10 Best Spots for Travelling in France with Kids
10 Best Spots for Travelling in France with Kids
France might be the land of wine and art, but for kids it's a country of french fries and Asterix. There are tons of fabulous attractions in the country for little ones, which makes travelling in France with kids pretty easy. You'll find plenty of children’s activities and nearly everywhere is welcoming to kids, though you might want to skip the staid Paris museums and some of the fancier restaurants.
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (Paris)
This is by far one of our kid's favourite museums in Paris, maybe even in the world, mostly because absolutely everything inside is designed to be touched, pressed, rubbed, run up, climbed or even tasted. The vast Science and Industry complex contains a few different pavilions with rotating exhibitions and the core part of the museum is dedicated to different branches of science. There's everything from static electricity generators to an exhibit on how French bread is made. The one downside is that not everything is marked in English, but since you're allowed to play with everything, chances are that you'll figure out what something does soon enough. Kids just can't get enough of this place and you should count on spending your whole day here. The website is in French only, but you can choose ‘infos pratiques’ to get useful info, ‘horaires’ for opening times and ‘acces’ gets you directions.
Musée de la Magie (Paris)
Another favourite with the kids is Paris's little known Museum of Magic. What kid these days doesn't love Harry Potter? If yours are aspiring Hogwarts students, then you can't miss this lovely little museum tucked away in a side street in Paris's 4th district. There's a mind-blowing illusion display, which even the smallest ones loved, as well as a whole host of magical artifacts, some of which can be touched and played with. There's even a magic shop on your way out, just in case your kids have been inspired. There's also a strange collection of mechanical figures that caught the attention of all the toddlers in the room. The museum won't accommodate pushchairs, so you'll need to carry small ones, but it does make for a very entertaining couple of hours, especially on a wet day. You can find the museum's website here, again ‘horaires’ for opening hours and ‘contacts’ for directions.
The Carnavalet Museum
It can be difficult, even for older children, to truly imagine history - and that's where the Carnavalet Museum comes in. The museum teaches about the history of Paris - from ancient times to the present, including, of course, the French Revolution. The best thing about the Carnavalet is that for the most part, it's like walking around someone's house, with furniture from different periods laid out into living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. The way the museum is set up makes it an excellent introduction to French History – and in a very visual way, with clear, succinct historical descriptions in each room that give you the ‘low down’ on the period and what was happening. As a bonus, you can also include a tour of the Paris Catacombs, giving you a brief, if slightly chilly, look at what's really beneath the streets of the City of Light. Visit the Carnavalet any time and plan on spending at least two hours. The Catacomb tour does get a bit cold in winter though, so wrap up. The Carnavalet's website is in English and can be found here.
Chateau d'If (Marseille)
The huge port town of Marseille is a great choice for a child friendly holiday. If your kids are tired of looking at boats, you may want to hop on a boat shuttle to the island of If to see the chateau. Famous for the prison portrayed in The Count of Monte Cristo, the chateau is a museum these days, and one of the best places to let your kids run around and learn at the same time. You'll be able to tour the empty prison cells (make sure you notice the huge difference between the rich and poor cells), while the kids will have fun clambering up the towers and running around the courtyards. Be aware that the rocky ground isn't the best for pushchairs and that you'll want to wait until you're inside the gates of the chateau before letting kids run free, as the steep drops to the water around the entrance aren't particularly safe. The chateau's English website is here, and boat shuttles leave every thirty minutes or so to the island from just outside the main old port area in Marseille.
Carcassone (Southern France)
If you're headed towards the south of France, you'll want to make a stop at the medieval town of Carcassone. While the south of France tends not to be as child friendly as the north, Carcassone is a huge hit with kids. The small hillside fortress has been renovated into a complete medieval town. The streets are nearly completely car free, meaning children can wander through the narrow streets safely and the castle itself is small enough to be toured in an hour or so. Carcassone is so ‘fairy tale’ like that it's tough for kids not to like it and the chateau has several other child friendly attractions inside the walls as well. The cartoon museum provides a nice distraction during a brief rain-storm, and there are regular falconry and jousting demonstrations during the summer months. Best to visit here when the weather is nice.
