Although Paris was the happening place to be in the 19th century, many of the impressionists eventually left the hectic captial. Some left for the distant towns in Southern France, but others preferred to stay close to the capital. Many of these artists, moved to quaint historical towns that were surrounded with lush and stunning French landscapes.
This quiet enviroment of beauty and tranquility, provided the impressionists with more than enough inspiration to fill up those canvases today hanging on the walls of art museums all over the world.
Many of these historical towns are gems. These places are worthy of visiting not only because of their artistic past, but because they are so beautiful in their own right. The added bonus is that they are just a short day trip from Paris!!
Great Day Trips from Paris with an Impressionism Past!
Below is a list of great day trips from Paris in the footsteps of the Impressionists. Even if you are not an art fan, these places are wonderful gems and a quick train ride from Paris.
- Auvers-sur-Oise in the footsteps of Van Gogh
- Pontoise in the footsteps of Camille Pissarro
- Giverny in the footsteps of Claude Monet
- Etretat in the footsteps of Claude Monet and others
- Le Havre in the footsteps of Raoul Dufy, Eugen Boudin & Monet
- Moret-sur-Loing in the footsteps of Alfred Sisley
- Bougival in the footsteps of Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir & Sisley
- Fontainebleau Forests & Barbizon in the footsteps of the forerunners of Impressionism
- Ile de la Grande Jatte in the footsteps of Seurat, Monet, Renoir and others
- The Impressionism Island, Chatou in the footsteps of Renoir
1. Vincent Van Gogh & Auvers-sur-Oise
When Van Gogh arrived in Auvers-sur-Oise he wrote a letter to his brother Theo that “this town is seriously beautiful’. Auvers was the last place where Van Gogh lived. It was here where he painted so many of his masterpieces, committed suicide and is buried.
Auvers-sur-Oise is a peaceful and charming historical township only thirty kilometres from Paris. This pretty place enticed other impressionists as well, including Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro who also visited to paint it’s beautiful French landscapes.
Despite its closeness to Paris and its abundance of history, Auvers-sur-Oise is not swamped with tourists (this is why you should go… before the word gets out!). Press here to read more details of what to see and do in Auvers.
Public Transport From Paris to Auvers
A direct train from Paris Gare du Nord train station to Auvers-sur-Oise runs on weekends and on bank holidays from April to November. The train departs from Paris at 9.38am and leaves Auvers at 6.25pm.
There are also non-direct trains running from Paris Saint Lazare train station and other RER stations. Press here to view the train schedules between Paris and Auvers.
2. Camille Pissarro & Picturesque Pontoise
French landscapes of Pontoise were captured and immortalised by the impressionist Camille Pissarro.
Pissarro left the hectic art capital for a quieter life in Pontoise. With his easel, palette and paintbrush, Pissarro wandered the banks of the River Oise and painted the countryside surrounding him. His paintings today, offer us a glimpse of the rural life this historical town once was.
Because of it’s close proximity to Paris, Pontoise was also a favorite of the French royalty. Visiting today, you can still get a glimpse of that world.
Today Pontoise is a town of art and history. You should first visit the Saint-Maclou cathedral, which overlooks the rooftops from the upper part of town. Afterwards wander around the surrounding narrow streets.
Another great place to visit is the Tavet-Delacour museum. This lovely museum is housed in a late 15th-century mansion. It showcases the town’s historic collections, as well as artworks of painters from 19th and 20th centuries.
The Camille Pissarro museum is also housed in an beautiful mansion on the site of the former royal château. This museum displays Pissarro’s drawings and engravings during his years in Pontoise (from 1866 to 1883). Don’t miss the museum’s park for the superb “garden of the five senses” filled with aromatic and medicinal plants, as well as the stunning panoramic view over the Oise valley from the ramparts. Press here for more information
Public Transport From Paris to Pontoise
There is a direct train from Paris trainstation Gare du Nord to Pontoise. The train ride takes around 40 minutes. For train schedules in both directions, press here.
3. Claude Monet & Beautiful Giverny
Oscar Claude Monet is the most famous of all the impressionist painters of the 19th century. He loved painting French landscapes and these masterpieces are hung in the most respected art museums all over the world.
In 1880, at the age of 40, Monet starts to gain recognition for his paintings. He saves enough money to buy a house with a large plot of land in the small, sleepy town of Giverny. Monet moves into this house together with his second wife and eight children in 1883.
Giverny was only 75 kilometers north-west from Paris. The location was far enough from Paris to provide Monet with a quiet life but close enough to Paris to allow easy access to the active art scene.
Monet remained in the same house in Giverny for 43 years and died there in 1926.
One of Monet’s greatest pleasures was his garden. Apart from painting, he spent endless hours designing and working in his garden.
