With its prominent role in European history, it’s easy to imagine how many sites of historical significance are in Paris. There are enough to fill weeks worth of itineraries for any history buff! But some of France’s most intriguing and interesting historical sites are located just a short trip outside the French capital. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a sucker for a good day trip. These are what I’ve found to be the best day trips from Paris for history buffs. Enjoy!
Table of contents
Table of Contents
Best Day Trips from Paris for History Buffs
Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau is an excellent option for a day trip from Paris if you’re a history lover. In addition to being a seriously underrated French palace, it’s got an extensive history and beautifully manicured gardens (and forest) to explore.
Originally utilized by French royalty as an escape from the hustle and bustle of Parisian city life, its close proximity to the French capital made it an ideal choice. Escaping for the weekend was convenient and feasible.
In the former palace keep, you can still feel the château’s medieval origins, dominating the Oval Courtyard. You can also witness the evolution of the palace over the years, from Francois I’s redevelopments into an artist’s haven inspired by the French and Italian Renaissances, to the Bourbon Dynasty and French Revolution. Learn about the fall of the First Empire in 1814 and the history of the French monarchs of these times.
Napoleon I called Château de Fontainebleau the ‘true home of kings, house of ages,’ which was apt considering the succession of French royalty who vacationed here.
After learning about Fontainebleau’s history in one of the four museums housed inside the palace, be sure to spend some time in the gardens and forest. Imagine what it would have been like to be a French king (or queen) hunting wild game and having it prepared for a feast later in the evening!
Château de Fontainebleau is a mere 40-minute train ride outside of Paris, meaning this is one of the easiest day trips from Paris you could take. Departing from Gare de Lyon, trains depart hourly.
Despite the fact that Reims is best known by tourists for being the capital of the Champagne region in France, it’s got the most interesting history (in my opinion) of any town or city on this list. If you’re a history buff, taking a day trip from Reims is an absolute must.
Reims was founded by the Gauls, and was in fact a major city of the Roman Empire. You can still check out Porte de Mars, an ancient Roman arch that dates back to the 3rd century! Yes, you read that right.
Reims is also known as the City of Coronation. It was here that the French kings received their crowns, in the UNESCO listed Notre Dame de Reims. Reims Cathedral’s extensive history as the coronation locale for French monarchs lasted from the 800s to the 1800s.
But perhaps the most exciting history comes around the WWII years. Reims’ role in WWII was not as well-known as other cities, yet every bit as important. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was located in Reims, which served as Eisenhower’s base. It was here, in May of 1945, that Germany signed the surrender of the Third Reich.
To learn more about Reims’ role in WWII, you have to visit the Musée de la Reddition. It’s truly an incredible experience, and was the highlight of one of my entire trips to France.
While you’re in Reims, Palais du Tau (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is also worth a visit.
Reims takes under an hour by train to reach from Paris.
Versailles is undoubtedly among the most popular day trips from Paris, particularly for its stunning gardens and ornate depiction of how French royalty lived. It’s also one of the best day trips from Paris for history buffs.
Versailles served as the center of legislative power in France as early as the late 17th century. However, its earliest mention in historical records date back to 1038. In 1682 Louis XIV relocated from the French capital, though the ruling family was driven back to Paris in the late 18th century at the onset of the French Revolution. Louis XVI was the last monarch in France following the revolution, and Versaille’s historical significance began to dwindle.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to Versaille’s compelling history. When visiting, definitely take the audio tour guide as you wander through the palace in order to fully grasp the breadth of its provocative past.
While you’re there, you can also check out an authentic replica of Marie Antoinette’s apartment as well as the exquisite palace gardens.
The Palace of Versailles is often referred to as simply ‘Versailles,’ which is in fact the name of the town in which the palace is located. Once a village, Versailles is now considered a suburb of Paris, meaning you can get there quite quickly for a day trip! It’s only about 20km away from Paris proper.
Provins is an excellent day trip from Paris for those who are interested in medieval history. The town’s beautifully-preserved medieval architecture was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
Provins was among the most influential French towns in and around the 13th century, known for its wool production and fairs throughout Europe. In fact, the town’s layout was specifically designed with fairs in mind.
Following the 13th century, however, its prestige within Europe (and France) began to depreciate.
You can follow the city walls, used for fortifications in medieval times, as far as 1200 meters. However, the town’s tour de force is Tour César (pictured). The tower dates back as early as the 12th century. It’s accessible to climb, offering breathtaking 360 degree views of the French countryside.
Provins is easily accessible from Paris, with trains running hourly. You depart from Gare de l’Est, with the journey taking only about an hour and twenty minutes. The first train leaves early, a little after 6:30am, in case you want to beat the crowds.
Rennes, the capital of Brittany, is a lovely university city which dates back over 2,000 years to the time of the Gauls. The city is well-known throughout France for art and history. It also offers a great quality of life – in case you’re considering a move to France, it was voted “most liveable city in Paris” in 2018 by L’Express.
History buffs will love to get lost in the narrow, cobbled medieval streets. Spend a couple of days here wandering around with your camera for the ultimate photo opp experience. Despite the fact that much of ancient Rennes was demolished in a large-scale fire in the 1700s, the city has still maintained and restored a number of historic buildings.
Also worth visiting are the streets surrounding Place Ste-Anne. Here, you’ll find stunning, historic half-timbered homes.
