The first thing families usually ask us when considering a trip to France with kids is, “Is France child-friendly?” It is! Not in the “please run through our restaurant screaming” way that you find in Italy, but child-friendly in that there are many rewarding, exciting things to do with children all over the country. From Paris to Provence and from northerly Normandy to the beaches of the French Riviera, here are dozens of our best France travel tips for families.
Top Tips for Traveling in France with Kids
Four days in Paris is the minimum to experience and enjoy the city thoroughly. We love Paris with kids! You’ll want to add on a day for each farther-flung excursion, such as Versailles or Disneyland Paris.
Combine a stay in Paris with any of the destinations mentioned below, depending on your interests. We usually recommend two or, at most, three stops in a two-week vacation. A French Riviera family vacation, for example, means you don’t have to forego time on the beach when visiting France.
August is the month of vacation in France, as in most of Europe. Lodging prices decrease in cities and are at their peak in the countryside. Expect that many bakeries, shops and restaurants will be closed for part or all of the month.
Where to Go
Provence, in the south of France, is accessible from Paris in less than three hours by train, and the two make for an ideal city/country combination that works well for families. Chateau ruins, hills, wines, rivers and plentiful markets create a relaxed counterpart to the busy city. If you’re flying in, Marseille is the most convenient airport.
While the Côte d’Azur and the French Riviera offer beautiful seaside villages and famous cities such as St. Tropez and Nice, the traffic is bumper to bumper and towns are packed. We often recommend staying in the hill towns just above the coast, such as St. Paul de Vence. It is a six-hour train ride or a one-hour flight from Paris to Nice.
To tour classic French chateaux, visit the Loire Valley. You can cycle along the river or catch a day onboard one of the local boats, coupled with exposure to Leonardo Da Vinci’s last residence and creations.
Paris pairs easily with a visit to Normandy, land of the four Cs: cidre, Camembert, cream and Calvados. It’s also replete with WWII sites for older children with an interest in history.
The Dordogne region in central France, less touristed than those above, has history, castles, caves and lots more to do for active families. Be aware that accommodation options are more limited in this region than many others.
Southwestern France and the Languedoc-Roussillon region, including the medieval walled fortress city of Carcassonne, are extremely family-friendly. Far less crowded and more affordable than Provence, they offer access to Cathar castles, beaches and the Canal du Midi. The city of Montpellier is a three and a half-hour train ride or a quick flight from Paris.
Alsace is a particular sweet spot for family friendly activities and German influenced culture as well as restored medieval centers and canals in some of the cities. It’s less than two hours from Paris on the TGV.
Skiers and hikers should consider Lyon and the Alps, including Megeve, Courchevel/Meribel (Les Trois Vallees) and Val d’Isere. Megeve is particularly accessible in summer, less than two hours from Geneva and two and a half hours from Lyon.
France’s high-speed TGV trains are ideal for getting from hub to hub. France is also well connected to cities in Belgium and the Netherlands. We can recommend great things to do in northern France with kids if you want to make a stop en route. But once you arrive to your destination elsewhere in France, a car or driver is often necessary to get around.
Keep in mind that Paris has five major train stations in addition to the RER suburban train, with stops throughout the city. Connecting trains may require a change of station across town. Even in the countryside, the express TGV may arrive at a different station from the regional trains.
Paris has a wonderful system of buses, metros, city bike rentals and Batobus (Seine river shuttle) in addition to taxis and Uber. Traveling by subway is often faster than driving through traffic.
Credit card lanes on the highways often don’t recognize American chip and signature cards, versus European chip and PIN credit cards, so carry small change for tollbooths.
Incoming lanes on the right always have priority. Watch for incoming traffic.
Favorite Paris Activities
The Paris Museum Passallows expedited free entry to many top museums and attractions; no need to feel guilty if your family has had enough after 10 minutes. Children under 18 are usually free at museums but can enter the line with parents. Note: there’s no expedited entrance at Versailles and the pass does not apply to the Eiffel Tower.
Visit the playgrounds. These sometimes have a small entry fee, such as the one in the Luxembourg Gardens, or the mini-amusement park Jardin d’Acclimatation, but there are free ones in the Champ de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower or in Montmartre (nicknamed Parc de la Turlure). There’s also the Tuileries Gardens with its carousel and summer entertainment.
Cruise the Seine with Bateaux Mouches (Right Bank, past the Tuileries Gardens, Pont de l’Alma) or Bateaux Parisiens (Left Bank, near the Eiffel Tower). It’s relaxing with tired feet and nice at sunset or night to see the Eiffel Tower lit up. The boats are large, so you usually won’t need to buy tickets in advance.
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Watch the Eiffel Tower light show, every hour on the hour starting at sunset — definitely worth seeing while you are in Paris. You don’t need to be at the tower to enjoy it; you just need a good view.
Visit Disneyland. Located in Marne-la-Vallée, east of Paris, it’s accessible by train, bus or private transfer. There is lodging onsite as well.
