Known as the Garden of France, the Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that enchants visitors with fairy-tale like castles, exquisite gardens, charming towns, and unforgettable wine. It’s no wonder it’s considered one of the best places to visit in France. From the grandiose castle of Chambord to the vineyards in the Loire Valley, here is everything you need to know about the Loire Valley, including how to make a day trip from Paris to the Loire Valley, the best castles to visit in the Loire Valley, what to do in the Loire Valley, and more.
Table of Content
- Map of the Loire Valley
- Best Time to Visit the Loire Valley
- How Long to Stay in the Loire Valley
- How to Get to Loire Valley from Paris
- How to Get Around the Loire Valley
- Where to Stay in the Loire Valley
- Visiting the Loire Valley on a Day Trip from Paris
- Best Châteaux to Visit in the Loire Valley
- Best Things to Do in Loire Valley Beside Châteaux
Map of the Loire Valley
Below is a map of the Loire Valley showing the most popular cities and châteaux.
Best Time to Visit the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley has something to offer all year round. However, if you want to get the most out of your holiday and enjoy the châteaux’s beauty both inside and out, the best time to visit the Loire Valley is in late spring and summer.
During mid May and early June you’ll get to fully experience both the beauty of the châteaux and the gardens as the days get longer, the weather warms up, and the flowers are starting to blossom. Most importantly, the crowds are significantly smaller than in high season.
The Loire Valley is in full swing from June to early September, which means light and fountain shows, festivals, and fully blossomed gardens. This time of the year also brings in the crowds, so expect longer lines than in the shoulder season. The weather can also be very hot and unbearable at times, especially if you are considering cycling through the Loire Valley.
How Long to Stay in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a charming and magical region in France, and you can easily spend months exploring its beauty. However for most that is not possible. So instead, two or three days in the Loire Valley region is a good amount of time to get a nice glimpse of the area and see the popular châteaux without getting burnt-out.
Along with châteaux, there are castles worth visiting. Aim to hit about two or three each day, more than that will be overkill, plus there is more to the Loire Valley than castles. See the things to do in the Loire Valley section.
Here is a suggested 2-3 day itinerary for the Loire Valley. Optional castle are in parenthesis.
- Day 1: Chaumont; Chambord; and Cheverny (Blois)
- Day 2: Chenonceau and Amboise & Clos-Lucé
- Day 3: Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry (Chinon; Usse)
How to Get to Loire Valley from Paris
Loire Valley is not just one place, rather it’s a region along the Loire River which spans 170 miles, so before discussing how to get Loire Valley, you must first know which castles you want to see and where you will base yourself.
The main cities people stay in when exploring the Loire Valley are Tours, Amboise, Blois, and Orleans. Here are the closest châteaux near the cities mentioned above.
- Amboise: Amboise Château, Clos-Lucé; Chenonceau; (Chaumout; Blois)
- Blois: Blois Château; Chaumont; Chambord; Cheverny (Chenonceau & Amboise)
- Tours: Azay-le-Rideau; Villandry; Chinon; Amboise Château; Usse
- Orleans: Sully-sur-Loire; Château of Meung-sur-Loire
If you are looking to visit the four C’s (Chaumont; Chambord; Cheverny, Chenonceau) which are the most popular châteaux, it is recommended to stay in Blois. It’s also convenient to start from Blois if you are considering doing a day trip to Loire Valley from Paris, as you can see at least 2 of the popular castles.
So now that we have got that settled, here are the best ways to get from Paris to the Loire Valley.
1. By Train
The fastest way to get from Paris to the Loire Valley is by train. France is well connected by a network of trains which are both efficient and fast (TGV). You can purchase tickets in advance online on the official website. It is highly recommended to book well in advance to get the cheapest price. Prices can be as low as €10 or as high as €90.
- Tours: The fastest train from Paris to Tours takes about 1h 15mins and departs from Paris Montparnasse train station daily. Most trains terminate at St. Pierre de Corps, where you get off and take a five minute shuttle to Tour.
- Blois: Direct trains from Paris Austerlitz train station leave daily and takes about 1h 30mins to reach Blois-Chambord station; while non-direct trains can take up to 2 hours.
- Amboise: The average travel time from Paris Montparnasse train station to Amboise is about 2h 22mins, however, the fastest train only takes 1h 21mins.
- Orleans: Trains heading to Orleans leave from either Paris Montparnasse or Paris Austerlitz. The trip takes a little over an hour on the fastest train.
