The allure of France lingers in the consciousness of all travelers. Across the six corners of the l’Hexagone are a little something for everyone. It starts in Paris, a place that was so loved it became cool not to love it.
As you expound further, say hello to the bucolic countryside of Alsace, the castles of the Loire Valley, the luxuriation of the French Riviera, and finally, take a deep breath. In the French Alps.
It can be difficult to do it all in one go, but each time you visit, you’ll discover something different. Whether that be a new era of history, such as ancient Greek ports, Roman Catholicism, the Middle Ages or the Renaissance.
Map of France
Maybe it’s treating yourself to Cote d’Azur and Saint Tropez. Or maybe you head into the mountains for an entirely different adventure. There are always new places to visit in France and exciting attractions to discover. They say you can’t have it all. But in France, maybe you can.
In this post, we'll cover:
Once the center of Roman Catholicism, this short-lived stint evolved into the culturally rich town we see today. The Pope may be long gone, but the array of canonical architecture remains.
At the heart of this is the Palais des Papes, which is part striking fortress and part palace. It’s the biggest Gothic palace in history and was meant to showcase the might of the Roman Catholic Church in the years after its departure from Rome. Three-meter thick walls enveloped the palace and protected her vast halls, cavernous antechambers and eloquent chapels.
Beyond the palace, Avignon boasts mansions from the Renaissance and features a renowned annual theater festival. With the Rhone River meandering through, you’ll find a vibrant waterfront and wine from nearby vineyards.
One of Europe’s oldest cities and France’s second largest city, Marseille is a major Mediterranean seaport located off the southeast coast of France. Once a prominent Greek harbor, there remains a classic edginess to the city. But it’s evolved into a much richer, interesting culture.
Today, creativity runs through the city and can be seen in its live music, arts and cutting-edge museums. The same can be said of its progressive food scene.
At the core of Marseille is its old port, Vieux Port. Dominated by two historic forts, this bustling harbor is lined with waterfront cafes, shops and bars. At the end of the harbor is the Quai des Belges where visitors can view luxury yachts, ferry boats and fishermen auctioning off their catch at the daily fish market.
One of Marseille’s best natural attractions, the Calanques are a series of small inlets with astonishing blue water and majestic limestone cliffs. Other must-sees include Fort St-Jean, Le Panier, MuCEM and the Basilique Notre Dame de Garde.
With some necessary exploration finished, head offshore to Chateau d’If, which was Immortalized by The Count of Monte Cristo. Finish up with a brilliant sunset while noshing on bouillabaisse.
Second to the Eiffel Tower, Versailles is the most popular landmark in France. Some 15 million arrive every year to experience this decadent symbol of power and history. Here’s the thing about traveling, sometimes you’re gonna have to deal with crowds.
And deal you will, as Versailles is well worth the time and effort. The palace dates back to the late 17th century, beginning life as a luxurious lodge for the monarchs in power. However, it was Louis XIV who moved the court and influence away from Paris to Versailles as tensions blossomed across France.
Today, with your pre-purchased ticket (avoid those lines, folks!) you can explore the gorgeous manicured grounds, the Trianon Estate and Queen’s Hamlet. However, it’s the 2,300 room Main Palace, home to the Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Apartments that makes a visit well worth it.
14. Gorges du Verdon
Calling the Gorges du Verdon “the Grand Canyon of France” seems like a stretch. And it is. But the canyon still belongs on your France itinerary. Gorges du Verdon descends 700 meters at a rapid rate towards the Verdon River with its rushing blue water carving it ever deeper.
It’s the largest canyon on the continent and its 25 kilometers of length creates an abundance of thrilling watersports and adventures. You can cruise the length of the canyon, marveling at the towering limestone cliffs. If this sounds too relaxing, then just switch the boat for a raft and ride the whitewater rapids.
For some of the best views, however, you’ll have to get about on foot…or even horseback. There are around 100 kilometers of trails that course along either side of the canyon, with endless viewpoints throughout.
Located in east-central France, Lyon is the capital of the Rhone department. It is the place to stop and splurge on the good things in life. Once you’ve blown your budget at the bouchons Lyonnais (traditional bistros), you’ll still find much to do.
Top of this list should be a jaunt along the paths that snake through the Parc des Hauters. These lead you to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere. Both the city and the Alps combine for an epic view.
Lyon also has several interesting neighborhoods to explore. For example, Presqu’île is the heart of the city with its restaurants, bars and clubs while Croix-Rousse is known for its hundreds of hidden passageways known as traboules. Eventually you’ll end up in Vieux Lyon, the historic center featuring narrow, cobblestone streets, Renaissance architecture and landmarks like St. Jean Cathedral with its astronomical clock.
In the summer months, get in quick for a concert at the Theatre Romain. The original foundation goes back to 15BC when Lyon was all but a small Roman settlement. Continue the arts theme by discovering some of Lyon’s 100+ outdoor murals.
