With a country the
With a country roughly the same size as Texas, it would be a shame to only see 6 square miles of it! If you have an extra day to your itinerary be sure to check out some options for a day out of Paris. Not that Paris isn't enough, but after a couple visits to the City of Lights, you probably know it well enough to spare some time away from the cafe scene. Having spent time in all the places below, I am happy to share my experiences an encouragement for you to enjoy them as well.
It started as just a simple hunting lodge for King Henry IV, and it ended with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette being whisked away for their inevitable execution. The Palace of Versailles can easily be reached in less than an hour by taking the RER C train directly from the center of the Paris. Just choose the “Versailles Château Rive Gauche” station and your destination. Be sure you get the correct Versailles station since there are three. The train station is only a 15-minutes walk to the château. Follow the signs, the crowds or use your google maps to the grand entrance.
If you have a few extra dollars and don’t want to navigate on your own, I recommend a 99 euros Fat Tire Bike Tours. They will guide you from Paris to Versailles by train, making the first stop at the city marché to get picnic supplies for your lunch. You will ride through the Château's 2,000 acres of royal property before a break at the the Grand Canal to eat your treats.
After your picnic, you can visit Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon which was devoted to the 19 year olds exclusive enjoyment. Finally, you will have skip-the-line access to the Palace featuring the Hall of Mirrors,where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I. Either option you choose, be sure you pre purchase your the skip-the-line tickets to avoid the long wait time.
We brought our own picnic items from Paris for lunch, but they do have a number of restaurants and snack shacks available in and around the gardens. The Gardens are also a great place to enjoy and ice cream and definitely try the fresh orange juice carts! It is sure to be a wonderful day being in a real French castle.
Fontainebleau is one of France’s largest châteaux and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of the most famous royal inhabitants include Henry IV, Louis XV, and Napoleon 1er. It was built in the 12th century, and displays a remarkable variety of architectural styles, all set on 321 acres of parks and gardens. You can even see one of the famed coats and two cornered hat worn by Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
If you want to get to Fontainebleau from Paris via public transport, take a Transilien train from Gare de Lyon in the "Migennes, Montargis or Montereau" direction. The journey to the Fontainebleau-Avon stop should take approximately 40 minutes. There you will find a bus station in front of the exit, were you will take you to the downtown where the Château is located. Enjoy a little lunch in town before or after your visit. Picnicking is also popular as the gardens are vast and inviting.
Book train tickets in advance to avoid the more expensive same day costs. Tickets are around 20 euros round trip plus minimal bus or cab fare. Be sure to have some cash on hand for the transportation into town. Our driver was kind enough to overlook our lacking of cash, but you never know if you have a tough driver.
There are a few tours through the France Tourism website available to the Palace if you are lucky with dates. Some include a stop at the lovely impressionist painters town of Barbizon. You will pay approximately 60 euros per person, but you will be driven directly to the castle from Paris.
3. Mount St Michelle
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is the most beautiful and famous tidal island located in Northern France. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses an Abbey who's nickname is “St. Michael in peril of the sea." This name came about because so many pilgrims were washed away trying to walk the flats to the island when the tide was low.
You can go to their website for the tidal chart avoiding the same fate as those weary victims. It may seem complicated, but traveling there by train can cut your car time down in half allowing for a same day excursion. The average journey time from Paris by car is 4 hours and 36 minutes. The train to Rennes leaves from the Paris Montparnasse Station and arrives in just 2 hours. A benefit to taking a car is that you can also combine your trip over a couple days and see the American Cemetery in Normandy which is truly moving.
Tickets can be purchased ahead of time; saving you time and money, on the SNCF website for about 15 euros each way and the bus is timed with the train arrivals. There are also bus tours offered for 175 euros where you just sit back, enjoy the countryside and let them navigate for you. Either way this is a commune not to be missed.
4. Loire Valley Castles
At Tower to Bridge Tours, we recommend that Paris travelers visit the Loire Valley and its spectacular castles. Most tours will visit the Château de Chenonceau and the Château de Chambord. The Chateau de Chambord is a must see as it was the inspiration for Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast.'
These are two of the Valley’s most beautiful and much publicized of the 42 classified châteaux of the region. Self guided tours require a rental car, which is more of a stress than enjoying a driver who enables you you enjoy the fabulous local libations.
The tours are a full day costing 170 euro per person. This trip is the best display of France’s history and will be completed with a walk in the vineyards and an informal viticulture lesson. The guided tours also allow you to relax midday with a traditional French lunch at the Nitray Vineyards, with unlimited wine!
After lunch you will visit the elegant Château de Chenonceau, which has a rich history including the tale Henri II who gave the castle to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Sadly after his death, Diane was kicked out by Catherine de’ Medici despite being the legal owner.
Monet may have worked slow but the train to see his work goes fast! You'll complete your journey in less than 1 hour allowing for a half day outing. Once there you will visit the house and the gardens of the most well known of the Impressionist painters.
