Because there are so many great travel Web sites out there, we’ve shied away from giving advice on travel from Paris. Recently, however, a number of folks have expressed interest in learning more about day trips from Paris. Just what constitutes a day trip is open to interpretation, depending upon your means of transportation and how far you’re willing to travel. Several of these destinations could easily become weekend visits. That being said, here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Auvers sur Oise: Van Gogh’s final resting place and site of many of his famous paintings. In addition to paying homage at his grave site, you can visit the inn where he lived and the home of Dr. Gachet, one of his patrons. There is also a museum dedicated to the work of French artist Charles-François Daubigny and the Musee de l’Absinthe. If the weather is nice, you may enjoy a self-guided walk through the town; along the route, there are placards of paintings you will recognize, placed at the very vantage point of the works themselves. Auvers sur Oise is accessible by SNCF train from Gare du Nord. Check with the tourist office for opening and closure information; many sites are closed during the winter months.
Chantilly: There’s plenty to do here besides eating whipped cream (although when in Rome….). The chateau has an incredible art collection and the grounds have recently been renovated to include special activities of interest to kids such as a maze and a kangaroo farm. Then there’s the horse museum which is a bit dated but still fun. Call ahead for information on dressage demonstrations and the equestrian spectacle. And you can always go to the races. It’s a quick train ride from Paris; you can easily walk from the station into town. If not, take the free city bus.
Chartres: This town, just 100 kilometers southwest of Paris, is best known for its Gothic cathedral dedicated by King Louis IX in the 13th century. It is one of the few religious sites in France that was not substantially damaged during the French Revolution. The stone floor is marked with a labryinth which pilgrims still walk. In addition to the church, there is also a small museum of stained glass. Trains run regularly between Gare Montparnasse and Chartres.
Euro Disney: After initial grumbling, France and the rest of Europe seemed to have embraced Euro Disney with open arms. Much smaller than its American counterparts, you can probably do it in one day although this depends upon the number of other visitors. Heather Stimmler-Hall, author of the Secrets of Paris blog, has put up a post in two parts with great tips on making the most of your Disney experience. You can get started at How To Survive Disneyland Paris Part 1. Euro Disney is easily accessible by the RER A.
Fontainebleau: Home of French kings for centuries, Fontainebleau grew in a fashion one can only describe as higgledy-piggeldy and thus there’s something here for everyone from the grand Renaissance to Napoleon’s library. The park is vast and the nearby forest is a great place to explore and climb on the rocks. The SNCF train from Gare de Lyon stops in Fontainbleau-Avon; from there, you can take a city bus to the chateau. (It is a very long walk otherwise.) If you have a car, plan on also visiting the nearby village of Barbizon which was an artist’s colony in the early 19th century.
Giverny: The main attraction at this tiny town in Normandy is Claude Monet’s home and garden, the setting for many of his famous paintings of water lilies. You won’t find any original Monets in the house but it is charming all the same. The garden is spectacular in spring, summer, and fall. There is also a small art museum dedicated to the work of the Impressionists just down the lane. If you don’t have a car, take a train from Gare St. Lazare to Vernon where you can either take a bus or rent a bike to travel the remaining 5 kilometers to Giverny. The buses are well-timed with arrivals and departures from Paris.
Provins: This fortified medieval town on the eastern edge of Ile de France is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. The old town is perched on a hill above the new town where the train comes in. You can walk the ramparts, climb the Tour César and visit a number of other historic buildings, and stroll to the sweet town square where you’ll want to get a bite to eat or linger over a drink. Two different spectacles will delight your kids: one featuring falcons and the other horses.
Reims: The cathedral in Reims is where the kings of France were crowned and is well worth the quick 45 minute ride on a TGV from Gare de l’Est and it’s not that much further by car. Visit the Bishop’s Palace to learn more about the construction and restoration of the cathedral. Reims is also the heart of Champagne and you can visit some of the big houses in town on foot including Veuve Cliquot, Charles de Cazanove, and Pommery. For the others, you will need a car to get out into the countryside. There’s also an automobile museum and a small exhibit at the site where Eisenhower as chief of the Allied Forces in World War II accepted the German surrender.
Versailles: There’s the grand chateau itself, the park, the Grand and Petit Trianon, and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet. Take the RER C to the Rive Gauche station or the SNCF train to Rive Droite and make a day of it. Picnicking is permitted on the grounds although not necessarily on the lawns. During the summer and into the fall, the fountains are synchronized with music on Tuesdays.
Tourist Information Offices
Great Day Trips from Paris (from Bonjour Paris)
Paris to Provins (from Budget Travel)
Paris Day Trips: Chartres (from Why Go Paris)