If you've only got 24 hours to spare, can you still take a day trip to Loire Valley from Paris? Will you be able to experience any of the wonderful castles of the Loire you've heard so much about?
Absolutely! And it will be one of the best day trips from Paris you'll experience.
There are several ways to visit the Loire Valley in a day from Paris and each has advantages and disadvantages. This page will show you exactly how to organize your one-day visit to the Loire for a visit that will be memorable – and will make you want to return!
why visit the loire valley castles?
These castles of the Loire are among the cultural and historical bastions of France: important kings and queens lived here, crucial battles were fought here, Joan of Arc came through here, and the region just happens to be stunning to see, with its meandering rivers and more than 1000 sumptuous castles where people actually lived.
But that's only the beginning, because many of the chateaux have picturesque villages attached to them, not to mention vineyards with their excellent wines and meandering country roads that will show you some of France's best countryside.
Don't just take my word for it: UNESCO decided the Loire Valley was so special it should be protected as a World Heritage Site. In fact, it made little sense to protect a single chateau or wine or cultural icon when the region in its entirety is so sublime.
But still... much as you would love to explore every nook, with only a day available, you'll have to make some difficult choices. Let me help you.
The best Chateaux to visit if you only have one day
Of all the beautiful chateaux in the Loire Valley, we must try to be realistic about what we can see. Depending on how you plan to visit, these are the most accessible from Paris. Let's take a quick look!
The Royal Château of Blois, built by four kings
The advantage of Blois (home of many kings and queens) is that it is right in the center of town, within walking distance of the train station. It is a fascinating chateau built in four different time periods, each in its own style. This is also the chateau in which the Archbishop of Reims gave his blessing to Joan of Arc as she went off to fight the English and drive them out of Orléans. (Here's more of the backstory of Blois chateau, if you're interested.)
Château de Chambord, an over-the-top hunting lodge
It took several reigns to complete but this jewel of the Renaissance is staggering in every way – 426 rooms, 77 staircases, 282 chimneys and Europe's largest fenced-in forest. Much of the building was undertaken by François I and he meant it as a hunting lodge. In fact, he hardly ever stayed there (no wonder: it's huge, hard to heat and there's not much else around). Still, Chambord is astonishing in its design and you can get lost in its features and symbolism and not notice the time go by. (Click here for a deeper look into Chambord.)
If you choose to visit independently by train or car, don't forget to buy a skip-the-line ticket.
Chenonceau, the ladies' chateau of the Loire Valley
To get the inside story of Chenonceau and why it's called the Ladies' Castle, click here. But first, look at its beauty. It is undoubtedly one of the most exquisite of the many exquisite Loire chateaux, but there's something special about the way it shimmers over the Cher River (no, that's not actually the Loire but one of its tributaries). There are some interesting stories behind this castle too...
Amboise and Clos Lucé, Leonardo's legacy
Not many people realize Leonardo da Vinci lived his last years at the Clos Lucé, at the request of François I, who stayed down the road at Amboise, another royal chateau, on the banks of the Loire River. Amboise stands over the city, looking positively urban, yet go behind and a completely different castle unfurls. Explore more of its history here. As for the Clos Lucé, it is a delightful manor house a ten-minute walk from Amboise.
If you visit independently, you can buy a skip-the-line ticket to Clos Lucé.
Cheverny, hunting dogs and Tintin memories
More Classical than Renaissance, Cheverny is a lovely chateau and one that is still very much lived in, not to mention lovingly cared for. Apart from the perfectly decorated rooms inside, this castle is a bit unusual. It has a herd of 150 hunting dogs (arrive at feeding time for some crazy moments) as well as a Tintin museum, if you're a fan. Legend has it that Tintin's creator inspired himself of this chateau for its facsimile in the Tintin comic book series.
How to organize a Loire Valley day trip from Paris
Getting organized for your one-day Loire Valley trip is simple: there are three main ways to do it, and each one has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the kind of traveler you are or just how much you want to see.
1) Take a guided tour from Paris
2) Take the train
3) Rent a car
Loire castles guided tour from Paris
If you only have one day, taking a Loire Valley castles tour may be your best and easiest option. There are plenty of excellent tours of the Loire Valley from Paris, so you'll have to choose based on which chateaux you want to visit, how much time you want to spend, and what else you want to do once you get there (Lunch? Wine-tasting? Time to explore on your own?)
