A beautiful castle, village, and forest just 40 minutes from the centre of Paris. There are loop walks around the forest starting from right by the train station, which give you an immediate sense of escape from the intensity of Paris. Then from there you can wander through the formal parkland towards the centre of the town. Plenty of restaurants offer lunch or dinner, or enormous ice creams and crepes. Then the chateau, the former country escape of French royalty, offers fine gardens, a large pond, grand rooms and plenty of history to explore.
Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
+33(0)1 60 71 50 70
Google map: bit.ly/QNMMyB
Try the fortified medieval town of Provins 1h25 by train (from Gare de l'Est) to the south-east of Paris. Away from the usual foreign tourist route. You tend only to find French visitors. Great with kids as there's a donjon, ramparts, underground passages. In summer there are lots of events such as jousting knights, etc. Plenty of restaurants from the good and cheap crepe (Le Fleur du Sel in the old town) to the fancier place with lovely outdoor dining areas.
It's a hot summery day in Paris and all you want to do is soak up the sun and occasionally cool off. Oh, and experience what Parisians might be doing on a day like today. Oh, and you'll want somewhere tasty to refuel a litter later. And if you've got kids they need to enjoy it too. Well, try Piscine Josephine Baker, a swimming pool on a barge in the Seine. As if having a swimming pool on a barge in the Seine isn't cool enough, it also has a retractable roof to really make the most of summer days. And if that too isn't enough, the water for the pool comes from the Seine itself, is filtered for the pool, and then goes back into the Seine afterward. So it's really an eco pool!I wonder what Josephine would have made of it.
8 Quai François Mauriac 75013 Paris
+33(0)1 56 61 96 50
Google map: bit.ly/MfZIyb
When visiting Paris on a family holiday the ever popular and highly acclaimed Euro Disney is often the first place which springs to mind. There is however, an overlooked lesser-known hidden gem called Parc Asterix which is inspired by the iconic French comic series "The Adventures of Asterix". Much quieter than Euro Disney meaning less queuing and elbow prodding, a godsend to any parent who has has experienced hours of queuing with very grumpy, bored children! The children loved it, especially my eldest who found himself able to enjoy a much vaster selection of rides than in other parks, a result of less stringent height restrictions. We all thoroughly enjoyed the shows, the performing dolphins being a firm favourite.
My husband underwent a nostalgic journey in Galois Village enjoying all the characters displayed in such a vivid way.
Personally, I favour Parc Asterix very highly above the popular alternative. Quieter, cheaper and oozing character, with a unique quirkiness so often absent from the larger, highly commercialised amusement parks.
For those who want to indulge in a fun family day out and experience theme parks done the French way - Parc Asterix won't disappoint.
It is almost that time of year again for barge loads of sand to float down the Seine and transform the riverbanks of Paris into an urban beach. Beginning on the 20th July and lasting for one month, the Paris Plage offers the complete beach experience … almost. The creators don’t seem to be fazed by the lack of sea as they put together what could be best described as a caricature of a beach, complete with palm trees, over-sized deck chairs, ice-cream sellers and beach volleyball. The latest addition to the beach at Bassin de la Villette offers free pedalos and rowing boats from which you can float along and enjoy the games of pétanque, giant sand castles, free concerts, and everything else that’s going on beside the Seine-side, beside the Seine!
Pont Neuf to Hotel de Ville (right bank of the Seine), Bassin de la Villette
Google map: bit.ly/LwXCYr
Enjoy an unrivalled view of the still magical Pompidou Centre from the cafes and wine bars opposite, as the external escalators whisk visitors to the top. Or people-watch the many hundreds who throng the square every day from the cobbled slope at one end, itself always packed with people of all nationalities. Better still, buy a baguette and sit on the edge of the pool in the adjacent place Igor Stavinsky and follow the progress of the zany, multi-coloured, mobile statues and fountains, all linked to works by Stravinsky, as they spray their water everywhere. Fun for the children and a delight for adults too.
Piazza and place Igor Stravinsky outside the Pompidou Centre in the Beaubourg.
Google map: bit.ly/NC8Tsg
Parc des Buttes Chaumont is one of the more spectacular public gardens of Paris, perfect for a family adventure. An early example of successful land regeneration, it was sculpted from an abandoned quarry in the 1860s. The park is full of follies: an island, a lake, a grotto, waterfall and two bridges. But its pièce de résistance is the Romanesque gazebo set on top of a rocky crag. The grand view to Sacré Cœur across the rooftops of Paris is worth the steep climb.
