Most travelers think of France as a destination for couples, but after two family trips we can confirm that there are great things to do in France with kids too! We wrapped up our family gap year with a three weeks France road trip and found kid-friendly things to do around every corner. Here are some of our favorites for your next family holiday in France.
- Climb the Eiffel Tower
- Eat traditional French desserts with abandon
- Watch French history come alive at Le Puy du Fou
- Visit the world’s largest car museum at Cité de l’Automobile
- Play like a French kid at the Luxembourg Gardens
- Take in the majesty of Mont St. Michel
- Find your own artistic inspiration at Giverny
- Pay homage to the heroes of D-Day and Operation Overlord in Normandy
- Ride every carousel
- Say “Bonjour” to Mickey at Disneyland Paris
- Plan your trip to France with kids
Climb the Eiffel Tower
Yes, climb the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is as iconic as it comes in France, and even the littlest travelers will probably have a strong association between the two. While Parisians and frequent visitors will prefer the view from places like Montparnasse tower because they include the Eiffel Tower, our kids just don’t feel like their visit is complete without going up. While we had good luck taking the elevator up last year even without advance tickets, this year we were in Paris during summer holidays and found huge queues for both the elevator and stairs (after all, it is one of the top places to visit in Paris), but it was a shorter line and a cheaper ticket to hoof it.
Crazy? Yes. Worth it? For sure.
Surprisingly, walking up wasn’t that bad. Even with lots of breaks, we clocked under 15 minutes for each of the first two levels (no, our height-averse family didn’t walk to the tippy top). The whole family felt a deep sense of accomplishment when we made it up to the second level and appreciated the experience and the views that much more! Plus, after working so hard to make it up, we all took our time to soak in the city skyline. Another bonus of walking up is that you’ll mount a solid appetite for a post-descent crêpe.
Don’t feel like climbing? Reserve advance tickets here so you can take the elevator like the rest of the sane world.
Eat traditional French desserts with abandon
Yeah, yeah, moderation… You’re taking a family vacation in France with small people whose idea of a “balanced meal” is equal portions of ice cream and cookies, possibly with a side of fruit cocktail. Lean into their sweet tooths and the opportunity to expand your kids’ cultural and culinary horizons by experiencing the best French desserts.
Start them off with cake-type desserts like tarte tatin and millefeuille, then get a little fancier with crème brûlée. Of course macarons are always a staple, so get a few different (and unique!) flavors for your family to share.
But the most famous French dessert – the simple crêpe – is the one really worth diving in on. Since they’re always made fresh-to-order, a visit to your local crêperie can be about much more than just stuffing your face with buckwheat and sugar. Make an effort to chat with the person behind the skillet – swap stories, ask them about their process, and watch as they masterfully create dozens of perfect crêpes in an hour. Hanging out in the kitchen of our local crêperie was one of the most memorable experiences of our first family trip to France.
Want to take it a step further? Check out a French pastry cooking class!
Watch French history come alive at Le Puy du Fou
Most English speakers have never heard of Le Puy du Fou, but this history-oriented theme park in the Vendée region is absolutely incredible. Hopefully I didn’t lose you at “history-oriented”. It tops our list of fun things to do in France – with kids or without. We spent much of our day there just saying “wow!” over and over. Ok, so what exactly is this place?
Le Puy du Fou is situated near an actual ruined Renaissance castle, and the young man who discovered the ruins and founded the theme park created a multi-generational historical fiction tale of the family that might have once lived there. The park has enormous spectacles (shows) representing major periods in French history – the hundred years war, Roman rule, Viking invasions and more.
The special effects and horsemanship in these shows are out of this world. There are also more than a dozen other exhibits, small shows, recreated villages and experiences to round out your journey through French history. Our family’s favorite show was “The Secret of the Lance” which is visually stunning and has a great story line to boot.
The most famous attraction, Cinéscénie, starts late at night and is only offered on certain dates, but it’s the largest staged show in the world. The whole experience is entertaining, educational and totally fun. It’s helpful to give your family a crash course in French history before your visit so that you have context for the storylines.
Visiting le Puy du Fou can itself be a bit of a production. There’s so much to do that it’s nearly impossible to hit it all in one day, though you can certainly try (as we did). We took in four of the major daytime shows, the nighttime show and several of the smaller attractions (Ronnie and I each did one smaller attraction solo, as we deemed those to be inappropriate for our kids).
If time allowed, I would have liked to stay overnight to take in all of the shows (and maybe see some favorites a second time). Since it all makes for a very long day, you might consider arriving in mid-afternoon on a day when Cinéscénie is offered and then stay until the end of the earlier evening show, Les Orgues du Feu, the following day.
You will undoubtedly find yourself walking to and fro all day long, as the major shows are spread out from each other across the park and across the day’s schedule – make sure to wear comfortable shoes like my personal favorite athleisure kicks, Saucony Bullets, and bring plenty of water.
