Perhaps one of the most quintessential elements of French culture are the castles. Thanks to its noble history, France is littered with castles in all shapes and styles from a variety of time periods. Many are well-preserved and open to visitors. However, the best news is that many extraordinary castles can easily be visited during a stay in Paris. That means you can enjoy bustling city life in the capital and benefit from a history lesson during your castle visit, even if your stay in Paris is short. Read on to discover five castles you can easily visit from Paris and start planning your itinerary.
Chateau de Versailles
No list of Parisian-area castles would be complete without Versailles. Home of some of France’s most notorious rulers including Louis XIV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette, Versailles is truly the epitome of grandeur. In fact, it was constructed in order to display the power and wealth of the monarchy. Today, 1,000 of the castle’s 2,300 rooms are open to visitors, including the queen’s bedroom and the ornate Gallerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). Be sure to visit the extensive gardens outside the castle as well. Dotted with blooming flowers, magnificent sculptures, and inspiring fountains, the castle grounds are just as impressive as the castle itself. To reach Versailles, take the RER C train and get off at the last station, Versailles Rive Gauche.
Chateau de Vincennes
This castle, which is little known to Parisians, let alone tourists, is located just outside Paris’ borders in the quaint suburb of Vincennes. Originally constructed as a royal hunting lodge, the castle became a hideout for kings during times of revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. When it was inhabited, the castle served as an arsenal for the French military, as well as a safe house for the royal family’s riches. Visitors are invited to tour the royal family’s living quarters as well as King Charles V’s office. Make sure to visit the Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel) which was modeled after the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. The stained glass windows date back to the 1550s and depict scenes from the apocalypse, a choice which highlights the strong religious tensions of the time. The castle is easily reachable from subway line one, getting off at the last station, Chateau de Vincennes.
Chateau de Sceaux
Located in Sceaux, France, a small town in the Parisian suburbs, this castle is perhaps the most surprising one on the list. Unless you know of this castle and were searching for it, you would have no idea of its existence. Nestled in a beautifully laid out park that was designed by André Le Nôtre, the architect responsible for the grounds at Versailles, this castle mostly blends into its surroundings. However, there’s nothing banal about it. The original castle was built during the 16th century, only to be demolished during the French Revolution. The castle as it is known today was constructed in the mid-19th century and today serves as a museum of local history. Within the park there is a gourmet restaurant, temporary exposition spaces, and plenty of green space to take a walk or have a picnic. Take the RER line B2 and get off at stop Sceaux to access the castle.
Chateau de Saint Germain-en-Laye
This castle was the birthplace of one of France’s most famous kings, Louis XIV. He lived here for 30 years before relocating his court to Versailles. After his departure, he left the castle to the exiled King James II of England. In modern times, the castle continued to have historical importance, serving as the site of a treaty signing that ended hostilities between the Allies of World War I and Austria. In addition, German troops used the castle as their headquarters during the Second World War. After World War II, the castle was renovated and became the home of the French National Archaeological Museum. Make sure to take a walk around the grounds outside the castle, which feature both an organized French garden and a wilder English-style garden. To reach the castle, take RER line A and get off at the last station, Saint Germain-en-Laye.
Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte
This castle dates back to the 17th century and was constructed in a Baroque style. It is architecturally important as it marks the transition between the Late Renaissance period and the Classic period. Originally belonging to a family associated with the Parlement de Paris (Paris Parliament), the castle also served as a reception hall for the king after his hunting excursions due to its location between the Seine River and the Forest of Saint Germain-en-Laye. King Louis XIV was so impressed with the castle that he commissioned its architects to design Versailles. Ownership of the castle changed hands numerous times until the French government purchased the site in 1905 to protect it from demolition. Today, visitors are welcome to visit the dining rooms, the king’s chambers, and the Voltaire apartment where the famed philosopher stayed in 1723. The castle can be reached by taking the RER line A and getting off at stop Maisons Laffitte.
Take a short trip and find yourself immersed in history
All of the castles included on this list can be accessed from central Paris via public transportation and all require less than one hour of travel time. This makes them a perfect destination for the time-strapped visitor. Choose one, two, or more of these castles and you’ll be sure to have an enriching and fascinating trip. In addition, most of the castles are classified as national monuments, meaning that ticket prices are affordable for adults and free for children.
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