Dijon, France: Full of Kid-Friendly Surprises
I never would have thought I’d hear our two kids, ages six and nine, declare escargots (a Dijon specialty) their favorite food! But this city, less than two hours south of Paris by TGV train, is full of happy surprises like this for a family with children.
When our family of four decided to spend my husband’s sabbatical year in Dijon, we didn’t know much about the city, other than it was located in Burgundy and shared a name with the famous mustard.
Dijon is less overwhelming than Paris, yet is an ideal introduction to France and French culture. This wealthy, compact city of 150,000 has a beautifully preserved, yet vibrant medieval center, renowned cuisine and relaxed cafes. As we came to discover, it is also child-friendly and full of parks and open spaces.
Parents of young children understand that kids need to burn off a lot of energy. Fortunately, Dijon is great for walking and is full of beautiful places where kids can play freely. The fountains in the stunning Place de la Liberation are a magnet for children during warm days and summer evenings. The cafés surrounding the car-free square are a perfect place for parents to relax with a glass of wine while the kids dart around the fountains.
The Parc de la Colombieres is worth a visit even if you don’t have kids. But come with the kids on a Sunday afternoon and you will feel like a true Dijonnais.
On Sunday afternoons, entire families take long strolls in town and to the parks. Walk from Place Wilson to the Parc de la Colombieres along the broad paths lined with chestnut, lime, and maple trees, and you will understand why Louis XIV called it the most beautiful corridor in his kingdom.
Just outside the park’s gates is a small carousel, and across the street the restaurant at the Hotel du Parc is a relaxing spot for lunch or an ice cream. The 81-acre tree-filled park is Dijon’s jewel.
Kids ages six and up will be thrilled by the rope course/zip line high in the trees. There is a second course for older children and adults. Our kids also loved renting the four-wheeled bike that we pedaled on the park’s paths. The park also has farm animals and jungle gyms.
Another park worth visiting is Jardin Darcy in Place Darcy. A sculpture of a giant polar bear at the entrance to the park greets visitors. Inside are a waterfall, pond, and playground.
Although the city is filled with medieval art treasures, there are two museums that will appeal especially to children. Housed in 17th century Cistercian convent, the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne (Museum of Burgundian Traditions) has life size exhibits depicting the past-way of life in Burgundy. One room has 19th century clothes in which kids can dress up and have their picture taken. Entry is free.
Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne
Our kids loved the lifelike animal exhibits in The Musee d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum). The museum is on the grounds of the attractive botanical garden, the Jardin de l’Arquebus, and our kids had fun splashing in the garden’s two shallow pools.
Musee d’Histoire Naturelle
Dijon is a city renowned for its French cuisine, and families with children can eat both well and inexpensively if they look for restaurants with a child’s menu.
The menu d’enfant typically costs from 8 to 10 euros and consists of a hamburger and French fries with a drink and dessert, but budding gourmets are treated to their special “Little Gourmet’s” menu at one of Dijon’s best restaurants, Restaurant Stephane Derbord in Place Wilson.
For more casual dining, try the Place Emile-Zola. This is a pleasant square filled with leafy sycamore trees. Our family sometimes wants to eat dinner earlier than most French restaurants begin serving — usually 7:00 pm at the earliest. Early dinners are not a problem at the restaurants in Place Emile-Zola.
If you are renting an apartment with a kitchen, do some food shopping at Dijon’s historic market (Les Halles), which is held Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings from 9:00 to 1:00.
Just outside the walls of the market vendors sell succulent roasted chickens and other prepared food. Next do as the locals do and stop for a coffee or Orangina in one of the cafes ringing Place Francois Rude (Try the Comptoir des Colonies) open Mon-Sat 8am - 7:30 pm). Younger kids will enjoy a ride on the carousel (2 euros).
If your children balk at the escargots in the market or on the restaurant menu, take them by chocolatier Maison Carbillet for a chocolate snail (58, Rue des Forges). While you’re there, you might want to pick up a box of mixed dark, milk and white chocolate escargots to take with you as a souvenir of Dijon.
Where to stay
It is not always easy to find hotels that accommodate families in France. The rooms tend to be small and hotels are strict about enforcing a two-person maximum. For this reason, you might want to consider renting a furnished apartment in the center of town.
Also, since it can be tiring for a family to eat in restaurants all the time, our family enjoyed having a kitchen to prepare the occasional meal.
Apartments to rent in the center of town
The larger of the two apartments has a private outdoor courtyard with table and chairs. One sleeps up to four persons and rents for 150 euros a night, or 700 euros weekly. The other sleeps up to three and rents for 100 euros a night or 600 weekly. Both apartments have a two night minimum.
Hotels with rooms for families
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