France is a gorgeous country, and the beautiful cities, towns and countryside you have mapped out on your bucket list is likely endless. From gorgeous port cities on the Mediterranean, to towns nestled in the alps, to bustling metropolitans like Paris – France has something for everyone.
Narrowing this list down to the top 10 cities in France was impossible, so I’ve cheated and put together 11 (and frankly, even that was hard!). Whether you’re a foodie, history buff or just looking for a relaxing vacation in the French Riviera, there’s a place on this list to get you inspired for your next trip!
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Need a break from the hustle and bustle of cities like Paris? Head to Marseille. Though it’s one of the largest cities in France, the coastal port city has a more breezy vibe, and the fresh air off the Mediterranean will leave you feeling refreshed.
There’s plenty to do in the city from exploring the fortress Chateaux d’If, immortalized in the Count of Monte Cristo, to hiking in the Parc national des Calanques with it’s beautiful geological formations.
If you’d prefer something a bit more laid back you can venture through the Panier, an old quarter of the city that’s been restored, or travel to the Mucem, a museum that takes visitors through a tour of Mediterranean culture.
Then spend your night having delicious seafood while basking in the light of the setting sun. If you need a souvenir before you leave, make sure you pick up some of their famous handmade soap typically infused with locally sourced olive oil and lavender. (You can take a day trip to tour the breathtaking lavender fields too!)
Dijon is another gorgeous city in France with plenty to offer any visitor. You can start with a tour of the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy to explore how royals lived, or you can visit the Musée Archéologique to catch of peek of Dijon’s more distant past.
If history is your thing, the city’s Owl Trail will lead you through over 20 stops that take you through and by some of the most important sites in the city’s history. Dijon is also a fantastic place to visit if you’re a foodie, with some of the best French food that the country has to offer and given that you’re in Burgundy, some of the best wine in the world too. Take one of the guided food tours to make sure you get to sample all of the highlights.
If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, we’d recommend getting a sample of the famous mustard from one of the local boutiques.
Nestled on the French Riviera, Nice is a vacation town where you can unwind and relax. Take in the beauty of the sun hitting the faded yellow of the buildings and taste delicious French seafood.
Soak in some time underneath the palm trees on the beach, or take a leisurely stroll down the Promenade de Anglais. Pop into the Parc Phoenix to see one of the largest greenhouses in Europe, and enjoy the endless stretch of landscaped botanical gardens.
Spend an afternoon exploring one of the many art museums in the city, and grab a salad Nicoise and a glass of wine for some people watching in one of the cafes afterwards. If you want to see more of the water and the gorgeous homes that dot the coast, you can take a French Riveria sightseeing cruise.
Rouen is a postcard perfect town with an old city feel. From gorgeous churches and cathedrals to half timbered buildings to cobblestone streets, the city makes you feel like you’re walking back in time.
Visit the famous Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen to explore the beautiful gothic architecture and take in beauty that was worthy of a Monet painting, and find the grave of King Richard the Lionheart!
Wander through Vieux to see preserved examples of half-timbered homes and shops that were spared through the World Wars. You can pop into a restaurant for a delicious bite to eat, or explore the shops to find something sweet to eat later.
Hugging the border of Germany, the city offers the best of both worlds. Visitors can take day trips to visit the Alsace wine regions or pop over into Germany to see the Black Forest. In the winter, you can also visit the Christmas market where the French-German fusion really comes alive.
The city’s architecture will call of visions of medieval life, and the churches and cathedral will give visitors a view of the Gothic and Romanesque past. Historic homes allow you to see glimpse of what daily life might have been like hundreds of years ago.
In addition to the historic sites, the city is also the formal seat of the European Parliament, and a buzzing business center.
Wine, wine, and more wine. If you love wine, there is no better city to visit in France than Bordeaux. Whether you’re sipping some with dinner, traveling to vineyards to see the source, or taking a tour of La Cité du Vin to get an education on the history of wine – there’s something for every kind of wine lover out there.
The city is also full of picture perfect scenes and copious amounts of history. The Musée d’Aquitaine can give you a look into the past of the Aquitaine region of France, and passing through the Porte Cailhau will make you feel like royalty.
Don’t forget to make a stop to taste the Canelés, a pastry that’s a regional specialty.
Annecy is one of the most beautiful cities in France. Situated on Lake Annecy and tucked in the Alps, there are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy from boat tours to hiking to paragliding for the more adventurous.
Annecy also makes a great home base to explore dozens of little villages in the area, and if you’re pressed for time day trip tours can get you to the highlights.
The city also has plenty of history and opportunities to take photos you can frame when you go home. The area is dotted with stunning chateaus that you can explore, like Le Chateau de Montrottier and Chateau d’Annecy.
Known for French country food, Toulouse is a foodie’s paradise. There are dozens of delicious restaurants to try in the city, and fine dining options like Michel Sarran and Au Pous Gourmand keep foodies coming back for more.
The city is full of interesting museums to explore like the Musee de Augustins or the Musee d’Histoire de la Medecine, and parks that would make the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. In Toulouse, you can definitely spend the afternoon wandering the cobblestone streets shopping, or just taking in some of the terracotta red brick architecture that the city is famous for.
Much like Toulouse and Dijon, Lyon is known for it’s food culture and it’s beauty. If you’re in the city you need to check out a local bouchon, a local restaurant that carries Lyonnaise specialties.
Like most cities in France, Lyon is filled with history. You can check out one of two preserved ancient amphitheaters at the Roman Theatre of Fourvière, or the breathtaking Lyon cathedral which features Gothic architecture and a massive astronomical clock.
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is also worth of visit as it makes the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. But just wandering the city can prove to be an adventure all on it’s own, as the city features secret hidden passages called Trouboules. Make check out the Presqu’île to do a bit of shopping before you leave the city.
Seven popes made their home in Avignon in the 14th century, and the Palais des Papes has been preserved as the largest Gothic palace in the world. Religious historians can walk the grounds of this unique period of Roman Catholic history in the old city, or they can head outside the city to explore the lavender fields at the Senanque Abbey.
Near the papal palace is the Rocher des Doms, a small park in the city where visitors can escape to nature, take a leisurely stroll, and snap a few photos of the Avignon Bridge.
You knew it was coming. It would be impossible to have this list without Paris on it. From landmarks in the city center like Notre Dame Cathedral to Versailles to the Eiffel Tower, to delicious French cafes and restaurants, to world renowned museums like the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, Paris easily makes the list of the top ten cities in France.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds in Paris, you can easily head down an alleyway for beautiful views or check out one of the lesser known museums like the Musee de Cluny – The National Museum of the Middle Ages. (We’ve got an entire guide to the best museums in Paris). Trade a day exploring the Jardin du Luxembourg for the quieter, but stunning Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.
The metropolitan area of Paris is sprawling, and you can make a whole week out of exploring the cities many neighborhoods and suburbs. Half the fun of Paris is it’s architecture, and the endless supply of gorgeous scenes to capture with your camera.
Pop into a French bakery early in the morning for a delicious taste of French pastries without the hum (or lines) of midday tourists fresh off tour buses. If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, the options are endless but Paris is famous for its book markets and vintage French book makes a better keepsake than all the usual Eiffel Tower fare.
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