From July 21st to August 21st, “Paris Beach” or “Paris Plages” is staged for its 9th successful year this 2011. I have read of how Paris brings in loads of sand to make a beach along the Seine River and this year, the event was being upgraded with new beach chairs, parasols, and 10x more sand than previous years.
My kids love playing with sand and this event saved our sanity (especially compared to the expensive Reims outing). We went 3 times in the same week(!) to the same location of Hotel de Ville in the 4th arrondisement and if you arrive before noon, you will definitely find unoccupied beach chaises to lie down on while the children play with sand that’s roughly 2 feet/60 cm deep. The sand is a beautiful, golden brown, sugary texture when damp and is like fine, castor sugar when dry. Where does Paris get this pure, unadulterated stuff?! I was not the only curious person picking up the sand and examining it between my fingers like a Klondike panner looking for gold.
I had the pleasure of lying down under a blue parasol with palm trees nearby while watching all the tour boats drive by on the River Seine. Free sand toys were provided the 2nd time we came (we brought our own shovels) and we discovered a children’s pirate ship/play area further down the beach. The weekend was obviously more busy, with new sightings of Parisian sunbathers seriously taking in the sun. Picnickers near us brought their own beach blanket and 3 bottles of wine with their lunch. We really felt like we were at the beach although there was a scary episode when a neighbouring couple dashed towards the Seine and looked over the railings to see if their toddler fell into the murky River (turned out he was still in his stroller but you can imagine the panic and chaos of having young children so close to the water).
An added bonus was that our Toronto neighbour (with whom we recently met in Paris, which is where she is from) informed us of the free shuttle bus that runs from Les Invalides to Gare d’Austerlitz (but not related to Paris Plages) so we had the opportunity to ride the bus to the beach and view Paris from a different perspective! Much more entertaining than subway transportation.
We liked the Paris beach even though it’s a bit quirky: lots of tourists take photos of you from the bridge, the River is polluted, and there you are in the middle of crazy-busy Paris with clean sand and palm trees surrounding you. I would recommend going to Paris Plages if you have the chance. The 19th arrondissement would be very interesting, where Paris Plages has more activities like paddleboating or floating spheres, and it is close to the science centre (at Parc de la Villette) so kids have a lot of entertainment at their feet.