Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Parc de la Villette: A Kids' Paradise in Paris

Whenever I used to imagine living overseas, I always pictured myself somewhere in France or maybe Italy, not tropical Malaysia which is where I ended up. Well, if I actually did live in Paris, Parc de la Villette would probably become a favorite spot for our family to return to again and again. At 61 acres, it's home to an excellent children's museum, Europe's largest science museum, concert venues, and an IMAX theater. This modern, quirky, urban park located outside of the tourist zone is also a wonderful outdoor space teeming with activities for the young and old. (Hey, who's calling me old?)

The Biggest Science Museum in Europe

Turbulence Clock at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie demonstrates Chaos Theory

By the time we hit our 8th day in Paris, the kids were ready for something bordering on the normal instead of the iconic. While they had surpassed my expectations with their enjoyment of the Louvre, science and technology is more their style. That's why I planned an outing to Parc de la Villette's Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie which was on Frommer's list of 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up. A handy map and guide by the ticket booth was very helpful in figuring out the age appropriateness for each section. It was spot on with suggesting that kids as young as 6 years would enjoy the Sounds section while the concepts in Mathématiques were better suited for those age 10 years and older. Most explanations were in French, English, and Spanish. All in all, I'd say it's a good outing for school age kids all the way up to adults, especially if the weather outside is cold or rainy.

Fun Children's Museum

Cité des Enfants -- Finally, a museum for kids
Archimedes screw, balancing balls on water jets, leaf cutter ants, and measuring running speed

Cité des Enfants, a children's museum, is located within the same building as Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie but requires a separate admission fee. After a whole week of muttered warnings not to touch that Monet/Matisse/Da Vinci, I could finally relax and let my kids run free to poke and prod whatever they liked. Water exploration, the garden, and the factory were the highlights for my kids.

Note that you have to buy tickets for a specific 90-minute session and definitely have to clear out when your session is over. Tip: Reserve your session on-line ahead of time if you are going during a busy period. While we wished we could stay longer, I really appreciated that this method keeps the exhibits from becoming overcrowded.

The area for 5-12 year olds focuses on science and technology while the area for 2-7 year olds features entertaining early learning activities. You cannot switch between these two sections during a session.

IMAX theatre

La Géode IMAX theatre

An IMAX theatre is housed inside La Géode adjacent to the museums. This is the Mirror Ball building I told you about in my last post.

Carnival Rides

Taking a spin at Parc de la Villette

After the museums closed for the day, we walked back through the park and found it to be quite a lively place on a summer evening with tons of kids on scooters and one large group doing a dance on the grass. My kids noticed the carnival rides, so we stopped to literally take a spin. The double decker carousel featured a Jules Verne theme, and the younger children were lined up for riding cars on a turntable. My own made a beeline for the flying chair swings.

Pedaling a horse and carriage

Themed Gardens where Kids can Romp

Burning off energy at the Garden of Dunes and Wind

Ten themed gardens create interesting playgrounds for the kids and places for families to explore. We decided to skip the Garden of Childhood Fears and headed directly to the Garden of Dunes and Wind which had caught our eye earlier when we strolled through the park.

Some kids sped down the zipline while others ran in the hexagonal framed hamster wheels. Games of tag ensued up and down the hilly dunes that hid the tunnels below. Each windmill was connected to  pedals so that kids could work to make them spin. Children jumped along rows of air cushions like a giant, outdoor bounce house.

A different section was set aside for toddlers and young children so that they wouldn't be mowed over by boisterous older kids. This garden also had the most comfortable semi-reclined chairs for parents that I've ever experienced in a playground. Best of all, the entire garden is fenced in so that you don't have to worry about youngsters wandering off.

... And so much more!

Watching the horses exercise before their performance at La Grande Halle,
a former abattoir (slaughterhouse) turned performance venue.

Okay, I didn't actually get around to doing everything in Parc de la Villette because it's so huge. Other things to do include:
  • Taking a 2.5 hour cruise through the locks and under bridges of St. Martin canal on either Canauxrama or Paris Canal to/from central Paris
  • Explore Cité de la Musique  which houses a museum, concert hall, studios, conservatory and what appeared to be a happening restaurant
  • Crawl around on the Argonaute, a 1950s era submarine
  • Watch an open-air movie at the Prairie du Triangle on a summer night, although I'm not sure if English subtitles are offered
  • Attend a concert or performance at La Grande Halle, the Conservatoireor Zenith Concert Hall
  • Dine at one of the food stands throughout the park. There's something for everyone -- cotton candy, churros, ice cream, wine, sandwiches, more wine...

As I said, this park is enormous. Fortunately, they have a really great online map of where everything is located along with directions for numerous ways to get to the park (metro, bus, streetcar, bicycle, car, boat canal, etc.). Click here for handy website.

Related Posts:
The Géode as Big as the Ritz

This post is part of "Travel Photo Thursday" on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Photo Friday" on Delicious Baby, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper and "Friday Daydreamin" at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. Hi Michelle, its impressive that your kids are into science and techonolory. Sounds like you have adorable little geeks:) Parc de la Villette looks like an amazing place for kids and adult. I haven't been to that part of Paris. I'd love to check it out next time I visit.
    Love you photo of the turbulence clocks. Looks so mysterious and dramantic.

  2. I loved that shot of the carnival ride - perfect way to catch the fun of the day (looks like kids of all ages could have a great time there - even those in adult bodies).

  3. A great place to visit with kids :)

  4. Love your "taking a spin"and the "pedaling the horse and carriage". Great Photos.

  5. This looks like fun, regardless of your age. I would definitely want to visit the Garden of Dunes and Wind.

  6. That's a lot of fun places to discover with children, how amazing is that!

  7. This sounds so neat and amazing I need to take my kids here next time :) We never made it outside of the tourist zone so this place looks like a fun way to spend the day. Love the carnival ride photo! My husband and I would totally love being here too. Glad the kids enjoyed it!

  8. What great places! Makes me wish I was a kid (or at least in Paris)!

  9. Parc de la Villette sounds like a wonderful place for kids to explore, learn and have fun. Lots for adults, too. I'd like to take the cruise of the St. Martin Canal that you mentioned.

  10. Must be kids' heaven :). Thank you for visiting our Poppy field of Provence. Have a beautiful weekend!

  11. Wow - this looks like an exciting place for kids to let loose! And it's great that they have wine on hand!

  12. These are fabulous tips for visiting Paris with children. My 11-year-old would love Cité des Sciences.

  13. There looks like there is sooooo much to do there! Sounds like a great place to explore. Paris has been on my bucket list for a while and this seems like somewhere else to add to the list!

  14. Wow, I've never been to this park in Paris, and I'm always looking for great things to do with kids in Europe! Thanks for all the info!

  15. That is wonderful, I think it is so important to have a lot of child friendly things to do when on holiday on where you live. It all looks like so much fun!


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