Paris may be the highlight of your vacation to France, but it's also a great jumping off point for some memorable and inexpensive day trips. If you have a few extra days in the country, we recommend venturing north, where you'll see pastoral landscapes that inspired Impressionists and medieval towns that seem not to have aged a day. Here are six affordable towns that are a perfect compliment to the City of Light, and just a quick train ride away, too.
The opulent royal palace and sprawling gardens of Louis XVI are a must-see — and they’re under an hour's time from Paris. Check out the gilded Hall of Mirrors, maze-like hedges, and musical gardens with a passport ticket, which gets you to the entire estate for 18 euros (about $20 USD).
How to get there: The cheapest way to get here from Paris is to take the RER C to Versailles Chateau, Rive Gauche, which is 7 euros round-trip (or about $8 USD) and just a 10-minute walk to the palace.
Le Mont St. Michel
No, it’s not Hogwarts: this island village in Normandy surrounded by water was once a Medieval pilgrimage site, and its 10th-century abbey still sits high on top. Once you’re inside the city walls, tour the abbey (10 euros or about $11 USD) and pick up a crepe while you browse the local shops on the steep cobblestoned streets. Note: this place is magic at high tide, but water can sometimes flood the road and cause closures several times a year, so plan accordingly to make sure your trip won’t be affected.
How to get there: Take the TGV (high speed train) from Gare Montparnasse to Rennes (about 50 euros or about $55 USD) then transfer to the bus (12 euros or about $13 USD); total travel time is about three hours. Alternatively, you can rent a car for $60 per day or, if you don’t mind sharing a ride, carpool with BlaBlacar for half the price (around 30 euros or $33 USD).
This seaside town in Normandy is known for its white cliffs that jut into bright blue water of the English Channel -- and if you go during the summer -- it's an inexpensive beach day. When you’re not laying in the sand or hiking the alabaster cliffs, head into town to try the "moules" (that's mussels) at Le Bicorne for 13 euros (about $14 USD) and pay a visit to the open-air WWII memorial in the city center.
How to get there: Take the two-hour train from Paris's Gare Saint-Lazare to Le Havre (about 30 euros round trip or $33 USD) and transfer to Étretat by bus, rent a car (65 euros per day or $72 USD) and make the two-hour drive, or hitch a carpool ride with BlaBlaCar.
A walking tour is a cheap and easy way to tour this town, which happens to be the capital of Normandy and living open-air museum of medieval France. Grab an audio guide (5 euros or $5.50 USD) or book a guided tour at the tourism office and hit all the top attractions for next to nothing: the half-timbered houses of old town, an impressive 16th-century clock that broods over the street, and the square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. And, if you think Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral is impressive, prepare to be floored by Rouen’s Gothic masterpiece, which has a sky-high spiral that’s the tallest in France; admission is free.
How to get there: Take the one-hour and 20-minute train ride from Paris Saint-Lazare directly to Rouen (20 to 25 euros or $22-$27 USD round trip).
Check out some of the world’s most famous dappled paintings at the Museum of Impressionism, which is free on the first Sunday of the month. Then head to Claude Monet’s famed gardens to walk right into a living version of them. Entrance is 10 euros (or about $11 USD) and the gardens are open from March 24 to November 4.
How to get there: It’s easiest to reach Giverny by train: it takes just 45 minutes from the Saint-Lazare train station (follow the SNCF Grandes Lignes; tickets cost up to 30 euros or $33 USD round trip).
You might have heard Amiens in the news for being the hometown of newly elected President Emmanuel Macron. But the small town in Picardie is worth a visit in its own right. Climb the Notre Dame (6.50 euros or about $7 USD) and tour home of writer Jules Verne (7.50 euros or a little over $8 USD). We recommend trying the town’s own specific style of almond-flavored macaron from Jean Trogneaux (6 for 5.70 euros or just over $6 USD — a great pick-me-up when you’re shopping on the bustling Rue des Trois Cailloux), taking a boat ride through the floating gardens of Les Hortillonnages (5.90 euros or about $6.50 USA) or sitting in the grass at the café-lined town square (and social hub) at Rue Gambetta.
How to get there: Take the TGV to Haute Picardie (one hour; around 40 euros or $44 USD roundtrip) or the SNCF at Paris’ Gare du Nord (about two hours 20 euros or $22 USD round trip).