LivingTravelChateau de Vincennes: the complete guide

Chateau de Vincennes: the complete guide

While Versailles is a household name, most tourists have never heard of the Chateau de Vincennes. However, it is a formidable castle located on the eastern border of Paris, and easily accessible by jumping on the metro.

A true medieval fortress complete with a donjon (keep), towers and moat, the castle was a key site for the kings of France since the 12th century. It also served to protect Paris from foreign attacks and the monarchy from popular uprisings.

It has long been taken over by the French state, and now it serves primarily as a reminder of royal power and military prowess. However, anyone interested in history and the medieval French monarchy is worth a visit, especially as part of a day trip to the sprawling, leafy Bois de Vincennes park.

History of the fortress

The site where the present castle stands was originally the site for a royal hunting lodge, commissioned by the French King Louis VII in the mid-12th century. Later, the kings Felipe Augusto and Luis IX expanded these royal grounds into a large mansion.

During the mid to late 14th century, it was significantly expanded into a defensive medieval fortress. King Felipe VI ordered the construction of a 170-foot-high fortress, or donjon, which was then the tallest in Europe. It would take around two centuries and successive royal orders to complete the structure’s grandiose rectangular fortified walls, flanked by nine dramatic towers. These were completed around 1410.

Many royal families settled in the Donjon over the centuries, and the Chateau de Vincennes was a place of marriage and birth for numerous monarchs. Philip III and IV of France were married there, while King Henry V of England perished in the donjon in 1422, following a bloody siege in the French city of Meaux. Carlos V had a personal library built in the castle. The powerful King Louis XIV (also known as the “Sun King” periodically resided in Vincennes while the Palace of Versailles was under construction.

 

There is an interesting connection between the Chateau de Vincennes and the Sainte-Chapelle in central Paris. While the latter was under construction, Vincennes was chosen to temporarily hold the relics of the Crown of Thorns. The Chapel of Vincennes, probably built by the same architect responsible for the Sainte-Chapelle. He still has a fragment of the crown.

During the French Revolution of 1789, a mob of around 1,000 workers attacked, looted, and partly demolished the castle. For a period after the Revolution, the castle was abandoned, temporarily serving as a porcelain factory.

During the reign of Emperor Napoleon I, the castle was transformed into an arsenal and military barracks. Once again it served as a defensive site against external attacks.

Although no longer under royal control, the castle continued to serve as a prison throughout the 19th century. Among the famous inmates was the controversial writer Marquis de Sade.

The castle also has an interesting place in the dark history of WWII and the Nazi occupation of Paris. During the battle for the liberation of Paris in August 1944, German Waffen-SS soldiers arrested and executed 26 French policemen and members of the French Resistance at the Chateau. After learning that Paris had been liberated by Allied troops, SS soldiers set off explosions at Vincennes, severely damaging parts of the fortress. Thus, it is an important memorial site, if overlooked, that reminds us of Nazi atrocities and those who resisted them.

 

Today, the site houses an important collection of military and defensive archives, as well as a library.

What to see and do there

The amazing medieval fortress can be visited in approximately 90 to 120 minutes (a little longer if you choose to visit the upper levels of the donjon via a guided tour).

As you tour the exteriors and ground floor, notice the massive moat (once filled with water), massive rectangular fortified walls, and a spectacular donjon. The latter is still the highest remaining medieval donjon in Europe. It’s easy to imagine how powerful this castle must have been during the medieval period, when it would have been one of the most prominent structures on the horizon.

Also be sure to see the Gothic-style Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, completed in the late 14th century and featuring delicate stained glass windows. It is similar in many ways to its grander counterpart in Paris. It may be worth taking a guided tour to climb to the upper levels of the donjon and get a perspective on the castle, the wooded park of Vincennes, and the Paris skyline in the close distance.

Facilities in the castle

There is a gift shop and bookstore on site where you can read souvenirs, art supplies, and books.

There are no on-site restaurants or cafes at the Chateau, but the Bois de Vincennes is home to several restaurants and cafes.

How to get there

The castle is located in the nearby eastern suburb of Vincennes, easily accessible by metro or RER line train. From central Paris, the easiest way to get to the Chateau is to take metro line 1 to Chateau de Vincennes, then follow the signs to get to the entrance. You can also take the RER A (commuter train) to Vincennes. Board of Chatelet-les-Halles or Nation; It is only a short trip to the east.

Bus lines 46, 56 and 86 also serve the Chateau.

  • Address: 1 avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes
  • Tel.: +33 (0) 1 48 08 31 20
  • Visit the official website (in English)

Accessibility: the site is accessible to visitors with hearing and visual disabilities. It is only partially accessible for people with limited mobility or in wheelchairs (mainly in the outdoor areas and lower floors). An accompanying helper is required due to a steep incline and the presence of cobblestones. The donjon and the “chatelet” are not accessible. partially accessible (outdoor areas, ground floor from donjon). The site is equipped with accessible bathroom. See more information about accessibility on this site here (click on the “Disability” tab).

 

Tickets and opening hours

From September 22 to May 20, the Chateau is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm From May 21 to September 21, it remains open until 6 pm each day. The gift shop and the bookstore have the same hours.

It is closed on the following holidays: January 1, May 1, November 1, November 11 and December 25 (Christmas Day).

Tickets cost 9 euros for most visitors, although admission is 7 euros for guests under 26 and over 65. Visitors with European Union passports or ID cards can enter for free.

Generally, you don’t need to book in advance or get skip-the-line tickets for this attraction, but you can book online at this page if you prefer.

Guided tours of the castle

If you want to take a guided tour of the castle, you should know that they are only offered in French at the moment. However, self-guided audio tours are available in numerous languages and will suit most visitors.

Please note that the upper levels of the fortress are only accessible via a tour; These must be booked in advance by phone. Please see this page for more information and contact details. Again, it appears that they are currently offered in French only.

What to see and do nearby

The main attraction near the castle is the extensive and leafy Bois de Vincennes park. The drawings of this “wood”, one of the two that surround Paris, are numerous. They include hundreds of acres of wooded trails, picnic-perfect lawns, man-made ponds, and even an old horse racing track. If you are interested in plants, head to the arboretum and botanical garden (Parc Floral) full of lush flowers, miniature golf course and a stage reserved for relaxing summer jazz concerts.

On a warm and sunny day, follow your visit to the Chateau with a picnic lunch in the park, or rent a rowboat and enjoy the man-made lakes. A long walk on the wooded trails is also a lovely way to spend a day.

Since both the Chateau and the park are just outside the city limits, they make an ideal day trip when you don’t have much time but still need some fresh air and a respite from the urban grind.

Finally, the town of Vincennes can be fun to walk around. The main shopping streets around the metro are not extensive, but they have a relaxed, almost village-like atmosphere. If time permits, explore the city a bit before catching the train back to Paris ‘proper’.

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