12 January 2013

paris museums with children: 10 tips

"This is my favorite because is reminds me of Desigual!"

We recently spent a week in Paris with our eight-year-old daughter, where we spent a bit of time visiting museums. This part of our visit went exceptionally well, and I thought I'd share a few strategies I've learned for visiting museums with children. Before getting started with my list, I urge you to be flexible and to get your child a small sketchbook and pencil to bring along on the trip.

1.  The long lines can test the patience of the most eager adult visitor; they can ruin a visit for children before they even get a chance to enter. Even with the Paris Museum Pass, we waited for 60 minutes for access to the Pompidou Center one morning. We took turns waiting in line and exploring the immediate area with our daughter, making the time seem to pass much more quickly for her. Also...be reasonable. After waiting for 60 minutes to enter, it was impossible to wait in yet another long line for the special Dali exhibit once inside. We missed it.

2. Let the child's interest drive the visit. I know that this may be difficult for some who have life-long dreams of visiting these museums, but I think it is important to find a compromise. I was deeply moved by this installation in the Pompidou Center while my daughter found it fit to count the number of bodies. I gave her a brief explanation of the art but could quickly tell her interest was not peaked, so I let it go...just like that, but not before asking her the number of bodies.

3. Slow down. Talk. Engage. Sit for a spell. If possible, do so in front of a piece of art that prompts conversation. "Do you see any people in this picture? How many do you see? What do you think they are doing? Are any of them children? Take a closer look. How is this piece of art like the last piece we saw? Do you think you could create a painting like this one? What is your favorite color in this painting?" Most children don't have much background knowledge, no schema, to bring to this art...at least not like we do. They won't automatically engage but a few choice questions will work wonders to activate what they do know. Make sure they have pencils and sketchbooks handy. 

4. Listen to their ideas about the art. What is striking to children will not be the same that is deemed valuable or interesting to adults. Let them know that you value their ideas. Here she is excitedly pointing out the number of animals in this painting, "Marriage at Cana" in the Louvre.  My husband let her know that he was interested in her interests. At times this might mean that you'll have to fake it, but be careful with that because children can smell an imposter!

5. Get some picture books from your local library before you go. Read them to your children. Katy offers a list here to get you started. Before this trip we also added Not For Parents Paris to our collection and enjoyed Picasso and Minou from our library. We also found time to watch Ratatouille again, which resulted in her walking the streets of Paris quoting, "The best found in the world is in France. The best food in France is in Paris. The best food in Paris is at..." 

6. Let them be kids. Let them be silly.

7. Don't expect to cover the entire museum. We visited the  l'Orangerie just to see Monet's water lilies in their special oval-shaped rooms. I absolutely would have loved to explore more of the space, but understood the need to compromise with the little girl who had already had a long day.

8. Look for connections to their lives, to things that they do know! Several months before our trip, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret aloud to her, and then we followed up with the movie. I knew that we had to find the large clocks in the d'Orsay and climb to the top for a overall view of the train station. She loved discussing the fact that DaVinci is Italian yet his Mona is in France...the injustice! (She considers herself half American, half Italian.) We must bring her back!

9.  Don't push it. Really. It will be a disaster if you do. One of our favorite museums is the d'Orsay. Our daughter was unimpressed and not really willing to be cajoled into thinking otherwise. Who knows the reason! The day of the week? The time of day? The breakfast choice? The fact that it is our favorite? Once we realized that things were headed south we jumped ship.

10. Seek out museums that are for kids.  We did not do this because the visit went smoothly without it; however, I was prepared to visit this place or this place.

One more general tip:  Take advantage of late openings of many museums in Paris; get informed of the appropriate days and times. Also, pay attention to closing days.

For more tips about visiting Paris, you can see my other post: Paris: 3 Useful Resources and My Planning Strategy

Do you have additional tips for visiting museums with children? Please feel free to share in the comments.


  1. So glad to see that you all had such a good time and that you were able to hit so many of the museums. I wish we had had more time in Paris...guess that means we'll just have to go back :)

    Love the new blog header, too.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks, Lucia!
      Yes, you must return...again and again. I don't think I could ever tire of Paris.

  2. My kiddos have been dying to go to Paris! After Germany we can't help but go south. One of these days we are going to go with the children. Just like you when we go to places like this we give the children the map and let them choose where we are going to go first.

    1. My daughter was excited to visit Paris as well; this is not usually the case with most of the places we visit! Next on her list is NYC and Hawaii...smart girl.