Paris, France has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It is usually the starting point to any avid traveller’s European journey, alongside London, of course.
The city may be famous for the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame cathedral, the Champs-Elysees avenue, croissants, macarons and chic fashion, but in the past few years it has also become infamous for many other things, like pickpockets, scammers, and... smelly subway stations.
Let’s not forget, too, the huge crowds at the attractions mentioned above, with everyone waiting to get the “perfect” shot for social media.
It is still worth checking them out though, especially if you’ve never been to Paris and just want to experience what so many other travellers before you have. But visiting these touristy parts of Paris can actually be done in a single day, except maybe the Louvre, which needs to be experienced at leisure to better appreciate all the amazing art.
Not an art fan? Skip the Louvre then and maybe check out the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the largest one in Paris. The cemetery is actually a major tourist attraction in the city, though perhaps not as widely advertised or promoted as the other places. The Pere Lachaise is famous because many celebrated artists, authors, musicians, politicians and other notable figures are buried here.
Some of these personalities include Irish poet/playwright Oscar Wilde, French novelists Marcel Proust and Honore de Balzac, American rocker Jim Morrison, American dancer Isadora Duncan, French singer Edith Piaf and even Polish composer Frederic Chopin. There’s also a section of the cemetery dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, in particular the deportees who were sent to the Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany.
If visiting a famous cemetery is not something you wish to do while on holiday, then you can check out some of these other attractions. Many of them are accessible either by train or bus/car, and would only take a few hours to get there from Paris, and back again.
Two hours and 30 minutes by car from Paris
Take a day trip to the Loire Valley in central France to see some castles, sip on specialty wines and munch on rillettes, all of which are what the valley is famous for. There are three castles you can check out: Chateau de Cheverny, Chateau de Chambord and Chateau de Chenonceau or Ladies’ Castle.
One hour by train
Giverny is a quaint, picturesque town that’s great for when you want to spend the day just relaxing. This is where the famous painter Claude Monet lived, and you can now visit his former family home. It is his garden that people flock to, as this was where Monet painted some of his well-known works, like the Les Nympheas. The Museum Of Impressionism, located near the garden, draws millions of visitors each year but at least it isn’t as crowded as the Louvre.
Two hours by train
Is it a good idea to visit Champagne if you don’t drink? Of course. You can check out the Reims Cathedral of Notre-Dame (it’s a different Notre Dame cathedral); Troyes, a tiny town that resembles medieval France with cobbled lanes, Gothic churches and half-timbered buildings; and the Tau Palace, the former residence for French monarchs and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Obviously, you can also go on wine tours here to visit famous winemakers like the Moet & Chandon cellars, House Of Mumm and Taittinger Champagne House.
40 minutes by car or Metro
The closest suburb to Paris, Boulogne-Billancourt is where you go to escape the city’s Instagram-loving tourists. There are plenty of parks and lakes here, and three museums to explore: Musee Paul-Belmondo for sculptures, Musee des Annees 30 for Art Deco works and Musee Albert-Kahn for unique collections of 19th century photographs, as well as beautiful gardens. This area is also where many of Europe’s rich and famous have properties, so you could sit at a cafe and do some people watching, if that’s something you enjoy doing.
Between 40 and 55 minutes by Metro
Versailles is home to the Palace of Versailles, one of the grandest royal residences in all of Europe. The palace was “built” by the French king Louis XIV – whose reign was a whopping 72 years – with the help of more than 36,000 builders and craftsmen. Measuring 815ha in size, the palace is now a museum and is open to the public for visits, though it would probably take a whole day to explore every corner of the estate. There are numerous gardens, a park and the main building to visit (with 2,300 rooms!); make sure you don’t miss the fantastic “hall of mirrors”. Within the estate you can also book a table at celebrated chef Alain Ducasse’s restaurant Ore. Otherwise, head to La Mangette, an eatery which changes its menu every single day or Le Sept, a pub which serves nice grub.
Around one hour by train
Here’s another place with amazing Gothic architecture, which also has its own Notre-Dame cathedral (known in English as the Chartres Cathedral). The 12th century cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it’s not hard to see why it was given this status as the building is so well preserved, with plenty of its original stained glass windows still intact.
Around three hours by car, bus or train
When you’re done with Paris, make your way to Normandy for a change of pace, and some lessons on World War II. Visit the Caen Memorial Museum, the D-Day beaches involved in the Normandy landing operations, and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which honours the American troops who died in Europe during the war. There are 26 military cemeteries in the area that represent each nation involved in the war, but the American cemetery is the most visited one.
Other attractions include the Unesco World Heritage Site Mont Saint-Michel, Rouen old town (which has a, you guessed it, Notre-Dame cathedral) where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, and the seaside resort of Etretat.
As Normandy is a coastal region, don’t skip on any meals here, especially if you love seafood, and cheese.