We all know about Paris' seductive attractions, from the masterpieces of the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower. But fewer visitors branch out to discover attractions in the surrounding area. That's a great shame, because there are all kinds of incredible places to visit within a couple of hours from Paris. So don't miss out. Use this guide and plan some unforgettable day trips from Paris the next time you visit.
One of the great things about visiting France is the quality of the rail network. Paris is a central hub for high-speed TGV routes, which run out of numerous stations. Broadly speaking, you'll want the Gare du Nord for northern trips, the Gare de Lyon for southern destinations, and the Gare Montparnasse if you're heading west. But check the departure points, as your trip could also start at Gare d'Austerlitz or Gare Saint-Lazare. All of these ideas are readily accessible using the TGV system, and most are within an hour or two from Paris' main stations.
Visit some of the world's most beautiful cathedrals
The region around Paris is blessed with a wealth of cathedrals, and many of them rank among the finest in the world. Chartres is probably the most breathtaking of all, with its Romanesque and Gothic spires, gorgeous blue stained-glass windows, and sunlight-bathed interior. It's only one hour 20 mins from central Paris, but isn't alone. Reims Cathedral was once the crowning place for French kings, while Sainte-Croix Cathedral in Orléans is similarly impressive. Both are within easy reach of Paris via the TGV.
Make artistic pilgrimages
If religion isn't your thing, maybe art is? If so, there are plenty of enticing day trips from Paris to think about. The most popular option is a visit to the gardens at Giverny. Only 50 miles northwest of Paris, it was home to the Impressionist Claude Monet for 40 years, and inspired some of his masterworks. Alternatively, you could head to Angers in the Loire Valley, which hosts a collection of sculptures by David. Or you could visit Sainte-Croix, where Vincent van Gogh lived at the end of his life. It's just 33 mins from Paris by train, so getting there couldn't be easier.
Add some animal action with nature-based excursions
Then there are animal attractions that can be reached by rail. One of the best is the ZooParc de Beauval, home to leopards, pandas, arctic foxes, and many more creatures (catch the SNCF train to Blois-Chambord to get there). The Parc des Félins is just east of Paris and - as the name suggests - has a rich collection of wild cats. Alternatively, Thoiry ZooSafari offers a safari experience in the grounds of a beautiful chateau. Just take the train to Gare Montfort Amaury Méré and catch the ZooSafari shuttle.
The best day trips from Paris vary according to the season. Part of this is to do with the weather (who wants to be wandering around Monet's gardens in Giverny in driving rain?). But it's also about ticketing and the events going on around France. It might seem to make sense to focus on summer but day trips from Paris during the shoulder seasons offer accommodation that is slightly cheaper. And even when the sun goes down, there's plenty to do within a short drive or train ride from Paris.
Trips for the winter months
Just because it's cold doesn't mean the options for day trips from Paris are limited. In fact, some of the chateaux around Paris become even more romantic when there's frost on the ground. Fontainebleau is a great example, where the grounds are sure to look beautiful and the tours will be much less busy. The Château Vaux-le-Vicomte also stages special Christmas tours, so if you're in Paris for the holidays, it's an excellent day-trip option. Winter is also a great time to organize mini city breaks to places like Rouen, Reims, Chartres or Orléans. All are a few hours from Paris, and have no shortage of museums, churches, and shops to explore.
Ideas for trips in April and May
But what about springtime in Paris? Actually, April and May can be amazing times to arrange day trips in the French capital. You could steal away to the Parc de Sceaux, where the cherry blossoms are at their most dazzling as spring gets underway. The famous colors of Giverny will be enchanting in spring. And, of course, the splendor of the gardens at Versailles can't be matched at any other time of year.
Where to go in September and October
In the fall, Paris is as magical as ever, and dragging yourself away for day trips can sometimes be tough - but it's well worth doing so. One great suggestion is to rent a boat on the Canal du Midi. Stretches of the canal near Paris offer the ideal vantage point to watch the fall colors glide by. If you want a day trip that's really close to Paris, the fall rugby internationals in Saint-Denis are great sporting spectacles. The fine Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis is an added bonus. So whether you're interested in fall colors or sporting passion, there should be options to whet your appetite.
Day trips are also a great opportunity to see some of France's regions. Paris is very different to the rest of the country, and if you only stick to the capital, you'll miss out on gastronomic, cultural, and historical highlights. So it's definitely worth taking the time to organize trips to regions like Normandy, Champagne or the Bourgogne.
Why not going to Normandy?
Normandy is full of reasons to visit. For history lovers, there are the D-Day landing beaches: Omaha, Sword, Juno, Gold, and Utah. There's also the D-Day Museum at Arromanches, around three hours' drive from Paris. The city of Rouen has a magnificent cathedral and an astonishing collection of medieval architecture, and is one hour 40 mins from Saint Lazare. You could head to Honfleur to sample the region's famous Calvados brandy, down a few locally made ciders, or tuck into Normandy's incredible seafood. And don't miss the island of Mont Saint-Michel. You can get there easily by taking the TGV to Rennes, then taking Keolis buses.