Our top tip for visiting Le Puy du Fou is to download the app in advance. It includes the full schedule for the day (as well as the following day) and you can add shows and attractions to your personal schedule to see how everything fits together. You’ll receive a notification when it’s time to queue up for the very popular shows – school holidays can be very busy. The other critical feature of the app is the translated audio. Bring your headphones and a splitter, because if your French isn’t perfect you’ll still want to follow along with the stories. The app is a huge battery drain, so we were grateful to have this spare battery pack with us.
Buy your tickets in advance for a discount off the gate price
Visit the world’s largest car museum at Cité de l’Automobile
We arrived at our last HomeExchange house in France with no idea what to do in Alsace with kids! That’s what happens when you’ve already planned ten months of travel. But we were thrilled to find out that the closest city, Mulhouse, is home to Cité de l’Automobile, the world’s largest car museum. Even though we’re from car-crazy LA (which has a very respectable car museum as well) we were blown away by what we saw in Mulhouse.
Racing enthusiasts of all ages will love the 100+ Bugattis in the collection, while history buffs while be thrilled to see representation of some of the earliest cars (and car-like vehicles). Throughout the day there are periodic racing demos outside, and if you want to give the kids some decompression time, you can take them to the spacious car-themed indoor play area.
If you’re taking your young car buff to Italy, you can’t miss these museums dedicated to Lamborghini and Ferrari!
Play like a French kid at the Luxembourg Gardens
How long could active, technology-obsessed American kids be entertained by a stick and a toy boat? Longer than the kiosk can stay open, apparently. When you’re in Paris and the kids just can’t take another church but you don’t want to give up on having a quintessentially French experience, head to the Luxembourg Gardens to mingle with local families as the kids play with boats in the pond (available for rent for just a few Euros), take to the slides or even watch a puppet show. Since you’ll be sharing space equally with locals, this is one of the great non-touristy things to do in Paris. It may not be a “high impact” tourist destination, but it’s a charming and distinctively Parisian way to spend an afternoon that will stick with you all for a long time to come.
Take in the majesty of Mont St. Michel
A picture’s worth a thousand words. Le Mont Saint-Michel, the majestic thousand-year-old abbey rising above the mud flats at the border of Normandy and Brittany, is pure magic. There’s no other way to describe the the sight of the awe-inspiring presqu’île in the distance as you approach.
What is there to do at Mont Saint-Michel? Mostly, look at the Abbey… but also a little more. In the visitors center you’ll learn about the science of the tides that periodically leave it separated from the mainland. Then hop on the shuttle bus for the quick ride over (we’ve heard the horse-drawn carriage isn’t really worth the extra cost). You can walk the causeway instead of taking the shuttle, but it’s pretty long and only worth considering if your kids are happy walkers or you have a good carrier with you*. If you’re feeling ambitious you can take a guided walk across the flats (assuming safe conditions).
Once you arrive, give yourself plenty of time to stand outside and take photographs. Honestly, we were much more enthralled with the exterior than the interior. The view from outside is cool and the kids enjoyed running and playing in the hard-packed, bone dry earth out front (more on that in a minute).
The problem with visiting Mont Saint-Michel (and one of the reasons I had been hesitant to visit) is that it’s just too popular. Everyone wants to go there! We squeaked in the day before French school holidays began and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected but YMMV. To avoid some of the headaches, when you get into the island, head left through the door near the bathrooms. Most people walk up the one crowded Main Street that’s like a gauntlet of tourists and tacky souvenirs shops. Instead you can go up what amounts to a service road. It gets you to the same place – the top – with much less hassle for most of the route!
Once at the top, the thing to do is visit the Abbey itself. We hustled up to make the last free guided English tour of the day… and honestly, I sort of wish we hadn’t. I don’t know if we just got a novice guide, but the tour was uninspiring in a way that didn’t befit the stunning spaces of the Abbey. It is a huge complex so you’ll need plenty of time to see it, but I’d advocate using the audio guide so that you can self-pace and seek out more details when your curiosity is piqued.
The kids usually love guided tours but this one lost them within the first few minutes and then dragged on and on. Our guide’s English proficiency was also not on par with other tours we’ve had in Europe (the only time I expect solid English skills when traveling abroad is when we’re at an activity that’s advertised as being in English).
Now that I’m done sounding like a jerk… after your self-guided visit to the Abbey and plenty of time taking photos, slowly wind your way down the main street. Hopefully the crowds will be thinner as the day grows longer! When you get to the end of the causeway, stop at the cafe for ice cream and chat about the Abbey – why it was built there and how the kids might handle the complicated logistics (food delivery to the Abbey windows by a fleet of giraffes? Sure). Savor those views as long as you can because there’s truly nothing like Mont Saint-Michel!
The most important thing to pack for Mont Saint-Michel? A good camera. Here’s what I have in my travel kit:
About the tides: the separation from the mainland is part of what makes Mont Saint-Michel so unique, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. It turns out that the massive high and low tides for which it’s famous are rarely as extreme as visitors think – complete separation only occurs a handful of times each year. In fact, the dirt in front of the island was bone dry when we visited because the tide was so weak that it was only on part of the side of the island. It’s worth visiting Mont Saint-Michel with kids no matter what, but check the tide schedule here to plan your timing appropriately if that’s important to you.
