GEOGRAPHY, HISTORY & CULTURE LESSON – learning about Paris (primary level)

I woke up a few weeks back now, on my 🐿 10th Groundhog Day, and decided that I would like to take the boys to 🗺 Paris . . . They have been asking to go for a while now, and I’ve always told them that we would go once they were old enough to be able to walk a fair distance without complaining (as Paris is a city for walking!). I think that they are the right age now: inquisitive, able to cope with a big city (we had a super weekend in Lyon in October last year and they are familiar with some landmarks in London, and we understand the public transport of big cities – remember, my boys are 🏔 mountain boys at heart; not big city boys!).

When I worked as 🗺 a tour leader for a company that organised trips to Europe for 🇺🇸 American teachers and their students, I visited Paris regularly – probably about seven to ten times a year! I also lived in Paris as a young child (4 to 7 years), and again as a university student. And so I feel I know the city well, I can close my eyes and see where the monuments and museums sit, and I have plenty of tales to tell from experience!

Bringing 🌃 a city alive virtually to one’s children is not quite like visiting, granted! But I decided that learning about Paris before our actual visit would also be good preparation for our eventual trip! Being 👩‍🏫 a trained teacher, I do like to set out aims and to prepare!

And so, still in my PJs, I dug out some of my 🗺 old maps of Paris and teaching tools that I used when I was on the move with my student groups (I even found 🎫 métro tickets and entrances to the Louvre – still valid!). Once the boys had had their breakfast (yes, I probably could have set up ☕️🥐 an atmospheric Parisian café for this, but I’d just woken up!), English, Maths and French morning lessons went out the window . . . and we headed instead to 🗺 Paris!

This is what I did:

1) I started off by 🎼 playing some famous songs about Paris:

  • 🎼 Les Champs-Elysées (1969) by Joe Dassin – for the rest of the day (and ever since!), I could hear my younger son singing the chorus Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées, au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit, il y a tout ce que vous voulez, aux Champs-Élysées;
  • 🎼 La Seine (2011) by Vanessa Paradis – from the animated film Un monstre à Paris (my 9 year old had already learned this song at school for a spectacle);

2) I then gave each boy 🗺 a map of Paris, and we looked at how the 💦 Seine river runs through the centre of the city, dividing it into the rive gauche and the rive droite . . . I explained how the 🗺 20 arrondissments made 🐌 a snail shape from 01 in the centre out to 20 on the far eastern side of the city. And then we looked at where some of the landmarks of Paris were located: La Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame de Paris (“there was a huge fire there last year!” said my eldest), Sacré-Cœur, Le Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe (“La Tour de France arrives there!“).

3) For my younger son, I found 📚 a sticker book about Paris that I had been saving for our real trip, and we spent the rest of the morning doing this, while big brother got back to his school work.

4) After that, we 🎨 made a postcard of Paris (using the fabulous app Canva) to send to the grandparents in England (see below!);

5) And finally, I began to get my thoughts into more order about other ways to present Paris to children. These ideas could perfectly well extend to any other city that you would like to visit virtually with your children; you don’t even need to be that familiar with said city, as you could all learn together?!

Paris – map, métro ticket and Louvre entrance ©

Introducing Paris – history

There are some 💻 good websites for children that give a brief introduction to the history of Paris, depending on their age group:

  • 💻 Britannica Kidshere (short and basic);
  • 💻 Kiddlehere;

Or you could watch a short video; see here:

And here is my own very ⌛️ history timeline for Paris:

[ note: this I have put together more for parents, in order to have an overview of Paris’ history! I have tried to include as much as possible, and also to keep it simple! ]

🔹Parisii– it is thought that a people called the Parisii founded a town on an island in the Seine river (Île de la Cité, where now sits Notre Dame) more than 2000 years ago (the name of this tribe was given to Paris);

Ile de la Cité – the Parisi camp © Wikipedia

🔹Romans – the Romans, under Julius Caesar, captured Paris in 52BC, and they captured the leader of the Gauls, Vercingetorix. They referred to it as Lutetia of the Parisii, or Lutetia Parisiorum. The conquerors built a typical Roman town centered on the hill where the Pantheon now stands, la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, and nearby you can still see vestiges of Roman times:

  • an arena in the 6th arrondissement of the city, les arènes de Lutèce (saved from destruction by Victor Hugo when they were discovered in the 19th century!);
  • the Roman baths and frigidarium at the Cluny Museum (the Musée National du Moyen Âge);

. . . and more (note: the right bank at this time was uninhabitable, as it was largely composed of marshes) / see this article in Paris Insider’s Guide for more details about Roman ruins in Paris;

Roman Lutetia ©
Roman Paris – from Asterix et Les Lauriers de Cesar (1971) ©

🔹Franks – as the Roman empire began to crumble in the west, a Germanic tribe – the Franks – moved into France, eventually giving the country its name. In 476AD, 👑 Clovis was coronated King of the Franks, founded the Merovingian dynasty, and made Paris his capital. The great warrior, and 👑 Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne (Carolingian dynasty) later moved his capital to Aachen in Germany, but Paris continued to flourish as a town, being sacked twice by the Vikings in the 9th century. 👑 Hugues Capet (Capetian dynasty) became king of France in 987, and he once again made Paris his capital;

Charlemagne © / by Amiel Louis-Félix (1802-1864)

🔹Medieval Paris – Medieval Paris eventually spread across the two river banks and the construction of ⛪️ Notre Dame Cathedral was commenced in 1163 (on Ile de la Cité, the birthplace of Paris), taking 200 years to build . . . The history of the 🏰 Louvre began around 1190 with 👑 Philippe Auguste’s decision to build a fortified enclosure to protect Paris. For a long time, the 👑 kings of France only controlled Paris and the surrounding areas, as much of the rest of France was in the hands of barons or the English (during the Hundred Years’ War, the English even controlled Paris from 1420 to 1437);