The timeless appeal to the Champagne region
Instead of heading northwest to Normandy, many people prefer day trips from Paris to eastern regions like Champagne. There's no mystery why - the clue's in the name. This magical part of the world has been creating globally famous sparkling wines since the 17th century. The best way to sample as many vintages as possible is by heading to Reims for a day tour. You can get there in 45 mins from the Gare de l'Est, so it shouldn't be hard to rouse yourself for a 9:00 a.m. start. And Reims itself has plenty to offer, from the exquisite collection of the Musée des Beaux Arts to the stupendous, High Gothic cathedral.
Explore the Bourgogne region
To the south of Paris, you'll find another seductive region: the Bourgogne (or Burgundy as you might know it best). Again, there's an alcohol theme to the region's appeal, as the region produces some of the world's finest red wines. And, again, wine tours offer an outstanding day-trip option (most start from Dijon or Beaune). Aside from wine, the region is rich in attractions. These include the medieval ducal palace in Dijon, the timber-framed Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune, and the historically important Benedictine abbey at Cluny. None of it is out of reach for those staying in Paris, with trains from Dijon only taking around one hour 40 mins.
Then again, while exploring France's regions can be great fun, why restrict yourself to France alone? Paris isn't far from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany (not to mention the UK). With modern transport connections, all of these countries are accessible for day trippers. From Brussels and Bruges to Stuttgart or Cologne, there are plenty of destinations for day trips from Paris if you fancy adding an international dimension to your trip.
Make a hop into Belgium
Belgium and France may seem similar on the surface, but a day trip to Brussels or Bruges will uncover plenty of differences as well. Brussels is an elegant 18th-century city. Its unique attractions include the Atomium (a molecule-like sculpture built for the 1958 World's Fair) and the Manneken Pis - a famously cheeky little statue. Bruges is a medieval gem, with a famous bell tower, spellbinding architecture everywhere you look, and quite possibly the finest beers in the world. Eurostar trains get to Brussels in one hour 20 mins, while Bruges is just over two hours away, so both cities are well within day-trip range.
Are day trips from Paris to London a possibility?
Eurostar trains also put another great world city within reach when planning day trips from Paris. Thanks to the Channel Tunnel, trains can zoom from Paris' Gare du Nord to London St. Pancras in as little as two hours 15 mins. Arrive at Buckingham Palace or the British Museum before lunch, grab afternoon tea at the Ritz, do some shopping on Oxford Street, and still be back in Paris for dinner. If you do head to London, plan your time there carefully, as there's a lot to see, and time is limited. And don't be tempted by flights. The train works out faster, and is often much cheaper.
Give Germany a try
If you've discarded Belgium and the UK as destinations for day trips from Paris, Germany is another international option to liven up your Paris vacation. Stuttgart is one candidate. It's three hours 55 mins from Paris, so you won't have too much time before heading back. You will, however, be able to pack in attractions such as the Staatsgalerie and the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz Museums. Frankfurt is another option. About 20 minutes closer to Paris, this city offers a superb collection of museums on the banks of the River Main. Frankfurt is also home to dining venues and historical highlights such as Goethe's birthplace. You'll have to manage your time well, but both cities are excellent day-trip destinations.
So far, we've mainly talked about day trips from Paris for train passengers, but many readers will have chosen to hire a car during their stay. This gives you much more flexibility, and opens up some exciting day-trip possibilities that are a bit too far from rail lines to make sense. And there are some scenic drives that are a joy to follow. Just remember that many Autoroutes in France have tolls to pay, and be prepared to pay slightly higher gas prices than in the USA.
Go chateau crazy: Organize a castle tour by car
One of the best ways to make the most of your vehicle is by touring some of the Paris region's fantastic castles. Few day trips from Paris are as romantic as a castle tour, and few world cities offer so many possibilities in the immediate area. Versailles and Fontainebleau are must-sees, but it also pays to get off the beaten track sometimes. Chantilly is gorgeous, and has fascinating, domed stables where you can learn all about horsemanship. Literature fans will love the smaller Château de Monte-Cristo, built by novelist Alexandre Dumas in the 19th century. And the Château de Breteuil stages regular performances of children's tales such as Puss in Boots and Little Red Riding Hood. All of these destinations offer a touch of magic, and you can pack a few into a day's driving.
