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Paris With the Kids

by Richard Nahem

There is no greater joy for a parent than seeing 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.

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 seeing 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 destination, Paris is an ideal place to bring the family and to make memories 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 doubledecker, 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 Luxembourg 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 cherry 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 marvels. The Paris segment has cool miniatures of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, 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 industrial 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 replica 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.

If your children are into bones and skulls, The Catacombs (1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy. Tel: +33-1-4322-4763. www.catacombes.paris.fr/en) are a spooky but fascinating world hid- den under the city. The mass grave instituted by King Louis XVI before he was guillotined, has the bones of a mind-boggling six million people in caves 60-feet underground. The Catacombs only sell tickets on site, no advanced or online tickets, so make sure to arrive by 9:15 A.M. for the 10 A.M. opening. Please note: There are no bathrooms on site and this is not recommended for anyone with respiratory or heart problems, or with any kind of claustrophobia or fear of enclosed spaces. There are 130 steps going down and 83 steps coming back up and the walking distance is 1.25 miles. The Catacombs are temporarily closed from time to time, so call or check the website before your visit.

Another engrossing underground attraction is the sewers at Musee Des Egouts De Paris (Pont de l’Alma. Tel: +33-1-5368-2781). Tours are of the modern sewage system designed in 1855 by engineer Eugene Belgrand under the reign of Napoleon III. Visitors learn how Paris sewers evolved, the principles of drinking water supply, sewage techniques, and modern-day ecological standards while winding through long tunnels and corridors.

The legendary Opera House where the chandelier crashed in The Phantom of the Opera, The Opera Garnier (Corner of rue Scribe & rue Auber. Tel: +33-8-9289-9090. www.operadeparis.fr) is a magnificent sight to behold. Go for a behind-the-scenes tour during the day and cascade up the grand staircase, look up at the hand-painted ceilings by Chagall, walk through the grand rotunda, and admire the magnificent mosaics, paintings, mirrors, and chandeliers throughout the building. Ballet and opera performances are staged all year round except for a six- week break from mid-July till the end of August. Classics such as Swan Lake, and, at Christmas, The Nutcracker, are performed annually.

One of the most popular children’s museums in Paris with over 5,000,000 annual visitors, Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie (30 Avenue Corentin Cariou. +33-1-4005-7000. www.cite-sciences.fr) is the ultimate in modern, state-of-the-art science and industry museums. Per- manent exhibits include “Light Games,” an exhibition featuring lasers, optical illusions, and 3D images, “Brain,” where you learn how the brain works and its capabilities through a variety of games, tests, and experiments, and “Earth Watch”, all about the space satellite revolution.

Restaurants and Cafés

Food tops the list of favorite things kids love about Paris. From crêpes, snails, soufflés, and éclairs to cassoulets, kids will pig out with glee, enjoying culinary delights in every nook and cranny of the city.

For hands down the best and most authentic Brittany-style crêpes, Café Breizh (111 rue Vieille du Temple. Tel: +33-1-4272-1377. www.breizhcafe.com) is it. Using buckwheat flour which is gluten- free, the savory crêpes have cheese, ham, and vegetables, while sweet ones include chocolate, sugar, caramel, and rhubarb.

Light-as-air classic soufflés are served at the quaint Le Soufflé (36 rue du Mont Thabor. Tel: +33-1-4260-2719. www.lesouffle.fr). Savory flavors include chicken, cheese, and spinach, and yummy dessert soufflés include Nutella and banana, caramel, and chocolate with hot chocolate sauce.

Steak frites is the only thing on the menu at Le Relais d’Entrecote (20 rue Saint-Benoît. Tel: +33-1-4549-1600. www.relaisentrecote.fr) besides the green salad and long dessert list. The tender steak is accom- panied by a mystery Bernaise-like sauce and served with crispy fries, and the restaurant offers seconds.

If the kids tire of French food and beg for pizza, Pink Flamingo (67 rue Bichet. Tel: +33-1-4271-2820. www.pinkflamingopizza.com) is a great solution. Quirky names and toppings include the Obama: pineapple and bacon; Björk: smoked salmon; Basquiat: Gorgonzola and fig; and La Dante: mozzarella and tomato.

There’s nothing that says Paris more than a belle époque brasserie. Bofinger (5-7 Rue de la Bastille. Tel: +33-1-4272-8782. www.bofingerparis.com/en), with a Tiffany-colored glass dome, tile floors, and dark-wood and red-leather banquettes has popular dishes such as raw seafood platters, steak tartare, and snails.

