For everything that Paris has to offer, sometimes it is hard to beat the irresistible charm of the smaller French towns and villages. Luckily there are fabulous small towns to visit near Paris, giving you unbridled access to the French countryside and a relaxing break from life in the busy capital. Here is a list of our favorite small towns near Paris, chosen for their beauty, historical importance, and character.
While the town of Versailles is a charming destination with unique architecture, it’s the famous palace and gardens that more than 7 million visitors flock to every year. It is arguably the most opulent royal residence in the world with its Hall of Mirrors, Royal Opera and royal apartments. The grand gardens are also incredible and feature numerous fountains, sculptures, and canals. Versailles is only 13 miles (21 km) from Paris and can be reached in around 30 minutes depending on traffic.
Chartres is an important market town in the Beauce region known for its beautiful gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. The Old Town with its half-timber houses is simply stunning and scenically situated on the Eure River. It is a great town to stroll around and take in the architecture. We highly recommend taking a trip to the outskirts to visit La Maison de Picassiette. The house is the former home of Raymond Isidore, a former graveyard attendant who obsessively plastered his home in mosaics. His work garnered the attention of Picasso and the house is now a historical monument.
Like Versailles, Fontainebleau is a chateau town largely visited for its impressive palace. The lavish royal residence is surrounded by an ornamental garden and beyond sits a large forest. It is just as fascinating as Versailles though attracts fewer visitors, meaning fewer crowds to deal with. Fontainebleau is just 43 miles (69 km) south of Paris on the A6.
This fortified medieval town is a popular day trip from Paris and lies just over an hour to the east. Its epic fortified walls have stood the test of time and encircle the town and the ramparts and fortified gates are free to tour. Every June the town hosts the largest medieval festival in France, with many visitors turning up in full medieval costume. You can visit the iconic 12th-century César watchtower for great panoramas of the town.
Meaux is a fascinating historic city famous for the First Battle of the Marne in 1914, Meaux Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, and Brie de Meaux cheese. Because of the importance of the First Battle of the Marne, the townhouses the largest World War I museum in the world: Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux. The Bishop’s Palace Museum, Musée Bossuet, is also worth checking out for its local history and painting collections. Meaux is 34 miles east of Paris on the A4, making it a great destination for a day trip.