Road trips near Paris are a great way to break free of the city limits and explore the rich history of central France. You’ll find that, with a bit of planning and an easy drive or train ride, there's a wealth of places to visit near Paris, whether for a fun road trip, a scenic driving route further afield, or a relaxed weekend.

Although the French capital extends far beyond the borders of its city center, you’ll find yourself exploring charming artistic villages in no time. You can visit impressive, history-making castles, and ancient towns, all with their own rich and varied stories to tell.

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    Chateau de Versailles

    The epitome of French royal history

    Chateau de Versailles
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    The Chateau de Versailles is quite simply the most famous castle in the world. This 17th-century masterpiece was transformed by King Louis XIV into the most luxurious of royal palaces, and it’s now one of the most visited monuments in France. Intimately linked with French history, the castle and the grounds are spread over an area of more than 800 hectares.

    The world’s largest royal residence, Chateau de Versailles is also considered the Museum of the History of France. You might struggle to visit all 2,300 rooms, but you should definitely see the famed Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I, as well as the lavish King’s and Queen’s private bedrooms. A short walk through the gardens takes you to Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet, a fascinating tiny village with its own farm and theater.

    Location: Place d’Armes, 78000, Versailles, France

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 9 am to 5.30 pm (closed on Mondays)

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    Auvers-sur-Oise

    A riverside village once frequented by great artists

    Auvers-sur-Oise
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    Located about 30 km from Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise is an often-overlooked village with a rich artistic history – great for a cultivated afternoon. Explore the area’s sleepy beauty, which attracted artists like Cézanne and Van Gogh in the mid-19th century.

    Start with a visit to the 17th-century Chateau d’Auvers for its beautiful gardens, multimedia shows and mostly Impressionist collection, followed by lunch at Auberge Ravoux, where Van Gogh lived and died. The Absinthe Museum is the only museum in the world devoted to that most artistic of tipples, with a bar where you can taste the real thing. End your visit at the local cemetery where Van Gogh is buried next to his beloved brother Theo.

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    Barbizon

    Picturesque charm at the birthplace of the Barbizon School

    Barbizon
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    Barbizon, known as the “painter’s village”, is a charming country town that spurred its own artistic movement known as the “Barbizon School”. It inspired the Impressionists with its beautiful local landscapes. The sleepy community, full of typical galleries, inns and restaurants, borders the Fontainebleau forest and is a great place for a tranquil, art-filled visit.

    Visit the houses of famous French landscape painters such as Théodore Rousseau and Camille Corot to see where they lived and toiled, as well as the Musée des Peintres, which showcases their works in a former 19th-century artist’s residence.

    Location: Barbizon, 77630, France

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    Château de Vincennes

    The most important castle close to Paris, just outside the city limits

    Château de Vincennes
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    Château de Vincennes is not only a castle, but a vast imperial complex that was originally erected in the 12th century as the king’s hunting lodge. Throughout the decades, it has served variously as a residence of the French royal family, a fearsome political penitentiary, and a World War II military headquarters.

    Explore more than 900 years of French history and an impressive building style that ranges from Medieval to Renaissance. Must-sees include the King’s and Queen’s residences, built by architect Louis Le Vau, who also built the Versailles Palace. There's also the dungeon tower, which was the tallest fortified structure of its time, as well as the chapel, which once held Christ’s Crown of Thorns before it was moved to the Louvre museum.

    Location: Avenue de Paris, 94300, Vincennes, France

    Open: May 21–September 22: daily from 10 am to 6 pm. September 23–May 20: daily from 10 am to 5 pm

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    Fontainebleau

    A beautiful natural preserve surrounding a royal castle

    Fontainebleau
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    Located less than 50 km from Paris, the Fontainebleau domain includes one of France’s most impressive castles, a favorite royal abode since the 12th century and once the home of Emperor Napoleon. The grounds and surrounding forest, the second largest in France, are also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The whole place is popular with locals for its excellent outdoor activities such as hiking and rock climbing.

