When thinking about the best places to visit in France, your first thought might be of Paris or Provence. However, you should consider a journey to the southwest of the country and the Dordogne region. The area offers a wonderful variety of experiences for families from prehistoric sites and medieval castles, to beautiful gardens and breathtaking landscapes. Dordogne has some of the most beautiful villages of France, locals are welcoming, and the food is incredible. With all the region has to offer, there are plenty of things to do in Dordogne with kids.
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Best Things to Do in the Dordogne France with Kids
While the Dordogne is a popular destination in the summer months for European travelers, it’s lesser known to those outside of the continent. This region in the south of France has some of the most beautiful places for families to explore and spend quality time together. If you want to find some of the best things to do on a Dordogne family holiday, start here.
1. Explore the area’s prehistoric sites
The Vézère Valley in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of the Dordogne is an area renowned for its numerous Paleolithic and Neolithic sites. This region has 147 prehistoric sites and 25 caves, making it a great place to learn about prehistoric times.
Grotte de Rouffinac
The Grotte de Rouffinac (Cave of Rouffignac) is over 8 kilometers long and is one of the largest painted prehistoric caves in Europe. In this cave, art was made by carving and engraving into the limestone walls, and there are over 250 drawings and prehistoric cave paintings created 10-15,000 years ago.
Visitors ride an electric train through the half-mile cave to see the bison, horses, and mammoth paintings that cover the ceiling. The heart of the cave is cold and dark, so dress accordingly. This is a great experience for the whole family.
Lascaux IV – International Center for Cave Art
If your family doesn’t want to explore underground, head to the International Center for Cave Art. Lascaux 4 is a complete reproduction of the Lascaux caves which were discovered in 1940 by four boys who were lost in the area.
Inside these caves were beautiful paintings featuring animals that once lived in the region. They were open to the public until 1963, but experts realized the foot traffic was damaging the Paleolithic paintings. Today they are a UNESCO World Heritage site, but they are not open to visitors.
The Cave Art Museum is an identical reproduction of Lascaux, and it has plenty of interactive exhibits to keep kids busy. There’s a café on site, and don’t miss the panoramic views of the Vezere Valley.
Gouffre de Padirac
If your family wants to explore one of the more unique cave systems, head to Gouffre de Padirac where you can explore by land and water! This massive sinkhole is over 100 meters deep and leads to a network of underground caves and rivers.
Visitors descend into the sinkhole via an elevator, followed by a guided boat ride along an underground river. Along the way, you’ll be able to see stunning cave formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, and underground lakes. Your kids won’t forget this amazing experience.
Font de Gaume
The Grotte de Fonte de Gaume at Les Eyzies de Tayac is the last French prehistoric cave with multi-colored paintings still open for public viewing. Each day approximately fifty visitors are allowed to enter. It is important to arrive early as reservations are not accepted.
Tour groups are small so be mindful of this when taking your children. Make this a priority if you are a fan of art history or history in general. It’s not every day you have the chance to see 15,000-year-old cave paintings.
La Roque de Christophe is an enormous prehistoric town consisting of a hundred rock dwellings spread out over five levels. The shelter was built into the side of limestone cliffs over 50,000 years ago.
Children will love exploring the homes and workshops of people from the past. There are interactive booklets for the children making their visit educational as well as fun.
Information boards can be found throughout town explaining the exhibit in English and French. Wear sturdy shoes because the ground is uneven and you must hike a bit to reach the site.
Gouffre de Proumeyssac – The Crystal Cathedral
The Gouffre de Proumeyssac, also known as the Crystal Cathedral, is another stunning cave system that shouldn’t be missed. The cave is known for its incredible stalactites and stalagmites that create a stunning cathedral-like atmosphere.
Here you will find a rare crystal formation known as draperies. These resemble curtains and are made of delicate crystals.
Families can take a guided tour, and learn about the cave’s geology and history. It’s a must-see for all ages.
2. Wander the Jardins du Marqueyssac
I have seen some splendid gardens in my travels, but the Jardins du Marqueyssac are quite remarkable. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Dordogne Valley, these sculptured gardens feature over 150,000 boxwoods on a shaded six-kilometer walking path.
Our children enjoyed running through the maze, exploring the gardens, climbing on rocks, and hiding among the bushes. There were even peacocks roaming the grounds, which of course, our kids loved. The walking paths lead to the Belvédère which has a 630-foot balcony overlooking the Dordogne River below.
We spent half a day at the gardens because our kids wanted to play “hide and seek” the entire time we were there. There is a picnic area and a small cafe on site. This was the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
3. Take a tour of Chateau de Castelnaud
Originally built in the 12th century, the castle figured prominently in The Hundred Years War between England and France, as well as the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. However, by the time of the French Revolution, the castle had been abandoned and fell into disrepair.