2. By Car
Renting a car is the most convenient way to see the Loire Valley Castles. You can explore at your own pace, and see as many or as few castles as you please without feeling rushed. You can rent a car from Paris and it will take between 2 and 3 hours to get to the Loire Valley depending on your final destination. However, to avoid traffic jams and the chaos of driving out of Paris, take a train to your base destination, then rent a car from there. See information above on how to get from Paris to the Loire Valley by train.
For the best car rental rates, use the form below or check out Rentalcars.com.
3. By Guided Tour
With a guided tour, you can take the stress out of planning and leave everything up to the professionals. No need to figure out how to get around or what to see, nor will you find yourself wandering around castles aimlessly without any background knowledge. A tour will do it all for you. Guided tours to Loire Valley are also a great option if you’re limited on time. There are several great tours from Paris including full day trips where you see 2-3 castles; as well as multiple day tours where you get to fully experience the Loire Valley.
Here are a few highly rated day tours from Paris:
- Chambord, Chenonceau + Wine tasting and Lunch at Chateau Nitray
- Chambord, Chenonceau + Wine tasting
- 2 Day Tour: Amboise, Clos-Lucé, Chenonceau, Cheverny and Chambord
- Chambord + 2 Wineries and Lunch
- Chambord, Amboise & Chenonceau
How to Get Around the Loire Valley
1. By Car
It goes without saying that the best way to get around the Loire Valley is by car. You have the freedom to move at your own pace and don’t need to depend on trains and buses to get you around. A car also allows you to visit the lesser known castles, explore vineyards, and see the scenic landscape up close. It’s fairly easy to drive from castle to castle as roads are well paved and there are plenty of signs leading the way. With the exception of Chambord, most of the castles have free parking.
Cars can be rented from almost all the major cities, Tours, Amboise, Blois, and Orleans. Book your car rental early, especially if you are traveling during high season (June-September). You can check car rental rates here.
2. By Bike
Cycle along the Loire River through villages, vineyards, and forests while going from one castle to the next on the La Loire à Vélo, a 900 kilometer well maintained, safe cycle route with great signage which connects Nevers to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins in France.
Regardless of your fitness level you can bike through the Loire Valley as the terrain is mostly flat, also many bike rental companies rent out electric bikes. Bike rental companies can be found in every town, at railway stations, hotels, and dedicated shops. Popular bike rental in the Loire Valley includes Detours de Loire, Les Velos Verts, and Velo Val de Loire. Prices start at €16 for classic bikes or €34 for electric bikes per day, but prices drops if you rent for longer periods of time.
For routes, cycle itineraries, maps, and more information of cycling the Loire Valley, visit Les Châteaux à Vélo or the tourist office.
3. By Public Transportation
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to visit the Loire Valley by public transportation especially if you plan to see the popular castles.This option does require some planning as you need to time your visit correctly as it may be harder to do on specific days. It’s best to stay in Blois where you have two shuttle buses accessing Chambord, Cheverny, and Chaumont, as well as the train where you visit Chenonceau, and Amboise. See visiting the Loire Valley on a day trip from Paris section for more information.
Where to Stay in the Loire Valley
The region spans 170 miles, so figuring out the best accommodations in Loire Valley can be a daunting task. First, let’s narrow it down by location.
If you want to stay in a big city, where you can get around easily by public transportation, and see many of the châteaux in the west (Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, and Chinon), Tours is a great spot to make your base. You’ll also find many guided tours leave from there. Another city option would be Orleans, where you can explore some impressive but lesser known castles like Meung-sur-Loire, and Château of Chamerolles.
For a quieter and more charming alternative, Amboise or Blois is your place. Amboise is the main tourist town in the Loire Valley, and it’s also home to the Amboise Château and Clos Luce Manor. Blois however, is a bit less well known but perhaps the better option. It is central and one of the best places to stay in Loire Valley to visit the 4 C’s (Chambord, Cheverny, Chaumont, Chenonceau), not to mention it’s home to the underrated Blois Château.
A more quaint, and interesting place to stay is in one of the smaller villages between Tours and Orleans, where you can stay in charming hotels or better yet a château.
Below are some of the best châteaux to stay in the Loire Valley.
- Le Relais de Chambord
- Chateau des Arpentis
- Chateau-Monastère de La Corroirie
- Chateau d’Artigny
- Château de Chissay
- Domaine des Hauts de Loire
Another unique place to stay in the Loire Valley is in a troglodyte cave. A troglodyte cave is built out of limestone and was once used as a wine cellar because of its low and consistent temperature. Now, many have been transformed into private residences and hotels.
Here are some of the best troglodytes in the Loire Valley.
