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Walled Cities in France03/31/2022
France is filled with cities that echo the past. With curving cobblestoned streets, buildings that have stood for hundreds of years, and fairytale castles, this is one of the biggest draws of this amazing country. And nothing reflects all that history and culture better than the walled cities in France.
Throughout the ages, cities in France built walls to protect themselves from invaders. And today, there’s nothing like immersing yourself in the history and charm of one of these medieval French cities.
So, here’s a list of the most beautiful walled cities in France for the discerning history lover.
1. Cité de Carcassonne (Aude, Occitanie)
The fortified city of Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage site and probably the most famous and beautiful city on this list. It’s situated beside the River Aude, in a natural defensive spot, and has been occupied and fortified since Roman times.
In fact, the Carcassonne walled city has fortifications that date back to the 5th century, with the most recent from the 17th century.
This is one of the largest medieval walled cities in Europe and has been fought over by various cultures for centuries. Today, it’s a must-see on any Cathar Country road trip or sightseeing trip to the area.
The list of fun things to do in Carcassonne includes:
- Cité de Carcassonne
- Walk along the Cite’s Ramparts
- Château Comtal
- Basilique Saint-Nazaire
- Carcassonne’s Lower City (Bastida Saint-Louis)
- Eat a bouillabaisse
2. Avignon (Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)
The city of Avignon is located in the south of France and is surrounded by colossal city walls that are amazingly complete. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see medieval walled city in France.
The walls of Avignon were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, though there are stories of fortifications going back to the 1st century Romans. These walls encompass the city’s old town, including the Palace of the Popes. In fact, this fortified area was home to seven popes during the 14th century when they were fleeing the political problems in Italy.
Today, the city is full of amazing restaurants, markets, and historic buildings. It also offers convenient access to the region of Provence.
The list of the best things to see in Avignon includes:
- Old Town
- Pont d’Avignon
- Musée du Petit Palais
- Palace of the Popes
- Views from the top of the Rocher des Doms
3. Saint-Malo (Ile-et-Vilaine, Bretagne)
Is there anything better than a walled city on the coast of France? Saint-Malo is a seaside town in the northwest of France and its ramparts have been protecting the residents against invaders from the sea for centuries.
The walls of this charming town in Brittany were first built during the Middle Ages, around the 12th century. They were badly damaged during the Second World War but have been restored to their former glory.
Saint-Malo is the kind of town that captures your heart. It offers good beaches and tidal islands outside of the looming walls and charming, twisting streets from medieval times within. This combination makes the town the perfect beach getaway for people who enjoy a touch of history as well.
The list of best things to do in Saint-Malo includes:
- Walk the old ramparts
- Fort National (visit low tide only), built by Vauban and Garangeau
- Petit Bé Fort (visit during low tide only), also built by Vauban
- Cathedral of Saint-Vincent
- The 16th-century Solidor Tower
- Corsair frigate L’Étoile du Roy, a perfect replica of the 18th-century corsair ship of the same name
- Churches of Sainte-Croix and Saint-Ideuc
- Grand Aquarium of Sain-Malo
4. Aigues-Mortes (Gard, Occitanie)
Located in the region of Occitanie, the city of Aigues-Mortes was first founded in the 13th century to help create trade routes beyond France. It was once a Mediterranean port and is completely enclosed in walls, making it one of the most impressive French medieval towns.
Aigues-Mortes is atmospheric and historical but is perhaps known for its proximity to and views of the Camargue. This stunning natural area draws in bird, animal, and nature lovers of all kinds, and Aigues-Mortes offers unparalleled access and views across the region. This makes it an excellent base for your Camargue explorations.
The list of best things to do in Aigues-Mortes includes:
- Walk the medival remparts
- Tour de Constance
- Place Saint-Louis
- Visit the art galleries
- Visit the salt marshes
- Sail the canals and ponds
5. Gérande (Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire)
This medieval walled city in France is located near the sea, at the western edge of the Pays de la Loire region. It offers some of the most complete ramparts in France, including ten towers and four city gates, and is surrounded by salt marshes that have been mined for salt since ancient times.
The town of Guérande has been occupied since prehistoric times, and the battlements were constructed at various times throughout history. For example, the Porte de Saillé dates back to the 12th century, and the Porte Vannetaise is from the 13th century.
This varied history adds to its atmosphere and means that there’s more for you to see during your stay.