“I work at my garden all the time and with love. What I need most are flowers. Always. My heart is forever in Giverny, perhaps I owe it to the flowers that I became a painter.” – Claude Monet Quote
Monet creates a back garden, containing a large pond full of water lilies and a green Japanese-like arched bridge crossing over it.
The magnificent garden that he designs for himself and his family, becomes his number one source of inspiration for his paintings in his later years.
. “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” ―Claude Monet Quotes―
Visiting Monet’s House and Gardens in Giverny
Today, his house and gardens are open to the public and are part of the Claude Monet Foundation.
When in Paris, I highly recommend doing a day trip to Giverny. Giverny is a small, picturesque town and easily accessible from Paris.
How to get to Monet’s House & Garden in Giverny
The quickest way to get to Giverny from Paris using public transport is by train:
- Take the metro to Paris Saint-Lazare station
- Take the train from Paris Saint Lazare station to Vernon, a small and pleasant town
- In Vernon, there is a shuttle service in front of the station to go to Monet’s house in Giverny.
Finished with Monet’s House & Gardens? Don’t leave Giverny yet… there is more to see!!!
After visiting the house, spend some time in the Museum of Impressionism right next to the house. Here you will learn about the origins of impressionism and its influence on the art world. It is a small and lovely museum which I highly recommend!
Afterwards, walk around the museum gardens, which are just as beautiful as Monet’s gardens.
If you have the time, go for a stroll through the quaint and pretty village of Giverny. The small streets are dotted with beautiful art galleries and lovely little cafes. Near the Giverny church is the local cemetery, where you can find Monet’s grave.
For more information, press here.
4. Claude Monet and Majestic Etretat
The coast of Etretat is a small beach with two grand white chalk cliffs on both ends. For thousands of years, these cliffs were sculptured by winds and waters. The southern cliff formation is called Porte d’Aval and the northern cliff, Porte d’Amont. Each is more breathtaking than the next.
What to do and see in Etretat
There’s no better way to see the beautiful cliffs and the sparkling blue sea beyond than from high above. The hike up the cliffs is quite steep and strenuous in parts, but once you reach the top, you are rewarded with the most incredible views!! It’s worth the effort!!
The walk along the beach’s promenade is also wonderful. You will see concrete bunkers built into the rock, made by the Germans during WW2 as defense against the Allies. You will also find fantastic signs providing historical information about the history of the beach and from WW2. Really fascinating!
In the summer, there is no better way to cool off than to take a dip in the sea or relax on the beach.
After exploring the cliffs and walking along the beach, wander through the charming town of Etretat. In the town’s center, you will see many lovely half-timbered houses. Go visit the newly restored old market hall on Place Foch. It is no longer a traditional French market these days but full of touristy souvenir shops and boutiques stores.
For more information, press here
How to get To Etretat in Normandy
Travelling to Etretat is longer and trickier than the other day trips described in this page. However it is certainly doable. Etretat coastal town and beach is so magnificent, you should consider it as a day trip option, especially in the summer months when it gets dark late. I would hate to think that you would travel to France and not see Etretat!
What are the options:
- Hire a car and drive – 200 km / 2h40 but perhaps longer depending on traffic
- Going by Flixbus. This is a great option but seasonal. Check Flixbus website for their schedules. Flixbus coaches to Etretat depart from Paris-Bercy or Paris-Pont de Levallois. The latter is on Metro line 3 and could reduce 40 minutes of travel time.
5. Le Havre – Raoul Dufy’s Birthplace & the City of Monet’s Childhood
Le Havre for the French is a seaside getaway in the summer months and a base to the Alabaster Coast. With its bright lights and gorgeous French landscapes, this area was a favourite amongst the Impressionist painters.
There are many sites to visit in Le Havre, but I want to focus on the incredible Musée Malraux of Modern Art or MUMA. Wow what a museum! It has the second largest collection of Impressionism art in France.
Here you will see Claude Monet’s water lilies, Degas ballerinas, paintings by Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Dufy – ALL OF THEM!! Who needs the crowds of Musee D’Orsay? Off season, you will have the impressionists all to yourself!
For more information about this gorgeous museum, press here.
How to get To Le Havre from Paris:
By train – It is a comfortable 2 hour train trip from St. Lazare station in Paris to Le Havre.
By Bus: It is a 2 1/2 hour journey by Flixbus to Le Havre. The bus station in Paris is either Paris Porte de St Ouen / Paris (Bercy Seine) / Paris La Défense . Check the Flixbus website for their schedule and prices.
6. Moret-sur-Loing and Alfed Sisley
An hour away from hectic Paris is the magnificent and tranquil medieval town Moret-sur-Loing. Step into the French landscapes of Alfred Sisley’s paintings by visiting this charming town. It is adorned with architecture dating back to the Middle Ages, complete with arches and town gates. Absolutely charming!
The town’s additional claim to fame is that it has an artistic past. Moret-sur-Loing captivated Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. Both artists visited this town, set up their easels and captured the beauty onto their canvases.
