Paris has a reputation as one of the world's most romantic cities, the setting for countless dramas, historic moments and stormy affairs – both real and imagined. But the French capital also has plenty to keep small children amused. Indeed, the City of Lights has lots of family-friendly destinations on offer, ensuring a bit of fun for everyone. So hold onto your beret and prepare for a tour de force.
City of Chocolates
Paris in spring is the ultimate destination: colourful trees, shady streets with endless cafes and flowers pouring from graceful French windows. Then there's the smell of fresh baguettes and those long walks amidst your thoughts along streets that mirror the architecture of downtown Cairo – but very well preserved.
From a child's point of view, all of this might be a bit underwhelming, but with spring comes Easter, and this happens to be good news for chocolate lovers.
"Caramel, bonbon et chocolate," as renowned music diva Dalida puts it: for at least one week each year, Paris is all about sweets, the City of Lights tansformed into the City of chocolates.
Wherever you set foot, you'll find Easter eggs, bunnies, tarts, cakes in their forms. Most of the local brands put the emphasis on dark choclocate, as do the chocolatiers. And since dark cholcoate is healthier (containing fewer calories) there seems no harm in a once-a-week chocolate treat. My son certainly had the time of his life.
Drop the tourist act
Travelling with kids gives you a fresh eye on things; everything is so new and glamorous and worth exploring. By "everything" we do not mean the Eifel Tower or the Louvre; we mean everything else – all the stuff we normally miss while standing in long lines for museums and other must-see attractions.
And by allowing our kids to become our compass on a day out, we benefitted from their skill at finding ways to enjoy even the most ordinary surroundings. Indeed, it was only when we dropped the tourist act and behaved like a Parisian family that we started to get a real feel for the city.
For example, there are dozens gardens and parks in Paris. In addition to the standard green spaces in which kids can run around, there are some special locations dedicated to the amusement of children. Such parks include the Cite des Infants (with an interactive science center for kids), and Le Jardin d'Acclimatation.
Of course, if you kids just want to roll on the grass and feed the ducks, that can certainly be arranged.
Descendants of the Egyptian Giraffe roaming happily in the zoo (Photo: Amira El Noshokaty)
A day at the zoo
Our first stop was the zoo – or Parc Zoologique de Paris – one of the facilities of the National Museum of natural history.
Animals from all corners of the earth are found at the zoo, which is quite small compared to Giza Zoo. But here the comparison ends. We watched lions bathing in sunlight; penguins gazing at us from their glass pool. There must have been around ten giraffes too.
It's worth noting that the first giraffe Paris knew was a gift from Egypt during the reign of Mohamed Ali Pasha. You can read all about it at the zoo's cafeteria.
We picked out some food and beverages and went for a little picnic right outside the main gates, on the left.
Giraffes at the zoo in Paris (Photo: Amira El Noshokaty)
Out in nature
Not far away, you'll find Lac Daumesnil, a large lake set in parkland, ideal for a bit of communing with nature. With all shades of green, pink and purple in one scene, the park could really bring out the artist in you too. The bridge and the petit rowing boats call to mind the paintings of Monet and his impressionist friends.
Aside from sailing and feeding the ducks, this is a great place for strolling, playing outdoor games and climbing trees. The trees here are especially low, perfect for the little monkeys to explore with no major risk.
There is also a merry-go-round and an ice-cream stand a few meters away.
Inside the Sacre Couer (Photo: Amira El Noshokaty)
Prayers and portraits
When in Paris, a visit to Montmartre – the famous hill topped with a white church – is a must. At the foot of the hill, you will find the Moulin Rouge, one of the oldest cabaret clubs in Paris. Built in 1889, then rebuilt after it was burnt down in 1915, this red windmill is where the high-kicking can-can dance famously flourished.
Opposite is the stop for the little white train that takes you on a short guided tour up the hill. The train toils and turns through the small alleys as the driver explains the history of the district and the hands that built the Sacre Coeur church at the top.
The ride ends at the plateau by the church, from which one can see the whole of Paris. Built between 1875 and 1914 and sporting a white dome, the church – correctly called a basilique – stands at the highest point in Paris.
Lighting a candle on a Sunday during the Easter holidays was bliss. Dozens of shimmering candles echoed the hopes and prayers of people from all over the world.
Behind the church, artists also have their sacred hub. Here painters such as Monet and Picasso went to work with their paint brushes, and today you can get your portrait done – or that of your child – as you sit and watch the world go by. Assuming your child is willing to sit still long enough, they will surely treasure a personalized portrait as a memento of their trip.
Artists drawing portraits in Paris (Photo: Amira El Noshokaty)
Meeting Mickey Mouse
If your kids are between four and fourteen, Euro Disney is probably mandatory. You can book your tickets online, including from the fnac website.
And, of course, it's not just for the kids. The park is a big bubble of joy: the candy colors and cartoon characters that remind you of your childhood and all that you've left behind are all waiting to catch up with the child within you.
We walked into Aladdin's palace and watched the story unfold scene by scene. We jumped into the ship of Captain Hook and actually met him at one point. We lined up for an hour to shake hands and have our picture taken with Mickey Mouse
You can do the same with spider man, by the way, but you need to book an appointment in advance. We got lost in the maze of Alice, and attended her famous tea party. And yes, we took a ride on Dumbo's back.
We also took the boat ride and reflected that, as the song says, "It's a small world after all."
Making my own scent in Paris
Little grown-up treats
After so much child-like fun, its probably good for the grown-ups to have a little grown-up treat. And there is no shortage of grown-up treats in Paris. I managed to squeeze in two of my favourties: perfume and food.
In the land of perfume, one is tempted to create one's own. I booked an appointment to create my own scent at Le Studio des Parfums, a specialist perfume shop in the fashionable Marai district. Guided by the resident experts, I managed to make my first perfume; I named it "Spring in Paris".
Now for some serious local cuisine. Crepe and croissant aside, authentic French cuisine is a journey in itself.
We headed for Dans les Landes, a top-notch restaurant in the Latin Quarter that gets excellent reviews. And we were not disappointed.
We experienced an exquisite sample of classic French dishes, but with a modern twist. Guided by our food-expert friend, we worked our way through some real gourmet delights, taking in everything from duck to fried camembert cheese.
All in all, taking the kids to Paris was hardly a chore. If anything, their presence brought the place to life, adding a new twist to an old and much-loved recipe.
Art hub is a real treat fro kids and adults alike (Photo: Amira El Noshokaty)