Get away from the city with a day trip from Paris. You will find woodlands and urban culture only 30 minutes away in Boulogne, Vincennes, Pantin and St Ouen. 60 minutes away you will discover villages and castles in Marly-le-Roi, Versailles, Rambouillet and Chantilly. 90 minutes away you will find UNESCO sights and Monet’s Garden in Giverny, Barbizon and Provins. Less than two hours from Paris you will find the beautiful coast of Normandy. We've handpicked some of the top places to visit in Normandy, from the culture-packed historical city of Rouen to the dramatic cliffs of Étretat.
For die-hard Parisians, crossing the périphérique (the city’s busy ring road) is a bit of an adventure – but the Bois de Boulogne is certainly worth the effort. The Duke of Windsor once lived here; make a day of a visit to this bucolic expanse of tree-lined paths, genteel lakes and trickling waterfalls. Head to Le Chalet des Iles, a waterside eatery serving classic family-pleasing fare. Don’t miss a glimpse at the spaceship lines and modern art collections of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, reopening on 23 September. Nearby, the Jardin d’Acclimatation has fairground rides and adorable farm animals to pet. South of the park, the Albert-Kahn Museum is worth a detour for its whimsical gardens. End the day at Daroco, a métro hop away – a stylish spot for wood-fired pizzas, creamy risottos and expertly mixed cocktails.
How to get there
It’s a 25-minute walk from Trocadéro to the Bois de Boulogne. Several RER and metro lines stop nearby. Les Sablons on line 1 is the nearest to the Jardin d’Acclimatation and the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
If you have little ones in tow, the Bois de Vincennes is a no-brainer. Easily accessible, this vast and attractive park has something for all ages, with its towering slides, treetop adventures and spectacular botanical gardens. Rent a rowing boat to explore Lac Daumesnil, spotting herons and crested grebes along the way. You’d be remiss not to visit the zoo, transformed in 2014 to mimic the animals’ natural habitats. If you’re in the market for a sweet treat, Crème, at the northern edge of the park, is a modern patisserie and gelateria churning out artisanal scoops from Syrian pistachio, Charentes melon and other natural delights. After a more substantial bite? Nearby coffee shop Miettes serves flaky homemade croissants, comforting quiche and some of the best flan in town.
How to get there
Porte Dorée, on line 12, is the nearest métro station. If you’re walking, follow the Coulée Verte high line from Bastille.
Venture to the right spots beyond the périphérique and you’ll be rewarded with a taste of the city’s quirkier, edgier side. Eastern suburb Pantin is making a name for itself as a street-art haven and hangout for culture vultures. Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac showcases cutting-edge art; the Centre National de la Danse stages experimental performances and exhibitions. Its budget-friendly gourmet café Mingway is also worth the detour. Just north of Montmartre, St Ouen is home to Les Puces, the largest flea market in the world selling everything from African carvings to Victorian dresses, vintage couture and mid-century furniture. When you’re done shopping, head to Bonne Aventure for tempting small plates and biodynamic wines, or to Mob Hotel for pop-up stalls, yoga workshops and drinks on the terrace.
How to get there
Pantin is served by Gare de Pantin on RER E, and Porte de la Villette station on métro line 7. From the Marais, it’s a pleasant 40-minute walk along the canal. Porte de Clignancourt, on line 4, is the handiest station for the flea market. On foot, it’s a 30-minute walk from the Sacré-Coeur.
When he tired of the grandeur of Versailles, Louis XIV would hide away in this picturesque village with his inner circle. The Sun King’s smaller château may no longer stand, but the surrounding Domaine de Marly, with its equine statues, landscaped gardens and impressive ponds, still gives a glimpse of royal life on the down-low. The town itself is lovely, with its pastel-hued Grande Rue that caught the eye of Sisley and Renoir. Stop for afternoon tea at quaint Au Vieux Marly, or quench a thirst on Le Gramophone’s terrace. Follow in Pizarro’s footsteps on the Impressionists’ Trail, where you’ll find painting reproductions in situ. Don’t miss the nearby Château de Monte-Cristo, where writer Alexander Dumas once lived: the neo-Gothic mansion would make a fine setting for his swashbuckling musketeers.
How to get there
Frequent Transilien L trains run from Gare St Lazare to Marly-le-Roi; the journey takes 40 minutes.
