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The truth about Paris with small kids

Sep 13, 2019

Paris is Paris. It’s a confident lady who knows her worth and doesn’t need to do anything special for you to love her. She knows she’ll win your heart. With all its contradictions, with the good and despite the bad.

With its gorgeous mix of cultures, the small balconies, the stunning architecture, the baguettes that you eat the end off before getting home. Despite the protests, the paid playgrounds, the tiny elevators, the homeless, the bad areas next to the good ones without transition (the Paris syndrome is real!).

No matter what, one day you’ll find yourself walking down its street, you’ll look around, butterflies in your stomach and only one thought, “Wow, I’m walking in Paris”. Paris is Paris and always will be.

BUT.

How good is Paris with small children? I mean, for real.

After a month in Paris, I can say with extreme confidence that it’s not a city I would ever recommend for a holiday with small children.

It’s chaotic (French people really like their protests!), it’s not small-children friendly, there’s lots to do with children, but hardly anything is free (not even public playgrounds sometimes!), restaurants don’t like you very much when walk in with kids… not to mention that children over three (!) pay on public transport (this, coming from Helsinki where even moms with strollers don’t pay and Budapest where children under 6 go free, was a shock for us!).

It usually takes over half an hour to go anywhere (longer by bus), underground tunnels that connect metro lines are endless (not pleasant with two small children in tow), you queue to get pretty much everywhere, and… the city often smells like pee, as Oliver always liked to point out.

I think Paris is about finding your own bubble.

Luckily for us, we found our bubble in the area near Place de la Republique, which soon became my favorite place to be: a plaza where almost every day there are lots of activities for kids, where you breathe a strong sense of community and every summer night (when protests don’t strike) there’s some form of organised dance event (from salsa to swing to rock’Nroll). Ah, and all the metros and busses under the sun come and leave from here.

Here’s my parent-friendly guide to Paris with small children, a list of places that you won’t find almost anywhere else, because we like going off the beaten path. For all the rest, head to the great blog Mama Love Paris, my morning read during our stay.

L'r de Jeux in Place de la Republique

In the summer, every day from Wednesday to Sunday (and in winter every Wednesday and Sunday) 3pm-7.30pm, a group of dedicated young people open the big red container in one corner of Place de la Republique and sets up a huge play area for all the kids to come and play for free. Yep, for free!

They create many areas, each one divided by play mats and offering a different activity (Duplo, magnets, water games, role play, kitchen…)… and as if this is not enough, they set it up each day differently!

But the best part is that these people love what they do. They love children, keep an eye on them, play with them, help solving conflicts… they’re simply amazing, and this place is a gem in Paris. They have other mobile ludoteques around the city, so contact them to find out about more locations.

Water ground

Ah, on the other side of Place the Republique there’s a part of the plaza that becomes very wet so the whole floor is covered in water: it’s not a place to play per se, but nobody will complain if you run through it on a hot day… just saying!

Giant macaroons at A. Lacroix Patisserie

On the day you visit Notre Dame, you have to come to A. Lacroix Patisserie. Not only because they have amazing pastries (apparently the baker likes to improvise so the selection changes often) and gigantic macarrons, but because they have a play area so mom and dad can take a real break. You’re welcome!

And most likely, the pastry will give everybody enough energy to take a beautiful walk along the Seine, all the way to the Louvre to take a picture like this:

Buttes'Chaumont Playground Park

This, for me, is a must! The park doesn’t have a playground, but it’s a playground in itself. Oliver and Emily spent hours throwing sticks in the water and following them down the stream. The view from the Temple de la Sibylle (which you get to by crossing a bridge made from the same creator of the Eiffel Tower!!) is totally worth the hike!

Mama'Lou, our favourite family cafe

It might sound crazy, but in Paris there are very few family cafes (cafes with play area), and they’re all in the 15th arrondissement (district). By the way, did you know that in Paris you always know what district you’re in because it’s written on top of every street name sign?

Mama’lou is the only one that was open during our stay there (in August many businesses close for holiday), but the owner is so adorable and the place is so gorgeous and welcoming, that it would have been my favourite family cafe regardless! It offers a selection of cakes and coffee (which combined with a play area is all mama ever needs ;-).

Find them on Facebook & on Google Maps.

Please note that they don’t offer lunch, but you’ll find plenty of restaurants around there: we picked the vegetarian Restaurant Vege for delicious salads and hummus with pita bread. Ice-cream at Amorino (sounds Italian, but it’s actually French, straight from Paris!), some more playing at the Square Yvette Chauviré playgroundand everybody’s happy!

