Some might ask why it would be necessary to plot short excursions away from a city as diverse and interesting as Paris. After all, doesn’t it offer enough beauty, history, unexpected wonder? Possibly even two lifetimes’ worth?
It’s true that spring and summer are often (though not always) times when the city puts on its most charming guise– as I note in my season-by-season guide to the capital. So you won’t necessarily feel an itch to get outside the city walls too often.
In case you do have a hankering to see what likes just beyond, though, keep reading. These are 10 of the best day trips from Paris, most of which can be reached by taking the train. Some can be attempted as late as fall or winter, especially those that offer indoor spaces.
They’re all budget-friendly, requiring only reasonably priced tickets on local train lines– or in one instance, a boat. They don’t take you away from the city and all its lures for too long. And perhaps the best part of all? No driving is required.
Why Take a Day Trip or Two During Your Stay?
In certain moments, even an absurdly gorgeous and exciting place like Paris can get under your skin with its touches (or rages?) of urban blight.
For one, there’s that persistent whiff of urine wafting up from the corner next to your hotel, and the sweaty metal poles in the metro you’re obliged to clutch, knowing full well that they’re crawling with enough exotic bacteria to produce some stomach-churning bug.
Let’s admit it: the city’s no utopia, despite some beliefs to the contrary. It’s a huge metropolis, and with that comes noise, unpleasant smells, crowds, and other forms of banal big-city flaws.
That’s why it can be so essential to get outside of the city for a spell. You’ll be away just long enough to take in some fresh air and quiet, recharging away from the crowds and noise.
They also offer a great opportunity to see what the greater Parisian region (Ile de France) has to offer. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 getaways.
Excursion #1: Giverny (Monet’s House and Gardens)
The home (and constant artistic inspiration) of impressionist painter Claude Monet from 1883 until the artist’s death in 1926, the iconic house and Japanese-style gardens nestled in the small town of Giverny are a true haven, and only a short train and shuttle ride outside of the city.
Spring and fall are my favorite times to visit; winter is probably best avoided since it’s imperative to see the landscapes in their colorful, sumptuous full bloom, or during the fall when reds and oranges from deciduous trees play on the water.
Read related: How to Make Your Spring Trip to Paris Magical
A Personal Connection to Giverny
Exploring the vast gardens, framed by towering, poetic willows and punctuated by immense ponds filled with nympheas, or water lilies– ones Monet would paint repeatedly in large-format tableau series— is something I associate with joyful moments.
Most notably: I brought my late, beloved grandparents here when they were both in their late ’70s, and that trip is indelibly etched in my mind.
I watched my grandfather, a talented and ambitious but commercially unsuccessful painter, smile with tears welling up in his eyes at the fact of finally seeing firsthand a place he had admired for so many years in paintings.
For him, visiting the gardens at Giverny and exploring Monet’s house filled with memorabilia and objects of artistic inspiration was unthinkably wonderful, because he had believed he’d never live to make the trip.
He went on to paint several (impressionistic) scenes of the gardens, but unfortunately, the only image I have on file is this small and badly pixellated one at left, of dahlias and cheerful yellow blossoms outside Monet’s green-shuttered house.
Dahlias outside Monet’s house at Giverny. Image: Norman Kingsford Vance, 2008.
It doesn’t do justice to the rich quality of the original, of course, but it gives an idea of what he was going for.
I still think of him, his eyes glistening with tears, as he stood with the support of his cane on the green Japanese-style bridge overlooking the water lilies. It’s an image that never fails to make my own eyes well up.
What to See at Giverny?
Pivoting back to more practical matters: While I personally find the gardens to be the most important draw card at Giverny, the house is worth a visit, especially for Monet’s collection of Japanese prints and quirky furnishings; the adjoining museum dedicated to American painting has an interesting collection, too, if time allows.
I also recommend getting outside of the gardens and having lunch in the cute little town itself, which is located at the very edge of the Normandy region.
If you’re interested in spending a few days in Normandy to visit the D-Day beaches, Mont St-Michel or the famed cliffs at Etretat (also painted by Monet, a stopover in Giverny is recommended, too.
