The eastern fringes of Paris—Chateau de Vincennes and Parc Floral de Paris

The last post focused on the northeast corner of Paris.  This one takes us to the far eastern edge and the Chateau de Vincennes.  This is another great combination of learning and fun, with both the Chateau and its accompanying forest, known as the Bois de Vincennes.

As we exited the Metro (line 1 terminus, Chateau de Vincennes, although RER A can also take you almost as close with stop Vincennes), we were greeted by the imposing Chateau de Vincennes, with a medieval look our boys always appreciate, and a moat to make it feel that much more like a castle.  Entering the courtyard (no charge for this part), the keep is ahead, the ticket office to your right, and a large gothic chapel to the left.  This was the king’s hunting lodge prior to the construction of Versailles.  It’s a pretty great scene, and one that our boys enjoyed.  Tours to Chateau de Vincennes are guided and run roughly on an hourly schedule, but you can always start with the unguided chapel visit while waiting for your tour to begin.

Leaving the Chateau, you find yourself at the entrance to the vast Bois de Boulogne, the king’s hunting grounds that have become a vast network of greenery, including trails, a horse track (hippodrome), a functioning farm (where they’ll let you feed the animals in the late afternoon), and the wonderful Parc Floral de Paris.  It can be quite a hike to most of these spots, but the entrance to the Parc Floral is diagonally across the street from the Chateau, featuring a great sign for photos among the trees—especially if you want to focus just on the Paris portion of the name.

The Parc Floral is a botanical garden with a combination of fun and learning.  We arrived in the morning, and the park was quiet and very uncrowded.  When elementary schools are in session, it probably keeps a bit busier, since there are many small greenhouse-like buildings scattered around the park with exhibits and various biomes.  Definitely designed for field trips, I admit we didn’t spend time in these, but they could be interesting and appeared to have been open to all visitors.  The center of the park features a large pond, an open-air performance venue (there are jazz concerts some summer evenings), loads of gorgeous flowers, and some sculptures.  It really is lovely.

The back of the park, though, is where the kid-fun really awaits.  I counted at least six separate playground areas, many of which are fully shaded.  And not only do they include the standard Paris playground items (teeter-totters, slides, and climbing structures)—they also include a huge slide-hill, an enormous rope tower, and a pretty good zipline.  It’s enough varied fun for several hours—and we proved it.

If you’re really feeling adventurous (we were), there’s a ropes course (for a fee) at the very back of the park, with harnesses, carabineers, ziplines, and all.  It got pretty crowded as the afternoon wore on, but I had a great time with the two bigger boys (ages 6 and 7).

There are also bike-carriage rentals that were VERY popular—so much so that since we didn’t look into it until dinnertime, we missed our chance before it was time to leave.  You can cruise around the park with all non-little-kid members of the family adding pedaling power for a half hour.  It really looked like fun.

And then there is a Guignol puppet theater, which you’ll find in various parks in Paris.  The shows occur a couple of times daily most afternoons (but not all)—your best bet is Wednesday afternoons and weekends, especially during the schoolyear.  There is a small admission fee, and the shows are in French, but they make the kids laugh and they’re a great Parisian experience.  Times were posted for the whole week on a board on the side of the theater.

Lastly, there’s miniature golf!  Wow—the fun feels never-ending!  We didn’t include this on our day’s adventures, but you can find yourself golfing through various miniature versions of the great Parisian sites like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.  As someone who loves minigolf, I definitely would’ve been happy to try this out, but alas, there’s too much fun to be had at Parc Floral to fit it all in!

Most of the paid activities don’t really get going until the early afternoon.  The snack bar doesn’t open until then, either.  That said, there are two decent eateries in the park that were open before noon—one (more towards the left when entering the park) is a cafeteria-style restaurant with a small menu but decent food (eat-in only).  The other has both sit-down waiter service and take-away (à emporter) with a broader array of choices and reasonable prices.

WHEW, that’s a lot of fun in one place!  The park is free except on Wednesday afternoons, weekends, and when there’s a special event going on in the park.  But even then, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon or even a whole day.


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