By Briana Seftel
After you’ve explored the City of Lights to your heart’s content, embark on a day trip by train. Using France's excellent high-speed trains, you can see chateaus, gardens, beaches, and more with ease.
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Visit Claude Monet’s garden and home in Giverny, where the Impressionist master lived for more than 40 years. Cross the famous green bridge beneath a pond of water lilies and tour the colorful interior of Monet's two-story house. Also in Giverny is the Museum of the Impressionists (Musee des Impressionnismes) located just 200 yards from Monet’s home and gardens.
How to get there: Take the SNCF train from Gare St. Lazare to Vernon-Giverny (about 45 minutes). Once you arrive, you can either take a taxi or shuttle from the train station to Monet's house.
The most popular day trip from Paris is Versailles, the lavish estate built in 1682 for Louis XIV (“the Sun King”) in the leafy suburb southwest of central Paris. Explore the Queen’s bedchamber, Hall of Mirrors, formal gardens, and the farmhouse built for Marie Antoinette. You'll want to spend an entire day exploring the fascinating chateau!
How to get there: From the Paris metro, take the RER C line to Versailles-Chateau (trip will take 60 to 90 minutes depending on your location in Paris). Once you arrive, the Palace of Versailles is a short walk away.
The highlight of this town north of Paris is the splendid 19th- century Chateau de Chantilly. Tour the royal interiors and gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, the famous 17th-century landscape designer also responsible for the gardens at Versailles. Within the castle you can also visit the Condé Museum, which houses the largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre.
How to get there: Take the Transilien train from the Gare du Nord to Chantilly-Gouvieux. Once at the station, you can either take a bus or taxi to the entrance. You can also walk parallel to the main road.
Vaux Le Vicomte
Explore this 17th-century masterpiece that is the biggest private chateau and gardens in France. Emblematic of France’s “Grand Siecle,” Vaux Le Vicomte was the site of many lavish parties and is said to have inspired Louis XIV to build Versailles. See the famous horseshoe-shaped staircase, oval-shaped Grand Salon, and lovely gardens. Every Saturday from May to October, visitors can see the chateau lit up with 2,000 candles at night.
How to get there: Take the RER D (Green) line from any stop within Paris (major stops are Gare du Nord, Chatelet, and Gare de Lyon) or a regional train from Gare de Lyon to Melun. (The regional train is quicker as it has fewer stops.) Upon arrival, take a taxi or shuttle bus to the chateau (buses run mid-April to early November).
History buffs will want to take a day trip to the beaches of Normandy, where more than 160,000 Allied troops landed to fight Nazi Germany during WWII. See the Caen Memorial, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and the ruins of the artificial harbor at Arromanches.
Hot to get there: Take a TGV train from Gare St. Lazare to either Caen or Bayeux. Caen is 1 hour 45 minutes away while Bayeux is 2 hours from Paris.
Situated 57 miles southeast of Paris is the medieval town of Provins, named a World Heritage Site in 2001. Stroll around the fortified gates and ramparts around town, the underground galleries, Tour Cesar and rose garden. During the summer months, the town plays host to medieval reenactments and shows.
How to get there: Take a SNCF Transilien Line P train from Gare de l’Est to Provins (it is the last stop). Trains leave once every hour and the trip takes about an hour and 20 minutes.
You could spend a full day exploring the magnificent Chateau de Fontainebleau, former residence of French monarchs spanning eight centuries from Louis VII through Napoleon. Surrounded by a forest, the chateau served as a royal hunting lodge for each visiting monarch.
How to get there: From the Gare de Lyon (main line), take the train for either Montargis Sens, Montereau or Laroche-Migennes, descending at Fontainebleau-Avon station. Take the ‘Ligne 1’ bus destined for Les Lilas and get off at the ‘Château’ stop.
Immortalized in Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings, this port city on France’s northern coast offers a breath of fresh air from busy Paris. Stroll the city center with its colorful half-timber houses, tour the Gothic cathedral, Musee des Beaux Arts, and see the elaborate Gros Horloge clock from 1389.
How to get there: Take a SNCF train from Gare St. Lazare. Trip takes an 1 hour 10 minutes.
See Reims, the biggest city and capital of the Champagne region in northeastern France. Start at the Reims Cathedral, one of the most important gothic cathedrals in France where the country’s kings were crowned starting from the 6th-century. Champagne lovers will want to taste some bubbly at Veuve Clicquot or ride over the vineyards by hot air balloon!
How to get there: Take the 45-minute TGV train from Gare de ‘Est to Reims-Centre. Once you arrive, either head off on foot or take the Citadine bus or tramway into the old part of town.
Leave France for a day and feast on waffles, beer, and chocolate in Belgium’s manageable capital, Brussels. Begin by visiting The Grand Palace square with the Town Hall and Guild Halls, then tour the rest of this enchanting city by foot.