By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
As Paris begins to blossom, spring fever starts to hit and even the most ardent lovers of Paris may feel the itch to get away for a day and stretch their legs in the countryside. Many visitors will head to the grandiose Chateau de Versailles or even the nearby Chateau de Vincennes just to the east of Paris.
However, something about going to a real train station and hopping aboard just oozes excitement. Fortunately for Cheapos there are some great options.
Cheapo day trip options
While the TGV, the high speed train, does tend to get pricey (especially if you don’t book cheapo fares in advance), the slower regional and inter-city trains can get you out of the city on a delightful day trip without worrying about how to pay for your next meal.
Check the SNCF Web site for fares and times for your dates. If you have a French train pass or if you are under 26 years old or over 60, you will also benefit from reduced fares.
You don’t have to go far, either, to feel like you’ve escaped to the countryside. Especially in the springtime, visitors love heading to Giverny, a quaint little town just west of Paris that was the home and inspiration of the great impressionist painter Claude Monet.
He constructed his own little Japanese garden here that wows crowds with its blossoms in April. Why only admire the water lilies in the Musée d’Orsay when you can see the real thing? Visits of the iconic gardens start April 1 and cost between €4-8 (depending on your age). The town itself, sleepy as it may be, will make you feel like you’ve headed to some provincial getaway far from the urban bustle of Paris.
Paris-Giverny, 45 minutes, normal round-trip adult fare €25, Gare Saint-Lazare. Note that the station is the town of “Vernon,” not in Giverny. To reach the gardens, you will take a short bus ride from the station, or you can walk (about an hour) to the town and gardens.
Keeping with the Monet theme, the town of Rouen features a glimpse into Medieval France with its stunning Gothic cathedral rendered several times by the painter. The town is the historic capital of Normandy, just to the northwest of Paris.
A stroll around the city will reveal many half-timbered houses and even a 16th-century astrological clock, so history buffs take note. Paris certainly isn’t lacking in any history, but Rouen will transport you back to the middle ages to get a taste of daily life. Poor Joan of Arc’s life was cut short when she was burnt at the stake here.
Paris-Rouen, 1 hour 15 minutes, normal adult round-trip fare €42, Gare Saint-Lazare.
Southwest of Paris, the Medieval town of Chartres is known for its Gothic cathedral which, curiously, has one Romanesque spire and one Gothic spire. The town is a fantastic respite from the crowds, lines, and scam artists surrounding Notre Dame in Paris.
The famed cathedral’s spires dominate the town, set in the middle of a large stretch of grain fields, so the train ride should be a welcome change of scene. Wander the streets around the cathedral but don’t hesitate to get lost in the town’s charming neighborhoods–you can always find your way back to the church with ease.
Paris-Chartres, 1 hour, normal adult round-trip fare €28, Gare Montparnasse.
Many tourists visiting Reims in the Champagne region head straight for the cathedral, the coronation site of all of the kings of France.
But wait, there’s more! You should also visit one of the town’s many Champagne cellars, usually followed by a sampling of their wares. A visit to the Mumm Champagne cellar, for example, will cost €10 for an hour-long visit (call ahead to reserve, when possible). Between churches and Champagne visits, Reims is the perfect breath of fresh air after a long Parisian sojourn.
Paris-Reims, 45 minutes, adult round-trip fare from €30, Gare de l’Est.
Your favorite Paris escapes?
Do you have any other suggestions for good day trips from Paris? Tell us about it in the comments section.