When we planned our trip to Europe last year, we knew that we wanted to go back to Paris with the kids so they could experience this amazing city. After looking at our dates, we decided to visit on Bastille Day because of what an incredible experience that would be. We ended up staying five nights from July 12-16, and although Paris was extremely crowded during those dates, we were able to hit the highlights, and the kids got a taste of what Paris has to offer.
You may think that Paris is not the most kid friendly of vacation destinations, and like most big cities, it does present certain challenges, but with a good plan and a flexible attitude, Paris with kids can be an amazing cultural experience. There is no shortage of things to do in Paris for kids, so we just picked a few and set out to see them.
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Bastille Day in Paris with kids - what to see and do
Planning Bastille Day with kids hinged on one thing - seeing the fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower. It took careful planning, but everything else was just icing on the cake. July 14th is French National Day, meaning lots of shops are closed, locals are off work, and traffic is congested.
Many of the popular museums are open, but will be very busy, so plan accordingly. Some families will love it, and some might hate it, but either way, the esprit de corps and good vibes could be seen all around. The Paris Visitors Bureau has good information on what will be open, so be sure to check before you go.
Obviously, the fireworks don't happen until night (and pretty late at that), so we had to fill the time. No problem - we're in Paris!
Go on a walking tour of Paris
There are lots of Bastille Day activities for kids, but one of our favorites was going on a walking tour with paris-walks.com. This is a great company that does English-speaking walking tours around Paris. They did their French Revolution tour on Bastille Day, and it was great! We all learned a lot and the guides are fantastic.
Taking a walking tour is always a great way to get to know a city, but I’ll be honest, I thought the kids were not enjoying it at all. They politely listened, but I didn’t think they were able to understand a lot of the tour. Afterwards as we discussed it in Luxembourg Garden, I was amazed at all the things they had learned. Their favorite part was seeing the hat Napoleon left behind at the Café Procope because he couldn’t pay his bill.
Watch the parade and enjoy the parks and green spaces
Other kid-friendly Bastille Day activities include the military parade in the morning, and picnicking and enjoying the green spaces around Paris. We decided to hop on the Metro and visit Sacré-Coeur instead of watching the parade. The amazing view allowed us a unique way to see the parade and fly-overs while avoiding the crowds on the Champs-Élysées. Many would agree it may be the best view of Paris.
Visits to Luxembourg Garden or the Tuilleries are other great family activities in Paris that we enjoyed.
In the summer, the Tuilleries has a small carnival with a Ferris wheel that is fun for children in Paris. Keep in mind that you can also pack a picnic and head to the Trocadéro Gardens to enjoy the fireworks later on, but you have to do this early and it's pretty much an all day affair. We didn't want to fight the crowds all day, so we decided against it. Many other good Paris landmarks for kids are decorated for the occasion and are neat to see like the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and of course the Eiffel Tower.
Bastille Day Fireworks
After getting some dinner and cooling off a bit, we headed back out to try to get a good spot. Be advised - it is standing room only for a good hour or longer before the show. If you or your kids can't stand for long periods, you may want to consider booking a river cruise or a table at a restaurant that has good views of the show.
It was totally worth it. We've never seen anything like it. It was like watching one grand finale after another for an hour.
The entire show was set to music, and unlike shows in the U.S. where they play patriotic music, Paris does pop tunes and each year is different. There was something surreal about listening to John Williams' theme from E.T. while watching the Eiffel Tower being completely lit up with fire, sparks, and lasers.
We were exhausted by the end, but everyone had such a great time. We were talking about it for days. If you ever get the chance to experience Paris with kids on Bastille Day, do it!
Beyond Bastille Day - What To Do in Paris With Kids
Museums are important to us, and our family really enjoys them; however, some would say that museums are not for children. I disagree and think that everyone should experience the Louvre, even when it is hot and crowded like when we were there.
The thing to keep in mind about the Louvre, or any other museum really, is to not try to see everything. With a bit of prior research, you can choose the pieces ahead of time that are important to see, whether they have cultural and historical significance, or maybe you just think they’re cool. You can then make a game out of it for your kids, like a scavenger hunt. Also, keep a calm demeanor. Prepare everyone ahead of time that it will be crowded and our feet might hurt, but won’t it be neat to see The Mona Lisa in person?
