As the most visited country in the entire world, France obviously has the eye of many tourists. And rightly so – France has so much beauty and so much variety to offer visitors – from bustling cities with pretty stone architecture and historic monuments, to world class museums and savory food.
The small towns in France are quaint and charming, with cobblestoned lanes through narrow, winding old towns. And of course, castles dot the landscape and beaches offer escapes from city life.
In short, you could spend months, even years, exploring all the destinations that France has to offer. To start you off, in this post we’re going to share what we think are the best, most beautiful places to visit in France.
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Pretty Spots to Visit in France
While any list of the most lovely places to visit in France must include Paris, but there are plenty of other breathtaking areas to explore in France. Let’s take a closer looks at some of top picturesque destinations in France.
Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world, and in my personal opinion, it’s absolutely deserving of the hype. Paris is just a beautiful city – the architecture on even the regular buildings lining the street is historic and often rather intricate, the bridges crossing the river are picturesque, and the monuments and memorials dotting the city are impressive and inspiring. Every arrondissement in Paris has its own character and vibe, plus, you have gorgeous gardens throughout the city and charming little cafes on nearly every street corner.
Besides visiting iconic spots like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, you should definitely also stop by the Arc de Triomphe, a grand arch in the middle of the most prominent street in the city. I’d highly recommend stopping by the Jardin de Tuileries and Jardin de Luxembourg, two large and absolutely gorgeous gardens in Paris, and visiting the Opera Garnier. You should also visit Sacré Coeur, a strikingly white basilica on a hill on the north end of the city (though it gets very crowded here – come early) and wander around the Montmartre neighborhood.
Nice is one of my favorite places in all of France. It’s the fifth largest city in France, and it sits right on the Mediterranean. Nice is squarely in the middle of what is called as the French Riviera, an area known for its beautiful coastline and upscale cities. It’s the perfect combination of gorgeous city and laid back coastal vibes.
There are lots of relaxing things to do in Nice. To start, you must stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, a wide, 11 mile promenade right along the beach. Explore the Old Town, full of narrow streets and buildings painted in pastel colors, and head over to the Old Port, a picturesque area that hosts large yachts. You can also visit the Jardins Albert I or the gardens on Castle Hill. The castle is long gone, but the park is lovely and the views over the city are fantastic.
Nice is also located very close to many of the idyllic wineries and vineyards in the Provence region of France, which are responsible for producing many of France’s best wines and offer wine tastings and tours of the vineyards.
Located just a half hour train ride outside of Paris, the lavishly ornate, sumptuous, and positively massive Versailles Palace is a sight to behold. Make sure you buy a timed ticket online in advance here, and plan for 1.5-2 hours to tour through the palace. For a glimpse of what to expect when you visit, you can do a virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles on Google Arts and Culture here.
You can choose to just walk through and admire the rooms and read the placards set up, or you can also pick up an audio guide that explains the significance of each room. Prepare to be blown away by the extravagance, the intricate murals on the ceilings, the gold-leafed door knobs and picture frames and ceilings, and opulence literally everywhere you look.
Remember, Versailles was developed by Louis the 14th, who was trying to consolidate his power over the lesser but still powerful lords and establish that his reign was approved by God. He designed a whole court system where nobles all wanted to curry favor with him, and having an over the top palace helped further those goals.
After the palace, you’ll have the chance to wander and explore the sprawling and beautifully designed grounds of Versailles. There are formal gardens and groves with maze-like paths through them, grand walkways, reflecting basins, fountains and sculptures everywhere.
Don’t miss the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon at the back of the grounds, which were small “cottages” designed for Marie Antoinette and the king to escape the pressures of palace life. In many ways, the grounds are my favorite part!
If you want to get the most out of your visit to Versailles, you might want to consider taking a guided tour like this one.
#4 Mont St Michel
One of the most striking locations in all of France is the almost mystical looking Mont St Michel, a small but tall island located a little more than a mile off the coast of France. During low tide, you could actually walk out on bare sand to Mont St. Michel, but at high tide the entire area is covered in water. The causeway from the mainland to Mont St Michel keeps the island accessible no matter the state of the tides.
The island is dominated by a tall and imposing abbey, and you can visit the abbey and admire its architecture and history. You should book your tickets to the Mont St Michel Abbey in advance to skip the line here. On the island, there is a small village for you to explore, but it is tiny and can become crowded, so visiting it either early in the morning or later in the day is recommended.
If you want to visit Mont St Michel as a day trip from Paris, check out this tour.
On the very eastern border of France is the city of Strasbourg, in a region known as Alsace-Lorraine. This area has actually changed hands between the French and Germans a few times over the past several hundred years, and that, in combination with simply its proximity to Germany, means that Strasbourg has a very unique and distinctly German feel to it. The city is constructed in traditional Bavarian style, with timbered houses being the predominant architectural style.
