There are some towns in France that are just great to visit. Towns that have a life about them, some interesting things to see for sure, but just reward you for visiting. Senlis (pronounced Son-Lee) is one of those.
The town retains a lot of its medieval charm while not feeling like you are visiting a museum. Rather, the town has kept the best of the past and has the best of today.
Senlis is about 53km/33mi from Paris, almost directly to the North.
What to see
Part of what makes this town great to visit is just the vibe of the town. Really the best thing to do is to wander around.
The tourist office (opposite the cathedral) has a map of the town with a number of walking trails that intersect with each other (ie one starts where the previous one ends) so you can choose the length of the walk you want to do and the sights you want to see.
The main sights in Senlis are the Cathedral, the castle royal, the hotel de ville, and the Saint Vincent abbey.
The medieval centre to the town is great to wander around. There are a wide range of old buildings, small pathways and remains of the city walls to walk around. There are great cafes and salon de teas in and amongst the city buildings to stop and take a hot or cold beverage and sample some local cake's.
The Cathedral Notre Dame de l'Assomption de Senlis is one of the dominant features of the town. It was built in the late 1100's and much of the original cathedral remains, despite a fire in the 1500's. It has the distinction of being one of the smallest catherals in France and at the moment there is work being undertaken to restore the gates to their original colors.
The Royal Palace was a castle home to a number of dynasties before it became a "Palais Royal" under Louis VI in the 12th century. This was not open to the public when we were there, but much of the structure and the castle walls are visible from around the outside.
In the medieval times the town was fortified by circular walls. Some of these walls remain, and it is possible to walk in and around them. Even where the walls are no longer extant it is possible to see where they were by the circular layout of the city streets.
One of the unique features in Senlis is the Roman arena. Dating from 1st Century (before or after Christ?) the arena was rediscovered in 1865 and has been partially excavated. Visits are through organised tours only, so it is important to contact the tourist office before going to Senlis if you want to visit the arena.
There are also four museums in the town.
Things to do
How to get there
Senlis is slightly more complicated than other towns to get to as there is no direct rail link. However there is only one change and it is not difficult.
Trains leave from Gare du Nord and go via Chantilly (change at "Chantilly Gouvieux" station) or Creil (change at "Creil" station).
If you are changing at Chantilly the bus stop (Gare Routiere) is beside the train station. Exit the train station through the main entrance into the car park. Turn left on Rue d'Orgemont. Walk along infront of the train station and just beside the train station is the bus stop. If you don't speak French, asking the driver "Son-lee?" when you hope on and showing them your ticket (see below) should let you know if you are on the right bus. The first bus stop is for Senlis, it should be labeled with a timetable - its a good opportunity to check when the last bus leaves Senlis for Chantilly.
We have not taken the route from Criel so cannot comment on how easy it is.
If you purchase a ticket from Paris all the way to Senlis you will not need to buy a bus ticket in Chantilly or Criel. This is useful for getting on the bus because you can show the ticket to the conductor when you board to make sure you are on the right bus.
Ironically, the main bus stop for Senlis is the now abandoned train station. From here it is a short walk into the main old section of the town.
The tourist office (opposite the Cathedral) in Senlis can tell you when the buses leave Senlis for your return journey and show you where from (they speak good English). You can then buy your bus ticket on the bus for Chantilly or Criel and your train ticket at the Chantilly or Criel train station. This saves you having to predetermine when you want to return.
While trains are reasonably frequent, it is a good idea to make sure that you know when the last train leaves for Paris before you leave.
Approximate Distance from Paris: 53km/33mi
Time to get there: 1 hour to 1 hour 30.
Transport Method: Train from Gare du Nord to 'Chantilly Gouvieux' and then bus to Senlis.
Approximate Price: 9.80 - 11.30 Euro per person each way
Worth: Most of a day. Early/mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
Website: http://www.senlis-tourisme.fr/ (Available in English)