The ultimate fantasy for kid comes true at a food complex devoted to chocolate at Un Dimanche a Paris (4 Cours du Commerce Saint- André. Tel: +33-1-5681-1818. www.un-dimanche-a-paris.com). It serves almost every dish with a form of chocolate at their restaurant, a dazzling array of pastries and chocolates in the retail shop, and a bar where all the drinks have chocolate in them.

No Parisian food tour would be complete without a croque-mon- sieur. Le Cuisine de Bar (8 rue du Cherche-Midi. Tel: +33-1-4548- 4569. www.cuisinedebar.com/en/index.php) serves a top-notch croque-monsieur and other open-face sandwiches on the most loved bread in Paris, poilâne, a hearty peasant sourdough variety.

If you and the children are sophisticated foodies, Spring (6 rue Bailleul. Tel: + 33-1-4596-0572. www.springparis.fr) is consistently rated by food critics and bloggers as one of the top modern restaurants with innovative cuisine from American chef Daniel Rose.

Café Carette (25 Place des Vosges. Tel: +33-1-4887-9407. www.carette-paris.fr) on the picturesque Place des Vosges has an extensive food and dessert menu, serving all day and night. Try the onion soup and don’t miss the thick, velvety hot chocolate and some of the chewiest macaroons in Paris.

A mostly unknown alternative to the overpriced and always-booked Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower, Le Ciel de Paris (Tour Mont- parnasse, 56th floor, 33 Avenue du Maine. Tel: +33-1-4064-7764. www.cieldeparis.com) on top of the tallest building in Paris, Tour Montparnasse, has excellent and sophisticated French cuisine and the extra added bonus of a bird’s-eye view of the Eiffel Tower itself.

Pastries, Chocolate, and Ice Cream

It’s hard to narrow down the list of thousands of pastry, chocolate, and ice cream shops, but we will make an attempt here. Berthillon (31 rue Saint- Louis en l’Île. Tel: +33-1-4354-3161. www.berthillon.fr) is undeniably the king of ice cream in Paris, handmade on the little island of the Ile St. Louis with over 35 flavors of creamy ice cream and fruity sorbets. L’éclair de Genie (14 rue Pavée. Tel: +33-1-4277-8511. www.leclairdegenie.com) has designer éclairs in imaginative flavors such as vanilla pecan, fig, lemon and Yuzu fruit, and caramel popcorn.

Macaroons are to France what the cupcake is to the US with hun- dreds of pastry shops claiming to be the best. We vote for Pierre Herme (72 rue Bonaparte. Tel: +33-1-4354-4777. www.pierre-herme.com) as our number one with his heavenly, almost outer-body experience taste sensations. If the kids are adventurous, have them try the more exotic flavors such as jasmine, rose, or passion fruit with milk chocolate.

Chocolate is close to an art form in Paris and Patrick Roger (108 Boulevard Saint-Germain. Tel: +33-1-4329-3842. www.patrick-roger.com/en/actualites.php), the bad boy of Paris chocolate, proves it as chocolatier and sculptor. Along with his yummy chocolates, he chisels life-size chocolate sculptures such as gorillas, hens, moose, and frogs, displaying them in the shop window.

Jean Paul Hevin (41 rue de Bretagne. Tel: +33-1-4461-9443. www.jeanpaulhevin.com/en) is a haven for all things chocolate and upstairs is the Chocolate Bar, where they serve sinful, thick hot chocolate in odd flavors such as raspberry, green tea, and chestnut, plus chilled hot chocolate in summer.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred (94 rue Saint-Dominique. Tel: +33-1- 4753-9134. www.auxmerveilleux.com) makes a marvelous concoction of meringue topped with whipped cream rolled in shaved white or dark chocolate and other toppings like cherry and coffee.

The inventor of the salted-butter caramel, Henri Le Roux (1 rue de Bourbon le Château. Tel: +33-1-8228-4980. www.chocolatleroux.eu), features over 15 flavors of the addictive sticky treat such as rose, mango, chocolate, raspberry, and green tea.

Chow down on an award-winning, crusty baguette at Au Petit Versailles du Marais (1 rue Tiron. Tel: +33-1-4272-1950), a bakery café, along with other delectable goodies such as tarte tatin, Paris Brest, fruit tarts, and Nutella croissants.

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