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France is a stunning country to explore and if you’re planning your first trip to France, you may be undecided as to which French cities to visit beyond Paris. It’s a tough decision, for good reason—there are many beautiful cities in France to visit with an enticing mix of scenery, historic sites, architecture, museums and of course, great cuisine and ambiance.
One of the things we like most about France is the country’s diversity. You can literally go from the north to the south of France and feel like you’re in a totally different country. The culture, food, cities are all just so different and totally unique.
The good news is that the most beautiful French cities can easily be visited from Paris by train, with train journeys of 3 hours or less.
The amount of time you have in France will likely dictate how many places you can visit there. But where to go? These are our picks for the most beautiful cities in France to visit, top French cities each with its own special character and appeal.
Look no further: Paris is the most beautiful city in France and also the most romantic. For many people, Paris is the first contact with the country, the final destination or the starting point for fun road trips through France. There are many interesting weekend getaways from Paris by train too.
The French capital is a great place for sightseeing, cultural or gastronomic weekends, and you can easily visit small towns or beautiful castles near Paris on a day trip too.
With a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and a busy agenda of exhibitions, fairs, and festivals, it is impossible not to have a great time in Paris!
The list of main sights in Paris includes the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Tuileries Garden, Montmartre, or Ile de la Cité but believe us when we say that the city has much more to offer apart from the main tourist sights.
If you are visiting Paris for the first time, we recommend spending at least 3 days in Paris, one more day if you plan to visit Versailles.
Where to stay in Paris:
Strasbourg in eastern France is one of the best cities to visit in France, with an impressive gothic cathedral and a picturesque architecture of half-timbered houses in the historic neighborhood.
Strasbourg is the capital of the historical and cultural region of Alsace, the capital of the new French region of Grand Est and the seat of many European institutions like the European Parliament.
Strasbourg is a great destination for sightseeing or a gastronomic weekend. It is also famous for its Christmas market, one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in France and also the oldest. If you plan on visiting Strasbourg during Christmas time book well in advance!
A modern city that does not forget its roots, Strasbourg is the main starting point for the Alsace Wine Route or a tour to explore the most picturesque Alsatian villages. Before hitting the road, however, take the time to explore the city, learn about its history and traditions, and taste the Alsatian wines.
We recommend spending 2 days in Strasbourg, more if you plan on doing a day trip. The list of main sights in Strasbourg includes the Cathedral, the neighborhood of La Petite France with its picturesque houses and canals, the Maison Kammerzel, and the European Parliament. At lunch or dinner time, don’t miss the traditional winstubs for a more local atmosphere.
Where to stay in Strasbourg:
Marseille is one of the best cities in southern France and another of the most beautiful French cities to visit. Bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille is essentially a port city with a particular character and soul.
The capital of the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is far from the clichés of Provence. It is however a great destination for sightseeing, cultural or gastronomic weekends. It is also the perfect base to explore pretty Mediterranean towns nearby, or enjoying sea-related activities like sailing, or diving. Marseille is also the main getaway for the ferries to Corsica Island.
The list of main sights in Marseille includes the Old Port, the neighborhood of Le Panier, the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the Mucem, and the Palace of Pharo with its garden. We recommend spending 2 days in Marseille, one more day if you plan on visiting the Calanques of Marseille – Cassis.
Where to stay in Marseille:
Nice is another beautiful city in France – always amongst the top 10 French cities to visit – sunny and with a colorful architecture. The capital of the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur in French), in the south of France, is a great destination all year round: a buzzing sea city in the summer and a relaxing sunny place for a winter break in France.
Nice is the perfect starting point for fun French Riviera road trips or day tours to explore the hilltop villages but it is also an interesting city to explore: spend 2 days in Nice visiting the city, you will love it!
The list of main sights in Nice includes the Old Nice, the iconic Promenade des Anglais with the Negresco Hotel, and beautiful baroque architecture a bit everywhere.
Where to stay in Nice:
Nantes, by the Loire River in western France, is the most underrated city of this list of most beautiful cities in France to visit. Traditionally an industrial city with the biggest shipyards of the country, Nantes boasts a beautiful city center with elegant squares and private mansions.
Nantes is a good destination for sightseeing, and great to visit with kids. We recommend spending 2 days in Nantes to get a good taste of what the city has to offer. The list of top things to do in Nantes includes the central neighborhoods, the banks of the River Loire, especially animated in the summer, and the medieval Château of the Dukes of Brittany.
Nantes is also the city of Jules Verne, born and raised in Nantes. The Jules Verne Museum is dedicated to the famous French writer and some of his novels inspired Les Machines de l’Ile, a quirky attraction set in the former shipyards on the Isle of Nantes. There are few places in Europe where you can take a stroll around the city on the back of a mechanical elephant!
Where to stay in Nantes:
- Budget: Kyriad Nantes Centre Graslin
- Mid Range: Oceania l’Hotel de France Nantes
- Luxury: Radisson Blu Hotel Nantes
Lyon, the third-largest city in the country, is another of the most beautiful cities in France. Crossed by the river Rhône from north to south, Lyon is well known for its quality of life, and its beautiful heritage from Roman times to contemporary architecture.
