With so many places to visit in France, it’s no wonder that it has remained one of the most touristed countries on the planet – with over 82 million people visiting the land of food, fashion, romance and wine each year. France is blessed with natural beauty, a rich history, intricate architecture, iconic art, world-class grape producing vineyards and a deep passion for life.
France has long been a foodie and wine-lovers paradise, but dive deeper beneath the cuisine and viticulture and you’ll find a place with welcoming people, a long-standing sophisticated culture and an intoxicating romantic ambiance that seduces almost every person who touches down in L’hexagone.
In this article I’m going to list many of the best places to visit in France, but because the country has so much to offer, I’m going to break the places up into 5 categories: History, Wine, Food, Nature & Culture.
Here’s a bucket list of all of the best places to visit in France!
Places To Visit in France For History
With the first written records of the history of France dating back to the Iron Age, and inhabitants that have gone as far back as Gauls, the Aquitani, and the Belgae, it’s no surprise that France is a place where people flock to witness living history.
Walking around a medieval village in France can feel a bit like you just stepped out of a time machine and despite the nation’s growing population and exploding number of visitors, there are still pockets of France that move at a contiguously slow pace.
Here are some of the best places to visit in France for history-buffs:
Saint Malo, Brittany
This city is actually part of the English Channel and it is one of the most conspicuously picturesque historical places to visit in France. There is plenty of well-preserved architecture to see here, including Fort National and the Malo Cathedral, but there is also a rich history of pirates and sea farers that once ran this town.
In the middle ages, this was an important port and today it sees more and more tourists every year who come for the fresh seafood, historical ambiance and delicious local cuisine.
To get to Brittany, your best bet is to check out Brittany Ferries who offer convenient cross Channel ferries to France, with the widest choice of ferry crossings available anywhere. If you’re in the UK, you can depart from Portsmouth, Plymouth or Poole and travel to Cherbourg, St Malo, Caen, Le Havre or Roscoff for a direct Channel crossing to France.
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Le Mont St Michel
Built on an 83-meter high granite cliff that juts out of the bay of Normandy, the island town of Le Mont St Michel is truly a sight to behold. An important pilgrimage site for over a millennium, it’s no surprise that this is one of the best historical places to visit in France, featuring the Benedictine Abbey with the statue of the arc angle (said to have visited the country in the 8th century) placed triumphantly at its precipice.
Le Mont St Michel, simply put, has a particular magic to it. Make sure you climb the cobbled steps to the top of the abbey where you can enjoy the expansive views over the sea and the surrounding countryside, as well as the ancient medieval town that sprawls out on the landscape below.
Famous for its castle and many traditional houses, the views of Espelette are extraordinary. Also known for the spicy pepper of the same name, Espelette has wowed visitors for centuries, both with its spice and its sights.
Try to time your visit for fall, when the leaves change and the town comes alive with autumn colours. Particularly if you can make it here for the last week of October, you’ll be able to experience the pepper festival!
This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places to visit in France. Stretching over the vast shores of Lake Geneva, this 14th-century medieval town boasts a lovely garden, countless flowers and fruits, a vast maze of cobblestone streets, fascinating historical architecture and a “back-in-time” atmosphere.
History buffs shouldn’t miss Visite d’Yvoire, the Garden of 5 Senses, Helionaute and La Chataigniere. But everyone who visits Yvoire should simply get lost in the labyrinth of back streets, stopping only to pop in for a quick pastry or a delicious espresso.
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For history and historical tapestry, visitors will be wowed by the Bayeux Museum, which gives you an up close and personal look into art history in France. One particular piece in the museum is nearly the length of a football field and has some of the most intricately embroidered and well-preserved tapestry you’ll ever see.
Outside of the museum, the tiny little town of Bayeux is notorious for producing delicious French pastries and it also boasts a gorgeous cathedral and a lovely old quarter. To try some of Normandy’s famous local brandy and a traditional Normand meal, head to L’Assiette Normande restaurant, which is located just up the road from the Cathedral.
If you’re looking for history and romance all wrapped up in a small package that looks a bit like Venice, don’t miss Petite Venise in Colmar, or the charming streets in the inner city. Its proximity to the German border gives Colmar a unique position in history as it has been handed back and forth between the French and the Germans for nearly 1000 years.
This historical hot potato game has left Colmar with a unique blend of German and French influences that can be seen within almost every aspect of the city, including the architecture, food, traditions and language. Here you can indulge in beer, schnitzels and pretzels one day, and take a wonderful food and wine tasting tour the next.