Get to know some history with a Joan of Arc themed road trip
History buffs might want to go further than a castle tour, though. If you have a passion for the past, why not relive the epic story of Joan of Arc, France's national heroine? You can easily trace Joan of Arc's life story by road. Drive from the saint's birthplace in Domrémy, to the cathedral in Auxerre where Joan acquired her faith, to Poitiers and Orléans, where she proved her courage. Mark the sites out on a map and leave plenty of time - and take a good guidebook along, too, so that you won't miss a thing. Then finish off in Paris at Places des Pyramides. Here, you can raise a toast with a glass of wine beside the statue of Joan of Arc, one of history's most remarkable warriors.
Soak up some scenery with trips to the Loire Valley
Having a car also opens up some stunning scenery for day trippers to enjoy, and nowhere can really rival the Loire Valley. Getting to the Loire generally takes just under three hours via the A10, so leave relatively early and be prepared for a late drive back. When you get there, you'll be glad you made the effort, as the scenery is majestic. The Loire is full of experiences to enjoy. You can marvel at the astonishing castles, sample a few glasses of the region's wine, or stop off at engaging museums such as the craft-oriented Musée du Compagnonnage in Tours. Just make sure that your smartphone is charged, as you'll want to take an album's worth of photos.
Use your car to sample the gastronomic wonders of France
When you travel to Paris, food and drink will inevitably play a major role in your experience. But by staying in the city, it is possible for visitors to miss out on some incredible tastes and dishes. This makes a gastronomic driving tour an appetizing prospect. If you head north, be sure to stop for some ficelle picardie (savory pancakes with cheese and mushroom), duck pâté from Amiens, or marinated herring from Abbeville. And swing across to Normandy for some Trouville oysters and camembert cheese. To the south, Burgundy is the birthplace of coq au vin, and snails stuffed with parsley and garlic butter are another specialty. And in Champagne to the east, soft cheeses such as Chaource mingle with delicately flavored Reims ham. If you're feeling a bit more indulgent, sample dark chocolate morsels stuffed with Champagne liqueur. For serious foodies, a Michelin guide is highly recommended. Use the guide to point you towards the best bistros and auberges, but don't forget that just sampling local cafés, chocolatiers, and markets is a joy as well.
Traveling with families isn't always easy, and when you visit a single city, things can often start to feel a little cramped. So getting out of town for day trips from Paris with the kids is always worth thinking about. Fortunately, there's no shortage of places to head with youngsters that will engage their minds or delight their senses. Most are within an hour's drive or can be reached by high-speed trains. This means that it won't be a problem if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of central Paris. So hop in the car or board a train to give the kids a change of scene.
How about a Disney adventure?
When you're planning family day trips from Paris, one attraction jumps out: Disneyland Paris, or EuroDisney as it used to be known. Located in Marne-la-Vallée, around 20 miles east of Paris, it will be instantly familiar to anyone who has visited Disney World Florida. Jump on rides themed around Disney movies and animated characters, experience golf courses, and enjoy plenty of dining options. There's also Walt Disney Studio World, which focuses more on movie production, and the two come together to form a fantastic family destination. However, when the two are combined, there's a lot for day trippers to cover, so it might be wise to leave two days to see everything. If you're in Paris for a couple of weeks, a day at the start and a day near the end will bookend your family vacation nicely.
Get to know the lovable characters at Parc Astérix
Disneyland Paris isn't the only cartoon extravaganza for families to enjoy within a short drive from Paris. There's also Parc Astérix, an amusement park dedicated to the famous French comic book series. Don't worry if you haven't read the books or seen the films (although getting to know the characters is highly recommended). The park itself offers enough fun on its own. There are quirky carousels and other rides for younger visitors, log flumes and roller coasters for teens, and even live shows. These are either based around the comics or feature dolphins and sea lions. Fun for all ages, Parc Asterix is 50 minutes from the Louvre by regular shuttle buses, or you can get there by car in 30-40 mins.
Hit the beach in northern France
If amusement parks sound like a terrible idea, why not venture a little further afield and enjoy a day at the beach? The beaches of Normandy and Pas de Calais are around two hours 30 mins from central Paris, and the summer weather is pretty reliable. Highlights include upscale resorts such as Deauville or Caborg, or Coutances, which is a short drive from Mont-Saint-Michel. To the east, the Côte d'Opale is a beautiful stretch of seaside. It is home to Victorian resorts such as Ostend and world-class attractions like Boulogne's Nausicaá aquarium. And there's history aplenty too, especially in Dunkirk, the site of a famous British evacuation in 1940. So it's easy to see why heading to the beach is a popular day-trip option from Paris.
Wherever you choose to head for your day trip, it doesn't have to cost you the earth. But it could, if you make a few wrong decisions. Transport, food, entry costs, souvenirs - it all adds up. But there are ways to enjoy day trips from Paris without spending any more than you would in the capital itself. Sometimes, you can even give your wallet a rest, with free entry and discounted travel. Let's see how you can get out of town for less.
