17 Top-Rated Day Trips from Paris
The area surrounding Paris is rich in cultural attractions and natural beauty. By traveling only a short distance, one feels far away from the crowds, lines, and hustle and bustle of the Parisian metropolitan area. All the sights on this list are about an hour or less (by train or car) from the Paris city center. Tourists can escape to the peaceful countryside, visit charming villages, admire glorious churches, and tour magnificent châteaux. Easy day-trip excursions include the incomparable Château of Versailles, the spectacular Gothic Cathedral of Chartres, the serene abbey of Royaumont and the wonderfully preserved medieval town of Provins. For those who love Impressionist art, Monet's Gardens in Giverny are a must-see. History buffs will appreciate Saint-Germain-en-Laye for its antiquities museum, the Napoleonic estate of Château de Malmaison, and the National Renaissance Museum in Ecouen. For families with young children, an outing to Disneyland Paris is not to be missed.
1 Château de Versailles
The UNESCO-listed Château de Versailles is one of the most spectacular sights in France. Originally created for King Louis XIII as a small hunting lodge, the building was transformed between 1661 and 1710 by King Louis XIV (the "Sun King") into a monumental palace. Versailles became Louis XIV's symbol of absolute power and proof of the divine right of the monarch. The master work of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the Château de Versailles is a marvel of classical French architecture, designed to awe visitors. The most stunning impression is made by the famous Hall of Mirrors. In this sparkling gilded hallway, courtiers once waited upon the king and queen. Stretching for 73 meters, the room gets its name from the 17 gigantic arched mirrors (each made up of 18 segments) that reflect the sunlight, creating a sensational effect. Other highlights of the château include the lavishly decorated Queen's Bedroom with an exquisite Rococo ceiling and the Hercules Salon adorned with the The Triumph of Hercules ceiling painting by François Lemoyne as well as two masterpieces by Veronese.
A visit to Versailles would not be complete without a tour of the grounds. The château is surrounded by a gorgeous 800-hectare park and elaborate gardens. The beautiful formal French Gardens are the finest example of 17th-century French landscaping. The gardens were created by André Le Nôtre who had previously worked in the Tuileries Gardens and designed the park at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, but Versailles was his masterpiece. The characteristic features of the gardens are their symmetry and the taming of nature into geometric forms, which was the style of the period. Versailles lies 20 kilometers from the center of Paris and is easily accessed by train, which takes about an hour.
2 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres
The beauty of Chartres' Cathedral is said to have inspired faith in the doubtful. This awe-inspiring monument is sure to stimulate appreciation for the glory of medieval Gothic architecture. With its vast nave and brilliant stained-glass windows, the sanctuary has a serene glow. Viewers are awed by the intricate details of the windows, the result of painstaking craftsmanship. Most of the windows date back to the 1200s, which is a true rarity. The immense rose windows are especially stunning. Other highlights include the Life of the Virgin window and the Tree of Jesse window that shows the genealogical tree of Jesus Christ. Because of the historical value of this 13th-century cathedral, UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site.
Every evening from April 12th through October 12th, the town of Chartres has a spectacular nighttime light show. Chartres en Lumières is a unique and free outdoor performance. This artistic show illuminates the town's historic monuments, including the cathedral, using creative visuals and vibrant colors. During the summer, the cathedral hosts a classical organ music festival.
Address: 16 Cloître Notre Dame, 28000 Chartres
3 Château de Fontainebleau
About an hour's drive from Paris, Fontainebleau is a royal French château at its finest. Surrounded by a lush parkland of 50 hectares, the château has more than 1,500 opulently decorated rooms. Visitors glean a fascinating insight into French history; the château was the sovereign residence to kings and queens, emperors and empresses for several centuries. The château was built in 1528 in Renaissance style for King François I, then enlarged by succeeding kings. Napoleon was particularly fond of Fontainebleau but had to sign his first abdication here on April 6, 1814. The château's Grand Apartments still appear as they did during Napoleon III and Eugenie's time. The château has an impressive entrance with a double horseshoe-shaped staircase. The Cour des Adieux courtyard features an equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (a replica of the one in Rome), and was built for officials of King François I's court. Also noteworthy are the exquisite Ballroom and the sumptuous François I Gallery decorated with 12 large mural frescoes. The beautiful Gardens exemplify classic French style in contrast to the Jardin Anglais (English Garden). The Parterre was created by the famous landscape designer Le Nôtre with delightful pools and garden figures. Beyond, visitors will find a maze and the Treille du Roi (King's Arbour), with trellised vines. The château's elegant tea room has two terraces to take in the exceptional setting.
