France is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe and although many people only associate France with Paris, the country actually has many more amazing cities to offer. So if you’re ready to look beyond Paris and discover more parts of France, you are in the right place! Here’s a list about the most beautiful cities in France you need to put on your France bucket list.
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Most Beautiful Cities in France
Are you looking for the best cities to visit in France? Don’t worry, I got you covered! In this article you will find all the most beautiful cities in France together with a bunch of useful recommendations about the best things to do in each location, how much time to spend there and lots of other insider tips. Let’s get into it!
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Being one of the most iconic cities in the whole world, Paris needs no proper introduction. It’s not only one of the most beautiful cities in Europe but also one of the most visited ones – more than 40 million tourists visited Paris in 2018.
If you’re visiting Paris for the first time, seeing the famous Eiffel Tower must be on your itinerary. No pictures do justice how incredible the Iron Lady is in real life! If you want to take some amazing pictures with the Eiffel Tower, head over to Trocadero on the other side of the Seine river. This beautiful square offers an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower, no wonder it’s one of the most popular Instagram spots in Paris!
Paris is also home to many world-class museums and while many people decide to visit the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, Musée d’Orsay and Musée Rodin are also worth exploring. Best things to do in Paris include shopping on the Champs-Elysées, eating countless macarons and croissants, visiting the Sacré-Coeur, wandering through the cute streets of Montmartre (which is one of the best areas to stay in Paris) and seeing a show at the famous Moulin Rouge.
Since Paris is one of the most interesting and most beautiful cities in France, you can easily spend there weeks without getting bored. Although you can see a lot in just one day in Paris, it’s better to spend at least 4 days in Paris to discover the best places in the city. You can find a wide range or accommodations in Paris but if you want to make your stay even more memorable, book one of the hotels with Eiffel Tower view!
If you’re planning to stay longer or you have some extra time, it’s worth considering doing some day trips from Paris. Disneyland and the Palace of Versailles are usually the most popular choices but thanks to the amazing train system, you can easily reach Strasbourg, Metz or even London within a few hours.
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Versailles is a small city located 40 km (25 miles) west of Paris. Versailles has the status of a ‘royal city’ because it was once home to the kings of France.
The proximity of Versailles to the French capital and the good connections by train, make the city a great destination for a day trip from Paris. The truth is that Versailles has much more to offer than the Palace of Versailles, that’s why it is recommended to stay there for two or three days.
Dedicate one day to explore the city and one or two days for covering the Versailles Estate. The city of Versailles has a colorful market and beautiful private mansions from the 17th-18th centuries. The houses closer to the Palace were occupied by the king’s direct staff and therefore are richer. Also, you may want to check the Royal Opera and Notre Dame de Versailles Baroque Church in the city center.
Inside the Versailles Estate there is the Palace of Versailles, the Trianons (Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, and the Queen’s Hamlet), the park, and the forest. For visiting the Versailles Estate, there are passport tickets that include skip the line access to all these places which means you can save money.
In addition, it is also possible to visit the king’s vegetable garden (separate ticket) and the Gallery of Carriages (for free) just in front of Place d’Armes.
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Located on the north coast of France in the Calvados region, you will find the picturesque small harbour city of Honfleur. It was originally a fishing town on the Seine estuary, but due to the area’s beauty and clear light it has become one of the prettiest cities in France and a favourite place for the artists of Impressionism. Painter Eugène Boudin moved to the area in 1824 and invited his friend Monet, and they were followed by other artists like Pissarro and Renoir.
At the heart of Honfleur is the Vieux Bassin, the city’s historic port with its colourfully painted merchants’ houses, old stone salt stores and restaurants serving local seafood lining the waterfront. Honfleur still attracts artists today and you will often find their easels set up around the Vieux Bassin, as well as art studios and galleries tucked away in the city’s backstreets.
Honfleur is home to the largest wooden church of France – the Église Sainte Catherine, which was built by local shipbuilders 500 years ago with a ceiling that looks like two upside-down ships’ hulls. There are also museums dedicated to Eugène Boudin and composer Erik Satie.