Giving your kids some background knowledge will pique their interest and make the experience more meaningful for them. Don't rule out the Louvre with kids because you think it may be boring for them. Exhibits like Napoleon's Apartment and the ancient Egyptian statues are really fun and interesting for everyone.
The other museum that we did on this trip was Musée d'Orsay, and I have to say that I liked it better. If you only have time for one museum in Paris, I would recommend d'Orsay. Not only was it less crowded and more comfortable, you will find art that the whole family is familiar with.
Musée d'Orsay is an impressionist museum, so you will see the works of Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas to name a few, and they house some of these artists’ most recognizable pieces. Visiting d'Orsay with kids should definitely be high on your list.
Paris Landmarks: Best things to do in Paris with Kids
Another top priority that is true in almost every major city, but is especially pertinent in Paris, is visiting the major landmarks. Naturally, visiting the Eiffel Tower with the kids was at the top of the list. We had to plan our visit with Bastille Day in mind because we knew that there would be certain times that it would be closed in order to prepare for the fireworks display. There are a couple of ways to go about getting to the top, but no matter your method, be prepared to wait in line – several times.
As with the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower will be crowded this time of year, but it is important to maintain perspective. Yes, it stinks to stand in line, but the views are amazing and the experience is worth it. We went in the late afternoon/early evening, so we were able to see the city in both daylight and night time views, which was awesome. We were at the top when all the lights began twinkling, so of course, the kids loved that. Sometimes it is worth it to stretch those bedtimes when you’re on vacation.
As I mentioned before, you need to determine what you feel like experiencing to its fullest and what you’re okay with saying, “hey, look kids, there it is.” For us, the Arc de Triomphe was a pass-by landmark. We took a stroll down the Champs-Élysées and ended it with a picture in front of the Arc. That was good enough for us.
The churches ended up being somewhere in between. If you are going to go to Paris, with kids or without, you have to experience Notre Dame. It is just one of those landmarks that screams “Paris.” For our trip with the kids, we opted to take a quick tour of the inside, but we did not spend time reading all about the history of the construction.
We also took the time to walk around the outside to get a good look at the gargoyles and flying buttresses. In addition to Notre Dame, we did a quick tour of the inside of the Sacré-Cœur in much the same fashion. Located in the Montmarte district, the steps of the Sacré-Cœur offer some of the most spectacular views of the city (although we hear the dome views are best).
When compared to its more famous counterpart (the Notre Dame), I found the Sacré-Cœur to be more beautiful with its painted dome and more open feel. Though more difficult to get to, depending on where you stay, it is definitely worth the 30-45 minutes it may take you to get to this part of Paris.
Paris Tours and Day Trips with Kids
Catacombs of Paris
There are countless opportunities for touring the city, though some may be more entertaining for your family than others. When we planned on seeing Paris with our kids, we really involved them in the process by looking through the guidebooks together and letting them pick out some things they wanted to see. One thing that was important to Andrew was the catacombs, and that ended up being the first tour we took. We almost didn’t make it, though, because we arrived an hour before closing time, and the line was long. Once we made it down into the tunnels, it was quite an experience. The kids loved it because it was weird and creepy, and the adults thought it was pretty cool, too.
Palace of Versailles
The experience that really reinforced why the French Revolution occurred was our day trip to Versailles.
Unfortunately, we got off to a bad start with some construction delays on the Metro. We arrived an hour later than we intended and had to wait in a long line in the blazing sun (we were thankful for my umbrella, so don’t forget to pack one).
Versailles with kids was amazing, but our experience was clouded by the delays, the heat, and the crowds, and we opted to skip parts of the extensive grounds. Looking back on it, we're still glad we went, and even with the struggles, everyone still found things they liked about it.
Travelling with kids isn’t always perfect or easy, but our trip to Versailles is proof that it is always worth it. If you don't want to try to plan a day trip like this on your own, there are several good tour options here along with shuttle service to and from Paris.
