If you ask a child what they know about Paris chances are they are either going to reply ‘Disneyland‘ or, if you are really lucky, they might say the Eiffel Tower. They’re the obvious answers, but for us it was the tourist traps we were keen to avoid taking our children to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Disneyland is lots of fun, but for our 3 year old and 18 month year old we kind of felt it would all be a bit too much and not worth the sackloads of money we would end up spending on it. So what to do instead?
Keen to immerse ourselves into the Parisian lifestyle we opted to rent a charming two bed apartment on the Rue des Beaux-Arts in the St Germain district. It was perfectly located by the river, along from the gothic Notre Dame cathedral as well as being surrounded by numerous parks and green spaces. One such park is the Jardin du Luxembourg, which offers traditional metal swingboats, merry-go-round, pedal karts, pony rides and best of all live puppet shows. Called guignols, the shows are aimed at 2-8 year olds and feature familiar stories and fairy tales that little ones love so much. The shows are all in French, but children are very good at understanding what’s going on when they know the stories so well and they may even come away knowing a few of the simpler French words.
As a treat, we decided to visit one of Paris’ famous confectioners, Le Bonbon au Palais. Set up like a school classroom the shop is every child’s dream and our two literally went mad in there. With vintage inspired school charts, a large map of France and a blackboard bearing a message from the shopkeeper, Georges Marques, this delightful sweetshop tempted us with green apple marshmallows, crystallised flowers, jelly buttons and my personal favourite Jacqueline, a lilac coloured almond paste stuffed meringue from Dijon.
Next on the agenda and much to the delight of my wife (boy does she love to shop), the Ile de la Cité flower and pet market. Held every Sunday, this vibrant flower market is abloom with every colour, and scent you can imagine. Whilst, looking at flowers is not going to hold the attention of your children for long, the market also sells parrots, chickens, canaries, ferrets, mice and dwarf rabbits. if your children can charm the stallholders you can be certain of plenty of stroking and petting of the animals. Just be prepared to put your foot down when the inevitable “Can we buy a bunny, daddy?” question is asked!
Question avoided and hands washed, our tummies were all now rumbling so we headed to the Marché Mouffetard, a bright and bustling food market where we were sure to sample some French delicacies. Set on a narrow, cobbled street, Hemingway once described this market as a ‘moveable feast’ and he sure got that right. With plump fruit, shiny vegetables, a range of charcuterie, patés, seafood, cheeses not to mention the sticky sweet patisseries, we were soon laden with goods and our stomachs filled to the brim. The stallholders were friendly and keen for the children to try their goods, which delighted our two, who are always happy when they have food in their mouths.
We ended our stay in Paris by asking the children what they would like to do and because we were staying so close to the river and they had seen various boats chugging back and forth, their answer was unanimous “boat trip please daddy!”. Instead of choosing to go on the standard, tourist aimed boat rides which were touted at us along the banks of the Seine, we opted for the lesser known canal barge trip. Climbing and descending the old locks of Paris, the children were captivated by the water rushing in and out of each lock and the canal even goes underground at one point, which on reflection was just a tad bit too scary for our youngest, Maisy, who sent screaming echoes around the tunnel until daylight appeared. To say we got a few dirty looks when we emerged is an understatement, but we simply gave Maisy a croissant and played the oblivion card.
Paris is a chic and beautiful city that is just perfect for children and adults alike. We have let you in on our favourite things to do and see there, but there are many, many more sights, markets and activities to enjoy, experience and explore.