Deciding which are the best cities to visit in France is not an easy task. This country is packed with incredibly interesting places to visit.
From large, international metropolis with art galleries and museums where to get lost for hours to charming coastal towns perfect for a summer getaway (and not only); from wine cities to savor the best of French food and wine to archeological and historical gems – France really has it all.
With so much to offer, it is really no wonder that France is an extremely popular tourist destination, attracting each year millions of visitors.
In this post, I highlight the 5 best cities to visit in France and what you should see and do there. I will also share some tips to make the most of them and a few organizational tips to plan your trip to France. Mind you though: mine is a just selection based on the places I have seen and loved. This post is bound to get longer and the selection larger the more I visit France and get to know it.
The 5 Most Beautiful Cities To Visit In France
It all starts in Paris. When you mention the best cities to visit in France, you just can’t skip its gorgeous capital. The city is so vast, there are so many things to do that some visitors never even make it out of it to explore the rest of the country.
Located on the banks of the Seine river, Paris is simply iconic. This is the home of the Eiffel Tower and of Notre-Dame Cathedral – now under reconstruction after the devastating fire in April 2019.
Paris is a gorgeous mix of large boulevards and narrow alleys; modern state of the art buildings and beautiful antique palaces; fantastic restaurants, small cafés and bakeries that sell the most delicious bread and cakes. There are small art galleries and endless shopping opportunities.
Thought to be one of the most romantic cities in the world along with others such as Rome, Buenos Aires, New York, Lisbon and Cape Town, Paris is actually a great choice for solo travelers and even for families with children, who will find plenty to be entertained with.
Below, I have selected a few places to visit and things you simply shouldn’t be missing in Paris. For even more detailed information, check out this Paris Travel Guide put together by Air France – they are the Paris experts!
Make sure to read my post “33 Incredible Places To Visit In Paris.”
10 unmissable tourist attractions in Paris
Perhaps the most famous building in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited place in Paris. Reaching 300 meters, the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World Expo and towers the Champ the Mars park. You can take the elevator to admire the breathtaking view from above, and even eat at one of the two restaurants. They are expensive, but worth every penny.
TIP: Unless you want to stand in line for hours, you should book your ticket to the Eiffel Tower. You can either go for a skip the line ticket or, for a better experience, for a guided tour. Book it here or here.
The nicest neighborhood in Paris is a series of narrow streets, small cafés, second hand shops, tiny art galleries, souvenir shops and fantastic small boutiques. It’s a great place to walk around and take in the lively atmosphere of the city. This is the most famous art district in Paris, as well as its most romantic area.
At the top of Montmartre hill, this is one of the most famous churches in Paris. Its marble structure and golden interiors are dazzling, but to be fair it’s the views of Paris from the hill that completely steal the show.
At about one hour by train from the center of Paris, Versailles is a huge palace that was originally used as a hunting lodge but soon became the residence of the French royal family and its court. It was built in the 17th century upon orders of Louis XIII, but it was during the reign of Louis XIV that the palace was extended beyond its lodge form.
Nowadays, Versailles remains one of the best places to visit in France, with tourists drawn by the beautiful Hall of Mirrors and the splendid gardens.
The most famous street in Paris is a bit over a mile long and connects the Arc de Triomphe with Place de la Concorde, one of the most famous squares in Paris. Lined with trees and with many restaurants and beautiful boutiques, it’s where the parade of Bastille Day on 14 July takes place each year.
Worth visiting just to admire the incredible structure, the Louvre deserves a full day of exploration to wonder around the many exhibition rooms. Indeed, this Parisian museum hosts one of the best collections of art you can think of. It’s where pieces such as Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, the Greek Venus of Milo and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa are housed. It’s worth every penny invested in the ticket.
First opened in 1889 (the same year of the Eiffel Tower), it’s known for its windmill and for being the birthplace of the “can-can” dance. To date, it’s the most famous cabaret place in the world and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris.
TIP: If you want to go to a Moulin Rouge show, you can even book it online here.
Not to be confused with the Pantheon in Rome, after which it was modeled, the Pantheon of Paris is where notable Parisians used to be buried. Originally a church, it was turned into a mausoleum during the time of the French Revolution. It’s where Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie are buried.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
This is much more than just a cemetery. Père Lachaise was built during Napoleon’s reign, and it’s an open air museum packed with beautiful statues and monumental tombs. You will find the tomb of famous French singer Edith Piaf, Door’s lead singer Jim Morrison, and English author Oscar Wilde.
TIP: To make the most of this vast cemetery, I recommend going on a guided tour. You can book it here.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is without a doubt one of the most famous places to visit in France. It was built in 1806 to commemorate the many battled of Napoleon, and it features intricate reliefs which portray the many battles of the French Emperor.
