Strolling through museums and monuments in Paris, children rarely get to see more than the legs of other tourists. Whether it’s the Palace of Versailles, the Musée d’Orsay, or the Louvre, these enormously iconic sights are little more than crowded spaces to most kids, things to be put up with en route to a pastry.
With such a dense offering of important cultural attractions, Paris doesn’t always seem like the most family friendly place to visit. But that’s not really the case. Like any destination, you just have to know where to look.
A new way of discovering art
Art-lover Daisy de Plume has changed the way families can explore the world’s most famous art museum, the Louvre. She runs THATLou (an abbreviation of Treasure Hunt at the Louvre), a company that makes art, history and culture accessible, and more importantly fun, for children of all ages. With innovative treasure hunts, de Plume has found a way to transform tours of the gallery into an interactive experience.
As an adult, even I’m intrigued. Sure, I prefer to go to the Louvre on a Wednesday or Friday night, when it’s open later and there are fewer visitors. But for children, beating the crowds might not be enough to make all of that art interesting.
A mother herself, de Plume laments the lack of engagement for children in French museums, and it was this feeling that inspired her to start her own tour company. The idea was simple: take the most-visited museum in the world and discover it through a competitive hunt.
De Plume acknowledges that “there’s this sense of obligation to ‘check off’ the Mona Lisa,” but the Louvre has much more to offer. Her treasure hunts are a way of introducing everyone, not just children, to many of the museum’s gems.
Treasure hunting at the Louvre
With THATLou, participants book a hunt and are then pitted against members of their own family, or against other visiting families, to follow thematic clues around the exhibits. Participants have to find and photograph themselves with works of art to gain points. De Plume, who studied art at college and is the daughter of an art historian, designs the hunts herself.
Themes range from ‘Kings and Leaders and ‘Food and Wine’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast(iary),’ which is the most requested. Across the year, special-edition hunts also take place to coincide with major events. For instance, de Plume’s favourite version is the ghastly ‘Skull-Scouting’ hunt, which is designed for Halloween and has participants searching for the most morbid artefacts on display.
“My hope is that if I can give a family 90 minutes to two hours of silliness and fun through interaction with the art, they’ll remember specific pieces and they’ll want to see more,” de Plume said.
Since launching in 2012, these art-themed treasure hunts have taken off, even spreading to the nearby Musée d’Orsay (THATd’Or) and branching out onto the streets (rues) of Paris with THATRue.
“Nothing makes me happier than hearing back from clients [that] their kids wanted to play on, or return the next day, [and] how they’ve never spent six hours in a museum where it was the parents who wanted to leave, not the kids,” de Plume said.
It’s not just children who love the hunts either. Teens, parents, grandparents and even business teams participate in them with enthusiasm.
Exploring beyond the Louvre with kids
While de Plume has come up with a way to make the classic cultural sights of Paris child-friendly, she also has a lot of other recommendations for how to keep kids entertained in the city.
When she’s not organising tours, de Plume heads out to one of the city’s parks for some fresh air with her family, citing the amusement park at Jardin d’Acclimatation and the sunken trampolines at the Tuileries Garden as great spots for playtime.
However, her favourite is the playground at the Luxembourg Gardens, just next to the 19th-century wooden carousel. The playground costs a few euros, but it’s fenced in and secure, featuring modern equipment.
If the kids are too old for playgrounds, consider a boat trip along the Seine.
“Taking the Bateaux Mouches along the [river] to just sit and be on the water can be a really pleasant [way] to recharge your batteries, for any age,” de Plume enthused.
As for food, it’s hard to go past one place in particular. While any café will serve kid-friendly drinks, the funky Comptoir Général is de Plume’s top choice. This is a sort of artist’s collective that is always bustling with activity; live music, a dance floor, and an overall welcoming atmosphere make it a great place to refuel. At any café, ask for a Diabolo Menthe (a sweet, green peppermint soda) to let kids try something particularly French.