When planning a trip to Paris, it doesn’t take long to realize that the city is divided up into areas called “arrondissements,” equivalent to what other cities refer to as neighborhoods or districts. (Leave it to Paris to have such a beautiful word for it, non?) Paris also offers families more to see and do than can be fit into one trip, no matter how long. So when visiting Paris, it’s best to avoid crisscrossing the city, wasting time and depleting everyone’s energy levels with unnecessary walking. And consider where to stay in Paris with kids by contemplating which arrondissement you might spend the most time.
Instead, organize the time you do have strategically and efficiently. Spending a day or two in each of the central arrondissements makes a lot of sense for these reasons. And it might even leave with you some extra time to explore some of the lesser known areas of the city and make your own discoveries! Investing in a museum pass may also help skip the lines at the popular tourist attractions.
Please note that I’ve taken a little liberty with this guide to some of Paris’ more popular arrondissements. There are a few attractions or sites located very close to the border between two arrondissements. I grouped them where I thought it made the most sense to visit that particular site. I’ve noted these instances with an asterisk (*) to provide clarity. By organizing your day this way, you’ll be able to walk to all the destinations within each sample itinerary and only use public transportation or taxis to get to and from your hotel.
Sample Itinerary: Get to the Louvre at opening time (earlier if you don’t have tickets). Spend the morning here hitting the highlights or taking a private tour with a vetted kid-friendly guide. Re-energize everyone with a picnic lunch and playtime in the Tuileries. Kids love the carousels and ice cream stands! If you don’t have picnic fixings or you want a hot lunch, Café Renard, located within the Tuileries itself, has plenty on the menu that appeals to children and adults alike.
Alternatives: The much smaller and far less crowded Musee de l’Orangerie (full of Impressionist art, including Monet’s Water Lilies) and Musee en Herbe (a children’s art museum) would be great alternatives to the Louvre and are still very close to the Tuileries for an afternoon of play.
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Sample Itinerary: When Notre Dame Cathedral reopens, we recommend getting there as early as you can and do as much inside as your children can handle (guided tour, self-guided audio tour or even just a climb to the top of the towers). If entrance lines are long, kill time by playing in the small park behind the cathedral. During reconstruction, visit nearby Sainte-Chapelle with its impressive stained glass windows as an alternative to Notre Dame. Then head to Pont Neuf, where you can relax for an hour with a boat ride along the Seine. After disembarking, refuel with lunch. Cafes and restaurants are plentiful in this area. I recommend Happy Days Diner for a casual and kid-friendly option (2 Rue du Roule, directly across Rue de Rivoli from Pont Neuf). Then head to the Pompidou Centre to take in the modern art. Kids can have plenty of creative fun in the Galeries des Enfants or in one of the museum’s many children’s workshops.
Alternatives: If you’ve already reached church or museum overload, spend some time at Hotel de Ville; get some fresh air in the open square in front of this gorgeous building (Paris’ city hall since the mid-1300s). Around the Christmas holiday, you can ice skate here.
Sample Itinerary: Spend your morning at the family-friendly Jardin du Luxembourg. When you picture your children playing in a Parisian park, this is likely what you’ve been imagining, from carousels to miniature sailboats. Then head to Le Bon Marche,* Paris’ oldest and most elegant department store. The adjacent La Grande Epicerie de Paris is the food hall and market, where you can grab gourmet picnic fixings. After your picnic, spend the afternoon in the Jardin des Plantes, walking through the scenic Latin Quarter en route, and take your pick from the zoo (Menagerie), Les Galeries de Paleontologie (mostly dinosaur exhibits) or Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (with many animals on display). Cap off your day at the Manege a Dodo, one of Paris’ most charming carousels.
Alternatives: If the weather doesn’t cooperate for a morning at Jardin du Luxembourg, then go straight to the top of Tour Montparnasse for amazing views of Paris. Even the top terrace has a roof to protect you on a rainy day. It’s an average-looking skyscraper full of offices, but it’ll be far less crowded than the Eiffel Tower and has views to rival it.
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Sample Itinerary: This is probably the trickiest day to plan, as lines can be exceedingly long at most of the main attractions. The crown jewel of the 7th arrondissement is the Eiffel Tower. Consider skipping going up into it and admire it from below at leisure. Instead, head to the Musee d’Orsay first thing in the morning and spend a couple of hours admiring the Impressionist art and the gorgeous building (a former train station). Then head to the Champs-Elysees to have lunch near the Arc de Triomphe. If the line is short at the Arc, go to the top, where you can admire a great deal of the city without the dizzying heights of the Eiffel Tower. Give everyone a rest back at your hotel before heading to the Eiffel Tower in the early evening. Take lots of photos while there’s still daylight (approach it from the Trocadero metro stop for the best angles), and then stick around until dark to watch the Tower be illuminated. It happens for 5 minutes at the top of each hour throughout the evening.
Alternatives: If you have older children who love to shop (or even window-shop), spend more time browsing the big fashion names along the Champs-Elysees.
By visiting these eight central arrondissements and their most famous sites, you’ll only be scratching the surface of what Paris has to offer families. But c’est la vie, there’s always next time. You’ll be planning the next family trip to Paris before you even finish the first.
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