The Paris area is rich in cultural attractions and natural beauty. By traveling just a short distance, one feels far away from the hustle and bustle, lines and hustle and bustle of the Paris metropolitan area. All the sights on this list are about an hour or less (by train or car) from Paris city center. Tourists can escape to the peaceful countryside, visit charming villages, admire glorious churches and visit beautiful castles. Easy day trips include the incomparable Palace of Versailles, the spectacular Gothic Cathedral of Chartres, the serene Royaumont Abbey and the beautifully preserved medieval town of Provins. For those who love impressionist art, Monet’s Gardens in Giverny are a must-see. History buffs will appreciate Saint-Germain-en-Laye for its antiquities museum, the Napoleonic estate of Château de Malmaison and the National Renaissance Museum in Écouen. For families with young children, a trip to Disneyland Paris is not to be missed.
Read also: Paris: sights, tips & favorite places
1 Palace of Versailles
The UNESCO-protected Château de Versailles is a marvel of classical French architecture. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart Versailles, it was the showpiece of King Louis XIV, who believed in absolute power and the divine right of the monarch. The famous Hall of Mirrors was designed to impress the king’s courtiers. This extravagant, sparkling hallway features gigantic, gilded mirrors that reflect the sunlight and create a sensational effect. Other highlights of the castle include the lavishly decorated Queen’s Bedroom , with a beautiful Rococo ceiling and the Hercules Salon , decorated with the The Triumph of Herculesceiling painting by François Lemoyne, as well as two masterpieces by Veronese. The Palace of Versailles is surrounded by 800 hectares of parks and formal French gardens created by André Le Nôtre and considered the finest example of 17th-century French landscape architecture.
Versailles is located 20 kilometers from the center of Paris and is easily accessible by train, which takes about an hour. To get the most out of a visit to the Château de Versailles, an organized tour is recommended. A good choice for those who appreciate art and culture, the Versailles and Giverny day trip takes tourists to two of the most popular day trip destinations from Paris: Claude Monet’s beautiful garden that inspired his Impressionist paintings and the Palace of Versailles. An expert guide shares historical insights into the extravagant interior of the Château de Versailles, leaving plenty of free time to wander the beautiful gardens. For a more adventurous way to reach Versailles.
2 Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral
The beauty of Chartres Cathedral is said to have inspired confidence in the doubtful. This awe-inspiring monument is sure to stimulate appreciation for the glory of medieval Gothic architecture. With its enormous nave and beautiful stained glass windows, the sanctuary has a serene glow. Viewers are awed by the intricate details of the windows, the result of meticulous craftsmanship. Most of the windows date from the 1200s, which is a real rarity. The immense rose windows are especially beautiful. Other highlights include the Life of the Virgin window and the Tree of Jesse windowshowing the genealogical tree of Jesus Christ. Due to the historical value of this 13th century cathedral, UNESCO has placed it on the World Heritage List.
Every evening from early April to early October, the city of Chartres has a spectacular nighttime light show. Chartres en Lumières illuminates the city’s historic monuments, including the cathedral, using creative imagery and vibrant colors. The cathedral also hosts the International Organ Music Festival with free concerts every Sunday afternoon in July and August.
Address: 16 Cloître Notre Dame, 28000 Chartres
3 Château de Fontainebleau
About an hour’s drive from Paris, Fontainebleau is a royal French chateau at its best. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is surrounded by 130 hectares of lush parkland. It has more than 1,500 beautifully decorated rooms. The castle was built in Renaissance style in 1528 for King François I and subsequently expanded by subsequent kings. Napoleon was especially fond of Fontainebleau, but had to sign his first abdication here on April 6, 1814. The castle’s Grand Apartments still appear as they did during Napoleon III and the time of Empress Eugenie. The castle has an impressive entrance with a double horseshoe-shaped staircase. The Cour des Adieuxcourtyard has an equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (a replica of the one in Rome). The castle has four museum collections: paintings, furniture, the Napoleon I collection and the Chinese treasures of Empress Eugenie.
Equal to the beauty of the interiors, the gardens exemplify classic French style, with delightful swimming pools; statues; and a parterre created by André Le Nôtre, who designed the garden at Versailles. The park offers opportunities for outdoor activities including horse-drawn carriage rides, boating and hot air balloon rides.
