Springtime is a classic time to visit the French capital, before the crowds of summer arrive. And Spring 2010 is an especially good time to bring your kids to Paris, with an array of interesting child-related exhibitions and family-friendly accommodation packages. The following are just a sampler of what's on offer.
Il Etait Une Fois Playmobil, Musée des Arts Décoratifs: While the Louvre itself is commonly associated with weighty works of art, the design-oriented Arts Décoratifs (107 rue de Rivoli, 75001; tel. +33 1 44 55 57 50; www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr) in one of its wings offers more lightheaded exhibitions -- including, in its Toy Gallery until May 9, an exhibition about the famous German toy manufacturer Playmobil, now celebrating its 35th anniversary. "Once Upon a Playmobil" traces the history of the 7.5cm-high characters and the worlds they inhabit -- among them you'll find circus performers, Vikings, cowboys and pirates, as well as regular folk going about their daily business. Tickets cost €7.50-9 and there are free quiz sheets at the ticket office, with Playmobil sets on offer for prize-winners. Les Enfants Modèles, Musée de l'Orangerie: A few minutes' stroll from the Louvre within the charming Jardin des Tuileries, the beautiful Orangerie museum (Jardin des Tuileries, 75001; tel. +33 1 44 77 80 07; www.musee-orangerie.fr) is hosting an unusual exhibition (to March 8) made up of famous artists' paintings or sculptures of kids -- mainly their own offspring. The artists represented include Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, and Picasso, as well as the lesser-known Paul Belmondo, one of whose subjects -- his son Jean-Paul -- went on to become a world-famous movie actor. Each work is accompanied by a text or an interview with the model, relating their memories of posing for the work and the feelings evoked by it. Tickets are €7.50-9.50. Afterwards, you can let your own children run riot in the Tuileries with its carousel, model boating pond, and pony-rides.
La Faim des Dinosaures, Palais de la Découverte: Also not far from the Louvre, Paris's mighty Science Museum (Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, 75008; tel. +33 1 56 43 20 21; www.palais-decouverte.fr) is luring young visitors with its "Hungry Dinosaurs" (to May 2) exhibition of life-size animatronic dinosaurs, exploring the question of what dinosaurs ate. Admission to the Palais and exhibition costs €4.50-7 (free to under-5s); there's also a planetarium at the venue (extra €3.50) and a range of science workshops (€1.50).
Jardin des Plantes: France's main botanical garden (Rue Cuvier, Rue Buffon, Rue Geoffroy St-Hilaire, or Place Valhubert, 75007; tel. +33 1 40 79 56 01; www.mnhn.fr) is a children's paradise, with -- in addition to the gardens and hothouses -- a mini-zoo that started life as home to the royal menagerie from Versailles, a maze, a quirky carousel featuring extinct species (the Dodo Manège), and three galleries of the National Museum of Natural History: the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution (zoology), the Mineralogy and Geology Museum, and the Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy Museum, all of them well worth a visit. The gardens are free to enter; tickets to individual attractions vary, with the museums free to under-26s and discounts offered on entry to two or more venues.
Jardin du Luxembourg: French families flock to the "Luco," Paris's largest park (Rue de Médicis or Rue de Vaugirard, 75006; tel. +33 1 42 64 33 99), for all manner of fun and games: miniature yachting on the pond, puppet theatre, carousel and pony rides, alfresco chess, and pétanque (similar to boules), or even beekeeping courses. There's also a superb playground (€2.60 to enter), a café with a terrace from which you can watch free musical concerts, and a curiosity in the form of the first, small-scale model of the Statue of Liberty. A family stroll in the gardens after Sunday lunch -- perhaps in one of the famous brasseries on the nearby Boulevard du Montparnasse, or in the form of a picnic bought at one of Paris' Sunday-morning markets -- is a Parisian institution.
Family Packages & Breaks
Le Meurice: If you're looking to splurge in the City of Lights, the prestigious palace-hotel Le Meurice (228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001; tel. +33 1 44 58 10 10; www.lemeurice.com), which overlooks the Jardin des Tuileries, can't be beat for atmosphere. Its Family Program (from €1,260, minimum two-night stay) includes two rooms, American breakfast, gourmet treats for all the family on arrival, a Kids' Kit with toys and games, a treasure hunt through the hotel, the use of the hotel's wooden toy boats to sail in the pond in the Tuileries, and two carousel rides per child in the gardens. The hotel concierge will also happily organize visits to other family attractions, including Bateaux-Mouches cruises.
Adagio Apartments/Citadines: Real bargains are hard to find in Paris, but you can save money by opting for an apart-hotel with self-catering facilities. For instance, the Adagio Opéra Paris (Adagio Apartments, 11 locations in Paris; tel. +33 1 58 21 55 84; www.pv-holidays.com), within easy reach of the Louvre, includes one-bedroom apartments with fully equipped kitchens for up to four people (there's a fold-down bed in the living room). You also get some of the benefits of a hotel: a breakfast room, WiFi access, laundry service, and a car park. Rack rates on accommodation for 4 people for 1-3 nights are €384 per night, or €297 on 4-9-night stays, but you can generally get better deals/discounts on the website. A similar proposition is Citadines (16 locations in Paris; tel. +33 1 41 05 79 05; www.citadines.com), with non-refundable rates of €268 per night for an apartment for up to four in its apart-hotel on the Rue de Richelieu by the Louvre. Various hotel services are offered here too, including babysitting, daily housekeeping and a launderette.
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