Travel pieces about Paris are always aimed at newly-loved-up 20-somethings – but what about families? How can you and your kids get the best out of the French capital?
Most of the famous attractions have child-friendly activities – the Eiffel Tower’s, for instance, is called ‘Follow Gus’, though you might just want to wow your offspring with the fact that if you melted the tower down and poured the metal into a container the size of the tower’s base, it would be 2.5 inches high.
Fans of Horrible Histories will love the Catacombs, the underground tunnels where Paris reburied six million skeletons from its overflowing cemeteries. The bones are stacked in all sorts of patterns: skulls wouldn’t be this artistic again until the arrival of Damien Hirst. There’s also the stink-tastic Sewer Museum, housed in a section of the system itself so you can literally go through the motions.
Other unconventional options include the taxidermists Deyrolle, who for nearly 200 years have been preserving everything from cockroaches to zebras (the shop displays many of the results), and the Museum of Magic where seriously good close-up practitioners perform regular shows. You can also buy tricks there: your budding Dynamo should invest in an Invisible Deck, a truly mind-blowing card trick.
More traditional fun is on offer in a beautiful little toy shop hidden behind the BDNet comic shop on Rue de Charonne. There are teddy bears, dolls and wooden toys, as well as a selection of puzzles: this 45 year-old child became reacquainted (and then obsessed) with the square one where you have to slide the numbers 1 to 15 into order. Many hours of research has convinced me that reversing the numbers (ie putting 15 at the top left) is impossible – am I right, mathematicians?
When it comes to burning off your charges’ energy, take them to the river. On the Quai de l’Hotel de Ville, just west of the Pont Louis Phillipe, there’s a mini football pitch completely encased in rope netting (so the ball can’t end up in the Seine). Meanwhile the stretch of the Left Bank between Pont de l’Alma and the Musée d’Orsay has been turned into a pedestrianised zone full of activities – modernistic hopscotch grids, climbing walls, play equipment and the like. Also the playground at the centre of the Jardin du Luxembourg is great fun – well worth the €2.50 entrance fee. Nearby your smaller kids can ride Shetland ponies, and in the north-west corner of the park your older ones can play chess on the public tables. Or indeed watch the inscrutable old locals who’ve turned up to do likewise.
Finally, a couple of practical points: this is the first generation of parents whose own childhood trips to Paris were post-Eurostar, so the first thing you should tell yourself is: be thankful you don’t have to shepherd your little darlings on a plane or a ferry. Instead you can relax as the train takes the strain, especially the new ones with their free entertainment system which streams kids’ films and games to their devices. (On the way back there’s also a new Business Premier lounge, which is making a start in bringing the shabby Gare du Nord up to St Pancras’s lofty standards.)
And when it comes to accommodation, you might want to consider an apartment rather than a hotel (Citadines have properties all over the city). It’s always an idea to maximise the number of walls between you and your offspring.