Address: Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
The grandiose Château de Chantilly astounds visitors with its remarkable architecture and unique setting. Surrounded by a swampy valley of marshlands, the château appears to be floating amid many lakes, with a backdrop of lush forest. The château was originally founded in the Middle Ages but was renovated in the 16th century and is a wonderful achievement of Renaissance style. In the 17th century, the Condé family further renovated the château and turned it into a place of entertaining and celebrations. The magnificent Grand Apartments and Small Apartments are opulently decorated with fine furnishings and gilded detailing, reflecting the grandeur of the place. The château is also adorned with masterpieces of art such as the Psyche and Cupid stained-glass windows. The château has its own museum, the Musée Condé, with an incredibly vast collection of art that is second in importance to the Louvre Museum. There are more than 800 masterpieces of classical English, French, Flemish, and Italian paintings. Highlights include works by Carracci, Guido Reni, Salvator Rosa, and Poussin. The château's Baroque chapel was built in 1882 and dedicated to Saint Louis.
The Chantilly Estate has exquisite gardens, which are surrounded by densely wooded parkland. There are French Gardens designed by André Le Nôtre in the 17th century, an English Garden with stables, a Chinese-influenced garden, and a small park in the woods. The Chantilly estate has two restaurants: La Capitainerie Les Cuisines de Vatel and the charming Les Goûters Champêtres in the château's hamlet. The estate also features a luxurious Relais & Châteaux hotel with a gourmet restaurant, the Jeu de Paume Auberge. The château's train ride is popular with children and the young at heart. Gourmands will be interested in this culinary trivia: Whipped cream was invented in Chantilly and is known as "Crème Chantilly" in France.
Address: Château de Chantilly, 60500 Chantilly
5 Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
One of the most sumptuous castles in France, Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte served as a model for Versailles. The story of the Vaux-le-Vicomte began in 1641, when the young Nicolas Fouquet, later King Louis XIV's minister of finance, acquired the property. After making a great deal of money by speculation, he set out to build a magnificent château. However Fouquet's enjoyment of the property was short-lived. He entertained Louis XIV at a spectacular celebration at Vaux-le-Vicomte on August 17, 1661. Three weeks later, he was arrested for enriching himself from his office and condemned to life imprisonment. Vaux-le-Vicomte was confiscated along with most of Fouquet's treasures.
Visitors to the Vaux-le-Vicomte can still appreciate the château's former glory. Fouquet's private apartments on the upper floor have been mostly preserved in their original state. The park, designed by Le Nôtre, is a masterpiece of French landscape gardening with elaborate fountains and oversized statues. The château looks most enchanting on Candlelit Evenings every Saturday from May through October 5th when the château gardens are illuminated by more than a thousand flickering candles, while classical music is played. Candlelit Evenings include a fireworks show at 11pm. The château also hosts events throughout the year such as period costume parties, an Easter egg hunt, and Christmas festivities.
Address: Château de Vaux le Vicomte, 77950 Maincy
6 Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis
An easy day trip, Saint-Denis lies only ten kilometers from Paris. The Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis is considered the first masterpiece of Gothic art. The basilica was created as the burial place of Saint Denis (Dionysius), the patron saint of France, and the French kings. Since early Christian times, Saint-Denis has been an important place of pilgrimage. The legend of Saint Dionysius describes how, after his beheading on the Butte Montmartre, the saint carried his head in his hands to the place where he desired to be buried. A church was built on the spot in the 5th century, followed in the 7th century by the foundation of an abbey. The present building was begun in the 12th century, which marked a transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. The spacious, high-vaulted nave offers a serene sanctuary for spiritual prayer. The choir was created in High Gothic style known as the "architecture of light" for its feeling of airiness. The basilica is also renowned for its 12th-century stained-glass windows. The architecture of the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis provided a model, which was followed by Chartres, Senlis, and Meaux Cathedrals.
Address: 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 93200 Saint-Denis
Those who appreciate Impressionist art will enjoy a visit to Giverny, about 80 kilometers from Paris. In a beautiful setting on the Seine River, the village of Giverny is most famous for its association with Claude Monet. The artist discovered the beauty of Giverny in 1883 and stayed here for thirty years. During the same time, other artists were attracted to the area and were influenced by Monet's techniques of painting in nature. The top attraction in Giverny is Claude Monet's House, a charming countryside retreat where Monet painted his renowned Water Lilies painting. Tourists can see the water lily pond with its iconic Japanese bridge and wander about Monet's blossoming flower garden. The village also has an interesting Romanesque church as well as a Museum of Impressionism, which has its own flowering garden inspired by Monet's gardens at Giverny. The museum hosts interesting exhibitions such as Impressionist works by specific artists and Japanese art that influenced Monet.