The most historic part of the city is situated on an island, La Grande Isle. When in Strasbourg, you must visit the absolutely massive Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg, stop by Place Kleber, and wander through the adorable La Petite France area that is full of canals and is reminiscent of Venice. The food in Strasbourg is also highly influenced by German cuisine, so you’ll see foods like bratwurst, spaetzle, pretzels, flammkuchen, and sauerkraut on the menu at traditional Alsatian restaurants.
If you get lucky enough to visit Strasbourg in December, you’re in luck – the city has one of the most elaborate Christmas markets in all of Europe, with a dozen markets scattered around the city and practically every street adorned in intricate light displays. Strasbourg calls itself the “capital of Christmas,” and boy do they work hard to deserve that title.
#6 Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is located about two hours southwest of Paris, in the central part of the country. While you can find castles all around France, the Loire Valley is famous for being chock full of old chateaux. Some of these castles belonged to local nobles, and some were secondary residences for French royalty.
Today, many of these chateaux are open to the public for tours and offer visitors the opportunity to explore their stunning grounds. If you’re planning a trip to the Loire Valley and want to experience some of the country’s most impressive castles, you should consider going to Chambord, Chenonceau, Villandry, Amboise, and Clos Lucé.
Château de Chambord is a massive, sprawling castle with multiple turrets, tower, and spires on it. This enormous castle was built from 1519-1547 and was, shockingly, used only as a hunting lodge by King Francis I.
Chateau Chenonceau is an incredibly distinctive castle, as it is designed in a long, skinny rectangle, with the majority of this rectangle spanning a river. There are arches underneath the castle that span the river. You can purchase your tickets in advance here.
Chateau Villandry has a nice castle, but the gardens are absolutely what makes this castle shine. There are 4 different themed gardens, containing flower and vegetable gardens, arranged in a formal and highly landscaped design.
The Chateaux of Amboise and Clos Lucé go hand in hand, as they are located less than 500 meters from each other. Several kings lived and reigned from Amboise in the 1400’s and 1500’s, but what is particularly notable is that King Francis I invited Leonardo da Vinci to come live at the Clos Lucé castle in 1516. Da Vinci lived there for several years and worked closely with the King (there was actually a secret tunnel between the two castles), and the painter is buried on the grounds of the castle.
This day tour from Paris will take you to see three chateaus and includes a wine tasting.
Aix-en-Provence is a smaller city in the Provence region of France, about 1 hour north of Marseilles. Despite its small size, it’s a notable city in Provence, known for its charming city center which has dozens of fountains constructed by the Romans.
In fact, Aix-en-Provence is sometimes referred to as the “City of 1000 Fountains.” Although many fountains from the past may have been lost over time, there are still numerous fountains, both big and small, that can be found prominently displayed or hidden away in tucked-away corners around the city.
The biggest and grandest is the Fontaine de la Rotonde, which sits right in the middle of the Cours Mirabeau, a lovely, tree-lined pedestrian street. Aix is also known for its multiple markets, including a fruit and vegetable market, a flower market, an artisanal goods market, a textile market, and an antique/flea market.
Besides the fountains in Aix-en-Provence, there are actually a ton of Roman artifacts and sites in the Provence region. From Aix, you can easily visit Pont du Gard (a large Roman aqueduct spanning the Gard River), the amphitheater in Arles and Nimes (smaller versions of the Roman colosseum), and the Maison Carrée in Nimes (a classic Roman temple facade).
While you could certainly stay a few days in Aix-en-Provence, it is located centrally in the Provence region, and you can easily do a day tour from Nice or Marseille to Aix-en-Provence.
#8 Normandy Beaches
Normandy is a region on the northern coast of France, with beaches and some rugged coastline. While there are plenty of interesting things to do in Normandy, its biggest claim to fame is being the site of the D-Day invasion, where Allied troops stormed the beaches to take back France from the Germans in World War II.
Visiting the Normandy D-Day beaches is a sobering experience and an enriching place to visit in France. At Omaha Beach, you can visit the beach and reflect at the memorial on the beach. The American Cemetery in Normandy sits on a green hill overlooking the beach, and has almost 10,000 graves of American men who died in the invasion. Nearby, you can also visit the Memorial Museum of Omaha Beach, which goes through the history of the invasion at Omaha.
About 13 minutes away is Pointe du Hoc, a high point at the top of a cliff that was held by the Germans. While it was bombed by the Allies in advance of the invasion, US rangers still had to scale the cliffs and take out the German bunkers here. As you visit Pointe du Hoc today, you can see the massive craters created from the bombs dropping, as well as the gun emplacements, underground bunkers, and barbed wire left over from the war. It’s an incredibly moving piece of history.
Other D-Day Beaches in Normandy include Utah Beach, Juno Beach, Gold Beach, and Sword Beach, and there are memorials, museums, and military cemeteries all up and down the coastline to learn about and remember this massive, bloody, but ultimately successful military invasion.
