Oct 1st, 2023, 12:00 PM

Childlike Wonder: Restoring Nostalgia at the Luxembourg Gardens

By Paloma Kluger
Toy sailboats in the Luxembourg Gardens pond. Image Credit: Paloma Kluger
An afternoon in this garden will restore your faith in the joyful simplicities of life.

Le Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Gardens, has been a staple of Paris since the 17th century. Parisians and foreigners alike gather in the idyllic gardens perfectly placed in the sixième arrondissement. The park evokes a sense of timelessness as it remains relatively unchanged from its classic Parisian atmosphere. Some might call this place a bubble of serenity as it removes visitors from the anxieties of the modern world. Others might call it nostalgic as the gardens never fail to bring people back to a childlike state of wonder.

For certain folks, le Jardin du Luxembourg holds vivid childhood memories. There are many kid-friendly activities that allow children to develop their sense of adventure, build a strong connection with Parisian culture, and even discover future passions. A wooden carousel of zoo animals operates daily, dazzling children with a ring catching game embedded in the contraption. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, join Guignole, the friendly puppet, as he teaches kids valuable lessons in life. However, whether or not you have a personal attachment to this place, it will certainly restore your wonder and optimism.

Théâtre du Luxembourg (home of Guignole's puppet shows). Image Credit: Paloma Kluger

Imagine this: a warm, sunny day – perhaps too warm for early September, but nonetheless picturesque. You enter the massive gates which remain from the 1600s and walk down a gravel pathway as you hear the screams and laughs of children basking in their youth. The first thing you notice is that there is not an electronic device in sight. 

At the end of this path, you come across the smallest of ponies imaginable. A herd of about eight or so miniature ponies stand ever so calmly as people of all ages smile at and pet the beautiful creatures. As you look to your left, you see a procession of these tiny creatures carrying toddlers on their backs. You see the smiles on the children’s faces, and you cannot help but smile. Maybe you remember the days you begged and begged your parents to take you to the gardens so you could ride the ponies (and if you got lucky, the donkeys which were bigger). Maybe you have never even seen a horse before. Nonetheless, seeing these little humans experiencing the purest of joy without the help of a screen or gadget warms your heart. You then wish you too were that small, small enough to experience that joy. These adorable ponies are spotted every afternoon at the gardens, from 3 to 5 PM.

Ponies at the Luxembourg Gardens. Image Credit: Paloma Kluger

After this episode of what equestrians like to call, “horsey-vibe-time,” you continue to walk down the gravel path and you spot (well, it’s rather hard to miss) an enormous staircase, leading to the center of the gardens: a pond. This pond is, of course, lovely to gaze upon, but what makes it unique to the park are the little wooden sailboats floating about the seas of the manmade pond. These sailboats are not battery operated, as most Gen-Zers might remember from their youth, but operated by a long stick used to push the boats toward the center of the pond should they wash up “ashore.” Although the low-tech battery-operated boats were wonders to that generation, it is difficult to find children today who even find interest in such toys. However, the Luxembourg Gardens present zero-tech fun which succeed at attracting people of all ages. You look to your right, and you see little children laughing as they fight over who gets to push their sailboat back toward the center of the pond. You look toward your left, and you see a tourist who made sure to rent out the sailboat with their home flag on it. All of a sudden, you notice a pirate ship in the middle of the pond! These toy boats set sail every day.

Among the smiles of youths and visitors, you notice older folk who seem to be quite content with sitting in the garden’s green metal chairs and people watching. They smile too as the toddlers giggle on ponies, wrestle with one another, and even race on scooters. Some of these folk also opt to read a newspaper in the sun. You hope that one day you will feel that serene. As you smile to yourself, you check your watch and realize that a few hours have already passed.

Flowers in the Luxembourg Gardens. Image Credit: Paloma Kluger

The magic felt at the Jardin du Luxembourg is unlike anywhere else in Paris. You cannot feel it unless you visit it yourself, but it is certain that the joyful youths, lack of technology, and beautiful scenery will restore your own childlike wonder. It will bring nostalgia to those who have never even encountered it. In short, the careless, joyful, youthful nostalgia felt in these gardens is merely a reflection of the simplicity and serenity found in such a gem of the city. Where a child in the 17th century felt the magic is where another will feel it in the 21st century and beyond.