the dordogne river from above with a small chateaux on the side

Visiting the Dordogne with kids

France is a great bet for a family holiday, it’s absolutely stunning, the food is delicious and there is an endless array of child friendly activities. But which area to pick? The South West is one of my favourites for weeks of fun, sun and outdoor activities so here is everything you need to know about visiting the Dordogne with kids.

Why the Dordogne is a great place for a family holiday

If your family love getting outdoors, culture, history and adventure the Dordogne region of France makes a wonderful place for a holiday with kids. Delightful medieval villages and bustling French towns nestle into acres of unspoilt countryside. With many activities centred around the huge Dordogne river, numerous lakes and miles of cycle tracks. The weather is wonderful meaning you’ll want to spend most of your holiday outdoors.

lalinde bridge with stone archways crossing the dordogne river

Things to do in the Dordogne with kids

Swim in the river

The Dordogne is ALL about the river. It stretches almost 500km and is the fifth longest in France. Ask a local where’s best to swim in it and they’ll just shrug their shoulders and point. Kids jump in pretty much anywhere. It’s clean, fairly shallow and blissfully cool in the baking summer heat. Local children jump from bridges or tall rocks along its shore but I don’t really recommend that, just find a nice beach on the river bank and wade in. Popular spots include Vitrac which is also home to a camp site and cafe or Saint Aulaye which has life guards on busy summer days.

young girl in shorts and white t shirt following her father along stepping stones on the dordogne river

Explore a Chateaux

Did you know that there are more than a thousand Chateaux in the Dordogne region alone? Many of them are privately owned with families opening them up for tours during lush summer days. We’ve visited several and always love learning the history of each and every one. Younger kids will love getting their imaginations fired up playing Rapunzel or dragons or Knights. These “castles” are all beautiful, turret filled masterpieces. Just have a drive round and you’ll soon see a sign. These are often great places to practice your French, many of the private family tours will be french language only, just ask them to go slow and pick up what you can.

white stone castle with grey pointed turrets

Read next: How to plan a family trip to Paris

Discover an inland beach

My daughter is obsessed with swimming so the Dordogne is her idea of heaven. As mentioned you can easily jump into the gently flowing Dordogne river but the region is also home to some amazing inland lake beaches. Our favourite is Pombonne Lake to the North of Bergerac. The lake is bordered by a lovely sandy beach and is shallow and pretty warm over summer. There are lifeguards and a small restaurant making it the ideal day out in the Dordogne with kids. Plus it’s absolutely free to visit!

young girl wild swimming in a lake in the dordogne, france

Try out the cycle trails

The Dordogne is absolutely perfect for biking. The roads are really quiet and the whole region is pretty flat. One of our favourite bike trails is the Sarlat Voie Verte which is a full 29km across quiet paths, through tunnels and along the river. You’ll be able to hire bikes all over the area, some companies such as Velodulot will even deliver directly to your holiday cottage.

Wander the medieval villages

The Dordogne region is home to heaps of beautiful medieval French villages. They’re spread far and wide across the area and range from tiny hamlets to grand, bustling towns. If you can squeeze it into your itinerary I recommend just driving around, stopping wherever you fancy to explore or grab a strong coffee and watch the locals go about their daily lives.

lalinde pretty french town in the dordogne

One of our favourite towns to explore is Bergerac located right of the banks of the Dordogne, it’s a great spot for boat trips along the river, has some fabulous restaurants and a market several times a week. Lalinde in the North of the region is another brilliant one to visit for its typically French architecture and easy access to the river for paddling.

Visit a vineyard

Great wine and France goes hand in hand and the Dordogne Valley is one of the best places to try it. As you drive across the region you’ll find roads bordered by row upon row of perfectly ordered vines. Even without tasting the produce, they’re super pretty to see. Most are independently owned and vintners will be happy to take you on a wine tasting tour. Don’t worry about bringing the kids along, owners are used to families arriving and are usually very good with kids.

vineyard with green vines in france

Rent a kayak

As you’ve probably realised by now, a lot of family friendly activities in the Dordogne take place on the water. If you fancy staying (reasonably) dry then there are heaps of places hiring out canoes and kayaks. You can then spend a blissful morning or afternoon paddling down the Dordogne. Pack yourself a picnic and pull in at one of the river banks beaches when you’re hungry.

