Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, is a fantasy wonderland for anyone, including gay and lesbian couples with children. There is no greater joy for a parent than see- ing the expression on their child’s face when he or she gasps upon first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, tastes his or her first crêpe, or looks wide-eyed at the impressive Notre Dame.
One of the first orders of business for President Hollande when he took office in 2012 was to make gay marriage legal in France.
Coupled with being well known as a gay and children-friendly des- tination, Paris is an ideal place to bring the family and to make memo- ries that will last forever in the City of Light.
Here is our comprehensive guide of what to see and do, all broken down into specific categories as to not overwhelm you with all the marvels of Paris.
Touring the City/Tourist Sites
There are tons of imaginative modes of transportation to see all the sights of Paris including bicycles, Segways, cars, tuk-tuks, boats, barges, CV convertibles, and old-fashioned walking.
Bus tours are always a safe bet kids will enjoy and L’Open Tour (www.paris.opentour.com/en), a hop-on, hop-off service, has double- decker, open-top buses that tour the highlights of the city with three alternate routes. A more luxurious and relaxed way to see Paris is with Bustronome (Tel: +33-1-954-444-555. www.bustronome.com), a massive custom-built bus that serves multi-course, gourmet sit-down lunches and dinners while slowly touring the monuments.
Fancy seeing the city on two wheels? Fat Tire (Tel: +33-1-182-88- 8096. www.fattirebiketours.com/paris) and Blue Bike (Tel: +33-1-649-323-649. www.bluebiketours.com/paris) are the most well-known bike tour operators that do small groups in Paris. They offer comprehen- sive four-hour city tours with young, energetic kid-friendly guides plus night tours, Skip the Line Eiffel Tower Tours (good idea if you want to avoid hours of waiting), and their best-selling tour, Versailles. City Segway Tours (Tel: +33-1-182-888-096. www.citysegwaytours.com), a sister company to Fat Tire, does a Segway tour with the same itineraries as their bike tours. There is an extensive safety orientation before each Segway tour and only kids 12 and over can participate. Both companies also offer private tours.
The most in-depth way to see Paris is to stroll the streets and boulevards and Eye Prefer Paris (Tel: +33-1-6311-28620. www.eyepreferparistours.com) private walking tours give visitors an insider view of Paris that they usually don’t see on their own. As the founder of this tour, and a kid at heart myself, I treat clients more like good friends visiting, giving them the local scoop on history, culture, food, architecture, and shopping in a relaxed, laid-back style. Tours cover the Marais (the gay area of Paris where I live), St. Germain, Montmartre, and the Latin Quarter, plus food tours, chocolate and pastry tours, and half-day cooking classes.
Some of the most fun and unique tours of the city are by Paris Authentic (Tel: +33-1-6645-04419. www.en.parisauthentic.com), a company that leads tours in the backseat of the legendary Citroen 2CV car. The cute, young drivers wear a kitschy costume of a blue-and-white striped French Marine T-shirt, bandana around the neck, and, bien sûr, a black beret. You can order either the convertible or see-through-top model and drivers will pick you up at your hotel.
Cruises down the Seine are also a delightful and easy way to savor Paris. We especially favor the night tours because you can view the impressive monuments such as Notre Dame, The Grand Palais, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and d’Orsay Museum all lit up with the added bonus of tours being timed so you and the family can marvel at the sparkling lights that flash from the Eiffel Tower on the first five minutes of the hour. Bateaux Mouches (Tel: +33-1-1422-59610. www.bateaux-mouches.fr) and Bateaux Parisiens (www.bateauxparisiens.com) are the main operators for Seine cruises and have 95- minute rides or extended trips of three hours that offer dinner or lunch. For a more intimate boat excursion, River Limousine (Tel: +33-1- 6860-78737. www.river-limousine.com/en) provides private tours for up to six people in an authentic wooden Venetian water taxi.
Canauxrama (www.canauxrama.com/en) features a more off-beat boat experience with slow cruises down the Canal St. Martin where they pass the Bastille, Parc de Villette, and the fabled Hotel du Nord. Passen- gers also have the opportunity to pass under footbridges and go through double-lock bridges with swirling waters and two swing bridges.
Parks, Gardens, and Theme Parks
Kids love to explore the great outdoors and there’s no better place for them to hop, skip, and jump than in the famous parks, gardens, and some unusual theme parks of Paris.
The most beloved park in Paris, the Luxembourg Gardens should be on the top of your must list. The 64-acre garden behind the former Lux- embourg Palace built for Queen Maria de Medici in 1612 has so many activities the kids may never want to leave. Pony rides, sailboat rentals for the water basin, bee apiary, marionette shows, sandboxes, playgrounds, a carousel, and zip lines is a short list of fun things to do.
Sometimes called the backyard of the Louvre, the Tuileries are the gardens of the former Tuileries palace owned by Catherine de Medici that was built in 1564 and burned down in 1871 during the Communard revolution. In summer, a portion of the garden is transformed into an amusement park with a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, games of chance, and a giant water slide. If your kids are craving cotton candy, tell them to ask for la barbe a papa (daddy’s beard).