If you happen to be in Rennes on a Saturday, be sure to visit Place des Lices morning market. It’s one of France’s largest markets!
Rennes is a doable day trip from Paris. Getting there by train takes just two hours.
Rouen is a historic city in Normandy which dates back thousands of years. There are a number of historical things to do, see, and learn in Rouen. It’s one of the best day trips from Paris for history buffs, particularly if you want to get a lot of activities into one day!
Stroll down Rue du Petit Mouton to admire the 14th century timber-framed houses as you make your way to the Gros Horloge, a stunning astronomical clock in the Old Town.
For the city’s most exciting (and infamous) history, you can see the Joan of Arc Tower, where she was held during her last days. The tower used to be a component of an entire 13th century castle, but this is all that remains. In the 1400s Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen.
The city also has historical significance in the Wars of Religion, was occupied during the Franco-Prussian War and WWI, and saw extensive damage during WWII.
Explore le Musée de Rouen to discover Rouen’s natural history. Or check out Le Musée de la Céramique to learn about Rouen’s role in soft-paste porcelain. Another worthy museum in Rouen is Le Musée Flaubert et d’Histoire de la Médecine, in Gustave Flaubert’s former home. His father was a surgeon, so you’ll also be able to learn about medical practices during those times.
Rouen is not far from Paris at all. A train ride takes only an hour and a half.
Senlis is another small medieval town, perfect for immersing yourself in old-world France. This is a particularly fun day trip from Paris for history buffs who are into old, gothic architecture.
Senlis’ Cathedral of Notre-Dame is revered as one of the best-preserved cathedrals of Île-de-France Gothic. Construction of the Cathedral began in the middle of the 12th century. However, completion of the church took four long centuries, with construction finishing in the 1500s.
The Old Town of Senlis boasts many other gorgeous Renaissance houses, medieval churches, and even a château. In addition, Senlis is home to an enormous Gallo-Roman network of city walls, as well as an outer network of medieval walls. Walking along the city ramparts is one of the best things to do in Senlis, with plenty of gorgeous photo opps.
Senlis is near Paris, making it an easy day trip. In fact, it’s become a very popular place for Parisian workers to set up residence. Leaving from Gare du Nord, head to the Chantilly station (head to the nearby Chateau de Chantilly as well!). Senlis is a short bus ride away.
Amboise is a stunning town to visit for history buffs. Visitors will love this quaint town in the Loire Valley with three châteaux all within walking distance. Amboise is the easiest town in the Loire Valley to access via public transportation – usually tourists need to rent a car or book a private tour.
Among the châteaux in Amboise are the Château Royal d’Amboise, Château du Clos Lucé, and Château Gaillard.
Château Royal d’Amboise was a popular imperial residence whose favor began to taper off towards the end of the 16th century. There are stunning grounds to walk as well as impressive castle walls and towers. Just beyond the Château Royal d’Amboise, you’ll stumble upon the Chapel of St. Hubert, where Leonardo da Vinci is buried.
If you’re a fan of Leonardo’s, a visit to Amboise is an absolute must. In addition to visiting Chapel de St. Hubert, you’ll also visit Château du Clos Lucé, which was da Vinci’s last residence before his death. You can tour da Vinci’s workshops, learn more about his fascinating life and history, as well as check out some examples of his world-famous inventions in the basement.
Continuing on foot, you’ll eventually make your way to Château Gaillard. Here, you can explore the stunning gardens and orange trees at l’orangerie. In addition to the perfectly manicured castle grounds, the interior is also well-worthy of a look around. Perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the Renaissance, the interior of Château Gaillard pays special attention to the small details. Look out for over 8,000 fragments of stained glass adorning the windows!
Amboise itself is a very charming town, with a cute center and lovely restaurants to stop in for lunch. The chateaux will take the entire day to tour.
To reach Amboise, a train ride from Paris followed by a 15-minute walk across the Seine will get you there in around two and a half hours.
Bayeux & Omaha Beach
Bayeux is a lovely town in the Normandy region of France. Situated on the Aure River, it is most famous for its renowned Bayeux Tapestry, showing a depiction of the Norman Conquest in the 11th century. Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux houses the tapestry in addition to an assortment of artifacts and antiquities from the era. But this is only one of the small reasons that Bayeux makes for one of the best day trips from Paris for history buffs.
Another great stop for lovers of history is the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy. Located a few kilometers from the D-Day beaches, here you can find presentations of the Norman military operations in the summer of 1944. You’ll learn about all of the integral phases of the war and the advances of the local forces involved. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to the extensive WWII history of the area and the memorial sites of the Battle of Normandy.
In addition to the local history, Bayeux is also conveniently located in the Calvados region, so be sure to drink some while you’re there!
Also within the vicinity is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which is reachable by bus. Take the bus to Colleville-sur-Mer, and the cemetery is a short walk from there.
From Paris, Bayeux is accessible in two and a half hours by train.
If you leave early enough, or perhaps spend the night, you can also visit Omaha Beach from Bayeux. The most famous of the D-Day Beaches, Omaha Beach served as the landing area on the Northern coast of France and was part of the Allies’ D-Day offensive.
Nowadays, the beach is awash with what remains of antiquated German bunkers. There is a large steel sculpture, Les Braves, which pays homage to the American soldiers who lost their lives there.
Right behind the beach is the Musée Mémorial d’Omaha Beach.
Omaha Beach is about a twenty five minute drive from Bayeux.
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