Here are some of the best day trips from Paris:
Reims and Épernay – The Champagne Region
Celebrate and take your choice of either Reims or Épernay for tours and tastings. It takes about an hour by rail from Gare de l’Est to travel into the French countryside. I advise making an appointment for tours and tastings on weekends, holidays, and peak travel periods. Raising a glass at two, maybe three Champagne houses is the limit for me on a day trip. Try this website to make a booking: www.champagnemagic.com/houses.htm.
- Reims: I propose a toast to my favorite Champagne houses of Pommery, Taittinger, Mumm, and Veuve Clicquot. I prefer Reims because it only takes 45 minutes to travel to, as opposed to 75 minutes to Épernay. The town is larger and offers more dining options. I enjoy attractions like the UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims, where nearly every King and Queen of France was crowned. Located near the train station is the interesting Museum of Surrender where Eisenhower accepted the peace terms of The Third Reich, officially ending WW II. If arriving to Reims without reservations for a Champagne tasting or tour, head over to the tourism center adjacent to the cathedral for help in booking an appointment. A website for more information is: www.reims-tourism.com.
- Épernay: I like popping the cork at Moët et Chandon, Mercier, and Perrier-Jouët. The advantage of visiting Épernay as opposed to Reims is that many Champagne houses are within walking distance of the train station whereas a taxi is probably needed in Reims. In my opinion, I think the tours/tastings are slightly better in Épernay.
Giverny, the Home and Gardens of Monet
Here is an opportunity to experience what it is like to be IN a Monet painting, not to just look at one. A visit to the famous Impressionist painter’s home and gardens provides a deeper understanding of the artist and his work.
Getting there involves a 45-minute train ride from Gare Saint-Lazare to Vernon, the closest train station to the house and gardens.
I recommend getting to Giverny early in the morning, preferably before the armada of tour buses arrive. I take the train that arrives in Vernon about 9:05 a.m. since the gardens and home open at 9:30. Once arriving in Vernon, walk through the underpass then through the train ticket office. This is where a decision needs to be made on how to get to house and gardens at Giverny:
- Bus: Buses wait along the street parallel to the train tracks about 75 yards from the ticket office. Tickets are about €5 each way, purchased on board. After the bus is loaded up, the 6km journey drops passengers off at an area that is another 10-minute walk to the house/gardens ticket office. When it is all said and done, if arriving at Vernon at abuot 9:00 a.m., expect to finally enter just before 10 a.m., a few minutes before every other Monet pilgrim arrives. The bus schedule coordinates with the train schedule to get back to the train station for the trip back to Paris.
- Taxi: There are a limited number of cabs in Vernon, so scurry over to the taxi stand in front of the train station. €20 gets you deposited steps away from the ticket office, probably in time for the 9:30 a.m. opening. Make arrangements with the driver to get back to the train station.
- Bike: At a small restaurant across the street from the buses to Giverny, bike rentals are available.
- Walk: It’s a long 6km hike, partly along a paved pathway.
Once getting in, walk directly back through an underpass to the water gardens to the famous Japanese bridge and water lilies and start filling up the camera’s memory card. Stroll back to the flower gardens for more snapshots before heading into the house.
The home and gardens are open daily from 9:30 to 6 p.m. April through October. Admission is €12, reduced to €7.50 for children and students. We recommend buying in advance at: https://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/ticket/
Opt to purchase tickets at Gare Saint-Lazare or an SNCF boutique the day before since experience has shown me sometimes there is an hour or more wait at the station. The automated kiosks don’t accept non-European credit cards. Of course, tickets can be purchased online at https://www.thetrainline.com/
Before boarding the train, validate the train ticket by scanning it or having it stamped by one of the yellow machines.
You probably want the mid-afternoon back to Paris from Vernon. Your train ticket will most likely be a “flexible” ticket that allows travel on either train. Tickets are about €40 R/T.
Château de Versailles
Versailles is the most opulent of all French châteaux. It is closed on Mondays. Avoid visiting on weekends and on Tuesdays – it can get overly crowded. Wednesday is the least crowded day.
Getting to the home of Marie Antoinette is a piece of cake. Start by boarding the “RER-C Rive Gauche” (be careful not to take the “RER-C Saint Quentin”) train with the “VICK” sign on the front of the engine. This requires a separate RER ticket purchase at about €6 each way. Hold onto the ticket for the entire trip, it is needed to exit the train station. Buy tickets from a clerk or a kiosk at the RER station at travel time. No reservations are necessary.
Trains to Versailles leave about every 20 minutes and take about 40 minutes to get there.
Upon arriving at the Versailles train station, just follow the crowds to the château. It is about a 15 minute stroll. Spend at least half an hour waiting in line to purchase entrance tickets or parade right in with a Museum Pass. Go across the courtyard to the entrance, pick up a free audio guide and get ready to be awed. I suggest a visit to the château be followed by riding the mini-bus over to the Trianon Palaces. Sometimes there are special tours of the private apartments for a separate admission. It will be posted if they are available.
Any train from the Versailles station returns to Paris. Just hop aboard, no reservations needed.
The Cathedral at Chartres
Visit on the way to Normandy or as a day excursion via train, a 75-minute ride from Gare Montparnasse. The cathedral is beautiful as well as full of history. Make it a point to take a professionally guided tour, it will add so much to your visit. A good website for more info is: www.discover-chartres.com/chartres-cathedral-visit-guide.html.
Join The Traveling Professor on a small group tour to Paris.