Another of the historical places to visit in France, Sainte-Mère-Église was the first town to be liberated by the Allied Forces on D-Day. You can visit Sainte-Mère-Église throughout the year, but many like to come on the anniversary of D-day when you can celebrate its anniversary with the locals. You’ll find food in the streets and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
With over 4 million tourists visiting the city every year, Avignon is without a doubt one of the most popular historical places to visit in France, particularly when compared to other places in the south-eastern part of the country. Pretty much anyone who heads this way has to stop in Avignon. This UNESCO world heritage site was first founded in the early 6th century BC and features the unmistakable Palace of the Popes, as well as many other historical sites.
Now best known for hosting the largest annual arts festival in France, Avignon also boasts a medieval bridge, leafy plazas and open squares, world-class restaurants and an endlessly charming old town. A great way to see the ramparts of the historical quarter is by hopping on a boat tour down the Rhône river.
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Because Gordes also hosts an amazing wine festival at the beginning of August and an almond festival in Spring, I could have easily placed the city under the “best places to visit in France for wine” or the “best places to visit in France for food” instead, but there’s just too much history and medieval architecture here to move it out of the historical category.
Arguably the most picturesque hilltop village in the country, the terracotta-roof homes and ancient church towers of Gordes huddle close together, precariously teetering on the edge of a sheer rock cliff above the Vaucluse Plateau. The spectacular view of the village from afar looks like something straight out of Game of Thrones.
Don’t just get lost inside of the town itself, be sure to head out on the plateau for sunset to see Gordes truly alight with a golden hue as the sun dips into the horizon. Be warned though, during summer months this tiny village is bursting at the seams as visitor numbers rise along with the temperatures and accommodation prices.
Places To Visit in France For Food
French cuisine seems to always conjure up images of fine dining, fine wine and borderline pretentious portion sizes, but dig deeper into this land of culinary fusion and you’ll find that the soul of French cooking is found in the ingredients themselves and the techniques used to prepare the dishes.
The flavours are sophisticated, but not overly complex and often focus on creating a harmonious dish that elevates a single featured ingredient. Don’t be fooled into thinking that every French restaurant is high-end dining either. You’ll still find some cheap little gems (even in Paris) and definitely don’t miss the informal bouchons of Lyon or the budget bistros of Bordeaux.
Here are the best places to visit in France for foodies:
Tucked beneath the towering Alps in southeastern France, Grenoble has boldly taken on the flavours and ingredients of its Swiss and Italian neighbours, with wonderful Swiss-Alpine and Italian influence found in many of the dishes here. Grenoble has been blessed by a position at an intersection of cuisine and this has attributed to its gourmet excellence, which has slowly been perfected over the centuries.
A place fringed by walnut orchards which produce more than half of France’s total annual harvest, it’s no surprise that the plentiful nut is found in so many of Grenoble’s tasty pastries and decadent desserts.
For the best restaurants, don’t miss the city center where you’ll find countless patisseries and fine dining restaurants like the two-Michelin starred Les Terrasses and the wonderful La Madelon. But don’t worry, not everything is at the top-end of the spectrum here.
If you’re visiting on a budget, there are a few cheaper hotels in the city and the large student population definitely helps bring down the food costs, creating a market for more budget-friendly eating options like Barbecue Damas and Green Mango.
Located in the far north of France, it’s no wonder why there’s so much Flemish influence in the cuisine here, with beer and hops frequently appearing on the ingredients list for many dishes in town. There are also wonderful chocolate shops spattered throughout the village. Basically, if you’re coming to France for food, you’ll want to come to Lille and truly treat your palate to some of France’s most unique and flavourful cuisine.
If you’re into meaty meals like beer stewed beef, meat and veggie terrines and fantastic fresh seafood plates, then Lille may just be your culinary paradise. Foodies should definitely stop in at A L’Huîtrière if they’re looking for seafood, but also the aptly named former butcher’s shop of Le Barbier Lillois makes for a great dining out experience.
Best Tours in Lille (click to view tours):
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When a town is literally known more for the food it creates than for being an actual place, you know it’s going to be one of the best places to visit in France for food-lovers. As the capital of wine-crazed Burgandy, Dijon has constantly been listed amongst France’s top culinary destinations and of course, you can enjoy mustard alongside wine all day long here.