Getting There & Practical Info
The easiest way to get to Giverny and Monet’s gardens is by train. From the Saint-Lazare train station (follow the signs from the metro to the “SNCF-Grandes Lignes” exit), take the regional train line Paris/Rouen/Le Havre to the Vernon-Giverny stop.
From there, shuttles leave regularly for the gardens. The entire trip takes around an hour and a half, and isn’t terribly expensive. For more practical information, including current admission prices, visit the official website.
Excursion #2: Versailles and its over-the-top opulence
While a trip to the Palace of Versailles is hardly an original choice, I certainly recommend it– especially in the spring, when its elaborate gardens burst alive with dazzlingly symmetrical blooms, elaborate mazes and even a quiet, bucolic hamlet complete with animal farm and ponds.
If I had to describe the palace’s significance, I would say it represents the height of French royal power and decadence– followed by the spectacular downfall of the institutions that forged its grandeur.
Commissioned by King Louis XIV during the late 17th century, the sprawling, sumptuous palace was to embody the power and wealth of France’s absolute monarchy– transplanting that royal might from its traditional home in Paris to a prosperous town to its west.
Here, the “Sun King” and his successors flourished for over a century– until the French Revolution of 1789. That dramatic revolt saw the bloody abolition of the monarchy and the ousting, then execution by guillotine, of King Louis XVI and his Austrian wife, Queen Marie Antoinette.
Since then, Versailles has belonged to the state, and to the public. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the palace’s 2,300 rooms invite seemingly endless possibilities for exploration. The recently-renovated Hall of Mirrors is especially dizzying for its opulent details and reflective perspectives.
André Le Notre’s painstakingly designed royal gardens, meanwhile, are almost obscenely endowed with elaborate beds and parterres, lush flowers and shrubbery, mazes, fountains, canals and heroic statuary.
Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon & Queen’s Hamlet
Of course, my favorite places on the premises aren’t the main palace, but the smaller, more personal palaces and retreats built by monarchs over the years. Places that afforded a measure of privacy and quiet, and that reveal startling and interesting details about their personalities.
For me, the most interesting among these is the Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s Hamlet), a bucolic little corner of Versailles commissioned by Marie Antoinette. With its thatched-roof cottage, footbridges, ponds filled with wild fowl, animal petting farm and more romantic layout, the Hamlet offers an amusing glimpse into the Queen’s (distorted) picture of peasant life.
It does strike one as comical and slightly hypocritical that she would want to create a place so removed from the opulence of the main palace, or even “play” at being a commoner.
But contrary to popular myths, historians say she never dressed up as a shepherdess or otherwise “pretended” to be a peasant while visiting the Hamlet. True, she insisted that it house a working farm complete with animals. But she reportedly saw this as essential to her children’s education.
Whatever your perspectives on the Hamlet, it’s a peaceful and charming place to wander for a stretch.
Meanwhile, the Trianon Estate comprises the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, smaller palaces commissioned by Louis XIV and Louis XV, respectively. These more intimate palaces have lush, harmonious gardens and sumptuously decorated terraces.
They’re also generally a lot less crowded than the main palace– a real boon during peak tourist season, especially. Visit the Royal Stables and romantic English-style gardens to complete your afternoon.
Getting There, Tours & Practical Info
Versailles can be easily reached via the RER train Line C that departs from Central Paris at St-Michel/Notre Dame, Musée d’Orsay and other stops. You can also take the TER local train line to Versailles-Rive Gauche, then follow the signs to the palace entrance. Visit the website for more practical info and directions.
Prefer a private ride to and from the Palace? Book a two-way transfer by car to Versailles (via Welcome Transfers).
Excursion #3: Provins and its awe-inspiring medieval fortifications
The next short trip I wholly recommend is to Provins, a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers one of the most well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Europe.
This is a town that hardly gets any attention in your average guidebook, but in my sense it’s one of the most interesting, and prettiest, places in the Paris (Ile-de-France) region. As with all the other places listed here, spring and fall are the best time to go, but a winter trip won’t hurt, as long as it’s not too rainy out.
