Let's start with the most obvious day trip from Paris and work our way outwards from there. While the Château de Versailles appears on many a travel itinerary, there is a lot more to the city of Versailles than just...one of the grandest palaces known to man.
Beyond the gilded rooms, state apartments and meticulously manicured gardens of the palace grounds, Versailles has a lot to offer the curious traveller. The Versailles Market is a must on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 7am to 2pm. The market brings the huge Place du Marché Notre Dame to life with dozens of stalls offering seasonal produce, cheese, fresh flowers, street food and spices, while the covered halls that surround the marketplace offer meats, fish and prepared foods. This is the perfect place to pick up a picnic before heading into the park surrounding Versailles to while away an afternoon by the Grand Canal - free of charge! Alternatively, check out one of the numerous bistros surrounding the marketplace and dine with the locals. Another lovely alternative to the Palace is the 17th-century Potager du Roi - the kitchen garden of the King - which once provided the fresh produce for the palace and is now itself a UNESCO heritage site. You can visit for a bargain €4 and explore the beautiful grounds, then visit the boutique where you can buy the freshest produce still grown in the potager to this day.
To get to Versailles, take the RER C to Versailles Rive Gauche from Station Invalides in the 7th arrondissement. The journey takes around 30 minutes.
If fairy-tale chateaux are your thing, a visit to Chantilly - 30 miles north of Paris - is a manageable (and beautiful) option. The Château itself is surrounded by a lake and spacious gardens, while inside the castle you'll find sumptuous interiors and the Musée Condé, whose collection of French paintings is one of the finest in France.
Wander the grand rooms where the walls are lined with the work of Botticelli, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Caracci, Poussin, Gericault, Delacroix and more, then step into the dream-like library with its incredible collection of manuscripts and printed volumes. Another excuse to visit? In February 2019, the magnificent private apartments of the Duke and Duchess d'Aumale reopened after two years of restoration.
After exploring the French gardens laid out by Le Nôtre - gardener to Louis XIV and the genius behind Versailles' gardens - discover the largest stables in Europe, the Grandes Écuries, built in the 17th century. The stables are still used today, and the Horse Museum (opened in 2014) is home to 200 works of art that trace the relationship between horses and humans through history. After all that culture, children might enjoy an adventure in the 6000 hectares of woodland that surround Chantilly. Of course you mustn't leave without trying some genuine Chantilly cream! You'll find a list of recommended places to try it out just here.
To get to Chantilly, take the train from Gare du Nord station. The journey is around 20 minutes.
Around 70km northwest of Paris lie the gardens known to art lovers around the world - those of Claude Monet, who lived here for 40 years and whose waterlilly paintings have become icons of art history.
But before hopping on the shuttle to the house and gardens, consider spending some time in Vernon (the town at which you will alight to get to Monet's Gardens, see transport info below). The Old Mill and the neighbouring 13th-century castle lie on the banks of the Seine river in Vernon, while the picturesque town boasts half-timbered houses, mediaeval streets and a 12th-century tower.
Once you've wandered through Vernon, hop on the shuttle bus from Vernon train station to the Fondation Claude Monet. (see below) Explore the artist's house, once filled with the noise of his eight children, and discover meticulously restored rooms full of memorabilia. In the gardens, the same reflections that inspired Monet are still at play on the lake. Just nearby, the Museum of Impressionism is also worth a visit, thanks to its rotating series of temporary exhibitions. If you'd like to visit the man himself, Monet's tomb lies in the nearby Saint-Radegonde Church, a ten-minute walk from the Foundation Claude Monet.
To get to the Fondation Claude Monet (Monet's house and gardens), take the train from Paris' Saint Lazare station to Vernon-Giverny, which takes around 45 minutes. Then, take the 20-minute shuttle bus to the Fondation Claude Monet, which departs 15 minutes after the arrival of each train and costs €10 for a round-trip. Find the shuttle timetable here.
Note that the Fondation Claude Monet is open from 23rd March until 1st November.
90km to the south-east of Paris lies Provins, a mediaeval town and UNESCO heritage site that offers a lovely trip outside of Paris full of rich history. Once the site of important mediaeval Champagne fairs, Provins still shows its historic importance in its imposing original ramparts, which stretch over 1200 metres and include two fortified gates.
Climb up to the Tour César, an imposing 12th-century fort, for gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, then go to the opposite extreme and descend underground to discover a small part of the tunnel network that lies beneath the town. While the exact use of these tunnels is still unknown, Stone-and Bronze-Age graffiti has been found elsewhere - so they've certainly been used for a long time!
In the summer months in Provins you can expect falconry shows, live re-enactments of mediaeval sword fights, and famous rose gardens in full bloom. Wander streets lined with timber-frame houses and stop in the picturesque old town centre, then stop in the lovely boutiques to pick up some local crafts and gifts before returning to Paris.
To get to Provins, take the train from Paris' Gare de l'Est train station. The train takes around 1h 30 minutes.
Fontainebleau has it all - an impressive Château, easy transport links, a vast forest - no wonder French royalty and the elite of society made Fontainebleau their playground for centuries.
Let's start with the Château, which has all the illustrious history and appeal of Versailles - but without the queues. Where else can you see 130 acres of manicured gardens, Napoleon III's theatre, Marie Antoinette's boudoir, a 16th-century ballroom, the Apartment of the Pope and the book-lined Gallery of Diana? Correct! Nowhere else. For the outdoorsy types, lose yourself in the enormous Forêt de Fontainebleau, a forest laced with walking trails stretching 1600km. On Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, the huge open-air market is a big draw and offers the perfect opportunity to grab some picnic materials - but be aware it finishes quite early, at around midday.
To get to Fontainebleau, take the train from Gare de Lyon to Fontainbleau-Avon (around 40 minutes). From there, you can disappear straight into the forest or take Bus 1 to the Château (around 15 minutes).
For ease, we've created a map with all these locations, so you can see where all the destinations are in relation to Paris. Just click on each icon to see which is which. Click here and start your exploration! Next month, we'll be adding in some more destinations, so stay tuned for that!