If you’re in Dijon for the food, don’t miss the garlic butter snails, andouillette (sausage made with pig intestines), and the world-famous dishes of coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon (both are tasty red wine-based stews). For a gourmet night out, don’t miss Le Bistrot de Halles and Le Pré aux Clercs.
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I was actually having a really hard time trying to figure out where to put Paris on this list. The city has great wine, a rich culture and of course, a lot of history… but Paris really is a foodie paradise, boasting a smörgåsbord of pâtisseries, fine dining restaurants, street food and brasseries.
The growing number of tourists has really started to tarnish the city’s culinary reputation with some restaurants abandoning their French traditions in an attempt to please foreign visitors. This is why it’s so important to find your way off the beaten culinary path and into some of Paris’s forgotten foodie back streets.
If you’re looking for an authentic eating experience in this touristy capital, check out La Maison des Frigos, Le Foyer de la Madeleine, Chez Louisette and Saint Germain’s best-kept secret – L’Etage de Pastavino.
Best Places To Stay in Paris:
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Be ready for bouchons in Lyon. These are tiny, lively and delightfully low-key restaurants found throughout the city. Their popularity exploded in the early 1930s when an economic downturn caused wealthy home-owners to fire their well-trained local chefs, who then retaliated by opening up their own restaurants to serve the less affluent in the city.
These tiny little restaurants have flourished through numerous ensuing economic crisis’ and are now one of the main reasons that people visit the captivating village of Lyon.
Similar to Grenoble, Lyon has been at a culinary crossroads, but the difference here is that the varied influences are more domestic. Today, the cuisine draws its inspiration from Beaujolais, Provence, Burgundy, and the Alps which all culminate into a savory mix of flavours that have given Lyon a culinary identity all its own.
Don’t miss the wonderful bouchons like Chez Georges and Cafe Comptoir Abel where you can try some of the city’s most famous dishes, including quenelles de brochet (skinny dumplings floating in a savory crayfish sauce).
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Places To Visit in France For Wine
Currently the second largest wine-producing nation on Earth (next to Italy), France is clearly one of the best countries in the world for wine-lovers to visit. You really can’t go wrong when the very names of French cities conjure up images of lush reds and bright whites before you are reminded that these are actually cities and not just grape varieties.
From the hills of Bordeaux to the vineyards of Champagne, these are the best places to visit in France for wine:
The very name rolls of the tongue in such a way that you can’t help but to think of wine. Bordeaux is found in the middle of the Gironde region which is where some of the country’s best vineyards are found. The city itself boasts France’s longest shopping avenue, but that’s not why you’re coming to Bordeaux is it?!
You’re here for du vin and right on the city’s doorstep are some of the most famous wine-makers in the world – including Bordeaux Superieur, Entre-Deux-Mers, Medoc and Saint-Emilion.
For some lesser known vineyards, check out d’Arsac, Beau-Site, Bellevue de Tayac and Bonnet. I highly recommend taking a wine tour in Bordeaux so you can learn more about the history of viticulture in the area and explore the many cellars that dot the countryside before arriving safely back at your hotel with the help of a designated driver.
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You’ll likely leave this place with your teeth turning the color of burgundy (the word describing the color itself is named after the deep red wines found in the region). There are just too many different wines to taste here and it’s one of the best places to enjoy a wine tour in France.
Bourgogne, as it’s said in French, is located between Auxerre and Sens in Southeastern Paris and was actually owned by the English after the Hundred Years War all the way up until 1477 when it rejoined with France.
Today it boasts a lot of important historical sites, but again… that’s probably not the main reason you’re going to visit Burgundy. Wine enthusiasts and sommeliers have flocked to Burgundy for centuries to sample some of the world-renowned wines and tour the beautiful vineyards. Without a doubt, if you’re into wine, this is one of the best places to visit in France.
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Home to the endemically titled grape variety of the same name, Champagne is arguably one of France’s best places to visit for wine. The sparkling white that made the town famous is a true french delicacy and its consumption is to be taken very seriously. Savouring the tingle on the tongue and standing in reverence of the original wine-makers is almost mandatory here.
Prepare to bring your wallet along if you plan to do tastings and buy bottles in Champagne. It’s no surprise that while the cost of a bottle here is slightly less than you may find at home, it’s still a very expensive beverage.
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Bergerac & Duras
Benefiting from a warm and temperate climate, the wines of Bergerac and Duras are actually a very important part of the cultural and culinary history of the Périgord Agenais region.
