If you have considered taking your kids on a trip to France, museums are inevitably part of the discussion. France is rich with culture and history, and has the best museums in Europe. But many couples are unsure of how their kids will react to too many museums. In this post, we will discuss the most important things to know about taking your kids to museums in France.
Europe’s Best Art Museums
You should consider that even adults get tired of too much classic art. It’s difficult for the laymen to really connect with some artwork. I know that it took me years to really appreciate some of the greats. So how can we expect kids from 6-13 to appreciate these works? You have to select carefully. If you choose the correct venue, it can lead to a truly remarkable experience. The Museum of Modern Art (Musee d’Art Moderne) in Ceret, France, is a great example of somewhere to take your kids. This museum is remarkable for the quality of works coupled with the lack of crowds. We stayed in the center of Ceret for two weeks. Famous painters such as Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, and Pablo Picasso spent considerable amounts of time in this city during their careers (as did Salvador Dali who will be discussed later in this article). You can really channel your inner artistic impulses in this leafy, cobblestoned town. The museum was sparsely populated when we went, and a special exhibit with the aforementioned greats was running. The lack of crowds made taking the kids a breeze.
If you are near Ceret, France, I strongly recommend the Salvador Dali Museum. It is a short drive across the Spanish border. Our two kids, ages 10 and 8, liked this museum the most. It is a thorough presentation of Dali’s works, covering a variety of his styles. I was not a Dali fan initially, but after this visit I am. Dali and his wife designed this museum wonderfully, and I am personally grateful that he created a space my kids would also enjoy. That was unexpected.
If you are American, the Omaha Beach and other D-Day sites are a must. We owe it to the troops who fought and died to see this spot once in our lives. There are enough sights in the area for a history buff to spend a week. The towns are quiet and picturesque. Colleville-sur-Mer is one such town that you pass through on the way to Omaha Beach. Many stay in nearby Bayeux, which is a terrific city. I’ve never been to Bruges, but it seems like it’s a mini-Bruges. You can easily reach all D-Day sites with a car from here. We were staying in Southern Normandy. It was an hour long drive to the sights. Therefore we only had one day, and here’s my recommendation: visit Omaha Beach cemetary. There is a free museum on the lower floor with some explanation of the D-Day event itself. We spent about 30 minutes here, and then went up to the cemetery. This is an outdoor site that is perfect for children. Our kids were able to reflect on the gravity of the situation, surrounded by monochromatic gravestone crosses, while also having room to move around and speak in normal voices. It is important for children to gain an understanding of war, without overdoing it. Our kids had plenty of questions while reading the inscriptions on the gravestones. This was a fantastic learning opportunity.
I recommend having a fun activity to backup the Omaha Beach sight. For us, this was swimming in Arromanches-les-Bains, followed by ice cream. This touches on a larger point: the need to factor in the kids’ stamina for historical sites. It may be difficult to consider during the planning stages, but a day with kids should not be filled with only sightseeing and museums. Swimming, a fun meal, or a trip to a playground can offer a respite for the kids. It’s something to look forward to for them, and we found that their attention was held longer when they knew the day wasn’t going to be too much of a marathon. Remember that children’s brains lack a fully-developed prefrontal cortex. Translation: they don’t see the larger picture that adults do.
Also in Normandy is the magnificent Mont St. Michel. This will likely be a 1.5 hour drive for those staying around D-Day sights. It is worth the drive. I had not considered making the trip until I looked into it further. We splurged on an overnight hotel stay at the Hotel Gabriel. I must admit, my tourist ripoff radar went off a bit before we actually go to the area. I always assume the worst about a tourist sight as a paranoid American. But this experience was the opposite. It was a memorable place. Our hotel was nice, and the breakfast was great. Staying here allowed us to make an early trip the next morning, and a nighttime trip after dinner which was magical. The tickets for Abbey Nocturnes (nighttime tour of the abbey only offered on select days) are slightly higher but worth it.
It seems incongruous to include French Chateux in an article about making museums fun for kids. Aren’t these stuffy places for baby boomers in tour groups? Quite the contrary: these Chateux were some of the best places we found to go with kids on our trip to France! It seems the nobility who built these grand abodes were children at heart. Take Villandry, in Indre-et-Loire (Western Loire Valley). This chateau showcases beautiful gardens that stretch for many acres. The layout allows for plenty of space, and the kids enjoyed all the nooks and crannies. If the weather is nice, you can easily spend 1.5 hours in the gardens alone.
