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Explore the Most Beautiful French Cities
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, and 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, the best French cities each with its own special character and appeal.
Paris, the Capital
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.
The French capital is a great place for sightseeing, cultural or gastronomic weekends — check out our Paris bucket list —, and you can easily visit small towns or beautiful castles 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 top things to do 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.
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 Alsace villages. Before hitting the road, however, take the time to explore the city, learn about its history and traditions, and taste the local food.
We recommend spending 2 days in Strasbourg, more if you plan on taking day trips. The list of main sights in Strasbourg includes the Gothic 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.
Marseille is one of the main 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 enjoy 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 Parc National des Calanques de Cassis – Marseille.
Nice is another of the prettiest cities in France to visit. The capital of the French Riviera 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.
The list of top things to do in Nice includes the Old Nice, the iconic Promenade des Anglais with the Negresco Hotel, and beautiful baroque architecture a bit everywhere.
Nantes is one of the best cities in France to visit. Bisected by the Loire River, Nantes boasts a beautiful city center with elegant squares and private mansions.
Nantes is a good destination 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!
Lyon, the third-largest city in the country, is another of the most beautiful cities France has to offer. Bisected by the rivers Rhône and Saône 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. Add a couple of days more and explore the surroundings on day trips from Lyon. The list of top things to do in Lyon includes the Fourvière 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. The Traboules are unique to Vieux Lyon so while you are there, don’t forget to explore a couple of them!
Colmar is the type of city that people dream about when they’re planning a trip to France. Not only is it one of the most beautiful cities in France, but it’s also been one of France’s cultural centers since the 13th century.
There are numerous things to do in Colmar, but the historic center is the star. It’s filled with floral displays on every corner, half-timbered houses, and historic mansions just begging to be explored.
For a more cultural visit, don’t miss the Unterlinden Museum, with a stunning collection of medieval paintings, folk art, and sculptures, and the Bartholdi Museum, dedicated to the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. Kids (and also adults) will love the Toy Museum and the Choco-Story Colmar.
Bordeaux, in Western France, is the capital of the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine and 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 worldwide!.
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 this beautiful city in France 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.
Annecy is a small alpine city in Eastern France, quite different from the other beautiful French cities to visit on the list. This picture-perfect city, crisscrossed by canals, is located by Lake Annecy, and more precisely where Lake Annecy feeds into the Thiou River. Here, we are not far from the Alps, 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 in or around 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 11th-century house-fortress with a particular vessel shape — is worth a quick visit.
Annecy is also one of the best places to visit in the French Alps in the summer. 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.
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.
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.
Avignon is another of the nice cities in 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 people like to take their time to enjoy the small pleasures of life. That’s why we still recommend taking it easy and spending 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.
If you are looking for famous French cities to visit close to Paris, then 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.’
Two 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.