There are some places that are famous for one particular sight or attraction – so famous that, even if there wasn’t anything else worth seeing and doing in that place people would still go. The town of Chartres in France has one of those extremely famous attractions, but it’s also a delightful town worth spending a day in even if its beautiful cathedral isn’t the only thing you do while you’re there. After Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, however, the Chartres Cathedral may be one of the most well-known cathedrals in France.
Chartres is, on its own, a town lying on a hill beside the Eure River about 60 miles outside Paris. If it weren’t for the Chartres Cathedral, it might be like any other little town in the French countryside. But because of the famous cathedral, Chartres makes a great day-trip from Paris – because you get to enjoy a pretty French town, see a gorgeous cathedral, and not feel rushed or like you’ve missed anything by not spending the night.
What to Do in Chartres
The most obvious thing to do in Chartres, and the #1 reason visitors go, is the 12th-century Chartres Cathedral. It’s widely thought of as one of the country’s best examples of Gothic architecture, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral and its mismatched pair of spires tower over the rest of the town, and it’s about the only visible thing from a distance. In addition to just being a beautiful church, however, it’s also historically driven much of the town’s economy. Chartres may be a popular tourist destination today, but it’s been a popular pilgrimage site for much longer – and whether you’re a tourist or a pilgrim, you’re a visitor bringing in money from the outside!
Chartres Cathedral has several big stained glass windows, some dating from the 13th century, and many of which are dominated by an intense blue color. Another interesting feature of the cathedral is the prayer labyrinth inlaid into the floor – pilgrims would walk the maze if they weren’t able to physically make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Once you’ve visited the Chartres Cathedral, you can spend the rest of your visit to Chartres just strolling its pretty streets and enjoying the pace of the town. If you’re interested in other sights, however, there are a few more churches in Chartres worth poking your nose into and the town also has several museums. In nice weather, you can relax in one of the many public green spaces. But really, if you make a beeline for the catehdral and then don’t do anything else other than enjoy the town itself, don’t feel like you’ve given Chartres short shrift.
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How to Get to Chartres
Getting to Chartres from Paris is very easy, especially on the train. Because it’s only a little over an hour one-way on the train, it makes for a great day-trip. Trains for Chartres leave Montparnasse train station regularly, and one-way tickets cost between €13-21 per person (depending on whether you want first or second class). It’s worth noting that tickets bought at the last minute sometimes are more expensive than tickets purchased in advance, so if you think you’re going to want to spend a day in Chartres during your Paris visit you might want to book your tickets ahead of time.
Remember to consult our article about train travel in Paris to help you get around, and for more specific travel information the official SNCF site will create your personal train schedule for the date you choose to travel.
To drive to Chartres from Paris, you’ll want to take the A10 motorway and then get off that onto the A11. These are French highways and have tolls, so if you want to avoid tolls you can take a more circuitous route on the RN10 – it could be a slower journey, but if you enjoy the drive as much as the destination you might consider it.
Luckily, once you arrive in Chartres – no matter how you got there – the town itself is incredibly walkable, so getting around is easy.
Where to Stay in Chartres
Chartres is small, so there aren’t really a huge number of hotels to choose from. There are other accommodation options, however, in the form of B&Bs and even some apartment rentals. And believe it or not, there’s also a youth hostel in the city center! Chartres’ status as a pilgrimage site means that although you won’t necessarily find lots of big chain hotels, you will find places to stay.
During the high season, you are well advised to book a stay in Chartres well in advance – but if you want to test your luck, you can always stop by the tourism information office (which lies between the train station and the cathedral) to see if they can find a vacant room for you.
Visitor Information for Chartres
The town of Chartres has a very detailed and helpful online tourism office, which you can access in English here.