Paris does not have lots of the dreaded ‘family’ restaurants that in truth I detest. Why do I hate them? Because by and large the food is crappy and if you herd cattle, I mean hundreds of toddlers into one area they become louder and behave in a way akin to a Tasmanian devil and not the child you are used to at home, if you doubt this fact, ask any school teacher why they
want, need a drink at the end of the day crowds of tiny people are scary, really scary! Paris may not have an abundance of high chairs but I have not been to a restaurant, bar or bistro that is not welcoming and I have been to some pretty fancy pants ones, hipster ones and uber traditional ones too. So how do you eat without a highchair? You have a number of options; when your baby is younger they can stay in the pousette and you take them out for cuddles and breastfeeding, as they get older you can learn to eat with them sat on your knee which is easier than it sounds and I got quite good at it. The third and most universal option is to take a travel high chair. I tried and bought many of these before settling on the best one. I tried ones that were larger and had their own table but they are way to bulky to travel around with, don’t buy one.
I also tried the sling chair, pictured above as it had won awards for being the best travel chair option, it is not. The child is not boosted up so will not reach the table and this will make them angry, (you want to avoid that), also it is very limited as to what chair it will fit over and still be of any use. Another fail was the hook on chair that I borrowed from a friend, if your baby is an active one they will move the chair which is dangerous. Also many restaurants are understandably apprehensive about you hooking things onto their tables and the tables have to be extremely solid and heavy to make it remotely safe.
The best buy is this;
It folds down, it gives your child a boost and it has a 5 point harness for the wriggly ones. The best advice is to start to teach your child to sit on a grown up chair as soon as possible. Sebastian is 2 now and that is what he does and it gives me so much more freedom and he gets to be like mummy he loves.
Now I have given my general Paris with under 5s advice let me get to the specifics.
The somewhat uncomfortable history of jardin d’acclimatation has been eradicated by turning it into a fun filled family park. It has a nominal fee to enter and from that point on the day can be as pricey or as cheap as you decide to make it. You can purchase tickets for the small number of rides but in all honesty apart from 2 or 3 of them they are more suited to over 5s and there is lots to see and do without the rides.
There is a huge aviary and an animal park which is great to wander around in winter or summer. There are two fountain parks to visit which are a dream on those really hot days. They have great non slip surfaces and there is no additional charge to use the area.
There are a number of places to buy food but to keep the day inexpensive I would suggest taking a picnic, the grounds are stunning with many great spots on the grass, under a tree or on a bench. There is a lake to walk around and lots of space for little ones to run on. You can also get a good view of the Frank Gehry Louis Vuitton building, which, in my opinion looks like everything else he has designed but with a blue sky as a back drop it is undeniably impressive.
It is very easy to spend the entire day there and you can even take the small train out to another area of Bois de Boulogne where the mini people can roam free in what can only be described as a city forest.
Métro Les Sablons Line 1
This place is amazing and I assure you your mini person will be excited and engaged by everything so much so they will go to bed early, even Sebastian slept early and he never sleeps. The place is marketed at children from 2 – 12 but I took Sebastian at 16 months. I had to say he was 2 as there is a lot of officialdom in Paris but he was tall and walking around, the truth is you need to make a judgment on your own mini as they are all different. Obviously you can take your babies in with older children, that will not be a problem.
I would also say this stays engaging for 13 and 14 year olds, again depending on the individual. All of the permanent and transitory exhibitions here focus on the child discovering and experimenting to learn about themselves, the world around them and discovering their own motor and cognitive abilities. The times change depending on the seasons and national holidays so the best thing to do is to check the site before you visit, there are a number of pages in English if you do not feel confident to navigate the site in French. The museum is situated in Parc de la Villette, the third largest Parc in Paris it is home to a cinema, outdoor venues, and lots of open areas for mini people to run and explore in. Paris is famous for hosting cultural events throughout the year so check the site to see if any coincide with your trip to my adopted city.
Zoo & Parc Vincennes
By now you may see the theme that in Paris things are often ‘housed’ in beautiful parks, I did say green space is important in this city it is one of the things that keeps it feeling dark and cluttered like other capital cites do.
