France has no shortage of wonderful palaces, castles and gardens to visit, several of which are less than an hour from Paris. The countryside abounds with historical fortified towns and villages where you can explore ancient towers and ramparts, and everywhere you go you will be reminded of the country’s famous art legacy at some of the best art museums in the world.
1.Parc de Bagatelle (20 minutes)
© Courtesy of aterrom - Fotolia.com
When you need to escape the sensory overload of Paris’ amazing museums, shopping, and galleries you can make your way to the Parc de Bagatelle on the western outskirts of the city. Here you will find a serene and beautiful garden that forms part of the Paris Botanical Gardens. The park dates back to 1775, when it was created in just 64 days during the reign of Queen Marie Antoinette.
Today you can relax and unwind by strolling through the exquisite rose garden, which features over 10,000 rose bushes (at their best during May and June). You can also admire the small château on the grounds and the 19th-century Chinese pagoda. To get there, take the Metro to Pont de Neuilly Station and then take bus 43 to the park.
2.Versailles (20 minutes)
© Courtesy of pchancel - Fotolia.com
Versailles undoubtedly deserves a spot on every visitor’s list of day trips from Paris. Although most people sign up for a tour of the palace and gardens of Versailles, which are a must-see, there is a lot more on offer, so set aside a full day to explore.
You can buy a day pass that includes tours of the palace, the surrounding park and gardens, Marie Antoinette’s estate, admission to the grand Musical Fountains Show (weekends), and an audio guide. Once you have toured the incredible palace you can stroll through the historical districts of Versailles on a self-guided walking tour, visit the Maréchalerie (the Contemporary Art Center), and shop for gourmet foods and antiques at a local market.
3.Saint-Germain-en-Laye (50 minutes)
© Courtesy of dbrnjhrj - Fotolia.com
Filled with wonderful historical architecture, including an impressive Renaissance castle, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is well worth adding to your list of day trips from Paris. The commune is situated in the western suburbs of Paris, about 9 miles from the city center, and can be reached by train.
You can go on a self-guided walk around the historical dwellings of Saint-Germain-en-Laye to admire well-preserved 17th-century architecture, tour the Old Castle, which now houses the National Archaeology Museum with its world-class collection of exhibits, and visit the Maurice Denis Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. If you need a breath of fresh air, there are several parks and trails to explore on foot and foodies can pick up a gourmet basket of local goodies at the tourist office.
4.Chateau Saint Jean de Beauregard (30 minutes)
© Chateau Saint Jean de Beauregard
Chateau Saint Jean de Beauregard is one of the many historic estates close to Paris that boast inspirational gardens and wonderful architecture. Surrounded by verdant parkland, the 17th-century château has been beautifully preserved to reflect the life of the French aristocracy in the 17th century.
You can tour the beautiful walled French Flowering Kitchen Garden, which is filled with old-fashioned flowers, fruit, and vegetables. The Pigeon House, which used to house up to 4,500 pigeons to provide meat, eggs, and manure for the gardens, is one of the oldest of its kind in France. Individuals can visit the château on weekends and public holidays from March to November – unfortunately the guided tour is presented in French only. Best Things to Do in France
5.Day Trips from Paris: Vaux-le-Vicomte (50 minutes)
© Courtesy of mari five - Fotolia.com
The impressive Vaux-le-Vicomte Château, which was the inspiration for the Palace of Versailles, is situated on a 1,200-acre estate in Maincy, about 50 minutes from central Paris. You can tour the lavishly furnished château, exploring private apartments, ceremonial salons and reception areas, staff quarters, and the basement kitchen – guided tours are offered twice daily (in French only) but it is possible to hire an audio guide.
The highlight of any visit is touring the award-winning French formal garden – those with mobility restrictions can rent an electric car. Other onsite attractions to visit include the carriage museum, the evening water show (every second Saturday at 3 pm and 6 pm) and Candlelit Evenings on Saturdays from May to October. You can visit the estate on any day from April to October (weekends only in March and November).