In the mid-1900s renovation on the castle began and the grounds now house an amazing collection of medieval weapons and armor. There are full-size trebuchets that will fascinate adults and children alike.
During the summer the chateau has fencing displays, trebuchet launchings, and other hands-on demonstrations.
4. Wander the streets of La Roque-Gageac
La Roque-Gageac is a picturesque medieval village, nestled along the banks of the Dordogne River. The village is famous for its unbelievable setting. Steep cliffs rise up behind the stone houses and buildings.
Take time to explore the streets that wind through the village and check out the parish church that dates to the 14th century. La Roque-Gageac is also home to several historical sites, including a medieval fortress built into the cliffside. To reach the fort, you will need to climb a very steep staircase, but the panoramic views of the river valley are worth it!
5. Spend time in Sarlat-la-Canéda
Our favorite part of visiting the town of Sarlat was simply strolling through the maze of streets in the old town, admiring the honey-colored sandstone buildings, and sampling the fare in the local markets. The medieval town is famous for the charm of its pedestrian-friendly main square and its food offerings.
Be sure to stop by the market or a shop where visitors are encouraged to sample the local produce. Foie gras, truffles, and walnuts are what make this region famous. If your children are older, we recommend taking a food tour in Sarlat.
Better yet, find a cafe in the main square. We recommend finding a crepe filled with one of these delicious regional specialties. Magnifique!
6. Take a Canoe Trip on the Dordogne
For my husband, canoeing the Dordogne River was the one thing he wanted to experience while we were on vacation. There are several companies located near the town of La Roque Gageac that rent canoes. We simply followed the signs to the nearest one.
Children can ride in the canoe adn everyone is given a life jacket and an oar. It is an easy, slow trip down the river. The trip is slow going (at some points I could have walked faster than our boat) and the river level is fairly shallow (I don’t think it was ever more than four feet deep). There are riverside beaches where you can stop for a bite to eat or splash in the water.
For me, this was BORING. The kids and my husband LOVED it. I think the water levels were low, making it a bit too relaxing for my taste. I will say this, there is beautiful scenery as you drift past the quaint villages of Beynac and La Roque Gageac and see the chateaus of Castelnaud and Beynac high above the water.
However, next time I would opt for the gabare (the boat behind me in the picture below) which makes a one-hour river cruise. Same scenery, and a lot less work.
7. Learn about local history at Château de Beynac
Château de Beynac dominates the region from its towering perch. It offers beautiful views of the Dordogne, medieval villages, and the countryside below. The town of Beynac-et-Cazenac is at the base of the chateau and while it does have a few restaurants and shops, the castle is the main attraction.
Dating to the 12th century, the castle figured prominently in the Hundred Years War changing hands from France to England and then back to France again. Many rooms are decorated with giant tapestries or frescoes, and others with feature swords and daggers. All of the rooms reflect different time periods throughout the castle’s history.
Our kids loved exploring this castle. We basically had to run to keep up with them as they dashed excitedly from one room to the next. This is definitely a castle not to be missed.
Where to Stay in Dordogne with Kids
We were fortunate to discover Le Chèvrefeuille, a bed and breakfast that also offers self-catering accommodation. Centrally located in St. Cyprien, it is close to all of the aforementioned sights. This stunning accommodation has won Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence every year since opening.
Staying at Le Chevrefeuille
Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by our hostess Sara, who immediately welcomed us and made us feel at home. We rented a self-catering cottage at Le Chevrefeuille, but there is also the option of staying in one of the bed and breakfast rooms.
Next to our place was a toy room, filled floor to ceiling with toys, movies, and games for children of all ages. We stayed in the two-bedroom Passiflore gite which was perfect for our family of five.
Dining at Le Chevrefeuille
A mix of traditional charm and modern comfort, the unit has a kitchen and dining area, as well as a private terrace. The terrace was perfect for relaxing and watching our children playing in the yard while we enjoyed dinner or a glass of wine.
If you don’t feel like cooking, we would highly recommend the meals prepared by Sara’s husband, Ian, who happens to be a chef. Using locally sourced produce, the dinners consist of four courses served in the beautiful courtyard (when the weather is beautiful) or inside when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Not only is it a wonderful opportunity to experience the flavors of the region, but it is also a fabulous way to meet guests from around the world. You can also borrow a baby monitor and dine knowing your little ones are safe and sound just steps away. This was our favorite meal during a two-week stay in France!
The property has a heated swimming pool with a safety fence, swings, bicycles, and a large grass play area, all of which we could see from our patio. We left the property feeling we were leaving behind our new friends and can’t wait to return again!