While Lyon frequently illuminates its major monuments year-round, the Festival of Lights is an annual event with various celebrations of candle lightings and professional sound-and-light shows.
Along the northwest coast of France, Normandy is synonymous with modern history. The coast’s lengthy beaches have become famous thanks to D-Day. And while the rugged coast harbors rich WWII history, it’s just the beginning.
Beyond the vast shores is a region steeped in literary history. There’s the bucolic countryside that features not one but four protected cheese origins. But better than them all is Mont St-Michel, which stands along like a mesmerizing iceberg off the coast.
Lovers of cheese can’t pass up a cheese tour of Normandy. This will take you to the towns of Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Eveque and Neufchatel. Beyond their tasty creations lie charming towns that evoke welcome authenticity.
Speaking of memorable towns, be sure to stop by Barneville-Carteret from DIY shucked oysters or Honfleur. The latter is laden by half-timbered homes and marks the end of the Seine.
In the French Mediterranean, the island of Corsica embraces its surrounds. Enveloped with sparkling emerald water, Corsica has as much Italian influence as it does French.
Known as the Island of Beauty, Corsica takes the best of both and boasts coastal towns backed by serene forests and granite mountain tops. It’s no small, dainty island either. There are over 1,000 kilometers of coastline to explore and plenty of chances to get away from it all.
Along these coastlines are turquoise waters that harbor beautiful underwater worlds. Chances to snorkel and even scuba dive are ever present. Days spent swimming are rewarded by captivating sunsets in Bastia where you’ll also find a great collection of restaurants and taverns.
The next day you can mix it up by trekking into the forests and mountains that are affixed with snow in the colder months.
Some great wine regions have made it into our list. But Bordeaux can lay claim to being the best of them. As the country’s wine capital, there is an air of elegance to Bordeaux. This is elevated by the cocktail of 18th century architecture.
Cutting through the center of town are the streets of Place du Parlemant and Saint-Pierre. High culture mingles on these streets that are lined by chic cafes and outdoor seating to bathe under the sun.
Before you venture and experience some of the area’s best vineyards, explore the La Cite du Vin. This museum showcased the history of wine from around Bordeaux and is set in a captivating building. To get there, take a leisurely stroll down the River Garonne.
Now you’re all set to try the local tipple. Some of Bordeaux’s best wineries surround elegant chateaus that make for the perfect wine tasting spot.
9. Lake Annecy
Chamonix may garner the most attention, but we believe the best of the French Alps lies surrounding the beautiful Lake Annecy. One of the largest lakes in Europe, it can also lay claim to being the cleanest thanks to its pristine high alpine surrounds.
In the summer months, Lake Annecy is a dreamy destination. The sapphire-hued jewel sits enveloped in lush green mountains with the odd dash of granite. As the sun bounces along the lake the azure waters become even more obvious and call you in for a dip.
Such is its size, you can do more than swim. Kayaking and paddleboarding are popular and you’ll see several boats making use of the conditions to sail around.
The views of the water are matched by the surrounding mountains including the snowy peaks of Tournette Mountain. Any visit here should also take in the old town of Annecy, which is a picture-perfect alpine village.
The walled city of Carcassonne sits atop a hill on the banks of the Aude River. The original fortifications date back to Roman occupation in 100 BC, although much has changed since then.
With surrounding threats long gone, you can make your way into the medieval city. The often steep walk requires a break for breath but it’s immediately rewarded once you step beyond the turreted towers that adorn the walls and over the drawbridge.
On the other side of Narbonne Gate, you’ll find the old city is a scene straight from a Disney fairy tale. Cobbled streets guide you along the fortified walls where you’re half expecting a soldier from the Middle Ages to stop you in your tracks.
Along your journey back in time, you’ll cross paths with the Chateau Comtal from the 12th century, adorned with cathedrals and even access a subterranean dungeon.
7. Loire Valley
Teaming with castles, medieval villages and endless vineyards, the Loire Valley is the personification of art de vivre. Rolling effortlessly through the valley is the Loire River, the last remaining wild river in Europe.
It all combines into an area that is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscape alive with the life source of the river creates head-turning scenery. Something that’s only matched by the local culture and one so steeped in history.
At the center of this is the Chateau de Chenonceau. The 16th century masterpiece features the Grande Galerie, which spans 60 meters across the Cher River. In the winter and autumn, the sun sets in the perfect spot, reflecting the dwindling light across the water. Other famous chateaux include Chambord, Rivau and Chinon.
But it’s the Loire River that connects it all. You can cycle along it for over 500km going from town to town, or you can simply do a bite-sized chunk. Either way, with destinations like Angers, Amboise and Nantes, there’s no losing.
Auburn sandstone cottages with terracotta rooftops adorn the hilltop towns around Luberon. They rise and fall along the rolling hills and are the only interruptions to fields of pine and symmetric vineyards.
