Did you know that there are several amazing French castles nestled in the countryside near Paris? While châteaux in the Loire Valley are stunning, it can take hours to reach the region from Paris, even longer if you’re travelling by train. And while Versailles is much closer to Paris, the crowds and long lines can really dampen your experience. Luckily, stunning French castles like Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte and Château de Breteuil are so close to Paris and can be enjoyed without crowds and without spending hours in transit. These smaller castles are full of French history that you can experience without fighting your way through a throng of onlookers. In this article, INSIDR rounds up the best French castles that you can easily visit while staying in Paris. You’ll find out how to get there, the best times to visit, and cool facts you won’t read anywhere else.
#1 Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is one of the most stunning historical French castles to be found outside of Paris. It is the largest existing private estate in France and is considered a national monument. The château was built in the 1600s and is decorated and furnished with all-original materials. Unsurprisingly, the house has been used as a shooting location for many popular TV shows and movies like James Bond: Moonraker, and the hit show Versailles on the BBC. In fact, the gardens at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte were the original inspiration for the gardens of Versailles. The same team of landscapers were hired to create the illustrious gardens at both historical palaces. Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte also houses a rare collection of beautiful antique carriages which are displayed in the château’s stable block.
Château de Vaux-Le-Vicomte is Parisians’ favorite castle. It’s easy to reach from Paris by public transportation and doesn’t suffer from the overflow of visitors from other attractions in Paris. There are numerous events happening all year round at Château de Vaux-Le-Vicomte which makes it the N°1 spot for a family day trip out of Paris or even for a romantic escape! 2019 events at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte include the very romantic Candlelit Evenings every Saturday from May to October where the gardens come to life after dark with more than 2,000 candles. There’s also an outdoor water show every 2nd and last Saturday of the month, from 3 PM to 6 PM, when all the fountains of the garden are switched on for a coordinated spectacle. On June 2, the château hosts Grand Siècle Day where guests are invited to dress up in period clothes and enjoy a day of Baroque revelry at the chateau. For a full list of events, check out the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte website.
Château de Vaux-Le-Vicomte has just inaugurated a new feature for its visitors: an immersive 3D sound experience. Equipped with high definition headsets, visitors can relive historic moments of the creation of Château de Vaux-Le-Vicomte. Many narratives are available for adult and young visitors. Best of all, it’s FREE!
The central dome of the château offers a 360 view of the estate where you’ll be able to get the best view of the castle and its gardens. For an even more dynamic experience, you can even rent a golf cart and drive yourself around the property as you like. For lunch, make a visit to the nearby Relais de l’Écureuil where you can enjoy a three course meal on the terrasse for as little as 20€. Or, pack a bag and pick your favorite part of the chateau garden to have a picnic. If you’re planning on attending Grand Siècle Day, you can rent highly elaborate costumes from Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Access from Paris
Unlike castles in the Loire valley, Vaux Le Vicomte is accessible from Paris via public transit. Here’s how to get there:
– From Gare de l’Est, take the direct train Line P bound for Provins and get off at ‘Verneuil l’Etang’ station. A direct train leaves Gare de l’Est every hour and takes just 35 minutes to reach the train station nearest the château. You can use your Navigo Pass for the train ride.
– From Verneuil l’Etang station, take the “Châteaubus” shuttle which will bring you to the Vaux-le-Vicomte estate. The chateau bus can easily be found right outside of the train station. The roundtrip shuttle bus tickets cost 10€ for adults and 5€ for kids.
– On Candlelit Evenings, there is a special shuttle bus that can take you directly to Paris Gare de Lyon station from Vaux-le-Vicomte. The direct shuttle bus runs until 11:30 PM. Be aware that the shuttle is about a 20 minute walk from the château, budget your time accordingly. We strongly recommend to book online as this event is quite popular. Don’t get left behind!
