We have heard it all before and some of you may have experienced it firsthand – Paris can be a difficult place for families to visit – especially families with young children. The city is enormous, crowded, chaotic, and at times unforgiving. Over the years, we have been able to find a handful of neighborhoods that provide a relaxing and engaging experience for our entire family. One of these neighborhoods is the 19th arrondissement.
The 19th arrondissement is located in the northeastern part of the city. It is home to an amazing number of sites and experiences that are not found on the typical list of places to see and visit. What makes the 19th so special is that it will provide you with an authentic Parisian experience to sink into and soak up. And, when you want to see the big sites, it’s easy to find your way there via the Paris Métro.
When we visit, our home base of choice is a rental apartment nestled in between Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the Canal de l’Ourcq. The apartment is surrounded by everything you want out of a stay in Paris and more. There is a marché, a fromagerie, a boucherie, and a pâtisserie all located directly below the apartment.
Most mornings, we open up the windows to get a better view of Parisian life unfolding before us. If we are awake early enough, we hear the rush of the water hoses washing the floor of the market. We see the shopkeepers setting up the tables of produce – carefully sorting, placing, and arranging fruits and vegetables throughout the stalls. We watch people stream into and out of the market below and hear a constant chatter of conversation – Bonjour. Salut. Ça va? Merci bien! À bientôt. And, if we are lucky, we see refrigerated trucks filled with legs of beef and watch the strongmen carry the pieces into the boucherie. A sight rarely seen stateside!
One of our favorite times to visit Paris is during the summer solstice. The city literally comes alive with free concerts throughout all of the arrondissements on this longest day of the year. Known as the Fêtes de la Musiques you can experience everything from the French National Symphony, to jazz, to folk, to electronic dance, to world music. Literally, the sound of music dots the landscape as you make your way throughout the city and the 19th is no exception.
The music in the 19th during the Fêtes is organic and engaging. I still remember the ensemble of jazz musicians all in orange t-shirts and tank tops jamming on the street corner next to bank of Canal de l’Ourcq. Neighbors, friends, and family surrounded the ensemble on the sidewalk and spilled out onto the street. We danced our hearts out with young and old alike as the talented musicians played their set.
On summer evenings, hipsters, and families of all ages line the banks of the canal with their picnics while they soak up the evening sun. Underneath the tree-lined boulevards of both sides of the canal, games of pétanque, and chess dominate the view. The playgrounds are filled with the shrieks and cries of children running and playing.
If you are looking for traditional tourism, Canal de l’Ourcq is also the starting point for a wonderful Canal-based boat tour. The boat tour traverses the city’s canals and locks along the eastern side of the city reaching up to Parc de la Villette to the north and Place de la République to the south. Along the way, you will cruise along the canal underneath idyllic and Instagram-worthy Parisian steel bridges and through a myriad of intricate locks.
A few minutes to the north of our rental apartment is the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. This park is one of the most beautiful and romantic parks in the city. Here you will find runners and walkers winding their way around the park’s hilly perimeter throughout the day. Families, friends, and couples picnic on the grassy lawns at lunch and dinner times. In the mornings, you can find and even join a group of Parisians practicing tai-chi. It is a truly beautiful and serene sight watching all of those bodies moving slowly and intentionally through each pose.
For kids, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is an absolute paradise. There are playgrounds, sandboxes, a carousel, carnival games, and donkey rides throughout the extensive park. You will also find one of the rarest of treats an old-fashioned marionette show at Le Théâtre Guignol Anatole. The star of the show is Guignol a slapstick comedian akin to Punch and Judy. The first few rows are reserved for kids and our son shouted and belly laughed with all of his French peers throughout the entire performance. It was incredible.
When we are ready to experience some serious tourism, we head out to the Jardin de Luxembourg to relax in the sun lounging in the metal chairs strewn across the park. Here our son loves to play with the bateaux in the fountain using wooden sticks to push the sailboats from one side to the other. It’s truly a sight to behold watching kids race around the fountain in endless circles to chase their tiny sailboat.
Afterwards, we wander up to the Sorbonne where we peek into bookshops and watch pianists try their hand at a ragtime song or two at the public pianos at the Place de la Sorbonne. Other days we may continue north and stop in the Marais and grab a take out falafel sandwich from Chez Marianne and lounge in Place des Vosges. Or we may find our way to the Centre Pompidou to enjoy crêpes and glasses of cidre while our son glides across the square on his scooter under the watchful eye of the mega mural Chut! From there, we slip into Église St. Merri to see contemporary art on display.
When we have had enough of the crowds and the tourists, we simply hop back on the Métro and return to our home away from home in the 19th.
This is just a small sampling of our experience as a family in the City of Lights. We hope you enjoy your time in Paris as much as we have. Also, check out my post with tips on how to navigate Paris with kids called, When are we going to stop walking? I’m tired.
Dorothy Hoffman is the creator of the travel blog, Squirts and Seniors. She is a Gen X-er who writes about traveling at home and abroad with her young son and aging parents.