You’re coming to Paris and you know what’s in store; the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum… but do you know what else there is to do aside from the obvious? Paris isn’t short of a few monuments or museums; in fact some of its best are actually outside central Paris itself.
People often overlook those famous Paris attractions on the outskirts of the city, or some don’t even know about them, full stop. It’s not surprising; but we’re here to make sure you know about it all so that you can plan the perfect trip – even making the effort to go that extra mile. Literally.
In no particular order…
Les Granges de Port-Royal, Magny-les-Hameaux 78114
An old teaching abbey, Port-Royal des Champs was founded in 1204 and it became famous for its high quality education, schooling the likes of Pascal and Racine. The abbey and school played an important part in educating those who were to have an influence in high thought and intellect – which was prevalent in the the politically charged wars of the middle ages, inspiring the Jansenism movement. Now, you can explore the museum which stands opposite the old abbey and learn about the history of some of France’s more political battles through old paintings, engravings and books to take you into the monastic life of some of the most intellectual men of their time.
82, rue de Villiers, Poissy 78 300
From old to new, Villa Savoye is a masterpiece of 20th century design and one of the most famous houses of the modern movement in architecture. The pièce de resistance, by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, is very futuristic in its style and you can imagine the controversy it provoked when it first opened in 1931. Built originally as a country retreat for the Savoye family, the family were then seized by the Nazis during the Second World War, who used their house for storage instead. Later after passing through the hands of the French State, it was granted status as a Historic Monument in the 60s. After undergoing several years of renovation, it is now open to visitors to explore the Savoye family’s old home.
2 bis rue Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye 78 100
Maurice Denis was one of the most influential painters of the Nabis movement, of the Nabi School. A French symbolist painter and theoretician, he believed in God and mysticism together with artistic methodology. Influenced by the style of Gaugin, the Nabis tried to deal with the struggle between the representation of resemblance and other intellectual movements presented through art. Maurice Denis moved out to the building out in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and worked and lived there until his death. Now, turned into a museum, it holds some of the most influential pieces from the Nabis school, including works from his contemporaries, Paul Sérusier, Paul Ranson, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Félix Vallotton, as well as sculptures by Paul Gauguin.
Place d’Armes, Versailles 78000
One of the most opulent castles in France – if not in the world – the Palace of Versailles is one of the most famous examples of 18th century French architecture there is. Deep rooted in Paris’ royal past, it’s hosted some of the most famous figures of Paris’ history. A huge testament to post-Renaissance architecture, the building boasts 2,143 windows, 1,252 fireplaces, and 67 staircases – not to mention the individually themed rooms, such as the Hall of Mirrors and the Grand Apartment of King Louis XIV. Wander through the decorated rooms and step back in time. Take a walk outside too and admire the sheer scale of their manicured gardens which stretch over 250 acres.
Château de Chantilly, Chantilly 60500
The Condé Museum is one for the art buffs, with a collection to rival the Louvre it holds over 1,000 paintings, 2,500 drawings, and 2,500 engravings – not to mention a huge library of over 30,000 books. It’s also one of the most important collections of the old masters, predominantly French and Italian, The château itself is well worth a visit and visitors can admire the 18th and 19th century styled rooms and landscaped gardens for as far as the eye can see; complete with waterfalls, canals, fountains as well as English and Chinese style gardens. Floating amidst its own moat, it’s a fairy-tale palace waiting to be explored, just 40kms outside Paris. Who knew?
Château de Fontainebleau, Fontainebleau 77300
This summer retreat was favoured by the French monarchy for centuries – and it’s no surprise. A stunning palace on the site of a 12th century hunting lodge, Napoleon was famed for calling it “the true home of kings”. With over 1,500 rooms it has been inhabited for over seven centuries. Take a step back in time and learn about the luxurious past of the French monarchy, from Marie Antoinette’s Turkish chamber to the Renaissance Francis I Gallery. The style and décor will blow you away with the elaborateness and exquisiteness. Make sure you bring your camera because it’s a side of French history you will be hard pushed to see anywhere else.
Villa des Brillants, 19 avenue Auguste Rodin, Meudon 92190
Home and workshop to the 19th century sculptor Auguste Rodin, this house was built in the style of Louis XIII and was where Rodin created some of his most famous works. Supporting his family through his art alone, he was a dedicated and talented sculptor. He is famed for his realism and expressiveness – so make sure you admire the detail in his works, when you go. The Museum within the house grounds holds Rodin’s plaster studies of some of his most famous sculptures – including Balzac, the Gates of Hell and Kiss. If you want to learn more about one of the most influential artists and sculptors of the 20th century, this house is worth a visit.
1, rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Saint-Denis, Paris 93200
The crème-de-la-crème of all cathedrals, the Cathedral of Saint-Denis is one of the most important in Paris because of its significance. As the burial place of the French royalty this cathedral is hugely important as a tomb and shrine to the dead. Visitors can see the dessicated heart of King Louis XVIII; as well as the graves of 42 other kings, 32 queens and 63 princes and princesses. A stunning necropolis, it’s not as gloomy as it sounds; the architecture of the building dates back to 1144 making it one of the oldest – if not the oldest – Gothic churches ever. It has since become a place of pilgrimage. While you’re there look at the stained glass windows as they are some of the best medieval stained glass examples in the world.
Aeroport de Paris-Le Bourget, Le Bourget cedex 93 352
A great one for the kids, the Museum of Air and Space comes with hangers and aircrafts and everything an aviation fanatic would love! Over 150,000m² it’s one of the oldest aviation museums in the world, displaying themed paraphernalia back to the 16th century. The departments look at everything from Ballooning, up to the high-speed Concorde, and even some Swiss and Russian rockets, too. Indulge in your inner geek and lean about the history of the skies – you can’t fail to be impressed.
National Museum of the Renaissance, Ecouen 95440
Hidden in the Château d’Écouen, the National Museum of the Renaissance looks at one of the most important movements in French history. To this day the Renaissance is hailed as one of the most revolutionising periods in European culture – influencing everything from art, dress, architecture and even the way of life. Explore the enlightenment and those who supported it, at this museum of both interior and exterior arts. Make sure you see the famous tapestries David and Bethsabée before you leave, too.