Surrounded by ancient fortified walls, Provins was an important merchants' town with bustling trade fairs during the 12th and 13th century. The 13th-century Tithe Barn, a typical Provins building with a vaulted cellar, was used as a warehouse to store goods during markets. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Provins boasts more than 50 listed historic monuments within the old town. The Ramparts and fortified gates built in the 12th and 13th centuries are a top attraction. There are five kilometers of 25-meter-high walls surrounding the town, which were built by Count Thibaut IV of Champagne. Another must-see sight, the Tour Cesar, is a 12th-century tower that served as a fortress under King Henry the Liberal; the building exemplifies medieval military architecture and houses the Saint-Quiriace Collegiate church (which was never completed). The most noteworthy church in Provins is the 11th-century Eglise Saint-Ayoul, which features a bright and inspiring sanctuary. Saint Ayoul's relics made the church a pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. The Maison Romane (Romanesque House) is the oldest edifice in Provins and houses an excellent antiquities collection including Merovingian sculptures and Gallo-Roman tiles and pottery. Provins is also famed for its trouvères, the troubadours of Northern France.
9 Disneyland Paris
A perfect day trip for families with kids, Disneyland Paris is a gigantic fairyland of fantasy and adventure with more than 50 rides in five magic lands. The main attraction in Fantasyland is the Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty's Castle). The story of the Sleeping Beauty is depicted in stained glass and tapestries, while the vaulted cellars are occupied by a fire-breathing dragon. Other favorite areas are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Mad Hatter's Tea Cups spinning ride and It's a Small World cruise. Children love to fly with Peter Pan over London to Never Never Land, wander through Alice's Curious Labyrinth, soar in the air with Dumbo the flying elephant, travel through fairyland on Le Pays des Contes de Fées (a classic ride), and explore the Pirate's Beach on an adventurous boat ride. Mickey Mouse is sure to be there, too. New attractions include the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and a Ratatouille ride.
Disneyland Paris has three restaurants: Café Mickey in Disney Village (Italian food), the Auberge de Cendrillon (Cinderella) in Parc Disneyland-Fantasyland that serves French cuisine, and the Disneyland Hotel that offers international cuisine. Disneyland Paris lies less than 50 kilometers from Paris and is easily accessible by RER train.
10 Château de Malmaison
In the Parisian suburb of Rueil-Malmaison, the Château of Malmaison is a worthwhile and easy excursion from central Paris. The château was built in 1620 in Early Baroque style and was acquired in 1799 by Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon's first wife. After being divorced by Napoleon, she lived here alone. The interior features a resplendent Empire style. On the ground floor are the Billiard Room; the opulent Gold Saloon (Salon Doré) with valuable Sèvres porcelain; the Music Saloon (with its original furnishings of 1812, including Joséphine's harp and her daughter Hortense's piano); the Dining Room (with a gilt table service, which was a coronation gift from the city of Paris in 1804); and the Library, which has been preserved in its original state. On the first floor are the Private Apartments of the Emperor and Empress, including the Marengo Saloon with a mural (by Louis David, 1801) depicting Napoleon's victory at Marengo. Tucked away in a corner of the garden is a collection of vibrant roses grown here since before 1800.
Address: 1 Avenue du Château, 92500 Paris
11 Abbaye de Royaumont
This peaceful abbey is surrounded by dense woodlands in a setting that feels much further away than 49 kilometers from Paris. The Royaumont Abbey offers a welcome retreat in nature and a place for spiritual contemplation. The abbey was founded in 1228 by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) and created as a place of theological study. During the Hundred Years' War and the Middle Ages, the abbey was weakened and fell out of use as a monastery. In the 1830s, Royaumont became popular with wealthy Parisians as a resort destination. In 1869, the abbey underwent renovations and became a hospital during the First World War. Visitors can take a tour of the beautiful Gothic abbey and see where the monks prayed, read holy texts, and prepared meals in the refectory. The old sacristy has been converted into an intimate chapel. The serene cloisters and idyllic gardens inspire relaxation and meditation. For those in need of refreshments, there is a salon de thé (tea salon) in a 13th-century Gothic hall.
Address: Abbaye de Royaumont, 95270 Asnières-sur-Oise
12 Musée National de la Renaissance
This exquisite history museum lies 20 kilometers from Paris in the Château d'Écouen, an elegant Renaissance château built between 1528 and 1555 for the Lady Anne de Montmorency. The château epitomizes the architectural style and interior decor of the 16th century, making it the ideal venue to house a Renaissance museum. The renowned collection includes Renaissance decorative arts (furniture, ceramics, stained glass) as well as paintings and tapestries. One of the highlights is a tapestry that depicts the history of David and Bathsheba; another masterwork is the 16th-century Jupiter and Latona tapestry, a piece once owned by Diane de Poitiers. The museum displays a collection of armory, which provides insight into the military history of the Renaissance. The museum also hosts exhibitions throughout the year. Visitors will want to spend some time exploring the lovely grounds. The château property includes 19 hectares of gardens surrounded by more than 100 hectares of verdant parkland.
