Fontainebleau is a lovely historic town 55.5 km (34.5 miles) south of Paris, France. It is renowned for its large and scenic forest that surrounds one almighty château, once a hunting lodge beloved of the kings of France. Fontainebleau is a favourite weekend getaway for Parisians, and attracts crowds of tourists.
To the château
You can go by train from Paris by Gare de Lyon: there are at least two trains an hour between 06:19 and 00:49.
If you already have a pass covering zones 1-5, you can use it between Paris and Fontainebleau. If you plan to do just a day trip to Fontainebleau, a Mobilis pass covering zones 1-5 (€17.80) will be cheaper than a return ticket, and is also valid in Paris (RER, metro, bus, tram) and Fontainebleau (bus). Don't forget to write your name and date of use before using it! If you're staying more than a day in Fontainebleau, a one way ticket costs €8.85, it can be used on either way no matter the order of the departure and arrival station written on the ticket. Don't forget to validate it before getting on board!
At Gare de Lyon, tickets should be purchased to the destination Fontainebleau Avon from the green, blue or grey colored Billet Île-de-France machines (these are the same machines from which you buy Paris metro tickets) and not from the yellow colored SNCF machines. Many of these machines accept only coins or a chipped debit card, so if you have only bills and are travelling with a non-chipped card, be prepared to find a ticket office. You can buy your ticket from a station other than Gare de Lyon, just make sure that "Paris" is set as the departure station if you're buying a one-way ticket.
From the 1 you can use a line 1 bus to get to the Chateau (about 15 minutes), they run between 06:00 and 22:15. The bus ticket costs €1.90, but if you have the purchased the Mobilis day pass, this allows you to ride the bus to and from the castle without any additional cost, just use the ticket machine on the bus: Enter your ticket and the machine will spit it back out to be saved by you. You can also use paper Paris bus/Metro single journey tickets. To find the last stop, you can look for either the Place Napoléon Bonaparte or the Castle as each stop is in the centre.
Alternatively you can walk (about 30 minutes). If you choose to walk, cross under the tracks and follow the signs to the chateau. They will lead you to the corner of the walled park abutting the chateau, where you can follow the paths to the edge of the gardens and then find signs to the entrance.
To the forest
If you want to walk through the forêt de Fontainebleau, some trains stop conveniently in the middle of the forest, only on weekends and French public holidays, at Fontainebleau-Forêt (located here). Those are the 08:16 and 09:16 departures from Paris-Gare de Lyon, arriving at :56. The stop does not appear anywhere on the line maps: it's between Bois-le-Roi and Fontainebleau-Avon. You need a valid pass or ticket to Fontainebleau-Avon (see above).
- The trains only stop on the Paris -> Fontainebleau journey, they do not stop on the way back to Paris. The closest station, Vulaines-sur-Seine, is a 3.3 km (2 mi) walk southeastbound, make sure you're ready to walk at least that much.
- This is a forest. Make sure you have a detailed map of the area, and won't run out of battery if the map is on your smartphone. Again, the closest station, Fontainebleau-Avon, is a 4-km walk away.
- Do not cross the railway, use the underpass located close to the platform.
The total distance from centre to centre is about 65 km or an hour. From Paris, follow signs towards the south, then signs for Lyon and the A6. After about 35 minutes you will see signs for Fontainebleau. Once entering the city there is a tall apartment block which is a remnant of some architectural style a lot in the city would like to see disappear. However, it still forms part of the town’s history – as much as the castle even if in much less splendour.
Orientation in town is very easy as there is only one main artery called the “Rue Grande” which goes from the Castle to the other end of town, passing by the central “Napoléon Bonaparte” place. Many shops, bars and restaurants abound on either sidewalk for every possible taste. Walking is by far the best option as the most you’ll walk without stopping (very difficult thing to do considering all the pretty windows to look at) would be 20 minutes.
