Even though Paris has enough monuments, museums, neighborhoods, and cafes to keep you busy for a year, savvy visitors know that France has a lot more to offer outside of its capital city. Bordering Paris to the north is the coastal region of Normandy, and its capital Rouen is a perfect getaway from the craziness of Paris. The two cities are close enough that you could even leave for Rouen in the morning and be back in Paris the same evening, but this charming Norman town is worth visiting for a weekend if you have the time.
A direct train to Rouen gets you there quickly and cheaply if you buy your ticket in advance, although the bus is even more affordable and only takes slightly more time. If you have access to a car, the drive takes longer than the train and includes tolls, but it's a scenic trip and gives you the freedom to stop in any of the cute towns you drive through. The closest major airports to Rouen are the ones in Paris, so if you're already in Paris, flying isn't an option.
How to Get from Paris to Rouen
- Train: 1 hour, 22 minutes, from $10 (fastest)
- Bus: 1 hour, 35 minutes, from $1 (budget-friendly)
- Car: 1 hour, 40 minutes, 85 miles (136 kilometers)
If you are looking for speed and comfort, the train is your best option. France's state-owned railway system, SNCF, runs efficiently and on time and will have you to the center of Rouen in a little over an hour. Trains leave Paris from the busy Gare Saint-Lazare station, located in the middle of the 8th arrondissement, so don't miss your train by going to the wrong station. Trains depart all throughout the day, but since many French live in Normandy and work in Paris, rush hour on weekdays is the busiest time to catch the train (if you are leaving for Rouen in the morning, you'll be moving in the opposite direction of rush hour traffic).
A one-way train ticket starts at $10 if you buy it in advance, but dynamic pricing means that high-demand times quickly get more expensive, especially as your travel date gets closer. Expect to pay up to $27 for a one-way ticket when you are purchasing your transportation for the same day.
Even the most budget-conscious travelers can revel in the price of buses to Rouen, which starts at $1—cheaper than a single metro ride within the city of Paris. Like the train, bus tickets rise in price as your travel date gets closer, but even same-day tickets shouldn't set you back more than $5–$10. Popular companies include FlixBus and BlaBlaBus, so compare schedules and prices to find your ideal trip. If you happen to be in Paris on a holiday weekend, book as early as possible because tickets are likely to sell out.
The bus stations in Paris are not as centrally located as the train station, and most of them are located at the city's edges or just outside of the city limits. Pay close attention to your departure point when booking your trip and confirm the location before purchasing; if you accidentally reserve a bus that leaves from the other side of Paris, you could end up spending more time traveling to the bus station than you do to Rouen.
The train and bus are so affordable and convenient that once you take into account traffic, toll roads, gasoline, and parking, driving your own vehicle is likely to be more expensive and take just as long, if not longer. However, if you've already rented a car, driving yourself gives you the freedom to stop in the quaint French towns between Paris and Rouen, or to explore the rest of Normandy and northern France. You can continue on to the neighboring Hauts-de-France region and visit cities like Amiens, Dunkirk, and Calais, even taking your car into the Channel Tunnel and continuing on to the United Kingdom if you desire.
Most highways in France are toll roads, and you'll see the pay stations with the word péage as you're driving. On most highways, you'll get a ticket from a machine when the toll road starts, and then pay the corresponding amount when you exit the highway. Foreign credit cards aren't always accepted, so carry euros on you when driving just in case.
What to See in Rouen
Rouen is the capital of the region of Normandy, and centuries ago it was once one of the largest and most prosperous cities in all of medieval Europe. Get lost wandering the streets of Old Rouen in the city center, with its Renaissance-era timbered buildings and cobblestone streets. Le Gros Horloge astronomical clock in the city center is one of the oldest in the world—even older than Prague's famous clock—and the Gothic-style Rouen Cathedral rivals Notre Dame of Paris in style. An entire museum dedicated to Joan of Arc is located in the main Plaza Vieux Marché, the same place where she was executed nearly 600 years ago.