20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in France
The French affectionately call their beloved homeland "l'Hexagone" because of its distinct six-sided shape. Each corner of France has its own unique character: the rugged and outdoorsy French Alps; sun-drenched and slow-paced Provence; the glamorous and gorgeous Côte d'Azur coastline; and idyllic Alsace, a pastoral region where storybook hamlets are tucked away in the vine-covered rolling hills.
Paris and Versailles are must-see destinations for a first trip to France. Other classic travel itineraries include stops at fashionable seaside resorts, fairy-tale castles, and glorious Gothic cathedrals.
More off-the-beaten-path experiences are found in the countryside, such as at farmhouses in Burgundy, fishing villages in Brittany, and quaint towns in the forests of the Pyrenees Mountains.
From cultured cities to pristine nature sites, France offers endless tourist attractions. Discover this fascinating and diverse country with our list of the best places to visit in France.
Hill towns of Le Marche
Hill towns are found throughout Italy, Austria, and Switzerland and are the traditional setting for these colorful towns in the Marche region of northeast Italy. The hill towns of the Marche offer beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The medieval hill towns of Marche, known as castelli (hills), are set around the imposing medieval castles of the castle hill, which functioned as the town fortifications and the palaces of the town's ruling family. The Marche region is a popular vacation spot, particularly among the wealthy. The region has a mild climate and is mostly covered by forests, vineyards, and cereal fields. There are many tourist sights in the region and the list includes major hill towns such as the town of Ancona, which sits on a high volcanic-rock escarpment, Montalto, containing one of the highest peak of the Marche region. The town is famous for its street markets.
Built in 1889 for the Exposition Universelle (World's Fair), the Eiffel Tower was an iconic architectural statement at the time. But it also became a modern national landmark, as the tower's distinctive silhouette has graced the world's front pages and filled movie screens for more than a century. Despite being named for a famous engineer, Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the original tower was Eugene Albert Savarus Bois, an engineer and renowned French architect in his own right. The tower is topped with a revolving restaurant and elevators ascend to an observation deck for panoramic views of Paris.
Nestled at the tip of the French Riviera and bordered by an impossibly long beach, the ancient port of Nice is one of the most popular cities in France. It was founded in the 5th century BC by the Greeks and was later ruled by the Romans and Byzantines. It then became the capital of a self-proclaimed County of Nice and passed from Emperor Napoleon to Napoleon III's grandson Louis-Napoleon. The result is that the city has a number of important buildings from different eras, including the Palais des Papes and the Palais Litteraire, to visit. The city also has museums devoted to various aspects of the area's history, including the Musée Masséna, and a colorful Chinatown dating back to the 19th century. For seaside activities, it has numerous beaches, some perfect for surfing and others fine for sunbathing. Many beach cafés, restaurants and bars are set up on the sand, while Nice's imposing casino is one of the biggest in Europe.
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This fabulous royal palace has been the center of royalty for centuries. Its many stately rooms and magnificent gardens display the palatial opulence of the late 18th century, and its king-maker status and extravagant decor were typical of all the royal courts of France. With so much to see, it can be hard to choose what to do first but a tour of the palace's magnificently decorated grand salons, starting with the Grand Gallery, is certainly a must. Afterward, take in the marvelous Grand Appartement de la Reine, a magnificently decorated stateroom, the Salle du Grand Trianon and the spectacular Grand Cabinet des Objets d'Art, as well as the exquisite and colorful Orangerie, and the Cabinet des Médailles.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe (officially the Arch of Triumph) is the most important piece of architecture in Paris. Built by Napoleon and modeled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome, the design is based on Greek architecture of the Hellenistic period. To date, there have been at least five architectural historians who have disputed the 'originality' of the Arc de Triomphe. The enormous double-tiered white-marble column is 350 meters high and stands on top of a column-free base 434 meters wide and 457 meters long. It weighs 64,000 metric tons. The overall structure has a diameter of more than 34 meters. If you decide to visit, leave ample time as traffic in Paris is always heavy, especially on weekends and during the school year, when holidays are in full swing. The Arc de Triomphe is the most visited monument in France.
The steep cliffs of the Riviera extend around two and a half miles south of St-Tropez, from Port Grimaud on the Atlantic coast to Port-Saint-Louis. Here, only five harbors are allowed to stand. The city itself, home to 150,000 people, is a mix of quiet streets, dusty old town houses, and steep, twisting cobblestone alleys. This former fishing port is famed as the setting for many film and TV productions and has retained much of its atmosphere. A car journey takes a half-hour or so from here to the picturesque cliff-lined villages of Saint-Paul and Aiguines. Here, exquisite homes have been constructed against the steep cliffs. To the east, "Le Vauclin" forms a veritable mountain range of 12 or so rocky, wooded peaks against the Mediterranean. Here, too, are the trails and walks through the cool, shady woods to climb the mountains, or explore the quarries and sandy beaches of the coast. The most famous monument of St-Tropez is Le Domaine des Cavalières, home to the famed Cavalières d'Argent restaurant, where world-famous entertainers like Björk and Sting have entertained dinner guests.
