Things to do in Paris in winter with kids
Is it possible to have a successful trip to Paris with kids in winter when the city’s transport workers have gone on strike? Well, last December we decided to do some research into this burning question.
Due to some soon to expire loyalty points with Eurostar, we booked a family trip to Paris in winter. Our two boys have always been big fans of anything train related and combined with the promise of scaling the Eiffel Tower, they were really excited about visiting Paris at Christmas time.
Partly due to the lack of transport, we didn’t see a great deal of sights during our two nights in Paris. However, I’ve discovered that less is more when it comes to city breaks with kids, so confining ourselves to the areas which we could explore on foot was a blessing in disguise.
With just three days in Paris, we decided to give the kids a general overview for their first visit to the City of Light. We visited between Christmas and New Year, Paris was still very festive post-Crimbo.
Planning a trip to France? Check out my guide to France for families.
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Our Paris three day itinerary with kids
There are hundreds of things to do in Paris in winter with kids and during our three days in Paris we only scratched the surface. As the weather was dry and sunny, we decided to spend most of our time outdoors as this tends to be where our children are happiest. I’ll save the museums of Paris for another time.
As my other half lived in Paris for a while, he designed a family-friendly walking tour of Paris for us. Actually, it was more of a wander tour. We stayed in the 5th arrondissement, close to the Seine, and walked to many of the sights from there.
We explored the Latin Quarter, crossed bridges, peered into the boarded up Notre-Dame, scaled the Eiffel Tower, sipped vin chaud, munched on crepes, enjoyed carousel rides and took a boat trip on the Seine, Although it was a winter trip to Paris, the weather was beautiful: incredibly clear blue skies and sunshine. But it was rather cold, particularly half way up the Eiffel Tower at 10am.
Taking the Eurostar with kids
The journey from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord takes approximately two hours and 30 minutes. Some journeys are quicker and some a little slower. It’s essential to arrive for check in at least 30 minutes before departure but in reality you’ll need longer than this to allow for the security check which is a rather slow process.
Arriving at London St Pancras is so much more exciting than arriving at an airport. I was almost as exciting as the children.
When you’re choosing which train time to take, just bear in mind that you lose an hour on your way to Paris and gain time on your return. We chose an 11am departure outbound which worked well as it allowed us to feed the kids an early lunch on the train so they had plenty of energy when we arrived in Paris. We needed that energy to get the kids across Paris on the rather limited metro system. Fortunately there were one or two trains running during the strike.
The Eurostar was held in such high regard by our children that it was probably the highlight of their trip to Paris. We ensured that we booked seats around a table so we were able to have lunch, play cards and read some books together. At check in, the boys were given a little cardboard goody bag which was a helpful distraction while we were waiting to board.
The trip on the Eurostar was almost trumped for my five year old son by the sight of armed police at Gare du Nord (and the police presence all over Paris due the strike action). Who says the Parisian police are a surly bunch? My son managed to extract warm smiles out of all of them. Maybe it was the lingering Christmas spirit.
Note, children under four travel free on the Eurostar but they will need to sit on your lap. And it’s only one child per lap in case you’re outnumbered (two kids on your lap for two hours would be so much fun wouldn’t it..?)
Our family walking tour of Paris in December
We took the children on a (relatively) child-friendly walking tour of Paris. Our boys were aged eight and five at the time and one of them is not keen on walking any great distance so I think the lack of complaints from him mean this must have been a good itinerary.
We began our Paris tour at Place Saint-Michel, and then crossed the Seine to Île de la Cité. After peering through the railings towards Notre Dame (closed due to the fire in April 2019), we wandered across Pont Saint-Louis and along the Rue Saint-Louis. There are lots of appealing shops and cafes along this street including the famous Berthillon ice cream shop, a useful pit stop even in winter. Everything looked really pretty and festive.
We crossed the Pont Marie to the Marais and wandered over to the Places des Vosges where we stopped for coffee while the kids tore around the square. Now, this next part of the trip isn’t very French I’m afraid – we ended up having dinner at Eataly (midway between Place des Vosges and the Pompidou) as one of our children was going through a particularly fussy phase and the restaurant there served food early (we had left our house in the UK quite early that morning!).
We ended the day at Place de l’Hôtel de Ville where we all enjoyed the carousels which were free to use with barely any queues. The children loved looking at the festive window displays of the department store Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville opposite the square.
Tips for walking around Paris in winter with young children
- Make regular chocolate crêpe stops
- Build in a park or playground (or coffee) break
- Look out for the carousels which are dotted across the city
- Check out the love locks on the bridges: I used to think this craze was a bit naff but the kids thought it was great fun. The promise of a bridge laden with padlocks was a good ruse to get the boys to walk a bit further.
- Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes: it was really cold (but sunny) during our December visit to Paris.
- Break up the day with a trip on the Seine or a visit to a child-friendly attraction.
Visiting the Eiffel Tower in December with kids
So, we have a bad habit of not being organised when we visit popular cities. I made a few planning errors during a city break in Rome and also on a family trip to York. With this in mind, I was determined to be well prepared for our Paris family holiday.
As soon as we’d booked our Eurostar tickets, I tried to book tickets to visit the Eiffel Tower. Although this was three months in advance, there were only a handful of tickets left, none at times that I was particularly keen on. Would you rather visit the Eiffel Tower with kids at the crack of dawn when you’d rather be having a lazy breakfast or would an evening visit with potentially tired kids be a better bet? We opted for the early morning trip.
The tickets taking visitors to the top of the Eiffel Tower were already fully booked so we just took the elevator as far as the second floor which is still pretty high. None of us felt short-changed by not making it to the top of the tower.
It is possible to buy tickets on the door but the queues are lengthy. Our queue for pre-paid entry at the very start of the day took a while to move.
We totally loved our trip to the Eiffel Tower. It’s so much fun visiting iconic sights with children – their enthusiasm is infectious. It was about minus five degrees during our visit so a pitstop in the covered café midway up the tower for coffee and pastries was a welcome diversion. We were lucky to have an incredibly clear morning and the children loved taking family selfies with the Paris city backdrop.
Carousels in Place de l’Hôtel de Ville
An unexpected highlight of our family winter break in Paris was visiting the very festive Place de l’Hôtel de Ville where there were two vintage carousels along with various stalls selling vin chaud and crêpes. In the evening, falling snowflakes were projected onto the town hall and the lights were lovely.
Not only that, there were no queues for the carousels despite it being two days after Christmas. And the icing on the cake? The carousels were free. The children rode on pretty much every horse, car, bike, and lion and we visited two nights running. Thank you Paris city council for your generosity.
Paris playground: Jardin Nelson Mandela
When we take a city break with kids, we like to visit a play space so the children can have a bit of time to unwind and run around. So far, Copenhagen takes first prize for amazing play areas. On our trip to Paris, we tracked down the rather brilliant Terrain d’Aventures in Jardin Nelson Mandela which is next to the recently revamped Forum des Halles shopping centre (a Westfield monster full of familiar high street brands). This play space is really fun, there’s plenty of things to climb on, to slide down and to crawl through. Our kids loved it.
Jardin Nelson Mandela is in a lovely position opposite the Gothic Église St-Eustache. If architectural wonders don’t appeal to the kids, once they’ve tired of the play area there’s another rather great place to visit at Les Halles – the Lego store. We used up a large part of our day in this area of Paris.
Our Seine River cruise
I love exploring a city from the water. We’ve taken a great river trip in London as well as a boat trip in Copenhagen. If the weather is cold and your children are tired, taking to the water is a great way for everyone to have a rest whilst still sightseeing.
We weren’t sure whether our Seine boat trip was going to happen. There had been a lot of rain prior to our visit and the river was incredibly high. However, we managed to find a boat which was still running, albeit a limited service. As with some of the other attractions in Paris in December, there was no queue and we walked straight onto the boat.
The boat trip was fun and gave us all a chance to relax and rest. We passed the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay as well as heading down the river to the Eiffel Tower.
Where to stay in Paris with kids
If you’re visiting Paris with children during a transport strike as we were it’s definitely worth staying somewhere central if you can afford to. Otherwise, it’s good to be near a metro station for easy access across the city.
We prefer to stay in an apartment on a city break with kids as our little people aren’t very good when they’re confined to the small space of a hotel room. However, that’s just us. Another consideration is choosing a hotel with a swimming pool. Central hotels with a pool tend to be fairly pricey and thin on the ground but there’s some good value ones away from the centre.
As our Eurostar tickets were free, we decided to push the boat out with our accommodation and stayed at an amazing AirBnB property right in the centre of Paris, a short walk from Notre Dame.
AirBnB in the Latin Quarter, 5th arrondissement
This property sleeps up to six guests in three bedrooms. There’s an open plan kitchen – living room area with everything you need for a comfortable stay in the centre of Paris. Although it’s not cheap, it’s definitely good value for money and I highly recommend this property. If you click on the link above and go on to make a reservation, I’ll receive a small commission which does not affect the amount you pay.
Family friendly hotels in Paris
Mama Shelter Paris East, 20th arrondissement
My other half had a really enjoyable stay at this trendy hotel. It features modern, stylish rooms, a rooftop bar and a restaurant which sells pizzas. Family rooms are available.
Hotel Jeanne d’Arc, Marais, 4th arrondissement
This is a good value hotel in a really great location not far from the Place des Vosges and a short walk to the nearest metro station. Family rooms are available.
Hotel La Comtesse, near the Eiffel Tower, 7th arrondissement
If you’re looking for a hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower, the characterful La Comtesse is a good bet. Some of the room interconnect for families and all of them have a view of the tower. There’s a metro station close by too.
Hotel Baume, near the Luxembourg Gardens, 6th arrondissement
This family-friendly hotel has suites and interconnecting rooms to accommodate children and it’s in a perfect position for families close to the Luxembourg Gardens.
Hotel Mademoiselle, near Gare du Nord, 10th arrondissement
Obviously, staying around the Gare du Nord isn’t a great idea but I’ve included this boutique hotel as it’s a little gem in an otherwise unremarkable part of Paris. If you need to be near the station perhaps for a quick overnight stay, this is a great value option. Family rooms available.
Have you visited Paris in winter with kids? What were the highlights of your trip? Let me know in the comments below.
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