Visiting the Loire Valley on a Day Trip from Paris
With a combination of trains and buses, it’s very much possible to do a day trip from Paris to the Loire Valley. Though you won’t see as much as if you stayed for a few days, you can still see some of the most popular castles. It’s possible to visit the Loire Valley from Tours and Amboise by public transportation but it’s more convenient and less exhausting from Blois. Nonetheless, here are three options for seeing the Loire Valley as a day trip from Paris.
Please Note: The suggested itineraries are based on the 2019 shuttle bus and train schedules, so times are subject to change.
Recommendation: If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of planning a Loire Valley day trip from Paris, consider booking a guided tour instead. This guided tour visits some of the best castles in the Loire Valley and comes highly recommended.
Option 1: Chambord, Cheverny and Blois Château via Shuttle Bus 41
From Blois there is a shuttle bus, Navette Route 41 which takes you from the train station to Chambord, Cheverny and Beauregard, and conveniently leaves you pretty much at the footsteps of all the castles. Tickets cost €3 every time you get on and can only be purchased on the bus, cards are not accepted. With the ticket, you can also get a €1-2 discount on the castle’s entrance fee.
During peak season months, mid July to September, the shuttle runs everyday, however from April to November it mostly just runs on Wednesdays, Saturday, Sundays, and holidays, so plan your trip accordingly. The shuttle corresponds with the 9:02am train from Paris Austerlitz and is designed so that you can visit Chambord in the morning and Cheverny in the evening, with plenty of time in between to explore and have lunch.
- 6:45am: Arrive at Gare Paris Austerlitz and take the 7:17am train to Blois-Chambord.
- 9:02am: Train arrives at Blois-Chambord Station.
- 9:30am: Take the Navette shuttle bus to your first castle, Chambord. The bus stop is in the parking lot in front of the train station.
- 10:00am: Arrive at Chambord Château, explore and have lunch (picnic or onsite restaurants)
- 1:45pm: Depart from Chambord and catch the 1:55pm bus to Cheverny. Bus stop is from the same location you were dropped off.
- 2:40pm: Arrive at Cheverny. You have ~ 2 hours to explore Cheverny Château and its gardens.
- 4:25pm: Depart from Cheverny and catch the last shuttle bus back to Blois at 4:35pm.
- 5:50pm: Arrive to Blois-Chambord Bus Station. From there you have several options:
- Catch the 6:00pm or 6:41pm train back to Paris
- Walk around Blois’ old town and have dinner
- Visit the Blois Château (July & August, it closes at 7pm)
Note: The last train departing for Paris leaves at 8:22pm (Gare Montparnasse).
Option 2: Blois Château and Chaumont via Shuttle Bus Azalys
Alternatively, you can use the second shuttle, Navette Azalys to see Chaumont-sur-Loire Château. The bus stops at Blois station, Blois Château, Onzain train station, and finally Chamout. The ticket costs €2.15 one way or €4.15 round trip and can be bought from the bus driver. Your bus tickets also gives you up to €3.60 discount on the entrance fee to Chaumont-sur-Loire.
- 7:00am: Arrive at Gare Paris Austerlitz and take the 7:37am train to Blois-Chambord.
- 9:36am: Train arrives at Blois-Chambord Station. Walk 7-8 minutes to the Blois Château
- 9:45am: Arrive at Blois Château and explore and have lunch in town
- 1:00pm: Catch the 1:10pm bus from the Blois Château bus stop to Chaumont-sur-Loire
- 2:00pm: Arrive at Chaumont Château and explore
- 5:20pm: Catch the 5:30pm shuttle bus back to Onzain train station or Blois to catch the train back to Paris.
Option 3: Amboise Castle, Clos Lucé, and Chaumont-sur-Loire via Train
This option which starts in Amboise, includes a lot more walking and isn’t the easiest.
- 7:00am: Arrive at Gare Paris Austerlitz and take the 7:29am train to Amboise
- 9:22am: Arrive to Amboise, take a 5 min taxi, or walk 20 minutes to Amboise Castle.
- 9:45am: Explore Amboise Castle and the Clos Lucé Manor. Have lunch in Amboise.
- 1:50pm: Head back to the Amboise train station (20 mins walk) and catch the 2:23pm train to Onzain-Chaumont Station.
- 2:32pm: Arrive at Onzain-Chaumont Station. Enjoy the 30 minute walk to Chaumont from station, path has good signage.