Medieval Louvre fortress © Louvre

🔹Renaissance Paris – by the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453, the English army had left Paris in ruins. 👑 Louis XI re-established prosperity and a renewed a taste for art, but it was 👑 François I (Valois dynasty) who restored Paris as the capital of France, and introduced the 🏛 Italian Renaissance, which flourished particularly in the Loire Valley, where he and later French kings built sumptuous palaces. Civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (the Religious Wars) brought a halt to much of the development in Paris, which only recommenced after peace was restored with 👑 Henry IV’s arrival on the throne, reaffirming the city’s power; he continued works on the 🏰 Louvre and the Tuileries palaces, he built the first Parisian bridge without houses (already approved by Henri III in 1577) Pont-Neuf in 1607, paradoxically now the oldest bridge in Paris! . . . He built new city squares that were geometrical and unified, like the Place des Vosges (his statue is to be found in the centre of this square). The Marais area of Paris developed greatly during his reign, with personal mansions (hôtels particuliers) built;

Pont-Neur © Le Carnavalet / Wikipedia

🔹Louis XIV, the Sun King (king from 1643 – 1715) – the longest reigning king in French history (72 years, from the age of 5!), 👑 Louis XIV (Bourbon dynasty), moved his entire court and ministers to 🏰 Versailles, after fleeing civil revolt of the Fronde in Paris; this reduced the importance of Paris, as Versailles served as the seat of the Absolute Monarchy until the French Revolution. And yet he still developed Paris, with the help of his minister Colbert:

  • 🏛 he established the first urbanism movement: after the destruction of the medieval walls, the outskirts of the city began to develop, and the faubourgs or outlying cities were incorporated into the capital;
  • 🏛 he brought classicism to the city, and developed ideas for perfect perspective and intricate, geometric city squares: the beautiful La Place Vendôme, designed by Versailles architect Jules Hardouin Mansart, for example;
  • 🌸 French-style gardens like the Tuileries were built, designed by Le Nôtre;
  • 🏰 Le Louvre was extended;
  • 🏛 more hôtels particuliers were built;
  • 🏛 Les Invalides: perhaps his most famous addition was a grandiose building for war veterans (see below);
Visit of Louis XIV to Les Invalides in 1706 (painting by Pierre-Denis Martin) © French Moments
Dôme des Invalides © Daniel Vorndran / DXR on Wikipedia

🔹French Revolution (1789 – 1799) – Paris was a big player in the 💥 French Revolution, with notable events like the 💥 Storming of the Bastille (4th July 1789), and the fleeing of the 👑 royal family (Louis XVI,his Austrian born wife, Marie Antoinette and their children) in 1791 from the Tuileries Palace to Varennes . . . and then the eventual beheading by the infamous guillotine of Louix XVI and Marie-Antoinette (along with a thousand or so others!), set up in Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde), a square built by Louis XV . . . that was the end of the 👑 Ancien Régime and Absolute Monarchy;

Storming of the Bastille and arrest of the Governor M. de Launay, July 14, 1789 © Jean-Baptiste Lallemand

🔹Napoléon Bonaparte and the French Empire (in power from 1804 – 1815) – Paris was the capital of the French Empire which, as well as France, covered much of Europe: Spain, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, most of Germany and some of Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Poland. During his time in power, Corsican-born Général Napoléon had himself coronated emperor, he took France into many 💥 battles, and he left his mark on Paris with:

  • 🏛 the Arc de Triomphe (his monument à la gloire de la Grande Armée; it was completed after his death!) ;
  • 🏛 various other Paris landmarks, all inspired by Ancient Rome: L’Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (Tuileries gardens), La Madeleine church, La Colonne Vendôme, Le Panthéon;
  • 🌉 new bridges . . .
  • 🌟 he also introduced street lighting and numbered roads . . .
  • 🏰 and he made the Louvre into France’s first museum;

Napoléon was eventually exiled to the 🗾 Tuscan island of Elba following the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1814), where he was nominally sovereign of Elba . . . he escaped back to France for the infamous “100 jours“, but was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and sent to the remote St Helena island, where he was imprisoned until he died. His majestic sarcophagus can be visited in Les Invalides;

Empereur Napoléon Ier (1805) © François Gérard
Tombeau de Napoléon Bonaparte, Les Invalides © French Moments

🔹Bourbon Restoration – in 1815, the 👑 monarchy was re-instated (a constitutional monarchy) in France under 👑 Louis XVIII (brother of Louis XVI). In 1830, the July Revolution then overthrew 👑 Charles X (younger brother of Louis XVI and Louis XVIII) and 👑 Louis-Philippe was coronated king in his place (the July Monarchy). Victor Hugo’s famous 1862 novel Les Misérables (a century later made into a musical and film) was set in this early 19th-century France (it begins in 1815 and culminates in the 1832, with the June Rebellion in Paris), and is the story of the peasant Jean Valjean and his desire for redemption, after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child; he and other characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists attempt to overthrow the government at a street barricade in Paris;

Portrait of “Cosette” by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables (1862)

🔹Napoléon III (in power 1848 – 1870) and the 2nd Empire – in the 19th century, Paris metamorphosed into a grand city, under the global urban vision of Napoléon III and his prefect Baron Haussmann:

  • 🏛 les grandes avenues replaced some of the antiquated medieval streets;
  • 🏛 there was a uniformed design of buildings and balconies (and much more; see below in Landmarks of Paris section for more information;

This was a time of industrial, intellectual and artistic expansion, and of a growing bourgeoisie, with an interest in collecting art. During Napoléon III’s reign, the 🏛Opéra Garnier was designed, built and frequented! 📚 Victor Hugo is France’s most famous writer of this period, and the late 19th century writer 📚 Emile Zola was also busy depicting the working classes of Paris during this time; he is best-known as a practitioner of the literary school of naturalism, and his 📚 Les Rougon-Macquart series of books tells the life of a family under the Second Empire. 📚 L’Assommoir was published in 1877, and the writer saw success after its publication, becoming a figurehead among the literary bourgeoisie.

