Traveling in France with children is rewarding and relatively easy. Many French facilities for kids, ranging from imaginative playgrounds to tiny porcelain potties at highway rest stops, are better than what you’ll find back home. Parks have puppet shows and carousels. Then there’s the inimitable food, art, and the fashion. French kids have it good!
That said, Paris with a baby or toddler can be tricky. Even hardened Francophiles like Pamela Druckerman and Anne Mah seem daunted. How can you go to France and skip Paris? Don’t even think about it. It’s magic if you adhere to some basic guidelines. Use our post “How to enjoy Paris with babies and toddlers” for tips.
In short, we don’t recommend taking babies and tots to wait in line at the swarming Paris monuments. We prefer traveling deeper, living like a Parisian family, and savoring the city’s small pleasures. We’ve spent considerable time in Paris as a family with two babies, and later with a baby and a toddler, and two tots. Here’s what we learned about how to have a good time in Paris with a baby, or small children.
When to go
We think Paris is fun all year round. If you can be picky, traveling in early spring and fall is the best way to take advantage of Paris parks while avoiding the worst of tourist season.
Check out the flight deals on Expedia.com to see when it’s cheapest to fly. We happily offer our family travel wisdom for free. You enable us to keep this website going when you book flights through our links to our affiliates like Expedia.
Family base camp: Canal Saint-Martin
Canal St.-Martin is filled with artists and intellectuals, many of which have families. You don’t have drag your small folk to the Left Bank to stalk Hemingway, Joyce, and Sartre. This is the new Left Bank. You can live the dream here. Find a cool home to borrow via Airbnb. By booking through our family link you’ll get travel credit. Browse the apartment rentals on Booking.com’s Paris page. Then start poking around your new hood.
Canal St.-Martin is stuffed with cool places to shop for children and parents, Paris’ best new-school boulangeries, picturesque Parisian cafes, and it-restaurants. Because of the canal, it’s one of the most gorgeous and most peaceful places to stroll in Paris. Re-watch Amelie. They filmed the bridges here. You’ll see lots of other families, groups of friends, and lovers doing the same. They’re probably not tourists.
While Canal St. Martin could easily fill your days, other adventures are at your fingertips. From Canal St.-Martin you can walk to good stuff like pony rides in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, classic steak frites at Au Boeuf Couronne, and the biggest open-air market in Paris: Marché Bastille. If you stretch your legs a little further, you’re 30 minutes on foot from the Marais and Place des Vosges, and 45-minutes walking distance from Jardin Tuileries and the big art museums. Otherwise, use our guide to Paris transportation with kids.
Shopping, eating/drinking, and playing in Canal St.Martin
Du Pain et Des Idées
If the first thing you want to do when you land in Paris is buy bread, then let’s be friends. This is the best bread in Paris. The experts agree. Folks cross town to shop here. But you don’t need to; you’re staying around the corner.
The location housed its first boulangerie in 1889, and current owner/baker Christophe Vasseur made the spot famous when he launched Du Pain et Des Idées in 2002. Vasseur is a former fashion industry white collar guy who, like Jesus, switched careers at 30. He trained hard. We’re reaping the benefits of his vision.
The space is immediately appealing, with gilded mirrors and antique counters and accessories, without being self-consciously hipster. We’ll go with authentic. You look at the tempting displays of Les Escargots (viennoisserie pinwheels curling around pistachios, candied pralines, citron nougat, and more), croissants and seasonal tarts while queuing for bread. Order sweets if you must, they’re a delight, but we just keep coming back to their perfect product, the signature: Pain des Amis. It’s chewy yet soft, springy, subtly nutty with a slightly-blackened, perfectly crunchy crust. You can order it by whole, half or quarter. It’s normal to ask them to cut it.
There no seats inside. Sit at the communal wooden kitchen table outside. Go back inside to order more because your kids ate the first hunk. Repeat the exercise the next day.
34 Rue Yves Toudic, dupainetdesidees.com
Du Pain et Des Idées boulangerie is on an excellent retail street (Rue Yves Toudic). Start with Centre Commercial. The tongue in cheek name is code for well-curated, socially and ecologically conscious clothing and shoes for parents.
They’re well stocked with designers from the made in France movement including Bleu de Paname, Repetto, St. James, Roseanna, Veja, and Valentine Gauthier. Around the corner, they also have clothes and toys for babies and children. It’s an especially good place to shop during the twice annual French sales in summer and winter. Warning: it’s easy to go overboard.
Antoine et Lili
A colorful, Paris-founded boutique for bobo mums and their offspring. How it works: find the fuchsia door, enter a world of color. Dresses for mothers are in one section. Clothing,whimsical toys, and decor for kids is in another. Then there’s the home decor store. It’s an utterly enchanting Parisian shopping experience.
95 quai de Valmy, antoineetlili.com
You could spend your entire afternoon in this independent toy store. Many kids do. The big name French toymakers sit alongside creative play things from local artisans. The cool children’s wear and irresistible accessories will have your small folk looking tres chic in no time. You may get jealous.
3 Rue Alexandre Parodi, dodudindon.com
Best Canal St.-Martin Restaurants and Cafes
Canal St. Martin is brimming with choice. For an apertif and a snack, try Chez Prune (classic locals’ cafe) also with a canal-front view.
For lunch or dinner, try the perfectly-executed French fare with a twist at Les Enfants Perdus. You can tuck into house-made foie gras de canard marinated in port and cognac, côte de veau with foraged msuhrooms, and magret de canard spiced with cinnamon and honey-carrot confit. Desserts like crème brûlée reinvented with salted caramel do not disappoint. The wine list has a good ratio of natural and biodynamic options. If you like what you try, you can buy a bottle at their shop across the way.
