There’s certainly no question that, despite being one of the smallest regions,  île-de-France is the most-populous and heavily-concentrated in all of the country. Home to the capital Paris and many of the tourist draws (Versailles, Disneyland Paris), it’s no wonder that so many first-time and seasoned travelers come to île-de-France for their holidays.

Although it’s also known as “la région parisienne,” one shouldn’t limit oneself to Paris alone. There are so many other cities and towns in the region which offer as much rich history, culture, and sites as the capital. Not to forget that they serve as respite from the dense, overwhelming city life in Paris itself.

Thanks to the well-developed public transport, all of these regional sites are just a train ride away. They make for simple day trips from the capital: all you have to do is hop on the Transilien, and you’ll soon be at your destination!

Trains depart at any of the stations in Paris (gare du Nord, gare Montparnasse, gare de Lyon…), and tickets can be bought the day of departure at the kiosks or machines, so it’s perfect for both planners and spontaneous travelers alike.

From the famous to the lesser-known, I’ve compiled a short list of places worth visiting in the île-de-France region (other than Paris, of course). After visiting these places myself, I can consider them a worthwhile venture, should one be staying in the capital for long and desiring to see more of France elsewhere for the day. That said, here’s my list of the top-five places to see in île-de-France!

5 Places to Visit in île-de-France

1. Versailles.

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Hall of Mirrors (September 2015).

This is the most-popular destination that visitors venture to while vacationing in the capital. Home to the stunning château de Versailles, its gardens, and all things Marie Antoinette, this city is constantly inundated with people wanting to explore its opulent palace for a piece of French royalty. While the château itself is only known for its stunning Hall of Mirrors, its gardens are where the money’s at– one could easily spend a full day (or two) getting lost in its ornate hedges, rose gardens, and music-playing fountains. Getting there from Paris is a straight-shot on the RER C train, and it’s definitely worth the money and time spent!

2. Fontainebleau.

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Entrance to the château (March 2017).

Compared with Versailles, the château de Fontainebleau gets less recognition from visitors. However, it’s not to be missed, as it has housed centuries of French royalty and leaders, including Napoleon III. The palace is much smaller in size, but it has more opulent rooms inside (although I personally didn’t find the gardens to match up to the grandeur). From gare de Lyon, one can take the Transilien ligne R over to the Fontainebleau-Avon station, and from there walk two kilometers to the château itself. The town of Fontainebleau itself isn’t anything to write home about, but it is charming and gears visitors up for the opulence they’ll experience at the château.

3. Saint-Denis.

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Basilique Saint-Denis (January 2018).

Situated directly north of Paris on metro line 13, Saint-Denis gets a bad rep for being one of the most-dangerous suburbs right outside the péripherique. In spite of its less-than-stellar reputation, its redeeming quality is that of the basilique Saint-Denis, which has housed almost all of the French kings from the 10th to 18th centuries. It’s worth a visit to see one of the most historically-important Gothic cathedrals in French history. Likewise for sports buffs, Saint-Denis also has the country’s stade de France, which hosts football and rugby matches. I wouldn’t be put off by this city’s “dangerous rep” to visit: as long as you keep your wits about you, it should be fine!

4. Provins.

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Half-timbered houses (March 2019).

Provins is located close to the border with the Champagne region of France and, interestingly, it had been the hub of champagne fairs during the Middle Ages. Today, however, it’s incorporated as part of île-de-France, and it’s the furthest out you can venture out in the region. You can take the Transilien ligne P from gare de l’Est, and it’s about a 90-minute ride over. It’s a charming town, with a combination of medieval fortifications, half-timbered houses, and a couple of underground caves worth exploring. Provins is worth wandering around in its old town and city center, for its quaint buildings and laid-back atmosphere is a pleasant break from Paris.

5. Auvers-sur-Oise.

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Champ aux blés (July 2019).

If you’re a van Gogh lover like me, you’ll really enjoy a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise. It was made famous by Vincent van Gogh, who spent the last 70 days of his life living here. Since his death, Auvers-sur-Oise has capitalized on his legacy, from the auberge Ravoux in which he’d lived to the champs aux blé right outside of the city center, immortalized in his paintings (same goes for the église d’Auvers). One could easily take the Transilien ligne H from gare du Nord and spend half a day wandering through town, perhaps enjoying a three-course meal at the auberge Ravoux (since made into a Michelin-recognized restaurant) and a visit to the château d’Auvers and Absinthe Museum.

 

…and that’s about it! The île-de-France region might be small, but it’s still chock-full of interesting places worth checking out (besides Paris). I’m sure there are plenty of other cities and towns in the region that I’ve left out, so I’d be happy to read where you’ve been. Thanks for reading!

— Rebecca

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