Luberon is a collection of hilltop villages that run through the Provence from east to west. Cavaillon and Manosque are the region’s bookends and along with harboring the aforementioned beauty, it’s the slow pace of life that you’ll love just as much.
The agrarian region remains tied in with its traditional roots. There’s no rush here, with plenty of time to enjoy the region’s fine wine and even tastier food. It’s no wonder the markets held weekly through Luberon have you salivating upon entrance.
Beyond the townships, you can get to know the countryside on foot by exploring the Cedar Forest near Bonnieux. The overarching trees provide relief from the summer heat and lead to captivating views of the hilltop towns.
Jumping between the banners of France and Germany, the Alsace Region is distinct from the rest of the country. The dual influence has marked the region with an old-world charm and harmonious countryside that just can’t be replicated.
Germany’s influence is seen in both its cuisine and architecture. The villages throughout Alsace are renowned for their half-timbered homes and striking Gothic churches. The capital Strasbourg is no exception with beautiful homes found in both La Petite France and Grande Ile neighborhoods.
Taking the Alsace Wine Route, you’ll drive through 170 kilometers of bucolic countryside where every stop features a delightful village and yes, great food and wine. Highlights of the route include Colmar. This town encapsulates all that is good here in the Alsace Region. The surrounding hills make the rest of the world feel far away.
You can look forward to half-timbered homes and balconies draped with flowers. Vineyards flow over the hillside like blankets and the Rhine River is the cherry on top of a fairy tale village.
In the shadows of Mont Blanc, Chamonix has long inspired mountain lovers and fans of chalets alike. One of France’s oldest alpine resorts, the splendor of its scenery, is matched by the oft-bougie mountain culture.
Epic skiing, mountaineering and the odd marathon fill the outdoor calendar in Chamonix. Such are the epic mountains, you can ski and board here year round. While at the La Vallee Blanche glacier, you can ski uninterrupted for over 20 kilometers.
But you’ll find just as much to do here if these thrills don’t quite pique your interest. The area’s year-round community and the delight of Chamonix Town ensure there’s much to do off-piste. Cafes line the pedestrianized main street and the picturesque village will have you reaching often for your camera.
After a day of adventure, you can partake in the après-ski of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Live music flows through the surrounding streets, leading to dancing and a few too many cocktails.
In southwestern France, the Dordogne region is incredibly enticing thanks to its array of undulating landscapes, tranquil villages and medieval bastides. It’s a place to discover some of the best of France’s countryside, both the towns and nature.
The Dordogne River courses through the region and is the source of much of its lush nature. Come the summer, the cool waters of the river welcome kayakers, swimmers and those who dabble in fishing. You’ll also spot plenty lining the riverbank basking in the sun. Away from the river, the rolling hills attract hikers and mountain bikers. There are towering craggy cliffs that bring the chalky hands of climbers.
For a more relaxed pace, you can bounce between the idyllic villages, such as La Roque-Gageac. This town features a collection of sandstone homes surrounded by palms at the base of a rising cliff. Then there’s the 13th century settlement of Domme.
The bastide village has an archway entrance and a vibrant old town with artisan shops and restaurants set within medieval buildings.
2. French Riviera
Encompassing a splendid stretch of the Mediterranean, the French Riviera (Cote d’ Azur) is an opulent escape. In southern France, this region is soaked in sun most of the year. This exacerbates the color of the azure waters to heavenly status.
You’ll find a handful of enchanting towns along this coast from Saint-Tropez to Menton. These hug the coast with glee, forming a waterfront destination that has been drawing travelers since the 1800s.
Although the Riviera is famous for the glamour of St. Tropez, Monaco or the Cannes Film Festival, there are many other less well known destinations, such as the perched villages of Eze and Saint-Paul de Vence, and the perfumeries of Grasse to name a few. The Riviera has been the inspiration for many well-known artists such as Picasso and many of their works are on display in local museums and art galleries.
And then there’s Nice. Arguably the best of the lot. There’s something for everyone, from the region’s patented beachfront to plenty of history. As you discover Nice, you’ll have the pleasure of doing so along her cobbled streets and tree-flanked avenues. There are art galleries and museums and southern French cuisine for a flavor explosion in your mouth.
There may be no destination on earth that tops bucket lists as much as Paris. Yes, you’ll find the crowds here. But it’s a city that has stood the test of time. If anything, it’s made it all the more romantic.
The grandiose city, home to the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral, still sparks the heart of even the most stoic traveler. It’s a place of rich heritage, one that’s written on the facades of buildings throughout the inner city.
There are museums to discover, even beyond the Louvre. Such as the Musee de l’Orangerie and the Musee d’Orsay. What’s more, Paris boasts magnificent gardens such as the Luxembourg Gardens. But it’s the people, the living culture that is most captivating. Any aimless wander down the Champs-Élysées, the Latin Quarter or the Seine will attest to this.
The best and cheapest way to get around Paris is on foot, and secondly, using the excellent underground train system, known as the Métro.