To see all the highlights of the Château de Fontainebleau you will need at least half a day and that can take a whole day. A guided tour makes for the most rewarding visit. Many tourists enjoy a day tour from Paris that stops at two of France’s most beautiful castles: Château de Fontainebleau and Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Address: Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
Official site: https://www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr/spip.php?lang=en
With its delicate Flemish architecture; narrow, old streets; and picturesque canals, Bruges offers the enchanting charm of another era. Known as the “Venice of the North”, this beautifully preserved medieval town in Belgium has a rich history, as an important trading port from the 12th to the 15th centuries. The city is filled with graceful churches and exceptional art museums, as well as many beautiful little boutiques selling delicious Belgian chocolates.
Although Bruges is in Belgium, it is only about 2.5 hours by train from Paris, making it possible to do as a self-guided day trip. An easier way to discover Bruges is to take an organized tour. An excellent choice is the Bruges day tour from Paris, which includes a guided walk through the city plus a canal cruise.
5 Mont Saint-Michel
One of the most awe-inspiring spiritual sights in France, the island of Mont Saint-Michel rises from the waters of Normandy’s Baie de Saint-Michel. At the highest point on the rocky mountain lies the UNESCO-protected Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, an important medieval pilgrimage site. Known as the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’, this Benedictine abbey is a marvel of Gothic architecture standing 155 meters above the sea, with ornate cloisters and a majestic church. At high tide, Mont Saint-Michel appears as a remote mystical island, while at low tide it is possible to walk from the mainland to the island, just as pilgrims approached it in the Middle Ages. The entire island of Mont Saint-Michel is well preserved, with a village atmosphere,
To see all the sights on Mont Saint-Michel (the Abbey of the Abbey, refectory and ramparts) will take at least four hours, if not a whole day. Since it’s a long drive (3.5 hours) from Paris, it’s best to stay overnight or take an organized day trip. The Mont Saint-Michel tour from Paris is a day trip that includes a scenic drive through Normandy, lunch and a guided visit to Mont Saint-Michel Abbey. The tour also leaves free time to stroll the narrow, ancient streets; peek into tempting little boutiques; and admire the views of the bay.
6 Battlefields and landing beaches in Normandy
For many American tourists, a visit to the D-Day Landing Beaches and Battlefields of Normandy is a moving experience. On June 6, 1944, the battles of the D-Day Landing Beaches became the turning point in World War II, allowing the Allies to gain a favorable advantage. Evidence of the war bunkers and tanks still stands on the sandy beaches that were landing sites. Omaha Beach is the most famous of the landing beaches and was the scene of the bloodiest D-Day battle. Overlooking Omaha Beach is the largest American cemetery in Normandy, with 9,000 gravestones. Close by, the Overlord Museum describes the Allied landings of D-Day and the liberation of Paris. The Caen Memorial Centreis an excellent place to learn more about the Battle of Normandy and other military history of World War II. Another D-Day Museum in Arromanches illustrates the heroic action of Mulberry Harbour, one of the most challenging events of the war.
Although the Normandy D-Day museums provide an excellent backdrop to the D-Day battles, the best way to explore the Normandy landing beaches is by taking a small group tour. The Normandy D-Day Battlefields and Beaches Day Trip includes stops in Omaha Beach, Arromanches and the Caen Memorial Centre, led by an expert guide, who shares insights into the D-Day battles and historical context.
7 Domaine de Chantilly
An easy day trip from Paris (just 25 minutes by train from Gare du Nord), the grandiose Château de Chantilly is a remarkable Renaissance castle in a unique setting. Surrounded by a “domain” of forests and swampy marshes, the castle seems to float among many lakes. The interior of the castle features opulent Rococo décor and precious furnishings. Within the castle, the Musée Condé displays an extensive art collection second only to the Louvre, with more than 800 masterpieces of English, French, Flemish and Italian paintings. The Domaine de Chantilly is also known for its extensive garden, designed by André Le Nôtre, with its characteristic French-style flowerbed. A mini trainthat tours of the gardens is popular with children and the young at heart.
The Chantilly estate has several options for meals and snacks: La Capitainerie Restaurant , with an elegant dining room and a refined menu; Restaurant Le Hameau , which serves lunch and afternoon tea in a charming, rustic house in the castle’s hamlet; and Les Écuries café in the former stables. Visitors can stay at the luxurious five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel, the Auberge du Jeu de Paume, for an exceptional overnight stay or simply enjoy renowned haute cuisine at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, La Table du Connétable .