Lyon is also the food capital of France. In 1935, French food critic Curnonsky, dubbed the Prince of Gastronomy, described the city of Lyon as the ‘world capital of gastronomy’ so if you ever find yourself in Lyon, you must learn about its local dishes and of course try them!
With 2 days in Lyon, you can visit most of the main sights in the city. The list of top things to do in Lyon includes the Fourbière Hill for beautiful panoramic views of the city, the Vieux Lyon – the city’s historical center and its beating heart, the Lumière Museum, and the Presqu’Ile (Lyon’s river-bound peninsula) for more beautiful architecture and some good shopping.
Where to stay in Lyon:
Bordeaux, the capital of the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine in western France, is one of the most elegant French cities to visit. Most of all, Bordeaux is the capital of one of the best wine regions in France and the world!.
Bordeaux’s historical center boasts a beautiful collection of 17th-century particular mansions. The architecture is elegant and homogeneous. Come to Bordeaux for sightseeing and for enjoying its excellent cuisine and some of the world’s best wines.
The list of main things to do in Bordeaux includes its excellent Cité du Vin, the Place de la Bourse, the water mirror, and a stroll around the Old Town. We recommend spending 3 days in Bordeaux, a perfect amount of time to visit the city and do a wine tasting tour, plus one day out to explore the surrounding areas of Arcachon or the pretty town of Saint Emilion and perhaps a wine tasting tour. For planning your time spent in Bordeaux you can use this 2 days in Bordeaux quick guide.
Where to stay in Bordeaux:
- Budget: Hotel des Voyageurs Centre Bastide
- Mid Range: Golden Tulip Bordeaux Euratlantique
- Luxury: Yndo Hotel
Annecy is an alpine town in eastern France, quite different from the other beautiful French cities on the list. This picture-perfect city, nicknamed the Venice of the Alps because of the many canals that cross it, is located by the Lake Annecy, and more precisely where Lake Annecy feeds into the Thiou River. Here, we are not far from the Alps and the Montblanc, and the border with Switzerland.
Annecy is a great city for a relaxing weekend getaway. With 2 days in Annecy, you have time to explore the Old Town and dedicate a full day to one of the endless outdoor activities by the lake.
Annecy’s charming Old Town is the perfect place for a stroll, with cobbled streets, winding canals, and pastel-colored houses. In the Old Town, you cannot miss the medieval Château d’Annecy, former home to the Counts of Geneva, which overlooks the city. Today, the château contains a museum with regional artifacts. Not far from it, the Palais de l’Ile – an 11-century house-fortress with a particular vessel shape – is unique.
With the arrival of the beautiful days, the city moves to the lake, the perfect spot for a picnic, a hike or a bike ride. There are many water activities too, and the possibility to have a bath at the Plages des Marquisats or d’Albigny.
Where to stay in Annecy:
Tours is a historic city, capital of the kingdom of France even if for a short time, and with a rich heritage. It is also a student city, with a lively city center populated by many restaurants and bars that pop up their terraces outside as soon as the beautiful days arrive.
With such an interesting past and its perfect location in the heart of Loire Valley, Tours is the perfect base for exploring some of the best Loire Valley castles.
Two days in Tours is a good amount of time to explore the city. Wander around its historic neighborhoods with its pretty architecture of half-timbered houses and visit Saint-Gatien Cathedral. The Olivier Debré Contemporary Art Centre is worth the visit too and the bustling Place Plumereau is perfect for a coffee break.
On sunny days, be sure to check out the famous Tours-sur-Loire Guinguette, where the beach extends the city limits to the banks of the Loire River.
Where to stay in Tours:
Avignon is one of the best French cities to visit in the south of France. The former city of Popes and cardinals, once the center of intrigues and passions, is one of the most fascinating destinations in France, with an interesting past and a rich heritage.
Avignon is small and you could easily squeeze the main sights in one day in Avignon but why rush? You are in Provence, where we like to take our time to enjoy the small pleasures of life. That’s why we still recommend taking it easy and spend 2 days in Avignon to enjoy the city at a more relaxed pace.
Avignon is a great destination for sightseeing, The list of top things to do in Avignon includes the Popes’ Palace, the Rocher des Doms, Notre Dame-des-Doms, and of course the Pont d’Avignon.
In July, Avignon gets totally metamorphosed into an open-air theater thanks to its reputed Festival d’Avignon. The city is also an excellent base to explore some of the most beautiful towns in Provence and also the lavender fields of Provence, from mid-June to the end of August.
Where to stay in Avignon:
If you are looking for beautiful cities in France to visit close to Paris, Dijon in eastern France is a good option.
Dijon was the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy and it’s a city with an interesting history, beautiful medieval architecture, tasty local produce, and good wine.
Dijon’s historical center is like a trip back in time with the impressive Ducal Palace, medieval architecture, and religious buildings. Since 2015 Dijon’s historical center is listed as UNESCO World Heritage as part of the Burgundy “Climats”.
Dijon is a great destination for a cultural weekend or a gastronomic weekend. It is also a good starting point to explore the Burgundy Wine Routes or the most beautiful towns in Burgundy.
2 days in Dijon is a good amount of time to explore the city, visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts, one of the most important museums in France, and visit the medieval town of Beaune, famous for its Hospices. During your stay in Dijon, be sure to squeeze a wine tour to learn more about the wines of Burgundy.
Where to stay in Dijon: