When the mind ponders a trip to France, Paris quickly makes an appearance. Its storied streets are the very definition of romanticism. But beyond the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées is a sprawling country with the rugged Normandy coast on one side and the French Riviera on the other.
Day trips from Paris to Champagne and Versailles are easy to add to the list of things to do in France. But one needs to make use of the country’s efficient (and fun) train network to venture beyond to such memorable towns as Strasbourg, Lyon, Cannes, and St. Tropez.
Beyond glamour, the turquoise Mediterranean and ancient old towns, the French Alps harbor spectacular scenery where skiing, hiking, and climbing come to the fore.
But perhaps the biggest tourist attractions in France are found among its rich culture with food and wines that are among the most celebrated in the world.
29. Chateau de Chenonceau
The Loire Valley is home to countless spectacular castles. At the top of your list should be the Chateau de Chenonceau. Dating back to the early 1500s, the castle has seen multiple iterations, each an improvement on the last.
Over time, the bridge spanning the Cher grows in length. But as it crosses the water, the arch bridge becomes the pillar that holds up an expanded castle. Showcasing a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the Chateau de Chenonceau reflects off the water below, offering brilliant photography.
Travelers can make their way into the castle where they’ll find the ornate chapel, the King Louis XIV Drawing Room, and bedrooms fixed with period furniture. Beyond the castle are expansive gardens that stretch into the French countryside.
28. Le Puy-en-Velay
Thousands of years ago, volcanic eruptions carved the landscapes surrounding Le Puy-en-Velay. Today, dormant volcanoes and basalt spires are within constant sight. Yet, perhaps what brings Le Puy the most notoriety is its position along the Camino de Santiago.
For many, the 800km journey along the Way of St. James begins right here. The town has a storied connection to the pilgrimage and religion. One of the first sights you’ll see as you make your way into Le Puy-en-Velay is Our Lady of France statue which showcases the Virgin Mary. It’s almost 23 meters tall.
Beyond the Camino, visitors can experience the town’s traditional lacemaking industry.
27. Epernay Champagne
Alongside Reims, Epernay is the best town to visit in Champagne to experience the local delicacy. A simple day trip from Paris, Epernay, is a wonderful place to sample a wide range of world class champagne. After all, if it’s not from around here, then it isn’t really champagne.
Surrounded by rolling green hills, Epernay is the home of the famous Moet & Chandon. Arguably the world’s most sampled champagne, Moet & Chandon offer a range of tours where you can wander through the cellars and try their beloved drink within a sightly tasting room.
After visiting a range of other champagne houses, make your way to Hautvillers, where you can enjoy expansive views across multiple vineyards.
26. Cannes Film Festival
Along the Cote d’Azur, Cannes is lined with high-end hotels, glamorous boutiques, fine dining and plenty of sunshine. At the center of its fame is the Cannes Film Festival, which attracts the biggest movie stars from across the globe.
Although Cannes is a year-round destination with plenty of things to do, the film festival is one to mark on your calendar. Held in May, it’s a chaotic yet rewarding time to visit the stunning seaside town. You’ll find stars dotting the red carpet outside of the Lumiere Theater at the Palais. The 18 on-site auditoriums host many of the year’s top films.
Sans tux or ball gown and a hefty check, the best way to see movies (for free!) is the Cinema de la Plage, an open-air cinema steps from the Med.
25. Val d’Isere
Alongside Chamonix, Val d’Isere is a destination not to be missed among snowbirds. This world-class skiing and snowboarding destination offers guaranteed snow cover, fun for beginners through to expert, and thrilling après-ski.
On the edge of the Tarentaise Valley, minutes from the Italian border, reaching the high alpine village is a trek. A forty-minute drive up from the valley is immediately rewarded with an exciting destination that harbors enough history to rival its sea-level compatriots.
Beyond the chalets, chairlifts take you up into the heavens. The run awaits, yet you’ll want to take in the spectacular views of the surrounding Alps. Once the day is done, change boots and experience Val d’Isere’s vibrant nightlife.
24. Nîmes Roman Monuments
Around 2,000 years ago, the Romans made their mark upon the town of Nimes in southern France. Today, it’s the most Roman city to exist outside Italy. At the heart of this are the Nimes Roman Monuments that showcase an incredible city at its peak.
Once a major regional capital, Nîmes was where engineers and architects pushed boundaries to create the Pont du Gard, the Maison Carree, Temple of Diana and the Arena of Nîmes.
The Maison Carrée was built around the same time as the birth of Christ. It translates to square house and, incredibly, is almost completely intact. The Arena of Nîmes is another highlight. Similar in age to the Roman Coliseum, it remains in use today.
Beneath the city of Arles in southern France, the Parc Regional de Camargue is a protected landscape. France is teeming with old town and glamorous coastal enclaves. This sets Camargue apart.