Address: Musée National de la Renaissance - Château d'Écouen, Rue Jean Bullant, Écouen
13 Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Musée d'Archéologie Nationale)
The birthplace of the composer Claude Debussy and King Louis XIV, the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye boasts one of the most beautiful castles in France. In the 12th century, King Louis VI built a castle here on a plâteau above the Seine River. It was pulled down and rebuilt by King François I, leaving only the keep of the old castle and the adjoining Chapelle Saint-Louis (predecessor of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris). The Chapelle Saint-Louis was begun in 1245 and is one of the earliest High Gothic buildings in the area. The Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye houses the Museum of National Antiquities, which has an excellent collection of archeological finds and prehistoric art from all over France, spanning the Paleolithic era (including the Venus of Brassempouy) to the Bronze Age and Celtic and Gallo-Roman times. The château also features twin terraces and an English garden designed by André Le Nôtre. From the terraces, there is a magnificent view across the Seine River towards Paris.
Address: Château-place Charles de Gaulle, 78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye
14 Château de Dampierre
Set in an idyllic verdant landscape 35 kilometers from Paris, this classical Renaissance château was designed by the renowned French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart who designed Versailles. The château was built in 1670 and belonged to the Dukes of Luynes in the 17th century. Several kings and queens have lived here including King Louis XIV and King Louis XV. During Louis XIV's residence, Le Nôtre redesigned the gardens in the formal French style with geometric forms and decorative pools. The château has a gastronomic restaurant near the property's pond with a terrace lined by chestnut trees. The restaurant is open for lunch daily and for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.
Address: 2 Grande Rue, 78720 Dampierre-en-Yvelines
The charming village of Auvers-sur-Oise was a favorite destination of many Impressionist artists, who came to enjoy the beautiful setting and capture the scenery in their paintings. About 30 kilometers from Paris, the village takes visitors into the quaint world of the French countryside. The town's must-see site is the Eglise Notre-Dame d'Auvers, a Romanesque church built in the late 11th century. Perched at the top of the village, this church was immortalized by Vincent Van Gogh in his painting Eglise d'Auvers. There is a statue of Van Gogh by the sculptor Zadkine in the town's Parc Van Gogh. Another monument dedicated to Van Gogh is the House of Van Gogh, a historic restaurant that has a convivial ambience designed to resemble an artists' café. Maison-Atelier de Daubigny is also devoted to Impressionism and displays paintings by well-known artists including Daubigny, Corot, Daumier, and Oudinot. Another top attraction, the 17th-century Château d'Auvers-sur-Oise enjoys a lovely setting deep in a pristine forest. The chateau is also surrounded by formal French gardens and has an Italian-style roof garden inspired by the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy.
16 Château de Rambouillet
Nestled in the dense woodland between Versailles and Chartres, this glorious château boasts more than 20,000 hectares of parkland. The park offers pleasant walking trails through the refreshing forest of Rambouillet. Although the Château de Rambouillet is the summer residence of the President of the Republic, it is open to visitors. An easy day trip from Paris (66 kilometers away), the château allows for an appreciation of French history and culture. The château was built in 1706 for the Comte de Toulouse. In 1783, the château was acquired by King Louis XVI, who used it as a hunting lodge. He created the Laiterie de la Reine, a dairy built for Marie-Antoinette that resembled a Greek temple, and established a sheep farm on which merino sheep are still reared. Napoleon made the château his residence, and since 1959 it has been a part-time residence of the French President and is occasionally used for ministerial meetings. The richly decorated interior features fine Delft tiles and period furniture. Notable rooms are the 16th-century Salle de Marbre (Marble Hall), the 18th-century Council Chamber, the bathrooms installed by Napoleon in 1809 and the Ballroom with Aubusson tapestries.
Address: Château de Rambouillet, 78120 Rambouillet
Brimming with Old World charm, this small historic town lies about 50 kilometers northeast of Paris. Senlis was an important religious city (the see of a Bishop) from the 3rd century until 1790. The old town is dominated by the majestic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis, constructed between 1153 and 1184. This awe-inspiring cathedral represents various Gothic styles, as the edifice was renovated in the 13th century and the 16th century. The richly carved main doorway depicts the triumph of the Virgin. The beautiful interior, dating to the 12th century, is one of the earliest Gothic naves in France. Near the cathedral are the remains of the town's Gallo-Roman walls and of the vestiges of a medieval castle, the Château Royal. In the park of the Château Royal is the Musée de la Vénerie (Hunting museum), which illustrates the art and history of hunting; the museum displays weapons, costumes, hunting horns, and trophies. On the western outskirts of the town are the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater.