Side trips from Paris
July 26, 2010 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Paris for a few days at the end of August, would like some advice about side trips.

Ideally I'd like to go see Mont Saint-Michel (I have a weakness for UNESCO World heritage sites), but am wondering about how much time it would take for me to get there, look around and get back to Paris for my flight.
Alternative place I'd like to see: Domremy-La Pucelle and Montaillou.
I won't have a car, and don't speak French, and so am also requesting advice about getting there and back.
Please advise!
posted by Sara Anne to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A nice day trip that includes UNESCO World Heritage sites is Chartres, with its cathedral.
posted by Beardman at 10:36 AM on July 26, 2010

posted by IndigoJones at 10:42 AM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

Four hours each way to Mont St-Michel, via Rennes on the TGV. It's basically a long day trip. Domremy and Montaillou aren't feasible side trips, especially without a car: they're far from Paris, well away from the fast train lines, and the latter is nearly in Spain.

(Might I suggest this UNESCO World Heritage site? Easy to reach, and Malcolm Miller's not getting any younger, so it's worth taking his English-language tour while you have the chance.)
posted by holgate at 10:49 AM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lyon is really easy on the TGV, Anglophone enough for a day-trip, and is gorgeous.
posted by mdonley at 10:51 AM on July 26, 2010

Versailles is a quick train ride away from Paris (the TGV leaves from the Louvre Museum station) and it makes for a great day trip.
posted by msbutah at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2010

Malcom Miller is worth the trip. Rheims cathedral is a short day trip that is good. Getting into the Loire valley is great but you would need to rent a car to see the chateaus (we rented a car in Chartres and it was very easy.)
posted by leafwoman at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2010

You can check out the train schedule for SNCF, and see if there are trains (and prices) that would work for you. The train system is fairly easy to get around, and the ticketing kiosks have an english option. Prices are reasonable.

(Note: the SNCF site is super slow for me right now, you can also buy tickets through their partner in the UK

You don't really need a car to get around France, but becareful with the public transit. If you catch a bus out to a historic monument, you might have quite a few hours before the next bus comes along.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on July 26, 2010

Do a tour of the chateaux in the Loire Valley. It can be done in a day without feeling too rushed or skimped. Any decent tour should get you Chambord, which has a double-spiral staircase supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and Chenonceau, which is built over a small river.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2010

I loved Mont Saint-Michel - I went there for my 50th birthday - but I wouldn't do it as a day trip in August. For a nice splurge, do it some time when you can stay overnight - and then get up to see sunrise. No crowds. Magical.

As others have said, Chartres, with a Malcolm Miller tour, is a good alternative. Close, and easy - as is Versailles.

Looking at the list of UNESCO sites, I see a number of them that you COULD do as a day trip. You can get to Nancy by train in under 2 hours, and to Strasbourg in a bit over 2 hours. I enjoyed my time in both of them.

I would also suggest doing your day trip sometime before your final day - because sometimes things go wrong. Trains are pretty reliable - but not foolproof.
posted by jeri at 11:24 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paris is pretty gross in August, and many who live there leave for the month and many of the shops and restaurants close. But, I stayed when I lived there and to get out of the city and enjoy some fresh air, I suggest a quick trip south for a bicycle ride. Take the train south to the forest of Fontainebleau. Rent a bike and ride around exploring the area.

There are some lovely high places where you can look out over the region. After you rent bikes, go to the market, get some lunch, and head out. It's a great day trip.
posted by jardinier at 11:38 AM on July 26, 2010

Seconding the Loire Valley. A lovely place for a drive.
posted by mcschmidt00 at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2010

I can't recommend the Palace at Versailles enough. It's a quick train ride from Paris and it is truly mind-boggling (was for me in any case). In one of the rooms there is a marble statue of one of the Louis standing on the head of a peasant. Can you even?

There's a lot of history in Paris, but being at that Palace was the one location that really drove it home for me. (I'd compare it to the feeling I got in D.C. when I looked at the Constitution and the copy of the Magna Carta in the National Archives--I just felt like a drop of water in the river of time. So cool.)
posted by Kimberly at 12:05 PM on July 26, 2010

Do not miss Chartres Cathedral. It's so beautiful you'll want to die out back.
posted by milarepa at 12:18 PM on July 26, 2010

Chantilly? It's pretty pretty, and has some cool castles, nice forest, and an art gallery, a short train ride from Paris. And if you're horsey at all, Museum of the Horse and glorious racetrack.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:43 PM on July 26, 2010

Screw Versailles and make Fountainebleu your castle. Plus the forests around it are beautiful and if you aren't traveling alone you can enjoy them at night (I guess you could do it at night but that would e less fun). Additionally, you should get farther away from Paris because it is Paris, not France.

Rennes is awesome, with totally different people, architecture, and specialties. Only 2 train hours from Paris. I have several favorite restaurants and a favorite hotel there, if you want more detail (I spent several months there for work). From Rennes you can take a bus to Mont Saint Michel and back on the same day, probably stopping in St Malo as well. I guess that could be 2 days together. Anyway this is unmissable, and Rennes is, though beautiful and interesting, much less touristy than other possibilities. Mont St Michel alone is totally doable as a day trip, but you would be putting in a lot of travel for one day!

Other day trips... Etretat is geographically fantastic and just plain cute. It may be difficult to access by train alone but if you add a bus, or do a car-share (, it is well worth the trip to see the cliffs and go climbing around on the hills around town.
posted by whatzit at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2010

I suggest a visit to Claude Monet's home, studio and gardens at Giverny. There are numerous bus day trips/tours you can pick-up in Paris.

Other ways to get to Giverny.
posted by ericb at 4:02 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

...being at that Palace was the one location that really drove it home for me...I'd compare it to the feeling I got in D.C. when I looked at the Constitution...


The Palace puts the entire French Revolution into perspective.

A true understanding of how money and resources were greedily squandered and spent on the wealthy; 'the few' of the 'French Court,' while 'the masses' in France suffered.

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. -- Let them eat cake!
posted by ericb at 4:12 PM on July 26, 2010

Do not miss Chartres Cathedral. It's so beautiful you'll want to die out back.

Retreating Germans wired it with dynamite before leaving town but neglected to light the fuse. That was left to a special squad of US soldiers. One of their number later said to the effect that a high point of his entire war was being totally alone for fifteen minutes in that cathedral right after the all clear.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:17 PM on July 26, 2010

Nth-ing Chartres. If you can find a way to be there early or late, that's best, but even with a nave full of tourists, it is simply awe-inspiring.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 7:50 PM on July 26, 2010

nthing these recommendations, but i'd put them in this order: versailles then M.St M., then fontainbleu. that's my personal recommendation, i've been to them all, they're supremely different. each of these are a daytrip, and each are worth the extra time, trouble and cost. enjoy yourself!
posted by ChefJoAnna at 8:04 PM on July 26, 2010

Agree with ericb - Giverny is amazing! It's incredible to see Monet's paintings come to life. The house and grounds are kept in incredible condition. I went 10 years ago and we took a train - I don't know which one but I'm sure there is still one that runs from Paris to Giverny.
posted by radioamy at 6:00 AM on July 27, 2010

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