Napoléon III © Wikipedia
Opéra Garnier © French Moments

🔹Franco-Prussian war (1870 – 1871) & the revolutionary Paris Commune – the 💥 Franco-Prussian War brought an end to Napoléon III’s reign; he was captured by the Prussians (Otto von Bismarck also secured Alsace-Lorraine as part of the German Empire), and the Third Republic of France was declared . . . you’ll find many monuments in Paris to remember this period: Sacré-Coeur was built both as a national penance for the defeat of France in the war and for the Paris Commune of 1871 (a radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from a few months);

La Commune 1871, Paris capitale insurgée (exhibition at l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, 2011) © Wikipedia

🔹La Belle Epoque Paris (1890 – 1914)named in retrospect, and considered Paris’ Golden Age, this was a period of peace nestled between the political instability of the Franco-Prussian war and WWI; a period characterised by optimism, economic prosperity, colonial empires, and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. 🏛 Art and architecture flourished, 🎨 the Impressionist movement developed, the Paris métro was built and the Eiffel Tower was constructed for World Exhibition of 1889;

Paris à la Belle Epoque ©
© ?

🔹WWI Paris (1914 – 1918) within a few weeks of the start of the 💥 war, Paris was close to the front lines, with young men departing to fight, refugees arriving at the train stations, and 💥 the bombing of the city by German aircraft and artillery. Paris endured food shortages, rationing, and an influenza outbreak during the war. Montparnasse became the new fashionable district for artists, writers and philosophers to meet. The end of the war – November 11, 1918 – saw 🎆 huge celebrations on the streets of Paris;

Maximilien Luce’s La Gare de l’Est sous la neige (1917) © Musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu à Mantes-la-Jolie (exposition 1917 au Centre Pompidou-Metz) / Wikipedia

🔹1920s Paris – the risqué image of Paris in the 1920s is still enjoyed today: great writers, philosophers and artists meeting in the café society of the city, before the economic depression of the 1930s;

🔹Paris during WWII – Paris was occupied by Nazi Germany from June 1940 until 24th August 1944, and German troops took control of Paris and many of the landmarks and hotels were used as their base (meanwhile, the puppet French state under Maréchal Pétain relocated to Vichy, while Géneral Charles de Gaulle organised the Resistance forces from London). During the Nazi control of the city, Jews in Paris were forced to wear the yellow Star of David badge, and then French police – on orders of the Germans – rounded up many, who were then sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp (there is a moving memorial just behind Notre Dame Cathedral). Meanwhile, the nightclubs of Montmartre remained open, profiting from a new clientele of German officers and soldiers. You can still see 💥 bullet marks on certain walls in Paris (see photo below) . . . Paris was liberated by French and American troops between 19th and 25th August 1944, and the next day General Charles de Gaulle led a 🎆 triumphant parade down the Champs-Élysées (see photo below), and established a new government;

© Cool Stuff in Paris
Chales de Gaulle on the Champs-Elysée © collections of the Imperial War Museums

This 📰 article in the Evening Standard shows how 📷 photographer Julien Knez brilliantly juxtoposes Paris during WWII (black and white photography) against the Paris of today:

Notre Dame Cathedral © Julien Knez

🔹Paris 1950s – after the war, Géneral Charles de Gaulle became president of the Vth republic, and oversaw the wars of indepence of the colonies: Indochine was ceded in 1954, followed by the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962) . . . The 1950s also marked the appearance of the 🎥 Nouvelle Vague cinema, and Paris is depicted in many of the films of the cinéastes (see film section below) of this period;

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in A Bout de Souffle © Jean-Luc Goddard

🔹May 1968 student revolts – perhaps the most spectacular manifestation of the worldwide student revolts of this period was the 💥 May 1968 protests in France, in which students linked up with wildcat strikes and civil unrest of up to ten million workers. For a momentous few days, the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government, and many feared a civil war or revolution. May 1968 is now an important reference point in French politics, representing for some the possibility of liberation, and for others the dangers of anarchy;

Place de la République protesters gather during the demonstration of May 13, 1968 in Paris © Jacques Marie / AFP Photo / Getty Images

🔹Modern Paris – 20th century presidencies were often marked by a signature landmark building in Paris:

  • 🏛 Georges Pompidou (1969 – 1974) – the Centre Georges Pompidou, located in the Beaubourg district (near Les Halles and le Marais, in 4e arrondissment), it was designed by the architectural team of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, the first major example of an inside-out building in architectural history, with its structural and mechanical systems and circulation exposed on the exterior of the building. It houses the Bibliothèque publique d’information (Public Information Library, a vast public library) and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, which is the largest museum of modern art in Europe;
  • 🏛 Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (1974 -1981) – he decided to convert the Gare d’Orsay, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, into a museum: the Musée d’Orsay (though it did not open until 1986), houses artwork from 1848 until 1914, bridgeing the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Centre;
  • 🏛 François Mitterand (1981 – 1995) – left three main legacies to Paris: 1) the Louvre pyramid, completed in 1989 and designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, this is a large glass and metal pyramid, surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Palace. The large pyramid now serves as the main entrance the Louvre; and 2) the Bastille Opera – designed by Carlos Ott and opened in 1989 for Bicentenary of French Revolution 3) Bibliothèque National de Paris (BnF)- with a history dating back to medieval times (Charles V founded a royal library at Le Louvre in 1368), in 1988 Mitterand announced “the construction and the expansion of one of the largest and most modern libraries in the world, intended to cover all fields of knowledge, and designed to be accessible to all, using the most modern data transfer technologies, which could be consulted from a distance, and which would collaborate with other European libraries” – Wikipedia . . . this ambitious library was inaugurated in 1996;
  • 🏛 Jacques Chirac (1995 – 2007) – the Musée du Quai Branly, designed by Jean Nouvel, opened in 2006 and is a museum featuring the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas;

