If you are staying in the South of France with your children or grandchildren, here is the Go Languedoc guide to the best things to do in South of France with kids, as compiled following extensive research and much debate by our 3 boys, Cameron 16, Archie 13 and Finlay 10. There were many other items that didn't make it into the Top 10 and we have over 9 years experience of touring around South France and the South of France entertaining our little monkeys. If you are looking for a particular activity or want some ideas for your vacation, then please drop me a line (Iain Laverock) and I will be happy to send you some suggestions. Enjoy your visit.
1. Things to do in South of France - boat ride from Marseille to the Calanques
We did this trip last summer when we were visiting friends in Marseille and it was great. From the central port in Marseille (Vieux Port), you take a boat trip along the coast to Cassis. Close to Cassis there is a wonderful inlet (called the Calanques), which has beautiful turquoise waters and a small beach at the end. The boat drops anchor and you can then jump overboard and snorkle about following the fish. The boat trip lasts about 3.5 hours. Make sure you take a picnic, as well as arm bands, snorkles and swimming trunks.
We used a boat company called Turquoise Calanques, but there are plenty of other companies that do the same trip. There are 2 departure times (09.30 and 14.00). On the way out to the Calanques you get a great view of Marseille, the old castle and the cliffs along the coastline.
2. Things to do in South of France - Park Phoenix, Nice
This park is a real gem if you're at a loose end trying to find an activity for the kids to do. Park Phoenix is an ecological park located in the western suburbs of Nice opposite Nice airport. Park Phoenix is probably best suited to smaller children as it provides a shaded area where they can wander around and feed animals, walk through the tropical rain forest, see the Wallabys, etc. If you get a hot day in the height of summer then walking around this park with its shaded greenery is perfect. The lake with the ducks and swans is very nice.
Park Phoenix costs virtually nothing. Tickets for Adults cost €3 and children are free. Thepark opens from 09.30 to 18.30 each day. there is a nice picnic area and I think that you could easily spend around 4 hours here before the obligatory clamour for ice cream kicks in.
3. Things to do in South of France - Having a Picnic at the Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard, situated just north of Nimes, is one of the most dramatic monuments of the Roman architecture in France. This Roman aqueduct, was built around AD50 to carry water over 50 km from Uzes to Nimes. There are two alternative places to eat at this famous Roman Aqueduct. You can either eat on the banks of the river with a fantastic view of the bridge in all its glory, or you can pick a nice shady spot on the botanical trail through the Mediterranean garden. Once you've finished with your picnic, you children can be entertained swimming in the river under the bridge, visiting the childrens activity centre in the Pont du Gard visitors centre or just lazing in the sun besides one of the most famous sites in the South of France (see Pont du Gard for more details). For other Picnic ideas see our article Best Picnic Spots
4. Things to do in South of France with kids - Aqualand, Frejus
Our favourite rides at the Aqualand waterpark in Frejus were the King Cobra - absolutely terrifying, a pitch black ride that seems to last for ever and takes you spinning and turning down; the Niagra - a straight long chute that propels you down in 2 seconds; and the Black hole - a massive flume. But all of these slides do attract massive queues. There is a clutch of good slides which don't get too busy (Anaconda, Colour Splash and Blue Mountain). The wave machine pool is very good and the toddler pools are safe and entertaining. There was not too much to go on if you were under 1.10m. If you do have small children, you might be better visiting Speedwater near Aix-en-Provence, as I doubt they will get their money's worth here (see below)
Despite all the queueing we had a good day out. It is not something I want to do every day, but it is good fun nonetheless. It certainly brings out the big kid in you. We visited the Aqualand park in Frejus. There is also another Aqualand in Sainte-Maxime just up the road. I have no idea which is the better park (Aqualand seem to have similar rides at their parks), but when we looked it up on the internet, Frejus seemed to have more rides and looked a bigger park.
5. Things to do in South of France - Speedwater Park, Aix-en-Provence
If you want an alternative to the beach or an economical alternative to Aqualand, then Speedwater Park near Aix-en-Provence could be just the place for you. We took our kids here last summer (ages 16, 14 and 11). Basically, Speedwater is a cheaper version of Aqualand (well I say cheap, it is still a water park, so charges a fortune). But the key difference to Aqualand, is that you do not have to fight to get a sunbed, the restaurants/cafes are not swarming with people and generally the queue for the rides is around 30 mins and not 45 mins. We went to Aqualand a couple of summers a go at the beginning of July (before the North of France descends on the South of France coast) and it was still absolutely packed. With Speedwater, we visited it in the middle of August. I was fearing the worst, but it was actually OK.
Th main attractions at Speedwater is the Black Fear. There was not a hope in hell of getting me on this ride - it is just a long straight chute about 30m high and propels you down like a bullet. Only one of our kids did this ride and he is a nutter anyway. I thought that the Light Hole was the best ride for me. Anyway for about €100 for 5 of us it was a good day out. The only shame is that they do not do a family ticket like Aqualand. Speedwater Park South France is located in between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, just off the A52. The park opens from 10.00am and I would recommend that you arrive about 15 mins before the park opens.
