With its immense history and numerous sights, Paris can feel like an intimidating destination to take on with a toddler in tow. Still, so much of the city’s charm is its atmosphere and spirit, which families with young kids can enjoy by focusing on neighborhood walks, boat rides along the Seine, merry-go-rounds and park picnics. Save bigger attractions like the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe for next time when kids can get more out of those experiences.
While it’s natural to want to hit some of Paris’ monuments and museums, it can be hard visiting these sights with a toddler. Long lines and crowded spaces are a lot for younger ones (even adults!) to handle and made even trickier when you factor in needs such as feedings, naps and diaper changes. Seek out simpler open-ended experiences and enjoy seeing the City of Light through your toddler’s eyes. In fact, seeing the city at a slower pace makes you feel more like a local rather than a visitor.
Strolling through some of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, stopping for croissants and ice cream along the way, is a low-key pleasure that toddlers and adults will enjoy. From the Eiffel Tower and Luxembourg Gardens areas on the Left Bank to the Marais, Tuileries and Montmartre neighborhoods on the Right Bank, it’s enjoyable to explore many of these arrondissements on foot with no agenda or set route.
TIP: When heading to Montmartre, ditch the stroller, which is harder to maneuver through the hilly neighborhood. Instead, hop aboard Le Petit Train de Montmartre, a train-style trolley that takes a 40-minute tour of the artsy village, offers history about famous residents Picasso and Van Gogh and passes Sacré-Coeur and the Moulin Rouge.
Another toddler and family favorite is seeing Paris from the water. Hop aboard one of the Bateaux Mouches riverboats and take an hourlong trip alone the Seine, past sights including the Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame and more.
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The tradition of puppetry, known as marionettes in France, goes back hundreds of years. One of the most popular and enduring characters is Guignol, who was invented in 1808 by Laurent Mourguet, a silk weaver-turned-dentist in Lyon who used puppets to attract patients to his dental practice. Catch a show at the Marionettes du Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower, where daily performances of fairytales such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood entertain kids and adults alike. While performed in French, the 45-minute shows, with creative costumes and sets, will capture toddler imaginations nonetheless.
Maybe it’s their vintage style or picturesque setting, but there’s an undeniable magic to Parisian carousels. While you’re likely to find one within a short walk no matter where you are in the city, a few of the most notable carousels are at the Trocadero, the Eiffel Tower, below Sacré-Coeur and within the grounds of the Tuileries Gardens.
Paris boasts such beautiful parks that it’s easy to while away an entire day ambling along gravel paths and around formal gardens. Pack a picnic and bring a blanket!
Toddlers will enjoy the often-missed Jardin des Plantes, which dates back to the 17th century and encompasses botanical gardens, a natural history museum and a zoo on its grounds. (Even if you don’t pay admission to the zoo, you can easily spot kangaroos in an exterior enclosure.) There’s also a small playground, perfect for toddlers, next to the zoo entrance. And the intimate, 1-year-old Les Belles Plantes café-brasserie nearby is a gorgeous setting for brunch or afternoon coffee.
Iconic and centrally located in the 6th arrondissement, the Luxembourg Gardens were inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence and created by Queen Marie de Medici in 1612. From dozens of statues of royalty, scientists and literary figures to a fountain pool where children can rent and sail wooden toy boats, these gardens are beloved by locals as much as tourists. One of our favorite Paris memories includes watching our children sailing their little boats and meeting and other kids from around the world in the process. It’s in those travel moments that parents too can chuckle and commiserate with other parents over the universal experiences of tiredness, sleeplessness and joy! Just west of the gardens is Judy Cantine Qualitarienne, a healthy and modern café where the chocolate cake is sure to make little bellies happy.
Though it’s advisable to skip most major sights with a toddler, the exception is the Eiffel Tower. Picnic on the grass below and just marvel at the splendor of it. Yes, you can certainly ride the elevator up the lattice tower, but this is a more crowded and hurried experience than relaxing on the grounds. Either way, it will be a family memory of a lifetime.
While it may feel hard to miss some of the star attractions on a trip to Paris, remind yourself that seeing it at a slower pace that matches your toddler’s attention and stamina doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
Parisians welcome families, but the City of Light isn’t equipped with loads of facilities specifically catering to babies and toddlers per se. Knowing what to expect and being prepared will help you navigate Paris with your little one in tow.
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