The parc is a joy to explore and please check the website for seasonal events. I thought long and hard about how to describe the zoo at Vincennes and here is what I came up with; small but perfectly formed. There is no denying that the zoo is not cheap but I always feel okay about paying a high price for animal facilities as it is not cheap to take care of wonderful and diverse creatures and you can still get a whole day there despite the size.
Sebastian spent the best part of an hour just watching baboons. There is a cafe and a more ‘grown up’ restaurant but there are over priced and I would suggest taking a packed lunch and drinks if you can. There is also a tram stop here which is very easy to wheel on and off.
Métro Porte Dorée Line 8 or Tramway Line T3a
Palais Porte Dorée
When Sebastian and I first visited the zoo the temperature was up to a whopping 45C, we were melting so on a whim I decided to retreat to an exciting looking building that I saw on the walk from the métro and I am glad I did. The palais is home to a museum of immigration and migration and although this may not seem to be toddler friendly it was. It was great to let him walk around on the reins and every corner of the building and exhibition is a visual spectacle, there was a lot of pointing from him as he did not talk then and I narrated the whole place.
We had fun and it is a lesson in the fact that activities don’t have to be child centred you just have to centre them in the activity by talking to them, (even when they don’t talk back), about things you are doing, they are just mini people.
Métro Porte Dorée Line 8 or Tramway Line T3a
To say that Paris has more than its’ fair share of art galleries is an understatement there are both public and private galleries everywhere so it would be a shame to deny yourself a trip to a gallery just because you have your family with you. Obviously when you have a babe in arms you are free to wander around with them drifting in and out of a snooze in a sling and all is well with the world but once they start to crawl and or walk you need to be more mindful as they need to exercise, with that in mind here are my 3 recommendations.
The Louvre is top of my list, this may sound crazy but hear me out. Apart from the Italian paintings hall on the first floor the gallery is pretty quiet and the areas of neolithic art are very quiet and the floors are clean so Sebastian often had a good crawling break there, remember in France the culture is to involve your children in your life and not build an artificial one around them so people will not give you odd looks. I sat and sketched in the Louvre with Sebastian sitting and crawling alongside me and it was bliss. If you want to have them in a buggy there are actually more lifts than you might expect for an historic building.
Art Ludique is airy, cool and all on one level. The exhibitions are not always suitable as some may have scary images but many are so you will need to check the website. Sebastian and I particularly enjoyed the Aardman and Pixar exhibitions. My last recommendation is walking distance from my apartment and somewhere we would visit weekly in dry weather.
Jardin Rodin is wonderfully cheap and under 18s are free so for the garden that made me free too as the accompanying adult. It is very quiet until noon and even afterwards it is still quiet-ish. Sebastian loves wandering and pointing to all of the sculptures, looking at the flowers and as a treat sharing a chocolate chaud with mummy.
There are even 2 sandpits for mini people to play in that are nice and shady in the summer. We had our first leaf scrunching there in the Autumn as no dogs are permitted in the garden there was no chance of finding any hidden surprises in the leaves!
Louvre – Métro Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre Line 1 & 7
Art Ludique – Métro Gare d’Austerlitz Line 10
Jardin Rodin – Métro Varenne Line 13
Behind the grand building that houses Comédie Francaise is a garden that is sheltered from the busy traffic of the arrondissement. There are the signature square trees, a fountain and very cute toy shop at one end but as well as that is an activity that Sebastian has occupied Sebastian for an hour at a time and since the garden is close to the shopping centre Rue de Rivolli it is a great place to let them roam if they have been buggy bound. What is this magic activity you ask, well it is running up to, around and standing on the Les Deux Plateaux back in the 80s this art installation was quite controversial and for some Parisians it still is but children and tourists love it so I will let you decided for yourself with cute pictures of my own child.