Save money using the bus
While France's trains are clean, reliable, and fast, booking a few journeys can be expensive. But if you want to visit Orléans, Tours, Chartres or Reims, cheaper options are always available. Buses run to most major tourist destinations around Paris, and they are often not much slower than trains. Just to take one example, Ouibus run buses from Paris to Orléans that take one hour 35 mins and can cost around EUR10. Booking ahead is advisable, as prices rise steeply when you book on the day of travel, but most day trip destinations can be reached more cheaply by coach. Car-sharing services such as BlaBlaCar are another option, although finding space for families might be a bit tricky.
Cut the cost with Navigo cards
If you aren't traveling far outside the Paris area, it also makes sense to get hold of Navigo cards for your travel group. Navigo is a payment card system that lets you tap in and out as you navigate the Paris Metro, overground, and bus system. (This means that it's not that useful for visiting places like Chartres.) Weekly passes cost EUR27.80, so if you intend to use public transport on a daily basis, they can really save you some cash. If you're planning to stay for longer, monthly Navigo cards cost EUR75.20. The zones reach as far as the medieval town of Provins, DisneyLand, and Versailles, so there are savings to be made on day trips. One tip: You'll need a passport-size photo when you buy the card, so print some out before you get to Paris.
Free attractions to visit
Cutting the cost of transport is great. You can make even bigger savings on day trips from Paris, however, by seeking out low-cost or even free attractions. For starters, remember that cathedrals and churches tend to be free (although donations are heavily encouraged). As they are among the region's standout attractions, you can get a lot out of trips to places such as Chartres without spending a penny. If you want some free gourmet food, time your day trips to coincide with market day. Almost every major town has a market, and samples of cheese, meats, and even wine are regularly dispensed to patrons. Finally, nature and scenery are usually free, so get yourself outside. Take a walk and fill your lungs with Gallic air. France is a beautiful country, and there are stunning views around every corner.
Earlier on, we spoke about day trips from Paris during off-season periods. But what if you've scheduled an extended Parisian break at the height of summer? In that case, your day-trip options are even wider, although prices may be higher. With soaring temperatures at times, getting out of the city could be essential (Parisians themselves traditionally escape for a month in August). So here are some places to head to from Paris that are perfect for summer vacations.
Unmissable summer events
Summer is festival season in France, and the region around Paris hosts some exceptional events. In the northern city of Arras, the Main Square Festival attracts major artists in early July (Depeche Mode were due for the 2018 edition). Down south in Beaune, the music is a bit more restrained at the city's International Baroque Opera Festival. This celebration of opera is held throughout the month of July. Chartres holds its summer Festival of Lights, illuminating the city's historical attractions in spectacular fashion - and don't forget 14th July. When Bastille Day arrives, celebrations are held everywhere. For an unforgettable end to this national celebration, you might want to be on the Champs Élysées when the day reaches its climax.
Beauty spots for sun-soaked trips
If there isn't a festival that catches your eye, summer is also a great time to simply chill out and enjoy the weather. If you want to picnic in rolling fields and gentle hills, the Le Perche Regional Nature Park is a great bet. At Le Perche, you can also join mushroom foraging expeditions. But if you really feel the need to cool off, there are also locations for natural swimming near the capital. Lakes such as Cergy-Pontoise feature inland beaches, water slides, and changing facilities, not to mention mini-golf, obstacle courses, zip-lines, and kayaking. So even if you're miles from the coast, Paris is still the kind of place where it makes sense to pack some swimming clothes.
A chance to see Giverny in full bloom
Although we mentioned Giverny in passing a bit earlier, it is worth stressing how sublime these gardens are during the summer months. Summer is when the colors of the gladioli, impatiens, carnations, and sunflowers come into their own, and the famous lily ponds shimmer in the sunlight. Become familiar with Monet's Giverny paintings before visiting, and you'll get a feel for why he found the place so mesmerizing. But try to get there early, as the summer crowds can take the shine off your artistic musings.
The perfect time to visit Versailles
Finally, we simply have to mention the greatest Parisian day trip of all: the Palace of Versailles. Built by Louis XIV in the 17th century, Versailles is a byword for opulence and luxury. Even today, it still has the power to leave visitors open-mouthed. The grounds are vast, and the attractions are numerous. Lose yourself in the Hall of Mirrors and the 800 hectares of finely manicured gardens. Then marvel at the Grand Trianon, a village built by Louis XVI as a place to escape the burdens of office. Summer is a magical time to discover the palace, with nightly fountain light shows, open-air concerts, and even masked balls. You can see it all in a day, but it would be a tiring experience, so returning more than once is recommended.
Break up your next Parisian vacation with the right day trips, and add an extra dimension to your time in France. Whether you travel during the festive period, in spring or summer, there are day-trip ideas to suit any weather. And with options for budget travelers and big spenders alike, as well as no lack of family options, there are day trips from Paris for everyone to enjoy. Let us know what you did during your day trips from Paris.