There’s no shortage of attractive woodlands near Paris. Criss-crossed by 92 km of pine and oak-shaded trails, the Forêt de Rambouillet is perhaps the most pleasing to get lost in. Stop by nature reserve Espace Rambouillet for pony rides and falconry experiences. With its boating pond, riding arena, greenhouse restaurant and Nordic hot tubs, nearby hotel Le Barn makes for chic weekend getaways. The 12th-century Vaux de Cernay abbey impresses with artful ruins, an atmospheric cloister and post-visit pastries. The Chevreuse Valley calls for gentle strolls. From St-Rémy-les-Chevreuse, follow the Promenade des Petits Ponts to the imposing Château de la Madeleine, stopping by L’Alchimiste for artisanal syrups to take home.
How to get there
Direct trains run to Rambouillet from Paris Montparnasse station in 35 minutes. Hiring a car is a good idea to explore the area; the drive from Paris takes about an hour.
A visit to the grand Domaine de Chantilly acts like a crash course in French history. High society feasted, loved and cavorted in the Grand Château until its destruction during the Revolution. Molière premiered his plays here, Le Nôtre shaped its breathtaking formal gardens, and its little hamlet inspired a certain Marie-Antoinette to build her own rural getaway. Spend a day exploring the estate, from the great stables (which still put on equestrian shows) to the kid-friendly labyrinth. Inside, the suites are just as the Duke of Aumale, who rebuilt the château, left them in 1897. His art collection now forms the on-site Musée Condé. In town, restaurant Le Vatel has an afternoon snack menu for hungry day-trippers. End things on a sweet note: a rum baba, say, or a strawberry tart with pistachio-flavoured crème Chantilly.
How to get there
Chantilly is less than an hour from Paris along the A1 highway. TER trains from Gare du Nord take about 25 minutes to Chantilly-Gouvieux station. From there, it’s a 20-minute walk to the Domaine.
Monet spotted this picture-perfect village out of a train window and was immediately beguiled. A visit to his house (now La Fondation Monet) is a must, particularly for its extraordinary, evocative garden. Its Japanese bridge, water lilies and weeping willows have become synonymous with Impressionism and inspired American artists to settle here too. Hôtel Baudy was the centre of their social life; it’s now a pleasant brasserie, with a large terrace and carefully preserved artist’s studio. The Musée des Impressionismes has curated exhibitions and free-to-visit garden. Budding artists are welcome to set up an easel in its wildflower meadow. If you fancy staying a night or two, hop across the Seine to Etxeaona. The former farmhouse is now a stylish guesthouse, and only hosts one couple at a time – perfect for a romantic getaway.
How to get there
From Paris, the drive along the A15 takes just under 90 minutes. Trains from Gare Saint-Lazare reach Gare de Vernon in about 45 minutes; from there, shuttles to Giverny leave 15 minutes after the train arrives.
It’s no wonder Barbizon attracted 19th-century landscape artists: on the edges of the forest of Fontainebleau, this quaint little town is pretty as a picture. The painters gathered and worked at L’Auberge Ganne, now the Musée des Peintres de Barbizon, where visitors can poke around reconstructed rooms and studios. Barbizon’s still home to working artists; you might catch a whiff of turpentine as you amble down its charming cobbled streets. Guesthouse La Folie Barbizon hosts artist and chef residences; pick up a picnic basket for a stroll through the forest. Head for the Rocher de l’Éléphant, a pachyderm-shaped rock popular with novice boulderers of all ages. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, ivy-clad La Bohème is a dreamy spot for a light alfresco dinner: a poke bowl, say, or prawns with espelette pepper.
How to get there
It’s best to hire a car to reach Barbizon; the drive along the A6 takes about an hour.
This UNESCO-protected medieval town once thrived as the seat of the Counts of Champagne. After a walk around its impressive fortified walls, head for the old town’s cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and terrace-touting cafés. Climb up the Tour César, a 12th-century keep with sweeping views over the rooftops and surrounding countryside, or take a peek inside the peculiar – and unfinished – Saint-Quiriace collegiate church. Come lunchtime, Les Bistrophiles turns fresh, locally sourced produce into classic French fare. Linger a while in the Provins Rose Garden, then browse its boutique for rose-flavoured honey or chocolates to take home. Look out for Provins’s entertaining medieval jousts, banquets and falconry displays, next scheduled for 2021.
How to get there
Driving from Paris to Provins takes just over an hour along the A4 and N4. Transilien P trains from Gare de l’Est take just under 90 minutes.