💡 learning tip: when I was a tour leader, a local guide once taught me how to remember the chronology of monarchy, empires and various republics in France! It goes like this:

  • 👑 monarchy, republic (revolution and Ist Republic), empire (1st Empire – Napoléon Bonaparte);
  • 👑 monarchy (restoration of monarchy, after the Revolution), republic (II Republic), empire (2nd Empire – Napoléon III);
  • republic (III Republic), republic (IV Republic), republic (V Republic);
  • = 5 Republics (France is currently in its Fifth Republic);

Introducing Paris – geography

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 population Paris: 2.2 million people (the most populated city in France) / 20% of the people residing there are from outside France;

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 population Greater Paris: 11,017,230 million people (2020 data);

🗺 size – 105,4 km²;

🗺 map of Paris – the 💦 Seine river runs through the oldest part of Paris, and divides it into two parts, known as the Left Bank (rive gauche) and the Right Bank (rive droite);

Galleries Lafayette map © Galleries Lafayette

🗺 20 arrondissements – an administrative division of paris, each arrondissement has its own mayor, as well as the overall mayor of Paris (currently Anne Hidalgo; a 6 year term). Twelve arrondissements were set up in 1795, and the current configuration of twenty from 1859;

Paris et ses 20 arrondissements ©

[ 🗺 explore Paris with Google Maps – my boys had a lot of fun, exploring Paris together . . . if you haven’t done this before, take the little man icon from the bottom right hand-side of the page, and take him or her into Paris to explore (see here . . . here they are in the Luxembourg Gardens) . . . they also had some fun with Google Earth ]

Getting around Paris

🚶‍♂️ walk, walk, walk – by far my favourite way of getting around Paris, is on foot! There are so many 🏛 beautiful buildings to see, and Paris is a very accessible city for piétons! Especially lovely is to walk along the river and to wander in the parks . . .

🚇 métro and RER – there are 14 métro lines in Paris, each with a designated number (1 to 14) and c o l o u r . . . you can tell which direction you need to go by reading the end station of the line. There is also the RER system – these train lines run to the suburbs (and Versailles and Aéroport Charles de Gaulle!) of Paris, and within Paris they run underground – I always found RER C, which follows the south side of the quai of the Seine, very useful!

🚇 métro game ] – practise virtually taking the métro, so that when you are in Paris in person it will seem easy . . . When I was tour leading, and we had to take the métro as a group of 30 or 40 people, I had strict rules about how to behave as a group on the métro, and what to do if you didn’t manage to get on or off a busy train (my own family – brother and grandparents – are not nearly as talented for listening to me on this one, as I learned on our recent London trip, when we all became separated!). I used to put one student in charge of reading the signs and getting us onto the right platform, and so by the end of the trip, everyone could read 🗺 a métro map . . . and if you can understand one underground system, then you can understand all, the world over (that said, I never could understand Beijing’s, so I took taxis instead!);

🚲 bikes and 🛴 scooters – public bikes and scooters are a great way of getting around the city!

🚌 buses – there is an extensive bus network in Paris, good to use if you want to see a bit of Paris as you travel (a bit hard with most of the métro system, as you are underground!);

🚉 main train stations in Paris – it is interesting to learn a bit about the main railway stations . . . Gare du Nord and its Eurostar, Gare Montparnasse, Gare de l’Est, Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare de Bercy . . . and here are a couple of interesting train station facts:

  • 🚉 Gare d’Orsay – became the 🖼 Musée d’Orsay in 1986 (see above);
Gare d’Orsay © Wikipedia
  • 🚉 Gare Saint-Lazare – in 1877, Claude Monet painted 12 paintings of la Gare Saint Lazare. He had left Argenteuil due to financial problems and settled temporarily with his family in rue d’Edimbourg near the station (many of the streets around Gare Saint Lazare have the names of European capitals). Le quartier de l’Europe developped around the station, and Monet was fascinated by the industrial developments to the city under Napaoléon III and Haussmann . . . he was given permission to set up his easel and he captured in his paintings the effects of light, movement and smoke and changes in colour and the life of crowds / see here for more information;
La Gare Saint-Lazare, arrivée d’un train by Claude Monet (1877) © Harvard Art Museum / Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, USA)
  • 🚉 Gare de Lyon – was the station of departure for the trains heading to the South of France. In 1900, at the time of La Grande Exposition Universelle, « le Buffet de la Gare » – a luxury place to eat in the station – was built with the aim of drawing in high society and artists, with sumptuous adornments, both modern and at the same time mythical. It was later re-named « Le Train Bleu », referring to the legendary train that carried Parisians to the Côte d’Azur, along the Mediterranean coastline (in 1972, certain rooms of the « Le Train Bleu » were given the classification of Monument Historique);
Le Train Bleu – the elegant restaurant at Gare de Lyon © Le Train Bleu

Look at Paris’ landmarks and monuments

Last year, Paris was classed as the 2nd most visited city by tourists in the world (19.10 million), after Bangkok, Thailand (with 22.7 million international visitors), and just clipping London (with 19.01 million visitors) – according to Mastercard’s 2019 Global Destination Cities Index.