- 5:20pm: Leave Chaumont Castle and either catch the 5:30pm Navette Azalys shuttle bus or walk back to the Onzain-Chaumont Station. From here you have several options:
- Catch the next train to Paris from Onzain
- Take the same shuttle to Blois and explore the old town and have dinner, then catch the next train to Paris from Blois train station
- Visit the Blois Château (July & August, it closes at 7pm)
The Best Castles to Visit in the Loire Valley
With over three hundred castles to explore in the Loire Valley, deciding which ones to visit can be a difficult task. To help you figure out which castles are worth your time, here is a list of some of the best castles in the Loire Valley and what makes them special.
1. Château de Chenonceau
Château Chenonceau is without a doubt the most popular and recognizable castle of the Loire Valley, after all it is the second most visited castle in France after Versailles. The elegant Renaissance castle of Chenonceau with it’s arches spanning the Cher River is often referred to as “the ladies château”, as it was built, designed, inhabited, and eventually saved from destruction, by women. As you visit, you’ll definitely notice its feminie touches.
As for what to see there, every inch of the castle and it’s grounds are a must, but some notable highlights include the bedrooms of the ladies of the château, the chapel, the kitchen, the 60 meter long gallery which was once used as a ballroom, the gardens, and if you have the time, the boat ride along the Cher river for a different perspective of the castle. From the facade, to the interior, and gardens, Château Chenonceau will keep you in awe, which is why no matter what’s in your Loire Valley itinerary, don’t miss out on Chenonceau! It’s the number one castle in the Loire Valley. You can buy your skip-the-line ticket to Chenonceau here.
2. Château de Chambord
426 rooms (80 of which can be visited), 83 staircases, 282 fireplaces all situated in the largest enclosed forest park in Europe (over 5,000 hectares) which is said to be as big as the city center of Paris. Chambord’s grandeur and enormous size makes it one of the most awe-inspiring and one of the most visited castles in the Loire Valley.
Some of Chambord’s highlights include the revolutionary design double helix staircase by Leonardo da Vinci, the stone ceiling with 800 carvings of crown salamander sigils, as well as the rooftop which is adorned with impressive spires and chimneys. It is here on the rooftop, where visitors can get breath-taking panoramic views of the entire property including the gardens and park.
3. Château de Cheverny
Château de Cheverny is considered to be the most lavishly furnished castle of the Loire Valley castles, as you’ll discover a range of furniture, interior decor, and tapestries that are well preserved. This perfectly symmetrical castle is also known for being in the comic book, The Adventures of Tintin as the Tintin château, Marlinspike Hall was modeled after Cheverny. Speaking of Tintin, you can also visit the 3D Tintin exhibition on the grounds.
Other things to discover at Cheverny include the Lego exhibition, the labyrinth, the Tulip and Vegetable Garden, the park, as well as the feeding of the 80+ hunting hounds. With all of these fun things to do, Cheverny is definitely a great castle to explore with kids.
4. Château de Chaumont
When you’re thinking about castles, you’re probably dreaming of Chaumont, as the castle seems like it came straight out of a fairy tale. Well it sort of is, since it is said to have inspired Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Though Chaumont isn’t the most lavishly furnished chateau in the Loire Valley, it stands out for it’s flemish tapestries, beautiful English gardens, and interesting art installments.
To bring the castle to life, each year Chaumont showcases the artworks, sculptures, and creative installations of artists throughout the château and gardens. Some pieces you might like while others you might find bizarre, nonetheless, this gives Chaumont its own charm. Chaumont also hosts the annual “Festival International des Jardins”, a garden festival in which different landscape architects, designers, and artists design the gardens of the château around a selected theme. The display of flowers and colors are a sight to see!
5. Château d’Amboise
Towering high above the city of Ambroise, on a rocky cliff more than 40 meters high, Royal Château of Amboise offers magnificent views of the Loire Valley River and the town of Amboise. From the gardens to the terraces, you’ll discover great views. Inside the castle, you can get a glimpse into the royal residence of several French Kings during the Renaissance, while on the grounds you can explore the must see Chapel of Saint-Hubert where Leonardo de Vinci is said to be buried. Amboise can easily be visited as a day trip from Paris by train.
6. Château du Clos Lucé
A visit to Château du Clos Lucé is a walk in the footsteps of the famous Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci. From his bedroom to his study, get a glimpse of where da Vinci spent the last few years of his life and discover prototypes and drawings of some of his ingenious inventions, from the automobile to the machine gun, the assault chariot, and more. Clos-Lucé is on the same property as Château of Amboise so there is no excuse why to miss this experience. You can buy your skip-the-line ticket to Clos Lucé here.