Address: 77950 Maincy, France
Hours: everyday including bank holidays from 10:00am to 7:00pm and 10:00am-midnight on Candlelit Nights
Day tickets: from 11€
Candlelit tickets: from 14€
Book your tickets and transit here.
#2 Château Fontainebleu
Château Fontainebleau is an opulent, historic French castle with gardens designed by the same landscapers behind Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. The chateau’s interior design and architecture are the collaborative result of the numerous royals—34 kings and 2 emperors to be exact, who lived at the château over a period of 300 years. The home has more than 1,500 rooms and sits on 130 acres of private land. This French castle has played host to important figures such as Bourbons, Bonaparte, Orléans and Napoleon III. It’s truly a great example of French history, culture and taste all the way from the 12th to 18th century.
At Château Fontainebleau you can discover great events like horse-drawn carriage rides, segway tours, and even hot-air balloon adventures. Couples are able to take engagement photos on the grounds of the château for free all year long! It’s the perfect romantic backdrop for your photos.
If you’re planning on visiting with kids, make sure to grab a ride on the miniature train that will take you on a full tour of the gardens. For a slightly more sophisticated activity, have lunch at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Axel, a French gastronomic restaurant that specializes in colorful, avant-garde sea-food creations. Visiting during the summer? The château hosts an International Jazz Festival every summer in the gardens from June 28th to July 7th. Get the full details and reserve your tickets here! Combine your visit to the château with the neighboring National Forest of Fontainebleau, a great spot for hiking and rock climbing.
Access from Paris
– From Gare de Lyon, take the train for either Montargis Sens, Montereau or Laroche-Migennes. Get off at Fontainebleau-Avon station, then take the ‘Ligne 1’ bus towards Les Lilas and then get off at the ‘Château’ stop. The total trip takes just under an hour and the train ride is covered by your Navigo pass.
Address: 77300 Fontainebleau
Hours: The castle is open every day except Tuesdays ; January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. October to March : 9:30AM-5:00PM (last entry at 4:15PM). April to September : 9:30AM-6:00PM (last entry at 5:15PM).
Tickets: Full price : €12. Reduced fare : €10. One hour before closure : €8. Admission to the Château de Fontainebleau is free on the first Sunday of each month (excluding July and August).
#3 Château de Chantilly
Although Château de Chantilly dates back to the middle ages, the French castle owes much of its contemporary curb appeal to Constable Anne de Montmorency. Montmorency owned the château during the renaissance and decided that the home should be renovated in the popular style of the time. Since then, many important figures from France’s history resided inside the castle walls, preserving the illustrious home for future generations. The château is one of the best examples of French Renaissance architecture still standing today and a must-visit for any fan of opulent architecture and French history.
Attached to this great French castle is the Musée Condé. The museum hosts one of the country’s best collections of French paintings outside of the Louvre. Château de Chantilly is also home to the beautiful Appartements des Princes and a superb library filled with many historic texts. On the château’s grounds you can also find “Hameau”, a charming village that was the inspiration for Marie Antoinette’s famous petite village in Versailles.
If you’re a horse lover, you can combine your visit to Château de Chantilly with a trip to the nearby stables of Grandes Ecuries and the internationally-renowned Chantilly Racecourse. Here, you’ll be able to see the country’s best racehorses and catch a real equestrian show. You can even buy bundle tickets to visit the stables and château in one day for just 21€ per person. See their official website for all ticketing options.
Access from Paris
– From Gare du Nord, take a TER train bound for Gare de Creil and get off at stop “Chantilly-Gouvieux“. The train ride only takes 25 minutes. Another option is to take the RER train line D and get off at “Chantilly-Gouvieux”. This takes a bit longer at 45 minutes. You can use your Navigo Pass on the RER train.
Address: 60500 Chantilly
Hours: From 30 March to 27 October 2019, the château is open 7 days a week, Sundays and holidays included from 10 am to 6 pm (gardens close at 8 pm).
Tickets: 8€-17€, see website for special packages for groups and individuals.