    Visiting the Fontainebleau castle is like taking a stroll through French history, and each resident has left their own unique mark. Enjoy the vast collection of Renaissance art commissioned by Francis I, and the delicate hand of Marie-Antoinette in the decoration. Marvel at Emperor Napoleon’s private apartments before taking a walk in the castle gardens – the largest of their kind in Europe.

    Location: Fontainebleau, 77300, France

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    Giverny

    Monet’s home and gardens on the edge of Normandy

    Giverny
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    An easy drive or well-planned train ride from Paris, the Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny should be on any Impressionist lover’s itinerary. The grounds, located in a tiny village, include Monet’s personal home, where he lived and worked for more than 40 years. There are also his flower and Japanese-inspired water gardens, which he considered as works of art in their own right.

    Once you’ve visited the gardens, enter the private universe of the master Impressionist with a visit to his studio, sitting rooms, kitchen and even bedrooms. A he was a great lover of Japan, Monet's private collection of Japanese prints is extensive and inspired him endlessly. They've been preserved here with great care.

    Location: Giverny, France

    Open: Hours vary by season

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    Provins

    One of France’s most well-preserved medieval towns

    Provins
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    Provins is known as much for its well-preserved city walls and towers as for its medieval culture fairs and festivals. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the town has a wealth of historic monuments to explore, many of which date back to when it was one of the most important trading hubs in Europe. It has a long and rich history dating back to the 9th century.

    Formerly the home of the 'Fairs of Champagne', an important trading center, the Middle Age town has a number of fascinating sites. Climb the 12th century Cesar watchtower for excellent views of the surrounding countryside and then follow the town’s fortified walls, which are more than a kilometer long. The Musée de Provins, located in the ancient Maison Romane, tells the town’s story from prehistoric times.

    Location: Provins, 77160, France

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    Reims

    Fine wine and history in the Champagne region

    Reims
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    Reims is known as the “coronation city” as all French kings were crowned here until the early 19th century. It’s the capital of the Champagne region and dates back to the time of the Roman Empire. Revered as much for its splendid architecture as for its sparkling wine, it’s a great choice for day trip or a delicious weekend from Paris.

    Visit Reims Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece that's one of the world’s largest churches and is still the longest in France. There are even older historical vestiges such as the Mars Gate, which dates from Gallo-Roman times. Don’t forget to visit one of the many Champagne houses for a fascinating look at how the world-famous sparkling wine is made, and for a glass or 2 of bubbly.

    Location: Reims, France

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    Thoiry Zoo Safari

    Amazing wildlife at a drive-through safari park

    Thoiry Zoo Safari
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    Thoiry Zoo Safari is less than an hour from Paris, but a visit here will transportation you to an African savanna in the heart of the French countryside. With over 800 animals along the 8 km car-only route, you’ll come into close contact with exotic species during the hour-long drive through the park. Keep your windows up, as the giraffe, hippos, and zebras can be feisty and have been known to be very curious about visitors.

    For those without personal vehicles, the zoo has its own 'bush trucks' that leave at regular intervals. To round off your adventure, take a stroll in the gardens of nearby Chateau de Thoiry (included in the zoo admission price), whose edifice was designed to mark the winter and summer solstice.

    Location: Thoiry, 78770, France

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 5 pm

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    Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

    The inspiration for the construction of Versailles

    Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
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    The Vaux-le-Vicomte castle was created by Fouquet, King Louis XIV’s finance minister, who employed the 3 greatest talents of the day – Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Notre (for the architecture, painting and gardens respectively). The resulting château is so fabulous that he incurred the wrath of the king and ended up in penitentiary for his insolence and alleged misappropriation of funds.

    This castle was so awe-inspiring and cutting-edge at the time that the king sequestered the property and used it as a blueprint for his Versailles Palace. Visit the formal French gardens, invented here by genius landscape artist Le Notre. Inside, you can walk around the numerous stately rooms decorated by Le Brun, the greatest painter of the time. Saturday evenings are especially magical, with the grounds lit by thousands of candles.

    Location: 77950, Maincy, France

    Open: Hours vary by season

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Adrian Moore | Contributing Writer