From Paris, you can easily arrange day trips to sites such as the D-Day beaches of Normandy and the Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the Battle of Hastings's story. On another day, visit Mont-Saint-Michel, the former Benedictine monastery. Take the train east to Reims, the city of coronations, and also see the cellars of Champagne. Plan to spend a day at Monet's garden and home in Giverny and another day exploring the Chateau de Fontainebleau.
These are the exciting train trips we took when, for three weeks one September, my friend and I rented a two-bedroom apartment in Paris. We rented through Vrbo. Our apartment was out in the 12th Arrondissement, where one finds more reasonable rents. The distance from central Paris is not noticeable as the Metro is so fast and convenient.
We looked for an apartment within a block of the Metro station with a bakery, pharmacy, and small supermarket close by. We decided that we would take a train trip outside of the city every three or four days, and thanks to my favorite guidebooks, the DK Eyewitness Travel series, and internet searches and bookings, we managed all our own planning and booking. Here are the five train trips we took.
1. Rail Trip 1: Paris To Bayeux And D-Day Beaches
Tops on our must-visit list were Bayeux and the Normandy D-Day beaches. We chose to experience the D-Day beaches in the small town of Arromanches and combined that with a visit to Bayeux. Leaving from Paris St-Lazare, the 140-mile trip to Bayeux takes about 2.5 hours.
Your first stop: a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry, the 230-foot-long tapestry telling the history of William the Conqueror's invasion of England, housed in the Centre Guillaume-le-Conquerant-Tapisserie-de Bayeux. The exhibit also has a detained audio-visual component that recaps the events leading up to the Norman conquest in the 11th century. The tapestry is a work of art, a historical document, and an example of early spinning techniques.
After this stop, catch a taxi to Arromanches to visit the D-Day beaches. The sight of the Welcome and Thank You To The Allies signs in the shop windows are very emotional. Still today, there is a feeling of thanks!
The D-Day Museum in Arromanches is truly a hidden gem. We all are familiar with the D-Day Landing of June 6, 1944, but the story less told is that of the engineering, science, and construction of the artificial harbor.
Preparations for Operation Overlord began in January 1943. The small museum at Arromanches describes -- with working models -- how the operation was planned. Starting in Britain, engineers built two prefab harbors. A convoy navigated the 110-mile trip across the Atlantic, during which one of the prefabs was destroyed in a storm. The surviving one, Mulberry B, reached Arromanches. Some of its remains are still evident in the harbor.
Then came the challenges of overcoming the changing tides. Tides in this area can range up to 24 feet. To avoid interruptions in unloading due to low tides, the British engineers designed 90-foot pierheads, each weighing 40 tons, and then anchored them to the seabed. In 1944, this was a new innovation. Today, the system is widely used by marinas and off-shore drilling platforms.
Two additional displays describe the middle pier and the floating causeways with vehicles carrying equipment. These are the DUKWs, the famous amphibious vehicles that played such an essential role in the operation.
The museum also has a section that honors all the allies: Britain, United States, Canada, Poland, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and Norway.
From there, one can visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial to pay respects. Here lie the remains of 9,400 who died, most in the D-Day landings. The Walls of Missing have an additional 1,600 names. The distance from Arromanches is approximately 15 miles, and taxis are handy. When your excursion’s complete, you’ll take a cab back to Bayeux and then the return train trip to Paris.
- Purchase a French Rail Pass. Here is the link. Bring a small overnight bag for the train trips. There are delicious sandwiches available at kiosks in the subways.
- For more on Bayeux, consider How To Spend A Day In Bayeux, France. You can also see our Normandy content: 9 Things To Know Before Visiting Omaha Beach, Normandy, and a personal account of what another writer learned at the D-Day beaches.
2. Rail Trip 2: Paris To Mont-Saint-Michel
Located approximately 176 miles southwest of Paris, the trip to Mont-Saint-Michel takes almost four hours. Catch the train at Gare de Lyon.
The first glimpse of Mont-Saint-Michel takes your breath away! The silhouette of the medieval monastery sitting high on the island, surrounded by water, is a sight to be seen! Among the most visited cultural areas in France, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is now a causeway connecting the mainland to the island.
Situated strategically on the mouth of the River Couesnon on the border of Normandy and Brittany, Mont-Saint-Michel was a renowned center of learning. The abbey served as a Benedictine monastery and, then, during the time of Louis XI, as a political prison. There are three levels to the abbey and lots of steps. The top level is where the monks lived in their world of church, cloister, and refectory. The second level is where the abbot entertained honored guests. The lower level was for soldiers and pilgrims. Today, a small monastic community continues the traditions of the Benedictines. Guided tours are available.
