The best day trips from Paris

Paris is one of the world's most glorious cities, welcoming millions of visitors to relish in la vie en rose each year. However, there is more to France than Paris – and we've gathered our favourite day trips from the French capital to round out your Francophone cultural education
JMXM69 The historic walled town and harbour St. Malo  Brittany France Europe
JMXM69 The historic walled town and harbour, St. Malo ( Saint Malo ), Brittany France Europe,Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

Paris is a hugely popular city with tourists – and it is easy to see why. Full of charm, character and beauty, the City of Lights is a cultural wonderland for both its residents and visitors. By day, there are museums to visit and parks to stroll in and by night, tiny tables on café terraces welcome patrons for long and lingering dinners comprised of French wine, bread and cheese. Of course, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about Paris that keeps Francophiles returning again and again; however, there is even more beauty and delight to discover beyond Paris' periphérique, and we've put together a list of the best day trip destinations and itineraries, from champagne tastings in Champagne to strolling the manicured gardens of Châteaux Versailles and Chantilly.

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Discover the best day trips from Paris…

Monet's house in Giverny

2GPGM4Y France, Eure, Giverny, Claude Monet Foundation, the houseHemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Northwest of Paris is the charming village of Giverny, in the French region of Normandy. With its rolling fields of wildflowers and wildlife, it is easy to see why Impressionist painter Claude Monet chose to settle here in 1883, and remained until his death in 1926, painting renditions of his Givernais idyll, including his famed water lily series. The artist's former home and its elaborate gardens are open to the public and make for the perfect day trip from Paris

How to get there

You can drive to Giverny (it is a 1 hour, 30 minute journey); however, we'd recommend taking a 40 minute train ride to the village instead. Trains to Giverny leave from the Gare St Lazare on two lines, either ending in Rouen or Le Havre. Once in Giverny proper, you will have to board a shuttle (there are multiple running on 15 minute increments), which will take you to Monet's former house. (Insider tip: To avoid being stranded, ask a station attendant upon arrival in Giverny of when the last train to Paris departs – the departure times listed online are sometimes off!)

What to do

Purchase tickets ahead of time for a visiting slot of both Monet's house and his gardens to avoid long, never-ending lines of people who have just shown up. (Even with a ticket, you will likely still have to wait on line, so be sure to bring with you a drink and suncream.) Walk through Monet's well-preserved house, taking in the painter's charming interiors before leisurely strolling through the gardens and winding pathways around the nearby lily ponds, whose artist renderings are on display in the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris.

The Mont Saint Michel monastery in Normandy

BMJEJW famous Mont St. Michel, Normandy, France, at ebb tide sheep in foreground. Image shot 06/2010. Exact date unknown.Oliver Hoffmann / Alamy Stock Photo

From the middle of a vast expanse of sand off France's northwestern coast rises the walled sandstone tidal village, Mont Saint Michel. One of the most breathtaking marvels of human invention, it is clear why the tiny commune has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for decades – and is the most perfect day trip from Paris.

How to get there

Whilst travelling to and from Mont Saint Michel is possible in a day, there's no denying that it will be a tiring one. (However, we've done it before and it is worth it! If you'd rather not feel rushed, however, we'd recommend planning for an overnight in either France's Brittany or Normandy regions). To reach the little island for your day trip, don't drive; instead, take a high-speed TGV train from Paris' Gare de Montparnasse to the Brittany city of Rennes (about a 2 hour journey). From there, board a quick shuttle bus to the bay before Mont St Michel. Either walk across the sand to reach the gate of the town or stroll along the recently restored boardwalk to avoid sandy feet.

What to do

Above we presented two ways of reaching Mont Saint Michel: whilst the boardwalk is lovely, we cannot recommend enough the experience of trekking through the sloppy sand to reach the island (you'll need to be sartorially prepared for this of course, so do dress in clothes you don't mind getting sandy and, if possible, wear wellies or other sturdy, rubber shoes.) When in the town, climb through the narrow, winding cobblestone streets, stopping into tiny shops and crêperies before reaching the monastery at the island's peak.

Champagne tastings in Champagne

EGWT2K Small French village of Ville-Dommange and vineyards in the Champagne region, France, Europeincamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo

“I am tasting the stars!” cried Dom Perignon, the monk for whom one of the world's most celebrated vineyards is named, after taking his firsit sip of champagne. Indeed, if the idea of a glass of honey-coloured fizz is enough to make your cork pop as much as Monsieur Perignon's, you just might need to plan a trip to France's Champagne region.

How to get there

You can either drive or take a train to Champagne. For an efficient day trip, we'd recommend taking a train to the region's capital, Reims, and working your way from the champagne houses in and around the city. A car journey takes about 1 hour 44 minutes; a TGV train ride from Paris' Gare de l'Est to Reims' centre is about 44 minutes, with 7+ direct trains running daily.

What to do

Stroll through Reims' cobblestone streets, visiting the city's cathedral – the final resting place of many of France's kings and queens, as well as home to artist Marc Chagall's only artwork made of stained glass – before heading the city's many champagne houses for tours and tastings.

