie and experience their first roller coasters! Many Disney Park lovers claim that it’s the second best Disney Resort in the world! It’s only 30 minutes from Paris, and the TGV train stops right in front of the gate of the resort, so there is no excuse not to take the kids there on a trip to Paris.

Our tips for visiting Disneyland Paris: Take at least two days to explore Disneyland – you could obviously spend much more time there, but trying to cram everything into one day will cause unnecessary stress. We are planning to go just before the girls go to school, so that we can take advantage of non-vacation times. The park can get pretty packed in the summer months, but May or September are ideal times to visit. And if you have limited time, skip the Disneyland Studios and head only to the Theme Park.

Disney castle Paris by topalaska on Flickr
Disney castle Paris by topalaska on Flickr

While Paris itself – one of the most visited cities in the world, known for its crowds and long waiting times at tourist attractions – might not seem like a good idea with two little girls, it is actually a very kid-friendly destination with plenty of attractions to keep children entertained, and will show us grown-ups a completely different side of the city.

The sacrifice you will have to make is to bypass the main sights – at least this time. If you are planning to go up on the Eiffel tower or visit the Louvre, you will have to be aware that the kids will already be tired and grumpy before you even reach the end of the line.

Instead, be open to explore some lesser known neighborhoods and places around the city and plan a cultural trip when the kids are actually old enough to relate to the sights, i.e. when they learn about the Mona Lisa and about French history in school, they will appreciate the Louvre and the palace of Versailles much more.

paris louvreYounger kids will enjoy La Ménagerie, a zoo dating back to the 18th century with reptile rooms, monkeys and big cats such as panthers.

The National Museum of Natural history is also extremely kid-friendly, with a merry-go-round and 17th century gardens which are perfect for a picnic lunch. The museum itself has a fascinating collection of animal skeletons on the ground floor, and plenty of other natural wonders to keep kids in awe.

Kid-friendly parks in Paris

Most of the parks in Paris are kid-friendly, but there are three that shouldn’t be missed. One is the Jardin de Luxembourg, where you’ll also find an enclosed play area, toy sailboats in the central basin and pony rides.

Another fantastic park is the Jardin Tuileries near the Louvre Museum, one of Paris’ prettiest parks. Grown-ups can enjoy comfortable lounge chairs while kids will love the merry-go-round, the big sculptural playground and the in-ground trampolines.

The third park is Parc des Buttes-Chaumont which features a grotto, several playgrounds, a merry-go-round and a temple on top of a peak in the middle of a lake, reached by suspension bridges, which are great fun for kids.

Jardin Tuileries ParisExplore Montmartre

The best neighborhood to explore with kids is the Montmartre. They can enjoy a ride on the merry-go-round at the bottom of the park between Square Louise Michel and Sacre Coeur before heading up the stairs (or taking the funicular) to Sacre Coeur basilica. The church itself is fascinating enough for a quick look from the outside, but the winding cobble-stone streets always offer something interesting for kids – the artists who paint on the Place du Tertre, little shops selling interesting trinkets or crepes stands. Try to do this early in the day though, as this neighborhood tends to get packed mid-morning until late in the evening.

paris sacre coeurFascinating markets

Another highlight for kids is a tour of the local markets. On Sundays, the popular flower and bird market takes place at the Place Lois Lepine on the Ile de la Cite near Notre Dame cathedral, and children are usually in wonder seeing all the different birds. To show them more of an ethnic food market, take them to the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the city’s oldest market where you’ll find Lebanese, North African and even Japanese foods. If you come during the week (Tue-Fri), you’ll beat the weekend crowds – the later in the day you get there, the emptier it will be.

Paris MarketNeed more recommendations? Check out these 14 ideas from Fodor’s for what to do in Paris with kids!

Have you been to Paris with kids? Do you have advice on kid-friendly activities in the City of Lights?

1 Comment

  1. Paris is a great place to visit, but there is so much more to see and do in France. We live in the south and love the warmer weather, the Mediterranean climate and during the winter skiing in the Pyrenees. You can go white water rafting or canoeing on the Aude, go ape swinging in the trees or send them off to an Aquazone on one of the inland lakes. Take them south and discover the Cathare Fortresses, a great history lesson and adventure all built into one. Kids just love exploring castles.

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