7 easy day trips from Paris we love

Who would ever want to leave Paris? Anyone interested in magnificent châteaux, exquisite gardens, medieval cathedrals and rambling forests.

Indeed, a wealth of treasures for art lovers, families, outdoors enthusiasts and just about anyone can be accessed via an easy train right from the City of Light, providing a sampler of all the wonderful things France has to offer in an easy day trip.

Whether you want to walk in the footsteps of Monet in Giverny, tuck into a medieval banquet in Provins or delight the kids by meeting Mickey Mouse, here are seven of the best day-trip destinations, each within around 90 minutes’ travel time from central Paris.

A horse in the Grandes Écuries of Château de Chantilly, Chantilly, Île de France, France
At Château de Chantilly, even the stables seem to be from a fairy tale © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

1. Step into a fairy tale at Château de Chantilly and stroll atmospheric Senlis

Travel time: 25 mins to 1hr 

Rising up from a shimmering lake, Château de Chantilly and its splendid gardens seem out of a fairy tale. An extraordinary collection of paintings fills its Musée Condé, and you can taste the renowned crème Chantilly (sugar-whipped cream), which was invented here. The domain is perhaps best known for its hippodrome (horse-racing track) and stables, the Grandes Écuries, which contain the Musée Vivant du Cheval, filled with riding-equipment displays, and which also mount dressage shows. From here, riding and walking trails fan out into the forested former royal hunting estate, the Forêt de Chantilly.

From the refined town of Chantilly itself, regular buses (25 minutes) travel the 6 miles (10km) east to medieval Senlis, whose narrow cobblestone streets, Gallo-Roman ramparts and towers reward an afternoon’s stroll. A royal seat from the 5th century to the early 17th century, Senlis is crowned by the Gothic Cathédrale de Notre Dame. Completed in 1191, the church retains its original stained glass and intricate stone-carved portal. 

How to get to Chantilly from Paris: Chantilly is 31 miles (50km) north of Paris, 1 hour away by car. TER train services (direction Creil) link Paris’ Gare du Nord with Chantilly–Gouvieux train station in 25 minutes.

Group of musicians playing djembe in the streets at the “Médiévales de Provins” medieval fair, Provins, Île-de-France, France
The many fairs that take place in Provins bring the Middle Agest to life © Alexandre.ROSA / Shutterstock

2. Get a taste of medieval life in Provins 

Travel time: 1hr 20 mins

UNESCO lists the walled town of Provins as the “Town of Medieval Fairs” – and this charming place certainly does a convincing job of channeling the Middle Ages (thankfully, without the stink and plague). Provins’ some 150 medieval structures include the Tour César, the Church of Saint Quiriace and the Grange aux Dîmes, where you can watch a live re-enactment of a medieval market. Elsewhere, you can explore the town’s ramparts, fortified gates and over 6 miles (10km) of underground tunnels.

But it’s the medieval-themed spectacles that most convincingly bring the period to life, making Provins an ideal day trip from Paris for families. Between April and November, visitors can enjoy regular displays of falconry, horsemanship and medieval warfare (complete with trebuchets and jousting), as well as a weekly banquet on Saturday, where you can tuck into medieval food while being entertained by troubadours, acrobats and jugglers.

How to get to Provins from Paris: Provins is located southeast of Paris and can be reached in 1 hour 20 minutes on the P Line from Gare de l’Est (disembark at Provins), or by car.

Stained glass windows at Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres, Centre–Val de Loire, France
The stained-glass windows in Chartres’ cathedral are a pinnacle of artistic achievement © mehdi33300 / Shutterstock

3. Make a pilgrimage to Chartres, and what might be France’s finest cathedral

Travel time: 1hr 15 mins to 90 mins

France’s best-preserved medieval cathedral is Chartres’ 13th-century Cathédrale Notre Dame. Built on the site of a Romanesque predecessor that was all but destroyed by a 1194 fire, the staggering structure is topped by Romanesque and Gothic steeples, and is revered for its 176 luminescent, deep-blue stained-glass windows. The sanctuary also houses a number of sacred relics, including the Sainte Voile (Holy Veil), believed to have been worn by the Virgin Mary during Jesus’ birth.

Nearby, you can learn more about stained glass at the Centre International du Vitrail, which occupies in a half-timbered former granary, and admire the fine-arts collection at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, in the 18th-century Palais Épiscopal (Bishop’s Palace). From the cathedral’s steps, steep streets lined by medieval houses descend to the western channel of the Eure River. In the newer part of town, bistros surround Chartres’ iron-canopied market (Wednesdays and Saturdays).

How to get to Chartres from Paris: Chartres is 57 miles (91km) southwest and can be reached by car in roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes. Frequent TER trains link Paris’ Montparnasse with Chartres’ train station, with a journey time of around 1 hour 15 minutes.

A green archway with flowers at Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny, Normandy, France
To stroll through Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny is to step into an Impressionist painting © Don and Tracy Dorrough / 500px

4. Channel your inner Impressionist at Giverny

Travel time: 45 mins to 1hr 30 mins

Anyone who loves flowers or art or both must visit Giverny, in Normandy. This tiny village was home to Impressionist Claude Monet from 1883 until his death in 1926, and we recommend a visit between April to October, when the key sights are open and the gardens are in bloom. Monet’s rose-pink, green-shuttered house and the flowering gardens he planted and painted – including the iconic Japanese bridge and water lily pond – are now the Maison et Jardins de Claude Monet. You can also visit the painter’s final resting place: his tombstone is located on the eastern side of Giverny’s L’église Ste-Radegonde.

