France Travel Inspiration

Best Cities in Southern France

09/03/2022

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Beautiful Southern France Cities

The South of France conjures images of stylish luxury, tranquil seaside vibes, and elegant fine dining. With a plethora of cities just waiting to be explored, Southern France is perhaps one of the best regions in the country to visit.

This list of the best cities in Southern France includes some of the most beautiful cities in France as well as some lovely, underrated cities.

This post covers cities in both Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regions. Many of these Sothern France cities are ideal destinations for a long weekend break, while others are excellent base camps for day trips of all kinds.

Check out this list of the best cities in South of France before you plan your next trip to France.

Aix-en-Provence - France

1. Marseille

Marseille - France

Marseille is a port city and the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It is situated between Cannes in the east and Montpellier in the west.

This Southern French city is the oldest in the county, dating back to 600 BC. Its history, charm, and effortless beauty make this a must-see destination. The city’s immigration and trading history has resulted in Marseille, becoming a melting pot of European and African cultures. It was even named the European Capital of Culture in 2013!

Marseille is also known for its anise-flavored pastis drink and the delectable bouillabaisse; an authentic fish stew that originated in this port city.

The list of fun things to do in Marseille includes:

  • Visit the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde
  • Explore Marseille’s Old Port
  • Get cultured at the MuCEM
  • Visit the Cathedral and Fort Saint-Jean
  • Explore the Vallon des Auffres

Though you could easily spend most of your vacation exploring the city, there is an array of things to do near Marseille. Marseille is an excellent base to visit the Parc National des Calanques, a breathtaking park overlooking the Mediterranean coast. With more than 300 days of sunshine annually, you’re bound to have a stunning trip to the park!

2. Nice

Place Rosetti and Cathedral - Nice

The charming city of Nice is set between the Mediterranean and the Alps and is the capital of the famous French Riviera.

Once the 19th-century retreat location for European elites, today Nice still holds much of its sophistication and grandeur. Nice is one of those South of France cities that’s got it all. You’ll want to visit for its rich history, sophisticated architecture, and incredible year-round weather.

Thanks to its mild temperatures during the coldest months, Nice is also one of the best winter destinations in France. You might even want to plan your city break vacation around The Carnival of Nice in February, a celebration of all things extravagant and comical, or use it as a base to explore the Lemon Festival in Menton.

The list of fun things to do in Nice includes:

  • Enjoy the views of the Baie des Anges from the Colline du Château
  • Admire Old Town’s baroque architecture
  • Stroll around the Old Port
  • Visit Cimiez Hill and its museums
  • Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais
  • Relax and sunbath on one of Nice’s beaches

Of all these South of France cities, Nice is ideally placed to enjoy a variety of day trips or long weekends from the city. In less than 30 km, you can cross over into Italy. It is also close to neighboring Monaco.

3. Cannes

Old Port - Cannes

Cannes is one of the most famous cities in South of France. Cannes is part of the Alpes-Maritimes department and is quintessentially French Riviera.

Of all these South of France cities, Cannes is probably the most well-known. Made famous by the Cannes International Film Festival, this city is a magnet for the rich, famous, and those searching for a good time. It boasts picturesque white sandy beaches, high-end boutiques, and gourmet dining experiences. 

The list of fun things to do in Cannes includes:

  • Explore Le Suquet, Cannes’ oldest neighborhood
  • Take a stroll along La Croisette walkway
  • Visit the Old Port
  • Spend a lazy day on the beach
  • Take a catamaran cruise
  • Taste Cannes’ local specialties at Marché Forville

If you can’t decide between these best cities in southern France, then why not stay in one and make a day trip to another? Cannes is an excellent base to visit the equally glitzy Monaco, Antibes, or Nice.

4. Avignon

Avignon - South of France

Avignon is located in the region of Provence, Southwest France. Set alongside the Rhône River, Avignon is a cultural gem.

Avignon is steeped in history, and its cultural attractions are one of the main reasons people visit. Avignon served as the capital of the Catholic Popes between 1309 and 1377, and it was a powerful city in Medival times.

The Palais des Papes, built in Gothic style, is the biggest civil building of its kind and was awarded UNESCO heritage status. Avignon’s Medieval bridge (le Pont d’Avignon) is a demonstration of both history and architecture and is one of the most popular attractions in the city. 