Alternatively, dig into the bistro classics like boudin noir and sole meunière at Le Verre Vole, another restaurant attached to a wine shop, where they really know their stuff.
Dining out in Paris with kids is doable and enjoyable, if you follow basic rules. Come before peak times, make reservations when possible, and tell them you’re bringing little people. Check out the rest of our tips for dining out with babies and toddlers.
Chez Prune, 36 Rue Beaurepaire
Les Enfants Perdus, 9 Rue des Récollets, les-enfants-perdus.com
Le Verre Vole, 67 Rue de Lancry, leverrevole.fr
Don’t miss the other superb neighbourhood boulangerie and patisserie Liberté. Benoît Castel simplifies and perfects the building blocks of French pastry, creating deceptively simple flavour bombs out of tarts and choux. He also knows his way around the bread oven; his crusty yet chewy pain du coin is almost as sought after as nearby Du Pain et des Idees.
Liberté, 39 Rue des Vinaigriers, libertepatisserieboulangerie.com
You’ll find a massive, lively playground in Canal St. Martin at Jardin Villemin. It’s in the heart of a green space that also has a lovely flower, veg, and herb gardens.
There’s also a popular pocket playground tucked on the canal waterfront on Quai de Valmy at Square des Récollets. This spot is pleasant by day, but frequented by a gritty crowd after dusk.
Field trip 2: Marché Bastille and Place des Vosges
Since the traditional Paris market Les Halles marché is now a shopping mall, your best alternative is the large, vibrant Marché Bastille. Hundreds of food stalls sprawl along Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Bread. Fromage. Organic produce. Wine. Cakes. Free range birds. Sausage. Hot lunch. Oysters. Handicrafts. Russian dolls. Fake designer handbags. Artisan jewelry. Flowers, flowers, flowers.
Take your time. Practice your French. Ask about how to prepare your seasonal goods. Take unwanted advice from other shoppers. Have fun doing it. Have your kid hold the money or the shopping bag. Get more snacks. Then continue on foot with your picnic supplies to nearby Place des Vosges in the Marais.
Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 75011
Place des Vosges
Marvel at this: your small folk can play in a playground in the heart of the oldest planned square in Paris. Lined with trees and elegantly faded red brick houses built by Henri IV in 1612, Place des Vosges oozes charm. Even better, it’s one of the rare parks where you are allowed to sit on the grass. Plant that bum, spread out your picnic and soak up the scene.
In summer, the kids play in the four fountains and water fight. Victor Hugo’s house is on the square, if you want to peek. Chances are, your kids don’t. But they will welcome a treat.
So don’t miss the cafes and shops in the grand stone arcades around the square. Cafe Hugo, also in the square, is a good place to order champagne for parents and a snack for small folk and people watch. If the small folk lose it, one parent can just head back across the street to the park.
Field trip 3: Pony rides at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and a steak frites pilgrimage
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Has anyone in your family ever said: “Mama, I want to ride a pony.” In Paris, they can. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is the place to do it. It’s less crowded than Jardin du Luxembourg. Check the schedule in advance via Animapony. It’s around two euros a ride. Then there’s more fun to be had.
Queuing for the Eiffel Tower is boring for small folk. But sprinting along an 63-metre Eiffel-designed suspension bridge over a lake with ducks is super fun. So do it! The park also has puppet shows, a good playground with a sand-play area, a restaurant on the lake, and a fun bar, Rosa Bonheur. When the small folk are worn out, take them to one of the best steak frites restaurants in Paris, in walking distance from the park.
Au Bœuf Couronné
There are serious lists by professional gluttons of the best steak frites restaurants in Paris. Au Bœuf Couronné always makes the cut. We love it because it’s the last steakhouse in the historic Villette slaughterhouse district. It’s old-school charming inside. We’re talking stiff table linens, brass, tiles, mirrors, zinc bar, and burgundy leather banquettes. They know how to treat a cow right, and they are the last steakhouse in Paris to serve steak pommes soufflées–twice fried slices of potato that puff into salty-starchy irresistible heaven. Excellent wine list.
They take reservations. They have high chairs. Children under 6 eat free. Children 6-12 have a petit gastronome menu at the temple of meat. It’s true, even if it sounds too good.
188 Avenue Jean Jaurès, boeuf-couronne.com
Field trip 4: Jardin Tuilieres, Sweets at Angelina and Museé L’Orangerie
Jardin des Tuilieres
If you start at Place de la Concorde, before a romantic stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries, you’ll have your classic “heck yeah I’m in Paris panorama.” Place de la Concorde has views of views of the Eiffel, the Seine and the Champs-Élysées. This is the spot where Marie Antoinette lost her lovely head, along with a thousand or so other unlucky souls.
Proceed into the verdant Jardin Tuilieres, part of the Banks of the Seine World Heritage Site listed by Unesco in 1991. Since 1662, it has been the spot to parade in your fanciest finery, so feel free to do the same. There’s a ferris wheel, reflecting ponds and lounge chairs, public art, and 28-hectares of stretch your legs space. In the southwestern corner you’ll come across the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Musée de l’Orangerie
We love this museum because it houses treasures, but it always maintains a sense of calm compared to the swarms at the Louvre and D’Orsay. The building is the old orangery of the Tuileries Palace. The collection includes Impressionist and post Impressionist works, mostly French.
The star here is Claude Monet and his Water Lilies: eight massive mural panels curving around elegant oval rooms. The panels have quite an impact because of their great size. It;s a visceral art experience for all ages. They demand that visitors sit and gaze. Don’t miss works by other artists including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Alfred Sisley, Chaim Soutine, and Maurice Utrillo, among others. It’s nine euros for adult entry. Free for kids.
Jardin des Tuileries, musee-orangerie.fr