What to See in Provins?
Exploring the city takes only about three hours– five if you stop for a long, French-style lunch. Make sure to see the dramatic Caesar Tower, dating to the 9th century and a powerful symbol of the old noble families of Champagne.
Exploring the realistically furnished rooms with fireplaces, as well as the creepy dungeon, is fascinating.
In the spring (generally from late March), Provins comes fully alive with medievalist festivals complete with jousting matches and elaborate costumes, craft fairs, and traditional town processions featuring banners inscribed with regional codes of arms, offering a glimpse into local traditions that have scarcely changed over hundreds of years.
Rose products are also proffered everywhere during the spring and early summer– a perfect time to stock up on perfumes, jams, honey or potpourri full of the stuff, for those who enjoy the scent or flavor.
Oh, and my spouse, who happens to be a scholar of medieval literature, wishes for me to add that you might also hope to procure a decent bottle of Hippocras– a traditional wine flavored with spices and sugar– in town.
Getting There & Practical Info
From the Paris Gare de l’Est regional train station, take the train to Provins (there are several daily); consult schedules at sncf.fr.
ParisCityVision also offers a day trip to Provins that includes shuttle transport to and from central Paris, priority entrance to main attractions, and a ticket to the “Eagle on the Ramparts” theme show.
For more practical info, transport options and details on current and upcoming events you can visit the town’s official website.
Excursion #4: Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte
It gets only a sliver of the attention that Versailles does. But Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, which in fact inspired the more famous, significantly larger château and gardens, is a true masterpiece of 17th-century French architecture.
While much smaller than Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and its gardens arguably represent a more harmonious, less garish and more romantic version of the Louis XIV style.
This is true of the lovely formal gardens, which include the perfectly proportioned assembly of fountains, parterres, water basins and gravelled paths designed by Le Notre.
A juicy, scandalous history…
It’s also got a juicy history behind it. Commissioned by the Marquis Nicolas Fouquet, a friend to the French playwright Molière and fervently loyal to King Louis XIV (the “Sun King”), Fouquet’s intention, in ordering the construction of the Chateau Vaux–le-Vicomte, was to flatter and win the favor of the king by achieving new heights of luxury and grandeur.
He reportedly razed three local villages and hired some 18,000 workers to have it built, commissioning Andre Le Notre and Louis le Vau to come up with the layout and design– who would later go on to design much of Versailles and its vast gardens.
On the night of the earlier Chateau’s inauguration, pomp and circumstance was at full throttle. One of Moliere’s plays was performed to celebrate the occasion, and lavish, expensive fireworks filled the skies.
Sadly, one of Fouquet’s arch nemeses, a certain Jean-Baptiste Colbert, fed Louis XIV information falsely suggesting that Fouquet had misused public funds to build the new château.
Fouquet was promptly arrested, his rival taking his place as superintendent of finances. His plans to impress the Sun King had entirely backfired– an episode that the French satirist Voltaire would later document in one of his essays.
Getting There & Practical Info
Vaux-le-Vicomte is only 35 minutes away from central Paris– far closer than Versailles. There is an easy direct train from Paris Gare de L’Est station (the same one, line P, that heads to Provins). The stop is the Verneuil l’Etang station.
Once at Verneuil, look for the signs to the “Châteaubus” shuttle service. Only cash is accepted by drivers for the shuttle– I advise making sure you have some before boarding the train in Paris.
Annual closures: Note that the château is habitually closed through most of November, January and February. Check the official website for opening times, ticket prices and other detailed practical information.
Excursion #5: Cruise & Picnic on the Marne River- “On the Impressionists’ Trail”
Most tourists are aware that boarding a “Bateau-Mouche” on the Seine can be a relaxing way to get some reprieve from walking around everywhere.
The cruise that I recommend the most, however, isn’t on the Seine, but on the Marne river– whose graceful green banks and “guinguettes” (musical riverside cafes) were documented by impressionist painters including Camille Pissarro (his painting is pictured above), Sisley, Caillebotte and Monet.
