60 minutes from Paris
Here in the sleepy Pays d’Eure life moves at a more tranquil pace, much as it did when Monet lived and painted here from 1883 until his death in 1926. It was at his family home that he produced some of his most famous works, including his celebrated water lily series, Les Nymphéas. Today, his magical gardens and the nearby Musée des Impressionnismes are one of the most enjoyable day trips from Paris, drawing around half a million visitors each year.
How do I get there? Take the 45-minute train from Gare St-Lazare to Vernon and rent bikes to get to Giverny.
And if I only do one thing? Get a snap of Monet's Les Nymphéas in real life and listen to the racket made by the frog colony in the waterlilly pond.
60 minutes from Paris
‘Seriously beautiful’ is how Vincent Van Gogh described Auvers-sur-Oise in a letter to his brother Théo. This small town is a peaceful and charming hamlet of greenery, located only thirty kilometres from Paris. This picturesque destination has seduced other painters, mainly impressionists: van Gogh of course, but also Charles-François Daubigny, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro who came to draw inspiration from it.
How do I get there? Take RER C from Porte de Clichy to Saint-Ouen l'Aumône, then change to the H train to get to Gare l'Auvers-sur-Oise.
And if I only do one thing? Dabble with van Gogh's favourite tipple and try the green fairy at the only museum in the wolrd dedicated to absinthe.
37 minutes from Paris
Versailles has to be one of the most impressive royal residences in Europe. Transformed from hunting lodge to palace by Louis XIV in 1682, with the help of more than 36,000 craftsmen and labourers, its scale and grandeur are unmatched. Here’s how to get the most from your day trip, whether you want to tick off the estate’s headline attractions or discover little-visited corners in the grounds and beyond.
How do I get there? Take RER C to Versailles Château-Rive Gauche, from where it’s ten minutes’ walk to the palace.
And if I do only one thing? Lose yourself in the gilded stucco wonder that is the hall of mirrors. And prance around the orange trees in the garden as if you're Marie Antoinette yourself.
30 minutes from Paris
South of Paris lies Parc de Sceaux (pronounced “So”), a beautiful yet little-known estate home to sprawling formal gardens and a small château. It's one of the most delightful weekend escapes from the city, particularly in spring when you can picnic beneath the cherry blossom.
How do I get there? Take RER B from Gare du Nord to Sceaux.
And if I only do one thing? Pick up a gourmet picnic of salads, terrines and Nutella éclairs, and eat under the shade of the cherry trees at Bosquet Nord.
25 minutes from Paris
The Domaine de Chantilly is one of the most enjoyable day trips north of Paris. The estate was the home of Henri d’Orléans, the Duke of Aumale, who amassed one of France’s greatest collections of precious books, paintings and decorative arts. Today, as well as admiring the château’s galleries, you can visit the impressive suites, stroll the gardens and stop by the stables, which are now an equestrian museum.
How do I get there? Take the TER from Gare du Nord to Chantilly-Gouvieux.
And if I only do one thing? Dive into a Chantilly cream-based dessert after a hard day's exploring.
23 minutes from central Paris
If you're a Paris old-timer, or you're just looking for a fresh angle on sightseeing, consider Paris's closest eastern suburbs, Montreuil and Vincennes. The former is famed for its rough and ready flea market, Les Puces de Montreuil; while Vincennes is home to the post-card perfect Château de Vincennes, which contains Europe's tallest medieval dungeon.
How do I get there? Take line 9 to Porte de Montreuil, and Vincennes is a mere twenty-minute walk.
And if I do only one thing? Rummage for bargains at Les Puces de Montreuil, the best value flea market in Paris.
18 minutes from Paris
Paris’ closest suburbs often play second fiddle to the city’s intra-muros attractions, but you’d be a fool to miss out on Boulogne-Billancourt. Start with the Bois de Boulogne – Paris’s western lung, filled with lakes and parkland, perfect for a morning stroll. Then the three excellent museums: Musée Belmondo if you’re into sculpture, the Musée des Années 30 for everything Art Deco and the Musée Albert Kahn for wonderful sculpted gardens and collections of 19th-century photography.
How do I get there? Take line 10 to Boulogne Port de Saint-Cloud.
And if I only do one thing? Get a dose of the great outdoors at the 865-acre Bois de Boulogne.
19 minutes from Paris
Vitry-sur-Seine used to be a rough and ready banlieue – the largest town in Val de Marne (with some 85,000 inhabitants), famed for its social unrest, including riots. But don't be scared away: this unlikely slice of suburbia has cleaned up its act, and now makes for a fun, art-themed day out away from the pristine (and sometimes stuffy) offerings in central Paris. You'll find streets decorated with graffiti by (among others) street art collective c.215, plus monumental pieces of art, including Dubuffet's giant 'Chaufferie avec Chiminée' (Carrefour de la Libération), an ode to Vitry's industrial past.
How do I get there? Take RER C to Vitry-sur-Seine.
And if I only do one thing? Get a snapshot of French art from 1950 to the present at the trendy MAC/VAL museum.
11 minutes from Paris
The northern departement of Seine St-Denis, aka 'Le 9.3', used to be the one that best fulfilled the negative image of the banlieue (suburbs), with colossal housing estates like La Corneuve, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Sarcelles – some of the poorest communes in France. There are still pockets of no-go zones, and the estates are still poor, but serious urban renewal projects have immensely improved things.
How do I get there? Take RER B to La Plaine-Stade de France.
And if I only do one thing? Go for a behind-the-scenes tour at the Stade de France, built for the 1998 world cup.
Or spend a weekend in the underrated city of Lille
With its gabled brick houses, tall belfries, beer culture and mussels and chips, Lille is a fascinating blend of French and Flemish. But it is also a dynamic city with a young student population, an adventurous year-round cultural scene and plenty of lively bars and estaminets (a bistro-pub crossover).