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We all dream of backpacking through Europe: staring up at Gothic cathedrals, sitting in streetside cafes, guzzling French wine from the source.

But when you have kids, travel in Europe becomes less about lugging your backpack and more about renting a car and driving through kid-friendly France.

This is the trip we took, our ultimate family road trip through France. From the blue Mediterranean to the manicured gardens of Paris, we spent 12 days traveling through France as a family.

Here is our French road trip itinerary, in Google Maps.

The Best Road Trip Through France With Kids

Day 1-3: Nice on the Mediterranean Sea.

We walked along the beach boardwalk, the Promenade des Anglais, stopping for Nicoise Salad and beach play. In the evening, we hiked up to Castle Hill for a beautiful view of the Côte d’Azur. For a taste of Italy (so close to here), we ate seafood pasta in Old Town.

Tip: Spend a couple days here to adjust to jet lag before driving.

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Nice with Kids: Promenade du Paillon, a giant wooden playground, splash area and green space spanning several streets. Plus carousels and Nutella crepes.

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Day 4: Cannes, Luxury on the Beach.

We strolled (and I do mean with a stroller!) along La Croisette, the beach boardwalk in Cannes. Cannes has one of the only sandy beaches around, which is great for kids! The fancy shops are worth a look, but only for their chic window displays. We took a sunset hike up to an old clock tower, Muse De La Castre, for a great view.

Cannes with Kids: Ferris wheel and carnival games on La Croisette, delicious marzipan candies and cool car spotting.

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Day 5: Provence — Nimes, Aix en Provence, the Pont du Gard, and a little stop in St. Tropez.

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The drive from Cannes to St. Tropez is red orange rocks, turquoise blue water and a two-lane cliffside road a la Highway 1 in California. Sadly, St. Tropez was small and not that exciting.

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In Nimes, we climbed a Roman amphitheater similar to the Colosseum. Provence was full of rolling hills, flowers and also many roundabouts with 7 or more exits. Eek! GPS is so necessary in the rental car.

We spent the night in Aix-en-Provence.

Provence with Kids: Swim or wade in the waters of the Pont du Gard, an old Roman aqueduct. There’s a visitor center too with kid-friendly exhibits. And don’t forget the gelato!

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Day 6: Lyon, a Place for Foodies.

Look at our itinerary for a road trip through France on Google Maps.

Drive from Aix-en-Provence to Lyon on a main highway — boring yet fast. Be prepared to pay tolls for this convenience. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. They have strange sausages (pig intestine anyone?) and loads of candy shops. We took a sunset walk along the Saône and had a prix-fixe dinner in Old Town.

Lyon with Kids: Humongous strawberry marshmallows and soft licorice. The statues and buildings are all lit up at night, some pink and covered with real flowers.

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Day 7: Lake Annecy in the Alps and a short stop in Geneva, Switzerland.

Enough cities for a bit! We drove through a series of tunnels to Annecy, home to gorgeous alpine Lake Annecy. We rented a boat to explore the large turquoise lake and breathe in mountain air.

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For the Kids: They’ll want to drive the boat! Plus, there are playgrounds, mini cart races and plenty of room to run.

Note: If you want to see Geneva from here, you will need to buy a “vignette” for your car upon entering (approx $40 USD). If you don’t you risk being pulled over and fined. Let’s just say we drove with caution during our short time in Geneva.

Day 8: Beaune, the heart of Burgundy Wine

The Burgundy wine region of France is famous for two reasons: one, Burgundy wine (Bourgogne) and two, Boeuf Bourguignon. We tried and loved both.

We trudged through cold, damp wine cellars and wine-tasted in old farmhouses. The wine-tasting experience in Burgundy is a bit more awkward than we’re used to in California. The tasting is free but you better buy a bottle. It’s helpful if you know some French since these are small towns.

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We stayed overnight in Beaune and explored the Route des Grands Crus on our way north out of town. We visited the Cassissium, dedicated to the blackcurrant, which later inspired my Blackcurrant Parfait.

Burgundy with Kids: There are several different museums around here that appeal to kids — the Cassissium and L’Imaginarium. The grocery stores in this part of France were well-stocked with odd snack foods like peanut-flavored cheese puffs. Get the kids out of their food comfort zone!

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Day 9: Champagne Region — Dijon/Épernay/Reims

FYI, Dijon mustard is not made in Dijon anymore. Don’t stop here to learn this! The highlight of this day was traveling through the Champagne region. We stopped at some small local Champagne producers. James stumbled through his French and somehow convinced the lady to give us a tour of the plant. Of course, we bought some bottles as is appropriate!

Make sure to stop in Épernay for the stylish Champagne bars and to visit Dom Perignon. We stayed the night in Reims before our final drive into Paris.

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Day 10-12: Paris!

Since we had our car, it was easy to see the Palace of Versailles and its perfect gardens on the way into Paris. Hint: Fill up the tank and drop off the car at a non-busy hour or you’ll regret driving into Paris.

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We saw the old standards here: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Jardin de Tuileries. Paris has a carousel on every corner and the best desserts on the planet!

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Paris with Kids: Chocolate croissants, macarons and challenging playgrounds. We even went to the movie theater and saw a kid’s movie in French.

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Tips For Driving a Car in France

Rent a small car. Unless you want to almost lop off one of the side mirrors driving through St. Tropez, you need to get at largest a compact sedan. We recommend Sixt.

Have Cash for Tolls. Most of the larger highways have tolls. Don’t think you’ll try to zoom through small towns to avoid tolls. They have speed cameras. The rental car agency will be notified of the ticket — don’t ask how I know this.

Have Several Credit/Debit Cards with pin numbers. When getting gas, sometimes your card won’t work. It will ask for a pin for a credit card and they’ll be no other way to pay.

Walk into a Narrow Street Before Driving It. Especially in small towns, you may not be able to get your car out of a narrow street without backing up the whole way. Avoid 50-point turns if you can!

Get a GPS for Roundabouts. Don’t turn down the GPS on the rental car. Some roundabouts have 10+ exits!

I wish you the best in planning your family road trip through France!