On New Year’s Eve 2021, my husband, 9 month old, 2.5 year old and I landed in Paris to start a (then) 2 year assignment in the city of lights. We were completely overwhelmed and enchanted. We were tired all the time, but found the city offered plenty of ways to reward ourselves for getting through the day - ridiculously affordable wine, decadent chocolate tarts and fantastic cheese. We needed these simple pleasures at a period when we were perpetually depleted by the day-to-day demands of little children in a completely new environment.
Time passed and things started to calm down. I renewed my contract, presenting us with the opportunity to stay for 5 years. We found amazing babysitters that let us go out to dinner every now and then. But this summer I was still feeling we were somehow missing the opportunity of our time in Paris. We were living in a dynamic, diverse and immense city, but we spent most weekends at our local playground or otherwise keeping our kids entertained. I love my children and after working all week, I wanted to spend my weekends enjoying their world. But if I was honest, I could admit that watching them run around the same playground for the 20th time left me bored and feeling a little trapped. I had to find a way to balance my interests with theirs; to feed my own yearning to explore the city, with their tiny attention spans and limited self control. I prepared itineraries, inspired by Lindsey Tramuta’s The New Paris and The New Parisienne (highly recommend both!). I organized ideas for exploration around things that brought me joy: coffee, art, champagne and nature.
I’d love to share these itineraries with you, in case you too are looking for an excuse to visit a new area of Paris, feed your own curiosity and stimulation… and need to bring a tiny person with you.
I’ll start with coffee. First, let me preview that my recommendations aren’t for beautiful, bespoke Parisian cafes. This is for two reasons. First, I don’t like espresso. I find it bitter, acidic and more like medicine than rejuvenation. Second, my kids are (currently) too feral for a cafe. My recommendations are for amazing coffee places that offer great coffee drinks to-go, which I then bring to a nearby park where I can watch my kids play while I slooooowly savor my coffee, american style. These four recommendations will bring you to four corners of the city. I feel I need to warn a reader with tiny kids - take note of the opening times. My kids are up at 7 and by 8 I’m ready to get them out of our apartment because they are already jumping from the couch, screaming with joy or anger and begging for TV. But Paris isn’t ready for us at this hour. It’s crazy to me that even coffee places - places which should be the first step in one's day - sometimes don’t open until 11 am! How people launch their day without coffee until 11 is a mystery to me. But anyway, some of the recommendations below open a little earlier, which can allow you to start your kids-with adventure more aligned with their schedules.
Champ de Mars. Visit Terres de Cafe (open every day, 10-7 WE & 9:30-7 M-F) on the way to the Champ de Mars. The Champ de Mars may live in your mind as a tourist trap, but I have found it to be one of the most kid friendly places in the city. There are four separate play grounds in a short walk, two carousels, including a fully manual carousel from 1913, plus a (surprisingly violent) Puppet show where there are sure to be some dead puppets at the end.
Tuileries Garden. Visit Noir - Coffee Shop & Torréfacteur (open everyday, 9 WE and 8 M-F) a short walk to Tuileries Garden. Tuileries Garden has a great playground made for adventurous climb-happy kids, a carousel and a trampoline park (next to Monument à Charles Perrault but I can’t find it on the map).
Canal Saint Martin. Visit Ten Belles - Paris 10 (open every day, 9-6 WE & 8:30-5:30 M-F) on the way to the playground in Jardin Villemin. Sometimes you can see the canal system in action; which is fascinating for both kids and adults.
Do you have a favorite playground-adjacent coffee shop that accommodates “to-go” orders? Share in the comments!
Michelle is an American mom of 2 little people, trying to balance work, family and her curiosities. Her family is in Paris for a few years for her job and she’s almost continuously background-planning excursions small and large in an effort to make the most of her family's time abroad.