Famous for its wines and cheeses, France is the world’s most popular tourist destination receiving 82 million foreign tourists annual. Visitors are attracted by historic cities, a beautiful countryside, the castles of the Loire Valley, and Brittany and Normandy. In addition, France offers an agreeable climate, some excellent beaches on the French Riviera, the Atlantic coast and the island of Corsica, wide possibilities for winter sports, most notably in the Alps and the Pyrenees, and a rich culture with food and wines that are among the most celebrated in the world.
The top tourist attractions in France:
The Chenonceau Chateau is perhaps the most well-known chateau in the Loire Valley. The chateau, built in the 16th century, spans the River Cher, with passageways for boats at the bottom. After Versailles, it is the most visited chateau in France, and is noted for lovely gardens. It was restored after being bombed in World War II.
Le Puy-en-Velay, in southern, is famous for three things: its cathedral, lentils and making lace. A shrine to the Virgin Mary atop Mons Anicius has attracted pilgrims from before the Middle Ages. Notre Dame Cathedral is the most popular tourist attraction. Visitors also might want to try Verveine, green liquor flavored with verbena.
Travelers who like to sip the bubbly will enjoy a visit to Epernay, a small town south of Reims that is famous for its champagne. Indeed, it calls itself the capital of champagne, since many of the top champagnes are produced here. The Avenue du Champagne is the place to taste as it’s flanked by champagne makers.
Every May, the elite of the world’s movie-making industry descends upon this French Riviera city for the Cannes International Film Festival. While screenings are not open to the public, fans can look for their favorite stars as they enter and leave film venues, dine out in restaurants, shop or visit one of the pretty beaches.
Val d’Isère is a popular ski resort in southeastern France close to the border with Italy. It hosted men’s ski racing, including downhill and slalom, in the 1992 Winter Olympics and regularly hosts World Cup races. The charming village finds its 1,800 residents outnumbered 15 to one by guests in winter.
Nîmes is a city in southern France, that was once one of the most important cities of Roman Gaul. –A fact that’s made clear by the city’s collection of Roman buildings, including a marvelous amphitheater and a well preserved Roman temple. Because of this, Nîmes is often referred to as the French Rome.
Located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River delta, the Camargue is the largest river delta in Western Europe. The wetland area is famous for its teeming birdlife – about 500 species including the pink flamingo. Equally famous are the Camargue’s small white horses which roam the extensive marshlands.
Vieux Lyon, or Lyon Old Town, is the largest Renaissance district in Lyon, if not in Europe, and the first in France to be covered under French laws protecting cultural sites. Old Town is filled with narrow streets lined with picturesque buildings that now house museums and shops instead of people.
Bonifacio is a city in the southwest region of the island of Corsica. The nearby coast features chalk white limestone cliffs the ocean has carved into unusual shapes. Erosion has whittled away at the cliffs so that buildings appear to be almost hanging over the edge. A former fortress once housed the French Foreign Legion but is now a museum.
The Millau Bridge or Viaduct is a cable bridge that happens to be the tallest bridge in the world at 343 meters (1,125 feet). The four-lane bridge spans the valley of the River Tarn in southern France. Opening in 2004, the bridge is considered one of France greatest engineering feats.
Étretat Cliffs is France’s answer to England’s White Cliffs of Dover. It has tall white cliffs with arches that jut out into the English Channel in Upper Normandy. In years past, this farming village was a draw for artists, including painter Claude Monet and author Guy de Maupassant.
The Reims Cathedral is important to the French monarchy since that is where the country’s kings were crowned. The imposing structure was built in the French Gothic style from 1211 to 1275. It replaced a cathedral built around 400. The cathedral draws about 1 million visitors annually.
Strasbourg is a medieval city that serves as the capital of Alsace. The Old Town is marked by narrow cobblestone streets flanked with timbered buildings. Visitors say the best way to explore Strasbourg Old Town is on foot or bicycle, with walking along the canals rated a popular activity.
The Promenade des Anglais in Nice is probably the most famous walkway along the Mediterranean. It’s named for the English visitors who wintered here beginning in the 18th century. Today, Le Prom as it’s known, is popular not only with summer sunbathers, but also skateboarders and in-line skaters.