Discover our entire guide to visiting the bubbly French region below:

The gardens and palace of Versailles

2DBJ68F Gardens, Palace of Versailles, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yvelines, Ile-de-France, France, Europerobertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

The grand palace of Versailles is perhaps as important to French culture as the humble baguette and the Eiffel Tower. With acres of manicured lawns and gardens surrounding an equally-breathtaking palace once home to France's former royal family, multiple days instead of just one could be spent here. However, a day trip to Versailles is more than worth it, if even for a little taste of France's old world grandeur.

How to get there

A day trip to Versailles is, thankfully, quite straightforward: you can either drive or hire a car service, or take the train – either the RER C or SNCF Lines L and N. The RER C stops at the Château Versailles Rive Gauche station, the closest to the palace's front gates (however, the other stops are maximum 10 minutes' walk from the palace, so worry not if you don't catch the RER C). Train rides range between 25-35 minutes, meaning that you'll arrive in Versailles in no time.

What to do

We'd recommend reserving your visit slot ahead of time to avoid long queues. Depending on which type of ticket you buy, you will be granted access to either just the palace, just the gardens, a combination of both or have relative free run of Versailles. To get the most bang for your buck out of the experience, we'd recommend our favourite queue-skipping hack: book either a breakfast or lunch at Ore, Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse's restaurant at the palace. Following your meal, your reservation grants you direct access to the entirety of Versailles – pastries before the palace, anyone?

The seaside city of Saint Malo, Brittany

JMXM69 The historic walled town and harbour, St. Malo ( Saint Malo ), Brittany France Europe,Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

Surrounded by tall granite walls, with scents of browning butter and the squawks of seagulls whirling in the air, Saint Malo is one of the most enchanting towns in all of France. Located in the northwestern region of Brittany, Saint Malo is a gem of the area and one of the prides and joys of the Breton people. Enjoy fresh seafood and homemade galettes, have bracing sea swims in the harbour and take in the town's breathtaking mix of Gothic, Romanesque and Medieval architecture that lurks around every corner. The small town makes for the perfect out-of-Paris day trip; however, we're sure you'll find it difficult to keep your visit to Saint Malo to just 24 hours (and we don't blame you… there's a certain magic to Brittany you just can't shake, long after you've scrubbed away its saltiness from your skin).

How to get there

As with most day trip journeys, we'd recommend travelling to Saint Malo by train. There are only two direct trains per day, their journeys taking 2 hours 21 minutes; however, the indirect trains are usually just 20 minutes extra and with only one stop. TGV trains leave from Paris's Gare de Montparnasse station – direct trains will stop in Saint Malo, and others will terminate in the Brittany capital Rennes, after which you'll have to take a local train lasting 20 minutes to reach the ancient town.

What to do

The town of St Malo is nothing short of absolutely charming, its culture the perfect emblem of the greater Breton traditions unique to the region. For food, enjoy galettes (savoury crêpes made from buckwheat) at Breizh, sea salt caramels and sables salés, butter cookies made from the salted butter unique to Brittany, as well as a font of fresh seafood and oysters, the latter of which are sold by fishermen at the end of les remparts, the granite break wall that protects Saint Malo from crashing waves. Swim and sun yourself with locals at Sillon beach and visit the former home of famed writer (and beef lover) Chateaubriand, a native to Saint Malo. Before heading out, be sure to visit a ceramics shop and pick up a large, personalised bol with your name on it as a souvenir, taking the lead from generations of Bretons whose mornings began with dipping hunks of brioche into their large bowls of milky coffee and chocolate milk.

The canelés, chocolatines and vineyards in Bordeaux

BD9NGY Vines, Chateau Tayac, St. Seurin-de-Bourg, near Bordeaux, Gironde, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, FranceMark Dunn / Alamy Stock Photo

There is an understated elegance to Bordeaux, the younger sister of the glitzy capital. Whether it is the town's beauty and history or the mingling scents of grapevine and chocolatine (not pain au chocolat, as the pastry is known in the rest of France), one thing is for certain: Bordeaux an unforgettable day trip from Paris.

How to get there

There are several daily direct trains from Paris to Bordeaux. The duration of each journey depends, usually between 2 to 3 hours, 20 minutes. Trains leave from Paris' Gare de Montparnasse, terminating in Bordeaux's central Gare St Jean. (For those visiting France from the UK, there are frequent Eurostar rides from Bordeaux to London, should you wish to end your trip to France in Bordeaux before returning home.)

What to do

There is plenty to do in the historic city of Bordeaux. Stroll through the city's ancient ramparts at its centre, which date back to Roman times, all lined with exquisite architecture which dates back to the 13th through 19th centuries. Enjoy canelé, the regional pastry made by local nuns from flour and egg yolks to not waste the precious yolks discarded by winemakers who used egg whites to purify their wines, before visiting Capucins farmer's market, one of the most exemplary in France. Afterwards, go for a wine tasting, either in town at one of the city's many excellent wine bars (Vins Urbains is our personal favourite) or further afield at one of the many vineyards in the nearby town of St Emilion.