We stayed the night on the Mont -- an experience I highly recommend. Nighttime has a unique charm, with the site all lit up and fewer crowds. Take time to stroll the ancient cobblestone streets and enjoy dinner at one of the outside restaurants.
For additional inspiration, consider these nine tips for visiting France’s Mont-Saint-Michel here.
3. Rail Trip 3: Paris To Giverny
Located about 50 miles from Paris in the small town of Giverny, the home and garden of the impressionist painter Monet is a delight to visit.
You can take the train from the Paris Saint Lazare Train Station. Monet's home is a short walk from the train station, or you may catch a waiting taxi.
Monet lived here for 43 years, from 1883 till his death in 1926. The house has three entrances:
- The entrance to the left is Monet's apartment
- The middle door is the main entrance
- The entrance to the right leads to the kitchen
The furniture and objects are restored to reflect the manner in which Monet decorated his home. Stop in the Blue Sitting Room to admire the Japanese woodblocks that Monet collected for over 50 years. Step into the bright yellow dining room. Monet did not like the dark, heavy Victorian style of the day. Wander upstairs to the bedrooms. Monet's bedroom has three large windows showcasing the beautiful gardens below. Throughout the home, enjoy the reproductions of his work. The originals are housed at Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris.
Enjoy a few hours strolling the gardens and enjoying the water lilies and the Japanese Bridge's replica made famous in his paintings. Guided tours are available.
Pro Tip: For additional details, consider How To Spend A Day In Giverny, France.
4. Rail Trip 4: Paris To Reims And Epernay
Our fourth exciting train trip from Paris combined the city of Reims and the champagne cellars at Epernay. Leaving from Gare de L'Est, we took the high-speed train, so we arrived in Reims about 45 minutes later.
Reims is known as "the city of coronations" as 25 French kings were crowned here. With this in mind, we head to the Cathedral Notre-Dame.
Pause outside to enjoy the 2,300 sculptured figurines adorning the building. Inside, visit the Gallery of Kings, the Great Rose Window, the Smiling Angel, and the Chagall Window. Look for the plaque commemorating the Franco-German Reconciliation after WWI and the plaque on the wall commemorating the allies of WWII. In 1996, Pope John Paul visited the cathedral to honor the 1,500th anniversary of King Clovis’s baptism.
From Reims, we took a taxi approximately 20 miles to Epernay and the wine cellars of Moet and Chandon. The one-hour tour we took there offers insights into Champagne production, a visit to the cellars, and of course, a sampling of bubbly. Advanced booking is required. After your cellar tour, it’s back to Reims by taxi and then your return, by train, to Paris.
Pro Tip: This train had a dining car, but we found most trains did not. So, bring drinks and snacks to tide you through.
5. Rail Trip 5: Paris To Chateau De Fontainebleau
One of France's largest royal palaces, the Chateau de Fontainebleau, is located 34 miles southeast of Paris. From Gare de Lyon station, the train trip takes about 40 minutes. Get off at Fontainebleau-Avon. The train stop is about a 40-minute walk from the palace. Taxis are available.
Be prepared to be awe-struck by the size, architecture, artwork, decor, luxury, and history of the palace. The 1,500 rooms of Fontainebleau make it one of the largest French royal palaces. It served as a residence and hunting lodge for French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon (12th through 16th centuries). Fontainebleau started as a medieval castle and the site was expanded over the years, particularly during the 16th century.
Apartments open to visit include the Sovereign's great apartments, the boudoirs of Marie Antionette, the Pope's apartment, and Napoleon's apartments. The Gallery of Francis I is one of the finest examples of Renaissance decoration in France. Guided tours are available.
Surrounding the palace, there are 130 acres of formal gardens and parklands and miles of paths that invite visitors to explore the Fontainebleau Forest.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fontainebleau is a popular destination for weekend outings. Take time to explore Fontainebleau's town and enjoy a late lunch before your train back to Paris.
More On Our Paris Stay
Plan for the unexpected, especially in Paris. Strikes are common. There were two days of strikes during our visit. On those days, we spent time exploring the neighborhood around our apartment.
Renting an apartment for an extended stay is a great way to experience all that Paris and Northern France have to offer. Three weeks was just the right amount of time for us. For more on enjoying your time in Paris, consider
- The Unique Stories Behind These 9 Beautiful Bridges In Paris
- How To Spend A Day Island Hopping In Paris
- 12 Beautiful Reasons To Visit Paris In The Spring
- 7 Best Paris Restaurants With Three-Course Lunches Under $30
- 11 Tips For Visiting Paris Without Breaking The Bank
- Where To Find The 5 Most Beautiful Fountains In Paris