Best Places to Visit in France From the UK

If youre heading to the south of France, dont miss the Provence lavender fields in full bloom in July
If you're heading to the south of France, don't miss the Provence lavender fields in full bloom in July | © Tim Möhring / Alamy Stock Photo
Alison Thomson

If you’re in the UK and fancy a weekend break or longer, here’s our rundown of how to get to France with ease, and where to go and stay when you get there.

France has recently dropped all its Covid restrictions for visitors, and you can return to the UK without the hassle of a PCR test or the dreaded passenger locator form. Win-win! Here’s our guide to taking the strain out of travelling to France, and some top places worth visiting once you get there.

So first off, don’t be fooled that it’s all about Paris – this is a huge country to traverse, which means it isn’t short of scenic spots, and even though it has a super-efficient train network linking cities, just think of all those spontaneous experiences you can have when your master of your own adventure in a car. With your own wheels, you can stop where you like, when you like – whether it’s for a picnic by a lake in a national park, or a roadside degustation.

And even if cities and amenities in France are spread far and wide, there’s not a corner of the country that doesn’t worship food, drink and socialising, so you’ll never be far from a decent glass of wine, great grub and friendly locals, whatever direction you set off in.

How to cross the Channel

Let’s look at France as a square. Take the Eurotunnel and you’ll arrive near Calais, in the top right-hand corner. Why the tunnel, you may ask. Well, for starters, it’s incredibly quick, just over half an hour each way. It’s never affected by the weather – the same of which can’t be said for the ferries. And it’s reasonably priced: from £79 one way, or from £100 for a day/overnight return.

If you want to take your pet, that’s pretty straightforward too (and costs from an additional £22). It’s also by far the best option, as they only take assistance or guide dogs on the train, and your beloved pet would have to stay in the hold on a ferry crossing.

Do bear in mind that since January 2021 pet passports are no longer valid and you’ll need to get an Animal Health Certificate from your vet, which can cost anything up to £250 and needs to be done within 10 days of departure. Check all pet advice on the UK Government website.

Once you arrive on French soil

From here, let’s divide the country into four destinations – the north coast, on the English Channel/La Manche; the west coast, on the Atlantic; the south coast, on the Med; and the Alps to the east. If you’re taking the autoroutes, it’s not cheap but it’s by far the quickest way to get around France, and you can get a handy Liber-t tag from Emovis that allows you to speed through the toll gates with ease. History buffs, take note – turn right when you come out of the Channel Tunnel and follow the Côte d’Opale heading towards Dieppe, where you’ll be steeped in Second World War history.

Heading to the Cote d’Azur

Menton is one of several beautiful medieval towns on the Côte d’Azur

If you’re going due south to the Med, you’ll want to avoid Paris at all costs – it’s really not the place to drive around if you’re unfamiliar, and if you are going to Paris, then that’s one reason we’d suggest taking the train. To reach the Med, it’s about 700mi (1,100km) give or take, so to avoid Paris you can take the same autoroute as you would to the Alps, just keep going past Lyon.

This option rolls past Reims, Dijon and Lyon on the autoroute (A26, A31, A6 and A7); it’s an eight-hour journey – a long drive but get an early Eurotunnel and you can do it in a day. About halfway to Cannes, a great stop-off is Langres, the birthplace of Denis Diderot, a philosopher and religious sceptic who in the 1700s edited France’s first encyclopedia. If you decide to break your journey here and spend the night, there’s an excellent option at the Chambres du Chapitre. It’s an upmarket chambres d’hôte with only three rooms, right in the heart of the city within a cobblestone walk to the cathedral.

Alternatively you might prefer to do as the locals do and stop for lunch at the Brasserie La Foy, looking out on the Place Diderot and a statue of the great man. You can’t go wrong with any French bistro and this one does a mean bavette steak frites, washed down with a petit picher of house burgundy.

Heading to the Atlantic

The mechanical elephants, part of Les Machines de l’Ile, in Nantes, are a huge draw

Take the western option (A16, A28, A11) and you can meander along the mighty Loire river and visit the famous chateaux; the river now has a bike path along almost its entire length, all the way to Nantes. Break up your journey with a night at Domaine de la Tortinière in the heart of Loire country, or head straight to Nantes for a night; the capital of the Vendée has had a makeover in recent years and is a huge cultural destination, famous for its mechanical animals, offering rides for kids. Alternatively, you can head to Brittany and Josselin, with its medieval centre, is one of the region’s prettiest spots.

1. Domaine de la Tortinière, for rural luxury


Domaine de la Tortinière
Courtesy of Domaine de la Tortinière / Expedia
The joy of this 32-room former chateau, overlooking the River Indre, is not only do you get the grandeur of a stately home, you’re within a short drive of Tours, and it’s just off the A85 (from where you can follow the Loire west to the Atlantic) and the A10 (which brings you from the north). Your pet is welcome, and the dining ain’t bad either.

Heading to the Alps

Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, is a great year-round destination

If you’re going to Chamonix (A26, A39 and A40), then peel off at Lyon and drive via Geneva and the delightful lakeside town of Annécy. If you’re heading to the Trois Vallées, take the A43 via Chambéry.

Relax and enjoy the mountain views in the baths at Monêtier-Les-Bains, which are fed by natural spring water

The resort of Serre Chevalier, now presenting itself as the eco ski option, is a popular destination (A26, A39, A43 and A48 via Grenoble) among the French. What makes it particularly attractive is the four towns along the valley – Le Monêtier-Les-Bains, Villeneuve La Salle, Chantemerle and Briançon – operate year-round, and the domaine skiable is a whopping 250km. Monêtier, as the name suggests, is home to natural hot springs, and the Grands Bains municipal spa, 200m from the main chairlifts, is the place to come after a hard slog on the slopes. A stay in the Grand Hotel and Spa Nuxe, a hop and a ski-boot skip from the main gondola in Chantemerle, also gives you lots of options off the slopes.

Heading along the north coast

Nausicaa, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, is Europe’s largest aquarium

If you’re planning on a short weekender, there are many delightful spots to stop off along the Côte d’Opale: Wimereux, Wissant, Boulogne, where the kids will enjoy Nausicaa, the biggest aquarium in Europe, and even Quiberville. If you’re spending time in Boulogne, make your overnight stay at the charming La Matelote, where you can enjoy Michelin-star dining. Boulogne also has beautiful beaches and plenty of excellent shops where you can stock up on French goodies.

For your farewell lunch, you won’t get any better seafood – or views – than at La Sirène; the menu fixe costs €33, and you need to book in advance, especially if you want a window seat.

Bon voyage!

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article