As every amateur palaeontologist knows, dinosaurs are wonderful – and France has a wealth of them.
There are serious museums all about them, parks full of replicas, on-going digs unearthing dinosaur bones, teeth and eggs, plus incredible places where you can see actual footprints left millions of years ago by real live dinosaurs.
Dinosaur-themed parks feature everything from accurate life-size models to dinosaurs somehow mixed up with dragons, but young children like their dinos served with a slice of magic.
Landes park for younger children
Under-10s love the Dinosaures Parc in Azur-Lac (Landes) which has animatronic dinosaurs, massive multicoloured dragons, fairground rides, a dino-train, and an inflatable rodeo dino which, it has to be said, bears a striking resemblance to an ordinary rodeo bull. Younger kids will not care.
There is plenty of space to run around and lots of fun stuff to do.
The park is small but there is more than enough to keep young children amused.
Dig for bones in Doubs
The Parc Dino-Zoo in Charbonnières-les-Sapins (Doubs) is larger, with a log flume and a 4D cinema, which is thrilling for 12-year-olds but perhaps a bit scary for preschoolers.
The walk through the woods is really well set out.
Each dinosaur has its own setting, and there is enough information to make it interesting.
There is also a fairground ride involving plastic dinosaurs rocking slowly round a track, a fascinating section on dinosaur eggs, an opportunity to dig for dinosaur bones, and a really good playground with slides made of twisty pipes.
Cave and woodland setting in the Lot
Such is the enthusiasm for all things dino that there are dinosaur parks all over France; the Préhisto Dino Parc in Lacave (Lot) also has a massive cave to explore, La Grotte des Carbonnières.
Two-in-one tickets are available for entry into both attractions.
The 150 dinos on the site are set in woodlands (with appropriate piped noises) and there is also a Neolithic village with waxworks in Tarzan outfits.
The paths are suitable for pushchairs.
Huge dinosaur models in Dordogne
The Parc aux Dinosaures in Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère (Dordogne) has 30 massive models plus a bouncy dino.
It has Préhisto-branches (an adventure playground) and for an extra ticket, you can walk along the cliffs to see the Troglodyte cave dwellings on the same site.
Fossil activities and 4D cinema in the Vendée
Dino’s Park in Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez (Vendée) has eight scenes featuring robotic dinosaurs, a 4D cinema, and massive performing dino puppets which put on a show about prehistory.
It also offers fossil activities, a ‘dig’, a playground, pedal cars, archery, a big slide using rubber rings, a treasure hunt, mini-golf and finger painting.
Some of the activities and rides are not included in the entrance price but are only 1 or 2 euros extra. Not suitable for pushchairs.
Free and historically accurate park in Bouches-du-Rhône
Dinosaur’Istres in Istres (Bouches-du-Rhône) is totally free, and almost totally historically accurate.
The 40 models are arranged in chronological order and there are information panels so you can answer the tricky questions fired at you by junior members on the excursion.
There is shade but the walk is open 24/7 if you fancy inspecting a dino in the dusk, or your children are early risers. The paths are not really suitable for pushchairs.
Jurassic Garden and prehistoric scenes in Brittany
In Brittany, the Tropical Parc is an amazing collection of international gardens: Australia, Mexico, China, Thailand, and Africa, as well as a Jurassic Garden stuffed with life-size models of dinosaurs, some of them animatronic.
The park also contains a series of greenhouses and hothouses, and offers a free bird show every afternoon at 3.30pm.
Although it is not a zoo, the park has a herd of wallabies, along with goats, sheep and other small farmyard animals which children can feed with special popcorn.
The aviaries are a popular attraction, as is the desert hothouse with its three-metre tall cacti.
Also in Brittany, the Parc de Préhistoire looks at how dinosaurs disappeared and humans replaced them. It is designed to be educational but fun, and there are, of course, life-size dinosaurs, and a display of ‘extraordinary animals’.
Children love the model scenes of prehistoric people around a campfire, making tools, hunting, fishing, making music and setting up camp.
Serious palaeontology in Hérault
For an even more scientific approach, the open air Musée Parc des Dinosaures in Mèze (Hérault) is on the site of an ongoing dig where a cache of dinosaur bones and nests containing fossilised eggs has been found.
The displays along the outdoor walk contain a wealth of information, and the dinosaur footprints are impressive.
There are also reconstructed prehistoric dwellings and videos to watch.
Although there is a sandpit where children can excavate fossils, the museum isn’t really aimed at tiny tots. It’s unmissable for anyone with a serious interest in palaeontology.
