Undoubtedly, Paris offers a plethora of attractions for a memorable vacation: top notch museums, famous monuments, stunning architecture, the River Seine, picturesque neighbourhoods and an interesting historic past. In fact, not even a whole week in the city seems to be enough to really appreciate and take in the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Champs Elysées, the Ile de la Cité or Montmartre just to mention the classical Parisian must-dos.
That said, why would anyone want to talk about more or less short excursions away from the city? Because even though Paris is brimming with things to do, a day trip to a nearby location is a great way to see lesser known landmarks.
In addition, Paris’ central location and good connection to surrounding areas via highways, roads and public transport make it super easy to explore some of the wonderful cities and towns that are also part of France.
Besides, a road trip is a great way to explore what the country has to offer beyond Paris at your own pace and spending as much time as you please in the towns and areas you like the most. At Bonzah, we love road trips and we have compiled this extensive list of French towns and regions that you can easily reach from Paris.
One of the most famous day trips from Paris is the iconic Versailles Palace, famous for its meticulously groomed gardens, stunning and lavish interiors and gold-plated facade. Its construction started in the early 1680s as the primary residence of Louis XIV and it took 40 years to be completed. This is a 2300-room palace and one of the highlights of any visit to France.
Originally built as a hunting lodge and later transformed into a grand palace with two enormous wings, 700 lavishly decorated rooms, more than 2000 windows and almost 70 staircases, the chateau is a symbol of ostentation and power.
There are free audio guides available to guide you through each beautiful room. Allow plenty of time to tour the main palace. Each different room you enter is more opulent than the other. The Hall of Mirrors is one of the must-dos of your visit to Versailles Palace with its large gilded mirrors that reflect sunlight. It’s here where the Treaty of Versailles that put an end to WWI was signed. The Royal Chapel, the Royal Opera, Marie Antoiinette’s private chambers and the King’s private chambers are also unmissable.
If you have extra time, don’t miss Marie-Antoinette’s fairytale farm: the Harneau de la Reine, located in the Versailles gardens. It was built to resemble a Normandy Village, complete with gardens, a mill and even livestock.
There are other palaces within Versailles such as the Petit Trianon and Grand Trianon that you should see as well. In fact, the whole estate serves as a museum with huge collections of masterpieces.
And that’s prior you explore the vast 2000-acre gardens filled with trees, decorated flower beds, statues, a mile-long Grand Canal and breathtaking fountains.
The Chateau de Fontainebleau is one of the most beautifully decorated and furnished in France. Dating back to 1137, it’s the location where every French monarch lived for almost 800 years! The history of the 35 kings that have left their mark on this chateau is apparent, with each addition making Fontainebleau even more opulent than before
It’s close enough to Paris (just an hour by car) so that kings and queens could visit the palace for short visits without having to spend lots of time getting there. .
Nestled in an almost 3000-acre forest, the Chateau was a favourite spot for royal hunting for centuries. Large parties were held and there was no shortage of space for everybody. The interior of the castle is exquisitely and lavishly decorated with elaborate tapestries, frescoes, paintings and carved wood panels. Don’t miss the Renaissance masterpieces commissioned by Francois I, Napoleon I’s apartment and Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, sumptuously decorated with Neoclassical art and gilded panelling.
Inside Chateau de Fontainebleau there are four museums and three chapels and they are definitely worth visiting. The Empress’s Chinese Museum is dedicated to East Asian Treasures, the Napoleon I Museum (a paintings gallery), and a Furniture Gallery exhibiting collections of the castle’s furniture from different periods.
You should also leave enough time to explore the palace gardens and the surrounding forest.. There are 130 hectares of gardens and an entire forest you can explore!The impressive sculptures, water features and rare flora and fauna of the Palace’s three spectacular gardens _ the Grand Parterre, the Jardin Anglais and the Garden of Diana_ are not to be missed.
Fontainebleau is a nice weekend getaway from Paris and it’s often overlooked by tourists that flock to the more popular Palace of Versailles. However, Fontainebleau is the country’s hidden gem and best-kept secret and you shouldn’t miss it if you have the chance.
