Need to escape Paris? Try these weekend excursions

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 :

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Versailles

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.

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Fontainebleau

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.

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Disneyland

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.

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St. Denis

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.

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Giverny

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.

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Rouen

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. 

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Reims

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. 

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Strasbourg

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.

Top Free Places in Paris

Free Activities in Paris? Is this for real? Follow the guide below! 😉

While Paris might be considered an expensive city to visit in terms of lodging and restaurants, there is actually a lot to do for those that want to save a couple bucks, especially students. Here are just a few of the top free attractions in Paris.

 

Landmarks

Paris is known for its iconic landmarks that boast beautiful architecture and extensive history. Thankfully, a lot of the city’s most famous monuments are free and open to the public. 

 

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Notre Dame

Paris’s iconic cathedral is free and open to the public 365 days a year. If you are under 26, you can access the Towers and the crypt for free. If you want to spend a few extra bucks, grab an audio guide and learn about the amazing history of the cathedral. Don’t miss this stunning landmark!

 

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Sacre Coeur and Montmartre

Go on a hike up to the highest natural point in the city and visit Sacre Coeur Cathedral for free and the famous neighborhood Montmartre. The cathedral, built in 1919, is influenced by Romano-Byzantine architecture and is home to amazing mosaics on the interior that are worth a visit.  Montmartre, on the other hand, was the home to famous writers and artists alike in the early 20th century. Icons like Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein all called Montmartre their home at one point or another.

 

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Catacombs

Looking for something off the beaten path and maybe just a little bit creepy? Descend into the labyrinth of tombs under the city and explore the final resting place of an estimated 6 million people, dating back to the 1700s. The one-hour traverse is free to the public and €6.00 for an audio guide. Prepare yourself because it gets cold down there, especially in the winter.

 

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Pere Lachaise

Continuing on the trend of the dead, become one of the millions of visitors that have flocked to one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. Located in the 6478th, this cemetery is open to the public and is home to famous people such as Eugene Delacroix, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison. The cemetery itself is an architectural marvel, as the inhabitants chose the design of their residences, thus creating a kaleidoscope of designs and styles.

 

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Shakespeare Book Company

One of the oldest bookstores in Paris, Shakespeare and Company is an established landmark on the Seine across from Notre Dame. The bookstore hosted many famous writers in their heyday, including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Don’t miss the opportunity to hang out in the plushy chairs and read a rare book in a store that has seen so many of the greats.

 

 

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The Gardens of Paris

Paris may be a concrete jungle but it is still permeated by a beautiful park or garden here and there. Here’s a list of all the green spaces in Paris that I think are worth a visit.

  • Jardin des Tuileries
  • Jardin du Luxembourg
  • Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
  • Canal St. Martin
  • Parc Bercy and Bercy Village
  • Parc des Belleville
  • Parc Monceau

 

Museums

If you are a student under the age of 25-26 (depends on the museum) with a valid visa, you can access many museums for free. Here’s a list of our top recommendations.

 

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Louvre 

One of the most famous museums on the planet, the Louvre puts all other institutions to shame with its extensive collection ranging from 17th-century Flemish art to ancient Egyptian artifacts. And of course, you can’t miss the Mona Lisa. The best time to go to the Louvre is on Wednesday and Friday evenings when the museum is open until 9:45.

 

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Musee d’Orsay

This museum is your one-stop shop for your favorite Impressionists. From Monet to Van Gogh, D’Orsay has everyone. But don’t miss out on all the other amazing pieces in your rush to see the classics. The best time to go is when the museum is open late on Thursdays until 9:45.

 

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Musee Rodin

A small but worthwhile museum to visit that includes both indoor and garden exhibits. The collection includes other 19th century French sculptors in addition to Rodin. The sculpture garden is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon and has great views of Invalides, which is right next door.

 

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Museum of Modern Art

This museum has a great permanent collection that is open to the public and includes notable artists such as Picasso and Kandinsky. The Museum of Modern Art is an affiliate of the Palais de Tokyo but is a different building with a separate ticket. This museum is open late on Thursdays, until 10 pm.