There’s so much to discover in Paris that it’s easy to spend your entire visit dashing around the confines of the capital.
However, within a couple of hours’ drive from the city, you can be strolling the gardens of famous palaces, experiencing the beauty that inspired Claude Monet, or sipping champagne — in Champagne! Try and leave enough time in your Paris itinerary to savour some of the amazing day trip destinations that are oh so close.
Here are five of the best day trips from Paris.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Château de Fontainebleau — an easy drive south-east of the capital — was originally constructed in the 12th century. It was later remodelled by various French leaders — including the very active François I and, post-revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte. Once home to the School of Fontainebleau (where the best of late Renaissance Italian and French artists worked for the king), the château is now a fascinating time capsule with its Second Empire Salon, Chinese Museum, François I Gallery, and other spectacular spaces containing frescoes, tapestries, paintings and period furniture. The French and English-style gardens are delightful.
After your visit, take a stroll into the pretty town centre for a drink by the merry-go-round. Drive-time from Paris: 60 minutes
When Louis XIV had had enough of central Paris and living in the Louvre, he moved the royal court to Versailles. There, high society flounced about in its finery until the bloody French Revolution put an end to that during the reign of Louis XVI. Louis XIV was known as the Sun King (a reference to Apollo — the Greek god of the sun), and his image is omnipresent at the jaw-dropping Palace of Versailles. The extravagant decorations including crystal chandeliers, busts of Roman emperors, statues of Greek gods and the famous hall of mirrors. Versailles is one of France’s top tourist attractions, so buy your tickets in advance. If the crowds inside are too much, make an escape to the spacious and stunning gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. Drive time from Paris: 40 minutes
Located just 50 kilometres north of Paris, and surrounded by beautiful forests, Domaine de Chantilly has its own historic palace — the Château de Chantilly. Anne de Montmorency’s Petit Château was built around 1560 and the Grand Château — destroyed in the French Revolution — was rebuilt in the 1870s. The Musée Condé has an incredible collection of 15th and 16th century paintings (including original works by Géricault and Delacroix), while the mind-blowing library houses many medieval manuscripts. The grounds have long been popular for theatrical performances (including the debut of Molière’s Les Précieuses Ridicules in 1659), and concerts — including bands such as Pink Floyd. The château featured as the home of villain Max Zorin in the James Bond film A View to a Kill. Drive time from Paris: 50 minutes
Lovers of French Impressionism should not miss the chance to head to the quaint village of Giverny in Normandy to visit Claude Monet’s splendid house and garden. The main attraction is the lake with Japanese footbridges, weeping willows and the water lilies that inspired the artist’s celebrated Water Lilies series (now the piece de resistance at the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris). The enormous flower garden is also magnificent, and there are dozens of varieties that make the air deliciously sweet.
The house includes prints of many of Monet’s major works and his private collection of the works of friends and contemporaries (including Cézanne and Renoir). His chaise longue, writing desk, grandfather clock, large dining table and shiny copper kitchenware evoke a sense of country life as it was for the painter from the late 1880s.
Leave some time to explore the tiny village. Visit the small galleries, eat a famous omelette at the historic Café Baudy, pop into the Museum of Impressionism, and pay your respects at Monet’s grave at the Eglise Sainte-Radegonde. Drive time from Paris: 80 minutes
For those who appreciate a drop of the world’s finest sparkling wine — champagne — it’s worth knowing that within an hour and a half’s drive from Paris you can be discovering its place of origin — complete with picturesque vineyards, atmospheric cellars and wine caves, and, bien sur, bubbles! The ancient Romans were the first to harvest grapes in the Champagne region but champagne as we know it wasn’t developed until the 17th century. Today you can visit the champagne houses, meet the producers and learn about the heavily regulated production process. Mumm, Moet Chandon, Pommery or Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart and Bollinger all offer tours of their estates. Book in advance.
While in Reims (the capital of the region), visit the 13th century gothic cathedral where the French kings were crowned (traditionally, champagne was served at the coronation party). On summer evenings the cathedral puts on a very pretty sound and light show, which is worth hanging around for. Santé! Drive time from Paris: 90 minutes
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best day trips from Paris? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.