For more artsy activities, stroll the galleries of the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny for an overview on all things related to the Impressionist movement, with lectures, readings, and concerts taking place regularly. Worked up an appetite? Enchanting Michelin-starred inn Le Jardin des Plumes serves sublime modern French cuisine (each dish almost a work of art in itself), while La Capucine Giverny offers staple dishes in a lovely garden setting.

How to get to Giverny from Paris: Giverny lies 46 miles (74km) northwest of Paris and can be reached in roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes by car. Trains run from Paris’ Gare St-Lazare to Vernon (45 minutes to 1 hour, up to 15 daily), which lies 4 miles (7km) to the west of Giverny. Shuttle buses link Vernon with Giverny in season; alternatively, you can walk, cycle along a dedicated track or take a taxi.

A rear view of a statue and crowds in the distance in the gardens of Versailles Palace, Versailles, France
After the opulence of the palace, take a stroll through the elegant gardens at Versailles © Grant Faint / Getty Images

5. Let the Palace of Versailles’ opulence dazzle you

Travel time: 40 to 45 mins

Strolling through the lavishly adorned, 700-room baroque Château de Versailles will help you appreciate the outrageous wealth of the French monarchy – and perhaps give you a sense of why the French Revolution took hold. Transformed from a hunting lodge by Louis XIV in the mid-17th century and serving as the seat of the royal court until 1789, this palace complex had as its last royal occupants King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette – both of whom the revolutionaries eventually executed by guillotine.

The most striking features include the opulent Grands Appartements du Roi et de la Reine (King’s and Queen’s State Apartments), and the 246ft-long (75m-long) ballroom Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), where 17 massive mirrors face windows that open to the setting sun. After a thorough renovation, Marie Antoinette’s private apartments have recently opened to visitors, too.

Outside, visitors can wander around the beautiful Château de Versailles gardens and park, with their geometrically aligned terraces, 300 or so statues and fountains that “dance” to classical music in the summer months. The estate’s drinking and dining options include the elegant, palace-housed Ore, while those not on royal budgets can find cheaper options in the pretty surrounding town of Versailles and its markets.

How to get to Versailles from Paris: Just 14 miles (22km) southwest of central Paris, Versailles is most easily reached by train: take the frequent RER C from Paris’ Left Bank RER stations to Versailles-Château–Rive Gauche station (journey time: 40 minutes). Alternatively, the travel time by car is around 45 minutes.

A toddler picks mushrooms in fall in the Forêt de Fontainebleau, Île de France, France
Visitors of all ages will love frolicking in the beautiful Forêt de Fontainebleau © encrier / iStockphoto / Getty Images

6. Follow the many trails through Forêt de Fontainebleau 

Travel time: 40 mins to 1hr 15 mins

Surrounding the elegant town of Fontainebleau, the 108-sq-mile Forêt de Fontainebleau offers countless walking and cycling trails (including mountain-biking tracks), plus rock climbing on its sandstone ridges and plunging gorges. Fontainebleau’s most impressive human-made site is its royal château, sprawling over 1900 elaborately gilded, frescoed rooms amid formal French and free-flowing English-style gardens. The first château was built here in the early 12th century; a succession of monarchs subsequently expanded it – most notably Renaissance ruler François I.

Fontainebleau is also awash with lively local bistros such as Le Bistrot 9. Pick up forest-picnic supplies at wonderful pâtisserie Dardonville or the bustling town market, which runs on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

How to get to Fontainebleau from Paris: Fontainebleau is 42 miles (68km) southeast of Paris, with the travel time around 1 hour and 20 minutes by car. R trains link Paris’ Gare de Lyon with Gare de Fontainebleau–Avon station (40 minutes, up to 40 departures daily).

If you’re traveling to Paris with children, Disneyland could be the perfect day trip for them © Disneyland Paris

7. Delight the kids with a day at Disneyland Paris

Travel time: 40 mins to 1hr

While most visitors associate Paris with splendid monuments built by French kings, those with young ones in tow can assume the more compelling “kingdom” is the realm of Mickey, Minnie and friends. Within the vast Disneyland Paris complex, Disneyland Park is home to five themed “lands” with all the classic sights (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, turn-of-the-20th-century Main Street USA), quintessential rides (Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain…) and larger-than-life characters.

Adjacent to Disneyland Park is the separate Walt Disney Studios Park, where high-tech rides such as the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the delightful Parisian-set Ratatouille – The Adventure are complemented by cinemas, sound stages and behind-the-scenes tours. Deals abound, including tickets covering both parks, so be sure to research ahead of your visit and pre-book online.

How to get to Disneyland Paris: from Paris Disneyland Paris is 20 miles (32km) east of Paris, and journey time is around 40 minutes by car. Frequent RER A trains run from central Paris to Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy (journey time: 40 minutes to 1 hour).

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