A Paris to Chartres Day Trip – Exploring One of France’s Greatest Cathedrals

I discovered that a Paris to Chartres day trip was an easy escape to see the historic Chartres Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass windows. I also enjoyed discovering the quaint and not overtly touristy town of Chartres.

see the beautiful gothic cathedral on a Paris to Chartres day trip

Last Updated on 01/23/23 by Rose Palmer

If you are not “churched” out after a visit to Paris, then take a Paris to Chartres day trip, to see one of the greatest Gothic churches still in existence, along with a quant French town that will not be overly touristy.

The Chartres Cathedral is considered the pinnacle of high Gothic architecture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. As one of the best preserved Gothic churches, it is still adorned with most of the original sculptures and numerous beautifully detailed stained glass windows.

How to get to Chartres

Chartres is easy to get to on your own from Paris and is a quick train ride which makes it ideal as a relaxing day trip from the city of light.

Chartres is located about an hour to the southwest of Paris. To get to Chartres from Paris, I took the direct Paris-Chartres train from the Gare Montparnasse station. Trains leave approximately every hour and the trip took a little over an hour.

A Paris to Chartres Day Trip

Once I arrived in Chartres, I exited the station onto Place Pierre Semard. Then I walked straight ahead and took Avenue Jehan de Beauce, walking through the Place Chatelet to Rue Sainte-Meme and then taking the first left which took me to the square in front of the cathedral.

The south view of the Chartres cathedral
The south view of the Chartres cathedral

The official name of the cathedral at Chartres is Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres,  or Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. The term “Notre-Dame” means “Our Lady” referring to the Virgin Mary.

So, while we think of Notre Dame as the famous church in Paris, there are actually many Notre-Dame churches and cathedrals in France, all dedicated to Mary. (A cathedral by the way is a church that is also the seat of a catholic bishop).

The back of the Chartres cathedral
The back of the Chartres cathedral

Chartres Cathedral history

The Chartres cathedral was built between 1194 and 1220, and despite almost 1000 years of wars, revolution, natural disasters, environmental impacts and changes in artistic tastes, the cathedral remains mostly -and amazingly – original, though it had some close calls to complete annihilation over the centuries.

During the French revolution, the cathedral was saved from annihilation because the local architect pointed out that the rubble from the destruction of such a large building would clog the surrounding streets for years. In this case, logic and common sense won out during a highly emotional period in French history.

In WWII, the church was saved from bombardment by the brave efforts of American colonel Welborn Barton Griffith JR. who questioned the historic cathedral’s planned destruction.

Colonel Griffith went behind enemy lines to confirm that the church was not being used by the Germans as an observation post and had the cathedral ring its bells as a signal for the American forces not to shoot. Sadly, Colonel Griffith died that same day not far from Chartres.

Chartres Cathedral architecture

The Chartres Cathedral has the classic buttresses that characterize a Gothic cathedral
The Chartres Cathedral has the classic buttresses that characterize a Gothic cathedral

One of the first things I noticed about the Chartres cathedral were the massive flying buttresses which provide the additional support for the height and weight of the stonework, and which allowed the use of so many windows. Not only are these supports sturdy, but they are also highly decorative with many, many statues and lots of intricate carvings.

The north entrance and porch
The north entrance and porch

The next thing I noticed were the heavily detailed porches over the front and side doorways. Each sculpture, and there are very many of them, is symbolic and has a story associated with it – mostly biblical stories from both the Old and New Testaments.

The North porch of the Chartres Cathedral
The North porch

What is amazing is the extreme level of detail in each and every sculpture. Robes flow, beards and hair curl, and bodies are in motion. It was hard for me to imagine how all this was carved from stone.

Inside the Chartres Cathedral

As detailed as the sculptures are on the outside, the beautiful stained glass windows inside are even more so. Once I stepped inside the church, the windows took my breath away.

