Rick Steves

Enchanting Side Trips from Paris

Glittering with elegance and glamour, the City of Lights certainly has a lot to offer. But its surrounding Ã?le-de-France region is equally enchanting, and provides travelers a quick and worthwhile getaway from the Paris bustle.

Let's join travel guide Rick Steves on a side-tripping adventure outside Paris. During this episode of "Rick Steves' Europe," he takes us to four out-of-this-world destinations. And the best part is they're all easily accessible, within an hour from the Eiffel Tower. Here's a look at those stops.

Did you miss the episode? No worries, the full episode is available to you here. And for more exciting travel ideas, watch "Rick Steves' Europe" weekdays at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Take notes, Steves sure knows his stuff.


The town of Versailles' grand royal palace is the crème de la crème of European palaces, making it an essential stop for any traveler exploring Paris' outskirts. During the late 1600s, King Louis XIV spent a fortune turning his family's hunting lodge into a lavish estate fit for the king of kings. Once finished, it became the gathering place where Louis distracted his noble counterparts with leisure and luxury while he ran the country.

Each room inside the chteau, the main attraction, is decorated with its own opulent theme. Notable rooms include the Hall of Mirrors and Louis' ceremonial bedroom. The palace's exterior is surrounded by a beautiful yard of gardens, fountains, and ponds. It's a great setting for renting a bike or rowing in the Grand Canal.

While visiting the Palace of Versailles can be a little daunting due to the crowds, Steves offers a few tips for a smooth and pleasant visit. He suggests avoiding the weekends and also buying your tickets in advance. Booking a guided tour is also a good way to see the estate.

Chteau Vaux-le-Vicomte

For a more intimate and less-crowded palace experience, check out the dwelling that was the actual inspiration for Versailles -- the Vaux-le-Vicomte. This magnificent mansion was the home of finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, who worked during Louis XIV's reign. He brought in France's top architect, landscaper and decorator at the time to make his dream home a reality. The end result is the perfect harmony of structure and design.

There are many ways to enjoy this place, whether it's taking a stroll by its moat, exploring the gardens or climbing to the rooftop cupola for the best view of Fouquet's territory.


Another great day trip is the city of Chartres. For more than 800 years, its massive cathedral has attracted tourists and religious pilgrims. The cathedral of Chartres is most famous for its collection of medieval stained glass and statues. The town of Chartres, with its nice and inexpensive hotels and restaurants, is also charming enough to make it an overnight stay.

Chteau de Fontainebleau

For one last look at the famous French chteau heartland, head to fascinating Fontainebleau. Unlike the French-designed Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte, this palace was built a century earlier and with inspiration from the Italian Renaissance. Its sweeping staircase and collection of tapestries are impressive to see.

King François I oversaw the palace, but it has been beloved by just about every French royal since. Napolean Bonaparte, for example, spent a lot of time there. Today, visitors to the palace can see his personal apartment, throne room, and many other artifacts from his reign.

It's amazing how just stepping outside the metropolis of Paris today gives such a vivid picture of France's powerful past. Whether you make just one or all of these exciting Paris side trips, it's like taking a stroll through history.

Chteau de Fontainebleau | Photo: nanabcn19/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Get the free PBS App

Full Episodes

Upcoming Airdates

Central Turkey

We marvel at the fascinating landscape of Cappadocia from high above in a balloon...and from deep below, prowling an underground city where Christians once hid out. We'll join a circumcision party, explore troglodyte ghost towns, shop for sheep at the market, and chat with an imam. Then we enjoy the modern capital, Ankara, and pay our respects to the father of modern Turkey, Ataturk.

  • 2019-12-10T01:00:00-08:00

France's Loire: Chateau Country

Along the Loire River Valley, the beautiful French countryside is studded with evocative chateaux. Home-basing in Amboise, we visit four unique castles: elegant Chenonceau, massive Chambord, stately Cheverny, and fragrant Villandry. Along the way, we tour Leonardo's home, feed hunting dogs, enjoy the local cuisine, and savor a princely garden.

  • 2019-12-11T01:00:00-08:00

Paris Side-Trips

Side-tripping from Paris into the Ile-de-France, we indulge in the world of royal and aristocratic extravagance in the pre-Revolutionary playground of France's elite. We explore Versailles, Europe's palace of palaces; exquisite Vaux le Vicomte; and extravagant Fontainebleau, home to centuries of French rulers. We'll also marvel at the glass and statuary of Chartres cathedral and dine like kings.

  • 2019-12-12T01:00:00-08:00

The Best of Israel

We start in Jerusalem, alive with religious tradition and passion - Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. We then visit cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, with its in-love-with-life beaches; ponder the sad fortress of Masada; and join pilgrims at biblical sights around the Sea of Galilee. We'll also pay our respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, drop into an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, and savor the local cuisine.

  • 2019-12-13T01:00:00-08:00
  • 2019-12-25T11:30:00-08:00


Palestine is the Muslim and Arab half of the Holy Land. After visiting Jerusalem, we harvest olives near Ramallah, follow pilgrims to the place of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, approach Abraham's tomb - as both Jews and Muslims do - in Hebron, drop in on friends for dinner, and bob in the Dead Sea. We'll also learn about walls, Israeli settlements, and the challenges facing this region.

  • 2019-12-16T01:00:00-08:00

Italy's Riviera: Cinque Terre

Exploring Italy's most remote and romantic stretch of Riviera, we visit five tiny port towns: dramatic Vernazza, surrounded by vineyards; reclusive Corniglia, high on its bluff; pastel Manarola; hardscrabble Riomaggiore; and the pint-sized resort of Monterosso. Fishing for anchovies, sipping wine out of rustic barrels, and savoring twinkling Mediterranean vistas, we enjoy the ultimate Riviera adventure.

  • 2019-12-17T01:00:00-08:00

Italy's Veneto: Verona, Padua, and Ravenna

In the shadow of Venice, we visit three great cities. Padua is famed for its venerable university, precious Giotto frescoes, and pilgrim-packed Basilica. Verona is a hit with aficionados of Roman ruins and Romeo and Juliet fans. And Ravenna, with its shimmering mosaics, was once the western bastion of the Byzantine Empire. We enliven each stop with a tasty dose of Italian dolce vita.

  • 2019-12-18T01:00:00-08:00


Europe's best-preserved 17th-century city, Amsterdam is quaint and jarring, traditional and modern. Filled with history and happy-go-lucky, it's a delight to explore. Uniquely entertaining Amsterdam shows us Rembrandts and Van Goghs, more bikes than cars, flirting prostitutes, and pot-filled coffeeshops - all under tall, skinny facades leaning out below quaint church towers.

  • 2019-12-19T01:00:00-08:00

The Netherlands Beyond Amsterdam

By train, bike, and boat, we visit the top Dutch sights outside of Amsterdam: from Haarlem to Rotterdam, and from Delft to the Zuiderzee. Along the way, we enjoy charming towns with fragrant cheese markets, soggy polderland, mighty dikes, and windmills both new and old. Rolling through the Netherlands and connecting with its people, you can't help but think, "Everything's so... Dutch!"

  • 2019-12-20T01:00:00-08:00


The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is the best-preserved Baroque city in Central Europe. We experience its massive castle, beloved statue-lined bridge, evocative Jewish Quarter, and thrilling 20th-century history while enjoying its infectious love of music and perhaps the best beer in Europe. With a beautifully preserved Old Town, Prague deserves its nickname: the Golden City of a Hundred Spires.

  • 2019-12-23T01:00:00-08:00


A tumultuous 20th century left Berlin filled with powerful sights - from evocative memorials, to surviving bits of its communist and fascist days, to its glass-domed Reichstag. We enjoy its now-trendy east side, its people-friendly riverfront, and its vibrant social scene. Reunited Berlin - perhaps the fastest changing and most happening city in Europe - is entertaining more visitors than ever.

  • 2019-12-24T01:00:00-08:00

Siena and Tuscany's Wine Country

Siena, once a proud and independent city-state, retains its confidence and unique traditions. Rick enjoys a front-row seat at its wild horse race - the venerable Palio - and marvel at cultural treasures from the days when Siena rivaled Florence for leadership of Tuscany. Then he heads into wine country for a little dolce vita under the Tuscan sun.

  • 2020-01-02T01:00:00-08:00

West England

The quintessence of charming England is the "West Country": quaint Cotswold villages with their fine churches, manor homes, and gastropubs; Wells, England's smallest cathedral town; and the New Age capital of Glastonbury, with its legends of the Holy Grail and King Arthur. He finishes by pondering the dramatic prehistoric stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury.

  • 2020-01-03T01:00:00-08:00

Southeast England

Arcing along the southeast coast of England, Rick travels from Canterbury (with its famous cathedral) to Dover (stoutly fortified from Roman times to the Battle of Britain). Then he hikes the trails that top the towering chalk cliffs of the South Downs, wander into the beachy resort of Brighton (England's Coney Island), and push on to Portsmouth, whose naval heritage has left it with the best collection of historic sailing ships anywhere.

  • 2020-01-06T01:00:00-08:00