#4 Château de Breteuil
This French castle is perhaps the most historical home on our list. The origins of the château date as far back as the 11th century and has been owned by the prominent Breteuil family since the early 1700s. The Breteuils are one of France’s few remaining aristocratic families and Château de Breteuil is their ancestral home. The home includes over 100 portraits of the family and of the monarchs they served over more than 300 years.
Château de Breteuil is also a great french castle to visit with children. Dozens of wax figures dressed in period costume decorate the château. They illustrate the history of the house and the various people who lived and worked there throughout the centuries. Several of the wax figures are literary figures from the fairytales of Charles Perrault. They include Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. At the château, there are tons of great spots for a family picnic with tables and benches. Children will have a ball at the estate’s playground, topiary maze, and fountain with sculptures. At 4.30pm on Sundays, public holidays and during school vacations, the château offers a story-telling hour for kids. Hear Perrault’s fairy tales read out loud in the house he so often visited.
INSIDR strongly recommends taking a guided tour of Château de Breteuil. Each tour commences with a welcome and introduction from the 12th Marquis of the castle. The current Marquis and his wife are largely responsible for the château’s well-being and have dedicated their lives to preserving their family’s historic home. Head to the castle on a weekday when the crowds are smaller. The guides speak mostly in French but on less-busy days they will be happy to answer any questions you have in English.
Access from Paris
– From Porte De Versailles, take Tram T3A to ‘Cité Universitaire’. From there, take the RER train line B bound for Saint-Rémy-Les-Chevreuse station and get off at the last stop. On Sundays, you can take a special shuttle called ‘Balado Bus’ that makes a few stops at tourist attractions in the area. Make sure to check the bus schedule.
Address: 78460 Choisel
Hours: 7 days a week from 10:00am-6:00pm
Tickets: 10,50€, children under 5, free
#5 Château de Monte-Cristo
Château de Monte-Cristo is the brainchild of famed writer Alexandre Dumas. The château was built at the height of the author’s career after publishing beloved novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo. The property combines several architectural styles and unique elements. The home was built in the Renaissance style and includes a menagerie, English gardens, and a Moorish-inspired salon on the ground floor. Dumas hosted many friends and colleagues at his home as well as dozens of pets who roamed the property freely. Treasures Dumas collected on his many travels fill up the entire château and are a marvel to behold.
The French castle now serves as a museum in tribute to the author’s life and work, a must see for any fan of his writing. The auxiliary château, named the Châteaux d’If, is built in the neoclassical style and surrounded by its own moat. Dumas actually locked himself for hours on end to write in peace in Château d’If. Its facades are are decorated with the tiles of some of his most famous works. The surrounding lands hold many springs and a diverse ecosystem of trees designed in the traditional english style, truly a romantic delight!
On the last Sunday of the month from April to October, the château offers ‘dramatized’ tours (10 €) where actors in period costume guide you through the property and put on re-enactments. It’s an immersive experience that takes you through a day in the life of the great author. You can also catch an ‘animated’ tour (8€) on the last Sunday of November, designed specially for kids. The chateau also hosts several special events throughout the year like Nuit de Monte-Cristo (10€), Salon du livre Jeunesse (5€), and Nuits théâtrales de Monte-Cristo (18€).
Access from Paris
– From Gare Saint-Lazare, take the L train bound for Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche and get off at Marly le Roi station. Then, catch the number 10 bus, direction “Les Lampes”, and get off at Avenue Kennedy stop.
– From Chatelet-les-Halles, take the RER train line A bound for Saint Germain en Laye and get off at the last stop. Then the number 10 bus towards “Les lampes”. You can use your Navigo Pass for both routes.
Address: 78560 Le Port-Marly
Hours: 10am to 12.30pm and from 2pm to 6pm. Open every day except Monday. And from 10am to 6pm on Saturdays and public holidays.
Tickets: Full price: 7 €, under 25: 5 €, children under 10: free.