Let’s say you’ve been in Paris for a few days and seen the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and other famous sights. It’s been great, but you are starting to feel a little cramped in the middle of the big, bustling city. How about a day trip to someplace fabulous?
Frenchly is here to help! We’ve got eight great day trips for you, full of history, art, beauty…and a few bubbles.
Versailles is the most famous château in France, if not the world. The home of French royalty like Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette, it is vast, with over 2,000 rooms. You can see the Royal Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors, the beautiful gardens and fountains, and more.
It’s easy to get to Versailles via either the RER or SNCF trains. The most common route is to take the RER Line C to the Versailles-Rive Gauche station, as it has the shortest walk to the château. The train takes 60-90 minutes, depending on your starting point.
Reims is in the heart of champagne country and is the royal city where dozens of French kings were crowned. An excellent day trip is to explore Reims Cathedral, with many treasures from its glorious past, then visit some of the famous champagne cellars like those of Moët & Chandon.
High-speed trains leave regularly from Paris’ Gare de Est and take about 45 minutes. Be sure to take the train to the Gare de Reims station (also called Gare Ville), which is in the city center, and not the Champagne-Ardenne station outside of town.
Claude Monet was one of the masters of Impressionism, known for works like Water Lilies and La Gare Saint-Lazare. He produced many of his paintings at his home in Giverny, surrounded by his famous gardens. You can visit to his home and gardens and combine that with a trip to the nearby Impressionism Museum.
Trains to Giverny take 45 minutes to an hour, leaving regularly from Paris’s Gare Saint-Lazare train station (which is not much different from when Monet painted it.) Buy a ticket to Vernon, then take a taxi or bus to the Fondation Claude Monet (follow the Monet-themed footprints to find the bus.)
Chantilly is as elegant as Versailles but more intimate—and does not have the same big crowds. Once owned by a son of the last king of France, today it houses one of the country’s most important art collections. It has vast gardens, its own forest, and a huge equestrian center with daily horse shows (great for kids.) And that delicious Chantilly cream? Yes, it was invented here—have some!
There is regular train service from the Gare du Nord in Paris to Chantilly—the ride takes about 25 minutes. From the Chantilly train station, you can take a taxi or a shuttle (look for the signs), or walk about 25 minutes to the château.
The Loire Valley is château country, where the rich and famous built their stately homes back in the day. Two of the most famous are the Château de Chenonceau, which spans the Cher River, and the enormous Château de Chambord, with its remarkable double staircase. Another highlight is the Château du Clos Lucé, once the residence of Leonardo da Vinci, with a park that includes actual-size models of some of Leonardo’s inventions.
The Loire Valley is a fabulous day trip but the main sites are spread out, so unless you are keen to drive in France, the most practical way to see them is with a bus tour. Many include lunch as well as a wine tasting, as the Loire Valley is one of France’s most important wine-producing regions.
Normandy World War II Sites
This is a popular day trip for WWII history buffs. Omaha Beach, Arromanches, The American Cemetery—these are important and moving sites. American visitors are often thanked by the locals for their country’s sacrifices during the war.
Like the Loire Valley, the major sites are spread out and quite a distance from Paris. The best way to see them is with a bus tour, which usually includes lunch and perhaps a cider tasting—Normandy being famous for its cider.
Visitors who would like a fuller exploration of the area’s WWII history should consider a longer stay, overnighting in Caen or Bayeux.
If you like gothic architecture, you’ll love Chartres Cathedral. It is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe and has barely been modified since its construction in the 13th century. By contrast, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was almost entirely rebuilt in the 1800s because of damage sustained during the French Revolution.
Chartres Cathedral is famous for its beautiful stained-glass windows, and the historic center of town is a charming warren of cobblestones streets. It is an easy day trip from Paris, just an hour train ride from the Montparnasse station, where trains depart hourly.
Like Versailles, Fontainebleau Château was once a royal residence, and a particular favorite of Napoleon I. It is enormous (1,500 rooms!), full of precious artworks and sumptuous staterooms, including one especially designed for the Pope.
You can reach Fontainebleau by train in about 40 minutes. Take the train from the Gare de Lyon train station in the direction of Montargis, Montereau, or Laroche-Migennes and get off at the Fontainebleau-Avon station. Then walk across the street and take the Ligne 1 bus to the château (just follow the crowds.)
Not far way is another beautiful château, Vaux-le-Vicomte, but getting between the two and then back to Paris is tricky. If you’d like to see both châteaux, your best bet is to take a bus tour.
A great tool for finding how to get from one place to another, in France or anywhere else in the world, is Rome2Rio. It will show you alternate routes you can take via train, bus, car, etc., along with prices and schedules. If you are taking the train, you can buy tickets either online at the SCNF or RER websites, or at the guichet (ticket office) at the train station itself.
Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Provence and California. He is the author of the best-selling An Insider’s Guide to Provence and the best-sellers One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Read more at Life in Provence.