However Honfleur is mostly a place to wander through the narrow streets, soak up the views and the sea air, it’s worth staying overnight when it is prettily lit up and the day-trip crowds have gone home. And if you want to go further afield, you can take a boat trip around the port and out to the Pont de Normandie cable bridge, or visit the 19th century seaside resorts of Deauville and Trouville.
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While many people visit Dunkirk for the purpose of crossing the English Channel with a ferry, there are many activities you can do there if you have the time before your Channel crossing.
The beaches of Dunkirk were the scene of one of the biggest evacuation missions in World War II which was mainly carried out by civilians who sailed their small ships from England to pick up the stranded Allied troops from the beach. You can spend time on the beach or walk the esplanade to get a glimpse of what peril the soldiers were in.
Nowadays the esplanade is filling quickly with high rise buildings and shops but there are a few monuments along the beach where you can stop to pay your respects. You can also visit the Musee Dunkirk which is all about the rescue and France during World War II and is located just back from the beach itself.
If you have more time in Dunkirk, you can visit the Commonwealth War Graves, The Zoo and The Church which are all amazing historical places.
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One of the most beautiful cities in France is Metz, situated east of Paris less than an hour and a half away by train. There are a lot of things to do in Metz, from walking along the river to explore historic buildings.
The most prominent landmark is without a doubt the stunning Metz cathedral, a Gothic and Renaissance wonder that rises above the city and can even be seen from the main highway when passing by. Its astonishing interior is illuminated through hundreds of stained glass windows which has given the cathedral the nickname “The Lantern of God”.
The historic center of Metz is also beautiful with pastel colored, tall houses featuring windows in Mediterranean style around the 14th century square Place Saint Louis. In Metz, you can find one of the oldest churches in Europe, the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains, originally built in 380 as a Roman spa.
Another interesting attraction is the medieval Porte des Allemands which consist of two towers, a fortified gate, and a stone bridge crossing the green river. Further down the river, you can also see the splendid Temple Neuf, which is situated on an island in the river, connected with bridges to the mainland.
Metz is a beautifully walkable city with a lot of green spaces and makes a perfect small city break.
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Strasbourg is the capital of the historical region of Alsace and since 2016 it is also the capital of the new French region Grand Est. The city is located 490 km (300 miles) east of Paris, but it’s only a 2-hour ride by TGV train leaving from Paris Gare de l’Est.
Strasbourg is located not far from the German border and over the centuries the city changed hands from France to Germany and back to France many times. That’s why Strasbourg has a mix of cultures, with cute half-timbered houses – just like on the other side of the border – and an interesting local cuisine with typical dishes like the baeckeoffe, flammekueche, choucroute, spaetzle, and bretzel. Strasbourg (and the Alsace in general) is also well known for its great wines, mostly whites.
Despite it is recommended to spend at least 2 days in Strasbourg, it is possible to see most of the main sights in just one day trip from Paris. One of them is Notre Dame of Strasbourg, the impressive gothic cathedral with only one tower. If the weather is good and the sky is blue, climb up to the top for a gorgeous view of the Black Forest in Germany.
The list of top things to do in Strasbourg includes La Maison Kammerzell, a jewel of renaissance architecture with its beautiful half-timbered façade, and the famous (and touristy) neighborhood of La Petite France, with its canals and pretty architecture. If you’re looking for the best cities to visit in France, Strasbourg definitely needs to be on your list!
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Colmar is about as picturesque as it gets. Wandering around you will feel like you are turning the pages of a fairy tale. You can take a ride on one of the little tourist trains and learn more about this magical place or you can also opt for a boat ride in Petite Venice, which is one oft the most romantic way to see the area.
It is the home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (the artist behind the Statue of Liberty) and if you’re interested, you can learn about him at the Bartholdi Museum. Go inside the St. Martin’s Church and the Dominican Church, as both the artwork and architecture are impressive. The Toy Museum and Musee Unterlinden, an art and history museum inside a former convent are also popular attractions.
Food and wine lovers will be in heaven. Check out the covered market and sample some of the Alsatian food. There are also a few wineries nearby, so you could do your own wine tasting tour in Colmar.