Another two parks that could fill a whole day are the Jardin des Plantes and the Bois de Vincennes. Covering 70 acres, the Jardin des Plantes (57 rue Cuvier. Tel: +33-1-4079-5601) is the botanical garden of Paris. In addition to 4,500 species of plants, an alpine garden, an art deco winter garden, and a Rose Garden, the complex has four natural history museums including mineralogy, paleontology, entomology, and evolution. The cher- ry on the cake is the small zoo, one of the oldest in the world (1794), which originally housed the royal zoo of Versailles.
An authentic 12th-century medieval castle with moats, dungeons, and tales of kings and queens awaits you and the children at the Château de Vincennes (Ave. de Paris. Vincennes. Tel: +33-1-4808-3120. www.en.chateau-vincennes.fr). The royal residence of King Louis VII in the mid 1100s, it’s surrounded by the Bois de Vincennes or the woods of Vincennes, the largest park in Paris. Activities include a zoo, miniature golf, picnics, musical performances, a farm with cows, pigs, rabbits, sheep, and goats and, in summer, an amusement park.
Originally a failure when it was first launched in 1992, Disneyland Paris (77777 Marne-la-Vallée. Tel: +33-1-8253-0500. www.idf.dis- neylandparis.fr) is now one of the top tourist attractions in Paris and in all of Europe. Although smaller in size than Disneyworld and Dis- neyland in the US, the park features the über-popular attractions Space Mountain, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. At Disney Village, parents can appreciate the Festival Disney portion designed by Frank Gehry, and kids can meet and greet Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in French. Bonjour Mickey!
For a clever and amusing outing about 45 minutes outside of Paris, France Miniature (Blvd. André Malraux. Tel: +33-1-3016-1630. www.franceminiature.fr/en) is a theme park encompassing miniature versions in 1/30 scale of all the regions of France. From the quaint village of St. Tropez, to the majestic Mont. St. Michel to the châteaus of the Loire to the Chartres Cathedral, kids will be astonished by these miniature mar- vels. The Paris segment has cool miniatures of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Tri- omphe, Notre Dame, and Versailles. France Miniature also has a separate section with a full amusement park.
Museums and Culture
If you’re trepidacious about taking kids to the ever-daunting Louvre Museum, Daisy de Plume of THATlou (www.thatlou.com) provides fun and fascinating treasure hunts to alleviate the fear. The hunt consists of teams of two to four people who compete to find treasures of the muse- um with a list of clues. Each hunt is around a theme, keeping the players engaged, and sometimes bonus questions are asked for extra points along withteammembersdoingselfiesinfrontofasmanyworksonthelistas possible to also gain points. Custom hunts can be arranged.
The masters of the Impressionist universe abound at the Musée d’Orsay (1 rue de la Legion d’Honneur. Tel: +33-1-4049-4814. www.musee-orsay.fr). A former belle époque train station has been transformed into one of the most important museums in the world for Impressionist art. Acquaint the kids with the glorious works of Manet, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Degas, Seurat, and Gaugin. The museum has 90-minute guided inter- active audio tours designed especially for children.
Centre Pompidou (Place Georges-Pompidou. Tel: +33-1-4478-1233. www.centrepompidou.fr/en) is a temple for modern art set in an indus- trial type building from 1977 with exposed brightly colored pipes and glass-enclosed escalators snaking up the side of the structure. There is a special children’s gallery with rotating exhibits, and the top floor has the chic Georges restaurant with amazing views of the city.
Lots of fun activities abound in the front plaza of the museum including mimes, jugglers, acrobats, and musicians, a moving Calder sculpture, and, on the right side, the Stravinsky Fountain with kinetic sculptures by Nikki de Saint Phalle that spouts water.
The French version of Madame Tussaud’s, The Musée Grévin (10 Boulevard Montmartre. Tel: +33-1-4770-8505. www.grevin-paris.com/en), has 450 life-like wax sculptures from French and world history. French figures and historic scenes include The French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Antoinette, King Louis XIV, Moliere, Edith Piaf, and Charles deGaulle. If the kids are into gore, checkout the tableau of Charlotte Corday murdering Jean-Paul Marat in his bath, which includes the actual knife and bathtub. Also, don’t miss the repli- ca of the Hall of Mirrors from Versailles.
American Doll fans can see the real inspiration behind their beloved dolls at Musée de Poupee (28 rue Beaubourg. Tel: +33-1-8209-4191). Over 800 dolls from 1800 to 1959 from the permanent collection are on display and the museum also offers doll-making and doll-dressing workshops. The museum can also host birthday parties so your children can invite their favorite dolls.
What kid doesn’t love magic? For kids of all ages the Musée de la Magie (11 rue Saint-Paul. Tel: +33-1-4272-1326. www.museedelam-agic.com) is a true delight. Revel in a short magic show in addition to trick mirrors, rabbits in a hat, magician hats, and secret boxes. The museum also gives magic classes with courses in card tricks, balls, le sleeving (something up your sleeve), rope tricks, and disappearing tricks (in French only). Don’t forget to include the Musée des Automates (100 rue Saint-Georges. Tel: +33-1-4272-1326. www.museeautomates.fr) right next-door, a museum with 100 automated toys from the 19th and 20th century.