Centre Pompidou (Paris)
It's not often that we can add a world famous art museum to a list of attractions that are suitable for kids, but the Centre Pompidou is a glaring exception. This is the only major art museum we've visited that has a special children's gallery. While you're downstairs enjoying Matisse, Picasso and the other greats of modern art, the kids get a special experience of their own on the upper deck, with a revolving exhibition that complements one of the exhibitions on display downstairs. These exhibits do vary, but all have a sensory element and allow children to build, paint and discover something about the artist and their art. When they’re done being creative, hop outside to the main square where you'll find buskers, magicians and even puppet shows to keep them entertained. You'll need to check the centre's website here to find out about their current children's exhibition.
Parc Asterix (Paris)
It would be remiss to talk about taking kids to France without mentioning Parc Asterix, the French equivalent of Euro Disney, which is only thirty minutes away from the centre of Paris. Asterix is the premiere comic book character that French kids grow up with, and while nearby Euro Disney is heaving with tourists, the visitors to Parc Asterix are local French. The park proves to be a strangely educational experience, especially if you don't know much about the Roman invasion of France. Of course, there are the obligatory rides and shows, many of which are only available in French, but for a true French kid experience, Parc Asterix shouldn’t be missed. Many of the attractions are more suited to kids age 7 and up, but there are plenty of playground areas and a few rides for the littler ones. You'll also find that prices here are around half of what you'll pay at Euro Disney. You can find Parc Asterix's website here.
Chateau de Chenonceau (Loire Valley)
Not every Loire Valley Chateau is as welcoming to children as the Chateau de Chenonceau. And while Chenonceau may not be as grand and impressive as some of its more famous neighbours, it more than makes up for that by being one of the most kid friendly castles we've ever been too. The castle itself is relatively small, making it easy to see in less than an hour. It’s been refurbished so kids can see just how royalty used to live. On top of that, Chenonceau also has a special audio guide for children (available in English), which adds to the overall experience. The parks and gardens outside the chateau are huge and are a perfect spot for running around. There’s even a fantastic hedge maze on the grounds for kids to play in. All in all, Chenonceau is a great castle trip for kids, and you can find their website here.
Musée Alsacien (Strasbourg)
It's sort of hard to describe the Alsatian Museum in Strasbourg as a museum, since it's kind of like stepping into somebody's house - or set of houses. What we do know is that our kids absolutely adored it here. The museum itself is a collection of old Alsatian houses that have been randomly knocked together, making it a labyrinth for kids to explore. Devoted to the culture and folk life of the Alsace - a region that has constantly passed between France and Germany throughout history - the Alsatian Museum is like living history. Houses are decorated to look like they belong to people of different professions, and there are plenty of toys, clothes and other memorabilia around to entertain the kids. It's sort of like walking through a historical picture book, except everything is real. Kids can really get a sense to how people lived in the ‘olden’ days and learn a lot about Alsatian history at the same time. You can find more about the Alsatian Museum here.
Merville Battery Museum (Normandy)
If you're headed north into Normandy, it's going to be difficult to avoid museums and memorials dedicated to D-Day and the soldier's experience in France at the end of WW2. This might not be an easy subject to tackle with children in tow, but the Merville Battery Museum should be on your list of places to stop. The museum is dedicated to all soldiers, no matter which side they fought on, making it a truly unique experience. There is a sound and light chamber that reenacts the experience of being under fire with genuine artifacts that have been donated to the museum by soldiers. The museum does a great job of bringing history to life. There are also bunkers to explore as well as a restored Dakota aircraft. Check out their website in English here.
If you need any help travelling and sightseeing in Paris, check out the links below.