© Jardin d’Acclimatation
© Jardin d’Acclimatation

A Family Break in Paris, France

By Rhonda Carrier

However many times you’ve visited Paris– and I'd already been several times with my sons, as well as having lived there for a year as a student – there’s no beating going up the Eiffel Tower at the end of your stay and pointing out the places you’ve visited. Last time we could make out the Louvre Pyramide and Tuileries gardens where we’d been a few hours before; this time we were able to spot parts of the Jardin d’Acclimatation nestled in the expanse of the Bois de Boulogne unfurling to the west.

'Having been immersed, on our journey to Paris, in the book of the movie Ratatouille – about a rat who dreams of becoming a famous chef in the French capital – the boys were in the mood for a properly French dinner at the Café du Commerce, which serves traditional favourites to locals, including wild Burgundy snails and grilled pigs’ ears.'

Established in 1860, this family paradise is off the radar of many visitors but is a brilliant day out away from the often-crowded main sights of the city, with a children’s museum, a puppet theatre, an enchanted-river ride, fairground attractions and play equipment galore, a mini-zoo and farm animals, and a huge paddling pool with mist machines. Quite incredibly, it began life as a royal menagerie under Napoléon III and subsequently became a human zoo exhibiting African bushmen and other ethnological ‘curiosities’!

Worthy of an entire day, the Jardin costs only a couple of Euros to enter, but you budget a good £50 per family if it’s a one-off visit, because there are some great rides, and your kids, like mine, will probably want to go on just about everything at least once. You could save money by bringing a picnic, although there are some decent on-site eating options, from waffles kiosks to a proper sit-down restaurant.

My boys love Paris, look forward to our regular visits, and even said on this trip that they’d countenance leaving their beloved Manchester to take up residence in the City of Lights. They love the parks, they love the food, they love riding home in a taxi marvelling at all the gorgeously lit monuments.

They love riding on the Metro, and they love the Jardin des Plantes with its quirky carousel of extinct animals, its maze, its mini-zoo, and its natural history museums. They love the Jardin du Luxembourg with its toy boating lake, its pony rides, and its fantastic playground. In time, I’m sure, they’ll love, as I do, the spooky catacombs, the Parc de la Villette with its science museum, and the inside-out Centre Pompidou with its awesome modern artworks. 

But there’s nothing to beat the excitement of going to the top of the Tower, where in addition to those amazing views over the city and beyond, there’s a waxwork tableau featuring Eiffel himself and world flags showing how far away each country is and in which direction it lies. There are also kids' discovery trails and themed information boards on the tower’s construction and history, plus a child-friendly first-floor café.

But having been immersed, on our journey to Paris, in the book of the movie Ratatouille – about a rat who dreams of becoming a famous chef in the French capital – the boys were in the mood for a properly French dinner. Following the advice of Frommer’s Free & Dirt-cheap Paris, we walked 15 minutes’ west from the Eiffel Tower to the Café du Commerce, a family-friendly bistro serving traditional favourites to locals, including eggs mayonnaise, leek vinaigrette, wild Burgundy snails, grilled pigs’ ears and superb if quite pricey steaks, plus a good kids’ menu.

For years, my husband and I clung onto the same old one-star hotel in La République in eastern Paris that we’d frequented pre-kids – partly out of nostalgia, partly out of stinginess, and partly because the kids were entertained both by the hotel’s three somnolent cats and its clanky cage-lift that could only fit two of us at a time (or one with luggage!). But it was time to grow up.

We chose the Citadines Bastille Marais apart-hotel slightly east of the centre partly because it’s close to our favourite part of Paris: funky Rue Oberkampf and the atmospheric Canal St-Martin. Our one-bedroom apartment (with a sofa-bed in the living room) was modern, airy and comfortable. We didn’t make too much use of the kitchen since we were only there for one night, but you could see how it would be a boon for those staying longer – especially as the wide tree-lined Boulevard Richard Lenoir onto which the hotel faces hosts one of Paris’s biggest fruit and veg markets twice a week. There are also handy play areas within the boulevard's central gardens.

Citadines actually has 17 properties dotted around Paris, with studios and apartments with small kitchens that allow you to save money on eating out, plus laundrettes, breakfast rooms, parking, cots, bottle warmers and babysitting services. They'll be top of our list next time we come to the city – as, tout naturellement, will a trip up the Eiffel Tower.

Find out more about things to see and do in Paris with kids.

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