We also visited Chenonceau, which is built over the Loire River. There was a vast outdoor space here, with multiple areas to explore for kids. The inside is remarkable as well. I was surprised when my son wanted to explore much of the inside. My expectation is that I won’t see every square inch of these places like I might if I were just with my wife. We spent a lot of time examining the kitchen layout and instruments. The bedrooms were interesting enough. As with any museum, don’t push it with the kids. Plan on having to leave about 1.5 hours into the excursion. The chateaux offer the asset of outdoor exploration which is invaluable in extending the timeline.
A place in Paris I had never considered before having children is the Catacombs. But we did enjoy it. If you have the time, it is a decent value and interesting to see once. I scored some half-priced “day of” tickets for the adults, and the kids were free. These tickets go fast, so you’ll probably get an afternoon slot. Once you’re out of the Catacombs, you’ll be close to the Notre Dame Cathedral and various neighborhoods of interest in that area. Note: the Catacombs are on the periphery of the tourist core, at the Denfert Rocherou (literally “gate of hell”), so when finished you may want to immediately head back to where you are staying to get a meal.
Practical Considerations for Taking Your Kids to Museums In France
The cost of entry is approximately $50-$60 USD for most sights I’ve listed for a family of four with two children. While some sites offer free entry for children under 11, most at least offer a reduced price. Most of the museums offer headset guided tours. If you are like me, your initial reaction is to push these away as veiled attempts at your pocketbook (paranoid American, remember?). I would not be so quick. We found that the right headset is a great value. Use them judiciously. We didn’t get them at either chateau. The free pamphlets there gave enough guidance to our walk. As if the Ceret Musee d’Art Moderne could be any more of a bargain, they have free QR coded tour for your smartphone (bring some headphones). The Catabombs offered a portable tour pack, but no headphones, which was odd. We purchased four headsets, which told good stories and history. It’s possible you could get by with only two and have a kid pair off with each adult to save $10 USD. At the Musee d’Orsay we bought four headsets (booked in advance thankfully, as they ran out and were turning people away). These headsets had a number code associated with many of the works, and you would enter the number to get the information. They had codes for children, but we found the children’s codes a bit sparse, unfortunately.
The Musee d’Orsay is something I’ll always remember. What a fantastic museum. The kids ran out of energy here given the sheer size, but we planned well and were able to spend a couple of hours. The kids will look back and realize they saw Monet’s Coquelicots in-person, and how truly special this was.
With any museum, it is negligent to not book in advance. Unless it’s truly a last minute decision, the internet has allowed for a degree of advanced planning our parents could have only dreamed of. Get tickets on your smartphone, and of course book as far out as you can. For both the Orsay and the Eiffel Tower (not mentioned in this post), we booked two weeks in advance in late September which was barely enough time. I would imagine for summer months triple that lead time.
Planning for these museum days is key. Take a backpack with snacks, water, raincoats if needed, and any fun games the kids can play. These games are good for the post-museum briefing meal while the parents sip wine and finally get to talk about the magnificence of these bucket list art pieces.
Getting to museums in Paris is very easy as long as you learn the metro system. A quick primer is helpful here: kids are not free on the metro; they are half-priced. You cannot buy a single child ticket in the kiosk. You need to buy a book of 10 (as of October, 2022). We bought books of 10 for both adults and kids. This is a good value. You then simply insert your ticket in the turnstile and take it on the other side. Our kids got good at this which made me proud as a veteran backpacker.
Always remember to go at the pace of the child. Rarely does pushing them get you anywhere, especially with stubborn kids. I allude to this when I write about teaching your kids to ski. You want positive associations. That’s perhaps the only thing you’ll ultimately get out of the trip. Therefore, don’t push it! No more than one big league museum in a day, with bookend fun stops. It helps to try and line up a plan for the post-museum restaurant so you don’t waste valuable time wandering.
I hope this post is helpful as you plan your trip to France. Taking your kids to museums in France can seem daunting, and even a bad idea. But you may be planting the seeds of true art lovers, and thereby giving your kids an invaluable gift.