The "boat cafe"

Zia Cri found Le Comptoir Général, a pub that doubles as coffee shop, and she loved the little tray with coffee and three small pastries. Unfortunately, when she took us there, they had a special event going on, so we weren’t able to have breakfast. But we did manage to take a photo on the boat (you can’t normally go up there, but we didn’t know, oops!).

It doesn’t have a play area, but it’s big, it has a lovely patio and lots of nice details for kids to explore. If you are visiting Canal San Martin, this place will give you a little break. They have different opening times, so give them a call before heading there!

Touristic places

Among the more touristic places, which we of course did, these were my favorite, and I’ll add some of my La Tela secret tips to visit them:

Puppets and Carousel at Luxembourg Garden

You can easily spend a whole day here (and you should, because you pay the playground by the day, 3€ per child ;-). The playground is big, with lots of climbing frames, a zip line and clean bathrooms! The old carousel near the playground is oh-so cute, and Emily was so concentrated trying to catch the rings with her sword.

Right near the playground, you’ll find the Puppet Theatre (which has been running since 1933): it was 25€ for the whole family, and we all enjoyed it even if it was in French. La Tela tip: go in early and sit your kids in the last kid-only row, so you can sit right behind them and explain, if needed. Check out their website to see what’s on (we watched Les aventures du chat Minouchet].

Just the park, the playground and the puppet show will be enough to spend a day here, but if you’re not too tired, you can rent toy boats by the big fountain and make them sail.

There’s plenty of restaurants around the park, but I don’t have an amazing recommendation: we shared two pizzas at La Piazzetta

Rides and splash pool at Jardin d’Acclimatation

I had read online that you can go to Jardin d’Acclimatation and only pay the entrance ticket, skip the rides and head straight to the (gorgeous) free playgrounds and (amazing) splash pad. Well, it turned out that with small children, you can’t! You have to pass aaaalllll the rides to get to the free playgrounds… it’s like taking a kid to a toy shop just to watch the toys! Not gonna happen!

We bought a pack of 15 rides for 35€ and the kids were happy with that. Please notice that in the Carousel adults go for free, while in all the other rides where kids have to be accompanied, parents have to pay, too—so if your kids can count, maybe explain it before-hand to avoid crisis ;-).

Tour Eiffel (doesn't need a Google link, does it? ;-)

Paris is not Paris without a visit to the Tour Eiffel, which j’adore! I love it so much that I went there five times during my stay in Paris—three times with the kids and twice at night to watch it sparkle.

You can go under the tower for free, and on one side there’s a lovely pond surrounded by rocks which Oliver enjoyed climbing.

There’s also a playground in Champ de Mars, but Oliver said it smelt like pee, (yak!). So if you need a place to decompress after the Tour Eiffel, head to the gorgeous Mama’Lou for a play session (and coffee for mama, of course): it’s about 15 mins walk (with a stroller or quicker on a Lime), and totally worth it!

Ps. Just like in Vienna and Budapest, also in Paris we often used Lime. We start a group ride, I put Emily in the carrier on my back, Oliver goes with daddy and voilat!

Free playgrounds at Parc La Villette

If you’re looking for a playground kind-of day, La Villette is your best choice. The three different playgrounds are FREE (and they’re beautiful… the most famous Dragon Slide is also here!), you can have a picnic on the grass or a delicious skewer (also vegetarian options) with chips at La Petite Brochette (a stand in the cozy garden of the restaurant La Petite Halle); and if the weather turns for the worse, head to the Little Villette, an indoor play area with lots of different activities (also free, but check opening times on their website).

We also went to Cité des Enfants, a permanent exhibition/play area for 2-7 years old inside the museum Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, but… honestly? While it’s definitely nice and full of activities, it’s very pricey (adults pay more than kids!), it’s time-limited (1.5 hours), and I’d have liked to see the staff more involved with the kids… for me, not worth it!

But if you go and find yourself hungry afterwards, don’t think twice and have a pizza at IT at the mall next-door (I know, I know, pizza in a mall is usually a NO-NO, but this is actually OK and super affordable. Trust me!).

Wanna do Montmartre with kids?

A visit to Montmartre means a lot of walking and a lot of stairs, which isn’t ideal for small children.

But you can make it fun: take the funicular up (it’s a common metro ticket), walk around the plaza trying to spot the Tour Eiffel (it’s not easy!), take a quick tour inside Sacré-Cœur (Oliver and Emily loved lighting the candles!), and then hop on the tourist train and relax for half an hour as it takes you around the whole Montmartre district, also passing in front of Moulin Rouge.