View his landscape canvases and the gardens where he painted his famed subjects such as the "Water Lilies," the "Japanese Bridge" and "The Irises." All of which can be seen in Paris at both the Orangerie museum and the Musée Marmottan Monet. Although his work is in Paris, you will see his vast art collection and a number of his smaller paintings.
To reach Giverny by train will saves time and money. 9 euros for the train, 5 for the bus and the 11.50 for the entrance fee you will save a half the cost as a guided bus tour costing you a 79 euro price tag per person. The Vernon-Giverny station is situated on the main train ligne in the Rouen/Le Havre direction. There are always English speaking train staff to ensure your heading in the right direction. You will depart from the Saint-Lazare Paris station, which is fitting since Monet painted it several times.
Honfleur is one of the most beautiful and well preserved ports of Normandy. The old port as it is called, is lined with authentic houses from the 16th thru 18th century that inspired Impressionist painters such as Monet and Boudin.
They found the changing light and picturesque quays as inspiring as they are today. It is said that if go to the same spot every day and take the same photo, you'll find no two are alike.
On Saturdays you can visit the town's marché and stock up on local cheese and cider. Be sure to try a crepe or seafood, also a specialties of Normandy. If you plan right you may be able to score a seat on a tour via bus, costing a meager $39 per person, but dates are very limited.
If you aren't lucky enough to catch a tour that coincides with your travel dates you can still see it on your own. Generally, you will need to rent a car but you can also enjoy a private driver, which will cost you a couple hundred per person, but allows you to drink some of the country's most famous calvados, not to mention a drive on the famed La Route du Cider. Trust me the Normandy cider shouldn't be missed.
The top day trip taken outside of Paris is a visit to Champagne. Champagne is the name of a region not a city. Most likely you will visit the city of Reims which boasts a 13th century Gothic Cathedral where the majority of kings were crowned in France not to mention one of the most historic places for Joan of Arc. It's a charming town with a great history that is always enjoyed by visitors. Most trips include a drive along the famous UNESCO World Heritage site, The Champagne Avenue, including Epernay, the other major city of Champagne.
There are small group tours for approximately 153 euros per person via train and minivans. They include tastings at major houses, combined with a walk through their vineyards. Some tours also include lunch where you will participate in a Champagne class; discovering vine growing, and winemaker secrets. You will also be able to visit to a family run boutique winery before your return to Paris.
For approximately 50 euros, you can easily take a train to the city of Reims where you can continue on by cabs to a few of your favorite champagne houses. There too, you will increase your knowledge on Champagne production and during your visit you may tour some ancient wine cellars. Of course you end all tours with wonderful tastings. You must pre book your tasting if you go on your own, and they generally cost $50 per person per champagne house. Be sure to buy a coupe bottles for your hotel room, no corkscrew needed!
It's easy to plan a day trip from Paris to Belgium since it's just an hour and a half by high speed train. Brussels is the country's capital rich with history and a variety of beautiful architecture. Because the city is much smaller than Paris, it’s easy to see it all in just one day, especially if you do a walking tour for highlights. But I am biased when it comes to walking tours!
One affordable option is a 2.5 hour walking tour covering the top attractions including, the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis. That leaves you time to see fun neighborhood called Les Marolles. It's a lively area full of cafes, antique shops and even the daily flea market. Enjoy walking by ancient and royal buildings, through the cobblestone streets and up the hills to the museum quarter.
You can take the Thalys train; for less than 30 euros each way, departing from the Gare du Nord direct into 'Bruxelles-Midi'. This is one of the three main train stations in the city. It is a short cab ride or easy flat walk to the historic city center. It only took us about 15 minutes to walk there and really loved seeing local life. Without luggage I recommend the walk, but with small children it would be better to take a cab.
A private car can take you from Paris and back, but the train is much faster. They run on a very regular basis from early in the morning until late in the evening allowing for a full day of fun. Be sure to try the cities most famous and loved treats like chocolate and beer or even, chocolate beer!
DIsneyland Paris and The Walt Disney Studios parks are the closest day trip from Paris. It is super easy to use public transport if you want to skip the slightly elevated cab fare. You can take the RER A train, which is a different train than the meto, but uses the same tracks.
You will go in the direction of "Marne-la-Vallée — Chessy," (Cause mice like cheese, right?) The price per ticket is 7.60 euros per person, and there is a train every 15 minutes. It should only take you 45 minutes from the center of Paris to reach the amusement parks. There are tickets booths on either side with bilingual service agents to assist you.
The last train back to Paris is at 00:20, because they close the parks after the firework show at midnight. A private car from Paris to Disney is approximately 90 euros each way, in case you are nervous about your RER navigation skills.
In the park or online before you arrive they sell both a "Super" and "Ultimate Fast pass." They will save you time on lines with more benefits than a traditional "Fast pass." At the current time with park attendance restricted, therefore you will not have the need for this special pass.
You do need a reservation to enter the parks at this time. Reservations are going pretty smoothly but be sure to plan ahead. I do recommend dining reservations and love Chez Remmy's. When asked if Disneyland Paris it is worth the visit, I say absolutely! Especially with kids and not just the kids at heart.