The list of fun things to do in Avignon includes:

  • Get lost in the Medieval Town
  • Visit the Palais des Papes
  • Dance on the Pont d’Avignon (while singing the famous French song)
  • Discover the Festival d’Avignon (July), one of the world’s largest performing festivals

Visiting Châteauneuf du Pape is one of the best day trips you can take from Avignon. The town was the summer destination of the Popes, and the whole area is world-known for its excellent wines. If you can, take a wine tour to visit Châteauneuf du Pape.

5. Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence - France

Aix-en-Provence is one of the best southern France cities if you’re looking for a cultural yet student atmosphere. This quintessential Provencal city is situated close to Marseille.

Aix-en-Provence is home to an array of eclectic museums, art galleries, and thousand fountains, which come in all shapes and sizes. Stroll along cobbled, winding streets with a pastry in hand, and get a characteristically French small city experience.

The list of fun things to do in Aix-en-Provence includes:

  • A stroll through Cours Mirabeau
  • Visit Saint-Saveur Cathedral
  • Explore the colorful Provencal markets
  • Apéritif and people-watching in one of the city’s squares
  • Visit the Atélier Cézanne

The spectacular Montagne Sainte-Victoire mountain range was one of Cézanne’s sources of inspiration and is situated just 17km outside the city. It’s well worth the drive out to this limestone mountain ridge on a guided tour by e-bike.

6. Toulouse

Toulouse - France

Toulouse is the capital of the Occitanie region and it is bisected by the Garonne River. In just a couple of hours, you can drive to Catalonia from Toulouse.

Many are attracted to Toulouse because of its pretty pink buildings. The architecture is sublime, and you can easily lose yourself while wandering the streets.

The list of fun things to do in Toulouse includes:

  • Explore the Old Town with its beautiful Neo-classical architecture
  • Visit the Basilica of Saint-Sernin
  • Explore La Cité de l’Espace
  • Enjoy Toulouse by night, with its lively student atmosphere

You might well arrive in Toulouse and decide you never want to leave. But if you feel like a day trip is calling, there are plenty of places you can go to. Why not head to the fairytale Cité de Carcassonne? Just an hour and a half drive from Toulouse you’ll find one of the best castles in Southern France surrounded by imposing walls with innumerable turrets and towers. 

7. Montpellier

Another of the best cities in South of France is Montpellier. It’s just 10km from the Mediterranean Sea and is characterful and has a variety of activities to enjoy. 

Wander around the impressive old quarter full of chic boutiques and impressive private mansions. There are several museums to enjoy, including the Fabre Museum. The Montpellier Cathedral and the Promenade de Peyrou have become iconic landmarks in Montpellier.

The list of fun things to do in Montpellier includes:

  • Visit l’Ecusson (Montpellier’s historical neighborhood)
  • Visit Saint-Pierre Cathedral
  • Explore Le Jardin des Plantes
  • Enjoy magnificent mountain and sea views from the Promenade Peyrou
  • Visit the Musée Fabre (Arts)
  • Enjoy Montpellier by night, and its lively student atmosphere

Montpellier acts as an ideal base to explore other places throughout the Occitanie region, like the Camargue, Nìmes, and Narbonne

8. Perpignan (Perpinyà)

Perpignan is perhaps one of the lesser-known southern France cities on this list. The capital of Northern Catalonia, Perpignan is ideally located between the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrénées.

Believe it or not, Perpignan was a European powerhouse during Medieval times, the capital of the county of Rosselló (Rousillon) and the Kingdom of Mallorca. The castle that dominates the city belonged to the Kings of Mallorca. Perpignan became part of France only in the 15th century when King John II of Catalonia and Aragon ceded the counties of Rosselló and Cerdanya to the French King Louis XI in exchange for military aid to deal with the Catalan Civil War.

Head to the Old Quarter to get a taste of Perpignan’s rich history and unique architecture. Its top sights, delectable food, and atmosphere are what attract travelers to this smaller French city.

The list of fun things to do in Perpignan includes:

  • Visit the Citadel and the Historial Center
  • Visit Le Castillet and La Loge de Mer
  • Explore the Castle of the Kings of Mallorca
  • Take a boat tour

Being located so close to the Catalan border, take a drive down to Girona for sightseeing or the Costa Brava to enjoy the Mediterranean Sea and the gorgeous views. If you prefer to remain in France, the monasteries of Sant Martí del Canigó and Sant Miquel de Cuixà are two jewels of Catalan Romanesque architecture.

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