Paris, « La Ville des Lumières » (the City of Lights), possesses so many iconic objects and sights, even before we discuss the monuments and landmarks of this great city:

  • 🏛 the Colonne Morris advertising pillars;
  • 🏛 the art nouveau métro station entrances (see here for article);
  • 📚 the bouquinistes (second-hand book sellers) of the River Seine;
  • ☕️ café society spilling onto the pavements . . .

Here are some 🎬 videos about Paris for children: here

Most French rulers since the Middle Ages made a point of leaving their mark on a city that, unlike many other of the world’s capitals, has never been destroyed by war or catastrophe (though it has, of course been marked by both). As mentioned above, modern Paris owes much of its 🏛 architectural harmony to Napoléon III and Baron Haussmann, who between 1853 and 1870 imposed standard façades of cream-grey Paris stone and balconies of forged iron on the buildings along the grand boulevards, and squares, open spaces and parks were developed. All this gave rise to the very recognisable unified Paris that we appreciated today.


Here is a brief list of some of 🏛 Paris’ landmarks and some links to more information, in chronological order of building:

🔹Notre Dame de Paris – construction of Our Lady of Paris began in 1163, and this medieval Catholic cathedral is located on the historic Île de la Cité. Conscrated to the Virgin Mary, it considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, with its pioneering use of the rib vaulting and flying buttresses, its enormous and colourful rose windows, and its soaring nave, setting it apart from the earlier Romanesque style of church building;

Notre-Dame de Paris © Wikipedia
Notre-Dame Cathedral © French Moments

🔹La Sainte-Chapelle (consecrated 1248) – another of Paris’ Gothic masterpieces located on Île de la Cité, the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned in the XIIIth century for King Louis IX as a royal chapel and as an architectural jewel box to house his collection of important relics, including the Crown of Thorns. The soaring stained glass windows (it has one of the most extensive XIIIth century stained glass collections anywhere in the world) tell the story of the 📖 Bible, from Genesis to the Passion of Christ, in over a thousand dazzling coloured panels. It is located within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the XIVth century;

La Sainte-Chapelle © Didier B (Sam67fr) / Wikipedia

🌳 Jardin du Luxembourg (1612) – just down the hill from Le Panthéon are the 🌸 Luxembourg gardens, public gardens with a boating lake, flower beds and 🗽 sculptures, and at the far end, the Palais du Luxembourg (1615-1631) – Marie de Médici, wife and widow of Henri IV, commissioned the building of the gardens to accompany her beautiful new Renaissance palace;

Jardin du Luxembourg © aconcagua / Wikipedia

🔹Les Invalides (completion 1676) – this building project was commissioned in 1670 by Louis XIV as a retirement home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers (whom he had sent into battle for numerous 💥 military ventures!). It now houses a museum to the military history of France – the Musée de l’Armée. A chapel was also built for the war veterans, and later the Dôme des Invalides, a large church and the tallest in Paris, at a height of 107m and with over 12kg of gold leaf . . . this is now home to the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoléon Bonaparte;

Les Invalides © Wikipedia

🔹City squares: Place de la Concorde, Place de la Bastille, Place des Vosges – there are many famous squares in Paris, big and small, each built at a significant time in history! / read more about Paris’ historic squares here;

Place des Vosges © Le Point

🔹Le Panthéon (construction 1757 – 1790) – a neo-classical church set on the hill (like the Pantheon of Rome) of la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève (where the Romans had settled), Le Panthéon is located in the heart of today’s Latin Quarter. After the Revolution, it became the place to honour great people who had marked the history of France; buried there are: Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, Emile Zola, and many more . . .

Le Panthéon © Wikipedia

🔹La Madeleine (1807 – 1828) – a neo-classical Catholic church designed originally as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army: Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée. Its style was inspired by the much smaller Maison Carrée Roman temple in Nîmes, one of the best-preserved of all Roman temples. To its south lies the Place de la Concorde, and to the east is the Place Vendôme . . . 

La Madeleine © Wikipedia

🔹Arc de Triomphe (1830s) – this iconic Parisian monument was commissioned by Napoléon Bonaparte as a triumphal arch à la gloire de la Grande Armée. It was commissioned in 1806, after the 💥 victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoléon, and when he was at the peak of his fortunes . . . it was not, in fact, completed until the reign of 👑 King Louis-Philippe! Today it honours the soldiers who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, World War I and future French wars / to read more about the triumphal arch, see official website here;

Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

🔹Opéra Palais Garnier (completion 1875) – the construction of the Palais Garnier was commissioned by Napoléon III to house the Opéra national de Paris (founded by Louis XIV) – housed until then in various different buildings, he wanted a majestic building to showcase dance and music . . . a competition was held to find the architect, and young Charles Garnier was chosen and it took 15 years to build. Water was found when building the foundations, and a lake was constructed for sound (The Phantom of the Opera is a musical, based on the French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, and it centres on the disfigured individual living on the lake under the Paris opera house). Its ballet company now performs throughout the world and you can get up close and personal with this beautiful opera house here;

Opéra Garnier © Peter Rivera / Wikipedia

🔹La Basilique de Sacré-Coeur (1875 – 1914) – a Catholic church with bright white domes, which sits on the summit of the Butte de Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. Built with the dual purpose as penance for the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War and of the Paris Commune of 1871, construction began in 1875 and the basilica was completed in 1914, and consecrated at the end of WWI in 1919;

La Basilique de Sacré-Coeur © French Moments
La Basilique de Sacré-Coeur © French Moments

🔹La Tour Eiffel (completed 1889) – built for the 1889 Universal Exhibition and the centenary of the French Revolution, this iconic Paris monument that defines the city’s skyline was constructed of wrought-iron was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. . . . at first reviled by many as a monstrosity, read more about the Eiffel Tower’s construction (1887-89) here and enjoy a virtual experience here or here. . . and a helicopter’s view;

Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars and Trocadéro aerial view © Wikipedia
Eiffel Tower in springtime © The Independent

🔹Cimetière Père Lachaise (1804) – is situated in the 20e arrondissement, and is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, welcoming about 3,5 million people every year! Still an active cemetery, tourists come to find the graves of many greats: Balzac, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison / website here;

Cimetière Père-Lachaise © Le Petit Futé

🔹bridges, bridges, bridges – there are so many memorable 🌉 bridges in Paris: le Pont-Neuf, the ornate Pont Alexandre III . . . / read more about Paris’ 37 bridges here;

Pont Alexandre III © Vivre Paris
Le Pont-Neuf © Wikipedia

🔹La Tour Montparnasse (1969 – 1973) – a 210m high 🏢 office skyscraper located in the Montparnasse area of Paris, it was the tallest skyscraper in France until 2011, when it was surpassed by the 231m 🏢 Tour First, in La Défense.