- 1 Château de Fontainebleau (Palace of Fontainebleau). 09:30-17:00 in winter; 09:30-18:00 in summer. This is one of the most beautiful chateaux in France. Its interior decorations are especially interesting as a fine example of the French Renaissance style. At the same time, its historical significance is hard to overestimate, since it was the preferred residence of French kings and emperors for 7 centuries. The first mention of the castle dates back to 1137 but by the time when François I decided to make it his principal residence (1527), the medieval castle was mostly in ruins. This monarch undertook an ambitious reconstruction program, playing himself the role of the chief architect and inviting two prominent Italian artists, Rosso and Primatice to decorate the interior. Their collaboration resulted in such treasures as the François I gallery (pictured right) with wooden panels, stuccoes and frescoes depicting various episodes from the life of the king; the Church of the Trinity and the Ball room are also from this epoch. After François I, many French monarchs chose Fontainebleau as their residence; the construction started by François I was mostly completed under Henri II and Henri IV. Louis XIII, the son of Henri IV was born in Fontainebleau; the tourists can see the room where Marie de' Medici delivered the baby and imagine how crowded it was at the time: to avoid any risk of substitution, the birth of the king must take place in presence of many witnesses.Somewhat neglected during the French Revolution, the Fontainebleau castle is back to its glory under the reign of Napoleon I, who lived there for a long time and bade his farewell to his troops in the court of the castle in 1814. The visitor can see the Emperor's Throne room (unique in France) and his private apartments. Pope Pius VII visited Fontainebleau twice, first as a guest and then as a prisoner of Napoleon; the papal quarters are open to visitors. After your visit to the main building, do not forget to take a stroll in the park and the gardens around the castle; you will see Diane's fountain and (if you are lucky) meet one of the peacocks who live there. Although by no means less interesting than the Versailles castle, the Fontainebleau castle is a bit more difficult to reach and less known to tourists; as a result, there are at least ten times less visitors in Fontainebleau than in Versailles. Except maybe on national holidays, there is never a queue to get in, and you can explore the immense castle almost on your own, which, together with the fresh air and the absence of street vendors contributes to make your visit a very peaceful and enjoyable experience. The castle is open every day except Tuesday, January 1, May 1 and December 25th. Entrance fee for adults is free for children below 18 and residents of the EU below 26. UNESCO World Heritage Site  €11/adult, €9/reduced.
- 2 Forêt de Fontainebleau (Fontainebleau Forest). An important forest area of 25,000 ha with an altitude ranging from 42 m to 144 m. Each year, millions of visitors come to walk (13 million in 2006). 40,000 years ago, nomadic populations were established near the forest. Around the year 1000, the forest was composed of a series of enclaves that shared little lords and wealthy landowners . For the kings of France, the forest had indeed many uses including hunting and a military interest. In 1400, Charles VI ordered the first amendment of the forest. Under Francis I, the forest consisted of only 13 365 ha but the Kings expanded it through acquisitions and forfeitures. It was at this time the management of the forest and administration took shape and was kept until the Revolution. At the time of Louis XIV, less than 20% of the area was forested. Colbert launched a new reformation in 1664 replanting the sites. The king then traverses the forest each year in the fall for hunting. In 1716, after the terrible winter of 1709, a new forest management was enacted: 6000 ha were planted with deciduous trees, but this was an almost total failure. A new development was revived in 1750. In 1786, a shy introduction of Scots pine is attempted. In 1750, around 90 km from the forest is bounded by 1050 terminals still visible today. After the Revolution, after many deep cuts and proliferation of game misconduct hunting Napoleon in 1807 reformed the forest administration and the castle. In 1830, the planting of 6,000 ha of other pine angered artists who seek inspiration in the forest. In 1839, Claude-François Denecourt released its first guide forest walks and trails the first landscape in 1842 In 1849 the railway arrived at Fontainebleau, which will allow Parisians to visit Fontainebleau by day trips . In 1861 was created the first artistic reserve 1097 ha. It is the first nature reserve in the world, even before the creation of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. In 1953, the first biological reserves were created.
- 3 Musée d'art figuratif contemporain (Contemporary Figurative Art Museum), 43, rue Royale.
- 4 Musée des pompiers (Firemen Museum), 2, place Orloff.
- Musée national du Palais (Fontainebleau National Palace Museum), Fontainebleau Palace.
- Musée Napoléon Ier (Napoleon I Museum), Fontainebleau Palace.
- Musée napoléonien d'art et d'histoire (Napoleonic Museum of Art and History), 88, rue Saint-Honoré.
- 5 Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte (not well-served by public transport, nearest station is Melun on the RER D, but it's still quite a long way away so you'll need to hitch a ride from there to the Chateau.). Baroque French Chateau, the prototype for the Château de Versailles. Temporarily closed until April 2022.
