Last Updated on 30th September 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
There’s something about the charm of French villages that just makes them so appealing. Perhaps it’s the little lanes, maybe it’s the charming architecture. I’m not sure, but of course, there’s always oodles of history just waiting to be discovered. Here are 10 pretty French towns near Paris you’ll just love!
Accessible via the end of the RER B, you’ll find the charming town of Sceaux. Pretty in spring with plenty of spring blossom and even an entire cherry blossom orchard in the grounds of the castle, Sceaux is just as lovely throughout the rest of the year as well.
After all, there’s a château to visit, a park to wander around and plenty of eateries to eat your way through. Other things to do in Sceaux include wandering through the magnificent Château that has been used as many a filming location and enjoying a cup of tea at Plaisirs des Thés.
Of course, for first (or second or third) time visitors to Paris, you can’t visit the twinkling city of lights and not make the (at least) half day trip out of the city to see Versailles. After all, outside of Paris proper, it’s one of the main attractions that the Île de France region has to offer.
Aside from the grand palace, there’s an entire town to be discovered, with plenty of museums, cafés, and quirky architecture. For example, did you know that the game of Tennis partly finds its origins in Versailles? Or that in the autumn months you can go fruit picking in Versailles?
An hour drive from the centre of Paris, you’ll find the charming town of Senlis. This French commune sits fondly in my memory as a place with plenty of history and oodles of sunshine as I visited on my Birthday a couple of years ago.
The town has three museums (the museum of art and archaeology, the museum of the hunts & the museum of Spahis.) There’s also a historic abbey, the ruins of a Roman arena and a medieval cellar, all waiting to be discovered and explored…
The ancient town of Senlis also has links with French heroine, Joan of Arc. Between the 15th and 16th of August 1429, Joan of Arc led her French troops in the historic battle of Montépilloy (close to Senlis), leading them to victory against the English. There’s a commemorative plaque in the church celebrating her victory.
Only half an hour away on the RER A from the centre of Paris, you’ll find the sweet town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. This town makes the list of pretty French towns near Paris not only because of its lovely architecture and wonderful eateries but also because it has a large forest and charming château (which now houses a fantastic museum of archaeology).
Aside from the museum, the château itsself is well worth a look, if only for its impressive architecture and the fact that Louis XIV was born there! Elsewhere in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, there’s the real-life Château de Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas’ country mansion) and Musée Claude Debussy in the iconic composer’s birthplace.
Located in the Loire valley, Chartres is a gateway to the land of castles. Located in the Eure-et-Loire department of France, the city is best known for its impressive cathedral, oodles of medieval architecture and fascinating museums.
Since the middle ages, the town has also been the destination for many Catholic pilgrimages, meaning that there’s also a wealth of ecclesiastical buildings and history to learn about as well. Best visited by car so as to head out to the Loire Valley (i.e. the Garden of France) straight after your visit, Chartres is located around an hour and a half’s drive from the City of Light.
Provins is a fully preserved medieval town just under 2 hours away from the city centre of Paris. Although a little further away from the city than some of the other pretty French towns near Paris, Provins is well worth the (slightly) longer journey.
After all, it’s not every day that you get the chance to visit a basilica where Joan of Arc attended mass, or that you get the opportunity to climb a medieval tower dating all the way back to the 12th-century. Elsewhere in Provins, there are medieval tunnels with a mysterious history. During winter, a fantastic Christmas market is held in the ancient city that makes for the perfect day trip from Paris.
Around 40 minutes away from the centre of Paris, you’ll find Meaux. Famous for its Brie and Mustard (although little-known is that much of the Meaux Brie is now fabricated in the Lorraine region of France). If you’re not a great foodie, then Meaux offers plenty of other historical and cultural activites.
There are plenty of outdoor fun for those who want to experience life in France outside of Paris in the form of walks, water activities, and hiking. In Meaux, you’ll also find the Musée de la Grande Guerre (Museum of the Great War) which is one of the biggest museums about WWI in all of Europe, if not the world.
The commune of Auvers-Sur-Oise is surrounded by rolling green hills and even has its own château (which is open to the public and can be visited for a fee). Head to Auvers-Sur-Oise to learn all about the infamous drink absinthe in the absinthe museum, and to trace the footsteps of Van Gogh who lived here for a few months before his death.