UNESCO has listed this as a Biosphere Reserve, a place where wild horse saunter along the golden sands, at times venturing into the Med. Elsewhere, the park’s famous pink flamingos go about their daily lives.
There are over 300 bird species, both local and migrating within Camargue. This makes the reserve one of the best spots for birdwatching in France. Beyond hiking, you can explore on riverboats, kayaks, or horseback.
22. Vieux Lyon
On the precipice of Fourviere Hill, Vieux Lyon (Lyon Old Town) is home to vibrant facades, old communes, churches, and business all reached along paved streets that have been worn smooth by the passage of time.
Thanks to a movement in the 1960s, the Vieux Lyon has remained much as it was going back hundreds of years. It has also been revitalized to the point it’s as prominent a part of local life as the popular Presqu’ile.
Now a World Heritage Site, Vieux Lyon’s three districts are waiting for your footsteps. Within them are three distinct churches, each with an important chapter in Middle Age religion.
Known as the City of Cliffs, Bonifacio is one of France’s best-kept secrets. Clinging to the edge of white limestone cliffs, this seaside town along the Corsica coast is relaxing to visit, even at the height of summer.
Back from the cliffs that fall quickly to the kaleidoscopic Mediterranean Sea, is a medieval town that was once a part of Sardinia, an Italian island. Volcanic activity put an end to the connection leading to waters that are now littered with infamous pirate ships.
The vibe of the oft-chaotic sea is left behind once you step inside the coastline’s oldest town. The fortified Bonifacio is an ancient citadel, with colorful homes, and a culture that is a fascinating mix of Italian and French.
20. Millau Bridge
Touring around southern France is on the bucket list of many travelers. As such, it’s nice to know that such a journey can take you across one of the most incredible bridges in the world. The Millau Bridge stands at 343 meters tall, a world record. Add on stunning panoramas and you’ll quickly be changing course.
The Millau Bridge stretches across the stunning Tarn Valley, connecting a duo of limestone plateaus otherwise known as the Causse du Larzac and Causse Rouge across 2.5 kilometers. The cable-stayed bridge is as visually appealing as the surrounding landscape featuring white towers that often poke through the clouds above.
19. Étretat Cliffs
Along the hauntingly beautiful Normandy coast, stands the towering white rock known as the Étretat Cliffs. Looking out across the English Channel, the cliffs are home to two famous natural arches that jut into the water, showcasing both its strength and fragility.
The white cliffs are encased in thick greenery, providing a beautiful breadth of colors on a sunny day. It’s easy to scale up the Étretat Cliffs to enjoy vast views of the coast and the ghost white sand below. But it’s from the beach that you can best appreciate the scale of the cliffs and the arches which were initially carved by a rolling river.
18. Reims Cathedral
For eight centuries until 1825, French kings received their coronation within the walls of the Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral. All up there were 29 such kings, which include the famous names of Francois I and Louis XIV. Such was the esteem of the cathedral’s coronations that led Joan of Arc to its doorstep in 1429.
Today, the Reims Cathedral is a brilliant example of High Gothic architecture and is one of the most stunning attractions in France. Despite enduring heavy artillery fire and bombings in the Second World War, it has returned to its former glory. Its front facade features more statues than any equivalent on each and comes with a trio of towering entrances, known as portals.
Like other French cathedrals, Reims also has an enormous rose window which leads to the Gallery of Kings.
17. Strasbourg Old Town
In northeast France, Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand Est Region. Minutes from the German border, Strasbourg’s entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Encased in picturesque half-timbered houses and the canals of Petite France, it’s a destination that oozes history.
The wider Strasbourg is a town driven by youthfulness, but its historic interior tells the tale of a city that has lived under many kingdoms and within multiple nations. The narrow passageways act as a maze, guiding you by the pastel homes half covered in wood, past medieval churches and onto vibrant town squares where locals gather in droves on the cafe patios.
Within the Old Town are a number of unique quarters, such as La Petite France and the Quartier Krutenau, each with their own story to tell.
16. Promenade des Anglais
Set along Nice’s spectacular waterfront, the Promenade des Anglais spans seven kilometers. It splits Nice’s beloved Baroque palaces, historic museums, and high-end shops with its pebbly shores home to scantily clad travelers soaking up as many rays as possible.
While there’s much to do on the city-side of the promenade, it’s along this path that you can best participate in local culture. The Promenade des Anglais boasts a series of cafe terraces, offering gorgeous views of the Med. Festivals are consistently set upon the smooth path and in the center is the Jardin Albert 1er, one of Nice’s original parks.
After a lengthy stroll, the Promenade delivers you to the doorstep of Nice’s memorable Old Town.
In southeastern France, Annecy is surrounded by giant snow-capped peaks. But little time is spent marveling at the mountains as Lake Annecy steals the show. Known as the Venice of the Alps, Annecy features pastel-colored homes, narrow alleys, and an abundance of old churches. All set upon the waterfront or the town’s series of slim canals.
