Wanting to see France without having to rent a car? Check out these helpful tips and a list of cities that can be explored exclusively using public transit!
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One of my favorite things to do on a long European trip is to get out and really explore a country, preferable with a big city as my home base. However, especially with language barriers and different driving conventions, I personally like to avoid renting a car, if at all possible. That said, what's the point of taking the train to a city, just to arrive and find out all the things you want to see aren't accessible without a car!
When I started doing initial research about sights to see from Paris, I felt that I kept running across the same places on the same lists. While really you can't go wrong in France (let's be honest!), for me, part of a day trip is to escape the crowds as much as possible, and hopefully see something that appeals to me personally. We're big history buffs, so below you'll find day tips with a historical leaning!
With the tips and cities below, you can strike the perfect balance! Bon voyage!
What to know before you go
In general, I recommend buying train tickets in advance. There are a few easy options for travel in France, including: Rail Europe, EUrail, and SNCF. If you prefer more flexibility, you can buy tickets day-of, but of course you run the risk of slightly higher prices (less of a problem in France than other countries), imperfect travel times, or sold out trains (unlikely, but you never know).
Generally, train travel in France is relatively inexpensive. Even for longer haul travel, such as Strasbourg or Bordeaux, you can expect to pay about 35 Euros per person, per way. The trains are nice, especially for the longer trips (the more local trains are fine, but nothing to write home about). You should be perfectly comfortable and have plenty of privacy, without upgrading to First Class, unless you're feeling fancy!!
Preparing for travel day
You can bring food and drink on the train - as in most European countries, there are generally bar cars or carts (like the Hogwarts Express!). Be sure to closely follow any directions provided with your pre-purchased tickets (such as whether to print them or not). Also, if you can, look up directions regarding the section of the station in which your train will be located - this may avoid confusion when you arrive at the station.
One of the most confusing pieces about travel by French trains is that you must stamp your ticket before boarding the train, if it is an "open ticket" that could be used on multiple days. If your ticket is only for a specific day (where you're assigned a train, etc. like a plane), then there's no need to stamp it with the machine. If you do need to stamp, the machines generally say "composter," which does NOT mean that the machine is going to ingest your ticket, which was what I assumed.
Easy day trip destinations from Paris
If you're looking for a very quiet day outside of Paris, the historic Cathedral town of Chartres is an easy day trip from Paris, entirely accessible by public transit, both getting there from Paris and once you arrive. You learned about Chartres Cathedral in school, though you may have forgotten ;) The travel is so easy that this could realistically be a half-day trip: go to Chartres in the morning, explore the town, tour the Cathedral (this takes a while), have a long lunch, and you're back in Paris for more sights in the afternoon!
Check out the full blog post for more details.
Of the destinations on this list, Fontainebleau is likely the most accessible. Fontainebleau is a lovely, quaint city, in the shadow of an absolutely stunning chateau (pictured below), without any of the crowds of Versailles. We were literally the only people in line at the ticket booth.
Fontainebleau is actually on the Paris transit lines, so you'll just need the incredibly versatile Mobilis ticket for your travel the entire day which saves money, time, and headaches. Check out the full blog post for more details!
Incredibly, the gorgeous Alsace city of Strasbourg is actually accessible as a day trip from Paris, thanks to France's extensive system of high-speed trains ("TGV"). It's definitely a longer trip, but absolutely worth it - Strasbourg is large city, but the historic UNESCO World Heritage city center (the first of its kind) is easily walkable from the train station. Sample amazing German/French beers, eat your fill of pretzels, and tour the stunning Cathedral before you hop the TGV back to Paris! Check out the full blog post for additional details!
A few other accessible locations from Paris that ticked most of my boxes include: Bordeaux (more of a Strasbourg level trip), Amiens, and Rouen.
If you're also stopping by the UK - check out another of my posts, Visiting the UK by Train.
Happy Travels! xx
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