6.Barbizon (55 minutes)
© Courtesy of PackShot- Fotolia.com
You can step back in time and learn all about the origins of the famous Barbizon art movement in the charming little village of Barbizon on the edge of the Fontainebleau Forest, just 55 minutes from Paris. It is easy to see how the early artists of the Barbizon school (1830–1875) were inspired by the tranquil landscape; you can visit the artists’ meeting place at Auberge Ganne, which now houses a museum dedicated to their work.
As you walk along the quaint main road, you can see many historical buildings housing restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. Other historic sites worth a visit are the homes/studios of Jean-Francois Millet and Theodore Rousseau, two of the principle artists of the Barbizon movement.
7.Day Trips from Paris: Fontainebleau (1 hour)
© Courtesy of oksmit - Fotolia.com
Situated just 1 hour from Paris, the historic town of Fontainebleau is a must-see destination for any visitor to France. The town is anchored by the impressive Château Fontainebleau, which has been the home of no less than 34 French rulers. The château nestles among 130 acres of parkland and gardens and there are over 1,500 sumptuous rooms for you to tour, including the Renaissance Rooms, the Grand Apartments, the Inner Apartment of Napoleon the First, and the Pope’s Apartments.
The enormous parkland area offers miles and miles of trails for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians and you can go boating on the lake in summer. In Fontainebleau town you will find flower-filled squares, unique boutique shops, historical cobbled streets, and a wonderful fresh produce market.
8.Senlis (1 hour)
© Courtesy of pbianne - Fotolia.com
The historic town of Senlis has been around since Roman times and is one of the most significant must-see French towns for anyone interested in history and architecture. The town was originally named Augustomagus Sulbanectium by the Romans and is literally bursting at the seams with historic buildings and relics – you can walk around the ancient city walls and admire some of the 16 remaining lookout towers and see the semi-excavated arena where gladiators once fought wild animals.
You can visit the Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Hunting Museum, and the Spahis Museum or simply stroll along the cobbled streets absorbing the atmosphere – the well-preserved historic town center is frequently used as a movie set.
9.Chateau of Chantilly (1 hour)
© Courtesy of Thomas Launois - Fotolia.com
The Château of Chantilly lies about 60 minutes from Paris in the heart of what is called the Domaine of Chantilly, which includes the château, the Condé Museum, the park, the Great Stables, and the Horse Museum. The château complex will appeal to both history and art enthusiasts – the Condé Museum is one of the most illustrious art museums in France and is home to a very distinguished collection.
You can start your visit by touring the beautifully furnished apartments in the château and then move on to visit the modern, interactive Horse Museum, where horse shows are regularly presented – check the events calendar if you wish to attend a show. You should not miss exploring the themed gardens in the 115-acre park, which also boasts a maze and a playground.
10.Day Trips from Paris: Auvers-sur-Oise (1 hour)
© Courtesy of lena constantin - Fotolia.com
In the historic town of Auvers-sur-Oise you have the unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of one of the world’s most famous artists, Vincent Van Gogh. The legendary artist spent the last 70 days of his life creating 70 paintings of the town and its surrounds, and was buried in the village.
You can explore the village, which is largely unchanged since Van Gogh’s time, on foot on a guided or self-guided tour or download an app that will guide you in the artist’s footsteps and enable you to recognize many of the features found in his famous landscapes. Highlights of the village include the Auberge Ravoux, where you can view Van Gogh’s room, now a historic monument, and the Maison-Atelier de Daubigny, the home/studio of Charles-Francois Daubigny.
11.Monet’s Garden (1 hour and ten minutes)
© Courtesy of spirit of america - Fotolia.com
A visit to Monet’s Garden in Giverny, which provided the inspiration for many of the illustrious artist’s paintings, is a must for all botanists, garden lovers, art enthusiasts, and history buffs. The famous Impressionist artist was an avid botanist who was personally responsible for creating the beautiful gardens back in 1883 and although the gardens and house had to be extensively restored after World War II, you can still see some of the original plants that form the framework.
