Like many Parisians, I often get the itch to take a city break. For as much as I love the French capital, the metro, pollution, and general hustble and bustle can start to get to you if you stay for too long a stretch.
Thankfully, there are a huge number of places that one can visit that are less than an hour away – and often reachable using a Navigo pass! Fontainebleau is one of these places, a charming commune south east of Paris filled with historic châteaux, beautiful buildings, and lush forests.
After saying I’d go there for over a year, a friend I finally made a plan once and for all to take a day trip. Taking the train from Paris, we took a stop in the middle of the Fôret de Fontainebleau.
Following a hike and picnic, we made our way into the town of Fontainebleau, where we spent a few hours sightseeing before making our way back home. All in all, a delightful day out – and one I’d highly encourage others to take, should they be looking to do something a little different during their next trip to Paris!
How to get to Fontainebleau
The most common ways to get to Fontainebleau are by car or train. By car it is roughly an hour away. By train, it is slightly less at 40 minutes, and is the option my friend and I took.
We departed from Gare de Lyon, where numerous Transilien and TER trains go to Fontainebleau each day. Look for one headed in the direction of Montereau/Montargis. If you’re the holder of a Zone 1-5 Navigo card, this trip is covered – if not, you’ll need to purchase a ticket (with destination Fontainebleau-Avon) at the machine or ticket desk at the cost of 8.85€ each way.
Once on the train, you can get off at either Fontainebleau-Avon (if you wish to go straight to the town), or Bois-le-Roi (if you wish to go hiking through the forest).
On our trip there had been an additional stop at Forêt de Fontainebleau, but it was not an official station – in fact, we were just dropped off in the forest between the previously aforementioned stops! If this one is an option on your trip, I’d recommend taking it if you’d like to hike, but only for a few hours and not the whole day, as it’s closer to the town of Fontainebleau than Bois-le-Roi.
What to do in Fontainebleau
While you can have an enjoyable day exploring Fontainebleau without a plan, visiting its many charming cafés, restaurants, and boutiques, there are two main draws for tourists and daytrippers to the area.
Forêt de Fontainebleau
The woodland that surrounds Fontainebleau consists of two forests: Trois Pignons and Fontainebleau. Full of deciduous and softwood trees, among other plants, and not very hilly, it’s ideal for a leisurely hike. But it’s not just for hikers: there are many cyclists that use the paths, as well as horse-riders.
If you’re a fan of rock climbing, you can also try out the various sandstone climbing courses in the area, which are full of boulders and rocks.
It goes without saying that it is also the perfect place for a picnic, with my friend and I coming across a small tower and other old buildings and monuments that were surrounded by flat rocks and benches, one of which we stopped by for lunch.
Château de Fontainebleau
After stopping for coffee and sorbet, my friend and I made our way to the Château de Fontainebleau, which is located in the town center. The previous residence of the likes of Louis VII and Napoleon III, it is a regal palace full of medieval courtyards, as well as stunning gardens and pavilions.
While we opted to not go inside, both having been to our fair share of French châteaux in these past few years, we enjoyed wandering the grounds, where there were coffee and crêpe sellers, rowboats that one could rent for a paddle around the swan-filled lake, and plenty of families, couples, and friends walking around.
That said, if I was to go again I’d opt to buy a 12€ ticket to view the grand apartments, which include lavish Renaissance-style galleries, a grand ballroom, St. Saturnin’s chapels, an opulent stairway, Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir, a throne room, and the Queen’s bedroom, an ornate room done in arabesque design that housed the likes of Empress Josephine, Marie-Louise of Austria, and the last queen of France.