Try a baking class. Whether you make eclairs or macarons, kids love a hands-on break to create fun and tasty concoctions. We can book vetted family-friendly classes as part of our travel planning service.
Some larger museums, like the Modern Art Museum Centre Pompidou, have a dedicated children’s area — not to mention the entertainment of watching the mimes perform in the stepped plaza in front of the entrance.
Things to Do Beyond Paris
Canoeing (kayaking) with a picnic is a popular activity in France and available in several regions. One of our favorite routes goes under the famous Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard in Provence, for a different perspective on this monument. Although it’s a short 8km trip, the idea is to stop and swim and picnic along the way.
Adventure parks (Accrobranche) are found throughout the country with rope courses to suit all ages. This one in Provence has a section for children 18 months and up.
Visit the monkey sanctuary in Alsace for a fun day out, feeding popcorn to the animals in the rescue center.
Bike along the Loire river or float on a boat down the river through the largely flat countryside. You can rent e-bikes in various parts of France as well.
Visit castles, ranging from medieval Cathar castles in Languedoc-Roussillon and the Dordogne to the grand estates in the Loire Valley to the reconstructed castle in Alsace.
Explore the caves of Lascaux, with their ancient paintings, in the Dordogne.
Visit the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco on the French Riviera.
Explore the markets of Provence — you’ll find a plethora of prepared foods and fresh produce as well as local goods such as lavender, tablecloths, clothes and more.
Hike the mountains of the Alps in Megeve or Annecy, or along the Ochre trail in the Luberon.
Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world, so it’s important to get maximum bang for your hotel buck. We’ve curated a list of great family-friendly accommodations in Paris, but there are many more local gems to which our Family Travel Advisors have access, often with exclusive perks.
Two beds in France (and in most of Europe) means twin beds, so a family of four may need connecting rooms. Sofa beds are often single day beds. Fortunately, we have the inside track accommodations that work for families.
Paris hotel rooms can let in street noise as some have single-pane windows. You may want to forgo the view for a quiet room in the back so everyone can get a good night’s sleep.
Apartments are another great option for families in Paris and allow you to live in a particular neighborhood like a local. Note that many apartment rentals in Paris have minimum stay requirements of six days in season. They usually do not provide concierge service, although emergency support for lodging issues is generally available.
Accommodation options in France vary a great deal between in-town hotels to countryside resorts to inns among the vineyards. Independent villas are also available, but usually not with the same child safety rules as in the U.S. — for instance, the pool likely will not be enclosed or heated unless specified in the listing.
Restaurants are open from 12 to 2pm for lunch and then 7 or 8 to 10pm for dinner. It used to be that the biggest meal of the day was lunch, although that is changing in major cities and tourist destinations. Regardless, it is often a better value than dinner.
A menu du jour is a three-course meal at a set price where you get a selection of first and second courses and dessert. Prices for this menu vary from affordable to expensive, depending on the restaurant.
Many restaurants do not have children’s menus. Among those that do, there are no chicken nuggets (gougettes de poulet) or hamburgers … think crudités to begin, followed by grilled steak, chicken or fish with French fries. Dessert is usually a choice of ice cream or chocolate mousse.
You won’t get unlimited amounts of bottled water without paying for it, nor sodas, which come in much smaller sizes than many of us are used to. However, tap water is fine to drink, and you can always request a “carafe d’eau.”
Crepes are widely available and make a good snack, and many bakeries have sandwiches to go.
Take advantage of France’s great outdoor markets and boulangeries to assemble your perfect picnic. For a sophisticated picnic in Paris, check out L’Epicerie du Bon Marché and head to Luxembourg Gardens (but no sitting on the grass).
At nicer restaurants, the table is yours for the evening, so you may need to ask for the bill.
One travel tip that makes parents happy: A glass of house wine is usually cheaper than a soda everywhere in France.
Most shops open at 10am and close at 8pm. There are smaller, family-run stores that close midday for two or three hours between 12 and 4pm. However, it is slowly becoming a thing of the past in big cities. Expect that smaller towns will shut down midday, so this is a perfect time to enjoy a leisurely lunch!
Always say “bonjour” and “au revoir” when entering or leaving a shop — it is considered good manners.
For last-minute needs, Monoprix stores, found all across France, are a good source for everything from knives to diapers.
Health and Medical
It’s not necessary to have insurance to see French doctors, but you will have to pay the full bill on the spot. Prices for office visits and medications, however, are a fraction of what we pay in the U.S., often similar to an insurance co-pay.
You can find pharmacies all over the cities, identifiable by their neon-green signs. It’s always better to stop into a pharmacy before going to the doctor or emergency room. Unlike their American or British counterparts, French pharmacists are able to bandage minor wounds and prescribe medicine for common ailments. On the downside, everything in French pharmacies is kept behind the counter, including pain killers and stomach aids.
If you are too ill to go to a doctor’s office or it’s the middle of the night, you can have a doctor make a house call via France’s emergency service, SOS Médecins (telephone 01 47 07 77 77). It costs more, around 100 € and up. For dental emergencies, call SOS Dentistes (telephone 01 43 37 51 00).
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.