France serves to delight the romantically inclined with fairy-tale castles, picture-perfect villages, soaring cathedrals, and still, the country manages to impress realists together with its progressive and yet contemporary styling.
Whilst perusing the streets of Paris, be sure to take in the delights of the Eiffel Tower, which represents the modernized emblem of France. Then, venture to the Louvre Museum and witness famous masterpieces aplenty. Enjoy a day at the most elegant Palace of Versailles. Be sure to save some time for traditional French gastronomic delights and leisurely gourmet meals.
Nevertheless, it’s not merely about Paris. Each individual region in France comes with its own distinctive culture and cuisines. From the quaintest of fishing villages in Brittany that specialize in seafood and crêpes, to the cozy chalets dotted around within the French Alps, where hearty cheese-based fondues and charcuterie is the indulgence of every day. Savor it all, and take gratification from the irresistible charms that France has to offer. Let’s have a look at the best things to do in France!
1. Paris: Musee de Louvre
Even the main entrance way to the Musee de Louvre is an artistic dream, as is befitting to the world’s most visited museum. But there’s not much time to linger gazing up at the glassy pyramid. For inside awaits the fantasy of the most ethereal collection of art the world has seen, with everything from the Code of Hammurabi, to Egyptian mummies, to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo.
The museum has endured the centuries-old political and social transformations of France, while still maintaining the vastness and beauty of the human mind under a single roof, and thereby becoming a potent symbolization of French finesse and sensitivity.
2. Paris: Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
As a way to commemorate the French Revolution’s centennial celebration, the Eiffel Tower, which is the world’s most visited paid monument, was constructed in 1889 by a company owned by Gustave Eiffel the acclaimed bridge builder.
If you’re out on the Champs de Mars during the evening, you’ll see the tower twinkle with its millions of multicolored lights, at which point you’ll realize exactly why it’s such a popular spot for marriage proposals. Irrespective of the time of day, however, it represents a very strong symbol to the French peoples, serving to not only commemorate but to unite and stir strong emotions. Also check out these tips on Paris.
3. Versailles: Versailles Palace (Chateau de Versailles)
When Louis XIV relocated to the court of Versailles back in 1682, he certainly made a good choice. These days, the amazing Hall of Mirrors, the gilded royal apartments, the glittering enfilade throughout the bedrooms, and the intimacy of the works on the furnishings, are all masterpieces fit for a king.
Not to mention the meticulously manicured lawns and quintessential landscaping which is keenly suited to a world of fairy-tales. It all comes together as a symbol of unconditional monarchy, while simultaneously functioning as one of the foremost tourist attractions in France.
4. Chartres: Cathedrale de Chartres
The beautiful soaring spires, the porches which are elaborately adorned with detailed sculpture works, and the stained-glass windows from the 12th and 13th centuries, conjure up the realization that the Cathedrale de Chatres symbolizes the front runner of the echelon in French Gothic art.
Although in 1134 much of the town of Chartres was destroyed by fire, the cathedral miraculously survived and became a major pilgrimage destination as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It truly is a masterpiece of French architecture.
5. Mont Saint-Michelle: Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel
On the border between Brittany and Normandy lies the Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel, a legendary abbey that brings the artistry of medieval architecture and the forces of nature together. Sitting atop a tidal island, the abbey was given the accolade of a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1979, and marks the symbol of French heroic resistance to the English during the Hundred Years’ War.
The fortified walls encompass a picturesque Middle Ages village which flourished from the 11th century on. Its unique position of being only 600 meters from land made it easily accessible to pilgrims during low tide. More latterly, during the reign of Louis XI, the Mont was converted into a prison, though now it has been revitalized into one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.
6. Paris: Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris)
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris became ever-more popular on the publication of Victor Hugo’s novel in 1831, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Nevertheless, the church reflects the capital city’s prestige all too well with its sizable lofty archways, ornate spires, rose-colored stained glass windows, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults, and not least, the indispensable Gargoyles, all of which emanate the essence of Gothicism at its finest. Notre Dame de Paris certainly deserves a place in the itinerary of every visitor to the capital city of France.