Tour Montparnasse © Wikipedia / Андрей Бобровский

🔹 La Défense & La Grande Arche – 🏢 La Défense is a major business district located 3km west of the city limits, and is Europe’s largest purpose-built business district, covering 560 hectares, with 72 glass and steel buildings (of which 19 are completed skyscrapers). 🏢 La Défense is located at the westernmost extremity of the 10km long Axe historique of Paris, which starts at the Louvre in central Paris, continues along the Champs-Élysées, well beyond the Arc de Triomphe (along the Avenue de la Grande Armée), before culminating at La Défense. La Grande Arche de la Défense (1989) and the Yaacov Agam Fountain (1977) are located there;

La Grande Arche de la Défense, with the Yaacov Agam Fountain © Wikipedia / Coldcreation

You can find out much more information about 🏛 these Paris monuments and landmarks on the website French Moments; who have also kindly given me the right to use their photos, with copyright ©.

Paris Landmarks and Monuments © French Moments

[ 🗺 map and monuments game – print off some photos of the main landmarks and museums in Paris, and get your children to put them on the right place on a map of Paris ]

[ 🏛 explore monuments virtually with 🏛 Google Arts & Culture – you will find so many places to visit here! ]

Main museums in Paris

There are 🖼 173 museums in Paris, according to the Paris Tourist Office! You can take a virtual tour of a handful of Paris’ museums and landmarks here on Muséosphère. Read more about the 10 most visited museums in Paris here and don’t forget (for when you go to Paris in person!) that on the FIRST SUNDAY of the MONTH, many of Paris’ museums are FREE, and that there are late opening days too!

🖼 Louvre – once a royal palace and now the world’s largest art museum, and the most visited art museum in the world (2019) / see Louvre website for a virtual tour here;

Le Louvre © French Moments

🖼 Musée d’Orsay – this museum, with a collection of art from the period 1848 to 1914, was installed in the former Gare d’Orsay. You can visit the museum and its rich collection here and read about the transition from railway station to museum here;

Musée d’Orsay © French Moments

🖼 Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris (Palais de Tokyo)MAM Paris is a major municipal museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries, including monumental murals by Raoul Dufy and Henri Matisse;

Palais de Tokyo © Wikipedia

🖼 Le Centre Pompidou – houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne (see above in Timeline for more information);

Centre Pompidou © French Moments

🖼 Musée du Quai Branly – opened to the public in 2006, and housing a rich collection of indigenous artefacts and art  (see above in Timeline for more information);

Musée Quai Branly © Connaissance des Arts

🖼 Musée Picasso – an art gallery dedicated to the work of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973), located in the Hôtel Salé (a grand mansion or hôtel particulier) in the Marais district;

🖼 Musée Rodin – a beautiful museum located in the Hôtel Biron, opened in 1919, and primarily dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The gardens around the museum building contain many of the famous sculptures in natural settings;

🖼 Les Invalides & Musée de l’Armée – the national military museum of France is located within the historic Les Invalides. The Musée de l’Armée was created in 1905, with collections that span the period from antiquity through the 20th century. As mentioned above, Napoléon Bonaparte’s sarcophogus is located within the chapel;

Retour des cendres de Napoléon Ier de Sainte-Hélène, le char funèbre de Napoléon se dirige vers les Invalides à Paris (15 décembre 1840) © Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, Eugène Charles François Guérard (1821-1866) – Paris, Musée de l’Armée

🖼 Petit Palais & Grand Palais – the Petit Palais is an art museum built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (it now houses the Musée des beaux-arts de la ville de Paris). Across the road, the Grand Palais is a large historic exhibition hall and museum complex, whose construction began in 1897, following the demolition of the Palais de l’Industrie, in preparation for the Universal Exposition of 1900. The structure was built in the style of Beaux-Arts architecture as taught by the École des Beaux-Arts of Paris;

Le Petit Palais © Wikipedia

🖼 L’Orangerie – this museum underwent extensive renovation work from 2000 until 2006 and it offers a fabulous concentration of masterpieces of 🎨 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, though it is probably most famous as the permanent home of eight large Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet. You can visit the museum virtually with 🎨 Google Arts & Culture;

L’Orangerie and Monet’s Nymphéas © unknown source

🖼 Jardin de Plantes & Grande Galerie de l’Evolution – in the 17th century, Louis XIII installed 🌳 a royal garden here, with 🌿 medicinal plants, and then in 1793, after the 💥 French Revolution, this was reorganised into its present form. Here you can enjoy the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, with its famous 🐘 Gallery of Evolution;

Gallery of Evolution, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle © mnhn

Paris as seen by famous artists

Paris has been depicted by so many 🎨 famous artists, most notably perhaps by the 🎨 realists and impressionists of the 19th century . . . here are some examples:

🖼 Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883) – was a French modernist painter, and one of the first 19th century artists to paint modern life, instrumental in the transition from Realism to Impressionism / to see more paintings of Paris by Manet, see here Art et glam / here, below is: Vue de l’Exposition Universelle de Paris 1867 (located at the Champs de Mars, and held during the reign of Napoléon III; for the first time Japan presented art pieces to the world in a national pavilion, and many artists of the post-impressionism movement, including Vincent Van Gogh were inspired here!);

Edouard Manet’s Vue de l’Exposition Universelle de Paris (1867) © Galerie Nationale d’Oslo

🖼 Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) – as well as his series of paintings of the Gare Saint-Lazare (see above and article here), the great impressionist, considered the founder of the Impressionism movement, painted several other scenes of Paris. In Paris, you can learn more about Claude Monet and view his paintings, at these notable museums:

  • 🖼 Musée de l’Orangerie – located not too far from the Louvre, in the Jardins des Tulieries, here you will find an impressive collection of Monet’s water lilies;
  • 🖼 Musée Marmottan Monet – located in the 16e arrondissement, this museum (19th century mansion), houses the greatest collection of Monet’s paintings worldwide, and is home to around 100 of his works. Here you can see the notable painting: Impression, Soleil Levant (1872) – this painting famously gave its name to the later movement;
  • 🖼 Musée d’Orsay – formally a railway station, this museum opened its doors to the public in 1986 and is home to the most extensive range of impressionist painters in the world: Manet, Dégas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and an impressive selection of Monet’s works;
  • 🖼 Le Petit Palais – an impressive Belle Époque style building, it houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Paris, and features a section of impressionist art, including a range of Monet’s works;

🖼 Camille Pissarro (1830 -1903)  was a Danish-French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painter, born on the island of St Thomas (now in the US Virgin Islands, but then in the Danish West Indies). He spent time in England and in France and was a key figure in the Paris painting scene; Boulevard Montmartre cityscape series

Camille Pissarro: Boulevard Montmartre (1897) © Hermitage Museum

🖼 Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) – a French impressionist, who organised the expositions impressionnistes de 1877, 1879, 1880 et 1882 whose paintings looked more realistic than most other impressionist paintings (look at the shiny cobblestones, with the rain!). One such example is Paris Street; Rainy Day at Art Institute of Chicago is one such example.

Gustavé Caillebotte’s Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (1877) © Chicago Art Institute

🖼 Jean Béraud (1849 – 1935) – was a French painter renowned for his numerous paintings depicting everyday life in Paris, and the nightlife of Paris society during the Belle Epoque.

🖼 Edgar Dégas (1834 – 1917) – was a French Realist artist famous especially for his pastel drawings and oil paintings of ballerinas.

Absinthe Drinker (1876) © Dégas
Paris Opera (1877) © Dégas

🖼 Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891) – was a French post-Impressionist artist, best known for devising the painting techniques of chromoluminarism and pointillisme.

Georges Seurat’s La Tour Eiffel © Wikipedia

🖼 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901) – a French painter, printmaker and illustrator, he is synonimus with 19th century Montmarte and the posters of cabaret society! / to read more about him, see here;

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue poster (1891) © Toulouse Lautrec
Le Moulin Rouge © French Moments

[ 🔍 activity ] – ask your children to look at these paintings and describe what they see – which is their favourite and why? You could discuss different painting movements;

Paris as seen by famous black and white photographers 

It is an undeniable fact: there is a romanticism surrounding Paris, and the sparkling City of Lights has served as a muse for 📷influential photographers wordwide, since the invention of photography. They have immortalised the city through their images: from its centuries-old monuments and buildings, its café society and expat-filled avant-garde circles of the 1920s, from the Bohemian Montmartre, to the iconic and sparkling Eiffel Tower . . . To read a good article about Paris photographers, see here, see here . . .

Here are some 📷 iconic photos of Paris:

📷 Robert Doisneau (1912–1994) – perhaps best known for his iconic 1950s photograph of a couple kissing on the streets of Paris – Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall) – Robert Doisneau, a Paris native, was also a wartime (recruited as both a soldier and photographer for the French resistance at the outbreak of WWII) and fashion photographer, and dedicated his life to photojournalism and street photography. He captured spontaneous images of street life around Paris. Read more about this famous photo here;

Le baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville (1950) © Robert Doisneau
📷 Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) – upon picking up a Leica camera in the early 1930s, Henri Cartier-Bresson fell in love with the spontaneity of photography; he went on to co-found Magnum Photos, and pioneered the mix of content and composition in photojournalism. He also captured moments on the streets of Paris.

📷 Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928) – his images celebrate the City of Light with great playfulness. Born in Paris in 1928, Erwitt grew up between Paris, Milan and America. This photo of the iconic Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadéro on ☔️ a rainy day, captures a couple’s embrace and a figure jumping with an umbrella in the foreground.

© Elliott Erwitt (1989)

[ 🔍 activity ] – ask your children to look at these photos and describe what they see – which is their favourite photo and why?

Songs about Paris for children

Paris has also been immortalised in so many 🎼 songs, and by so many people! Some well-known singers having sung about the City of Light include: Edith Piath in the 1940s, Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand (Gamin de Paris), Ella Fitzgerald (April in Paris and I love Paris), Eartha Kitt (Under the Bridges of Paris), Joni Mitchell . . .