Here's what you can expect from a Loire Valley castles tour
- You can see more castles in a day than if you organize things yourself
- Your transportation is taken care of
- You won't waste time standing in line for tickets
- You can enjoy other activities, like wine-tasting or garden tours
- It's hassle-free and you don't have to worry about a thing
- After an early start and at the end of what promises to be a long day, you can simply sleep the exhaustion away on the ride back to Paris
- You'll be confined to a group, having to stop and go whenever the organizers say
- You may have to 'enjoy' attractions you might otherwise forgo
- You won't be able to linger if something catches your eye
- You may pay more up front for an organized tour than you would if you hopped the train (but this is not always the case)
Recommended small group Loire Valley tours from Paris
These Loire Valley chateaux tours are among the most popular when it comes to value for money and what you actually get to see:
NOTE: Not all castle tours in France offer guided commentary inside the castle: some may leave you to explore on your own, so be sure to check as you may prefer one over the other.
Paris to Loire Valley day trip by train
Please note: Schedules change with the seasons so be sure to check the actual schedules rather than take my word for it! You'll find train schedules and rates here.
If you truly dislike tours and don't want the hassle of driving, taking the train or bus could be just the right option. If this is your first time in France and you're not accustomed to the train system, this might be a stressful journey since you're trying to do several things at once: figure out the trains, see as much as you can and rush around so you don't miss your train! (There are a few buses but they are limited and operate only in summer so we won't cover them here.)
From Paris to Loire Valley by train
If you were going for several days, I'd definitely suggest the train as an alternative to a tour. But in a single day, it's a bit more complicated, but complicated doesn't mean impossible, especially if you are a little travel savvy.
- You'll have more freedom than you would with a tour and can change your mind about what to see
- Public transport in France is excellent and booking tickets is simple
- Trains are relatively inexpensive
- You can relax, as you would on a tour (but cannot do when you're driving)
- Train schedules might not match your own timetable and there might not be enough trains to allow you to see what you want to
- Everything takes longer (for example, in some cases getting from the train station to your chateau of choice) so you may have less time for sightseeing
- Not all train stations are near the Loire castle you may want to see
- If you don't buy chateau entrance tickets beforehand (it's not possible everywhere) you'll have to stand in line (in peak season, that could be a hot, lengthy wait)
Paris to Loire Valley train schedule examples
Visiting the Loire Valley by train limits your choices, because not every castle has a nearby train station.
Here are a few possibilities:
- Blois: the chateau is in the center of town, ten minutes downhill from the Blois train station. If you want to explore a single chateau in a leisurely manner, then Blois it is. There's enough history here to keep you busy for the day.
- Blois and Amboise: if you want to see two chateaux in a day, you can start with Blois early in the morning, then at lunchtime head for Amboise. The castle is a 15-minute walk from the train station in Amboise and the train journey is simple.
- Blois and Chambord: this is definitely a possibility but not quite all year-round. There is a shuttle bus from Blois (here is the schedule) to several castles, including Chambord, so if you organize your trip with care, you can manage to see quite a bit by using a combination of train and bus.
- Amboise and Clos Lucé: this is another, easier two-chateau alternative, with the advantage that you can see two castles in a single town. This can be a leisurely visit, with Amboise castle in the morning, a lovely lunch, and the Clos Lucé in the afternoon, getting you back to Paris at a decent hour in the early evening, in time for dinner.
- Blois, Amboise and Clos Lucé: this is a tight squeeze and you'll have to pore over your train schedule carefully, but again, it can be done. Start with Blois in the morning, then head for Amboise before lunch. Walk into the city, grab a sandwich to go, and head for Amboise Castle. After a couple of hours, walk 15 minutes to Clos Lucé, where Leonardo spent his final three years.
- Chenonceau: there is a train station right next to the chateau so it's definitely achievable in a day. However, there are no other castles nearby so you'd have to limit yourself to the one. This could be a more leisurely day, as you can spend the morning on the train, have lunch in Chenonceaux (the village is spelled with an 'x' but not the chateau), and then start at the castle early in the afternoon.