*About walking the causeway with kids… We did not have a happy walker or a good carrier, and I’m including this anecdote as much for my own memories as anything else. We met a lovely American family during our tour of the Abbey and Jacob decided he wanted to walk back with them, so he and Ronnie hurried ahead without consulting the fairer half of our quartet. Since they walk faster than a 4yo and a photographer on holiday, Shoshana and I were left waaaaay behind after just a few minutes.
Shoshana had mostly just sprouted her walking legs over the preceding few weeks, and a day at Mont Saint Michel is exhausting even for adults. Within 5 minutes she sat down on the side of the causeway and declared she couldn’t walk anymore. I’d give her a break while I took photos and then cajole her into walking another 10 feet before she slumped into a puddle of willfulness and exhaustion. At some point I gave her a piggy back ride for most of a mile with the understanding that she’d walk the rest of the way. Mom plans, child laughs.
I actually contemplated whether or not we’d ever make it back to the mainland. I tried flagging down a shuttle driver, but they aren’t allowed to stop on the causeway. In my moment of desperation, after about 53 stops, I saw a kind-looking older gentleman walking our direction with a cute little dog. My secret weapon. Shoshana absolutely can not resist an adorable creature. I explained (in French, of course) my predicament to the gentleman and asked if perhaps Shoshana could assume responsibility for walking her new friend Olive back to shore. Thankfully he obliged, and my reluctant walker found herself half-running without complaint to keep up with the spritely pup. How’s that for a parenting win?
Find your own artistic inspiration at Giverny
In between Normandy and Paris you’ll pass right by the lovely and ever-inspiring gardens at Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. If your kids love flowers and butterflies, this one’s obvious. But for those who are a little more reluctant, let them interpret the vistas in their own way by bringing along their art supplies.
We sat and enjoyed a bench in the garden for a solid hour while the kids painted the scenes in front of them… or whatever popped into their little creative minds. A visit to Giverny will be even more meaningful if you’ve already gone to L’Orangerie in Paris to see the wall-sized murals of waterlilies through the changing seasons and changing light.
You can avoid a lengthy delay at the door by purchasing your ticket in advance. If you plan to visit L’Orangerie in Paris, you can save time and money with a skip-the-line ticket, or buy a discounted combination ticket for L’Orangerie and the Musée d’Orsay.
Pay homage to the heroes of D-Day and Operation Overlord in Normandy
It might seem strange to include a visit to the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy as a “kid-friendly activity” in France, but hear me out for a minute. Kids of all ages can benefit from learning about the themes of bravery and selflessness, even while learning the history in fairly broad strokes. I’d recommend this for families with kids 6 and up (depending on their maturity – you know your own kids best).
Our particular itinerary for exploring D-Day sites with kids may be a good starting point, and kids will find the individual stories highlighted at Point du Hoc (along the walkway) and the American cemetery (in the video downstairs in the visitors’ center) to be humanizing and inspiring.
Ride every carousel
Carousels are so classically French that there’s even a museum dedicated to them in Paris. In fact, they’ve been in France for over four centuries – longer than the Republic itself has been in existence. Holidays in France with children can be filled as much with whimsy as with serious tourism.
You’ll find carousels in every city, town and village and they’re a universally cheap thrill – rarely more than 2-3€ for a ride, but sometimes only 1€. They make for a great break for both parents and kids during days that are otherwise packed with churches, museums and monuments. Want to sit with a coffee for a minute? Put the kids on a carousel! Kids complaining about too many grown up activities? Walk no more than two blocks, and let them ride! If you’re trying to plan toddler-friendly holidays in France, it doesn’t get any better than these simple joys.
Say “Bonjour” to Mickey at Disneyland Paris
Ok, so we didn’t manage to visit Disneyland Paris unfortunately. But our friend Christine over at Mouse Travel Matters has the inside scoop for you on this must-do for toddler holidays in France:
Disneyland Paris is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of Disney. Not only is it less expensive than Walt Disney World, but it’s significantly smaller and a lot more accessible than the American versions.
I have so many great tips for anyone visiting Disneyland Paris, with or without children, namely to download the app and dress comfortably. There are a handful of apps: Line Predictor, Lineberty (to digitally queue for character meet and greets) and Photopass. You’ll need them all during your stay, and the internet connection is not exactly on your side.
And while you may want to dress fancy for photos with characters or in front of iconic Disneyland Paris architecture, give it an hour and see how those heels are holding up! Comfortable and properly worn in shoes (like these) and clothes are the key to making it out relatively pain-free – literally.
I would love to give you a list of the top things you can’t miss while visiting, but honestly, they are all can’t miss attractions! The shows and parades are definitely a deal breaker, in my book. If you can’t stay long enough to at least enjoy one show and or a parade, I would say come back when you can. They are awe inspiring and truly represent the Magic of Disney.
Plan your trip to France with kids
We hope you’ve found some great inspiration for your own family holiday in France!
France travel guides
Where to stay in France
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