Visiting the Loire Valley is an invitation to explore more than 100 fairy-tale-like castles, each more magnificent than the last. The region became a showcase of castles during the French Renaissance. In 1519, King Francois I built the famous Chateau de Chambord as a symbol of his great victories in battle. Surrounded by a 13000-acre forest estate, the castle grounds also served as a hunting lodge for the king. He hosted hunting parties that drew A-list celebrities from all around Europe, which started the desire for everyone to have their very own chateau in the Loire Valley.
Exploring Loire Valley is a great experience to enjoy in France. You can marvel at the most impressive rooftop at Chambord, see stunningly symmetrical gardens at Villandry and admire the castle that’s also a bridge at Chenonceau just to mention a few of the most beautiful castles you can visit here.
Chambord is a beautiful building and it’s so special that it’s considered the architectural equivalent of the Mona Lisa. With more than 400 rooms, 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and more than 200 chimneys, it’s really worthy to take a tour round Chambord Castle.
The Chateau de Chenonceau spans over the River Cher, as if floating atop of it. It’s a marvellous feat of architecture as it displays traits of late Gothic and early renaissance architecture styles to form a unique combination. This place was home to Queen Catherine de Medici and holds lots of historical value.
The Château de Villandry, mostly famed for its beautiful gardens that include a labyrinth, grapevines, a grass court for tennis, vegetable patches, flowery gardens and fountains, will keep you busy enough to skip the interiors.
In addition, the Loire Valley is France’s third-largest wine producer. The official wine route stretches 800km from Nantes in the west to Sancerre in the east and leads drivers past picturesque villages and lush meadows flanked with gorgeous vineyards.
Located in the NE of France, in the Champagne Ardenne region, Reims is known as the capital of champagne production. If you love champagne and want to learn more about the champenoise process, you can’t miss a road trip to this city.
The Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims is the first site to be visited. For more than a thousand years, the kings of France were crowned here. It’s famous for its stained-glass windows and statues, including the Smiling Angel. The Cathedral easily rivals Notre Dame de Paris, with twice as many statues on its exterior and stunning stained glass windows by both original Middle Ages artisans and modern artists such as Marc Chagall. And don’t miss the Cathedral’s Joan of Arc tribute.
The Palace of Tau is next to the Cathedral. This Palace was once the residence of the Archbishops of Reims and it’s now a museum where visitors can admire many of the items used during the coronations of the kings as well as beautiful tapestries and statues.
Reims is also home to the St. Remi History Museum, the Gallo-Roman cryptoporticus, the XV century Hotel Le Vergeur Museum and Reims Opera House just to mention some other interesting buildings that you can include in your tour.
One of the best things to do in Reims, especially if you are interested in WWII, is the Musee de la Reddition (the capitulations museum). This discrete building is where Germany signed surrender to the Allies, thus ending WWII with the capitulation of the Third Reich. It’s definitely a very moving experience.
Reims is a gorgeous addition to any France itinerary with its stunning cathedral, cobbled-cafe-lined streets and green spaces. In addition, it’s the capital of champagne and a great destination for foodies, being home to at least one Michelin restaurant.
Rouen, capital of the Upper Normandy region, is another interesting stop in your France itinerary, especially if you are a history buff. The city is today home to picturesque half-timber houses, a stunning XIV century clock and its very own Cathedral Notre Dame. It’s a picturesque city located not far from Paris and it perfectly blends modern and ancient architecture and the whole town oozes with culture and beauty.
The city is renowned for its well-preserved Mediaeval heritage and impressive architecture. Its Gothic buildings are some of the finest in France. Its famous landmark is the Gros Horloge, Rouen’s emblematic clock in Renaissance style that is not only beautiful but one of the oldest clocks in Europe and has been in operation since the XIV century.
The old town and market square are absolutely captivating. The Cathedral, a remnant from the XII century, is a must-see as it exhibits fine craftsmanship of Gothic architecture and more than 30 canvases painted by Monet himself.
The Musee des Beaux-Arts is also unmissable as it holds the second largest collection of Impressionist works in France. The Musee de la Ceramique is home to fine pottery examples and the Musee Le Secq des Tournelles features unique iron works. You can learn more about the city and its interesting past at the Musee de Rouen.