Virtual reality experience in Allier
Paléopolis in Gannat (Allier) is constructed on the site where the remains of a 23 million-year-old Diaceratherium lemanense rhinoceros was discovered in a quarry.
The indoor museum space has temporary as well as permanent scientific exhibitions with hundreds of fossils and dinosaur skeletons, but the site works hard to appeal to all ages.
Outside, there are three life-sized dinosaur models and a children’s playground.
There are also workshops for children, including the most popular one for 5 to 15-year-olds which teaches them how to excavate bones and fossils.
There is another on making plaster moulds of fossils, and for preschoolers a workshop using stickers to learn the difference between dinosaurs and other animals, and between herbivores and carnivores.
The workshops have to be booked on the day. Other activities include the Jurassic Park Base Camp (for fans of the film) and an experience using a virtual reality headset.
Prehistoric circus in the Yonne
Cardoland in Chamoux (Yonne) has 88 life-size dinosaurs plus a cave decorated with replica artwork and dramatised with the sounds of waterfalls, roaring dinos, storms and volcanic eruptions.
Some models are robotic, and the accent is on performance with a prehistoric circus (the artistes wear animal prints and lots of the acts involve horses or fire), a nursery for baby dinos (a robotic baby brachiosaur breaks out of his egg at 2pm daily) and a carnivore training session (a T-Rex robot eats at 3pm daily) and there are activities including face painting, learning to juggle, brushing the sand off a dino skeleton, and finger painting.
This is a fun attraction designed to give kids of all ages a thoroughly good time.
Fossil forest (and mini-golf) in the Gard
Dinopédia Parc near Alès (Gard) claims to be the biggest dinosaur park in France.
It refers to its resident dinos as ‘boarders’ and just in case you are having a day off dinosaurs, they have a brand new mini-golf course.
To give you an idea of the fun approach, they forbid dogs on the grounds that a T-Rex would eat a dog in one mouthful, and they have the Restovaure where you can buy snacks.
Attractions include a petit train, an adventure playground for toddlers, a fossil forest, and a magic tree (kids sit under it to hear a storyteller recount the legend of Dinopédia), making it a great destination for families with younger children and dinosaur fans of all ages.
Traditional museum in Paris
If your interest is seriously scientific, visit the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris.
Apart from anything else, with full-price tickets at 9 euros and reduced-price tickets at 6 euros, it is cheaper than many other dino destinations.
It is a very traditional museum, with many exhibits in wooden cases.
The permanent exhibition includes some wonderful dinosaur skeletons, like the 20 metre-long Rorqual skeleton at the entrance.
Visit the Voyage au Temps des Dinosaurs exhibition and learn that dinos did not drag their tails along behind them like crocodiles, but used them to counter-balance their weight.
Also, not all dinos were massive. Some were relatively small, and in fact not all dinosaurs completely died out.
It is thought that some wild birds in the modern world are descended from smaller dinosaurs.
There is also a section about 19th- and 20th-century palaeontologists, complete with photos of them standing proudly astride their discoveries.
T-Rex display in Aude
If Paris is too far, Dinosauria in Espéraza (Aude) is a specialist dinosaur museum which opened in 1992.
The area has been the location of some of France’s biggest dinosaur finds, and the permanent exhibition includes a hall of locally found dinos.
Overall, this is a serious museum aimed at kids of 11 and up, but there is an entire area devoted to T-Rexes which will delight children of all ages.
It covers the biology and life cycle of the T-Rex as well as looking at how it became such an iconic creature.
The museum runs various workshops during the school holidays, and details are on the website.
Dinosaurs and planetarium in Calvados
In Normandy, Paléospace in Villers-sur-Mer (Calvados) offers the dual attractions of dinos and space.
The museum has a permanent exhibition of dinosaurs reconstructed from fossils discovered in Normandy, and a Galerie Jurassique explaining what the region was like 160 million years ago.
They also have a paleo lab where visitors learn to recognise and uncover real fossils of dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and ammonites.
Until February 2023 there is a temporary exhibition about the evolution of crocodiles, often referred to as living dinosaurs.
Although dangerous, the combination of the crocodile leather and meat trade with the destruction of their natural habitats means that some species are in danger of extinction.
There are lots of fun and educational workshops on offer for 6 euros per session.
The planetarium has plenty of sessions for children of 7 and up, as well as special sessions for kids from 4 to 8 years old.
The two attractions are paradise for budding scientists, and combined tickets are available.
Before setting off on the dino-trail, with or without junior palaeontologists in tow, either check the website or ring ahead, just in case of unexpected closures.