Here are the two songs I played for my boys to introduce the city:

  • 🎼 Les Champs-Elysées (1969) by Joe Dassin – for the rest of the day, I could hear my younger son singing Aux Champs-Elysées, Aux Champs-Elysées . . .
  • 🎼 La Seine by Vanessa Paradis (2011) – from the animated film Un monstre à Paris;

And here are some more good ones to get in the mood:

  • 🎼 Sous le Ciel de Paris and Les Amants de Paris by Edith Piaf (1940s)she is the icon of Parisian song, the warbling sparrow;
  • 🎼 Les Prénoms de Paris by Jacques Brel (1950s and 1960s) – though Belgian-born, Jacques Brel is considered an icon of the French song . . . such a distinctive voice! (Le soleil qui se lève – Et caresse les toits – Et c’est Paris le jour -La Seine qui se promène – Et me guide du doigt -Et c’est Paris toujours);
  • 🎼 I love Paris by Ella Fitzgerald – written by Cole Porter in 1953 and performed by many greats like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra . . . but Ella’s 1956 take is personal and unique, a homage to the enduring beauty of the city;
  • 🎼 J’aime Paris au moi de mai by Charles Aznavour (1965) – this is a classic of the chanson genre and it is a tribute to the French-Armenian singer’s upbringing in Montmartre and his sadness about the changes to his beloved bohemian neighbourhood. This song became an international hit;

Films about Paris for children

There are plenty of 🎬 children’s films set in Paris, that you can watch with your children:

🎬 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Walt Disney, 1996) – an animated musical drama set in Paris, and based on the original novel Notre Dame de Paris, by renowned 19th century French novelist Victor Hugo. You’ll follow the adventures and hardships of Quasimodo, the hunchback bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral;

🎬 Madeline (Tristar Pictures, 1998) – this film brings the books to life: Madeline is an orphan girl attending a Parisian boarding school and she causes all sorts of trouble for the strict headmistress! Her misadventures take her through Paris . . .

🎬 Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001) – for older children and adults, this is a delightful film that charmed the world . . . set in Montmarte, Amélie is a young waitress in a local bar and she passes her days watching and observing people and letting her imagination run wild . . . wanting to do good in the world, she sets about trying to enter incognito into people’s lives, to change them for the better!

🎬 Ratatouille (Pixar, 2007) – this animated film gives you a taste of French gastronomy and the world of top chefs, by exploring the misadventures of 🐭 Rémy the rat, who wants to be a great chef!

🎬 Un Chat à Paris (2010) – 🐱 a cat leads a double life as a literal cat burglar’s assistant. But then his human companion Zoe gets into trouble with gangsters, and he must come to her rescue. The film is based on the genre of the classic thriller, but with a cute and emotional depth to the story.

🎬 Un Monstre à Paris (Bibo Films, 2011) – set in 1910, this is a French made 3D computer-animated musical comedy and fantasy adventure film, produced by Luc Besson. Many aspects of the film are borrowed from Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. The story begins with the flooding of the Seine in 1910, and follows the life of the shy 📽 projectionist with a passion for film, Emile Petit, who is in love with his co-worker at the cinema . . .

and some older films . . .

🎬 Les Aristochats (Walt Disney Productions, 1970) – an animated musical drama starring 🐱 aristocratic Parisian cats! Duchesse and her kittens must navigate Paris (with the help of an alley cat), in order to get home to their retired opera singer owner!

🎬 Le Ballon Rouge (1956) – a short and well-known 🎈 arty film . . . a study in French cinema, as well as Paris!

🎬 Nouvelle Vague cinema (1950s and 1960s) – for more mature children, you could perhaps share some scences from Nouvelle Vague . . . this was a pivotal movement in French cinema, born at the end of the 1950s, and lasting ten years until the 1960s. Notable directors were drawn to this movement, notable for the longs métrages: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, Agnès Varda and Demy. A new way of producing, filming and editing. André Malraux, Ministre des Affaires Culturelles en 1958, faciliated the access à la réalisation des jeunes cinéastes sans passer par le parcours traditionnel de la profession. Change of society, breaking with tradition. Protagonists – young, contemporary, normal, independent;

© Allo Ciné and design with Canva by

Books about Paris for children

A few years ago, when my eldest was very small, I discovered the 📚 Dodsworth series of books byTim Egan. I was intrigued, as Dodsworth is my family surname and it is not a common English name, and the author is American! So I wrote to him, via the publishers, and asked him where he had found his inspiration for the name . . . we have since read all of the books in the Dodsworth series, and one is set in Paris. The stories revolve around a mole (Dodsworth) and his cheeky side-kick duck, who leads the two of them into lighthearted trouble in every city they visit, Paris being one of them!

Here are some 📚 more ideas for books about Paris for youngsters. And another list here.

Further activities

Here are some ideas for further activities to do with your children:

📝 devise a quizz about Paris – or, once you have studied Paris, get your kids to devise their own quiz for their family and friends! Or try out these quizzes here (National Geographic) and here;

🎨 colouring in Paris – you can find lots of colouring-in sheets on the internet! Try Just Color here or Super Coloring here;

🎨 design a postcard with Canva – I absolutely LOVE Canva! I use it extensively for this website. After my younger son and I had finished putting all the stickers in his new Paris sticker book, we decided to make a postcard to send to family in England, to explain that we had been studying Paris! He chose the photos (some were free on Canva, the Louvre one clearly has © copyright as it is blurry – oops, sorry!). Here is what he created (with a little help – I wanted to do the background in blue, but he did insist on green!), and then we sent the postcard to the grandparents!

📝 make a list of where you’d like to visit – after our introduction to Paris, my boys already had some firm ideas of where they would like to visit (once your children have made their list, perhaps try to regroup landmarks, museums and parks that are near one another?):

Day 1: La Tour Eiffel, Les Invalides, Musée Rodin . . .

Day 2: Le Louvre, Notre-Dame, 🍦Berthillon ice-cream on Île St Louis . . .

Day 3: . . .

🧩 memory game of Paris landmarks – you can make your own by printing out pictures of Paris . . . or, you could try this online version (for readers) here;

🗺 explore Paris vitually – you will find so much more information on 🏛 Google Arts & Culture (monuments, museums, street art and more!) . . . and, as mentioned above, you can explore Paris with Google Maps and Google Earth;

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