7. The Loire Valley (Le Val de Loire)
The River Loire twists and turns as it makes its way throughout the rolling hills of the valley, offering a naturally soothing spectacle, and setting the stage for something akin to heaven on Earth. This beautiful area of blooming flowers and grandiose vineyards is dotted on both sides with over 1,000 charmingly elaborate chateaus.
Follow the 174 mile (280 km) river from Sully-sur-Loire in Loiret to Chalonnes-sure-Loire in Anjou, and you’ll certainly agree that the valley truly deserves its UNESCO recognition.
8. Paris: Musee d’Orsay
Though the Louvre is considered to be the most impressive museum in France, the Musee d’Orsay, also located in Paris, is a very close second. Situated on the left bank of the Seine, and housed in a bygone railway station, the museum plays host to paintings and sculptures that belong to a host of French artists.
Nevertheless, the museum is famed for its considerable assortment of masterpieces from impressionists and post-impressionists. There is no place on Earth that you can witness such an extensive collection of artworks from Monet, Cezanne, Degas, and Renoir. Really, it doesn’t take any level of fine arts expertise to fall in love with the Musee d’Orsay.
9. Nîmes: Arenes de Nîmes
Arguably the best preserved Roman amphitheater there is to be seen, this arena has been a dominant factor in the city of Nîmes for almost 2,000 years.
Due to the degree of perfection of Roman engineering, still today, we can witness and revel in events staged in the amphitheater, including popular musical and theatrical concerts, bullfights, and more, and all in such a venerable setting. The establishment is in close proximity to the Principality of Orange and the Ponte du Gard, making the entire area a haven of antiquity.
10. Reims: Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims
Although acting as a runner-up to the Cathedral in Chartres in terms of sculpting and ornamentation, Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims still represents a wonderful display or architectural artistry and royal history. Here you will witness the synthesis of Gothic elements in harmony, unity, and remarkable balance.
Although the subtle contrast between formal classicism and realism may not be so noticeable to the layperson, the overall grandness of the cathedral will no doubt make a lasting impression. It comes as no surprise that Reims Cathedral was drawn on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1991.
11. Paris: Arc de Triomphe
Today, the Arc de Triomphe, which is the largest monument of this kind in the world, links both old and new Paris together, thereby forming a spectacular backdrop for the urban ensemble. It was Napoleon I who commissioned Jean Chalgrin to conceptualize and design the triumphal archway, which was then dedicated to the imperialism and glory of his armies.
French artistic sensitivity is epitomized through the adornment of impressive sculptural reliefs which grace the pillars on either side. All Napoleon’s major victories and some 660 names of army generals who served during the First French Empire and throughout the French Revolution are engraved within the arch as a way to symbolize the French pride towards their military history. Below the arch is the tomb of France’s Unknown Soldier, while the terrace way at the top offers panoramic views of Paris. It perpetuates as one of France’s most visited sites.
12. Lourdes: Pèlerinage de Lourdes (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes)
Year on year, millions of Christians ensemble in the sanctuary – Pèlerinage de Lourdes – where the most sacred site is that of the Cave of Apparitions. Irrespective you are devout or otherwise, you will likely be moved as you witness people absorbed in reverence, and then immersing themselves in one of the grotto’s 17 pools, where the waters are said to be healing and righteous.
Originally a tranquil market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Lourdes emerged as a major pilgrimage destination upon the news that Our Lady of Lourdes had appeared several times in front of one of the regular parishioners. Thus, it is now said to have more hotels in France than any other city besides Paris.
13. Paris: Centre George Pompidou
Given its name after a former President of France, Centre George Pompidou, which was completed in 1977, represents a rather unusual construction, with its skeletal high-tech architecture of tubes, boxes, and cables, all in various shapes and colors.