Spend the day at a water park

Around many of the busier towns in the Dordogne you’ll find small but sweet waterparks full of inflatable slides and water games making good use of the warm river water. For something a little larger and livelier you could try Parc Aquatique La Saule in Betaille which has an adventure playground, mini golf and water slides or Quercyland which has a whopping 7 pools and organised water sports in Souillac.

sandy beach on the dordogne river

Do your shopping in a market

Visiting a local market is practically compulsory during a family holiday to France. The Dordogne is absolutely packed with little markets selling fresh, seasonal, local produce and adorable trinkets which make the perfect souvenirs. You can find a great list of markets over on Everything Dordogne.

Where to stay in the Dordogne with kids

Ordinarily when writing family friendly destination guides I like to recommend hotels and rentals for places to stay. We all have different preferences after all. But in the Dordogne Valley I really think you have to stay in a gite or villa. There are heaps available ranging from super economical to massive luxury villas boasting pools and modern kitchens. What they all seem to have in common is how very pretty they all are.

flower pots filled with red flowers hanging from a yellow stone wall

Having your own space makes the stay with kids even more fun, children will have plenty of space to run around and play games and most will have outdoor space where you can enjoy a barbecue and a glass of local wine while the sun sets.

dordogne countryside seen through s small window in a french holiday rental

We stayed in a lovely gite in La Corregie, surrounded by farmers fields and vineyards with fabulous views of the surrounding valley. You can find it here on Airbnb.

the sky lit up in yellow and orange above a balcony in the dordogne

Where to eat in the Dordogne with kids

If you’ve rented a holiday villa like we did then half the fun of a holiday in the Dordogne is visiting the local markets and cooking up your finds. This way picky eaters wont ruin you’re meal out and you can prepare your meals as and when you want them. We always had chunks of baguette, cheeses and jams for lunches on the go and cooked meat and fish on the barbecue most evenings.

If you want to eat out then don’t be afraid to try somewhere new. Tiny bistros tucked into side streets are often heaving with locals at lunch time. They will serve the plat du jour or plate of the day which changes daily depending on what is fresh and available. It’s always great value but you’ll often have no clue what you’re eating!

In the cities and larger towns you’ll find plenty of pizza and pasta places and even some burger joints. They’ll always be something to keep the kids happy.

What to eat in the Dordogne

Food in the Dordogne is fresh and delicious. The focus is on local and seasonal and is best picked up and made into a picnic from a local market or served freshly cooked from an independent village bistro. Make sure you try the Rocamadour which is a mild and creamy goats cheesy delight or the freshly picked strawberries over summer, they are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Of course wine is a big deal in the Dordogne, always buy local, it’s so good and always better value than the imports.

How to get around the Dordogne

If you want to fully explore all that the Dordogne has to offer you’ll need to rent a car (or drive over in your own). The region is pretty large and some of the best bits are tucked away down country lanes off any bus or train routes. There is a rail network connecting towns like Perigueux and Bergerac. And a few bus routes connecting the smaller towns although the timetables aren’t always that reliable.

pretty church in the dordogne

How to get to the Dordogne

There are a few options if you want to fly to The Dordogne. You’ll find an international airport in Bergerac and there’s also one in Bordeaux which is just to the West of the region. There’s a smaller airport in Brive which is a good place to fly into from Paris.

We tend to drive when we go to France. The ferry or tunnel is a great way to get across the Channel from the UK. Then it’s the fairly scenic drive down the country. It’s a long way to travel in one go, over eight hours from Calais so I recommend stopping off somewhere on the way down. We love Lille or even Versailles as an overnight to break up the journey. Check out this post if you’d like to follow our recent route down to the Dordogne during our 2 weeks in France.

narrow streets in the dordogne

As mentioned, you can fly to the Dordogne from Paris but you can also get the train to various towns and cities in the region. This will probably require you to change trains in Bordeaux and will take over 5 hours.

Weather in the Dordogne

Over the summer months the weather in the region is hot, hot, hot so if you’re visiting the Dordogne with kids you’ll want to make good use of all the water activities available. The heat doesn’t feel too oppressive but it can make hiking pretty tough on little legs. The Autumn months tend to stay pretty warm and offer up glorious sunsets whilst Spring is stunning as the region comes to life.

overgrown well in the dordogne, france

Over winter it can get very cold and regularly drops below freezing. Although it rarely snows it will be crisp and clear with occasional rain.

How long to spend in the Dordogne

The Dordogne is best travelled slowly with lazy days spent by the river and visiting random villages. I could happily spend a month exploring with a few day trips out to nearby cities and the beaches near Bordeaux. If you only want a flavour of the area a few days to a week will get you that. But this is not the place to try to cover in just one day.

old french building

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