One trip a few years ago with a bunch of friends on a weekend cruise organized by the company Canauxrama was all I needed to be sold on the Marne’s myriad charms.
The cruise started in Paris, near the Bastille Opera. The boat wended through eastern Paris, through the old lock systems of the Canal St-Martin, until we left the metropolitan zone and were suddenly surrounded by lush, green banks and countryside air. We had a glass of champagne on board, then a picnic on a grassy riverbank before resuming the cruise.
There was something timeless about the trip that made the worldview of some of my favorite impressionists seem, suddenly, much more vivid.
Booking a Cruise
To book a cruise with Canauxrama and view details on prices as well as a sightseeing map, see this page. Lunch at a riverside restaurant called Chez Gégène is optional– I’d suggest packing a picnic instead, weather permitting. The photo ops on this cruise are very good, too, so make sure to bring a camera.
Spring or summer is definitely ideal for this particular day trip.
Excursion #6: Fontainebleau Forest and Chateau
Next up, let’s consider the forest and château at Fontainebleau. This is another under-visited green space in the Ile-de-France region that tourists would do well to discover.
The rocky landscapes of the enormous (but admittedly rather tame) forest, which once served as royal hunting grounds, attract both hikers and rock climbers. It offers welcome expanses of greenery and fresh air to walkers eager to escape the city pollution for a day.
Meanwhile, the Chateau has 1,500 rooms, and has been a country residence to French kings and Emperors from the 11th century to the 19th.
Getting There & Practical Info
To get to Fontainebleau, the easiest option is to take the regional SNCF train from Gare de Lyon. You can take either the Montargis Sens, Montereau or Laroche-Migennes lines. Get off at the Fontainebleau-Avon station, then take the ‘Ligne 1’ bus with “Lilas” as its final destination. Your stop is simply called ‘Château’.
For detailed information on how to get to the forest and learn more about the walking trails there, see this page.
Excursion #7: Chartres Cathedral
Located only 80 km from Paris is one of the country’s great masterpieces of French Gothic architecture. Alongside Notre-Dame in Paris and Strasbourg Cathedral in Alsace, Chartres arguably represents France’s most arresting and elaborately designed examples of medieval Gothic architecture.
Primarily built between around 1194 and 1220, the Gothic and Romanesque Cathedral you see today was constructed on a site that had housed numerous earlier cathedrals from the 4th century onward. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s widely recognized as a masterpiece of medieval architecture.
It’s also a remarkably well-preserved site: the original glass windows remain intact, and the Cathedral’s structure has only been slightly modified since the 13th century. Compare this to Notre-Dame Cathedral, which has undergone numerous renovations and repairs over the centuries, having suffered everything from fires to Revolutions.
Admire Chartres’ exterior, featuring imposing flying buttresses and two eye-catching, elegant spires. The three facades are lavishly decorated with sculptures, mostly designed to illustrate Christian themes and Biblical episodes.
Inside, the beautiful stained glass and rose window are simply captivating to behold– and if the light’s right when you visit, can present superb photos opportunities.
Getting There & Practical Info
Chartres is easily reached by boarding a train from Paris’ Montparnasse station. Trains run daily and take between 60 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes, depending on whether you catch a fast one or not.
If you head out in the early morning, you can easily enjoy a full day in Chartres, visiting the town itself in addition to its sublime main attraction.
Excursion #8: Reims & the Champagne Region
Feel like getting out of Paris for a little champagne cellar tour and tasting? It may seem worlds away, but in reality you can hop on a train and be in the capital of Champagne in as little as 45 minutes.
Reims is a lovely city whose 250km of underground limestone tunnels, or crayères, house some of the region’s most-lauded champagne cellars. They’re so remarkable and well-preserved that they’re yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Come enjoy a tour of the cellars at houses such as Ruinart, Mumm and Taittinger. This is something I particularly recommend as part of a winter or late fall trip to Paris, since rainy and gloomy conditions can make a cellar tour an especially appealing way to get indoors.