You can visit from March 25th to the end of October each year and although they are at their best in spring, each season showcases another aspect of the gardens. Guided tours of the gardens and the house are available or you can stroll around at your own pace.
12.Provins (1 hour and 15 minutes)
© Courtesy of dbrnjhrj - Fotolia.com
The medieval town of Provins is filled with historic and architectural gems, including no less than 58 listed monuments. Consider starting your visit at the tourist office, where you can watch an orientation video, see a model of 18th-century Provins, and pick up all the info you need for your visit. You can also join a guided tour or jump aboard the Tourist Train – a great hit with younger visitors.
You can see about a mile of the impressive 13th-century town wall, the ramparts and fortified gates, the castle keep, the tithe barn, and several architecturally impressive historic churches. During summer a series of medieval shows are presented and you can also visit the Provins Rose Garden or go hiking through the scenic surrounding villages and countryside.
13.Moret-sur-Loing (1 hour and fifteen minutes)
© Courtesy of Claudio Colombo - Fotolia.com
The pretty and historic village of Moret-sur-Loing is situated quite close to the famous Chateau de Fontainebleau and is well worth a visit it its own right. At the visitors center you will see a bust of the famous English Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley, who spent most of his life painting in and around the village.
As you walk along the Grande Rue, you can admire the two remaining medieval towers and imagine what the village looked like a few hundred years ago, when at least 20 towers and half a mile of fortified walls protected it. You can easily walk to the pleasant historic village center to see ancient architecture adorned with intricate stonework and then visit the Church of Notre Dame, the Museum of Barley Sugar Sweets, and the Bike Museum.
14.Chartres (1 hour and twenty minutes)
© Courtesy of aterrom - Fotolia.com
The town of Chartres is nestled at the crossroads of Brittany, Normandy, and the Loire Valley and is often referred to as the “capital of light and perfume.” History buffs and architecture enthusiasts will be happy to know that Chartres has several well-preserved historic districts where you can see good examples of half-timbered buildings and ancient rope-suspended lanterns.
A few of the must-see attractions include Maison du Saumon, the St. Nicolas “Tertre,” which is a water-carriers’ passageway where you encounter humpback bridges, public washhouses, and water mills along the river, and the famous Chartres Cathedral. From April to the October you can attend the famous Chartres Light Show and in May perfume enthusiasts flock to the Chartres Perfume Festival.
15.Compiegne (1 hour and twenty minutes)
© Courtesy of Pack Shot - Fotolia.com
The little town of Compiègne is situated in Picardy, northeast of Paris and a little off the tourist radar. However, if you take the trouble to visit, you will find a lot to see, including an impressive palace and park, several historic buildings, and some interesting museums. You can tour the Imperial Palace, which is full of Napoleonic-era furnishings and lavish decorations and includes the Museum of the Second Empire, the Museum of Vehicles and Tourism, and a very lovely English-style garden.
In the town center, you can visit the 16th-century Gothic-style town hall, the Museum of Historical Figurines, the 13th-century Church of Saint Jacques, and several historical half-timbered houses. A stroll through the Jardin des Ramparts (Garden of Ramparts) will reveal remaining sections of the medieval ramparts.
16.Side trips from Paris: Angers (1 hour and thirty minutes)
© Courtesy of Sokarys - Fotolia.com
Although the city of Angers is located over 100 miles from Paris, the high-speed train will have you there in just 90 minutes. As the capital of the historic province of Anjou, Angers has existed since 50 BC, so prepare to see a lot of historical buildings and relics.
You can start your tour at the impressive 13th-century château, which houses the world’s longest (338 feet) tapestry depicting the Apocalypse, then move on to see the stained-glass windows of the Cathedral of St Maurice and the granaries, cloister, and hospital of the Saint Jean Complex. Art lovers should make a point to visit the Jean Lurcat Museum of Contemporary Tapestry and the David d’Anger Gallery, which is housed in the restored 13th-century Church of All Saints.
