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The height of culture. The epicenter of fashion. The City of Lights.
Thinking about Paris calls to mind images of ostentatious buildings, gilded in gold, lording over the gritty streets below. And, as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, it occupies a spot on nearly every traveler’s bucket list.
As a first-time visitor to Paris, it’s easy to get lost in the massive amount of cultural riches you’ll find there. Yes, the city is filled with incredible art museums, important landmarks, and delicious food. But Paris isn’t the only thing France has to offer.
The first time we visited France, we made the mistake of never leaving the city.
Seriously, don’t be like us.
Although Paris is wonderful, not leaving the city means you’ll miss out on so much of what makes France special. In fact, spending time outside of Paris exposes you to more than just the exceptional beauty and rich cultural history of France; I think it actually helps you appreciate the city even more!
Thankfully, experiencing the French countryside is a piece of cake. There are dozens of locales within a few hour’s drive that make wonderful day trips from Paris. But, with so many to choose from, which are the best side trips to take on your first visit?
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of 9 great Paris day trips you can try on your first visit to France.
The Palace of Versailles is the granddaddy of palaces and should definitely be on your list of things to do while in Paris. Located just a 45 minute drive from Paris (you can also take the RER train, if you prefer), Versailles is an art and history lover’s paradise.
Built by King Louis XIV, this palace serves as the model for dozens of other royal residences throughout the world – although none can compare to Versailles grandeur. While its enormous gardens are peaceful, the palace itself oozes power and opulence. Few rooms capture this more than the “Hall of Mirrors.” 357 mirrors, a luxury at the time, line this 240 foot hallway from floor to ceiling – serving as a lavish display of the Sun King’s wealth and power.
While much of the palace is gilded in gold, thankfully, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get in Versailles. Tickets for the palace cost roughly €20. Be sure to avoid the lines by arriving early and purchasing a ticket prior to arrival.
Heading a little further to the southwest, you’ll find the incredible Loire Valley. This place is absolutely magical and has become one of my favorite places in the world to visit.
While the Loire Valley is a delight for food and wine lovers, this area is truly known for its remarkable chateaus. With over 100 chateaus scattered throughout the region, you’ll definitely want to have your destinations picked out before you arrive. For day trips from Paris, I recommend visiting 2 chateaus, at most. (The marvelous Chambord and elegant Chenonceau are my top picks!)
If you have time, spend a few days here to really soak up the atmosphere. If not, be sure to make the two-hour drive, at least for a day. You can read more about our family trip to the Loire Valley here!
Want to visit a royal residence that is both nearby and has smaller crowds than at Versailles? Fontainebleau is definitely worth checking out.
Located just an hour’s drive southeast of Paris, this now famous castle comes from very humble beginnings. The residence originally served as a simple hunting lodge until King Francis I – France’s Rennaisance king – turned the place into most of what you see today.
Famed for the beautiful grand staircase that graces the main entrance, it’s also worth noting that Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated the throne from here in 1814. Like both Versailles and the Loire Valley, Fontainebleau is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Located just 45 minutes north of the city, Chantilly is an easy day trip from Paris that warrants your consideration. Although not a royal residence, this particular chateau is surrounded by water and gardens which makes for some pretty picturesque views. Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed during the French Revolution, so – while still beautiful – the structure that stands here now is not the original. However, that certainly doesn’t diminish its charm.
In addition to its pleasing aesthetics, Chantilly also houses the Musee Conde. Here you’ll find a collection of antique paintings rivaled only in France by those in the Louvre. And, of course, this is where the famous Chantilly lace and whipped cream got its name!
At under €20, entry to the chateau is relatively cheap. Like both Versailles and Fontainebleau, entry to Chantilly is also included in a Paris Pass.
Are delicious food and incredible wine more your speed? Heading to Burgundy may be the perfect Paris side trip for you!
This area of France produces some of the best wines in the entire world. UNESCO has even listed the area’s vineyards as a World Heritage Site. If you’re so inclined, a wine tasting tour is the perfect activity for spending the day in Burgundy.
Like the Loire Valley, ideally, you want to spend more than one day in this incredible corner of France. But, at just a two-hour drive from Paris, Burgundy makes a perfect day trip for those who only have time for a little taste. In fact, Parisians often make the trek down to Burgundy themselves for a night out!
Known and loved throughout the world, Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” paintings are the quintessential works of French Impressionism. After soaking up them up at the museums in Paris, take a side trip to Giverny to see the real thing!
Just an hour northwest of the city, the little village of Giverny so inspired Monet that he lived here for over 40 years. While Monet’s house and the smaller Impressionist museum are worth a stop, the main draw is clearly the beautiful gardens. In full bloom from May through the end of summer, Giverny is sure to fill your senses with floral delights!
A little farther down the road from Giverny is the city of Rouen. Capital of the Normandy region, Rouen was one of the largest cities in Europe during the Middle Ages. These days, you’ll love walking the streets, enjoying the colorful half-timbered buildings as you wander toward the unique astronomical clock tower. You’ll also find a beautiful cathedral that you may recognize from some of those Monet paintings you saw back in Paris.
History lovers may want to visit Rouen for a darker purpose: This is where Joan of Arc was famously burned at the stake in May 1431. Today, you’ll find a catholic church inside the market area here. A small garden outside the church marks the exact spot of the execution.
Located two hours northwest of the city, and about an hour northwest of Giverny, Rouen makes a perfect Paris day trip. Combine a short stop at Giverny and hit both in one day!
Roughly an hour and a half southwest of Paris, by either car or train, lies the city of Chartres. While the old town is certainly worth visiting, the city’s main attraction is the Notre Dame Cathedral. (Don’t confuse this with the cathedral of the same name in Paris!)
Built in the 13th century, this giant church is considered to be one of the best preserved piece of Gothic architecture in all of Europe. The cathedral’s towering twin spires are instantly recognizable, but the magnificent 152 stained glass windows – again, crafted in the 13th century – are the highlight of the visit.
All in all, a day trip to Chartres makes a great getaway from the big city – even if it’s only for a few hours.
Mont Saint Michel
Although this is a bit of a hike, I couldn’t write a piece on day trips from Paris without mentioning Mont Saint Michel. Yes, it’s about a 4 hour trip by either car or train, but this French landmark is definitely a sight to see.
Located on the coast where Brittany meets Normandy, this fortified island sits about 1 km from land and is capped by an incredible monastic abbey which has stood since the 12th century. As legend has it, the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches in 708, charging him to build a church on the site. With over 3 million visitors a year, pilgrims and sightseers have been visiting the island ever since.
Day Trips from Paris: Final Thoughts
Although spending a few days in Paris is a must, don’t sell your trip short. Spend some time outside the City of Lights and enjoy a slice of what the rest of France has to offer – even if it’s only for a day! Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Don’t forget, if you’d like to use points and miles to save on your trip to France, we can help. Learn more about our free rewards advice here.
As always, thanks so much for reading! Until next time, happy traveling!
Have you ever taken any of these day trips from Paris? What was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!