7. Royal Château de Blois
Perched on a hill above the Loire River in the medieval town of Blois, is the underrated Royal Château of Blois. The castle is a masterpiece that reflects the architectural styles from the 13th to 17th centuries when it was occupied by seven French kings and ten queens. During your visit, make sure to visit the king and queen’s bedchambers, the beautifully designed Stateroom, and the Architecture Rooms.
The Royal Château of Blois can be reached directly by train from Paris as a day trip, and the Blois town makes for a great base to visit other castles in the area.
8. Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
Sitting on an island in the Indre River with a shimmering mirror image of its magnificent facade in the water, this fairy-tale like castle, Azay-le-Rideau is considered one of the most romantic places in the Loire Valley. This masterpiece of Renaissance architecture depicts a beautiful integration of classical French architecture and Italian decor.
Notable features include Escalier d’Honneur, the oldest surviving staircase of its kind in France, the numerous tapestries and artworks depicting French royals along the castle walls, as well as the rib-vaulted kitchen and the dining room with a richly decorated chimney. If you have time, be sure to add the nearby castle Château de Langeais to your Loire Valley itinerary.
9. Château de Villandry
The interior of Château de Villandry is truly captivating but it’s nothing in comparison to it’s gardens. Spread over 22 acres (nine hectares), and four terraces, Villandry memorizing Renaissance gardens can be rivaled by very few French gardens. The formal gardens which all have a love theme are made up of endless geometric patterns bordered by carefully manicured and clipped boxwood.
The beautiful Ornamental Gardens, the Herb Garden with over 30 types of medicinal herbs, and the Water Garden with a large reflecting pool and fountain, are just a few of the awe-inspiring things you’ll discover at Villandry. Another highlight during July and August is the “Nights of a Thousand Lights” event during which the gardens are illuminated with 2,000 candles. It is a sight to behold.
Best Things to Do in Loire Valley Beside Châteaux
If you’re looking for what to do in the Loire Valley beside just castle hopping, here are some of the best things to help diversify your itinerary.
1. Visit Chartres Cathedral
Chartes is a lovely town worth exploring while in the Loire Valley, as it is home to the world famous Chartres Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage site, which is adorned with amazing sculptures and impressive stained-glass windows from the 12th century, is considered the high point of French Gothic art. Chartres Cathedral, is the most well preserved Gothic cathedral in Europe and is also home to the Sancta Camisa, an important religious relic believed to be a piece of cloth worn by the Virgin Mary on the night of Christ’s birth. While visiting the cathedral, be sure to spend time exploring the lovely town of Chartres.
2. Taste Wine at a Winery
The Loire Valley is the third largest wine growing region in France and has thousands of wineries dotted throughout the region making it almost mandatory to sneak in a few wineries between your castle visits. From Muscadet to Sancerre, you’ll be able to discover the diverse taste of France’s most underrated wines. Some notable wineries include Chateau La Cassemichere in Nantes (for a taste of Muscadet); Couly-Dutheil winery in Chinon; and The Maison des Sancerre Museum of Wine in Sancerre. You can discover more wineries and vineyards in the Loire Valley with this map.
Most winery tours will include a guided tour of the vineyard, a tour of the wine cellar and of course some wine tasting.
3. See the Châteaux From Above
A unique thing to do in the Loire Valley is to admire the majestic castles from above, specifically in a hot air balloon. Marvel at the scenic landscapes and see the Loire Valley rivers and villages all glow during a sunset or sunrise balloon ride through the Loire Valley.
If a hot air balloon isn’t your cup of tea, how about soaring above the Loire Valley in a private plane. This experience would truly make your trip to the Loire Valley unforgettable.
4. Visit ZooParc de Beauval
Home to 8,000 animals living in an area around 100 acres (40 hectares), ZooParc de Beauval is France’s most popular Zoo and is ranked amongst the 10 best zoos in the world. Spend the day discovering extraordinary animals like the giant panda, white tiger, hippo, and manatee. A visit to ZooParc de Beauval is a fantastic thing to do in the Loire Valley for families. You can buy your tickets to ZooParc here.
5. Visit Local Markets
No sightseeing activity gives you a glimpse into how much the French love and appreciate fresh food like the traditional French market, known as “Le Marché”. Here you can taste local cheeses, wines, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, and pastries in the same place where you can buy clothes, pottery, and smell the flowers. Marchés are a world of their own and worth a visit. A quick google search, “Marché in ______” will give you a list of marchés near you along with opening hours.
Well, there you have it, everything you need to know to have a magical visit to the Loire Valley in France.