Family travel guide to France

Whether you're considering crossing the Channel to catch a football match, or just keen to check out the wine and cheese culture, this year's Euro host cities have plenty to offer families

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Tried and tested by a myriad of Mumsnetters, France is a destination par excellence for those wanting a hassle-free family holiday. Be it for a two-week road trip or a weekend city break, accommodation is easy to come by, restaurants are generally child-friendly and there's plenty going on to entertain all age groups. Plus, it's not too far away...


Getting there

Rolling, green vineyards and brilliant azure coastlines are just a short hop across the Channel, and with a selection of transport options, you'll easily find one that won't break the bank - or your nerve.

Plane

Fly direct from most British airports to major French cities in two hours or less. There's deals to be had if you keep an eye on the budget airlines - and book far in advance, if you can. 

Train

The Eurostar is a fast and comfortable option from the south east of England, dropping you right in the city centres, and getting round France is similarly easy using the TGV.

"Bloody love the Eurostar, it's the most civilised way to travel. Swan on, swan off... walk around the train if you need to stretch your legs. None of the airport grossness. I wish you could go everywhere on Eurostar."

Ferry

The Channel crossing can sometimes be stomach-lurching and may require you setting off in the early hours, but it's all part of the fun for little ones.

"We have used both ferry and tunnel, personally I prefer the ferry as it seems a more exciting part of the trip than sitting on the train."

Car

Taking your own car, packed to the brim with whatever kit/snacks/home comforts your kids could possibly need, is a popular option for family explorers - but do remember that France is a big place; it will take you at least 9 hours to get from Calais to the south coast, and most of the autoroutes (motorways) are toll roads. 

"We've done the drive to the south of France with a five-year-old old a couple of times, stopping overnight halfway. A DVD player is certainly a must."

"The one good thing about driving in France is that the service stations on the autoroutes are great. They are very regular and usually each service area has a good children's play area and picnic area - we even found one with a bouncy castle!"

Or, combine them all...

You could always consider sending one adult across on the ferry with a car full of supplies, while the rest of the family make their way by plane/train later in the day.

"I have done the journey without the kids and am so much more relaxed when we arrive (and don't need two days to recover), family has everything they need at destination and it is unpacked. Kids have not been put through 12 hours journey from hell. Everybody wins."


Marseille

Parts of Marseille feel steeped in history, while other areas are chic, modern and brimming with cutting-edge architecture, thanks to a recent face-lift as the 2013 European Capital of Culture. As France's second largest city, there's enough museums, sights, and attractions to keep you occupied for a while, but it also serves as a great stop on the way to the sun-bathed coastline of the French Riviera. If you go in midsummer, expect it to be hot!

 

Key Euro match: England v Russia, 11 June

Getting there

  • Direct flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh. Flight time is about 2 hours.
  • Take the Eurostar direct to Marseille in 6h27 from London.

Where to stay

  • Most hotels are in The Vieux Port area.

What to do

  • Make the most of the Mediterranean sun at one of Marseille's beaches - Plage des Catalans, Plage du Prophète and Plage du Prado are suitable for families and easy to reach by public transport.
  • Soak up the atmosphere of the Vieux Port. The waterfront is lined with restaurants, where you can sit and daydream about buying one of the shiny pleasure yachts in the harbour.
  • Take the tourist train to the historic neighbourhood of Le Panier, Marseille's colourful old quarter. Wander around the small lanes in search of charming cafes and hidden squares.
  • See the sights from an open top bus or explore the city on an electric bike tour.
  • Head to Bandol (about half an hour away), described as "smaller and lovely for a seafood lunch, late afternoon ice cream or dinner on the terrace."
  • Book a boat trip to nearby Les Calanques, where you'll find "natural, rocky beaches/swimming pools, all along the coast of Cassis. It's a nice walk down to the rocks with breathtaking views of the coastline and crystal clear water." 


Bordeaux

When the Queen visited Bordeaux, she declared it "the very essence of elegance". Who are we to argue? Although it's best known as a hotspot for wine-lovers, Bordeaux and the surrounding region also has a lot to offer for families. The city is the largest urban World Heritage Site and is a stone's throw away from glorious countryside.  

 

Key Euro matches: Wales v Slovakia, 11 June; Belgium v Ireland, 18 June

Getting there

  • Direct flights from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Bristol, Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin.
  • Take the Eurostar and change in Paris - 6h47 from London.

Where to stay

  • Most budget and midrange hotels are situated near the railway station (the Quais).
  • A few luxury hotels are close to Gambetta square and Quinconces square.  

