If you want your kids to understand the layout of the French capital, try this visualization exercise: Start at the center with the first district and imagine a snail as you go around—it’s not easy but it does make some sort of sense. Paris’ arrondissements coil around with the 1st at its heart, and the 19th and 20th at its outer limits. Each arrondissement comes with plenty to do for families. Here are some suggestions of what to see and discover in Paris with kids:
1st Arrondissement—The Heart of Paris
As the very center of Paris, the 1st includes some of the smartest streets in Paris, from the Place Vendome to the Rue de Rivoli as well as the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Gardens. The gardens are a paradise for kids, with play areas, a carousel, trampoline area and, during winter, the big wheel too. A quick walk away, and you can hop onto the Bateaux-Mouches riverboats at the Ile de la Cite, ideal for cruising the sights, whatever the weather. As for the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s a must-see, from below, or you can climb to the top for great views and a little work out.
5th Arrondissement—From the Left Bank to The Jardins des Plantes
Set on the left bank of the Seine, and home to the bubbling Quartier Latin, are the Sorbonne and the Panthéon—however, the kids will probably be more impressed by the grandiose gardens at the Jardin des Plantes at the 5th than anything. This is also where you will find the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle, which is home to the fascinating Grande Galerie de L’Evolution and the Paleontology section where the kids will enjoy visiting the dinosaurs. Across the gardens, the Menagerie Zoo is the oldest in France dating back to 1795 and also worth a visit for its spectacular setting.
6th Arrondissement—From St Germain des Pres to the Jardins du Luxembourg
One of the most upscale areas is home to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the beautiful St. Sulpice Church and the Jardins du Luxembourg. Often dubbed ‘St Germain des Pres’ or just ‘the left bank,’ kids might appreciate a chocolat chaud at the Café de Flore after a tour of the Luxembourg Gardens. As one of Paris’ finest, the Luxembourg is packed with fun, from its huge play area to its boating lake, pony rides, and a beautiful carousel. You’ll also find celebrity favorite kids shopping Bonpoint on rue de Tournon.
7th Arrondissement of Paris—From the Eiffel Tower to the Musee d’Orsay
First things first: the Eiffel Tower. If you can’t deal with the heights or the queues, it’s perfectly fine to view it from below and take a walk in the Champs de Mars, the best place in town for a picnic in the 7th. Walk the quaint and rather chic neighborhood or make the most of the area’s many museums, from the famous Musee d'Orsay right on the Seine to the Musee Rodin, to visit the famous Thinker and unique gardens. Or head to the Musee du Quai Branly which often has workshops dedicated to making it all more fun for the kids.
8th Arrondissement—From the Champs Elysees to the Parc Monceau
No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to the famous Champs Elysees in the 8th, which runs from the Place de la Concorde to the impressive Arc de Triomphe. There’s also the Elysee Palace, where the president resides, but possibly more relevant for kids is the Parc Monceau around the corner. One of the city’s prettiest, it’s a real Parisian’s park with pony rides, a beautiful Victorian style carousel, play area, sandpit, and several ponds as well as plenty of benches and stretches of lawn to recline on.
12th Arrondissement—From the Bastille to the Zoo
This area has recently known much regeneration, around Bercy specifically, as well as the Opera Bastille, near the site where the infamous Bastille Prison once stood. But most of all, this year has seen the rebirth of the Zoo de Paris, which has been transformed into a wonderland of different biozones, ranging from Patagonia to Europe via Madagascar. Children will love the wildlife including rare endangered species such as the puma, lemurs and the fun loving otters. The 12th is also home to the Musee des Arts Forains, a museum worth checking out for the old vintage rides.
16th Arrondissement—From the Trocadero to the Gruss Circus
The 16th is a vast, very chic and residential area, home to several must-see kid friendly sights, from the Trocadero—essential to catch up on some street dancing or skateboarding—to the Aquarium where kids will love the hammerhead sharks, hundreds of fish on display and the pirate shows. Also in this district can be found Roland Garros and the Bois de Boulogne. For more glitz and glamour, the Cirque Alexis Gruss is another legendary attraction in the neighborhood. Catch a free bus from the Porte d’Auteuil and join the crowds to see the latest dazzling Equestrian spectacle Pegasus and Icarus. Not to be missed!
Rowena Carr-Allinson is a contributor to MiniTime.
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