The vines here produce excellent reds, whites and rosés and all are best enjoyed on a wine tour with one of the many operators in the area. A guided visit to the cellars and farm-to-table restaurants in these vineyards is a must and when you’re done sipping sumptuous vintages, you can explore some of the nearby medieval villages.
Blessed with Michelin starred restaurants, olive groves, cyprus forests, fruit trees and lush gardens, Provence has long been famous for its herbs and wine the world over. This sun-kissed paradise in Southeastern France is as indulgent as it gets. I’ve already listed Avignon in this post (which is within the Provence region), but other places like Aix-en-Prevence, Cassis and Bandol also add to the allure of the area.
For wine it’s best to come in April to September when all of the wineries are open for tasting. Head to Clos Sainte Magdeleine where you can try two wines for 12 euros, or try one of the older vineyards like Mas de Cadenet which has been producing wines since 1813.
If you’re looking to take some bottles home with you, The Maison des Vins de Côtes de Provence in Les Arcs-sur-Agens has over 800 different wines to choose from and the staff there can help you pick the perfect bottle souvenir.
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Places To Visit in France For Nature
Despite often being overshadowed by its more famous traits such as wine, cuisine and historic villages, France is still an excellent place to visit if you want to experience nature. From the towering powder-white peaks of the Alps, to the depths of its deepest gorges, through its hilly interior and along its jagged coastline, France is blessed with a natural beauty that, while sometimes ignored, is hard to forget once you’ve seen it.
These are the best places to visit in France if you’re interested in nature.
A kind of Bermuda Triangle located at the border between Italy and France, Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain found in Western Europe and has been host to numerous tragedies including skiing fatalities, tunnel fires, plane crashes and avalanches, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the world.
If you’re a mountaineer though, this 4,810 meter high peak will probably call to you. For the less adventurous, you can view the snowy behemoth from Chamonix, where most visitors base themselves to do day trips to its foothills.
Sitting at the foothills of the great Mont Blanc, Chamonix is a skiers’ paradise in the winter and a hikers’ heaven in the summer months. With a long history of winter athletics, the city was rebuilt for tourism when it hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924. Since then it has grown in popularity and boasts some of the best powdery slopes found anywhere in Europe.
If you tire of the mogul-clad mountain slopes, head back to town and pop into one of the many Michelin starred restaurants that line the main road. In the winter, Chamonix comes alive with the fever of winter sports and everyone is talking about their latest run over a delicious glass of wine or a warm cup of coffee.
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Aiguille du Dru
Actually situated within the Mont Blanc mountain range, this comparatively small peak (at 3,750 meters high) is still an impressive sight to behold. With its steel grey granite rock face and jagged peaks, this mountain has been a formidable challenge for mountaineers since its first summit in 1878.
Found amongst farming villages in the northwestern region of Normandy, these picturesque cliffs have inspired painters, artists and writers for centuries. The natural arches and jagged “needles” jut out of the Atlantic Ocean and offer visitors a striking visual, as well as a good opportunity to suntan and swim in the nearby pebble beaches.
Gorges du Verdon
This 700-meter-deep river canyon is spectacularly placed in the shadows of the French Alps and stretches for 25 kilometers in length through the Alpse-de-Haute-Provence range. This is arguably the most beautiful gorge in Europe and thanks to the breathtaking turquoise colored water and the dramatic topography, it’s a wonderful place for swimming, rafting, fly fishing, rock climbing and paragliding.
Scandola Nature Reserve
This is definitely one of the best places to visit in France if you want to enjoy nature and outdoors. Scandola Nature Reserve is found on the jagged, red stone French island of Corsica. Taking a boat from the coast, you can explore countless coves, grottos and caves which are as pristine as you’ll find anywhere on the continent.
If you tire of visiting the dramatic cliffs along the coast, consider popping into one of the lovely coastal towns near Scandola, which provide a vivid glimpse into day-to-day life on the island as well as some delicious food.
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Pic du Midi d’Ossau
Lost for millenia inside of the great French Pyrenees Mountain Range, Pic du Midi d’Ossau reflects its beauty on the mirror-like waters at its base. The best views of the jagged peak are likely seen from Boulevard des Pyrénées which lies 55km north of this unmistakable natural wonder.