1 Rue Manin, 75019 Paris, France
+33 1 42 08 08 37
Metro: Buttes Chaumont, Laumière or Botzaris
Opening times - All year, Daily, Open 9am to sunset
Admission - Free
Google map: bit.ly/KbEo8V
Paris parks, gardens and squares and their surroundings are the best way of tracing the city’s social and architectural history while providing variety and interest. Older, more formally designed parks tell of Paris’s wealth or otherwise and more recent parks have been created on former railway lines, abbatoirs and car works. Look out for fantastic statuary, false cliffs, magnificent trees, beehives, original children’s play areas, cafés, fountains, and small allotments. There’s plenty of seating and wi-fi if you need them! Take Lonely Planet’s Paris Nature by Lisa Garnier and Nassera Zaid (in French).
I recommend Parc Asterix on the outskirts of Paris, just off Junction 7 of the A1 from Paris to Northern France and Calais. It was the best park we had visited in France, and that includes Disneyland Paris and Futuroscope. My family (two adults, three teenagers) thought it was brilliant - a great selection of rides that covered four different time zones in Asterix’s adventures. The rides vary from gentle to the terrifying (with lots of choice in between) and there lots of shows and animations too. The cafes are good, and there are shady places for picnics as well. It was quite easy to walk around – not too huge. We used Tesco vouchers for advance entry which helped our holiday budget, and have been twice now (2007 and 2009). Our accommodation was at a nearby Novotel (there are other chain hotels in the area) but there is public transport from Paris. For us it was a good couple of days on the end of our holiday, but could make a good mini break if you live in the south of England.
This is a truly beautiful park, which can be accessed from the Metro station Porte Maillot by a little eco land train. The park has a huge range of attractions, but these were our favourites: loads of animals (check out the huge bears and talking mynah -repeated our Brummie 'hello!'), relaxing boat ride, water park with huge flower showers, hall of mirrors and my favourite: carousel horses that move along a track like in Mary Poppins! Something for all ages and very reasonable. Take your own picnic though, as the cafe gets busy and is overpriced.
Just 45 minutes from Paris, La Mer de Sable is a great escape from the capital city.
Built on an incredible geological site - a perfectly natural expanse of sand - it was France's first theme park when it opened in 1963 but has truly survived the test of time. The best bit? No queues, cheap prices (14.90 EUR/day) and free parking.
Last summer in early July my 11-year-old son and I spent a week in Paris. Apart from the exhilaration at the top of the Eiffel Tower and the flypast on the Champs Elysees on Bastille Day, an unexpected highlight was the Parc Floral on a hot sunny day with water lillies to astound and impress even a pre-teen and the Mini-Golf des Monuments de Paris -some already visited and some yet to be seen- with not another tourist in sight.
Everyone loves an underdog, and the Gauls were the underdogs par excellence when the Romans invaded. (Think also second world war and the German occupation, which inspired Astérix’s creation.) Most children have studied the Romans so will appreciate the historical details and Romans-bashing. Reading the brief introduction in any Astérix book to the main characters and to the magic potion which makes them invincible will add to the enjoyment.
Comparisons with Disneyland Paris (35 miles away) are inevitable. Parc Astérix – where even the wheelchair rider on the disabled signs wears a winged helmet - is far more compact and less expensive. There are plenty of white knuckle – and wet – rides for teens, and enough family rides to keep little ones happy. Meanwhile, the many French visitors and focus on all things Gallic, including areas for le pique-nique, make you feel you truly are en vacances in France.
As with any theme park, arrive before park opening midweek (definitely avoid Sundays), queue early for the shows - especially the dolphins - and save money by booking park admission a week ahead. North of Paris, the park is well signposted
from the A1, and a special Parc Astérix bus leaves from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport terminal 3.
It is almost that time of year again for barge loads of sand to float down the Seine and transform the riverbanks of Paris into an urban beach. Beginning on the 20 July and lasting for one month, the Paris Plage offers the complete beach experience ... almost. The creators put together what could be best described as a caricature of a beach, complete with palm trees, deck chairs, ice-cream sellers and beach volleyball. There are three separate sections to the beach, the latest addition being at Bassin de la Villette. Set on the canal where Amélie once skimmed her stones, this beach offers free pedalos and rowing boats to complement the array of activities available on the other beaches, including swimming pools and free concerts. It may be a somewhat bizarre sight to see bikini-clad Parisians basking in sunshine as small children build sand castles in the foreground of Notre Dame, but its peculiarity is one of the attractions. After all this isn’t the seaside, this is Seine-side!
