Parisians generally feel that their capital is the center of the universe. They may be correct, if only geographically speaking. Paris is at the heart of the region of Ile-de-France (the Island of France) and is encircled by seven suburban départements commonly and regally referred to as the petite couronne and grande couronne. These “crowns” are dotted with cultural and historic treasures, from majestic palaces to picturesque artistic villages, and are only a short journey from the city.
Paris has no lack of intriguing day-trip destinations. Your main problem will be deciding which one(s) to visit. If you’ve never been there, your first choice should probably be the château and gardens of Versailles. They’re close by, easily accessible by train, and truly not to be missed. Chartres would be my second choice, for its breathtaking Gothic cathedral, its winding streets, and half-timbered houses, which will give you a taste of something completely different from Paris. After that, it’s a toss-up. If you like cities, Amiens is fascinating (and pictured above), with its Gothic cathedral, floating gardens and Jules Verne’s former home. If castles are your game, Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte should be high on your list. Fans of Claude Monet love exploring the gardens at Giverny, and families with kids in tow will appreciate Parc Astérix, a theme park dedicated to beloved French comic character, Asterix the Gaul, and (of course)Disneyland Paris.
All of these destinations are reachable by train from Paris. Train tickets do not require reservations and can be bought the day of an excursion at the departing train or subway station. You can find more information about the train schedule of suburban trains at www.transilien.com. For Chartres and Vernon/Giverny, you can also check www.sncf-connect.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.