Lunch time? Head to Soul Kitchen for a delicious veggie menu for 15€ and enjoy the break while the kids read all the kid books on the shelves!

Musée d’Orsay

If you feel like attempting something adult-like with children, Musée D’Orsay is probably your best bet. And it’s stunning. And toddlers, kids, youngsters under 26 years old go in free. And you if you like art like I do, here you can see, among others, the Self Portrait of Van Gogh, Manet’s Olympia and Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, the statue Polar Bear by Ponpon and this amazing painting of cows that Oliver loved ;-)

Babysitter in Paris

Guys, Paris might not be kid-friendly, but it’s very couple-friendly and date-night-friendly and SO romantic you can’t possibly not go out for a date while visiting.

Luckily for you, we couldn’t take our babysitter with us around the world, so she’s still in Paris and agreed to have her contact publicly shared for La Tela readers.

Her name is Rocio, she’s Argentinian but also speaks English, and she will go above and beyond to make your kids happy. Here’s her number: (+33) 633 06 10 25.

Best date-night in Paris?

Have dinner in Montmartre, watch the city lights from the plaza in front of Sacré-Coeur Cathedral, walk down the narrow streets and… go watch the Mouline Rouge! It’s expensive, but you’ll be astonished.

It’s the best show I’ve ever seen in my entire life (and we have watched some pretty good Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas). So good that Alex and I (yes, even Alex!!) couldn’t stop talking about it when we got home!

Download my Apple collection for Paris

Every time I visit a city, I create an Apple collection beforehand that I refer to when I’m on the road.

If you want, you can download my Apple Maps collection for Paris and add the places you want to see to create your own!

Comments

Monta • Sep 14, 2019

You are wrong about Buttes- Chaumont Park. There is a playground, but not easily spotted though, and not a great one. Other than that- great collection! My kids loved pushing sailboats in Jardin des Tuileries during summertime.

🌸 Carlotta • Sep 14, 2019

You’re totally right, I know there’s a playground in Buttes Chaumont (and a little carousel and a small puppet theatre) but they didn’t make our list of favorites 🤣 (the playground is terrible, the waterfalls and the streams were a lot better!). Thanks so much for your comment 🤗🌸

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The blog

I write mainly about Montessori, parenthood, and multilingualism. Here are some recent posts.

Montessori
One day a few years ago my husband came home and said, "Why don't we put a mattress on the floor in the baby room? It'd be much more natural". "Never" was my reply. That's how our Montessori journey started. Since then we've been living, breathing and applying the philosophy at home day in and day out, starting from ourselves. Because educating children starts from the parents.
Kids understand if you give them honesty
Bean and seed mosaic
I'm not perfect. I'm aware
DIY yoga cards for kids
Children at the restaurant: let's recalibrate expectations
Don't ask your children to share their toys
Those "good job" that erode our children's confidence
Our Montessori birthday
Two alternatives to screens that my kids love
Using fear and threats to control children is never right!
Living sustainably
Living sustainably for me doesn’t only mean to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It means to make decisions that are sustainable for our planet, the people on it, but also for our life, our lifestyle, and our happiness. It means to take any daily chance to evolve and be happier, healthier, kinder, more responsible and more caring human beings—the only sustainable way for a meaningful future.
Face yoga is an act of self love
Why you should wear the same outfit twice on Instagram
The power of creating habits (and why you should do it, even if you then break them!)
Responsible eating is the diet of the future (Would you like to teach it to your kids?)
The power of NOT complaining: can you do it for a whole month?
Clean up your planet, please!
Infographic: 8 steps to switch to cloth nappies (a guide for reluctant parents)
A personal note on happiness
A personal note on social media
A change of life always widens your horizons
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Travel

We sold everything to travel the world for two years. We're currently in New Zealand.

Books

In 2020 I wrote 4 books for the Italian collection “Gioca and Impara con il metodo Montessori” curated by Grazia Honegger Fresco. The collection is a project by Il Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport.

We also implemented the workshops of the last 15 volumes of the collection with Oliver and Emily.

Podcast

On my podcast, “Educare con calma”, I talk about various topics, from Montessori to sustainability. Only in Italian!

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Why La Tela di Carlotta?
I dreamed of the name La Tela di Carlotta. One morning I woke up and in my dreams I had created a blog named just like the American novel (Charlotte's Web). Many years and endless ups and downs later, this web of thoughts and stories is my work. It took me a long time to understand what kind of online presence I wanted and today I know: I'm transparent, I show real life, I don't advertise, I only recommend sustainable brands (and not only because they pay me) and I believe in the value of my blog and my courses—because if we don't believe in the value of our work, no one will believe in it for us.
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