kids toulonToulon for kids is mostly about the beaches. But, of the big cities in Provence, this is one of the most family friendly, with a wide range of activities - many of them free.

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The beaches are the primary destination, of course. Close to the city centre, the large sandy expanses of Le Mourillon have easy access with ramps for push-chairs / strollers and offer sheltered bathing protected by breakwaters with a gentle, shallow slope into the water and, in summer, lifeguard stations.

Several beaches have earned the Pavillon Blue (Blue Flag), an official eco-label signifying that they meet strict standards in terms of facilities, safety and environmental quality.

The coastal strip is lined with shady gardens for when the sun gets too hot, plus playgrounds, a mini-golf, a carousel, a skateboarding park - and oodles of free car parking spaces. The sentier du littoral (coastal path) is a lovely walk too, though it's not suitable for toddlers or push chairs. Click here to read about the beaches of Le Mourillon.

Another great diversion in Toulon is simply to zoom around town on the various types of transport available. Take the family on one of the boat trips around the bay or out to Porquerolles and / or one of the other islands.

toulon petit trainOr chuff around the main sights on the little tourist train, pictured. (Note, however, that much of the tourist transport does not run during the winter months.)

Alternatively, buy a bargain day pass to the city's public transport system, which will give you unlimited trips on the buses, boat shuttles and the spectacular cable car ride up Mont Faron. Click here to read our guide to getting around Toulon.

Mont Faron itself is a fun destination, with plenty of opportunities for hikes and picnics, though the zoo there is a bit of a disappointment: it's meant to be a breeding zoo for big cats but baby animals were, when we visited, few and far between and the place seemed run-down and melancholy. Check out the zoo in nearby Sanary sur Mer instead if this is something your kids really want to do.

Toulon has numerous other parks, gardens and green spaces. Apart from Mont Faron and the beach-side gardens, one of the nicest spots is the peaceful Jardin d'Acclimatation, also in Le Mourillon on the Corniche Frédéric Mistral.

Set back a little from the coastline, it overlooks the sea and is richly planted with tropical trees and shrubs. Another delightful park is the Jardin Alexandre 1er on the edge of the Upper Town (the Haussmann Quarter).

Several of Toulon's museums are well worth considering too, especially as the city isn't that well supplied with bad weather options. An added bonus is that most of them are free. The Musée de la Marine (Naval Museum), pictured, the city's prestigious flagship museum, is the only one to charge a general entrance fee but it too is free to visitors under the age of 26.

toulon musee de la marinePacked with a fantastic variety of exhibits on Toulon's sea-faring past, it will be fascinating for older kids.

You can buy a little children's guide to the museum (in French only). Click here to read more about the Musée de la Marine and Toulon's other naval museums.

The Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle (Museum of Natural History) recently moved to a new location a little out of the city centre: about 5 km / 3 miles to the north west in yet another of Toulon's parks, the Jardin du Las, which incidentally boasts a playground and water garden.

Where: Le Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle de Toulon et du Var, 737 chemin du Jonquet, 83000 Toulon. Website for the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle

And don't forget the street markets, both the very large one on the Cours Lafayette and the smaller one in Le Mourillon on the places Emile Claude and Monseigneur Deydier.

Cade kiosk in ToulonThey're full of edible goodies and the stall-holders will often offer samples if your kids ask nicely. Don't miss la cade, pictured, a local, pizza-like street snack speciality!

You can pick up a children's guide to Toulon at the city's Tourist Office with some games and puzzles to bring the city's history alive. The Tourist Office is on the place Louis Blanc, 83000 Toulon. Tel: (+33) 4 94 18 53 00.

The greater Toulon area also devotes part of its website to current events of interest for children and produces a bi-monthly magazine, Minimag, which you should be also able to pick up at the Tourist Office. However all these resources are available in French only at the moment.

In fact if your kids speak French, many more options will be open, from guided tours and nature walks to an initiation to diving and treasure hunts. The Ecole des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) has courses for children during school term time, for instance.

Based a little out of town in Le Revest Les Eaux, the Pôle Jeune Public has a busy programme of theatre, puppet, dance, film, music, story-telling and circus for kids, with some shows in English. These spectacles are staged in towns all around the region, including Toulon.

A short boat or car ride away, La Seyne sur Mer has Funnyland, an outdoor amusement park, and Aquasud, an aquatic centre and water park with one outdoor and two indoor swimming pools, a paddling pool, water chute, children's play area and more.

There are many other family-friendly attractions in the wider area outside the immediate centre of Toulon, and we'll be compiling a guide to these in due course.

The Xtrem Park extreme sports complex and Paul Ricard motor racing track, both just outside the nearby village of Le Castellet are of interest for older kids.

In the meantime, check out our suggestions within a 40 minutes' drive from Marseille and a 40 minutes' drive from Aix (which is to say, still well within striking distance for a day trip). The Wild West theme park OK Corral in Cuges les Pins, in particular, is worth a look.

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