Fun Family Days Out and Things to Do - Outside of Paris
Are you visiting Paris, or passing through, with a car and some time to explore?
Do you live in Paris and want to escape the city?
Do you live in the suburbs?
Paris is amazing. I am head over heels in love with it. But it can be hard work with little ones. If you fancy an alternative to the city, then there is so much to do if you venture out with children - you are spoilt for choice. I live out to the West of Paris. When we are not enjoying the simple things the suburbs have to offer, and want something a bit more exciting, then a list of our favourite places to go is below.
I have taken my toddlers to all of these, usually on my own in the week, but also as family day trips at the weekend - so I can give them a thumbs up for being lots of fun, as well as young child friendly. We have loved them, as have other friends and family we have visited with so they are also great for older children too.
Thoiry is a Zoo, Safari Drive, Labyrinth, Chateau and Botanical Gardens, all under an hours drive from Paris. This is undoubtedly my favourite day out with the children, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. We are on our third year of having an annual pass (which is great value if you think you will go more than once in the year), and we use ours weekly in the sunshine. However, come rain or shine there is always something to do here and every element of Thoiry is utterly excellent. It has appeal for all ages (my daughter first went when she was just less than two weeks old!) and the whole place is pushchair/wheelchair friendly (with some gravel sections).
The whole atmosphere is natural and it really is beautifully set up. It always seems to me that the animals are in good condition and cared for. At advertised times through the day (mostly in the afternoon) you can watch certain animals having their gouter (French mid-afternoon snack) which is popular and they are worth going to. The big Labyrinth is a lot of fun, and has pushchair friendly routes. The safari drive is brilliant. There are 2 sections, the big animals and also a bears area. Don't worry about your car, there are no monkeys here (plenty in the zoo!).
I would recommend getting to Thoiry nice and early for opening, as most people don't seem to arrive until closer to midday. You'll want lots of time too, there's so much to see! It is such a big place, that even when busy, it doesn't feel congested. Still after over 2 years I discover something new every time I go. The Chateau and Safari Drive are great options for rainy days.
Practical Tips: Thoiry closes over the winter, and then upon re opening in February it has staggered opening time and days, so best check the website before you head over (which you absolutely MUST!). There is a restaurant at the entrance, snack bars dotted about the grounds (some are not open off season) and vending machines for drinks too. However, you can take your own picnic in - and this is something we love to do as there are some gorgeous little picnicing areas all about, our favourite being where the tables and chairs are made from tree stumps.
p.s. I hear a ROARsome rumour that the Dinosaurs are returning between April - September 2017!!!!
This is a tropical butterfly house within a garden centre. It it lovely, and children seem to find it enchanting (as do I). This is a great rainy/cold morning or afternoon option. It is beautiful and tropically warm inside, so if it's cold outside we would suggest you wear layers so you can strip some off when you are in there, as usually you just need a t-shirt on!
Expectations should be managed as it is small, at the very most you would spend an hour inside I would have thought. However, once you have done the butterflies there is a small insect display, a short film and a cute little shop. You can explore the lovely garden centre too. We always spend some time in the animals section, which is just outside the butterflies entrance/exit, looking at the pets and fish for sale! It is all pushchair friendily.
There isn't a cafe here, but there is a picnic area and plenty of grassy space outside also. It closes over the winter so don't forget to check the opening days and hours before you go.
3. Ferme de Gally - Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole, West of Paris
Ferme de Gally is well worth a day out. It has 2 parts: a farm with all sorts of animals to see and stroke, and tractors for the kids to play on; as well as on a close but separately accessed site there are huge fields and orchards for pick your own fruit and vegetables. There is an excellent shop too attached to the Farm, with a popular restaurant (very yummy food), and also picnic spots around the site. They do workshops in the farm as well - my son did the bread making one shortly after he turned 3 and, despite being the youngest taking part, he really enjoyed it.
4. Batisseurs en Herbe - Chambourcy, West of Paris.
This fabulous imaginative building play centre opened in February 2017. I just love that the name means "builders who grow". It is great for all ages and has stations set up with: Lego, Kapla, Meccano, Brio, Playmobil, Magformers, Jeujura (this was a new one for me!), and Dominos. There is also an area for under 4s with bricks, stacking cups, foam shapes, Lego Duplo, and other small toys.
There are lovely staff members on hand too who will show you how all the construction toys work. And why don't you give building out of Kapla or Meccano a try and impress your young ones!
Colouring tables are set up in the cafe with fun pictures and pens. The cafe sells drinks, snacks and lunches like sandwiches and pasta. When we visited last month (shortly after they opened) I was told they were getting some highchairs soon.
There is a baby change in the toilets, and even some nappy bags provided, and one specially low toilet for the young ones too. It is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in term time, and Tuesday to Sunday in the holidays. It looks like on the website that you can take little ones too on Thursday and Friday, by appointment.
How to find it? (because the first time we struggled a little): It is in the shopping centre in Chambourcy, but not the one with the big Carrefour supermarket in, the other side of the road, i.e the same side as Zodio. Its entrance is along the back of the shops, in the building sort of opposite Zodio and on the back corner - I hope you find it from that!!)
