France is a country of sophistication, culture, cuisine, and fashion. No tour of Europe is complete without a visit to France, or its capital city, the beautiful city of love, Paris. Of course, Paris is full to the brim with attractions and sightseeing opportunities, but if you want to get away from the crowds and explore what’s around Paris, perhaps just for a day trip, there is no shortage of places that will keep even the most demanding traveler entertained.
Les Fermes de Gally are two working farms complete with garden centres, workshops, a gift shop, and farmer’s markets, located just outside of Paris. One farm is in Sartrouville, 25km northwest of Paris, and the other is in Saint-Cyr-l’École, which is 40km southwest of Paris. Les Fermes de Gally are fun, which will keep the kids happy with goats, pigs and rabbits to make friends with and an ‘Insect Trail’ (there’s an additional fee to enter the farm).
It’s a good choice for a day out for families and children from the age of three upwards. At Sartrouville you’ll find a Nature Club for children from 8-10, and at St. Cyrs there are five corn mazes to navigate. You’ll find authentic French produce in the markets and gift shops, and lovely places to stop for a bite to eat, serving freshly cooked locally produced food.
The Palace of Versailles
Enjoy a little culture with a day trip to the largest palace in Europe. It’s very popular, with up to ten million people visiting every year, and even with a full day you won’t manage to see everything. There are hour-long tours to the opera house and Marie-Antoinette’s private chambers.
You can walk around the beautiful park free of charge, or if you’re feeling active, you can hire a bike, set off along the Grand Canal and eat at the Potager du Roi (King’s Kitchen Gardens). Plan ahead and avoid the queues with ‘The Passport’, which gives you access to all areas, or one of the less extensive passes that includes ‘The Palace’ and ‘Hidden Versailles’. Get to the palace by SNCF train or travel by car; it’s around 30km from the city.
The Cité des Enfants is just outside Paris, and is part of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie – an enormous interactive science museum complex designed to introduce children to science and technology with fun activities and exhibitions, plus a Planetarium and the Geode 3D giant screen cinema. If you book tickets online for Cité des Enfants, you’re assigned a 90-minute slot and directed to an area of the museum suitable for your child’s age. If you check the website before you book, you can select a package – some also include admission to the Geode, others to the Planetarium.
There’s plenty of choice if you’re looking for a place to eat; coffee and sandwich bars as well as an Internet café and a sit-down restaurant, plus lots of vending machines for peckish kids. The complex is easy to get to by Metro, bus or tram, as well as by car.
Stade De France
This one’s for the football fans in the family – the Stade de France is the largest stadium in France and is where the French national team plays its main home matches. It was built for the 1998 World Cup, and it’s now Paris’s main stadium and venue. Stade de France is located in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, which is around 3 km north of Paris, easily reachable by tram or metro. If you fancy treating yourself, you could stop for something to eat in either the ‘Le Panoramique’ restaurant on the 8th Floor, or the slightly cheaper ‘Le 98’ restaurant.
While you’re in Saint-Denis, you could have a look around the prestigious Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis, with its tombs of the French kings; take a walk along the banks of the Canal Saint-Denis, or a quick drive to The Air and Space Museum at nearby Paris-Le Bourget.
It’s the stuff of fairy tales – the Loire Valley, or ‘Garden of France’ is home to almost 300 castles, and they are all less two hours from Paris by car or Metro. The Loire is France’s largest river, and the central part of the valley is so beautiful that it’s now a designated UNESCO World heritage site. Take your pick from elegant interiors, stunning architecture and amazing gardens, and keep your camera charged up.
If you can’t make your mind up, Blois castle is considered the most important, Chenonceau the prettiest to look at, and Cheverny has the best décor. If you have plenty of time to look around, Chambord Castle is the biggest, with over 400 rooms to explore. You can treat yourself to a meal at Les Ménestrels in Saumur, in the Pays de la Loire region, which of course has its very own castle, too…
An unspoiled gem which is popular with children and adults alike is the medieval town of Provins, just an hour and 25 minutes by train from Paris. The kids will love the town for its underground passageways, tower and ramparts to explore, and if you go in the summer you might even chance upon some jousting knights. If you’re looking for something to eat, you’re well catered for with cafés and crêperies as well as more formal sit-down restaurants such as La Fleur du Sel on place du Châtel.
Parc de Thoiry
Keep animal lovers, photographers and budding historians happy with the Parc de Thoiry, in the town of Thoiry with its fabulous animal reserve and 2300-metre long maze. There’s a long safari park trail to follow (if you visit by car) and a zoo if you’re on foot. If the weather’s not so good, or you want to be awed by some stunning French architecture, make your way to the chateau and admire the fabulous period furniture. You can get there via shuttle bus from Paris, or make your own way – it’s a 35-minute drive from the city. You can buy tickets in advance for the park and zoo.
No ‘days out near Paris’ guide would be complete without mentioning Disneyland Paris (Euro Disney). Just 30 km east of Paris, it’s arguably one of the biggest and most famous tourist attractions in Europe, with five ‘magical lands’, a whole list of attractions suitable for wide-eyed kids, and assorted Disney characters wandering around to provide photo opportunities. Some words of advice where Disneyland is concerned: steer well clear of the summer holidays, and buy tickets in advance.
You can buy a Park Hopper ticket, which gives you the option to dip in and out of Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios Park, if you fancy some variety. Food is expensive here, as you’d expect, so unless money isn’t an issue, bring some food and save your pennies for souvenirs and treats.
Have you traveled in and around Paris as part of a tour of Europe? Share your day trip tips with fellow travelers in the comments below!