Colmar is a perfect destination for a weekend getaway but you could stay even longer and make it your base to explore the Alsace Region. It’s definitely one of the prettiest cities in France and if you want to make your stay even more magical, make sure to visit during the holidays when the city is beautifully decorated and it’s also home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
The closest airport to Colmar is Basel and from there you can travel by bus to Colmar, which takes around an hour.
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Located in the French Alsp, Annecy is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in France. It is located in the department of Haute-Savoie, in Eastern France, and it is bordered by the Lake Annecy from which it takes the name.
Annecy is a fairytale city crisscrossed by canals and with a pretty traditional architecture. Its cobbled streets, flowered canals, and colorful architecture are a wonder for photography lovers. Annecy is also great for a romantic or for a gastronomic getaway.
Annecy’s Old Town is small and compact so it is possible to visit it in a day. However, there are many things to see and do around the lake and it is recommended to stay a minimum of 2 days in Annecy to get the most out of it.
When in Annecy, the visit to the medieval castle is a must. This 14th century construction on the top of a hill dominates the Old Town and the lake. The castle was home to the Counts of Geneva and later the Dukes of Savoye. Today, it is a good place to learn about the history of Annecy and admire the lake from another point of view.
Another interesting place to visit in Annecy is the Palais de l’Isle, the symbol of Annecy built on a little isle in the Thiou River and the park that borders the lake, great for a walk or a picnic on the grass.
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When the Romans arrived in Lyon in 43BC, they probably did not realise that Lyon would one day be considered one of the most beautiful cities in France. Its Roman name was Lugdunum, and because of the Roman conquest, Lyon has a fascinating history and is home to several historical French landmarks. Many of these famous landmarks are in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Historic Site of Lyon, which has churches, halls, mansions, courtyards, and cathedrals.
Attractions not to be missed are the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, which is a 19th-century jewel, the mysterious Traboules passageways, Lyon’s Cathedral and Vieux Lyon. The latter is Europe’s largest old quarter from the Renaissance.
Besides beautiful historic architecture, Lyon is famous for food and silk. During the 15th to 17th centuries, the city was a hub for the silk industry attracting silk merchants from all over Europe. The city has a fascinating history of silk weaving, so spending some time admiring the beautiful works of silk at La Maison des Canuts is one of the best things to do in Lyon. Another popular pastime for those who love beauty is visiting one of France’s largest fine arts museum, Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Apart from being a beautiful historic city to visit, Lyon also has a modern side and an eye-catching array of outdoor mural art on walls and buildings. These works of street art are unique to Lyon and make it a living museum of contemporary street art. Therefore, anyone visiting the city should spend some time photographing these murals.
If you love history and food, you should spend at least a week in Lyon as this is a city for foodies, with an impressive 20 restaurants on the Michelin list.
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Located in the heart of the French Riviera, the beautiful coastal city of Nice is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in France. Nice enjoys a Mediterranean climate all year round with more than 300 sunny days per year so it’s not only an amazing choice for a summer vacation, but it’s also one of the best winter sun destinations in Europe.
One of the best things to do in Nice is to get lost in the narrow, cobblestone streets. The Old Town of Nice feels like a maze and you will come across many colorful houses, cute little shops, talented local artists and amazing cafes and restaurants on your way. Make sure to climb up to Castle Hill for an amazing panoramic view over the Old Town and the coastline!
Beaches are one of the many perks of Nice and you will find plenty of private and public beaches along the shore. One of the best beaches in Nice is Ruhl Plage, a private beach where you can find the iconic blue and white striped parasols that you can see on many photos and postcards.
Although the city is quite big, one day in Nice is enough to see all the highlights but if you’re looking for a more relaxed holiday, you can easily spend 2-3 days in the city as well. If you want to discover more places on the French Riviera, you can also choose to stay longer in Nice and visit some of the most amazing cities and cutest small towns in France like Menton, Monaco, Cannes or Marseille as day trips from Nice.
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Located on the Mediterranean coast between Nice and Cannes in the Alpes-Maritimes, Antibes is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in France. It lies at the centre of the glamorous French Riviera and offers the visitor a bit of everything that this area is famous for: sandy beaches, culture, shopping, nightlife, gastronomy and even a world-renowed music festival, Jazz à Juan (every July).
