Paris With Kids

Paris may be the city of love, perfect for smooching couples. But what about visiting the French capital with children?

In an attempt to inject more culture into their lives, I brought my three kids - Angus, 12, and eight-year old twins Nancy and Lola - to the French capital for the weekend.

I enlisted the help of my best friend and fellow child-wrangler, Sarah, and her two kids as we bravely attempted to find out exactly how child-friendly Paris is.

Rather than subject romancing couples to the kids' near-constant squabbles over the last pain au chocolat, we ditched the idea of a hotel and opted for a private apartment in the Les Halles district, steps from the Seine and within easy walking distance of many of the city's popular attractions.

Of course, the first thing the gang wanted to do was conquer the Eiffel Tower. Celebrating 125 years this year, the Iron Lady, as she's known, was designed as a temporary structure for the 1889 World Fair and now attracts 7 million visitors each year.

We pre-booked a guided tour with City Wonders, where guide Randa entranced the kids with the tower's history and mechanical facts, but more importantly enabled us to skip the hefty queues and hop straight into the lift.

From the tower's 324m peak, Paris unfolds like a 3D map. The kids peeking through the metal grille, were blown away by the magnificent views of the city, while Sarah and I, lacking the bravery of youth, edge towards to the summit's Champagne bar for a glass of liquid courage.

In our youth, Sarah and I spent two weeks here in 1989, when we could, and did, spend hour upon hour admiring some of the world's greatest works of art. But with five kids in tow, all with the attention span of a senior goldfish, leisurely art appreciation was definitely not on the cards this weekend.

The trick to weaving culture into a city break with kids is to tie it in with some child-friendly activities. One afternoon was spent running them off in the stunning Jardin du Luxembourg, another in the adventure playground in the Tuileries.


And if all else fails, bribe them with sugar - you can't walk five metres in Paris without tripping over a chocolatier or a patisserie.


It's worth planning what you want to see before you arrive and mapping out some kind of itinerary, as there is precious little time between a child announcing "I'm bored" and breaking out into a full on game of tag around Rodin's statues.

The Louvre can see anything up to 30,000 visitors a day, with the majority trying to cram through the main Pyramid entrance. We saved time by buying our tickets beforehand at FNAC, a department store in Les Halles, which allowed us to waltz straight in through Passage Richelieu.

We also skipped the queues to the Musee d'Orsay by brandishing the five children in front of us and being whisked directly to the near-empty family queue.

As well as the big museums, there are plenty of lesser-known attractions to consider when visiting with kids. The Musée du Gourmand du Chocolat, near the Bonne Nouvelle Metro, explores some 4000 years of chocolate history coupled with chocolate demonstrations and the odd sweet treat.

Or head out to the 4th Arrondissment, past the Pompidou Centre, where the quirky Musée de la Magie, a magician's private collection of magic artefacts and old tricks, occupies the dusty, arched cellars of Marquis de Sade's house and hosts a (French) magic show each afternoon.

When Sarah and I were here in '89, we snubbed the catacombs for an afternoon mooning over Jim Morrison's grave at Père Lachaise. We were determined not to miss them this time round and on our last day took the metro to Denfert Rochereau to visit the subterranean ossuary.

It's worth getting there early, ideally before 10am, as the queues do get very lengthy. But it's well worth the wait. Trundling through 2km of softly-lit tunnels, it was rather humbling to see the sombre walls of neatly-stacked bones of some six million Parisians.

I was worried the walls of skulls might be a little macabre for the younger ones, but the children were completely mesmerised by it and voted it their favourite Parisian sight.

So from the dizzy heights of the Eiffel Tower to the dingy depths of an underground mausoleum, Paris is a real hit with the kids, proving that the city of romance is not just for lovers, it's for families (and best friends) too.

Dos & Don'ts

Dotake the kids to art galleries. Art is good for them. Just don't spend two hours looking for the hidden meaning in the Pre-Raphaelites or you could end up with a hefty bill as they rebel with a Sharpie.

Do book an Eiffel Tower tour. It's worth every penny to skip the three-hour queue to the top.

Don't cram in too much. Tempers will fray if you spend half your day trying to tick off as many Paris must-sees as possible. Pick one or two and combine with a run around one of the city's many delightful parks.

Do see the Eiffel Tower at night. The Iron Lady's at her prettiest when dressed in sparkles illuminating the Parisian sky.

Don't forget to buy your Louvre tickets the day before from FNAC in Les Halles and skip the main queues.

Do have afternoon tea in beautiful and grand cafe at the Musee d'Orsay. The bribe of a fat slab of gateaux and an Orangina will buy you a good hour in the Van Gogh room.


The Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Paris offers return fares from £69. (08432 186186,

We stayed in a charming loft apartment near Les Halles, it sleeps up to 7 and starts from £245 a night (, 0203 463 0087)

A beat-the-queues Eiffel Tower tour at City Wonders ( from £40.23 for a two-hour guided tour including lift access to the summit.