What to do

  • Try to avoid driving into the city centre as there are limited parking spaces and traffic jams are a frequent occurrence. The town centre is pedestrianised and easy to explore on foot. "We spent the day in Bordeaux with four children (youngest aged four). We parked out of town and caught the tram in, which was ideal - the kids loved it."
  • "There are plenty of squares to play in - try Gambetta Square and Quinconces Square - or take a break in the public gardens, north of Gambetta square. There were also many fine patisseries to look at and indulge in!"
  • Visit some vineyards on a wine-tasting tour (or grape juice-tasting for younger connoisseurs). You'll be spoiled for choice for where to go, but if you're looking for somewhere that's child-friendly, one Mumsnetter suggests Saint Émilion (approx. an hour's drive), where "you can do a little train ride round the vineyards".
  • Another Mumsnetter recommends "Paddling in the Miroir d'Eau by the river in front of the Bourse - for kids of all ages". The Miroir d'Eau is a vast man-made pool that reflects like a mirror. If that doesn't sound fun enough already, an artificial fog seeps out of the pool every fifteen minutes throughout summer months for even more dramatic photo opportunities. 
  • Visit neighbouring Aubeterre, about a 90 minute drive away: "a very pretty village with nice places to eat, good views and the underground church is interesting to visit. Also the river makes a great place to sunbathe, and my older son enjoyed a canoe trip along the river with his dad." 
  • "There's a small water park nearby (just over an hour's drive away) called le Paradou." 
  • Climb 243 steps to the top of Saint-Michel's tower for spectacular views over the city.


Toulouse

Toulouse is a city of charming cobbled streets and pink-tinged buildings, centred around the river Garonne. It's also one of Europe's major aerospace centres, with plenty of attractions to occupy budding young scientists. 

 

Key Euro match: Russia v Wales, 20 June

Getting there

  • Direct flights from Gatwick and Heathrow take about 1h45.
  • Travel by Eurostar and change in Paris - 9 hours.

Where to stay

  • If you want to be close to the main attractions, be sure to stay on the eastern bank of the Garonne river, close to the Place du Capitole.
  • One Mumsnetter says "It's very, very, very hot there in August - up to 40 degrees during the day, and still in the high twenties in the night. Air con is a must in your accommodation and in cars."        

What to do

  • "It's such a good location. You could day trip to the Mediterranean coast, or head for the Pyrenees if you have a car. Some wonderful river valleys on the way south in the foothills of the Pyrenees."
  • Avoid driving into the city centre as parking spaces are limited. The inner city is easily covered on foot, but if you have little ones in tow there's a very useful free shuttle bus that circles the historic centre every day except for Sundays. 
  • Visit the Cité de l'Espace (space city), a museum/theme park devoted to all things space age. There's a small planetarium, interactive exhibits and several replica spacecraft.
  • Take a tour of the main Airbus factory and watch an A380 being assembled. Book well in advance if this is on your must-see list.
  • "Pop down the motorway to the walled city of Carcassonne, it's fan-bloody-tastic."
    "The turrets allegedly inspired Walt Disney's castle symbol and it is also a wonderful day out with children - just arrive early is my tip." 
  • "Wherever you go, if there is a little tourist train (many carriages pulled by a tractor disguised as a train) then give it a go. It will take you round all the sites and is great with children."
  • Take a barge down the Garonne river and walk along the Canal du Midi.
  • Start at the Place du Capitole and stroll around the sights of the Vieux Quartier.
  • "There are some nice parks in the centre too, especially le Jardin des Plantes with a cool (and air conditioned) natural history museum."
  • "Expect to eat lots of sausage and fois gras - pretty much on every menu."


Lille

Right up in the north of France, Lille is gaining a reputation as a top city break destination, particularly with older children. The town centre, with it's tall, red-bricked buildings, is nothing short of picturesque, and suitably compact for exploring on foot. With a "great northern European flavour" evident in the architecture and culinary offering, it's also influenced by its proximity to Belgium - meaning lots to keep chocolate lovers happy.  

 

Key Euro match: Ireland v Italy, 22 June

Getting there 

  • There are no flights to Lille from the UK. You can get there directly on Eurostar from London St Pancras - journey time is around 1h30.

Where to stay

  • Stay close to the centre - there's little of interest in the surrounding countryside.
  • Lille gets filled with people on business throughout the week, so it's cheaper and easier to secure accommodation over the weekend.

What to do

  • Visit the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a world-renowned museum of fine arts, which has family trails and occasional children's workshops. 
  • Take a walk around the Citadel. "There's a great zoo there which is open in the summer and is free. There are a few fairground type rides there for little ones too."
  • See a puppet show in the Jardin Vauban (April-October only).
  • Take in the Flemish architecture of the central square, the Place de Charles de Gaulle.
  • "Head to Aux Moules on the Rue de Bethune for the best moules frites in town in a fab art deco setting." 


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Last updated: 6 months ago