If you want to see the Normandy beaches on a day trip from Paris, check out this tour.
Bordeaux is the 6th largest city in France and is located in the southwest region of France, near the Pyrenees Mountains and not too far from the border of Spain. Bordeaux is a thriving city, with classical and neoclassical architecture, but most people who visit Bordeaux come to taste at the literally thousands of wineries in the Bordeaux region. The Port de la Lune in the city of Bordeaux was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Bordeaux, you must visit Port Cailhau, the historic main gate of the city. You definitely need to stop by the Miroir d’Eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool that creates a lovely reflection from the nearby Place de la Bourse. Don’t miss stopping by the Basilica of Saint-Michel.
If you’re a wine enthusiast, a visit to La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux is a must – get skip-the-line tickets here. This unique cultural venue is dedicated to showcasing wine as a universal and living heritage, with 18 exhibits dedicated to wine as a cultural, universal, and living heritage. And of course, you’ll definitely want to leave the city and explore the countryside, stopping in at chateaux situated in the middle of vineyards to do some wine-tastings.
Chamonix is a popular winter destination in France, as it’s right in the heart of the Alps at the base of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. Skiing and snowboarding at the over half-dozen of the ski resorts around the city is the most popular activity, but you can also go tubing, snow shoeing, and ice climbing in winter.
After hitting the slopes, enjoy the cozy atmosphere in town, where candles and fires are lit, and fondue and raclette is served up in the restaurants. Ski season lasts from late November-April, but if you want to visit this destination in summer, you can enjoy activities such as hiking, the alpine coaster (and other adrenaline activities), ride the Montenvers Railways, and simply embrace the outdoors in this beautiful alpine town.
Marseilles is the biggest port city in France, and is located right on the Mediterranean, about 2.5 hours from Nice. Though not far from Nice, Marseilles has a distinctly different vibe, as it tends to be a little less glitzy and charming, and a little more gritty.
The port in Marseilles is absolutely massive, and walking around the port area is very engaging. Other interesting things to do in Marseilles include walking La Canebiere street, visiting Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, and visiting the MuCEM museum (Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean), a new, modern museum right on the water. When in Marseilles, you must try bouillabaisse, a soup made of several types of fish.
The most famous thing to do in Marseilles, however, is visit the island prison of Chateau d’If, the setting for the famous book “The Count of Monte Cristo.” You can take a ferry out, and explore the prison and grounds.
If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in Marseilles, consider getting a city card here to save money.
Despite being the 4th largest city in France, Toulouse is a bit of a hidden gem, with much fewer (relatively speaking) tourists than many of the top cities in France on this list, such as Nice, Marseilles, or even Bordeaux. However, Toulouse is definitely one of the best places to visit in France, thanks to its beautiful and unique cityscape – it’s nicknamed the Pink City thanks to the numerous pink bricks used in construction of the buildings.
Interestingly, it is also one of the top aerospace centers in Europe, so you’ll see many museums dedicated to air and space in Toulouse. Be sure to check out the Cité de l’Espace (get tickets in advance here), a space-themed amusement park and museum that offers a look into the history and future of space exploration. Or, head to the Aeroscopia Museum in the suburb of Blagnac to see an impressive collection of aircraft and learn about the development of the aviation industry.
When in Toulouse, you definitely need to stop by the 13th century Saint-Etienne Cathedral and explore the Place du Capitole. The Aeroscopia Museum is a great place to learn about the history of aviation. Strolling along the Canal du Midi, a 350 km long canal that connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean is a popular activity, and many people enjoy the views from Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Toulouse.
Located in the heart of the Alsace region, this Colmar is known for its half-timbered houses, winding canals, and colorful flower displays. From history to art, and from food to wine, this beautiful city has it all.
If you’re interested in art and history, you’ll love the Bartholdi Museum, which showcases the works of the sculptor behind the Statue of Liberty, as well as the Musée Unterlinden, which features famous works such as the Isenheim Altarpiece. Meanwhile, the Toy Museum has an impressive collection of playthings throughout history that is sure to delight all ages.
To see the city from a different perspective, hop on the miniature train that winds its way through the city’s charming streets and canals. You can also do a wine tasting tour in Colmar, with its many wine cellars and tasting rooms offering an array of local wines to sample.
When it comes to food, don’t miss out on trying the local cuisine, such as the mouthwatering flammekueche, a type of pizza with crème fraîche, onions, and bacon. The Covered Market is an excellent spot to sample local produce, from fresh cheeses and meats to baked goods.
Most Beautiful Places to Visit in France
Any of these destinations will make for incredible vacations in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. All of these spots are very well-connected to nearby cities and small towns by car, train, or plane, making it easy to get around France and explore the country. So get exploring and get to know this amazing country!
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