The capital of French wine and one of the best cities to visit in France if you are a lover of good food and wine, Bordeaux is located in the region of Aquitane. Contrary to the French capital, this is a much smaller city where, however, you will find plenty to keep yourself busy.
The following is a small selection of the things you shouldN’t be missing in Bordeaux. For a more complete list, make sure to read the complete Bordeaux Travel Guide put together by Air France and for quirkier things to do, head to this post by The Crowded Planet.
5 things to do in Bordeaux
Visit Place de la Bourse
Place de la Bourse is possibly the most famous sight in Bordeaux. It’s a beautiful square surrounded by elegant 18th century buildings, where you will also find Le Miroir d’Eau, a series of fountains that, spraying water, create a wall that looks like mirror and where the image of the square is reflected. Keep in mind that the fountains are turned off in the winter months.
Explore the historic center
The historic center of Bordeaux is UNESCO enlisted since 2007 – and for a good reason. As the city expanded over the medieval boundaries during the 18th century, it acquired its current shape with the new buildings. The nicest part to explore is Saint-Pierre Quarter, behind Place de la Bourse, where you will find reminiscences of medieval architecture as well as many nice wine bars and restaurants.
Walk up Pey-Berland Tower
If you are a lover of views from above, walk up the 299 steps to the top of Pey-Berland Tower. The Gothic bell tower built next to Cathédrale Saint-André (indeed, it is a wholly separate building) is the best place in town for splendid views. It’s totally worth the effort.
Walk along the banks of Garonne River
As with any city where a river flows, one of the nicest things to do in Bordeaux is walking along the banks of the Garonne. Along the right bank you will find art galleries and nice cafés. It’s also a place to spot locals, as it’s a favorite part of the city to go exercise.
What’s the best thing to do in a wine producing city? Why, drink wine, of course! If you are a lover of this fabulous drink, rest assured you will have plenty of chances to have a proper glass. From the newly built Cité du Vin (an exhibit center entirely dedicated to wine) to the many wine bars and the unmissable wine tours, Bordeaux is packed with places where you can sit, relax and savor the best wines of France. I recommend going on a guided wine tasting tour for extra enjoyment. You can book it here.
Located between the Rhone and Saone rivers, close to the Alps and to the Mediterranean, Lyon is the third largest and one of the best cities to visit in France.
Lyon was founded by the Romans in 43 BC – signs of its past are still well visible in town – and since then held a strategic position in the routes followed by merchants. Other than the well kept Roman ruins, scattered around town you will find some beautiful renaissance buildings. There also are plenty of excellent restaurants to enjoy local cuisine – make sure to visit a bouchon for a great meal.
The following is a selection of the top attractions in Lyon. For more detailed information, read the Lyon Travel Guide written by Air France experts.
5 unmissable Lyon attractions
If there is one place you shouldn’t be missing when in Lyon, that’s its cathedral. This gothic church was built between the 12th and the 15 century. It’s been kept so well overtime that the 1300s stained-glass windows – which were removed and kept safe during WWII bombings – are still original.
Lyon has one of the largest renaissance quarters on the continent. Between the 15th and the 17th century the city became an important center for the production of silk, and it attracted rich merchants from neighboring countries. The families of these merchants established themselves in the city, building gorgeous homes in a variety of styles that remain to date.
While in Vieux Lyon, make sure to visit the Traboules. These are passageways that were built during renaissance and which are running beneath buildings, leading towards the Saone River and which were built to give the workers of the silk industry direct access to the river. They are fun places to explore if you like underground attractions.
Ancient Theater of Fourvière
Located on the left bank of the Saone River, the Roman amphitheater of Lyon could hold up to 10000 spectators in its heyday. Unfortunately, only the middle and lower terraces are now visible – yet, it is an impressive sight and you shouldn’t miss it.
This beautiful church is located on the Fourvière hill, in an area where several Roman sites were discovered in the 19th century. You can see it before or after visiting the Ancient Theater.
Marseille is the second largest city and the oldest city in France (it was founded 2600 years ago), and one of the most interesting places to visit in the country. Though there are many beautiful monuments and interesting museums, it is the Old Port (Vieux Port) and the calanques that really steal the show there.
TIP: Make sure to join a free guided walking tour of Marseille to discover all that it has to offer. You can book it here.
Continue reading to discover some of the attractions in Marseille that you shouldn’t miss. For a very detailed guide on all there is to see and do in Marseille and for plenty of information on how to move around town, head over to the Marseille Travel Guide on Air France website.
5 unmissable Marseille attractions
There is little doubt that the Vieux Port is the most important part of the city. It’s where you should go in search of seafood restaurants, to ride the Ferris wheel and to admire the best sunset in town. From the Old Port, you will be able to head to other attractions in town.
Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica
This is one of the most famous places to visit in Marseille. Notre Dame de la Garde located on top of a hill that overlooks the Mediterranean sea and the city – views from there are impressive. You can walk there or – if you don’t fancy the climb uphill – take the bus from the Old Port.
Easily accessible from the Vieux Port, Le Panier is Marseille’s Old Town. It’s an area that was. It is a lovely, colorful and well preserved neighborhood where it is pleasant to walk around, sit at a café or browse one of the many small shops.
Palais Longchamp is where the Museum of Art, the oldest museum in town, is located. It’s a great place to explore both inside, where you will find a great collection of paintings, and outside, where there is a beautiful park that is a favorite of the locals.
Calanques National Park
One of the best things to do in Marseille when the weather is nice it taking a boat ride to visit Calanques National Park. You will get impressive views, visit some gorgeous beaches and enjoy the fresh marine breeze. If boats aren’t your thing, you can even bike there or rent a kayak to go from cove to cove.
TIP: To make the most of Calanques National Park, you may want to joining a guided tour. You can book it here.
A post about the best cities to visit in France is bound to include Nice. This lovely coastal town located on the Côte d’Azur is where you will find some of the nicest pebble beaches in France as well as the famous Promenade des Anglais. The city is packed with mansions and airy boulevards; it is glamorous yet relaxed.
Below, I have selected the top attractions in Nice. If you are looking for more exhaustive information, head over to this Nice Travel Guide put together by the experts of Air France.
5 unmissable attractions in Nice
Promenade des Anglais
In terms of waterfronts and seaside walks, nothing beats the 7 km Promenade des Anglais. It was built in the 1820s and it’s where the Nice Carnival and any other parade in town takes place. It’s where local families take their children for a walk, and where you will spot people running or riding their bike, or walking their dog. In other words, it’s the place to be to spot some local action and to enjoy the fantastic marine breeze.
If you think that Nice is all grand boulevards and large squares, think again! The Old Town (Vieille Ville) is a series of narrow alleys, colorful buildings, independent small shops and fantastic small restaurants. It’s a lovely part of town to go for a walk, and it will remind you of Italy – after all, Nice was part of Italy until the Treaty of Turin in 1860.
Cours Saleya Market
Located in Nice Old Town, this beautiful fresh produce and flower market runs every day of the week but on Mondays, where in its place you’ll find a flea market. It’s the perfect place to shop if you are looking to cook your meals – so head there in the morning for the freshest fruits and vegetables.
A short distance from Nice, Cap-Ferrat is a famous luxury destination in the French Riviera and one of the best places to visit in France, where you will be able to spot some incredible mansions dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. You can visit Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and walk along the coastal trail to admire the beautiful coastline – it’s the best way to get to the nicest beaches in the area.
The beaches in Nice may not be the most beautiful ones you’ve ever seen, but they are perfect to enjoy some sunbathing and a nice dip in the sea during the summer. Some beaches are public, others are private and you can rent loungers and umbrellas for extra comfort.
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip The Best Cities To Visit In France
When to visit France
If you ask me, any time is a good time to visit France! Some cities such as Nice and Marseille are perfect in the spring and summer months, when you can enjoy the coast. Others, like Bordeaux, are perfect in the late summer and in the very early autumn, during or right after the harvest, or in the spring, when the vineyards are at their greenest. Paris is the ultimate romantic destination in the fall.
How to get to the best cities to visit in France
Traveling to the best cities to visit in France is as easy as it gets. International airports are scattered around the country, and most cities are well connected to the rest of Europe and North America via Air France flights. For example, you can fly directly from Dallas to Paris Charles de Gaulle (the route was launched in spring 2019 to strengthen the ties between Dallas Fort Worth and France) or catch a connecting flight to Nice, Marseille or any other city in France.
TIP: If your travel dates are flexible, you can play around with the calendar in search of the best price – there are flights from Dallas to Paris as cheap as $723 round trip! If not, just pick your exact date and the engine will find the most convenient option for you.
How to move around France
Public transportation in France works perfectly so you have not a thing to worry about! You can take advantage of high speed trains to move around the country and, for longer distances, you can also fly – Air France connects all the main cities in the country.
For shorter trips ie around the Côte d’Azur, Marseille and Bordeaux, I recommend renting a car so that you get to enjoy the pleasures of a road trip and can stop wherever you wish to take in the fabulous views.
Other useful information
As always, I suggest getting a good travel insurance for all your trips. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
For more readings about France and more detailed information on what to see and do and how to move around the cities you intend to visit, you can visit the website of Air France.
Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in cooperation with Air France. As always, the views expressed remain my own.
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