Rouen is deeply related to Joan of Arc. Disputed by the French and the English throughout the Hundred Years War, it was here that the English imprisoned Joan of Arc and burned her alive at the stake on May 30, 1431. You can now visit the Place du Vieux Marche and see the Joan of Arc Tower and History Museum. The modern Church of Saint Joan of Arc was erected at the exact location where she was burnt at the stake.
Giverny is a small village on the border of Normandy and tourists flock to this picturesque town mostly because it’s the site of Monet’s cherished riverside house and gardens, both of which are open to the public.
It’s an utterly charming town with fields of red poppies that beg for you to photograph them. There are several small cafés where you can enjoy a mug of coffee or something to eat.
Giverny should be in the bucket list of anybody interested in Impressionism. It’s here where you can admire the landscapes and views that inspired Claude Monet to paint outdoors en plein air. The artist’s house and gardens are open from March to early November and have been preserved exactly as he designed them. You can pose on the green bridge made famous by his water lily series Les Nympheas and discover little-known work by his contemporaries in the adjacent Musee des Impressionistes.
Besides the vibrant Monet garden with ponds filled with every shade of green and flowers of every hue, you can visit Monet’s house to see how the painter lived. The Japanese-style water gardens are the best place to soak up the dazzling colours and admire the picturesque setting. Monet’s tomb is also located in Giverny at the Sainte-Radegonde Church.
Monet lived here from 1883 until his death in 1926 and it’s a must-see for art lovers. Monet’s house feels as if he was there yesterday, with everything much as it was during his lifetime which is why Giverny is definitely worth visiting. You can visit his first studio, which has many reproductions of his paintings, his bedroom sitting room and bright yellow dining room. The property’s original garden is called the Clos Normand and in summer is a blaze of bright colour with roses, geraniums, dahlias and foxgloves blooming in abundance.
An underpass leads from here to the iconic Japanese Garden, which has the famous water lily ponds and Japanese bridge, probably the most instagrammable spots of your tour.
It’s worth making time to visit the strikingly modern Musee des Impressionistes. Even though the permanent collection is quite limited, the annual exhibitions are excellent; you can admire collections and works by Sorolla, Manguin, Degas and other Impressionists.
If you’re an art lover, there’s another day trip you can easily take from Paris: Auvers-Sur-Oise, the town where Van Gogh last lived. In fact, L’Auberge Ravoux, known as Van Gogh’s house, is his last home before he took his life. Van Gogh lived and painted here as did Cezanne, Pissarro, Corot and Daubigny. The rural and village scenes are inspiring and clearly explain why they chose this town as their home.
Apart from the village, you can explore the XVII century Château d’Auvers-sur-Oise, with its lovely park and gardens. Other tourist attractions here are the Church Notre Dame de l’Assomption, Daubigny Museum, Doctor Gachet’s HOuse and the Absinthe Museum. Dr Gachet treated Van Gogh as a patient but he also supported him financially by paying for his modest room and board at a local inn, and for his paints and canvases. The artists would go on and paint almost 80 paintings in a highly prolific time before he committed suicide on July 29, 1890.
Today you can visit many of the scenes and places that Van Gogh painted in his last days, including the home of Dr Gatchet, the town hall, the Gothic Auvers church and wheat fields. You can also view the cemetery where Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo are buried one next to the other.
The Auberge Ravoux, where he lived, is now open to the public. You can view his room and also have a meal in the dining room, which serves dishes from the period.
After paying homage to the artist, get to grips with the origin of his suicide: absinthe. In the only museum in the world dedicated to this spirited drink, derived from Pastis, discover the madness that can lead to the one called “the green fairy”. The first floor is dedicated to the recreational and legendary aspects of absinthe while the second floor reveals the horrors related to its consumption. Tasting it is, of course, at your own risk.
Another must-see is the Eglise Notre-Dame d’Auvers, a Romanesque church built in the late XI century. Perched at the top of the village, this church was immortalised by Van Gogh in his painting Eglise d’Auvers.
On the outskirts of the town in a pristine forest, the exquisite XVII-century Chateau d’Auvers-sur-Oise is surrounded by lovely formal French gardens. It presents an innovative multimedia exhibit on Impressionist art and there’s also a chic restaurant at the chateau that offers a perfect backdrop for a nice lunch.