Port de la Gare, Louvre to Pont de Sully, and Bassin de la Villette.
The first Sunday of the month is free, as everybody knows. Therefore, to avoid the crowds, the best time to go is on the day before - everyone's waiting for the free entry the next day!
We went on the Saturday and had the place to ourselves, apart from the usual crowd that is always gathered around the Mona Lisa. We went again on the Sunday and it was hideously busy. We didn't have to queue though: a nice security guard spotted our pushchair and let us jump the queue! It's a surprisingly child-friendly place, and of course the advantage of the free Sunday is that you can take the kids (they are always free on any day) and you haven't wasted the cost of your ticket if their behaviour is such that you have to leave after five minutes.
The Velib 'free' bicycle system in Paris is really a great idea. I went for a five day extended weekend with my partner and checked my credit card statement the next month to discover to my delight that I had been all over the city; to the Eiffel Tower, along the Champs Elysees, a scary whirl around Place de la Concorde at rush hour (not recommended for the faint-hearted!) and all over the Grand Boulevards and along the Seine and had spent a massive total of six euros.
The system is user friendly and self-explanatory, you can do it in a range of languages. You tap in your credit card details for a small flat hire rate (no more than five euros, as far as I recall), then hoik the rather clumsy, heavy bikes out of their stand. The bikes are a little uncomfortable and it's important to examine which number bike you'll take before you select at the controls, because some have flat tyres, wonky seats that won't budge, or rattling chains. The bikes have - ostensibly - three gears. These are 'slow', 'slower' and 'snail's cycle-rate' and it can get hairy attempting to belt across a junction will a line of irate Parisian drivers attempting to turn right and cut you up.
If you dock the bike back into another station before 30 mins are up, the ride is free. Interestingly, my partner's credit card statement showed one euro more expenditure so perhaps he had docked in a second or two after me.
However, it's an excellent way to see Paris and a lot of fun.
All over Central Paris
The gardens which surround the Musée du quai Branly in Paris are free to enter. They are beautifully designed with lots of nooks and terraces. They even host parts of museum exhibitions such as the current TARZAN! exhibition which has sound effects hidden in the garden - great for kids. You can also view the Eiffel Tower whilst sat eating a lovely chocolate cake in the museum cafe also in the gardens.
musée du quai Branly
37, quai Branly
75007 – Paris
tuesday, wednesday and sunday : 11am . 7pm
thursday, friday, saturday : 11am . 9pm
- metro : Iéna (line 9), Alma-Marceau (line 9), Pont de l’Alma (RER C), Bir Hakeim (line 6).
- bus : line 42 Eiffel Tower stop; lines 63, 80, 92: Bosquet-Rapp stop; line 72 Musée d’art moderne – Palais de Tokyo stop
- river shuttle : Eiffel Tower stop (Batobus, Bateaux parisiens et Vedettes de Paris
The Christmas window display in Galeries Lafayette is a must for all ages, but especially if you are travelling with children. The clever French even provide a little wooden platform with steps for the children to stand on. This year it is a pink Alice in Wonderland theme. While you are there don't forget the souvenir shop on the 6th floor which is surprisingly good value, and from there walk up the steps on to the roof to see all of Paris for free.
Galeries Lafayette, Boulevard Haussman, Paris 8
Great French restaurant full of locals and great atmosphere! It is massive with two floors and the menu offers many dishes at cheap prices. Great for families travelling on a budget who want to visit a traditional French restaurant. Go early to avoid queues, however it shouldn't be a long waiting time.
7 rue Faubourg, Montmartre, Paris
While Paris is wonderful, if you want to spend a day in the countryside you can consider either Champagne or the Loire Valley. From Montparnasse to Tours it's 55 mins via TGV, so you can be ready to explore one or two chateaus in a day and return in the evening.
There are buses to take you to the chateaus from Tours Gare and cost around 49 euros per person for a full-day tour- you'll visit Chenonceau, Amboise then Chambord which is quite a lot in one day.
While I would recommend a full day for each of these attractions, if you haven't the time it's a great day for the whole family and no need to drive or hire a car. Lunch is usually at Amboise which has lovely cafes, nothing really really gastronomic but good for lunch.
You can probably organise tickets for the chateaux pick-up via SNCF (gare) or www.tourevasion.com for more Loire Valley activities
Paris-Tours 55 mins via TGV
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