Carcassonne is one of the most impressive ancient fortresses you'll ever see. Built in the 3rd century BC, the city changed hands several times in its long history. A major military victory over the Romans in 563 brought the city to the control of the Visigoths who eventually converted the fort into a medieval palace. The old city is filled with fascinating sights, including one of the most beautiful gates in the country. Located outside the city walls, the medieval Portal de l'Hospital is made up of several sections, and was originally the main entrance to the city, providing a safe and well-guarded port for traders. Aside from the old city itself, Carcassonne is also the source of a remarkable cable car that runs from one end of the UNESCO World Heritage Site to the other and which includes a stop at the world-famous La Croisette viewpoint, looking out across the deep valleys of the Aude River. In the summer months, visitors can enjoy the many festivals held in the area, including the Fête des Pyramides and the Fête de la Cité on the first weekend in August.
Aix-en-Provence is a charming Provencal town of cobblestone streets and plenty of sun-drenched boulevards. It is famous for its Cézanne art collection and for its early music scene, both of which make for great day trips. You can easily walk around the town on foot, so you can enjoy wonderful vistas of the city, its handsome 18th-century architecture, and of its renowned gardens. For a memorable experience, spend the night at one of Aix's hotels. Its public squares, summer cafés and bistros and many special interest shops make it an excellent base for traveling around the region.
La Rochelle is a medieval walled city in southwestern France famous for its dramatic fortifications that have protected it since 1627. The Old Town has narrow cobblestone streets, handsome half-timbered buildings and winding streets lined with cafes, many of them historic landmarks. Despite its picturesque appearance, La Rochelle is a modern city with busy streets, fine museums and a lively waterfront promenade. There are many museums to visit, including the Fesch Museum and the local theatre, the Théâtre des Amateurs, that are housed in the castle of La Rochelle. Be sure to visit the beach where you can enjoy a picnic and people-watch on the long promenade or admire the breathtaking views of the city from the iconic top of the Le Morne-Roche lighthouse.
Lush and dramatic, St-Émilion is a wine lover's delight. Perhaps the most unexpected thing is the Hôtel de Bourgogne, built into a hillside overlooking the vineyards. Once the home of France's ambassador to Russia, the striking building takes its name from the Bourgogne region where the wine made at the time was named. A visit here is also likely to include the impressive Château d'Arnay, the Hôtel la Tour Blanche, the Hôtel de la Malmaison, Hôtel des Monnaies de France, and the Gothic Hotel de Bourgogne, the most opulent of them all. The rest of the city boasts amazing cafés and wonderful restaurants, with stands offering the local specialty: foie gras and scampi, or even beignets.
Avignon was originally founded as a Roman town and became the capital of France under Philip Augustus. It was a hugely important city during the Middle Ages, and the seat of the popes during the days of the Roman Catholic Church. After the French Revolution in 1789, the city became the French department of Vaucluse, until a massive volcanic eruption buried it under layers of lava and ash. The Avignon district you now visit was built on this volcano. Avignon has many attractions including the Palace of the Popes, a spectacular cliff-top castle built into the side of a hill, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Vignes, the Musée des Ocres et Bleuets, which details the history of the paints and pigments used by painters, and the much-photographed Palais des Papes, which was the seat of the Avignon popes. In the city center, visit the Palais des Papes (p. 214), a unique structure that was also a papal palace and serves as an interactive museum where you can learn about the life and papacy of the popes.
There is something profoundly enchanting about the moody Provençal town of Arles. After centuries of development, the city is teeming with historic buildings, some of them housing impressive art collections. Other sights include one of the finest Roman sites in the country. Art lovers will find it well worth visiting the Musée Départemental Arlaten, which houses a collection of some of the best-known works by Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and other artists. This important collection was instrumental in changing the art world's view of Picasso, who was once only known for his European Cubist paintings. In this museum, which opened in 2005, his old works are shown next to his latest creations. The museum has three storeys of exhibits and can be entered only with an audio guide. Visit the city's little-known medieval quarter, the Cours Mirande, where you will find a multitude of colourful, backstreet eateries. Here, markets, taverns, and several streets' worth of cafes and bars surround a 14th-century church. St. Gilles, 5 miles north of Arles, is the site of a famous 3-day festival in July. Three evenings of events celebrate the wine country and the light at dusk. Other festivals are held throughout the year, including in February during the Provençal-themed Le Cure-Bielle festival, which celebrates the saint who is the town's patron.
The Louvre and the Museé des Arts Décoratifs are must-sees for visitors to Toulouse. The Louvre houses a magnificent collection of masterpieces from the Egyptian, Greek and Roman periods. The architecture of the museum recalls the reign of Napoleon, but the building is in fact of much earlier origin. The Musee des Arts Décoratifs includes some of the finest furniture of the Renaissance period, from cabinets, chests and marquetry to chair, bed, cupboard and clocks. Local specialties include Picassos, Périgord truffles and the rabbit "soupe populaire," an extremely thick and nourishing white soup that is considered the region's great delicacy. Every Saturday the city hosts the food and wine festival, Un Festival Food. For this event, bouchon boulangerie vendors set up shop around the outdoor market and you can find vendors serving all kinds of delicacies. This is a good chance to sample a regional specialty. The Hôtel de Ville, or city hall, in Toulouse is impressive: it was designed in the 17th century by the Italian architect Duvauchelle and contains magnificent woodwork, stuccowork and statuary. It also serves as a church.