This town was also home to the impressionism painter Alfred Sisley. He lived here for nearly 20 years! He stayed in Moret until his dealth. His resting place is in the local Moret cemetery.
What to do in Moret-sur-Loing?
Walk through the stunning streets of Moret. The architecture is beautiful and the streets are lined with boutique shops, ice cream parlours, cafes and creperies, cosy restaurants and small family-owned delicatessens. Purchase artisan cheeses, wines and awarding-winning croissants. Make sure you come to this town on an empty stomach!!
You cannot miss the grand Notre-Dame church, just off Grande Rue. This church was built between the12th and 15th centuries. The organ inside is one of the oldest in France and one of the three remaining from the renaissance period. Those who love Alfred Sisley may recognize this church from a few of his paintings.
Another building worth visiting is the Town Hall on Samois square. This stunning building dates back to 1527.
If you continue walking along Grande Rue and pass underneath the stone tower at the end of the street, you will be on Sisley’s bridge. This is is the bridge that has been immortalised in many Alfred Sisley paintings.
There are footpaths leading from both sides of the bridge, but take the path leading to the left. This path will lead you to the River Loing. The views of the River Loing from the bridges are stunning. Just stop, sigh and enjoy the moment!!!
It is no wonder that Alfred Sisley and other painters never tired of capturing these beautiful landscapes.
A Museum for those with a Sweet Tooth!
There is one museum in Moret and it is not an art museum but a barley sugar museum!! It is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and in the afternoons only. This museum is said to be the smallest museum in France. It sells the most delicious candies!
But hands down, the most beautiful part of this village is the river. Alfred Sisley knew this and never tired of setting up his easel on the banks of the Loing and capturing the changing light and seasons. Go for a walk along the river and enjoy the beauty and tranquilty…
Public Transport to Moret is Easy Peasy!
Moret is 79 kms south-west of Paris and is easy to reach by both car and public transport.
Take the train from Paris’s Gare de Lyon railroad station. From the station, catch the train in the direction of the towns of Fontainebleau and Melun. Trains on this route run every half an hour. The train ride is around one hour and you descend at the station Moret-Veneux-les-Sablons station.
This station serves two towns. The station itself is in Veneux-les-Sablons. The walk into Moret is only 20 minutes. When exiting the station, walk to your right and you will reach Moret.
7. The Impressionists Capture the French Landscapes of Bougival
Bougival is located only 17 kms west of Paris. Art historians have named this town “the Cradle of Impressionism” as many impressionists, including Claude Monet, immortalized the beautiful landscapes of this village onto their canvases.
In the 19th century, many impressionists left Paris for a quieter life. Some made their way to the nearby Bougival. This village was close enough to Paris but far away enough from the bustle of the capital. Its beautiful French landscapes provided the painters with plenty of creative inspiration.
The impressionists who fell under its spell were Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred
Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Berthe Morisot. They all painted the heart and soul of the Bougival, the beautiful Seine river and its green lush banks.
Bougival still has its charm. The river banks are beautifully preserved and you can understand why these views inspired the artists. In Bougival, there is a fabulous Impressionism walking trail with twelve panels displaying reproductions of the famous Impressionism paintings of this village. For impressionism fans, this is a MUST!
Easy Public Transport to Bougival
Bougival is easily accessible by train from Paris. The SNCF trains leave every half an hour from Saint Lazare Station in Paris. From the Bougival train station, it is a 5 km walk to the river but there is plenty to see en route. Read my article about Bougival.
Hop on a train and check out Bougival. It’s wonderful day trip from Paris!!
8. Fontainebleau Forests – Stunning French Landscapes
Only 55 kms from Paris are the beautiful Fontainebleau forests. In the mid 1800s and with the advent of public railways, the Parisians flocked to these forests for their weekend getaways.
The natural beauty of the region drew in the artists as well. The forests became an “open-air painting studio”. The revolutionary technique of en plein-air painting began!
The painters even established an artists’ colony in the nearby village of Barbizon. The word spread quickly and small town Barbizon became a popular artistic hub for both French and foreign artists alike.
Art historians now agree that it was here, in the forests of Fontainebleau, that the foundations for Impressionism art were laid.
This forest and the surrounding areas continue to attract the masses. In fact, more than 10 million visitors a year walk through this forest. Press here for more information.
8. Ile de la Grande Jatte
The Ile de la Jatte or Ile de la Grande Jatte is an island in the river Seine, located only a few kilometers from Paris.
Although a tiny island, it inspired the great impressionism painters. Some of their most famous landscape paintings are located here! The most well-known painting of them all is Georges Seurat‘s pointillism painting, entitled: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
To celebrate its rich impressionism past, Ile de la Grande Jatte is also nicknamed “the Impressionism Island” (Île des impressionnistes). A wonderful Impressionism trail was established.
Press here for details about the Island and the Impressionism Trail