The Best Places to Visit in France

Nice was a popular destination with the 19th-century English aristocracy
Nice was a popular destination with the 19th-century English aristocracy | © Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock
Emilie Némorin

Actor Audrey Hepburn once said: “Paris is always a good idea.” We’ll go further and say that France as a whole is a good idea. The country brims with incredible destinations, from Flemish Lille in the north to cool and casual Marseille on the Med. Indulge your wanderlust by checking out our list of the best places to visit.

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Try-wine tasting in Bordeaux

Bordeaux is the capital of wine and is the ideal place to try wine-tasting. Located in Aquitaine, in the southwest, the city is full of bars à vin. Look for the Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre, where you can sample many varieties and vintages. Sharpen your thirst beforehand with a stroll beside the Garonne and perhaps dip your feet into the Miroir d’Eau at Place de la Bourse. Alternatively make way your way up the Pey-Berland Tower for a great view of the city’s houses — they look like Lego homes — before stopping at Baillardran for delicious canelés (rum and vanilla pastries).

Waffle on in Lille

Close to the Belgian border, enchanting Lille is famous for its Grande Braderie each September, when street markets take over the city for 48 hours. Lille is the best place to try delicacies such as waffles, mussels and french fries. After a hearty meal, view the masterpieces in the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, one of the largest art galleries in France.

Stroll around Strasbourg

Strasbourg is near the German border, which might explain why its Christmas market is one of the most authentic outside Germany. You won’t have to wait till December to enjoy this city, however. Try a picnic in the spring sunshine at the Parc de l’Orangerie or savour choucroute (fermented cabbage) in autumn. Visit the European Union’s institutions and then go to the top of the cathedral for an awe-inspiring view.

Step out on the prom in Nice

Nice, on the Côte d’Azur, is home to the Promenade des Anglais, so called because the English aristocracy wintered here in the 19th century. It also has some of the best pebble beaches in France, where you can enjoy the sun before taking a dip in the Med. Do not miss the charming St Jean Cap Ferrat, the home of the super-rich, where you can hang out at the beach or visit the gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Get in the pink in Toulouse

Toulouse, also known as the pink city, is prominent for its universities, and students fill its many squares to drink and chat. The Place du Capitole, the most impressive square in the city, is a great place to begin a day of exploration. For a serene hour or so, visit the Japanese garden close to the Congress centre.

Take a boat to appreciate Saint-Malo’s skyline

This fortress city in Brittany is today a port with ferries to and from the UK. Taste Breton delicacies such as sweet or savoury crêpes or kouign-amanns (crusty cakes made with bread dough and sugary butter). Take a short boat trip to Dinard, where the atmosphere is decidedly different. Look back at Saint-Malo while you are on the ferry to best appreciate the city skyline.

Tour Annecy, the Venice of the Alps

This destination is known as “the pearl of French Alps” or “Venice of the Alps” because of the canals that criss-cross the town. Annecy is a gem that most visitors find charming. The banks of its lake are filled with tourists and there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy. Do not miss the Château d’Annecy which dates to the 1100s and was restored after the Second World War.

Riquewihr, the village that inspired Disney

Who can resist this charming village in the northeast, said to have inspired the settings in Beauty and the Beast (1991), the Disney animated fantasy? Wander down alleys among half-timbered houses and be amazed by the colours. Legend has it that shops in Riquewihr were painted according to the occupiers’ professions (baker, seamstress, butcher and so on).

Don’t wait till Christmas to see Colmar

Visit this northeastern town in December for its Christmas vibes. Like Strasbourg, its market is traditional and authentic. Spring and summer in this fairytale community can also be magical. Look for the Maison des Têtes (House of Heads), which was built in German renaissance style and has eaves full of curlicues.

Indulge in fondue and ‘vin chaud’ in Chamonix

If when you think of hot chocolate and cosy jumpers, your mind leaps to chalets, snow and skiing, this is the destination for you. Chamonix, a haven for winter sports, is located in the heart of the Rhônes Alpes region. Spend a day on the slopes then enjoy fondue and vin chaud (mulled wine) in the evening.

See the town of fountains, Aix-en-Provence

History fans should head for Aix-en-Provence, a town in the south of France founded by the Romans. This sweet community is said to have 1,000 fountains: look for the 17th-century Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (Fountain of the Four Dolphins). Additionally, the squares are full of restaurants that will welcome you on hot summer days.

Keep it cool in Marseille

Marseille, on the Mediterranean coast, knows how to be cool and casual. The city is full of monuments and museums but if you visit only one place, make it the Vieux-Port (Old Port) to see the musicians, dancers and street art. Few tire of bustling Marseille but if you need a break escape to the steep-sided valleys in the Calanques national park.

Follow the green line in Nantes

The Château des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) is not the only surprising and fascinating place to see. The Voyage à Nantes is the best way to discover this city — pick a theme and follow the green line painted on the ground. To end the day, have a beer at Le Nid, a rooftop bar where you can enjoy amazing views.

Ride the stylish trams of Montpellier

Montpellier has the most stylish trams in France, featuring work by Christian Lacroix and Garouste & Bonetti. That’s not all. This city in southern France also features beautiful squares, from the vibrant and elegant Place de la Comédie to the enchanting Place de la Canourgue. Stop at Lo Monaco, which has been crowned the best pâtisserie in Montpellier — it is in the street where the revolutionary thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived.

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