Between the memorable man-made creations is a town that preserves its natural beauty. Almost 30,000 trees are spread across the locale, a historic town that refuses to grow much beyond its original design. Here, pedestrians are king and getting about on foot is the best way to admire not just the buildings, but each garden and the alpine lake that reflects the surrounding mountains.
14. Bordeaux Wine Regions
Broken up into 38 sub-regions, the Bordeaux Wine Regions are not to be missed. Though enjoying a good wine is one of the most popular things to do in France, you may not enjoy sampling the local tipple in Bordeaux. If that’s the case, you’ll have no problem falling in love with the countryside home to such quaint towns as Pomerol, Graves, and Saint-Emilion.
Set between each charming village is a collection of 7,000 vineyards split by the Gironde Estuary. Mesmerizing views are found around each passing corner, whether it be the lush rolling hills or the sight of the spire rising above a town as old as time.
The Gironde Estuary separates the region along the Left and Right banks. The former is famous for its cabernet sauvignon, while the latter provides sumptuous merlot and white wines.
13. Palace of Fontainebleau
It was here, within the walls of the Palace of Fontainebleau, that Napoleon abdicated the throne and was exiled to Elba. Unsurprisingly, the palace, which dates back to the 1130s, is lathered in history.
Older than the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, Fontainebleau was once the home of Marie Antoinette, among other famous (and infamous) royal characters. Inside, you’ll find the horseshoe staircase which was created for Louis XIII and where Napoleon saluted his guards for the last time.
Decorated hallways lead you to the renowned Throne Room where Napoleon once sat. It’s the only one of its kind in France to remain exactly as it was. Each part of Fontainebleau has much to say. However, as most travelers choose Versailles, this palace remains easy to explore.
12. Pont du Gard
In the south of France, the River Gardon snakes its way through the surrounded landscapes. As it reaches the Occitanie region, it passes under Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that was built in the heart of the first century.
The aqueduct, which at its height was as long as 50km, is one of the most impressive Roman creations. Built by the ancient Nemausus, a Roman colony, the three-story creation supplied the city of Nimes with water from Uzes. Pont du Gard was pivotal, as it allowed the water to cross over the River Gardon.
In 1985, it joined the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, allowing the preservation and celebration of this historic and vital work of art.
Once you set foot within the town limits of Carcassonne, you’ll understand how it came to inspire the strategic board game that harbors the same name. The ancient town has been impeccably preserved over the centuries, so each step along the cobblestone streets feels like another step back in time.
Among the lush green trees are fortified walls eclipsed by towers that sparkle under the French sun. Also known as La Cite, it’s a fascinating journey back to the Middle Ages, where the streets guide you to historic sites such as the Chateau Comtal, constructed in the 1100s, and the 52 towers that belong to the Basilique Saint-Nazaire et Sainte-Celse.
10. Chartres Cathedral
The story of France’s connection with religion is as old as time, as ancient even as the medieval Gothic architecture strewn across the provinces. Each is a prominent reminder of culture within the middle ages and the endurance of spirituality. Standing at the forefront of this is the Chartres Cathedral.
For over 800 years, the spectacular cathedral, with its twin spires, has inspired the masses and provided a sanctuary. The UNESCO-listed cathedral features impressive stained-glass windows that you can admire from several blocks away.
Two windows are particularly beloved. They are the Blue Virgin and the Passion windows that are almost as old as the structure itself. They both come to life during the annual light show.
9. Dune of Pyla
An hour southwest of Bordeaux, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean is a soaring sand dune. The Dune of Pyla is the tallest in Europe and grows further eastward every year. On its edges is a vast forest creating eye-catching contrast that only enhances the dune’s beauty.
The Dune of Pyla stretches along the Arcachon Bay for three kilometers, holding off the pounding Atlantic surf while thousands of trees rustle on the other side. At its highest, the Dune of Pyla stands 100 meters above sea level, providing epic west-facing sunsets as the sun dances along the glistening sands.
Whatever the time of day, a quick stroll down to the Arcachon Bay for a refreshing dip will be a traveler’s reward.
8. Palais des Papes
Within the medieval city of Avignon, is the equally medieval Palais des Papes. The remarkable gothic architecture dates back to the 14th century and is the largest of its kind on earth. From then until now, it’s been a constant symbol of Christendom.
At first glimpse, you’ll notice just how imposing the fortress is. Yet it’s equally luxurious within the fortified walls. A visit to the gothic palace will provide you with a look into the immaculate staterooms, ornate chapels lined with historic decor and private apartments where a series of nine popes resided in the 1300s.
Within, you’ll spot countless works of art while the onsite museum dives into the story behind Palais de Papes. Before departing, admire the views of Avignon from the terraces.