The artistic composition provides a rather distinctive home for a public library, or bibliothèque publique d’information, as well as the Musée National d’Art Moderne, and it serves as a center for acoustic and musical research, otherwise known as IRCAM. But the main purpose of the Centre George Pompidou is to offer a space for ordinary people whereby they can feel liberated within the heart of France’s vibrantly exuberant art and culture scene.
14. Paris: Moulin Rouge
Just like the movie, Moulin Rouge in Paris, which has its locale in the vicinity of Montmartre within the red light district of Pigalle, offers its patrons regular evening performances of cancan. The music, which is lively and seductive, represents a pageant of sexy lingerie, slender legs, whirling costumes, together with outstanding technique.
It’s true that you’ll have to loosen up on those purse strings in order to witness the show, but it’s still not much to ask in order to be thoroughly entertained by this turn-of-the-century French extravaganza in all its unbridled romance.
15. Languedoc-Roussillon: Pont du Gard
Over 2,000 years ago, Pont du Gard, which is an amazing compilation anthology of stones weighing as much as 6 tons, was constructed over a period of more than 5 years. The structure makes up a sizable part of an aqueduct which is almost 31 miles (50 km) in length, manufactured to convey water from the Gardon River valley over to Nemausus in Nîmes.
Nevertheless, from the 4th century onwards, maintenance was neglected, and despite the structure falling into complete oblivion, people now flock by the thousands in order to witness an exceptional piece of Roman legacy. There’s plenty to do in the area, and the site represents a highlight for anyone who wishes to visit France.
16. Chamonix, Mont-Blanc: La Valle de Chamonix (Chamonix Valley)
With its backdrop being the monumental wall of Mt. Blanc, you’ll understand exactly why La Valle de Chamonix is a year-round paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts as well as anyone who marvels at heart-melting vistas.
Visitors are transported to the heart of the massif via lifts, while endless trails divulge incredible panoramas, mountain torrents, and cozy hotels. Furthermore, with the addition of a continual calendar of events within the downtown area, you have here a packed holiday experience in the most comprehensive manner.
17. Carcassonne: Carcassonne Medieval City
There are in fact two Carcassonnes: One is the famed walled city, and the other being the adjacent town which spreads out at its base (ville basse). A stopover to the fortified settlement makes for a real step back in time. The medieval buildings, narrow cobbled streets, and little squares which are packed with atmospheric restaurants, provide for an altogether unique experience for everyone.
Throughout the day, tourists descend in the hundreds, though in the late evening, the designation becomes quietly enchanting. Well worthy of a nighttime stay, though perhaps not an option for those on a tightly reigned budget.
18. Montignac: Lascaux II
During 1940, around the time the Germans invaded France, in a little forest to the south of Montignac, four boys attempted to rescue their dog from a cave. As they ventured into the darkness, little did they realize they were about to make a breathtaking discovery.
The discovery was nothing less than a system of Paleolithic caves, together with over 1,500 well-preserved engravings and paintings of wild animals. Believed to be dated at over 17,000 years, the findings were to shed light upon the beginnings of European art, in addition to presenting information on the early Homo Erectus. Although the caves have been closed to the general public, in 1980, a detailed replica was established, which is known as Lascaux II.
19. Limoges: Old Town of Oradour-sur-Glane
Oradour-sur-Glane, an idyllic village at the time, was razed to the ground in June 1944 in retaliation towards the French Resistance for sabotage attacks on the marauding German forces. In the post-war era, a new settlement was established, though the ruins of the martyred village were preserved as by way of commemorating the dead and serving as a stark reminder of the barbarity inflicted by the Waffen-SS.
Every entranceway to the ruin bears a sign that says “Remember”, which serves to commemorate the atrocities that occurred during WWII in the old town of Oradour-sur-Glane and well beyond.
20. Champagne-Ardenne: Champagne Route (Route Touristique du Champagne)
The Champagne region in France although celebrated globally for their sparkling wines, has more to offer than merely the fizzy beverage. It is an oasis of pristine beauty, tranquility, and offers a fine historical heritage that encompasses five wine producing districts together with its commercial centers in the towns of Épernay and Reims.
The Champagne Route takes its meandering path throughout the region’s adorable villages, diverse vineyards, and elegant champagne houses, where the owners patiently await the visitor to share in their passion. You may find on your travels that the obligatory glass of champagne is then followed swiftly by a rather romantically inclined cellar-based candlelit dinner… and then, yet another glass of champagne.
21. Orange: Theatre Antique d’Orange
Although Orange is a significant town in the Vaucluse department, it is a rather ordinary place that is almost entirely devoid of the touristy luster you’d perhaps expect to find there. Nevertheless, the town is the home of a Romanesque theater – one of the best (if not the best) preserved and most complete in the world.
Built early on in the first century AD, the theater demonstrates such distinctive features that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a particularly well-staged contemporary perplexity. For travelers in the area, the Theatre Antique d’Orange is not one to be missed, especially so during the summer months when it transforms into the venue for the Chorégies d’Orange – the annual opera festival.
22. Alpes-de-Haute-Provence: Gorge du Verdon
For those with a predisposition towards the world of water sports, the Gorge du Verdon in south eastern France ought to be on your list of venues to visit. The canyon, which stretches some 15 miles (25 km) in length, rises up in spectacular fashion from the Verdon River situated some 2,300 ft. (700 m) below.
The river, which takes its name after the beautiful green emerald hue of the waters, is among the Gorge du Verdon’s most attractive features. Included in the water sports on offer are sailing, kayaking, rafting, and water skiing. Certainly not a holiday locale for the feint-of-heart.
23. Alsace: Route des vins d’Alsace
Extending from Marlenheim to Thann, the Alsace Wine Route is an experience not to be missed. As it winds its way seemingly endlessly through flower-decked villages, passing vineyard after vineyard and a plethora of medieval castles, the wine route may not be situated in such spotlight regions as Burgundy or Bordeaux. But nevertheless, it still boasts of two millennia of vinification history, and serves to continually enchant its visitors with both the wonderful setting in which it resides as well as the sheer quality of the flag product.
Even for those who rarely indulge in alcoholic beverages, a tour along the Route de vins d’Alsace is well and truly worthy of the effort.
24. Marne-la-Vallée, Paris: Disneyland Resort
Though every Disneyland Resort represents a paradise for the kids, it also provides the opportunity for adults to make a return to those bygone years. As you and the family make an entrance to the “Happiest Place on Earth”, there’s an immediate sense of being possessed with the kind of magic you’ve likely never experienced since your younger years.
Chant your favorite Disney songs while you shuttle your way between Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Captain Hook’s Private Ship. Together with a retail park, entertainment area, and dining district, two theme parks, and no less than seven Disney-owned hotels, you’ll be in for so much fun that even the die-hard grouches will be laughing continuously while their hearts melt with pleasure.
25. Saint-Tropez: St. Tropez Beaches
Famed for the clumsy gendarme and, not least, for the actress Brigitte Bardot, this shimmering pearl of the Cote d’Azur will cast a spell on everyone from cinema aficionados to history buffs. Nevertheless, it’s the beach bums and the crème de la crème of the red carpet that will truly have the time of their lives.
The choice of locations in St. Tropez ranges from the Plage de la Briande, a rather secluded affair, to the family-orientated La Boullbaisse. If it’s a relatively trendy locale you’re looking for, try Plage e Pampelonne. The Plage de Tahiti is where you will find the celebrities, while Les Salins is kitted out for the naturists. No matter what it is you are intent on finding, the glittering coast of St. Tropez offers a perfect sun-kissed niche.