Paris has the deserved reputation of being one of the world’s most romantic cities, but it holds plenty of opportunities for family vacation fun as well. Public parks and gardens are great escapes from the tiring tedium of a typical tourist regimen. At The Luxembourg Gardens, children ride ponies, float miniature sailboats in the central fountain basin, and enjoy programmed activities such as puppet theaters. On premise picnics aren’t only allowed but encouraged. Pick up food on the way or plan to purchase snacks from the onsite kiosks.
First time visitors to the city won’t want to miss out on making the requisite tourist pilgrimage to that penultimate Parisian landmark: The Eiffel Tower. Built to be the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, the iron lattice tower isn’t exactly off the beaten path. Far from it, the lovingly named Iron Lady is the most tourist-trafficked paid monument in the world—7.1 million people visited in 2011—and a landmark for little and big kids alike.
There are three visitor levels, the first two accessible by foot or elevator. The walk from ground level to the first level and from the first to second level is 600 steps in total. The third and highest level is accessible by elevator only. Ease the wait by interacting with mimers circulating the queued-up crowd as La Dame de Fer (Iron Lady). Afterward, grab food to go from one of the many snack kiosks and vendors and chill out on the Champ de Mars for an impromptu picnic. Round out your visit by crossing the street for an ice cream and a ride on the carousel.
The renowned artist haven of Monmartre in the 18th arrondissement offers plenty of fun things to see and do for all age groups. Plan to pause at the carousel adjacent to the Place des Abbesses Metro egress. This old-fashioned double-decker merry-go-round, which appears in the film, Amélie, has carnival style music, an old-fashioned ticket booth, and the white-domed basilica of Sacré Coeur in the backdrop. Bonus: the adjacent playground is perfect for picnicking or a quick snack or play break.
Less than an hour’s Regional Express Rail (RER) ride from Paris proper, Versailles is an easy day trip or leisurely overnight stay over. The crushed pebble paths leading through the park’s extensive formal gardens make excellent thoroughfares for exercising kids’ pent up energy, far better than the chateau’s Hall of Mirrors! Food kiosks interspersed take care of midday munchies.
Save plenty of time for exploring Marie Antoinette’s Hameau (Hamlet), a fanciful functioning farm village built adjacent to the Petit Trianon as a second queenly retreat. The restored rustically-inspired cottages include a farm house, dairy, dovecote, barn, mill, queen’s house, and lighthouse tower. Each cottage has its own unique garden, orchard or flower garden, but it’s the errant sheep, herd dog, or duckling that’s guaranteed to capture your child’s fancy.
Myriad celebrations and festivals take place year-round throughout the city. Check the “What’s On” section of the Paris Visitors Bureau website for special events such as fall and winter festivals and holiday fairs suited for families. Summer visitors with kids may want to take part in Paris Plages (Paris Beaches), a month-long free summer program that transforms the city’s riverside areas into car-free resorts. Many attractions and events, such as pleasure beaches, boat rides, and youth programming, are geared for families while others such as concerts and museum nights are better saved for adults.
Disneyland ® Paris celebrates its twentieth anniversary through December 31 2012 with lots of special programming, notably Disney Dreams!, an immersive nighttime spectacular encompassing water screens, fountains, lasers, pyrotechnics, projections, fire and numerous other grand-scale effects. Located in Marne-la-Vallée, an eastern suburb twenty miles from Paris proper, the Disney theme parks and entertainment and resort complex are accessible by car or RER A Trains. Just saying…!
Written by Hope Tarr for EuropeUpClose.com