In the town’s cemetery, you’ll find the final resting place of the great artist himself as well as the grave of Van Gogh’s brother Theo. In the rest of the town there are trails inspired by A day trip to Auvers-Sur-Oise can easily be combined with a trip to nearby L’Isle Adam, a charming town with its own sandy beach.
With a pretty castle to rival Versailles, Fontainebleau definitely can’t be missed off the list and is easily one of the most fairytale day trips from the city of love. “Versailles without the crowds” is one of the best ways to describe the château, and the town is equally as magical…
Apart from the castle, you can wander through the great forest (which was used as hunting grounds for the French royal family in the 12th-Century) and visit the charming house museum of Musee Stephane Mallarme. So as to save time during your visit, book your Fontainebleau tickets here in advance prior to your trip.
Situated on RER line A, Rueil-Malmaison is only around thirty minutes from the centre of Paris. Complete with a French Château, it’s the epitome of a typical French town. The Château here was once the official residence of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, meaning that chances are when you’re wandering through the property, you’ll be walking in the very steps that the empress herself walked in.
The rest of the town is full of bakeries, patisseries and located along the Seine (which is lovely to go for a cycle along or to go for a quick jog along on a warm summer’s evening), in Rueil-Malmaison you’ll find plenty of small churches and museums. Of all the pretty French towns day trips from Paris, Rueil-Malmaison may well be the most underrated…
Easily one of the most underrated towns which can be reached as a short day trip from Paris, Chantilly is a magical settlement which is just twenty minutes from Gare du Nord (should you opt to take the fast train).
A quintessentially French town with plenty of bars, restaurants, and independent shops, Chantilly also happens to be home to a magical Château which boasts the second largest art collection in France, as well as grounds which inspired Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de La Reine at Versailles.
The charming French town of Chevreuse. It’s the kind of settlement you see in the movies. And the type of place you’d think no longer exists. But it does. And it’s totally worth your time. The fairytale town is located in the Île de France region, south of Paris and is overlooked by the haunting ruins of a medieval château.
Wander through the town itself and you’ll soon discover a gently flowing river which you can walk along while admiring many a traditional French garden. Just a short drive away the the beautiful Monastic remains and chapel of Port-Royal-des-Champs Abbey are well worth a visit, provided that you have access to a car.
For a taste of Deauville (the Normandy resort town) on the fringes of Paris, you simply need to visit Enghien-les-Bains, à spa settlement which has been populated since at least the Middle Ages and perhaps even earlier.
Though the main highlights of the lakeside town is its casino (one of the largest and most popular in all of l’Hexagone), the other draw of Enghein-les-Bains is that it’s situated just a ten-minute train ride away from Gare du Nord and yet feels as if it’s a world away. A particular joy in visiting Enghien-les-Bains, is walking the 3.3 km walk around the lake and soaking up the unusual architectural features and pretty gardens en route.
Weeping willows line the banks of the Marne, a lazy flowing river along which you’ll find a hidden gem of a town in the form of Lagny-sur-Marne. And though the Île-de-France settlement is situated just under 30 km to the East of intra-muros Paris, even many Parisians don’t know of its existence.
Nemours is rather unique in that it lays claim to being the only town within the Île de France region to boast a château in the very heart of the town. Situated an hour away from the city from the Gare de Lyon station in Paris, other highlights of this charming French town include a prehistory museum, plenty of riverside walks, and a church with an unusual wooden spire.
If you have access to a car then one of the most beautiful and lesser known towns you can visit as a day trip from Paris is that of Montfort L’Amaury. Though slightly smaller than some of the other French settlements on this list, once in Montfort L’Amaury you’ll soon discover why even Victor Hugo fell in love with the place on a visit during his early 20s.
Situated over 40km to the West of Paris, the medieval town is characterised by its centuries old church and charming timber-framed houses. Châteaux lovers will also be delighted to discover that the romantic ruins of the 12th-century Tour d’Anne de Bretagne, while fans of ecclesiastical architecture will be interested in the Renaissance stained glass windows of the church of Saint Pierrre.