Paris may be the crowned jewel of the Île-de-France region, but there are plenty of spectacular gems to be discovered in its surrounding suburbs. From a historic WWII site to a one-of-a-kind view, we have compiled seven must-do educational activities less than seven miles outside of downtown Paris that are sure to enhance your journey to our 2019 Campus of the Year, France. Go off the beaten path on a day trip and experience life outside the city center, because as Howard Koch famously said, “We’ll always have Paris.”
“Basilique Saint-Denis, Ile de France” by Ninara is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Standing tall in all of its French Gothic glory, the Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis boasts detailed sculptures, pointed arches, dramatic stained-glass windows and ribbed vaults. This hidden gem, often overlooked by the tourists, is full of intrigue and history. The abbey-turned-cathedral serves as a church, a museum, an ode to the French Gothic style and a final resting place for the who’s who of the French monarchy. This Middle-Ages pilgrimage site has as much to offer as Notre Dame or Saint-Chappelle and is well worth the 20-minute trip north from the Parisian city center.
Use your free time on this Road Scholar adventure to explore the basilica: Paris at a Slower Pace: Art & Culture in the City of Light →
“Le jardin japonais Albert Khan (Boulogne-Billancourt)” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Just an easy trip a few miles west of the hustle and bustle of the Parisian streets, you’ll be transported to a new world as you step into the newly renovated gardens of Albert Kahn, a French banker and philanthropist who is well known for his Archives of the Planet project. A harmonious traditional Japanese garden, a classically symmetrical and geometric French garden and a traditional English garden blooming with charm are all featured among the acres of landscape. From the diverse aromas among the flowers to the sounds from creatures and trickling water, it is truly an experience for the senses. Admire the gardens while embracing Albert’s mission: to create a world where multiple cultures can coexist peacefully.
Discover the gardens during leisure time on this Road Scholar adventure: Independent Paris: People, Places, Culture →
“DSCN1958” by couscouschocolat is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Are you an art lover? Witness works of art come to life in the urban setting as you explore Vitry-sur-Seine, a suburb in the Île-de-France region, located only a few miles southeast of Paris. In stark contrast to the often-crowded Louvre, this artist hub offers a vast open-air museum in its streets. Around every corner, graffiti works and frescos cover building facades from top to bottom, displaying a variety of subject matter from portraits to landscapes. Art lovers can explore the contemporary street-art gallery, housing more than 200 compositions, with a self-guided walking exploration or opt to be led by a local artist.
To uncover more art with an expert, try this learning adventure: The Artistic Spirit of Paris and Barcelona →
Have you already seen the Seine? Sail down the Marne River instead and be inspired just like impressionist artists Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. Overflowing with history, the Marne is home to the oldest canal in France and was the site of the Miracle of the Marne, a pivotal battle during World War I. This Seine alternative offers several unique discoveries, so experience France like a local and navigate a new path along the Marne!
If you haven’t experienced the Seine and want to learn more about impressionism, check out this learning adventure: In the Footsteps of the Great Masters: Impressionism Along the Seine →
“Ballon de Paris @ Parc André Citroën @ Paris” by Guilhem Vellut is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Behold Paris with a bird’s eye view as you float above the crowds into the clouds from inside the largest hot air balloon in the world, Le Ballon de Paris Generali! For only €12 (and weather permitting) you can see the city as you never have before, from nearly 500 feet above the city! Tethered to the ground, the hot air balloon rotates once it reaches maximum height in order to provide an impeccable perspective while also gathering data on the Parisian air quality. You will become a part of science as the floating laboratory senses the levels of pollution in the air and changes colors accordingly. Take your learning to new heights in this scientific balloon.
“Panorama du mont valérien” by alainalele is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Overlooking the Bois de Boulogne, this former religious site now serves as a place of remembrance for all of the men and women who fought for France’s freedom during World War II. Fort Mont-Valérien was overtaken by the German military early in the war and became the site of over 1,000 executions of French hostages and soldiers. In 1960, to honor the fallen resistance fighters and soldiers of France, General Charles de Gaulle initiated the building of the Memorial of the Fighting French complete with an eternal flame forever representing resistance. During your journey you can explore the several locations onsite which all serve as a memorial to honor all who fought in resistance against German occupation. If you’re looking for an expert-led adventure, then be sure to call ahead for English accommodations as most experts are French-speaking.
Explore Fort Mont-Valérien during your free time on this historic adventure: The Best of Northern France: Paris and Normandy →
Less than two miles from Mont-Valérien, you can experience a one-of-a-kind vineyard at the Vineyard of Suresnes . Sip wine while you soak in spectacular views of Paris at this local winery, offering three white varietals. Producing only 4,000 bottles of wine each year on average, this small-town vineyard is the largest in the Île-de-France region. Plan your adventure on a Monday afternoon to experience a tasting and purchase wine onsite, or stop in the Suresnes Tourist Information Centre and purchase a bottle to savor at your leisure.
Experience the vineyard during leisure time on this wine-lovers adventure:Off the Beaten Path in Paris & Bordeaux →
To discover more hidden gems in our Campus of the Year, check out all of our exciting learning adventures in France.
About the Author JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn's extensive experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world's most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.
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