March 27, 2015

Day Trips From Paris

We spent seven days in Paris, enough time to find our way outside of the city to see some of the nearby areas. We managed to visit two Chateau's close by, the very popular one in Versailles, and the less visited one in Fontainebleau.

I am sharing below our experience. Hopefully, you find it helpful and are able to pick up some tips.


We visited Versailles on a Friday, trying to see the Chateau before the weekend crowd arrived and were disappointed to find out that this place is actually almost always filled with visitors. It is filled with visitors for good reason of course: it is beautiful, it is historic and it is an easy commute from Paris.

The commute to Versailles is very simple as it is connected to the RER metro train line. We just purchased our tickets from the ticket window of the nearest Metro station and found our way to the RER line via a series of transfers. To give you an idea of how convenient it is to visit here, the RER line also stops at the heart of the city such as a stop at the Eiffel Tower.

This beautiful site will greet you upon your arrival at the Chateau

From the train station in Versailles, the Chateau is an easy walk, just follow the crowds. We arrived at 9am in time for the opening and bought tickets online to save on queuing. You can purchase your online tickets on the Versailles website (link is here), you just have to have your dates scheduled beforehand. We got in within a few minutes of arrival, after passing through security checks, but already the main royal apartments were  filled with tour groups.

Check out the number of heads in this shot of the Hall of Mirrors
The passport tickets we purchased online included the use of audio guides which were quite useful as it gave more meaning to the visit. We made our way through the Royal Apartments and stopped by the cafeteria for a quick lunch. I took a quick peak at the lines outside after lunch and noticed that they did not seem to get any shorter (so going later might not be a good idea).

After lunch, we walked around the massive grounds of the Chateau. The passport tickets included entrance to two other sites on the grounds, the Trianon and the Petit Trianon. We decided to make our way to visit both as we still had the entire afternoon. We noticed though that we had to exit the Royal Apartments to get to the gardens and had to queue through security again to get back in.

Needless to say, the rest of the royal grounds were a lot less crowded. It appeared like many tour groups only visit the Royal Apartments and skip the rest of the tour. It's a bit of a shame as I really enjoyed walking the grounds and visiting the other Palaces. If you have an afternoon to spare, I would suggest taking the time to walk around and enjoy the grounds. We particularly enjoyed the Petit Trianon where Marie Antoinette created her own Hamlet, a small picturesque town, complete with a farm.

A picture of one of the houses found in Marie Antoinette's Hamlet
We headed back to the city after spending almost an entire day at Versailles. We purchased round trip train tickets before leaving Paris so we didn't have to queue to purchase return tickets. I can imagine this could be a hassle during peak times. The ride back was just as convenient and we were back in the city in less than an hour.


On our last day in France, we decided to head back out to visit the Chateau in Fontainebleau. Some quick research on the net helped us prepare for our trip. We found this website very useful with detailed information on getting to Fontainebleau. We had to take a train from the Gare De Leon and we found our way there via the Metro. Upon arriving at Gare De Leon, we found out that trains to and from Paris were free for that day. What luck! We were able to save a few Euros there. The trains departed every 30 minutes and the train ride lasted for about 40 minutes. Fontainebleau is not a terminus station so we looked for trains to Montargis and got off after three stops (Fontainebleau Avon station). 

Once in Fontainebleau, we got on the public bus to the Chateau from the bus station next to the train station. The bus arrived a few minutes from the arrival of the train and there were several other tourists heading the same direction so we just followed their lead. The bus driver was nice enough to let us know when to get off and we made our way to purchase our tickets. 

This is the beautiful entrance of Chateau de Fontainebleau
Our first impression was that the Chateau was a LOT less crowded than Versailles. It's a little bit more difficult to get here and the grounds are not as big, but the Chateau itself is beautiful and also filled with history.

The Gallery of Francis I, unlike the Hall of Mirrors, there are no crowds

We paid extra for the audio guides but they were worth it. It added more meaning to the visit and the touch screen audio guides were better, in my opinion, than the ones used in Versailles (or even the one used in the Louvre).

The audio guides took us through a tour of the Royal Apartments. Sadly, some parts of the Chateau (like the Apartment of the Pope and the residence of the Queen Mothers) were closed, probably due to restoration work. The Royal Apartments are beautiful and well maintained and worth the price of admission.

Room decorations are just as opulent as Versailles
It took us a few hours to get through the Royal Apartments. We then found our way to the town of Fontainebleau and had lunch at a fantastic French restaurant called Bistrot 9. It was a bit pricey but the food was great. After lunch, we took a quick stroll of the Palace gardens but didn't linger too long as we wanted to get back into the city with enough time for some last minute shopping.

We hoped on the bus going in the opposite direction of where we were dropped off and made the 4pm train back into the city.

For those visiting Paris and looking for some activities outside of the city, I would suggest going to both these places. They are a peek into the lives of French royalty and an experience not to be missed. I would be happy to give more tips or answer any questions with regard to our visit, just please drop me a note.