Adres: 60500 Chantilly
Official site: https://www.domainedechantilly.com/en/
8 Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
This opulent fairytale castle was built for Nicolas Fouquet, who was Minister of Finance to King Louis XIV and had earned a lot of speculation. Fouquet’s enjoyment of the property was short-lived. He entertained Louis Vaux-le-Vicomte was confiscated, along with most of Fouquet’s treasures.
Despite the unfortunate outcome, the castle has retained its former glory and continues to amaze visitors. Fouquet’s private apartments on the top floor have been largely preserved in their original condition. The park, designed by Le Nôtre, is a masterpiece of French garden architecture, with elaborate fountains and large statues. The majestic architecture of the Château de Vaux le Vicomte was the inspiration for Versailles. It is the largest private estate listed as a Historic Monument in France and has been used as a location for more than 80 film productions.
The Château de Vaux le Vicomte is an attractive place to visit and has two picnic areas, an informal self-service restaurant and a romantic restaurant overlooking the formal gardens. The castle looks most enchanting during Candlelit evenings , every Saturday from early May to early October, when the gardens are illuminated by more than two thousand flickering candles. The castle also hosts events throughout the year, such as period costume parties and Christmas festivities . For children, one of the most fun things to do at the castle is the annual Easter egg hunt in the gardens.
Adres: 77950 Maincy
Official site: https://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/
9 Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis
An easy day trip, Saint-Denis is just ten kilometers from Paris. The Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis is considered the first masterpiece of Gothic art. The basilica was created as the burial place of Saint Denis (Dionysius), the patron saint of France, and the French kings. Since early Christian times, Saint-Denis has been an important place of pilgrimage. The legend of Saint Dionysius describes how the saint, after his beheading on the Butte Montmartre, carried his head in his hands to the place where he wanted to be buried. A church was built on the site in the 5th century, followed in the 7th century by the foundation of an abbey. The current building was begun in the 12th century, which marked a transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. The spacious, high-vaulted nave provides a serene retreat for spiritual prayer. The choir was made in a High Gothic style and is known as the “architecture of light” because of its airy feel. The basilica is also known for its stained glass windows from the 12th century. The architecture of the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis provided a model that was followed by the cathedrals of Chartres, Senlis and Meaux.
Address: Rue de Légion d’Honneur 1, 93200 Saint-Denis
Official site: https://saint-denis.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/
Impressionist art lovers will appreciate a visit to Giverny, about 75 kilometers from Paris (less than 45 minutes by train). In a beautiful setting on the River Seine, the village of Giverny is best known for its association with Claude Monet. The artist discovered the beauty of Giverny in 1883 and lived here for thirty years. At the same time, other artists were attracted to the area and were influenced by Monet’s techniques of painting in nature. The top attraction in Giverny is Claude Monet’s House , a charming rural retreat where Monet painted his renowned Water Lilies painting. Tourists can see the water lily pond, with its iconic Japanese bridge, and wander through Monet’s blooming flower garden.
For a tour of Claude Monet’s house and gardens, take the Skip the Line: Giverny and Monet House Half-Day Trip from Paris. On this five-hour tour, an expert guide walks through the gardens, pointing out the weeping willows, orchids and water lilies that inspired Monet’s paintings. For those who want to be in both Versailles and Giverny on the same day, an excellent choice is the Versailles and Giverny Day Trip, which stops for lunch at a charming restaurant on the riverbank outside Giverny.
Surrounded by old fortified walls, Provins was an important merchant town with bustling trade fairs in the 12th and 13th centuries. The 13th century Tithe Barn , a typical Provins building with a vaulted cellar, was used as a warehouse to store goods during markets. Provins is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and has more than 50 monumental historical monuments in the old town. The ramparts and fortified gates built in the 12th and 13th centuries are a top attraction. There are five kilometers of 25 meter high walls surrounding the city, built by Count Thibaut IV of Champagne. Another must-see sight, the Tour Cesar, is a 12th-century tower that served as a fortress under King Henry the Liberal; the building is an example of medieval military architecture and houses the Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church (which was never completed). The most notable church in Provins is the 11th century Eglise Saint-Ayoul , with a bright and inspiring sanctuary. The remains of Saint Ayoul made the church a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. The Maison Romane (Romanesque House) is the oldest building in Provins and houses an excellent collection of antiquities including Merovingian sculptures and Gallo-Roman tiles and pottery. Provins is also famous for its trouvères, the troubadours of northern France.