Kid-Friendly Shopping and Dining
Paris is known for its excellent food and fancy shops, but when you are experiencing Paris with kids, you want to find a balance between trying new things and value. One of my favorite meals on this trip was the café in the Tuilleries. We had just spent six days in the hustle and bustle of London, so Paris was a welcome change of pace. After visiting the Louvre, we walked to the Tuilleries where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the park. The kids tried croque monsieurs for the first time, and afterwards they had fun feeding the pigeons and running around for a bit. It was all very Parisian.
Another dining favorite was Angelina. They can be found in several locations throughout the city, but we had breakfast at the one on Rue de Rivoli, across from the Tuilleries. We enjoyed the atmosphere, and the food was delicious, but the best part about Angelina is the drinking chocolate.
Our kids still talk about that hot chocolate, and the friendly staff made the whole meal an experience to remember. If you're worried about the cuisine in Paris for kids, a visit to Angelina for a macaron or eclaire ought to do the trick.
If you're visiting Paris with kids on a tight budget, consider doing what we did and renting a small apartment with a kitchen. We were able to prepare some quick meals at 'home' to save money, and it was convenient because of the proximity of the Metro stops. There was a small grocery store nearby, and the kids enjoyed picking out some food and living like a local for a few days.
Another meal we enjoyed was the Hard Rock Café. We make it a point to pick up our collectors’ gear when we are near a Hard Rock Café, but the one in Paris ended up being a welcome treat after a long, hot day in Versailles. Not only was the food just what we needed (good ol’ burgers), but the staff also accommodated the kids’ request to watch Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, and our waiter from Ireland recommended a great day trip from Dublin, which was our next stop after Paris.
As far as shopping in Paris, we only window shopped along the Champs Elysees, but we did make it a point to visit the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. If your kids are readers, this is a worthwhile stop. With its rickety stairs, cozy reading nooks, and snuggly kitty, it is sure to please the kiddos. If you're looking for some Paris books for kids, this is your stop!
Sometimes, the best places to visit in Paris with kids are the simplest. Be sure to grab a gelato at one of the nearby shops. Yum!
Where to stay: Family hotels in Paris
We spent a good amount of time before our trip planning our accommodations around being within walking distance of the fireworks. We didn't want to have to ride the Metro after the show and compete will all the locals heading home or to a Firemen's Ball. We decided to use Airbnb for a small apartment near the Trocadero. It was clean, had a washer and dryer, was situated between two Metro stops, and was about a 6-7 minute walk to the Trocadero for prime viewing of the show. Perfect home base to do Bastille Day for kids. (Use our link for $20 off for new Airbnb customers!)
I think that staying here rather than a hotel was the best way to experience Paris and really enhanced our trip. When planning family activities in Paris, Airbnb makes things so much more flexible because you can narrow your search down to a very specific area of the city.
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The best family hotels in Paris
Four Seasons George V, Paris
Four Seasons hotels understand family travel, and the George V is no different. Situated near the Arc de Triumph, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a Metro stop, this is a fantastic stepping off point to exploring all that Paris has to offer. With access to the Michelin 3-star restaurant Le Cinq, a swimming pool, and a dedicated recreation manager, your family will be pampered and every need taken care of. The Four Seasons could easily be the best place to stay in Paris with kids.
Personal touches that make this hotel special for families include welcome amenities for kids, kid-sized bath robes and bathroom amenities, and included dining for guests under 18. Babysitting services are also available for those who need it. For those that want to get out and explore, the hotel concierge can arrange whatever you'd like to do.
With no additional charges for kids 18 and under staying in the same room as their parents, The George V is definitely in the running for best family hotel in all of Paris.
Mandarin Oriental Paris
Mandarin Oriental hotels define chic luxury all over the world. The Mandarin Oriental Paris is located near Place Vendôme, one of the finer shopping districts in the city. It is also located very close to the Louvre and the Orsay museums.
As you might imagine, the Mandarin Oriental is very comfortable, but also kid-frindly, offering a special rate for a connecting suite to a guestroom for families, welcome amenities for kids, baby supplies like bottle warmers and play mats, and baby sitting services.
Mandarin Oriental Paris also has a dedicated Kid's ambassador and Kid’s concierge who are available to assist with your every need and help you plan your stay.
A personal favorite of ours - Angelina's - is just around the corner. Pop in for a delicious breakfast and some drinking chocolate!
Shangri-La Hotel Paris
If proximity to the Eiffel Tower is your priority, you can't go wrong with the Shangri-La. With its comfortable, elegant rooms and excellent service, the Shangri-La consistently scores high marks from reviewers.
Special surprises and amenities for kids will have them feeling special, and the swimming pool will keep everyone happy after a long day of touring Paris.
With it's three restaurants (and several Michelin stars between them), you'll be sure to find something everyone will like. Proximity to many of Paris' most famous attractions make this hotel a great pick. This is a solid pick for one of the best hotels for kids in Paris.
Holiday Inn - Paris - Gare de Lyon Bastille
Many hotels around the city will offer a king room with a sofa bed for the kids and will accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids. Holiday Inns are plentiful around Paris and many have this room type.
This hotel is close to two Metro stops, the natural history museum, and Notre Dame, making this one of the more convenient Paris hotels for kids.
Novotel Paris Centre Tour Eiffel
Novotel is a large chain operating several hotels around the city. They cater to families with simple, family-sized rooms with sofa beds, and kids 16 and under stay and eat free.
The Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel offers a great location, heated indoor swimming pool, and easy access to the Metro and RER trains. If you are looking for a clean room that can accommodate up to 4, but without all the luxury perks, this hotel is a great option.
Tips when visiting Paris with Kids
Paris is served by several airports and all the major carriers fly here. I like to use Google Flights to quickly narrow down schedules and prices. Once you arrive, taxis, trains, and buses are all options for getting to your hotel. Google Maps can help you with train schedules.
We came by train on this particular trip, and took the Eurostar from London's St. Pancras station which takes you directly to Gare du Nord station in Paris. The trip is a bit pricey, but we felt it was worth it to avoid the airport, security lines, etc. It also saves you from traveling from one of the airports to the city center. Gare du Nord has easy access to the rest of the city which is appreciated when you have small children. I would recommend booking tickets directly with Eurostar to get the best seat selection.
Tickets will increase in price to closer to your date of travel. If you're going to travel to Paris with kids, the Eurostar is a great option, and the kids will love it!
The train ride itself is fast and smooth. They offer snacks and small bites in the dining car, so the kids and I definitely had to go explore that. For the best information on train travel in Europe, check out The Man in Seat 61. His Eurostar guide is very helpful.
Getting Around Paris
The best way to get around is by using the subway or Metro. The Metro is convenient, affordable, and easy to learn. Other options include city bus and taxi. If you have older kids, bike share could be an option. The Metro is so easy and cheap, we didn't even really consider doing anything else. Our kids had fun looking at the maps and figuring out where the nearest Metro stop was located.
Tickets for the Metro can be purchased at ticket machines or windows at the stations, and we purchased ours in a carnet (which is just a 10-pack) as we went along. There are other options, particularly if you are staying longer than we did, that may be a better value, but the individual tickets worked well for us. Paris by Train is a helpful resource for information on all the options.
RER trains are separate from the Metro and will take you further out from the city. They are more of a regional, light rail line. For example, if you were taking a day trip to Versailles, you could take the RER. The fee schedule is a little different than for the Metro, but for central Paris, Metro tickets will work on RER trains.
Looking for a good guidebook?
*Newly updated for 2018* For a great guide that includes a map of the Paris transit system, check out the Discover Paris guidebook by Lonely Planet. It's full of great info to help plan your trip and get around Paris with kids.
With so many things to do in Paris with kids, there's really no excuse not to go. Our trip was focused around Bastille Day, so we only scratched the surface of things to do. Don't let any pre-conceived notions you have of Paris deter you. We found this to be a lovely city with lots of green space, friendly people, and (of course) delicious food. Getting to enjoy a world-class fireworks show only solidifies this city's moniker as the City of Light. We'll certainly try to travel to Paris with kids again.
Have you taken a Paris family vacation? What are your favorite Paris attractions for kids?