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Paris Fontainebleau Day Trip
A Paris Fontainebleau day trip is a great idea to escape the hustle and bustle of the French capital and see a bit of the French countryside. Fontainebleau is located 68 Km south-east of Paris and there are many ways – public and private – for getting to Fontainebleau from Paris.
While most of the people associate Fontainebleau with the Royal Castle, there are other ways to spend a nice day in Fontainebleau on a day trip from Paris. This article covers the Château of Fontainebleau – one of the best castles near Paris -, but also other interesting things to do in Fontainebleau.
Fontainebleau vs Versailles
Versailles vs Fontainebleau; Fontainebleau vs Versailles: which one to visit?
Trying to convince you to visit Fontainebleau instead of Versailles is almost an impossible task because everybody wants to visit Versailles! However, there are some aspects in which, in our opinion, Fontainebleau beats Versailles.
“The true home of kings, the house of ages” (Napoleon I, 1816)
Versailles was home to three kings of France, from King Louis XIV (1643-1717) to King Louis XVI (1754-1793) whilst Fontainebleau can proudly claim to have been a sovereign residence for eight centuries. From the first keep surrounded by walls of the 12th century to the Second Empire, all members of French ruling dynasties, have lived within these walls. While Versailles represents an important chapter of the French History, it’s in Fontainebleau where you can get the full picture.
An impressive showcase of French architecture
Versailles is one of the most beautiful castles of France (and the world!) and a jewel of French Baroque architecture. The main Palace boasts a quite uniform architecture and design because everything was built in less than 100 years.
What greets the visitor today in Fontainebleau is the single greatest assemblage over time of French architecture and décor – from the 12th to the 19th centuries – still in its original state, even if it is still the 16th-century design and buildings that dominate.
The richness and variety of its buildings, inside and out, is remarkable and some elements, like the famous horseshoe-shaped staircase (King Louis XIII), the Galerie des Cerfs (King Henry IV), the ballroom or the Royal Chapel are must-sees.
Versailles Gardens, with its beautiful fountains, sculptures, and grooves, are the best example of French-style gardens and André Le Notre’s masterwork.
Fontainebleau Gardens were King Louis XIV’s main contribution to Fontainebleau. He put his landscape designers into work to create magnificent gardens, water games, and the Grand Parterre which is today the largest in Europe.
Everybody knows about the Château de Versailles crowds and a visit to Versailles needs to be planned well in advance to choose the right day and time slot, the right ticket, and the best itinerary.
A visit to Château de Fontainebleau instead, is very straightforward and easy-going! The last time we visited Fontainebleau was the first Sunday of November when the castle is free to visit, and there were no crowds.
Château de Fontainebleau History
The castle was originally built in the 12th century as a hunting lodge for the Kings of France. Since then, Château de Fontainebleau was a base for the Kings of France for eight centuries.
In the 16th century, Fontainebleau was substantially rebuilt and transformed by King Francois I. It was at this time that the French renaissance style for which the castle is well known was in vogue. However, all the kings left their personal footprint in Fontainebleau, that’s why the castle shows a variety of architectural styles.
It was a particular favorite residence of King Henri II, King Henry IV, and later Napoleon I. Fontainebleau was also the background of important moments in the history of France. For example, King Louis XIV signed the important Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 and it was in Fontainebleau where Napoleon I gave the historical farewell to the Old Guard.
What to See in Fontainebleau Castle
Playground for some of France’s greatest architects — Philibert Delorme, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, and André Le Nôtre among others —, Château de Fontainebleau is immense, and immensely varied, with more than 1,500 rooms. Take your time, make some choices, and plan your visit depending on your interests.
The self-guided visit of the Château includes the museum of Napoleon I, the Grands Appartements, and the Gardens whilst other rooms like the Imperial Theater, the Petits Appartements, the apartments of Mme de Maintenon and Marie Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir are visited with different guided tours.
The rooms part of the Grands Appartements can be classed into 6 different groups: Royal Chapels, Royal Apartments, Renaissance Halls, Pope’s Apartment, Napoleon I Apartment, and 19th-century Halls.
Below, the list of top things to see at Château de Fontainebleau:
- Built in 1558, the Ballroom mixes ornate Italian frescoes with intricate woodwork.
- The horseshoe-shaped staircase that leads to the Château de Fontainebleau was built for King Louis XIII.
- The Imperial Theater of Napoleon III (with guided visit).
- The Turkish boudoir, built for Marie Antoinette in 1777, is an Orientalist room set away from the other royal apartments (with guided visit).
- The Trinity Chapel, with its beautifully painted ceilings and walls.
- The Gallery of Francois I, decorated in Renaissance style.
- The surrounding Gardens, with the Grand Parterre and beautiful sculptures.
How to Visit Château de Fontainebleau
A Paris to Fontainebleau day trip is very easy to organize by yourself. From Paris Gare de Lyon take a train Paris – Fontainebleau Avon, the Paris to Fontainebleau train is line R, and it takes 40 minutes. At Fontainebleau Avon, there’s a shuttle bus that takes you to the castle that works with the same train ticket.
For the Château you can buy a Fontainebleau priority entrance ticket to be sure to skip the lines. Once inside, visit the Château and Gardens as you wish.
DID YOU KNOW? The Paris Museum Pass for 2, 4, or 6 days includes a skip the line entrance to Château de Fontainebleau! Save money and time with this fantastic pass, you can check here our Paris Museum Pass review.
When you are at Paris Gare de Lyon, take note of the time schedule to go back from Fontainebleau to Paris because trains from Fontainebleau to Paris are less frequent in the afternoon and there’s nothing to do at Fontainebleau Avon! You don’t need to buy your tickets in advance but we recommend buying the return ticket also in Paris.
The Paris Château de Fontainebleau guided tours are very interesting, especially if you are short of time. These tours with transportation included usually take half-day (morning or afternoon) which allows you to spend an extra half-day in Paris or somewhere else. This is impossible to do if you are visiting Fontainebleau by yourself by taking the train + shuttle.
Apart from the logistics, guided tours are always more interesting thanks to the explanations of your knowledgeable guide.
This half-day private Fontainebleau guided tour is very good for families or a group of friends if you can share the cost with them. A very popular alternative is this full-day tour to visit Château de Fontainebleau + Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, another beautiful castle near Paris.
Other Things to Do in Fontainebleau
Hike in the Fontainebleau Forest
Fontainebleau Forest is the second-largest national forest in France and the Kings’ favorite hunting place. Today the Forest of Fontainebleau is cradle of many outdoor activities, from hiking to rock climbing or horse riding.
The full-day Circuit des 25 bosses (25 bumps) in Fontainebleau is one of the most famous hikes in France. It consists of 25 different sized mounds in the Trois Pignons massif that will give you a chance to enjoy some light climbing while providing some great exercise.
A hot air balloon flight, wherever it is in the world, is always a great experience. But if you have the opportunity of flying over one of the most beautiful forests in France, then it’s magical.
France Montgolfières proposes to see Fontainebleau from above and we really recommend it (you can read about our flight with France Montgolfières here). Fly over the French countryside for approximately 1 hour and toast your journey on landing.
Barbizon is one of those small towns near Paris worth a detour. From the mid-nineteenth century, landscape painters moved to the village of Barbizon, nestled in Fontainebleau Forest, inspired by its remarkable natural heritage and atmosphere.
Corot, Millet, Rousseau are only a few names that set up their easels in the forest. They were also followed by Romantic writers and poets such as Sand, Flaubert, Hugo, Stevenson, and others.
We hope that you enjoyed this virtual Fontainebleau day trip from Paris, it is a beautiful place to see!