The Camargue Salt Flats
These pink-colored salt lagoons are found within The Camargue, an area best known for being the largest river delta in Western Europe. The flats and lagoons get their fuchsia color from a salt-eating organism known as Dunaliella salina, which emit a red pigment while absorbing energy from the sun.
Strangely enough, it also turns the birds pink! This is a great place to spot pink flamingos as well as (white) Camargue horses. If you can peel yourself away from the sheer, unrelenting beauty of the salt flats, you can check out the nearby farms where farmers train massive black bulls for bull fights in Spain. All-in-all, the Camargue Salt Flats are a fascinating place to visit in France.
Best Places To Visit in France For Culture
In some places, it just seems easier to mingle with locals, to indulge in culture and to understand French traditions and their way of life. Here are some of the best places to visit in France if you’re interested in learning about and experiencing the culture:
Get lost in Vieille Ville, with its rustic, medieval atmosphere and iconic historic buildings all lining a delicate network of narrow back roads and tiny alleyways. Here you can enjoy delicious food and meet local people going about their day-to-day life. It’s easy to become instantly immersed in the culture of Nice.
For a little bit of art history and an understanding of its effect on local culture, check out the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. This striking marble building is a great example of Neoclassical architecture and was first inaugurated in June of 1990. Inside you’ll find a collection of ten galleries all spread over 370,000 square meters.
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Versailles a small city on the on western edge of Paris. It has actually now been swallowed by the enormous sprawling metropolis within the Ile de France region.
Only really visited for the enormous royal palace complex and gardens which were built by King Louis XIV, this former hunting lodge is known as The Palace of Versailles or The Château de Versailles (best seen with the amazingly rated tour below) and was the location that the Peace Treaty was signed between Germany and the Allied Forces which effectively ended WWI.
Although the palace is undoubtably Versailles’ most notable historical site, this is a great place to experience French culture and cuisine. Be sure to also check out the Cathédrale Saint-Louis (located in Quartier Saint-Louis neighbourhood), Église Notre-Dame, rue de la Paroisse and Hôtel de la Préfecture, which features a brilliant façade opposite town hall and make sure you reserve a table at La Magnette or La Table du 11.
Top-Rated Tour (by far) in Versailles:
This area could have easily appeared under the “Best places to visit in France for wine” category, because after conquering this village, the Romans cultivated some of the nation’s best wines at its doorstep. Eguisheim is famed for producing delicious Alsace wines, but the viticulture isn’t the only culture you can enjoy here.
Stroll between the timber-framed buildings of this quaint little town and you’ll quickly see why it was voted France’s favourite village in 2013.
The locals here are extremely friendly and recent archaeological finds suggest that there have been inhabitants here since the Palaeolithic Ages. With a human history dating back over 2 million years, it’s no wonder this is such a great place to experience culture, although today it’s of the French kind, with plenty of great restaurants, cool leafy plazas for people watching and of course, the delicious wine and pastries.
The complete lack of modern restoration in Conques has left this tiny village as one of the most untouched examples of Romanesque architecture in the world. Nestled tightly amongst the towering green mountains of the Midi-Pyrénées, the village itself has countless narrow alleyways and a maze of historic streets all enmeshed inside a quaint UNESCO World Heritage site.
Inside you’ll find Abbey-Church of Saint-Foy, which itself is a UNESCO listed site and plenty of cute cafes, busaries and patisseries to keep your taste buds tingling. Spend some time in a cafe and you’ll see the comings and goings of locals who have been going about the same business for years. The day-to-day life in Conques seems to have remained as unchanged and intact as the architecture that the town is famous for.
Okay so Paris just had to make it on this list twice. Despite being overrun with tourists (over 15 million foreigners flock to the romantic capital each year), Paris really is a haven for culture. You can’t miss the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris or Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre.
Give Paris a little bit more time than you had planned, because even though you have to dodge your way through the crowds, the city tends to over-deliver.
So Many Places To Visit in France, So Little Time…
While this list of places to visit in France is relatively long and detailed, it’s by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds of hidden villages, lost valleys and vast vineyards that are waiting to be discovered in this romantic nation. Even though the country isn’t huge at 643,800 km², you could travel here for a lifetime and still have much to see.
There are so many things to do in France! Take your time here, slow your pace and enjoy the things that make it so wonderful. The French have a lust for life and if you can try to fall into that rhythm, you’ll have a better time here.
What is your favourite place to visit in France? Did we miss it? Share with us in the comments below!
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