Meanwhile, Reims has its own fantastic Gothic cathedral that’s worth seeing, and a vibrant city center with notable restaurants, alluring shops and a long, fascinating history that stretches back hundreds of years.
Getting There, Tours & Other Practical Info
You can get to Reims for a day away by boarding a high-speed TGV train from the Gare de l’Est station. There are also slower trains, but if you’re only going for a day I firmly recommend taking the TGV.
Prefer to ditch the crowds? You can book a private day trip to Champagne and Reims by car (via Welcome Pickups).
Excursion #9: Beaune and the Burgundy Region
Here’s another one for those of you interested in tasting some exceptional French wines. At a little over two hours by train from the capital (provided you take the fastest line), the quaint Burgundian city of Beaune offers yet another quick jaunt to an adjoining region.
Surrounded by vineyards belonging to the prestigious Cote d’Or appellation (winemaking area), Beaune is a splendid medieval city that was once held by the powerful Dukes of Burgundy, who ruled over an independent Duchy between the 9th and late 15th century.
(Side note: You should also consider visiting Dijon, famous for its eponymous French mustard and culinary culture and a main seat of the Duchy of Burgundy in what during the Middle Ages.)
Wine-tasting in Beaune
Of course, a trip to Beaune should involve tasting wine, whether in bars and cellars located right in the historic little town, or by embarking on a tour to local vineyards and wineries. Luckily, you don’t need a car: the tourist office offers plenty of guided tours that include transportation.
You can also book a day-long vineyard tour of Beaune that includes tastings of 10 superb local vintages (via GetYourGuide).
If visiting during the spring and summer, it can be particularly pleasant to rent a bike in central Beaune and take a bucolic whirl through the vineyards, enjoying the fresh air and quieter perspectives.
Just make sure you use the spitoons when stopping off to taste the wine: you’ll need to stay alert, sober and fit for the ride back to town!
Hospices de Beaune
Beaune’s historical and architectural qualities are also readily apparent, and merit some exploration if you have the time. Beeline to the Hospices de Beaune, whose polychromatic, tiled rooftop exemplifies some of the region’s distinctive Burgundian architecture of the Middle Ages.
Once a hospital for the infirm and the poor, the Hospices was built in around 1443. It’s fascinating for what it reveals about Burgundian social history and practices during the time of the Duchy.
It boasts its own vineyard and wine cellars (where you can of course enjoy a tasting), large medieval kitchen where dummies re-enact what daily life would have looked like in centuries past, and an apothecary filled with delicate old bottles and mysterious tinctures. No wonder the 15th-century complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting There & Practical Info
Beaune can be reached by high-speed TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon. The trip takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes, and there are numerous services operating daily.
See the Beaune tourist office website for tons of ideas on what to see and do during a stay there, whether for a day or a long weekend.
Excursion #10: Disneyland Paris
I generally encourage travelers with children to explore more locally anchored kid-friendly attractions like the Science Museum at the Parc de la Villette and the Jardin d’Acclimation, an old-fashioned amusement park in west Paris that’s complete with rides such as a log flue and mini roller-coaster.
Read related: 5 Paris Museums Children Will Love
But I get it. Sometimes the family will want to make a special trip to Disneyland Paris, located just an hour east of the city via an easy commuter train. And it can be tons of fun, of course.
It has all of the “lands” you’ll find in California and Florida– from Fantasyland to Adventureland– with some unique features of its own, including a version of “Space Mountain” that’s much more adrenaline-inducing and fast-moving than its Anaheim predecessor.
The park schedules special events throughout the year, including at Halloween, St Patrick’s Day and Christmas. So irrespective of when you visit, the family should enjoy it.
Getting There & Practical Info
The park is easily accessed from central Paris by boarding the RER (commuter-line train) Line A from Chatelet-les-Halles and taking it all the way to Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy/Disneyland. The train stops just steps from the entrance gates and ticketing areas.
Ready to plan your trip?
If so, and particularly if you’re coming from overseas, it’s always wise to compare deals and book well in advance. Search for the best deals on flights and hotels (via Skyscanner) and book train and Eurostar tickets (via RailEurope).