Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Best Cities in the South of France to Visit
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. Because of the region’s warm weather and days of sunshine, you can visit any of these South of France cities all year round.
This post covers cities in the Occitanie region and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Many of these South of France cities are ideal destinations for a long weekend break or starting points for fabulous French road trips, while others are excellent base camps to visit some of the best places in Southern France.
Check out this list of favorite Southern France cities before you plan your next trip to France.
Best Southern France Cities for a Fabulous Getaway
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 city in Southern France 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. The coastal towns of Cassis, La Ciotat, and Martigues on the west also make excellent day trips.
Marseille Trip Planning:
Once the 19th-century retreat location for European elites, Nice still holds much of its sophistication and grandeur. Nice is one of those cities in South of France 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.
Nice Trip Planning:
- Book your train tickets to Nice. Check out all the ways to travel to Nice from Paris, France, and abroad.
- Check out the best Nice hotels and the best hotels in Nice with a pool for the hottest months.
- Check out this Nice 2-day itinerary
Cannes is one of the most famous cities in the 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 the La Croisette walkway
- Visit the Old Port
- Spend a lazy day on the beach
- Visit the Lérins Islands and Cap d’Antibes
- Taste Cannes’ local specialties at Marché Forville
If you can’t decide between these best cities in South of 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.
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. Avignon is also a good base for exploring the hilltop villages in Luberon by car – Check out this Luberon road trip itinerary for inspiration.
Aix-en-Provence is one of the best cities in the South of France 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, visit its colorful markets, taste delicious Provençal food, 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. Aix is also a usual starting point for exploring the Gorges du Verdon – Check out this Gorges du Verdon road trip itinerary for inspiration.
Toulouse is the capital of the Occitanie region, and it is bisected by the Garonne River. Boasting a rich historical heritage and sumptuous monuments, the famous “Pink City” always ranks among the most beautiful cities in France.
Cradle of aviation and space, Toulouse is one of the most advanced technology parks in terms of research. Toulouse also welcomes many students and tourists each year, making the city very lively and an excellent base to explore the region.
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
- Taste the regional food
- 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 on day trips from Toulouse. 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. The beautiful city of Albi is also very easy to visit from Toulouse by train. You can also combine it with Cordes-sur-Ciel on a fun-packed day tour from Toulouse.
Another of the best cities South of France has to offer 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. From this South of France city, you can visit the Camargue, Nîmes, and Béziers.
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, this city of Southern France 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.
In the Occitanie region, Narbonne is located at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea, the Corbières, and the Pyrénées, so it is the ideal destination for your French holiday. With a rich environment and historical heritage, this South of France city is a fascinating, pleasant, and attractive city where all (or almost) activities are possible!
Narbonne is a touristy city thanks to its 5 km of thin sand at Narbonne-Plage. It is also a city with a rich history that goes back to Roman times (118 BC). The Canal de la Robine is one of France’s oldest canals, and it separates the Historical Center and the Cité district in central Narbonne. Here, you will see vestiges of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and Narbonne’s Age of Gold at the end of the 19th century.
The list of interesting things to visit in Narbonne includes:
- Stroll around the Old Town
- Visit the Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur
- Visit the Archaeological Museum of Narbonne
- Visit the Musée Lapidaire de Narbonne
- Explore the Musée Roman Horréum (ancient Roman galleries)
- Beach day at Narbonne-Plage
- Sail the Canal de la Robine on an electric boat (no boating license required).
And there you have it, the list of the best cities in Southern France for every kind of traveler. Which South of France cities tempt you most?