It’s no wonder impressionist artists roamed Normandy in droves in the 19th century, capturing the play of light on its medieval towns, fertile orchards and windswept beaches. Flanked by the English Channel, this vast stretch of northern France is strikingly beautiful and proud of its heritage, with something for history buffs of all stripes. Vibrant Rouen and its Gothic cathedral make an ideal day trip, but for a real getaway, hire a car and make a road trip of it. The coast is dotted with seaside towns popular with families. Get acquainted with the tradition of the trou normand – a glass of calvados taken mid-meal to open up the appetite. For a taste of old-school French charm, here are our top picks in Normandy.
Known for its Gothic cathedral, Rouen is Normandy’s vibrant, culture-packed capital on the banks of the Seine. Wander around the Saint-Maclou quarter, popular for its half-timbered houses, cafés and antique shops, particularly on rue Damiette. Look out for a string of imposing churches, crowned by the glorious Rouen Cathedral, which Monet painted obsessively. You can set your watch by the Gros-Horloge, a large Renaissance clock decorated with gilded imagery, and visit its belfry and intriguing machinery room. Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts houses an impressive impressionist collection. A climb up Colline Sainte-Catherine will be rewarded with sweeping views over the city.
Welcome to the Parisian riviera: on either side of the Touques estuary, Deauville and Trouville have drawn city dwellers in search of fine sands and fresh sea air since the 1840s. These chic, family-friendly resorts have lost nothing of their old-school charm. Strut down Trouville’s wood-plank promenade, right on the sand, or sneak a peek at Deauville’s iconic beach, boardwalk and cabanas. With its half-timbered houses, the latter’s old town has cinematic good looks; film stars and critics alike flock here for the annual Deauville American Film Festival. Don’t miss lunch at Les Vapeurs, a local institution and prime people-watching spot. It’s delightfully traditional: expect heaving seafood platters, crispy whitebait, and oysters straight from Utah Beach.
Étretat’s dramatic cliffs and photogenic rock formations are a highlight of any trip to Normandy. From here, it’s a half-hour drive to the urban buzz of Le Havre, a vision in concrete completely rebuilt after World War II. Its Modernist architecture, dreamed up by pioneer architect Auguste Perret, earned it a spot among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Look out for its light-filled André Malraux Museum of Modern Art, home to a noteworthy collection, or the futuristic swimming complex Les Bains des Docks. The city is laid-back at heart: there’s a sweeping urban beach for watersports, and welcoming restaurants and bars to explore. Modern bistro Chez André’s youthful new chef keeps things simple with affordable bistro fare and fresh local produce.
With its Romanesque spires, medieval houses and narrow alleyways, this tidal island feels plucked out of a fairy tale. Time a visit for the spectacle of the spring tide, when bores of up to 15 metres make the Mont an island again. The walk over the footbridge to the village is scenic year-round: the bay’s dunes, marshes and groves support wildlife aplenty. Wind along the Grande Rue, the slender high street leading to the 10th-century Mont Saint-Michel Abbey, which survived wars and English sieges. Admire the Gothic chancel and north-facing Merveille, a collection of fine fortress-like buildings. Then head to La Mère Poulard for a taste of its famous omelette, cooked in a copper pan until plump and fluffy.
On the banks of the bucolic River Aure, Bayeux is home to the world’s most ambitious arts-and-crafts project. It’s kept its historic charms through two invasions. The first is depicted in its famed tapestry, revealing the victory of William the Conqueror over a 70-metre piece of Romanesque art. See the longships, fantastical beasts and battle in all its glory at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum. Wander over to Bayeux Cathedral, taking in well-preserved half-timbered houses along the way. It was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 12th century, but its fresco-clad crypt is older and a highlight. Assemble a picnic in the nearby delis, then stroll 20 minutes north to the serene Botanical Garden, known for its splendid weeping beech. Cap your day with a trip to kitsch tearoom Les Volets Roses for quiche, cake and soul-soothing drinks.
The sites of the Normandy landings are vital places to visit. Omaha Beach, where around 2,400 American soldiers fell, has both a museum and stirring memorial to Les Braves. To understand the scope of the tragedy, see the rows of crosses at Colleville-sur-Mer’s American Cemetery. Along the coast, British valour on Gold Beach is being honoured with the construction of a new memorial. There’s much to be thankful for in this tranquil corner of Normandy, not the least of which its culinary charms. Seafood restaurants line Port-en-Bessin’s marina – a perfect setting to savour the day’s catch. Look out for local treats to take home: buttery biscuits from Les Sablés d’Asnelles, say, or punchy cider from the Vergers de Fumichon’s 17th-century farmhouse.