One of the best ways to get to the heart of this gorgeous city is to take a free walking tour of Antibes. Whether on the tour or on your own, you should wander through the old town with its myriad of independent boutiques, taking in the bustling Marché Provençal. At this photogenic covered fresh food market (every morning except Mondays) you will discover local seasonal produce and the best streetfood snack in the area: socca, a chickpea crêpe served piping hot from a wood-fired oven.
Explore the Commune Libre de Safranier, a neighbourhood known for its artistic freedom. The pretty pedestrian alleyways explode with flowers throughout the summer months. Continue on your walk along the 16th century ramparts which surround the old town and offer fabulous views. On a clear day you can see across the the superyachts in the port to the the snowy peaks of the southern Alps with the star shaped Fort Carrée in the middle. It’s definitely one of the best views on the Côte d’Azur!
Antibes was once the home of Picasso and the city has an interesting little museum of his art, housed in the magnificent Château Grimaldi – worth visiting for the building alone even if you are not a fan of the artist himself.
To get a different view of the beautiful city, spend a couple of hours hiking around the Cap d’Antibes. The coastal path is suitable for all levels of fitness but is not accessible for those with mobility issues and is closed in bad weather. On a good day however, it is a stunning walk. The rocky path follows the coast next to some of the most expensive and luxurious properties in France, and occasionally you get to peak through gates into this opulent world.
Finally, Antibes has some lovely sandy beaches to laze on in the summer and picnic on in the winter, there’s no bad time to spend a few days here.
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Marseille is one of the largest cities in France and on the Mediterranean coast and it’s also one of the top places to visit on a French Riviera road trip. This dynamic city is one of the most beautiful places to visit in France because of its history and the nature around it!
Marseille was built around 600 BC and known to the ancient Greeks as Massalia. Therefore, this city offers a lot for everyone passionate about art and culture. Marseille is also located in an exceptional natural area and you will find many islands around the city as well as the stunning National Park of the Calanques.
Here are the best things you can do in Marseille. The Old Port is the best place to start your visit: it has existed for 26 centuries and is one of the most vibrant spots in the city. There are also many cafes and restaurants around here so it’s the perfect spot to grab something to eat or do some people watching.
If you want to keep on experiencing the traditional part of Marseille, you can go in Le Panier which is the name of the oldest neighborhood of Marseille. It dates back to the 17th century and is a colorful area to wander in. The most famous landmark in the town which deserves a visit is the impressive basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde.
Lastly, if you love hiking in nature, you should check out the Calanques. Located between Marseille and Cassis, the National Park of the Calanques offers white cliffs and turquoise blue waters. You will get breathtaking views there!
As Marseille is a big city, you should stay there at least for 3 days and you should also count one full day for hiking in the calanques.
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Formerly home to Rome’s Popes and Sicily’s King, Avignon is a city with an illustrious past. This history is visible wherever you look, and it’s one of the major drawcards to the Provencal city still to this day.
Visitors flock from all around the globe to witness the grandiose nature of the Pope’s Palace, the iconic Pont d’Avignon, and the famous covered markets. Moreover every year during summertime, Avignon buzzes with excitement as the annual Avignon festival hits town. The artistic event has been running for more than 70 years and it gets bigger and better with each passing season.
Other things to enjoy in the southern city include strolling through the elevated Rocher des Doms gardens, taking the ferry to the île de la Barthelasse, visiting the water wheels of the rue des Teinturiers, taking in the city’s many art galleries and museums, shopping in the charming boutiques of the historical centre, and watching the world go by on a shaded cafe terrace.
The markets are not to be missed either, with food markets (including cooking shows) housed within Les Halles, and flea/antique markets taking place regularly within the city. Avignon is not only one of the best cities to visit in France but it’s also an excellent place to stay in Provence. It’s ideally located for exploring the wider region and it’s also an amazing base if you want to visit the lavender fields in Provence.
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Toulouse can be a really surprising city, charming and cosy with a huge cultural heritage. The town in France’s Southwest Region Occitanie is the gateway to the amazing seaside and the border with Spain.
The city has good vibes with friendly locals and an enchanting riverside. This is one of the main things to do in Toulouse and feel like a local. The Garonne is the river passing right in the middle of the city, splitting the municipality, but never dividing locals like in many other cities cut by streams.
