You’re only a true Parisien when you desperately want to leave Paris for the weekend on excursions. Fortunately, France has innumerable cute, quaint towns to visit on the weekend for little to no cost. Seeing places outside Paris is a great way to experience different parts of French culture that are removed from the bustling urban life of Paris.
These locations are reachable by the RER via your Imagine R or Navigo Pass. Check out these excursions in Paris :
The automatic go-to excursion for any tourist visiting Paris is, of course, the magnificent palace and grounds of King Louis XVI. Easily reached by train, it’s only 45 minutes on the RER C to Gare de Versailles Château Rive Gauche from Saint-Michel. Both the palace and gardens are free every day for students except for the weekends when there are musical fountain shows in the gardens. Don’t be distracted by the palace and miss out on the other attractions in the gardens, such as Marie Antoinette’s private palace and the working farm complete with cows and chickens. It’s a great place to visit in nice weather: have a picnic by one of the many hidden fountains, rent a rowboat on the Grand Canal, or bike ride through the forests.
Visit Fontainebleau to see where the Habsburg monarchy in France resided, including Napoleon and his family. This small town is located in Zone 5 of the metro system, only 45 minutes on the RER D from Gare de Lyon to Fontainbleau-Avon towards either Laroche-Migennes, Montargis, Montereau, or Sens. These trains are in the main hall with the other trains, called the Grandes Lignes, typically on platform J. Don’t go downstairs and take the regular RER D near the other RER lines. If you get turned around, ask for help from a station guide! The castle and gardens at Fontainebleau are a great alternative to the Versailles crowds and excessive grandeur. The castle takes about 2 hours to go through and is very beautiful and well restored. There are three gardens open to the public: The English Garden, The French Garden and the park, the original hunting grounds of Emperor Napoleon.
A magical place always worth a visit if you’re willing to spend a couple extra bucks. The park is about 40 minutes on the RER A from Chatelet towards Gare de Marine La Vallee Chessy. There are two parks at Disneyland, Disney Studios and Parc Disneyland. Disney Studios is more movie-making focused, with a special Ratatouille attraction, while Parc Disneyland has all the traditional rides and characters you know and love. If you stretch yourself and arrive early, you can do both parks in one day; however, if you’re only planning to do one park, choose Parc Disneyland for the quintessential Disney experience.
If you’re like me and love seeing old architecture, don’t miss out on St. Denis Cathedral, only 15 minutes on the RER D from Chatelet to Gare D’Orry la Ville Coye la Foret. The cathedral at St. Denis is the first example of Gothic architecture in Europe, built by Abbot Suger in the 12th century. It’s a perfect short trip for history buffs who have exhausted the historical sights in Paris.
The following locations are reachable by SNCF trains for very low costs if you book in advance.
The home and gardens of famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet are a must-see in the spring and summer months. The train to Vernon-Giverny is usually less than €10 if you book in advance and the joint ticket for the house, gardens and impressionist museum cost about €8 for students. My advice? Bring a book and some headphones and waste a sunny day under a weeping willow looking out over the water lilies. Then when you head back to Paris, visit Musee de L’Orangerie and complete your exploration of Claude Monet by seeing his water lily masterpieces.
If you like old architecture and history, Rouen is for you. The small town boasts the most elaborate and decorative cathedral I’ve ever seen and excellent examples of Tudor style houses. The town is also the sight of Joan of Arc’s burning and one of the oldest operating clocks in Europe. Don’t miss the art museum for a great collection of European and Impressionism art. On a weekend, especially during the holiday season, you might get lucky and be able to enjoy tasty local treats at the markets.
Though I would recommend a weekend trip for the land of Champagne, the ambitious traveler can squeeze it all into a day. This small town has one of the most charming city centers I’ve seen, a long strip of pedestrian space with cute cafes and shops. Again, for you art and history lovers out there, Reims is home to another old, grand cathedral, Notre Dame de Reims. But let’s not forget about the Champagne! Reims is home to a number of famous champagne houses, like G.H. Mumm and Pommery. Most houses are open to the public for tours and tastings, a must-do experience.
If you need a break from total French immersion but don’t want to leave the country, Strasbourg is the place for you. Right on the border of Germany, Strasbourg is a mix of German and French culture in every way. Visit the Grand Île and Petite France to travel back in time amongst ancient timbered houses and winding streets. Don’t miss a trip to the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral’s North Tower, where you can see all the way to the Black Forest in Germany. The food and drink are incomparable, the perfect combination between German and French cuisine.
Have you visited somewhere amazing that’s not on this list? Let us know! We’d love to hear about your adventures in France.