Annecy lies in the Rhone Alps at the northern end of Lake Annecy. This picturesque capital of Haute-Savoie was once part of Switzerland and Sardinia, but joined France in 1860. The medieval town is divided by small canals and streams running out of Lac Annecy, which is clean, fresh and has a wonderful azure color. A top attraction is the Palais de l’Isle that sits in the middle of a canal.
Bordeaux is a must-see for wine lovers, producing some of the world’s greatest red wines. The Bordeaux area is divided into regions and sub-regions. The Left Bank is devoted to growing cabernet sauvignon grapes while merlot grapes are grown on the Right Bank. White wines and dessert wines also are made from grapes grown here.
Located less than 40 miles (65 km) from central Paris, the Palace of Fontainebleau is one of the largest French royal chateaux. The former hunting lodge, in use since the 12th century, is the place where Napoleon abdicated his emperorship before being exiled to Elba. The complex is filled with ornate buildings that have even more ornate interiors.
The Pont du Gard is an old Roman aqueduct/bridge that crosses the River Gardon in southern France. Built around 40, it was part of a long watercourse to bring water from a spring in Uzes to the Roman colony of Nimes. At 49 meters (160 feet) tall, it is the highest of all the Roman aqueduct bridges.
Cite de Carcassonne is an historic fortified city in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The city dates back about 2,500 years and became part of France in the mid-13th century. At one time it was the center of the French woolen textile industry. A 19th-century restoration project of the Cité turned Carcassonne into the popular tourist destination it is today.
The Chartres Cathedral is located in a small city near Paris that seems too small to fit the Cathedral. The vast nave, the porches adorned with fine sculptures and the magnificent 12th- and 13th-century stained-glass windows, all in remarkable condition, make it one of the finest examples of the French High Gothic style.
Located in the Arcachon Bay area, the Dune of Pyla is the tallest sand dune in Europe. Its growing eastwards at about 4.5 meter a year – it has swallowed trees, a road junction and even a hotel. At the summit of the dune the view is spectacular with the Atlantic coast and the inlet of the bay on one side and a large pine forest on another.
The star attraction of Avignon, the Palais des Papes is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. This is the palace where the Popes of Avignon ruled, during a period when the Papacy was divided, with a Pope in Rome and another in Avignon. The 3 meter (10 feet) thick walls, portcullises and watchtowers emphasize the castle-like look of the palace.
The château to end all châteaux, the Chateau de Chambord is a masterpiece of the French Renaissance. Construction of the Chateau de Chambord started in 1519 by King François I so he could hunt in the nearby forests. The cold and massive 440 rooms of the Château made it unpopular as an actual residence and François I himself stayed here for less than 40 days in total.
The Gorge du Verdon, located in southeastern France, is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful river canyons. It’s at its deepest (almost 2,300 feet or 700 meters deep) between Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, an area that offers the best views as the green emerald Verdon River winds its way through the canyon.
Mont Saint Michel is a small tidal island located just off the coast of Normandy. A spectacular and well-preserved Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel stands at the peak of the rocky island, surrounded by the winding streets and convoluted architecture of the medieval town. A causeway connects the mainland with the island.
The Palace of Versailles is frequently associated with Marie Antoinette, the French queen who was beheaded during the French Revolution. The royal palace started out as a hunting lodge in 1624 and became more ornate over the years. Located outside of Paris, Versailles is known for the Hall of Mirrors and beautiful gardens.
Chamonix Valley is one of the oldest ski resorts in France. The first Winter Olympics was held here in 1924. It is located near Mont Blanc in the French Alps. In winter world-class skiers and boarders push themselves to extremes on Europe’s most challenging slopes while in the summer months Chamonix is a mecca for alpine mountaineers and mountain bikers. Riding a cable car through the mountains is popular in the summer as well.
St Tropez is a resort community on the French Riviera. Once a military stronghold, fishing village and artist colony, it is now a playground for the jetset, fashion models, and millionaires. The beaches are popular with scantily clad sunbathers, while others come for windsurfing, sailing, motorized water sports and yachting. Outside peak summer there are less celebrities to spot but you’ll also instantly appreciate what lured artists, writers and film makers to this picturesque village.
The Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris and one of the top tourist attractions in France. The tower was built by Gustave Eiffel as the entrance arch for the International Exhibition of Paris of 1889. At 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall, it is still the highest building in Paris, offering stunning vistas of the city below. Since its construction more than 200,000,000 people have visited the Eiffel Tower making it the most visited paid tourist attraction in the world.