Métro Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre Line 1 & 7
This is a lovely place to visit with many different features and works in all seasons. There are of course beautiful grounds but it is one of the parks where grass sitting is forbidden, which is sad but there are still picnic areas. There are sculptures of animals, a palm house, a natural history museum with a dedicated under 5s area and the menagerie. The menagerie is the obvious site of an old Victorian zoo and therefore some of the enclosures are less than perfect, that being said large animals are no longer present, as I am not a zoologist I am undecided on where my moral compass lies on the menagerie, however we have visited and Sebastian really enjoyed the vivarium. Even if you don’t visit that area Jardin de Plantes is still worth the visit.
Métro Gare d’Austerlitz Line 10
This place is a hidden gem that if you are not local/resident you would miss as it is not on the tourist trail. It is located in Cent Quatre an arts centre that is busting at the seems with culture and offers so much support and opportunity to young artists, I first found this centre when I was wandering around pregnant lost, looking for a language school, needing food and the toilet, however it was not until Sebastian was 10 months old that I became aware of La Maison des Petits. They have a daily free play session that starts at 1pm and runs through to 5pm. You cannot book so you need to queue as places are limited to 30 children, this is nice as they have space to explore and create the art activities. You are encouraged to follow their lead as they move around the room. There are also set activities that run you will need to check the calendar link here.
Métro Riquet Line 7 or Métro Marx Dormoy Line 12
Forget the image of soft play areas and fast food this is Paris baby we do things differently, we are refined and we love to show that we are. See how I say we now, full on assimilation. There are a number of very sweet play cafés in Paris but two stand out and even between those two I have a clear favourite and not just because it is closer to my apartment, see if you can guess which one from my writing.
Mombini is a gift from the gods and an extension of my lounge. Sebastian and I have frequented this cafe at least once or twice a week since he was 3 weeks old, it is home now. There is a small play area with the most wonderful toys and books, (in French and English), a cafe and a concept store at the front. There are high chairs and baby changing and even a swing seat for your baby to sit in in the toilet so that you can go without having to lie them on the floor. The staff are wonderful and so child orientated. Upstairs is a space for classes and events, everything from yoga to English classes. We attended a very lovely Christmas finger puppet show there. They serve beverages and cakes but they are more than happy for you to bring savoury food for your mini people into the cafe area. It is designed and styled to within an inch of its life and I defy you not to fall in love with this place.
The second play cafe that is worth a mention is Happy Families
It is in the 1st arrondissement so pretty central if you are shopping/sight seeing. They have high chairs coming out of their ears and they do serve savoury food of a fairly good standard although the menu is limited. The drawback here is the play area is smaller than Mombini, it is also closed in so the children feel a little more caged and separate from you in the cafe. Also the toys are not the standard of the ones at Mombini. The advantage is you can pay to have someone watch your child and have your haircut at the onsite hairdresser. They also run various classes. Directly outside but not connected to Happy Families is a great Stravinsky Fountain that mini people love to see.
Mombini – Métro Vaugirard Line 12
Happy Familes – Métro Hôtel de Ville Line 1
Upon writing this guide/post it has become obvious to me that I need to write a post dedicated to the many wonderful Parcs of Paris and I will do just that as it is impossible to write a guide for Paris, let alone one for under 5s without touching on the parcs but for now here are some highlights of the parcs and there will be a more detailed post soon, I promise.
Jardin Luxembourg is home to a wonderful play area, leafy paths and areas to run. In the summer there are pony rides and you can push the boats on the fountain/pond. There are cafes, balloons, and so much more.
Most of the larger and medium parcs in Paris have marionette theatres but my preference in the on in Luxemboug. Square Lambert is my local parc so I am bias but it is beautiful, in the summer you can buy crepes and the play park is shady for those summer months. Montsouris is the most stunning outdoor parc areas with picnic grass everywhere, pony rides in the summer and a large lake with lots of ducks as well as the obligatory play areas.
André Citroën may not be the most botanically interesting parc but it has a long walkway running down the side with fish to spot and has a fountain area. It is not made for mini people like the anti slip surfaces of Jardin d’acclimation so be mindful of slipping. More on Parcs soon.
As you can see there is quite a lot for under 5s to do in Paris and I haven’t even mentioned the Aquarium, the many wonderful toy shops or the swimming pools. I hope I have inspired you and convinced you that a city break in Paris is one for kiddos as well as lovers.