This is a park where you can walk around the whole of France in a couple of hours (or longer/shorter!), taking in all of the famous sights...in miniature. The wide appeal of this place is genius; from adults and school children of all ages from a fun educational point of view, and to my toddlers who are obsssed with the numerous miniature electrics trains that are whizzing around the whole of miniature France! We had a season pass last season and went lots. In fact one day we told our son that we were heading to the Eiffel Tower for the morning, and so duly drove into Paris and parked up near Trocadero...only to be met with floods of tears because there weren't any little trains and the Tower was too big!!
There are also self operated theme park rides (to be understood you need to see them), which are mostly a little beyond my 3 year old, but he has still tried a couple. There is even a super fun looking indoor go kart area for slightly older/taller children than mine! There's a cafe, restaurant open at peaks times, picnic areas and a little gift shop. It is all pushchair friendily. France Miniature is closed over the winter, but in 2017 it opens on 1st April.
N.B. there is an App you can download onto your phone which is quite useful.
This is a great day out if you are into planes and space - who isn't! There really is something here for all the family. The scale of the place is epic. In addition to lots of huge indoor exhibitions (some of which are free), there's also a massive outdoor space and hangars full of airplanes, including a Concorde which you can go inside. It is closed at the moment for works, but there is also an area called Planete Pilote for 6-12 year olds - keep an eye on the website for when it re-opens. There is also a planetarium - we haven't been in this yet, but if it is as good as all of the other exhibitions, I am sure it won't disappoint.
A Playmobil enthusiasts dream - this is exactly what it sounds like - a fun park full of Playmobil! It's all inside, spanning 2 big rooms, with a cafe, seating areas and a Playmobil shop that you have to navigate through to exit the Fun Park (it's a bit like running a gauntlet - bon courage parents!!). It is fantastic. But, take heed that it does get very busy. If you're going on a weekend *get there early* would be our advice. Even when it's busy though, it's still crazy fun. If your child is into imaginative play and Playmobil, they will love it. Closed on Mondays during term time.
If you don't fancy lunch at the cafe inside, on the opposite side of the Fun Park carpark we found a yummy Japanese restaurant that the kids enjoyed, with highchairs.
Bio Tropica is a large indoor and outdoor Zoo. The inside section is rather tropical - indeed we visited on a cold February day and yet it didn't take long before the kids were stripped down to their vests! There are many different animals, birds and reptiles to see and the kids, my friends and I really enjoyed it. My son and his older friends particularly loved the crocodiles, whereas I was rather chuffed to find an Axolotl because I think they are extremely cool!
This attraction is a little bit further from Paris, but it is a really super day out, so worth the travel. There is a really good cafe and restaurant, with highchairs.
This Ice Rink is relatively new and a great place to take little ones to have a glide about on the ice. I took my toddler when he had just turned 3...and whilst he was really too young to have a proper go, we still had a really fun morning. They have toddler/child skating aids, like in the photograph below and in a penguin shape too! There are other ice rinks about. Albeit a little further from Paris, I have heard good things about La Patinoire in Mantes-la-Jolie too.
Last but certainly not least... Oh Disney, I adore thee! I am on my second annual pass! There is nowhere else like it, and even if you are skeptical before going - it cannot fail to win you over. There are 2 parks - Disney and the Studios. There are rides for all ages, shows, parades, characters to meet, and dine with should you wish, restaurants and shops AND the truely awesome fireworks and laser show every evening. There is even a real steam train that travels around the Disney park all day.
Disney is must do if you are in or anywhere near Paris! A great day out for the whole family. To fully enjoy Disney, I believe that the key is in the planning. If you just turn up you will likely waste time wondering around and queuing for a few rides only. It is an expensive day out so this would not be a lot of fun.With this in mind get the best deal you can on your entrance ticket, and by deploying your best skills of preparation and savvy you can really maximise your time in the parks. There is a really good Disney App and you can check ride queue times live.
Keep an eye on Five Little Stars for our top tips for Disney with young children coming soon. I don't profess to know everything, but as I go approximately every 6 weeks (usually on my own or with friends) with my two toddlers, I'm probably nearly a professional!
Disney is utterly magical.
And don't forget....
Soft Plays - Outside of Paris you are spoilt for choice...!
Always a winner with energetic children and guaranteed to wear them out. A great option for cold/rainy days of course, but also when it's scorching hot if you're seeking air conditioning. Keep an eye out for the blog I am currently working on of the ones we have tried or heard good things about... coming very soon!
(If you don't want to miss out having read my Disney and Soft Play teasers above then you can subscribe to Five Little Stars here).
Here in the suburbs we feel so lucky to have all of this in easy access, but also the beautiful and vibrant city of Paris is literally just down the road or half an hour on the train - the best of both worlds I think! If you are in Paris, or visiting, and the sun doesn't have his hat on for you, here are some ideas from Alison of things to do with young children in the City.
Have fun adventures!
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