To fully get to know this medieval city and learn about its fascinating history, take the guided Provins Day Trip from Paris. This full-day tour is led by an informative guide, who will point out the historical monuments and have time to wander the picturesque cobblestone streets of the city. As an added bonus, the tour offers a unique show of equestrian and falconry art in the tradition of hunting art dating back to the Middle Ages.
12 Disneyland Paris
A perfect day trip for families with children, Disneyland Paris is a giant fairytale land of fantasy and adventure with more than 50 attractions in five magical lands. The main attraction in Fantasyland is Sleeping Beauty Castle . The story of Sleeping Beauty is depicted in stained glass and tapestries, while the vaulted cellars are occupied by a fire-breathing dragon. Other favorite areas include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , the Mad Hatter’s Teacup Spinning, and it’s a small world cruise. Children love to fly Peter Pan over London to Never Never Land, wander through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, soar in the sky with Dumbo the flying elephant , travel through fairy kingdom on a colorful boat, and explore the cool playground of Pirates’ Beach . Disneyland Paris has seven hotels and more than 50 different restaurants. It’s easy to get here from Paris by RER train (the ride takes about 45 minutes).
Address: 77777 Marne-la-Vallée
Official site: www.disneylandparis.com
13 Château de Malmaison
In the suburb of Rueil-Malmaison, the Château de Malmaison (now a museum) is an interesting and easy excursion from central Paris. The castle was built in 1620 in early Baroque style and was acquired in 1799 by Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife. After being divorced by Napoleon, she lived here alone. As her private residence (rather than an official palace), the castle has an intimate feel despite its grand Empire style. Joséphine used her home to hold social gatherings and concerts. Joséphine was also interested in landscape architecture and botany. As a result of this passion, the castle has a beautiful garden full of roses and plants that grew there in Joséphine’s time.
Address: Avenue du Château de la Malmaison, 92500 Rueil-Malmaison
Official site: https://en.musees-nationaux-malmaison.fr/chateau-malmaison/
14 Royaumont Abbey
The Abbaye de Royaumont is a Cistercian abbey surrounded by dense forests in a peaceful setting that feels much further away than 30 miles from Paris. Royaumont Abbey offers a welcome retreat in nature and a place for spiritual contemplation. Founded in 1228 by King Louis IX (Saint Louis), the abbey was established as a place of theological study. Visitors can tour the beautiful Gothic abbey and see where the monks bathed, read sacred texts and prepared meals in the refectory. The old sacristy has been converted into an intimate chapel. A highlight of the abbey is its grounds, including a serene cloister, idyllic gardens and extensive parkland, which inspire relaxation and meditation. For those looking for a pampering weekend, the abbey offers hotel accommodation (on Friday and Saturday evenings) and fine dining in a beautiful 13th-century vaulted hall. The restaurant is open for dinner on Friday and Saturday and for lunch on Sunday.
Address: 95270 Asnières-sur-Oise
Official site: https://www.royaumont.com/en
15 National Museum of the Renaissance
This beautiful history museum is located 20 kilometers from Paris in the Château d’Écouen, an elegant Renaissance castle built between 1528 and 1555 for the Lady Anne de Montmorency. The castle embodies the architectural style and interior design of the 16th century, making it the ideal location to house a Renaissance museum. The renowned collection includes Renaissance decorative arts (furniture, ceramics, stained glass) and paintings and tapestries. One of the highlights is a tapestry depicting the story of David and Bathsheba ; another masterpiece is the 16th century Jupiter and Latonatapestry, a piece once owned by Diane de Poitiers. The museum displays a collection of arsenal, which provides insight into the military history of the Renaissance. The museum also hosts exhibitions throughout the year. Visitors will want to spend some time exploring the beautiful grounds. The château property consists of 19 hectares of gardens, surrounded by more than 100 hectares of green parkland.
