If you’re looking for a relaxed and interesting day out in Paris, perfect for families, couples and solo explorers alike, I would highly recommend the Château de Vincennes. Located just beyond the borders of Paris, it is easily reachable by bus and metro and yet seems to avoid the major tourist footfall, leading to a quieter atmosphere while being far from dull.
The visit consists of the Holy Chapel (Sainte Chapelle, a magnificent Gothic masterpiece) and access to the Castle Keep (le donjon) with some gorgeous views out over the surrounding area.
Mini history lesson: what is the Château de Vincennes?
The Chateau de Vincennes was first established as a hunting lodge, like many French castles and palaces, in the 12th century. Charles V finished works started by his father to turn it into a keep around 1370, and work on the Sainte Chapelle was started just before his death.
Over the turbulent 16th and 17th centuries, the huge walls of fortress served to shelter several monarchs, including Louis XIV, who resided there sporadically before settling in Versailles.
From the Revolution onwards, the castle transitioned from being a royal residence to a military stronghold, consolidated by Napoleon in 1808 when he ordered the wall towers to be levelled for modern artillery use.
Since 1948, the castle has hosted historical services of the French Army, Air Force, and Navy, and the Gendarmerie, which have not been combined to make up the Defence Archives which are still kept here today, making Vincennes a national site of memory.
Restoration work on the site has been ongoing since after the Second World War, allowing the discovery of its original décor as well as new information about the medieval site at Vincennes.
How do I get there? If you’re going from Paris, you’ll most likely want to take the Metro Line 1, to (you guessed it) Château de Vincennes. It is the final stop on the line. Take the exit labelled for the Castle and you will find yourself standing right outside.
You can also take the RER A to Vincennes, or Bus 46, 56, or 86.
How much does it cost? Great news! If you’re under 18, or between 18-25 and from an EU member country, entry to the castle is completely free. Just go into the ticket office and show them your proof of identity to get a free ticket.
For others, entrance is €9 (or €7 for a reduced tariff).
Which days can I visit? The Castle is open every day except some bank holidays, 10am – 5pm (6pm in summer). There are occasionally early closures of the chapel or parts of the keep, for restoration work. You can check for more details on the official website here.
How much time will I need? To visit both the chapel and the castle fortress, allow around 2 hours.
Is it accessible to disabled persons? Both the chapel and the castle have a lot of stairs between sections, although there are some limited areas of the castle which are on the ground floor.
After exploring the Château de Vincennes, why not visit the extensive Bois de Vincennes and the stunning Paris botanical gardens, just a five minute walk away? Perfect for a lazy wander or an afternoon picnic, the woods are enormous, so don’t expect to see all of them in one trip!
As you leave the castle through the main entrance, turn right and then right again, walking down the street alongside the fortress walls until you reach the end, where you will find the Parc Floral de Paris.
Paris: off the beaten track
This article is part of my off the beaten trackseries. Off the beaten track is about going on adventures in big cities which are less well known or less well documented, and discovering the secrets of tourist destinations which don’t figure in the usual tour guides. They will, for the most part, be events or activities which are free, though now and then there might be the odd place which costs, if I think it’s worth it.
Stay tuned for more travel inspiration, or let me know in the comments if you have ideas for where I should explore next!