Less than half an hour from Paris, the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is like the 21st arrondissement of the french capital! With its castle, its forest, its numerous shops and several cultural places, it is a particularly pleasant town for a short break.
Did you know that it has the largest archaeological museum in Europe, that 29 kings have passed through here and that Louis XIV was born here? In other words, Saint-Germain is not short of history!
So what can you see there? What are the good addresses? Here is a useful guide to prepare your discovery of Saint-Germain-en-Laye!
Saint-Germain-en-Laye in short
- When to go? All year round if you want to discover the cultural sites. Ideally between spring and autumn, in good weather, to take advantage of the many walks.
- How long to stay? One day is enough to discover Saint-Germain-en-Laye alone, but you can extend your stay to discover the surrounding area (see end of article).
- How to get there? By public transport, from Paris, the easiest way is to take the RER A which will drop you off right in the centre of town, at the foot of the château!
- Who is it for? Everyone (solo, as a couple, with friends or as a family), adapting the programme of visits according to each person’s desires.
4 must-do activities in Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Visit the castle and its archaeological museum
When you get off the RER, you can’t miss this monument located in the heart of the town. The castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is one of the most beautiful in the Ile-de-France region and has a rich history: built under the royalty, saved under the Empire, transformed into a museum under the Republic, Saint-Germain-en-Laye has known all regimes!
Built under François I on the site of an ancient fortress, the castle gradually fell into disuse after Louis XIV left for Versailles. Transformed into a prison and then into a military camp, it was saved by Napoleon who made it the main archaeological museum in France.
Today, the National Archaeology Museum exhibits nearly 30,000 archaeological pieces and preserves several million of them! A unique collection in Europe!
Take a walk in the forest
Just in front of the castle lies a vast estate: 40 hectares of preserved areas and a forest of 3500 hectares, a real green lung that offers many opportunities for walking or cycling.
During your walk, take a look at the Terrace of the castle, which offers a superb view of Paris, and at the Henri IV Pavilion, which still bears witness to the birth of Louis XIV in this place.
Visit the Saint Germain Boucles de Seine Tourism website to find out more about walking routes.
Stroll through the town centre and treat yourself to a pastry
With its many shops, its church, its streets whose names recall past times (rue des coches, rue au pain, rue du vieil abreuvoir…) or its market square and its typical arches, the centre of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is particularly charming.
Take the time to stroll through the streets of the town or follow one of the discovery routes offered by the Tourist Office (maps can be obtained free of charge from the Office). Count on 30 minutes to 1h30 depending on the size of the route chosen.
For food lovers:
Stop off at Maison Grandin, a pastry shop founded in 1822, where you can find some of Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s specialities such as the Debussy (a cake made with a hazelnut biscuit, praline mousse, rum raisins and chocolate icing) or the Maurice Denis (a cake made with hazelnuts and raspberry jelly). You will also see chocolates adorned with a locomotive to pay tribute to the first French railway line designed solely for passenger transport, which was created between Paris and Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1837.
Visit the town’s museums
In addition to the National Archaeology Museum in the castle, Saint-Germain-en-Laye has several other cultural sites:
- The Paul and André Vera space named after the Véra brothers who contributed to the influence of the Art Deco movement. You can see several objects of their production (tapestry, ceramics, books…) and their garden projects.
- The Maurice Denis museum: installed in the house-studio of the painter Maurice Denis, this museum presents works of the artist and the symbolist and nabis painters.
- The Claude Debussy birth house: in the house where the composer Claude Debussy was born in 1862, there is today a museum presenting personal objects and scores of Claude Debussy, collected by acquisitions of the city and by the legacy of the daughter-in-law of the composer.
Visit Saint-Germain-en-Laye with your family:
The Tourist Office offers a booklet of games for 2 €. It contains a cultural tour in 14 stages to be completed with the family to visit the town while having fun!
Book a visit!
To anticipate your discovery of the city, you can book one or more visits: museums, guided tours, river trips on the Seine, bike rides, etc. The Tourist Office offers many activities.
Where to sleep in Saint-Germain-en-Laye?
Several types of accommodation are available in Saint-Germain and the surrounding area: hotels, bed and breakfast, tourist residences and furnished rentals.
You can find accommodation in the heart of the town for a city break, but also “in the countryside” if you are looking for a little more peace and quiet.
Find on this map all the places indicated in this article!
The Monte Cristo castle
Created by Alexandre Dumas, this small castle with its neo-Renaissance architecture is a little jewel to be discovered. Surrounded by a charming garden, it is a haven of peace to discover a few minutes from Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
The Desert of Retz
Near Chambourcy, the Désert de Retz is a garden that bears witness to the Age of Enlightenment, a place steeped in history and an invitation to contemplation.
Article produced in collaboration with the Saint-Germain Boucles de Seine Tourism Office