7. Chateau de Chambord
Set in the romantic Loire Valley, the Chateau de Chambord is a veritable masterpiece that owes its origins to the French Renaissance. Ordered under the rule of King Francois I in the early 1500s, the chateau features over 400 rooms, 282 fireplaces (naturally) and even 83 staircases.
It’s enough to fill the stats book, yet Francois I, who had planned to use it as a hunting escape, spent only a handful of nights staying within its four walls. It was maintained over the centuries, yet recently it received rejuvenation. The colorful surrounding gardens are now just as much a reason to visit.
The Chateau de Chambord is just one of the numerous incredible castles within the valley. Others include the neoclassical Chateau de Cheverny and the Chateau de Chenonceau.
6. Gorge du Verdon
One of Europe’s largest canyon, Gorge du Verdon, brings together the strength and might of ancient rock and the turquoise beauty of the Mediterranean. Set between Marseilles and Nice, north of the French Riviera, Gorge du Verdon was carved by glaciers creating cliffs as tall as 700 meters that soar about the milky blue water illuminated by glacial till.
It’s the Grand Canyon, but with a river far more relaxing. The canyon walls are littered with lush vegetation, seeming holding on for dear life as the canyons rise sharply upwards and sometimes over the Verdon River.
Beginning at the Pont du Galetas bridge in the Provence, you can kayak along the river admiring the sheer scale of the canyon with each stroke.
5. Mont Saint-Michel
Surrounded by the chilling waters of the English Channel, along France’s memorable Normandy coast, is the UNESCO-listed Mont Saint-Michel. It’s the castle of dreams known as the Pyramid of the Seas that rises out of the encompassing landscape to provide one of the world’s great vistas.
The castle’s story begins in the 11th century, its awe-inspiring architecture home to Abbey Church (Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel) draws pilgrims in large numbers a 1000 years later. From the beginning, pilgrims crossed the surrounding bay by foot, a tradition that has not lost steam.
Viewing the castle from a distance will only inspire you to come closer. The aforementioned church is the main attraction, boasting inspiring high-vaulted choirs, ancient naves and striking gothic spires.
4. Palace of Versailles
France has no shortage of groundbreaking architecture. Perhaps the most prominent is the Palace of Versailles. Originally constructed in the 1600s as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII, such was the beauty of the building that the country’s royal court was moved from Paris to Versailles, up until the infamous French Revolution.
Under an hour from downtown Paris, the Palace of Versailles continues to capture the imaginations of all visitors into the 21st century and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Within is five centuries of untouched history and stunning works of art splashed across the ornate walls.
Yet the palace itself, which boasts an incredible 2,300 rooms is the true work of art. The highlight of the palace is the Hall of Mirrors featuring over 350 mirrors that reflect the surrounding gardens.
A year-round destination, Chamonix is one of the more famous alpine villages in Europe. Nestled in the foothills of France’s tallest mountain, Mont Blanc, Chamonix captures all that is good about nature and humanity.
The picture-perfect village provides access to a lively local culture where locals and travelers mix within the storied buildings from alpine churches to rustic auberges. But steps from the quaint cobblestone streets bring you to the marvels of the French Alps, from world class skiing and hiking to towering rock walls made for fearless climbers.
One could indulge in only the human or natural aspect of Chamonix and still walk away with an unforgettable experience. Regardless, a mouthwatering, traditional cuisine awaits every evening.
2. St Tropez
In the 1950s, St Tropez was a simple fishing village harboring an eye-catching secret. As tourists ventured elsewhere, locals went about their daily lives surrounded by striking beauty. Upon the release of the film And God Created Woman, the coastal town was forever changed.
Today, it’s a gorgeous hot spot along the famed French Riviera. In the distance the Alps rise across southeastern France, but for visitors’ eyes are firmly fixed on the arresting architecture and the glistening sea.
Eyes dart from spot to spot with the possibility of spotting a celebrity in a town that has now become a hallmark for glitz and glamour. Elsewhere, the calm sea breeze laps the sand as windsurfers and sailors play on the water mere yards from million-dollar yachts.
1. Eiffel Tower
Such is the modern-day popularity of the Eiffel Tower. It’s hard to imagine that it was once despised among local Parisians. Built in 1889, the famous tower which harbors the bulk of Paris’ romantic sensibilities has come a long way.
No trip to France’s biggest city is complete without a closeup view of the Eiffel Tower’s 8,000 parts. Once you’ve admired the marvelous architecture, wander up the staircase to restaurants across multiple levels, plus wondrous views of the city itself.
Within the tower, you can enjoy fine dining at the Michelin starred Le Jules Verne. Later, venture to the highest level almost 280 meters (905ft). From the jaw-dropping height, appreciate the beauty of the River Seine, Notre Dame, and the Trocadero.