There are many cultural, sporting, entertainment or shopping activities one can do. For more information on this, the best available and updated website is the official tourism site, linked at the top of this article.
The town is also famous for a horse race track and its Sunday morning food market.
The forest is also full of sandstone boulders perfect for climbing/bouldering.
Birdwatching The walled park of the chateau provides excellent birdwatching, especially if you arrive early. The forest is also nearby.
- 1 Golf de Fontainebleau, Route d'Orleans, ☏ . Inaugurated in 1909, the Fontainebleau golf course is one of the oldest in France. Created by Frenchman Julien Chantepie, redesigned in 1920 by Tom Simpson and elongated and modified by Fred Hawtree, it is located in the Fontainebleau forest, near the town, on the ancient imperial hunting grounds. Its narrow fairways are bordered with various species of trees such as pines silver birch, wild cherry, beech and centenary oak. It is very well equipped with 103 fine sand bunkers and also, dense outcrops of brooms, lilacs, ferns and wonderful jennets, which makes the course so attractive and difficult. And, according to the seasons, a symphony of colours and the scents of nature await you.
- 2 Le Grand Parquet (Equestrian Stadium), RN 152 - Route d’Orléans - Camp Guynemer, ☏ . After two years of renovation, it has become one of the most beautiful equestrian sites in Europe. Capable of fulfilling its mission as a vast garden for the inhabitants of the Fontainebleau region, it can now accommodate all kinds of events, from shows to concerts and music festivals.
There are plenty of shops from high-end pastry shops to the latest French fashion cloth wear and jewellery.
The town boasts many different restaurants from Mexican to Japanese, Pizza to Fish-only. Of course there are Brasseries (the most authentic being, quite unknowingly called the “Franklin Roosevelt”) and very good French restaurants (the best one being in the Hotel Napoleon).
- 1 [dead link] Les Glaces (Brasserie Franklin Roosevelt), 15 Rue Grande, Fontainebleau, ☏ . Gathering place for INSEAD students
There are plenty of places to drink, from modern ambient bars to traditional French bars, English pubs and Mexican bars.
- Brasserie Pachamama. This small brewery is based inside the forest of Fontainebleau and makes a few styles of beer under the name Font&Bleau. It's only sold in bottles in some gift shops, so you'll have to look around to find it. €3.50-4.
There are plenty of places to sleep in Fontainebleau but the three best places are the Aigle Noir Hotel, the Napoléon Hotel and the Hotel of London.
- 1 Chateau de Bourron, Bourron-Marlotte, ☏ , fax: , BourronILA@ila-chateau.com. Romantic chateau set in 100 acres of woodland, 7 km south of Fontainebleau. Wi-Fi, restaurant, tennis, heli-pad, horse riding. €160-250.
- 2 Hotel de Londres, 1 Place du General de Gaulle, 77300 Fontainebleau, ☏ , email@example.com.
- 3 Hotel L'Aigle Noir, 27 Place Napoléon Bonaparte, Fontainebleau, ☏ . Built in the 15th century, this former hotel was long the residence of the nobles who accompanied the court of the sovereign Kings of France. During the reign of Louis XV, this noble residence was gradually converted into a luxury hotel to accommodate tourists and visiting dignitaries in the historic city. It was later used by guests of the emperors Napoleon I and Napoleon III.
- 4 Hotel Napoleon Fontainebleau, ☏ . Until 1849, when the railway arrived, this address was that of a coach house. The hotel has been repeatedly redesigned and renovated. For two decades, "La Table des Maréchaux", the restaurant of the Hotel Napoleon, has been under the care of Chef Antony Assis; it offers traditional French cuisine.
The Chateau de Fontainebleau hosts a summer music institution. It is a combination of a music conservatory and an architecture studio in a historic chateau setting. Courses are taught in English by predominately French musicians, composers, artists, and professors. Nadia Boulanger, a young composition and harmony professor led the school until 1979. The school has influenced such composers as: Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Louise Talma, Samuel Dushkin, Elliott Carter, Beveridge Webster, Kenton Coe and many others.
As if the town didn’t offer enough as it is, there are many other attractions in the surrounding region. Towns like Barbizon (home of the artists), Milly-la-Foret, Samois-sur-Seine, and many others.