Toulouse is a French city, which has got a mixed cultural heritage that you will discover going around the narrow passages and the incredible charming streets. In fact, you will notice that every street, signal or banners are regularly showed in double language.
You will recognize that is officially spoken the Occitan and the French, also in the Metro station the announcements are bilingual. It is the second-largest municipality in France, and it’s also home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Discover the gorgeous Basilica of St. Sernin, in Romanesque style, the largest remaining in Europe and the Canal du Midi with a beautiful view over the river and the bridges.
The third main attraction of Toulouse is the former Hospital Hotel-Dieu Saint-Jacques, which gives to Toulouse the nickname of Pink City or in French “La Ville Rose” for the unique architecture made of pinkish bricks in terracotta.
Toulouse will take your heart while exploring the culinary traditions, mixing the heritage with influence from the Catalan side. Toulouse is really one of the most beautiful cities in France and you should definitely consider a visit to this gorgeous place.
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The city of Bayonne sits in France’s southwest corner, where France’s Basque country begins. Because of its location, it is a crossroad, borrowing from its French and Basque heritages, but also from Spain not too far away.
Bayonne is known for two very different types of food. First, Bayonne ham is a cured ham you might consider a cousin to Spain’s jamón serrano, with a reputation well beyond its borders. The other gastronomic delight of the city is, unexpectedly, chocolate – the city is in fact known as the Capital of Chocolate because this is where chocolate first entered France from Spain. The tradition has remained and chocolate shops are plentiful.
The city’s ramparts are well preserved, as are the traditional Basque buildings that line the old town’s pedestrian streets.
Perhaps the city’s greatest contemporary claim to fame is the Bayonne Festival, an annual extravaganza attended by a million participants and which is France’s largest festival. It is a major exhibition of Basque culture with plenty of Basque music, dance and sport. Everyone dresses in white with a red scarf and beret, similar to Pamplona across the border. Basically, the idea of the festival comes from this city. Like Pamplona, bulls are involved, and despite tradition, the bullfights are becoming increasingly controversial in the city.
Bayonne is the ideal jumping off place if you’re planning to drive around the Basque country, which is the best way to see the region. The city itself can be visited in one full day if you start early and want to include the excellent Basque History Museum, the cathedral, and plenty of chocolate sampling.
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Bordeaux, located in southwest France on the Garonne River, is one of the most beautiful cities in France. Although long celebrated for its excellent wine, not many know that the city has undergone a recent facelift showing off the city’s bright and beautiful bones.
Revitalization projects created hip pedestrian riverwalks where once industrial docks were simply eyesores. Conservators scrubbed architectural wonders built during the Age of Enlightenment and now their inner beauty of buttery limestone shines through. The addition of modern trams makes visiting the gleaming city safe and comfortable.
Bordeaux shows off her new face in purpose-built, reflecting pools that capture the mirror images of stunning monuments like the 18th century Place de la Bourse. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of over 350 historical monuments in Bordeaux registered by the French government which makes Bordeaux second only to Paris for the number of French registered monuments.
Wine lovers know the Garonne River divides the region: the right bank (east) and the left bank (west). But not everyone realizes that each of the 17 arches of the iconic bridge that connects the two banks represent one letter in its patron’s name, Napoleon Bonaparte. Dreamy lights illuminate the arches of Pont de Pierre, or Stone Bridge every night, so don’t miss romantic walks along the riverside promenade.
Other must-dos for three-night stays are wine tasting tours to St Emilion, a medieval town in Bordeaux wine country, or Médoc, de rigueur for wine enthusiasts. Shop Rue Sainte-Catherine, considered the longest pedestrian-only street in Europe and visit the Cité du Vin, a wine museum designed by architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières to represent “the soul of wine”. Wander old town for photo ops with the gothic cathedral, Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux, and Porte Cailhau, Bordeaux’s main gate during medieval times.
Although Paris is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in France, the country has so many more incredible cities to offer. I hope you liked this article about the best cities to visit in France and I managed to convince you to include a few other cities beside Paris on your next trip to France!
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email, I always love helping you out! Do you know some other beautiful cities in France I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
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