Address: Château d’Écouen, Rue Jean Bullant, Écouen
Official site: https://en.musee-renaissance.fr
16 Het kasteel van Saint-Germain-en-Laye (National Archeology Museum)
The birthplace of composer Claude Debussy and King Louis XIV, the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye has one of the most beautiful castles in France. In the 12th century, King Louis VI built a castle here on a plateau above the River Seine. It was demolished and rebuilt by King François I, leaving only the keep of the old castle and the adjacent Chapelle Saint-Louis (predecessor of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris). Begun in 1245, the Chapelle Saint-Louis is one of the earliest High Gothic buildings in the area. The castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye houses the Museum of National Antiquities, with an excellent collection of archaeological finds and prehistoric art from all over France, spanning the Paleolithic era (including the Venus of Brassempouy) to the Bronze Age and the Celtic and Gallo-Roman periods. The castle also features two terraces and an English garden designed by André Le Nôtre. From the terraces there is a beautiful view over the River Seine towards Paris.
Address: Place Charles de Gaulle, 78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye
The charming village of Auvers-sur-Oise was a favorite destination of many Impressionist artists, who came to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and capture the landscape in their paintings. About an hour’s drive or train ride from Paris, the village transports visitors to the picturesque world of the French countryside. The city’s must-see site is the Eglise Notre-Dame d’Auvers , a Romanesque church built in the late 11th century. Located at the top of the village, this church was immortalized by Vincent van Gogh in his painting Eglise d’Auvers . There is a statue of Van Gogh by the sculptor Zadkine in the city’s Parc van Gogh .
For those looking for the trail of Vincent van Gogh, the Auberge Ravoux , also known as the Maison van Gogh (House of Van Gogh), where the artist rented a room for bed and board on May 20, 1890. The Ravoux Inn no longer has rooms available, but has retained its restaurant with the same decor of a 19th century artists’ café. Van Gogh sat at a table at the back of the dining room. The restaurant serves classic French cuisine based on Arthur Ravoux’s traditional recipes , with local ingredients from the Auvers-sur-Oise market.
Another historical monument, the Maison-Atelier de Daubigny displays paintings by well-known artists including Daubigny, Corot, Daumier and Oudinot. On the edge of the city in an unspoilt forest, the beautiful 17th-century Château d’Auvers-sur-Oise is surrounded by beautiful formal French gardens. The castle has a contemporary restaurant serving a seasonal menu for lunch and an innovative multimedia exhibition, the ” Impressionist Vision ” designed as an immersive experience to teach visitors about the art of the Impressionists.
18 Castle of Rambouillet
Nestled in the dense forest between Versailles and Chartres, this glorious castle boasts over 20,000 hectares of parkland. The park offers pleasant walking paths through the refreshing forest of Rambouillet. Although the Château de Rambouillet is the summer residence of the President of the Republic, it is open to visitors. An easy day trip from Paris (41 miles away), the castle provides an appreciation of French history and culture. The castle was built in 1706 for the Comte de Toulouse. In 1783 the castle was purchased by King Louis XVI, who used it as a hunting lodge. He created the Laiterie de la Reine, built a dairy for Marie-Antoinette that resembled a Greek temple, and set up a sheep farm where Merino sheep are still raised. Napoleon made the castle his residence and since 1959 it has been a part-time residence of the French president and is occasionally used for ministerial meetings. The richly decorated interior features beautiful Delft tiles and antique furniture. Notable rooms include the 16th century Salle de Marbre (Marble Hall), the 18th century Council Chamber , the bathrooms installed by Napoleon in 1809 and the ballroom with tapestries by Aubusson.
Address: 78120 Rambouillet
Official site: https://www.chateau-rambouillet.fr/en/
Embedded with Old World charm, this small historic town is located about 50 kilometers northeast of Paris. Senlis was an important religious city (the see of a bishop) from the 3rd century to 1790. The old city is dominated by the majestic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis , built between 1153 and 1184. This awe-inspiring cathedral represents several Gothic styles, such as the building was renovated in the 13th and 16th centuries. The richly carved main gate depicts the triumph of the Virgin. The beautiful interior, dating from the 12th century, is one of the earliest Gothic naves in France. Near the cathedral are the remains of the city’s Gallo-Roman walls and of the remains of a medieval castle, theChateau Royal . In the park of the Château Royal is the Musée de la Vénerie (Hunting Museum), which illustrates the art and history of hunting; the museum displays weapons, costumes, hunting horns and trophies. On the western edge of the town are the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater .