We recently spent two weeks in Paris with Lucy, aged two. Admittedly, our vacation could have been subtitled “The playgrounds of Europe” :) But we also made many wonderful discoveries of toddler-friendly activities, restaurants, and shops, and I’m delighted to share them with you today…
This is the Grand Fromage of all playgrounds: enormous, rubber-floored, full of climbing structures, and nestled into one of the world’s most beautiful parks. You have to pay to enter, which seems a bit crazy at first, but the space is well-maintained and packed with fun stuff (my photos don’t do it justice). My favorite thing about this playground — and all Paris playgrounds — is that they’re divided by age. The brightly colored equipment (slides, climbing gyms, rocking horses, seesaws, and more) are for little kids, while the dark green jungle gyms and zip lines are reserved for bigger children. Playing on age-appropriate equipment not only prevented me from hovering on the brink of a heart attack (as I do in New York), it also built Lucy’s confidence, reduced frustration, developed her independence and motor skills. I loved watching her figure out how to use the equipment, while also feeling confident that success was within her grasp.
We popped into this adorable toy shop during a sudden rain shower, and Lucy was immediately transfixed. While many of the toys are those you’d find anywhere else (because that’s the world we live in now), everything is thoughtfully selected and beautifully displayed. There are also darling Eiffel Tower knick-knacks and souvenirs. If you really want to spoil your kids, bring them shopping here after a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens, a short walk away, and then have an early meal at Pizza Chic (see below).
This space near Beaubourg advertises itself as “Le 1er lieu pour parents heureux” (the number one place for happy parents), with a café, workshops (art, yoga, dance — for kids and adults), beauty salon, spa — and two indoor play spaces, one next to the café (free), the other with childcare (paid). On a desperate rainy day, we came here for lunch. Our table was right next to the free play area — which was minute, more like a child cave — but Lucy enjoyed romping there and the kind staff didn’t mind that we took our time to order. (The place was also virtually empty, which probably helped.) I enjoyed my simple lunch of salad and quiche; Lucy tolerated the mashed potatoes and ham; we both loved the dessert of fromage blanc au coulis fruits rouges. With high chairs, kid utensils, plastic cups, a huge bathroom with changing tables, ample stroller parking, and a patient staff, this is the kind of kid-friendly place you don’t usually find in Paris. And though the free play space is tiny, on a rainy day, we weren’t quibbling. (Sidenote: I found it amusing that Happy Families also offer sessions with a shrink, career coach, podiatrist, or sophrologist — while your kid is tucked away in the babysitting area.)
Manège 1913 (Carousel 1913) in the Champ de Mars
This is of the last old-fashioned carousels in Paris, and it’s been delighting children in the Champ de Mars since 1913. Built by Limonaire, a company famous in the Belle Epoque for amusement rides and street organs, the carousel still operates from an old-fashioned, man-powered mechanism, turned by a hand crank (as you can see in the video above). The kids sit astride their horses, each with a “baguette” (stick) in hand, and as the manège turns, they try to spear the brass rings that dangle from a box. It’s all extremely charming, and rather eccentric. Note: Right next to the manège, there’s an enormous double-sided playground, almost as good as the Jardin du Luxembourg — and free!
Paris restaurants are notoriously unwelcoming of kids, but we had several lovely lunches out. We used the strategies covered in this post, and especially heeded the number one rule: Go early. Here are our favorites:
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I love this place (as evidenced by posts here, here, here, here, and here). As the name indicates, it’s quite chic — with a bobo clientele and pristine white tablecloths — so I was nervous to bring a two-year-old. But we arrived as soon as the doors opened (12:30pm), sat at a lovely window table with a banquette, and our pizza appeared minutes after we’d ordered. It was as delicious as ever, especially my favorite, the pizza carciofi. The Italian waitress even stopped by a few times to chat with Lucy, just because she likes kids.
Though tiny and cramped, this place lives up to the general crêperie reputation for kid-friendliness. Their savory galettes are hearty and delicious, bursting with ham, cheese, egg, mushrooms cooked in cream, or leeks cooked in butter. (As well as andouille de Guémené! Beware!) Lucy preferred her galette plain, and since buckwheat is so wholesome, I didn’t worry about malnutrition :) And, may I say that a crêpe au caramel beurre salé is a wonderful
bribe treat for a toddler who has been patient all morning? We loved Little Breizh so much, we ate here twice.
I had serious doubts when we set foot in the old-fashioned dining room of this traditional bistro. Turns out, they were completely unfounded. The owner immediately whisked away our stroller, and seated us at a window table, adding a beautiful rattan high chair for Lucy. We enjoyed a very correct (if pricy) meal of salade au chèvre chaud (€14.90) and cod with ratatouille fait maison (€19), and the waiter proposed a special plate of ham and frites (€10) for Lucy, which she loved. (Well, she loved the fries #keepingitreal) The food appeared immediately, and we all felt very civilized to be dining in such an elegant spot.
Do you have any tips to add or addresses to share? I’d be grateful for your advice!
Jardin du Luxembourg
Il était une fois
1 rue Cassette
01 45 48 21 10
5 rue du Cloître Saint-Merri
01 40 29 89 99
Manège 1913 (beware: website launches music)
Champ de Mars
Corner of Avenue Charles Risler and Avenue Pierre Loti
13 rue des Mezières
01 45 48 30 38
Little Breizh (no website)
11 rue Grégoire de Tours
01 43 54 60 74
Café Varenne (no website)
36 rue de Varenne
01 45 48 62 72