6. Things to do in South of France - Canoeing up the Gorge du Verdon
This is our boys' favourite day out in the South of France. The Gorge du Verdon is a massive canyon with a river running through it. It is ofetn referred to as France's equivalent to the Grand Canyon (but I think that this is stretching it a bit). The amazing thing about the Gorge du Verdon, is that it was only discovered about 100 years ago. I mean seriously, how could they have missed it for all these years? It was not exactly playing hide and seek.
We normally hire canoes from a place near the village of Montmeyan. The canoe hire shop is open from 10.00 until 18.30. It costs around €50 for around 2 hours (which to be honest is about long enough). Even if you take a picnic and stop off half way along, by the end of 2 hours in a kayak your back and shoulders are pretty sore. The key thing for our kids is to find the biggest rocks and then to clamber out of the canoe and jump into the water (the aim being to splash their mum as much as possible).
The Gorge du Verdon is about 25 mins North East of Aix-en-Provence.
7. Things to do in South of France - Ecopark Adventures
If you're looking for an activity for your children with a bit of a difference, then Ecopark Adventures could be for you. Set in dense forest in the hills above Toulon, Ecopark specialises in tree climbing adventures, encompassing abseiling, tree canopy walks and rope ladders. Whilst this may not be for those fearful of heights (like me!), this is great fun. It takes you back to being 10 years old again. Oh and the kids will enjoy it as well. Our lot thought it was brilliant and they slept like Pandas in the car on the way home.
Ecopark runs two tree climbing parks. The one we went to was close to the village of Sollies-Ville which is about 25 mins from Toulon. They do run another park closer to Marseille, but this one was more convenient for us as we were visiting the grandparents in Toulon.
The parks are well managed and the instructors give a full safety demonstration before you start. Everything is controlled by zip wires so it is virtually impossible to fall. The Ecopark opens from 13.00 everyday and closes at 19.30. The minimum height restriction is 1.10m and to be honest I think that under 6s would struggle a bit with even the lower level courses. I didn't think that it was too expensive. They do provide a family ticket (as long as you have 5 or more people participating - which suited our family of 5).
8. Things to do in South of France - Velorail Sainte-Baume
If you are looking for something a bit different that can entertain all ages, then the Velorail at Sainte-Baume in the heart of Provence, is just perfect. So how to describe it?? Well if you remember watching those old Laurel & Hardy films where they used to get stuck on a railway line on an old bogey cart, then that is sort of like Velorail. It is a metal cart with 2 bikes on the front that pedals you along the railway line. Actually, that was a pretty rubbish description, but hopefully you sort of get the idea. The main thing to focus on is that you are out in the open countryside cycling along an old railway line that tajkes your through tunnels and over bridges. The views are great and everyone can take it in turns to pedal, whilst the others sit and admire the view. You cycle for about 1.5 hours and then an old steam train comes and collects you for the return trip. When we did it, we started a trend of holding our hands up and screaming whenever we went through a tunnel. At first the people behind us thought we were mad! But eventually they joined in as well until we had the whole line of carts doing it.
The Sainte-Baume Velorail is located just off the A8 autoroute at junction 33. Velorail opens from 10.00 each day (from 14.00 in the low season from September to March). The ride takes about 2 hours and they are pretty strict on you departing on time. There are 3 set departure times (10.00, 14.00 and 16.00). This is so that they can arrange your collection by the steam train. I would still aim to get there about midday because there is a nice picnic area. It costs €27 for a party of 5 (basically you get 5 onto one buggy).
9. Things to do in South of France - Barben Zoo South France
Barben Zoo - or Parc Zoologique de la Barben, to give it its full title - is a good day out in a lovely parkland setting close to Salon de Provence (about 20km from Aix-en-Provence). Zoos are always a hit with our boys and we easily spent 4 hours walking round and we still didn't see all of the animals. There are bears, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, antelope - you name it. It is some years ago since we went (I think we went for my middle sons 7th birthday and he is 14 now!). I distinctly remember it being as hot as hell and there was not much shade. So I would certainly advise taking plenty of sun block and hats. The bird demonstration was pretty good. You sit in this little amphitheatre and the birds of prey swoop down over your heads.
Barben zoo is located off the A7 autoroute (Exit 15). Then you follow signs for the village of Pélissane. It is pretty easy to find and there are plenty of signs. The zoo is open everyday from 10.00 to 18.00. It costs around €10 for children and €15 for adults.
10. Things to do in South of France with kids- Marineland, Antibes
I have to admit, I have not been to Marineland, but we have some friends who took their kids and they said it was very good. It is not cheap, but they said that the park is laid out really nicely and the organised shows were very good. The entry price is about €50 for adults and €35 for kids, but this does give you access to both the Marineland and the Kids Island (which is an adventure park for smaller children) or the Aquasplash water park. In Marineland itself there is a shark tunnel, polar bears, penguins, sea lions and turtles. The Kids Island by the look of it involves face painting, a cowboys shooting gallery and poney rides.
Marineland is located just on the outskirts of Antibes, in between Nice and Cannes. You can find it by coming off the A8 Autoroute (Biot exit). The park opens from 10.00 am each day and closes at either 18.00 or 19.00 depending on the season.
Other things for kids in South of France:
Le village de Fous - a small theme park for younger children located near Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Aquarium, Le Grau-du-roi - one of the best aquariums around this area. Visit http://www.seaquarium.fr for more information