View of some of the upper windows in the ambulatory.
View of some of the upper windows in the ambulatory.

About 152 of the original 176 windows are original and have miraculously survived through the many centuries. During WWII, every piece of glass from each window was carefully removed and hidden in the countryside to be preserved, and all were then painstakingly restored after the war. What a complicated jigsaw puzzle that must have been.

The north rose window, which is one of three rose windows in the church. This window tells stories of the Old Testament and the birth of the Virgin Mary.
The north rose window, which is one of three rose windows in the church. This window tells stories of the Old Testament and the birth of the Virgin Mary.

The windows have a predominant deep cobalt blue color (which is actually called Chartres blue) and which bathes the church interior with a unique blue tint. The windows were designed to tell stories and educate the mass going population that had no other means of formal learning.

Each window was extremely detailed, telling a narrative biblical tale, and is filled with symbolism that would have been understood by the faithful of that time. Not only is each window exquisitely detailed, but each one also uses a different design, making each totally unique. I could not get my fill looking at them. You could spend a whole day just looking at the details of all the windows.

Detail of the assumption window
Detail of the assumption window

The Chartres cathedral became an important pilgrimage destination because of the holy relic it contained, and still contains – a piece of the Virgin Mary’s veil worn at Christ’s birth which is called the Sancta Camisa. It is prominently displayed in one of the side chapels. It is still a pilgrimage destination to this day.

Along with the many beautiful windows, I was also taken aback by the height and bright, open feel of the cathedral. The multi-arched ceiling rose high above me, bathed in the blue light from the many windows. It was all this height and glass that was supported by the massive buttresses outside.

The Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

One of the most unique features of the cathedral is the labyrinth set into the floor of the church. It is one of the largest (42 feet in diameter), oldest, and best preserved of its kind, dating from about 1200.

Pilgrims would walk it or crawl the Chartres labyrinth on their knees as a spiritual exercise, mimicking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Today, it can sometimes be hard to see the whole thing if it is covered in chairs and visitors’ feet.

The labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral
The labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral

Besides the cathedral, which takes center stage sitting on a hill above the rest of the town, Chartres also has a very lovely and well preserved old town. I walked downhill from the back of the church toward the Eure River where I discovered timbered houses, gardens, and lovely photogenic views.

View from the town of Chartres View from the town of Chartres View from the town of Chartres View from the town of Chartres

I like exploring old churches and I found two others nearby, also with interesting architecture: Eglise Saint Aignan and Eglise Saint Pierre. I also did a quick walk through the Musée des Beaux arts. For ideas on other things to do in Chartres, I suggest looking at the Chartres tourism website.

I have explored many of the Gothic churches in Paris and have wanted to see the Chartres Cathedral for a long time. I am so glad I finally had a chance to take a day trip from Paris to see it and doing it on my own was quite easy. However, if you prefer to travel with a guide, you can find a variety of tours and trips on Viator.com or GetYourGuide.com.

The options for day trips from Paris are many with a visit to the impressive Palace of Versailles topping the list. For those who love architecture and French history, I highly recommend this day trip to Chartres as well. And to fully appreciate the architecture of the Chartres cathedral and the town around it definitely plan on taking a whole day to visit Chartres.

Travel Tips: If you are headed to the Loire Valley, then the town of Chartres is an easy stop on your way south of Paris. I suggest finding a nice hotel in town and spending the night which will give you more time to just enjoy the ambiance of this quaint and quiet destination. By the way, I loved exploring the Loire Valley on a barge cruise with European Waterways.

For the most up to date information on visiting the Chartres Cathedral go to http://www.cathedrale-chartres.org/.


Other stories you may enjoy:

How to do a day trip to Monet’s garden in Giverny: Impressions of Monet – Spend a Day in Giverny in Monet’s Garden

Should you visit the Eiffel Tower: My Memories of the Eiffel Tower – Is the Eiffel Tower Worth Visiting?


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