Bonjour and hello again everyone. In the fourth and final part to my guide to Paris, I am going to look at some of the other options you have once you covered the main attractions in central Paris. Certainly there are so many wonderful things to see and do in Paris, you need at least a week to do it justice (without rushing around), but let’s say you have four or five days in Paris and you’ve already covered the main sights already covered in parts 1, 2 and 3 in my guide to Paris – now what? Here are a few suggestions.
|There is so much more to France than just Paris.|
Why not? You are guaranteed a great day out and if you have children or if you’re a big kid at heart, then you can have a lot of fun in Disneyland Paris. It is easily accessible from central Paris on the RER (regional express railway) and there are various tickets available for you depending on your schedule – you can get discounts for multiple day passes and if you do go in winter, they offer discounted packages which include accommodation as well. I would however, strongly advice you to avoid Disneyland during the French school holidays as the place would be swamped by kids – that could make a difference between queuing 5 minutes and 60 minutes for a ride. The queues can get horrendous during school holidays and French public holidays, so with a bit of forward planning, you can choose to visit on a day when you will have a pleasant visit with minimal queuing.
Palace of Versailles
The royal place of Versailles is definitely worth the day trip out of Paris – again, this is accessible on the RER. The train station is just 5 minutes walk from the main palace and you will walk from room to room being dazzled at just how ridiculously opulent this place is – this is the kind of fairy tale French attraction that is extremely popular with the Japanese and Chinese tourists. There are far more down to earth places to eat and shop near the train station, so unless you’re feeling rich, I would not stop for a coffee or a meal within the royal palace itself. Having been to both Windsor palace in England and Versailles, I say, Versailles wins hands down if this is the kind of old world European splendour you are looking for!
|Visiting Versailles in 1999 with a friend from university|
If you have enjoyed Versailles, you will also enjoy Chantilly chateau – this is going to take all day but is still doable as a day trip out of Paris. You need to go to Gare du Nord to get the train to Chantilly-Gouvieu station (just under 30 minutes). It is then either a short bus ride or a 20 minute talk to the chateau. This is a charming French chateau which will keep you entertained for an entire day – there is a gorgeous garden in the grounds (let’s hope you get good weather for the gardens) and a huge art gallery in the chateau. There are plenty of French chateaus all over France, but this is one of the closest ones to Paris that makes it good for a day trip. My favourite is Chenonceau but that is not possible to do as a day trip from Paris.
Catacombs of Paris
How about something a little different and macabre? My friends took me to the Catacombs of Paris on Halloween in 1999 and it left quite an impression on me! Imagine this huge labyrinth of underground passages, 20 meters under the surface of Paris. Stacked from the floor to the ceiling are bones, skeletons, skulls of six million dead Parisians from centuries ago. As Paris expanded over the centuries, many cemeteries in central Paris were excavated to make place for more buildings – the bones of the dead were transferred to these catacombs and it wasn’t just chucked in a deep pit, but it was tastefully arranged to be an empire of the dead. Do take your time with the catacombs – there are so many tunnels to explore and you don’t want to race through them, you want to walk very slowly to fully appreciate the atmosphere, so yes you can spend several hours there. It does attract a lot of visitors, so do try to arrive early to avoid queuing. Certainly not for the fainthearted but I do definitely recommend it! The catacombs are in a south Paris subrub and are easily accessible by the Metro and RER (Denfert Rochereau station, lines 4 and 6, RER B).
|Halloween 1999, it was a scream!|
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Again, staying on the theme of the dead, another surprising popular destination in Paris is a cemetery! At Père Lachaise cemetery, you can find a number of famous people buried there including Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison (of the Doors), Oscar Wilde, Molière and Chopin. It is not creepy or eerie the way the catacombs are, but these are the graves of very rich and famous people and some of these graves are very elaborate and quite fascinating. You could easily spend a few hours wandering around the cemetery, looking at the gravestones, pondering about the transient nature of life. After the hustle and bustle of central Paris, the cemetery is a surprisingly serene and peaceful. The cemetery is in fact on a hill, so you will be rewarded with great views of East Paris from the top of the hill. Many tourists prefer the Gambetta station on line 3, as it allows them to enter near the tomb of Oscar Wilde and then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.
|At Oscar Wilde’s tomb in the cemetery|
Abbaye Royale de Chaalis + Mer de Sable
For a slightly different day out, head for the Abbaye Royale de Chaalis: there are the beautiful ruins of the abbey along with an art museum in a stately home. To get there, head to Paris CDG airport and get the bus in the direction of the town of Chaalis. As an added bonus, the Mer de Sable desert themed amusement park is walking distance from the abbey. It is a strange geographical anomaly – imagine golden sand dunes more associated with the Sahara desert in a north Paris suburb. It is pretty unreal but completely natural. So you get a ruined abbey, an art gallery and a taste of the desert all in one day within a short bus ride from Paris’ main airport – that’s a formula for a pretty unusual day out.
Reims and Rouen
Reims is a small town located about 129 km north-east of Paris and thanks to the famous TGV (high speed train), you can get from Paris Gare de l’Est (Paris East railway station) to Reims in just 45 minutes. Reims is charming and compact, making it ideal for a day trip out of Paris, given that most of the principal tourism sites are within walking distance from Reims railway station. By the same token, Rouen is another small town located 132 km north-west of Paris. Like Reims, it is easily accessible by the TGV high speed train in about 1 hour 15 minutes. Trains for Rouen depart from Paris St Lazare station. Like Reims, Rouen is small and compact enough for you to enjoy in a day trip.
|The TGV will give you easy and fast access to other French cities.|
Londres – that’s London in French. Well, London in England.
Well why not? On the Eurostar, it takes about 2 hours to get you from Paris Gare du Nord to St Pancras International. Okay so that’s spending 4 hours on a train (not my idea of fun) but if you have never been to London before then you could get the first Eurostar from Paris which gets you into London by 8:02 am (remember you gain an hour traveling from France to England as France is one hour ahead of England) and you can have the whole day in London before catching the last Eurostar back to Paris which will arrive at 11:37 pm. It would be an exhausting (and expensive) day out, but for London it would be worth it. If you have never ever been to London before, I say, go for it if you have made it as far as Paris!
So there you go, I am glad I got this piece out before I go off to Spain. Yes I am off to southern Spain for a spot of skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains very soon. Look out for a piece on Spain from me upon my return. Thanks for reading and I hope I have given you plenty of reasons to visit beautiful Paris in 2015.