Château de Cheverny
There are no fewer than 40 châteaux in the Châtellerault region, in particular Cheverny, where the opulent residence of the Marquis de Dampierre and his descendants has been restored and offers tasteful rooms with all the modern amenities, a lovely garden and superb grounds to relax and admire. In the forecourt of the estate is the 15th century chapel, restored and with paintings by a master hand.
France's iconic museum has been the destination for royalty and celebrities. Dating back to the 14th century and originally constructed as an abbey, the Louvre was transformed into a museum and reopened to the public in 1793. The world's greatest art collection is on display and many of the masterpieces can be seen in the more than three million works that have been conserved over the years. Exhibits run the gamut from Ancient Egypt and Greece to Impressionist and Modern art, and if you're a fan of French history, there is a vast collection of French painting, furniture, armor and antiquities. The museum is housed in the huge glass pyramid designed by I.M. Pei. The Louvre is famous for being closed on Mondays and was originally closed between September and May, but now stays open round-the-clock. The top floor galleries and upper galleries (Salle de la Grande Galerie) are closed on Tuesday, while the rest of the museum is open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM. Entry is free.
The Loire Valley, known in French as the Loire-Atlantique, is home to some of the best winemaking in France and several of the world's finest castles, including the ancient and imposing chateaux of the Loire. Pronounced LOW-ree, the valley is connected to Paris by the old Roman road of the Roi-de-Soie. France's oldest winemaking region, the Loire has a particularly rich history as a center of the Roman Empire and today is home to approximately 20,000 hectares of vineyards and is now France's principal producer of sparkling wine. The three major cities of Tours, Angers and Saumur, and the cities of Blois, Amboise and Saumur, all have enough charm to make them worthwhile day-trip destinations in their own right. In and around the Loire Valley there are several wineries worth visiting, particularly in the towns of Beaune, Saumur and Angers. To get an idea of the vast array of wine varieties on offer, try to visit the cellars of the main chateaux on your visit to the region.
Monet's Garden at Giverny
Garden of Monet is an enchanting little village of pretty houses and small museums dedicated to the renowned French Impressionist artist Claude Monet. Although the number of people living here has been reduced since Monet's wife's death in 1926, many of the homes that Claude built during his visits here still stand. Although Claude lived and worked in the village for only 10 years, these quiet and secluded surroundings appear to have captured his imagination. The most famous structure is the "Garden of Monet" itself. It was Monet's house and studio from which he painted his world-famous Impressionist paintings. His neighbor was a schoolmate and former business partner, Joseph Vouillem, who built this small museum in memory of Monet. The museum houses a collection of his paintings, his personal effects and letters. The main village is centered on a small park with a central fountain and restaurant. There are many other small museums with a selection of works by Monet and his contemporaries.
Château de Versailles
A short distance from the hustle and bustle of the French capital, Versailles is located on a large scale in the vast parklands of the Palace. The Palace is home to the famous Hall of Mirrors and the two finest suites in the world, along with the Hall of Battles and the Hall of Mirrors, The Grand Trianon. The State Apartments and the Royal Apartment are also well worth visiting. The best way to see the inside of the palace is to use the Royal Train or the Palace Guides. After a visit to the palace, stroll down the magnificent avenue to the Hall of Mirrors. The Nationale des Historiques museum is also in the palace. Château de Versailles is a short distance from Paris and is easily accessible by the RER. It is open daily.
The Alps are a set of mountain ranges running across parts of Europe, separating the Franco-Germanic from Italian and Swiss cultures. They are a popular destination for visitors because of their beautiful scenery and hiking and climbing opportunities. France has the tallest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc (4,810m), the highest peak in western Europe. The Alps have a range of natural wonders from snow-capped peaks, crystal clear lakes and rivers, caves and waterfalls, and gentle Alpine lakes. Things to do in the Alps include hiking, skiing, climbing, bird watching, and fishing. Do not miss climbing to the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland and the Matterhorn, the highest peak in Europe, in the Swiss Alps. Both can be reached by train. The region is served by many airports. France has several airports, including: Lyon, Grenoble, Nice, Toulouse, Chambéry and Geneva, all connected by budget airlines.
Pont du Gard
Fifty-five kilometers southeast of Nîmes, Pont du Gard is the best preserved example of a Roman aqueduct. Built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and now located in the Gard River, the aqueduct is 151 meters wide and 76 meters tall and it can be visited via a 1-km-long path. The aqueduct is located just south of the ticket and information office at the site, in the middle of the pretty village of Madoux. Many of the two dozen or so small Roman houses around the aqueduct's base still stand and give you an idea of what a typical Roman settlement was like. A trail also leads to a picturesque castle located on a nearby hill and once home to Gaston de Foix, a member of the d'Este family. The castle was constructed in the 13th century. A 3-km path beside the aqueduct itself leads past a statue of the Roman emperor Hadrian on the Pont du Gard.