One Hour and Ten Minutes from Paris
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Monday, February 15, 2016

One Hour and Ten Minutes from Paris


Off to the train station!

I love a good train. In the past few months, I’ve taken advantage of the French rail system for some fantastic day trips. I’ve written about them for various publications (like Thrillist and EuroCheapo), but it had been a while since I’d taken a proper cheap train ride outside of Paris. Orleans in 2014 was actually the last real day trip, or at least memorable one.

Over the past few months, I made it a mission to get out of the city. These three destinations were all perfect for a day of wandering and exploring, but I wouldn’t go too crazy trying to spend too much time. 

Plan on about one hour and ten minutes to get to each, but be sure to book a direct train. And pack an umbrella, because if you have my luck, you'll visit all of these places in the rain.

Lille (direct from Gare du Nord, around 25 euros round-trip)
Streets of Lille...

For the last 7 years, I had the impression that this was the worst city in France. But a lover of Amsterdam and Brussels, I can’t help but gush a little over Lille. It’s not about to win any prizes for best town in France, but it has plenty to offer.

It’s got all of the history and adorable old town charm that features prominently in most French cities. Where it differs is in the Flemish touches. The architecture feels more like Belgium or the Netherlands than Haussmann’s Paris. The food is equally northern – the Welsh Rarebit says it all. Ham and melted cheese on toast with fries? How could you go wrong?

We're not in Paris anymore...

It has its institutions like the Meert pastry shop, which was easy to find. Curiously, the shop was low on its staple product, thin gauffres filled with cream. At Christmastime, the market and Ferris Wheel are major attractions. The first weekend of September also features the Braderie de Lille, a citywide yard sale that I’d like to try. 

Any other time of the year, however, there are enough cute coffee shops, markets, and cute streets to meander for a day away from Paris.

Rouen (direct from Gare Saint Lazare, around 25 euros round-trip)
The old town of Rouen...

I vaguely remember passing through this small city in Normandy during my first trip to France in 2004. Going back this winter reintroduced me to it, and I’m already itching for a return trip to explore even more.

It’s known as the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Later, Monet painted its enormous cathedral in a popular series. A little bastion of Medieval architecture, it features colorful half-timbered houses and several other churches to visit while explore its adorable streets.

Rouen isn’t a place where there are tons of things happening. You go to stroll through the market, to photograph the old public clock, or to check out the Joan of Arc Museum (note: it’s not quite as big as the Louvre). It feels much more provincial than Paris, even though it’s the capital of Normandy. 

The cliffs, an hour or so drive from Rouen






















  
If you have a car, you can always drive up to the coast to check out the gorgeous cliffs of Etreat, though count on a little over an hour of driving there. 

Whatever you do, bring an umbrella and don’t count on beautiful weather. But if you’re in Paris and you see that there will definitely be sun in Normandy the next day, book a train ticket and give it a shot.

Amiens (direct from Gare du Nord, around 20 euros round-trip)
The cathedral...

This is another city that I’d heard of, but that I never thought to explore. In December, however, with the promise of a Christmas market, I gave it a shot. And you know? I wasn’t disappointed, even if we did end up taking an earlier train back to Paris. I blame that on the poor weather.

Amiens is another one of these old, smaller French cities famous for its enormous cathedral. It’s actually the largest gothic cathedral in France. Since I love any superlative tourist attraction, I was all over this one.

It has other museums and monuments of course, including the house of Jules Verne who lived and worked in Amiens. It’s also a hotbed for comic lovers in France, but I didn’t explore that one too much.

Inside the massive cathedral...

A major city of the Picardie region, there is plenty of interesting food to explore – well, at least a few dishes. The macarons made in Amiens are a chewy alternative to the delicate cookies at LadurĂ©e. 

We managed to find a little restaurant opened on Sunday for lunch and splashed our on two courses (for maybe 10 euros?). A slave to regional dishes, I ordered a ficelle de Picardie to start – basically a cheesy baked crepe, followed by duck. It was a true mom and pop affair, and three of us leisurely drank our way through the meal.

***

Cost efficient and super easy, these are just some of the day trips to consider if you're not feeling the crowds at Versailles or Giverny but still want to experience France beyond Paris. Bon voyage!

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