Paris is gorgeous, overwhelming, and can easily fill up a month of vacation! But if you're looking to get out of the city and quiet down for a day, here are my favorite places to travel around nearby:
My favorite day trip from Paris was definitely Giverny. Claude Monet lived in his home here for 43 years, from 1883 to 1926. His home slowly developed over time, with him making it fit his needs. You can walk through his home and see his studio, his bedroom, and then stroll around the gardens where you can see the famous water lily pond that inspired many of his paintings.
I would recommend doing this trip in the spring or summer though, so you can see the flowers in bloom.
To get there, head to the Gare Saint Lazare (which you can see a wall painting by Monet in the train station). You need to purchase a ticket to Vernon, which you can do online, from a Grandes Lignes ticket window, or using a yellow machine). The stop for your train will probably say "Rouen" on the sign, so make sure you get on the train that definitely stops in Vernon. Once you arrive in Vernon, follow the painted footsteps out for Monet's house. You can either take the bus (5 euro for a one way ticket or 10 euro for roundtrip -- they really cut a deal there!) or walk, which is about an hour. I took the bus there and walked back!
Provins is this adorable town located southeast of Paris by about an hour and a half via train. Provins is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its well-preserved medieval walls and it's rose-flavored everything. (Literally! I had rose crepes with a rose biscuit & jam, accompanied with my rose syrup champagne for lunch). Every year at the end of June there is a medieval festival where you can see jousting and other activities.
To get there, head to the Gare de l'Est station in Paris. Trains leave every 45 minutes, so it is quite easy to catch one. Look for the train on the blue SNCF Ile-de-France screens.
I think if you’re in Paris for more than a day or two, Versailles is already on your list. Versailles is located southwest of Paris (to me, it is on the outskirts of Paris, but to all my Parisian friends, they think it’s deathly far away!) by about 20-45 minutes on the RER, depending where you are coming from. To get there, take the RER C, which you can find at many metro stations around Paris. If you have a Navigo pass for all 5 zones, you can use it to get there! If not, by a roundtrip metro ticket to Zone 4.
My best advice, without a doubt, is to buy your ticket beforehand and get there as early as possible. If you are an EU student between 18-25 years old, you get in for free with your ID and residence card.
I am not a big fan of the audio tour, but it comes with your ticket, so you might as well give it a go. After looking around the castle, head to the gardens where you can stroll around and, if you want, buy tickets to visit more buildings inside the gardens, like Marie Antoinette’s favorite hideaway.
So I know this is completely sacrilegious, but I actually prefer Fontainebleau to Versailles. All my French friends are going to shun me for writing this, I already know! First off, there is about 1/100th of the tourists. When I went, on a summer day, I counted 15 other tourists in the castle with me. I also like it for the style; built as a hunting lodge, it has the darker, woody feel. Fontainebleau definitely does not take in as much money as Versailles, leaving less space for preservation, but in this instance, it is nice because you can actually see original furniture, as opposed to copies.
To get to Fontainebleau, you can also use your Navigo pass or buy a metro ticket for Zone 5. To get there, take the RER D from Gare du Lyon, where you will leave from the Grandes Lignes platform. When you arrive, look for one of these stations on the terminal monitor: Laroche-Migennes, Montargis, Montereau, or Sens. Once you get the platform number, check the TV again at the platform to confirm that the train is stopping at Fontainebleau! When you arrive at your station, about a 45 minute train ride, follow everyone outside to the bus stop for Bus 1. if you used a Navigo pass, you can use that for the bus, unfortunately, if you bought a metro ticket, you will have to buy a bus ticket, but it is only a couple of euros. Technically, you could walk and it wouldn’t take that long, but the bus is just easy and hassle-free.
If you have time after your visit, make sure to get a map of the forest and spending some time walking around!
Another Normandy town, Rouen is located about an hour and a half northwest of Paris. You will actually pass by Giverny on your way there, so if you prefer to do two in one day, I would recommend going to Giverny first, then taking the train to Rouen, and then you can take the high speed train from Rouen back to Paris. (If you do this, I would buy the tickets in advance online or at least double-check the timetables and write down your options so you make sure to get the local trains correct). Trains to Rouen leave from the Gare Saint Lazare train station. Once you arrive, everything is within walking distance from the train station.
Rouen is somewhat of a sleepy town, that comes alive in the afternoon, with the tourist attractions often not opening up until after lunch (even in the summer!). Rouen is where Joan of Arc was infamously burned at the stake, but it is also filled with small streets of brightly colored buildings and timbered facades. Also in Rouen you can find the famous cathedral that Monet relentlessly painted in his Cathedral series. While you’re there, make sure to go in the Tour Jeanne d’Arc (only a couple minute walk from the train station) and the top of the clock tower. There were also some art museums that looked inviting, but I unfortunately did not have time to go in any!
Other accessible day trips:
I can’t comment fully on these because I did not have time to do them, but I would assume that a day trip to Mont St. Michel and to Brussels would be highly enjoyable! My top tip would be to buy your train ticket as soon as possible if you want to go. In France, prices go up closer to the date, even if the train isn’t sold out. So if you buy tickets two months out, you can travel roundtrip for about 50 euro to Brussels, but if you wait until the week of it will cost around 150 euro (at least, those were the prices when I was looking!).