Visiting the Loire Valley is definitely one of the more fun and rewarding Paris day trips by train. And while the above are meant as suggestions, there are plenty of other possibilities – it's just that they're slightly further afield.
Loire Valley Chateaux by Car
While driving a car makes perfect sense for a trip that lasts several days, a one-day Loire Valley trip by car is a bit more complicated.
I don't know about you but it takes me a while just to get to know a new car that I've rented... that said, there are definite advantages to having your own transportation.
- The freedom to be able to see what you want, leave when you want to
- You can take full advantage of your 24 hours and plan your trip to see the maximum
- You can see more castles in a day than if you're on the train
- Depending on where you go, parking might be an issue
- If you're not accustomed to driving in France, the learning curve might be a bit steep for a one-day trip
- You might spend more time than you expect finding your way around and waste time getting lost
- Renting a car takes time and will cost more than using public transport (here's the comparison engine I use to get the cheapest rental prices)
- As I mentioned above for train trips, going on your own means standing in line for castle entrance tickets unless you are able to buy them beforehand
Here's what your one-day Loire Valley itinerary could look like
If you're driving, you'll have total freedom and can simply map where you want to go... and go.
Here is a suggested itinerary for a one-day Paris-Loire Valley driving trip, just to give you an idea of what can be accomplished. (You can choose to structure yours through Amboise, or any other chateau, but this will give you an idea of what you could do in a day.)
- Paris > Chambord > Cheverny > Chenonceau > Paris
The three 'Cs' form a sort of triangle south of Blois, so what makes most sense is to start with either Chambord or Chenonceau, with Cheverny in the middle. If you think you have time, you can add Blois to the mix.
Which is best of the 3Cs? I prefer Chenonceau in the afternoon because the light is better, but it's also the furthest from Paris so if you're the kind of person who prefers to drive as far as needed and then work your way back, you'll want to start with Chenonceau, then Cheverny, and end with Chambord before you go home.
The map below should give you a better idea of the respective location of these three chateaux.
Sample one-day Loire Valley driving trip
The following itinerary is extremely rough – and optimistic. It depends on each chateau's opening hours, which change by the season and day of the week.
Ideally, you want to arrive at your first chateau at opening hour, and leave your last one when it closes.
As I mentioned above, you can choose to start or end at any castle of your choice but in true French fashion, lunch is NOT a moveable feast and if you want to eat sitting down, you'll only have between noon and 2pm. Don't expect food outside those hours unless you opt for a sandwich stand or snack bar.
- Leave Paris and head for the A10 (towards Orléans) – use your GPS! Take Exit 16 towards Chambord and follow the signs (2-2.5hrs)
- Park in the lot and walk to the chateau (10min) and visit (1.5hrs)
- Have an early lunch at Chambord (1hr)
- From Chambord, follow the easy signs to Cheverny (20min)
- Visit Cheverny. The dogs are located at the opposite end of the grounds from the chateau (1.5hrs)
- 45 min: drive from Cheverny to Chenonceau – use your map or GPS as there are several routes (45min)
- Visit Chenonceau (2hrs)
- Drive from Chenonceau to Paris (2hrs 45min)
The hunting dog kennels at Cheverny
What is the fastest way to get from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
Believe it or not, the fastest way is to take a Loire Valley castles tour from Paris. While the tour will keep you gone most of the day and will show you many sights, the fact that it is already organized means you will see more in the allotted time than you could any other way.
What is the cheapest way to get from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
The cheapest way to visit the Loire Valley chateaux from Paris would be by train, even if you factor in the cost of buying entrance tickets. You will see less than if you took a tour or drove yourself, but if you buy your train tickets well ahead of time (see above), the cost will be quite low.
What is the easiest way to get from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
The answer is a tour. A tour is easy because everything is taken care of for you. I would probably opt for a tour (see above) if you'd rather leave the hassles to someone else and simply enjoy the sights.
How far is it from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
The distance from Paris to Blois, your first suggested jumping off point, is 185km/115mi. By car, the trip should take around two hours
Can I catch a bus from Paris to visit the chateaux of the Loire Valley?
Yes you can, but only in summer. You can take the FlixBus to either Cheverny or Chambord (website in French).
If you enjoyed this piece, please share it and comment below! And if you've visited the Loire in a day, do share your experiences!
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