17.Chateau of Pierrefonds (1 hour and 30 minutes)
© Courtesy of pbianne - Fotolia.com
A scenic 90-minute drive will whisk you out of Paris and into the countryside to explore one of France’s most imposing medieval castles. The Château of Pierrefonds was originally built to serve as a fortress over 600 years ago and was reconstructed in its current romantic, fairytale style in the 19th century.
You can learn all about the castle’s colorful history on a self-guided tour or join one of the hourly guided tours, available in several languages. Your tour will take you through the large salons, a central courtyard, the chapel, and the donjon, or castle keep. A walk around the parapet (the chemin de ronde) will reward you with sweeping views over the surrounding village and countryside.
18.Day Trips from Paris: Reims (1 hour and forty minutes)
© Courtesy of south town boy - Fotolia.com
No visit to Paris would be complete without a day trip to Reims – in fact exploring this world-famous Champagne center as well as all the historic UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city could well be the highlight of your trip to France. The Champagne Tourist Route winds through miles of noble vineyards – you can go it alone or join a guided tour and leave the driving to someone else. Inside the city there are also several guided or self-guided tours that will show you the most important buildings, such as the 13th-century Notre Dame Cathedral, the Romanesque-Gothic Saint-Remi Basilica and Museum, and the Palace of Tau. For a breath of fresh air, you can go walking or cycling in the Reims Mountain National Park just outside the city.
19.Rouen (1 hour and fifty minutes)
© Courtesy of borisb 17 - Fotolia.com
In the historic Normandy city of Rouen, art lovers can immerse themselves in the birthplace of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, starting at the Museum of Fine Arts, which houses the second largest Impressionist collection in the country. Everyone should make a point to visit Panorama XXL, a unique 360-degree artistic illusion that will take you back in time to the city as it looked six centuries ago.
You can see all the main historical attractions on an audio-guided walking tour, which includes visits to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Gros Horloge – one of the oldest working clocks in Europe. For a change of pace, you can take a scenic boat trip on the Seine, take a walk through the Sculpture Garden, shop for antiques, or visit the local market.
20.Day Trips from Paris: Troyes (2 hours)
© Courtesy of jasckal - Fotolia.com
History buffs and architecture enthusiasts (in particular) owe it to themselves to make the 2-hour journey from Paris to Troyes, which is home to one of the most extensive collections of historical timber-framed houses in France.
Here you can walk along the cobbled streets to admire the handiwork of the Renaissance craftsmen who rebuilt the city according to the original medieval designs after a devastating fire destroyed most of the original dwellings in 1524. Besides the charm of the multi-colored timber houses, you can also tour several impressive historic monuments, including the Hotel de Ville de Troyes, the ancient Abbey of Saint Martin-es-Aires, the train station, or Gare de Troyes, and the Theatre de Champagne.
21.Laon (2 hours)
© Courtesy of Jean-Paul Bounine - Fotolia.com
Laon is an interesting historic town situated around 2 hours northeast of Paris. Some time before you reach the town, you will see the towers of the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame de Laon, one of the earliest (and finest) Gothic cathedrals on French soil, dating back to the 12th century.
In addition to touring the cathedral and admiring the superb stained-glass windows and the ornate towers, you can also visit the adjacent domed Templar Chapel and the medieval Episcopal Palace, which now serves as a court house. The 12th-century Hotel-Dieu of Laon, the oldest hospital in France, is another must-see site. You can also tour the substantial remnants of the defensive town walls, which include three impressive gates, a draw-bridge, and a defensive tower.
22.Lille (2 hours and twenty minutes)
© Courtesy of Brad Pict - Fotolia.com
The city of Lille lies close to the Belgian border and offers visitors a host of historical, architectural, gastronomic, and outdoor attractions. With a Lille City Pass in your pocket, you have access to 28 museums and tourist attractions and free travel on the city’s trains and buses.
