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Growing up, my dad’s battle cry was, “Tour it, explore it and adore it!” Entire weekends were spent discovering Washington D.C. (with kazoos in hand). Because I helped plan the days we spent there, the museum-lined National Mall became both our second backyard and my very first frontier.
So in celebration of freedom of choice and “seizing the day,” here’s a grab bag of activities for kids in Paris that not only would have captured my imagination at age 10, but still holds magical appeal today.
So play on, Cheapos!
1. 400 bows: The Doll Museum
Got a broken doll or a one-eyed sock monkey? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Véronique Derez at the Le Musée de la Poupée. La Docteur Miracle is usually on call on Thursday afternoons, and will gladly mend eyeballs, replace lashes and repair heads. Permanent collection feature the 400 historic French dolls.
Check out the clothing for the dollies in the gift boutique. Looking for a vintage doll to call your very own? Skip on over to the Porte de Vanves Flea Market any weekend morning.
2. Day for knight: the Army Museum
Nestled in what was once Louis XIV’s military hospital, the Musée de l’Armée is a definite hit not to be missed. Watch out for Catherine de Médici’s stone bow and Henri IV’s sword, dripping in mother-of-pearls. See Charles de Gaulle’s leather bomber jacket, and Napoleon’s tent, hat and little dog too!
Up in the attic, model railroad bugs can feast their eyes on the military model collection. On either end of your visit, picnic down the street on the grassy Champs de Mars. This former marching grounds is my favorite spot for gazing up at the Eiffel Tower, sun soaking and people-watching.
3. A real scoop: The new Chocolate Museum
Around St. Valentine’s Day 2010, Le musée Gourmand du Chocolat opened its doors in the heart of Bonne Nouvelle. The museum serves up 4,000 years of history, along with free chocolate samplings. Signage is in both French and English, and at a kid’s eye view, to boot
After your tour, stop by the shop for cookbooks and molds, along with chocolate lipsticks, candles and bags of chocolate from all over the globe. Ooh, la la. Also, Cheapos, discount bookstore Mona Lisait and Le Grande Rex movie palace are located just a few blocks away.
4. Right round like a record: The carousels
The Sun King set the French love affair with the carousel in motion when he installed a wooden one in his amusement park at Versailles! Today nearly every square in Paris boasts one. My favorite carousel is deep in the Jardin du Luxembourg (where kids try to spear brass rings with tiny lances), designed by Opéra architect Charles Garnier.
My pet merry-go-round spins at the Place des Abbesses. The difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round? The latter features a variety of animals and transports, while the former only wild horses!
5. Send in the clowns
But think seasonal. During the fall and winter, warm-up with the clowns at Cirque d’hiver Bouglione. Imagine! Degas, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec all sat tight on the same velvet seats at this old one ring circus.
Tips: Stop by the nearby Clown Bar for a pre-show nibble. Its circus memorabilia-covered walls and frites will help get the party started. Pack your camera because there’s usually a photo-op with the troupe during intermission. For the love of Bozo, just do it.
During the warmer months, get punchy with the 202-year-old puppet Guignol and his rowdy entourage at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont’s Théâtre Guignol Anatole. Before moving to the park in 1867, this same theater worked the crowds into laughing frenzies over on the Champs Élysées.
There are more than a dozen puppet theaters in Paris. For current show listings, pick up a copy of Pariscope (the weekly entertainment guide) at any newsstand or kiosk. Buttes-Chaumont’s temple, cliffs, cavern and waterfall lend a panoramic backdrop to any scene.
Best French supermarket cookies (for touring fatigue): Lu Biscuits
Best French soda pop (in a super cool bottle) to order in a café: Orangina
Best place to score the perfect snow globe: the shops at the Place du Tertre in Montmartre
Best street candy: Germany’s Haribo (another meltdown cure)