You can learn about the Great War on a Remembrance Tour, do a self-guided walking tour of Old Lille, or even go on a bicycle tour of the city. Some highlights to add to your itinerary include the City Hall Belfry (great views), the Lille Fine Arts Museum, and some of the historic ancient city’s gates and churches. Foodies should not miss the SavorLille Food Tour.
23.Deauville-Trouville (2 hours and twenty minutes)
© Courtesy of pascal k photo - Fotolia.com
Situated on the coast of the English Channel, Deauville and Trouville are twin seaside towns that were favorite haunts of the wealthy French aristocracy. In the mid-1800s Trouville was a destination of choice for many artists and gradually the wealthy started to build sumptuous holiday homes across the river in what is now Deauville.
Today, Deauville is best known for elegant villas, extravagant shopping along the Rue Eugene-Colas, and the Promenade des Planches, a boardwalk that stretches along the beach, lined with elegant hotels, bars, and shops. You can enjoy a day at the races (or at polo) in Deauville, tempt Lady Luck in the flashy casino, or visit the vibrant markets in both Deauville and Trouville.
24.Le Mont-Saint-Michel (3 hours and thirty minutes)
© Courtesy of PUNTO STUDIO FOTO AG - Fotolia.com
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is an island situated off the Normandy coast of France accessible via a causeway from the mainland. The entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and is home to the very impressive Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, which traces its origins back to 966. The lofty abbey is a marvel of ancient architecture and engineering and the many other buildings that line the road up to the abbey now house museums, hotels, restaurants, and boutiques.
You can tour the remarkable abbey on a guided or self-guided tour and attend a mass every day except Mondays. History buffs should note that some of the museums are closed on certain days of the week so it is wise to check opening times and tides (sometimes the causeway may be closed due to very high tides) before you set off.
25 Best Day Trips from Paris
- Parc de Bagatelle (20 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of aterrom - Fotolia.com
- Versailles (20 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of pchancel - Fotolia.com
- Saint-Germain-en-Laye (50 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of dbrnjhrj - Fotolia.com
- Chateau Saint Jean de Beauregard (30 minutes), Photo: Chateau Saint Jean de Beauregard
- Day Trips from Paris: Vaux-le-Vicomte (50 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of mari five - Fotolia.com
- Barbizon (55 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of PackShot- Fotolia.com
- Day Trips from Paris: Fontainebleau (1 hour), Photo: Courtesy of oksmit - Fotolia.com
- Senlis (1 hour), Photo: Courtesy of pbianne - Fotolia.com
- Chateau of Chantilly (1 hour), Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Launois - Fotolia.com
- Day Trips from Paris: Auvers-sur-Oise (1 hour), Photo: Courtesy of lena constantin - Fotolia.com
- Monet’s Garden (1 hour and ten minutes), Photo: Courtesy of spirit of america - Fotolia.com
- Provins (1 hour and 15 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of dbrnjhrj - Fotolia.com
- Moret-sur-Loing (1 hour and fifteen minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Claudio Colombo - Fotolia.com
- Chartres (1 hour and twenty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of aterrom - Fotolia.com
- Compiegne (1 hour and twenty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Pack Shot - Fotolia.com
- Side trips from Paris: Angers (1 hour and thirty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Sokarys - Fotolia.com
- Chateau of Pierrefonds (1 hour and 30 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of pbianne - Fotolia.com
- Day Trips from Paris: Reims (1 hour and forty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of south town boy - Fotolia.com
- Rouen (1 hour and fifty minutes) , Photo: Courtesy of borisb 17 - Fotolia.com
- Day Trips from Paris: Troyes (2 hours), Photo: Courtesy of jasckal - Fotolia.com
- Laon (2 hours), Photo: Courtesy of Jean-Paul Bounine - Fotolia.com
- Lille (2 hours and twenty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Brad Pict - Fotolia.com
- Deauville-Trouville (2 hours and twenty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of pascal k photo - Fotolia.com
- Le Mont-Saint-Michel (3 hours and thirty minutes), Photo: Courtesy of PUNTO STUDIO FOTO AG - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of PUNTO STUDIO FOTO AG - Fotolia.com