The list of fun things to do in Guérande includes:
- Old Town
- Walk the medieval remparts
- Rue St Michel (foodies’ paradise)
- Les Halles
- Collégiale Saint-Auban
- Chapel Notre Dame La Blanche
- Visit the salt marshes
6. Besançon (Doubs, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté)
The walled cities in France usually attract crowds. You won’t have this problem when you visit Besançon, the capital of the Bourgogne-Franche Comté region and the birthplace of writer Victor Hugo. Although it’s one of the bigger walled cities in the country, it’s mostly ignored by tourists, which is a bonus if you want to explore without the crowds.
Besançon is located at the foot of the Doubs River in eastern France and has been a military stronghold for centuries. Over the years, it had various fortifications, but the current walls were built in the 17th century by military engineer Vauban.
The walls protect a well-preserved and charming historic center and the famous Citadel. The Citadel is an architectural masterpiece, and it is listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The list of fun things to do in Besançon includes:
- Old Town
- The Citadel
- Saint-Jean Cathedral
- Museums of Besançon
- Victor Hugo’s house
- Porte Noire
- Visit Besançon’s parks and gardens
- Kayak on the Doubs River
7. Laon (Aisne, Hauts-de-France)
Laon is a medieval city built on the top of a 330-meter-high limestone rock that punctuates the flat plains around. In early Medieval times, Laon was the capital of the Carolingian Empire and its high town – encircled by eight kilometers of walls and formidable gates – is France’s biggest protected historic center. Take the time to visit the cathedral and wander around Laon’s medieval streets; there are more than 80 historical monuments to discover!
Laon is one of the best places to visit in Northern France, best known for its gothic cathedral Notre-Dame de Laon. Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame de Laon is one of the first major Gothic-style buildings in France, contemporary with Notre Dame de Paris. The interior elevation is representative of the first Gothic art, while the upper parts were built in a more evolved Gothic style, known as ‘classic’ Gothic.
The list of fun things to do in Laon includes:
- Laon Cathedral
- The 12th-century Chapelle des Templiers
- Musée d’Art et d’Archeologie
- The walls’ impressive gates like Porte d’Ardon or Porte de Soisson
- Former Hotel-Dieu
- Église Saint-Martin
- Laon’s underground galleries dug more than 2,000 years ago
- Basilique Notre-Dame de Liesse
TIP: This Road Trip from Calais to Paris explores Laon and other beautiful sites nearby!
8. Dinan (Côtes d’Armor, Bretagne)
You won’t be disappointed when you explore this walled city in France. Located in the northwestern part of France in the Côtes-d’Armor department, Dinan is a charming historic town. Over the years, Dinan has expanded out of the walled segment, but the older parts are still secured behind the medieval walls.
Dinan’s walls date back to the 11th century and survived two major attacks by the British in the 14th century. One of the real draws of this city is that it’s filled with historic houses, some of them dating back to the 13th century! Wandering around the streets, you’ll see cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and even a 14th-century castle.
The list of fun things to do in Dinan includes:
- Old Town
- Château de Dinan
- Walk the medieval ramparts
- Climb up to the Tour Horloge
- Basilique Saint-Sauveur
- Saint-Malo Church
- Follow the Rance River by bike or on an electric boat
TIP: this Brittany Road Trip explores Dinan and its surroundings
9. Briançon (Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)
This little-known walled city in France is in the Hautes-Alpes department. Briançon is the highest town in France at 1,326 meters and is built at the confluence of five valleys. This elevation makes it a popular skiing destination in winter as well as a historical gem at every time of year.
Briancon’s fortifications were built in the 18th century by military engineer Vauban in an attempt to help defend the city against the Austrians. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and an incredibly picturesque town filled with 14th-century churches, narrow streets filled with old houses, and charming squares filled with life and color.
The list of beautiful things to see in Briançon includes:
- Vauban’s Citadel
- Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame
- Church of the Cordeliers
- Briançon’s colorful architecture
- Place d’Armes
10. Provins (Seine-et-Marne, Ile-de-France)
Provins is one of the easiest medieval French cities to visit from Paris. In Medieval times, Provins was an important fair town under the protection of the Counts of Champagne. Thanks to its strategic location and the counts’ protection, Provins became one of the most important international fair towns in Europe during the 11th and 13th centuries.
A visit to Provins is like a step back in time. It boasts beautiful architecture of half-timbered houses and its incredible collection of medieval sites. The views from the top of its medieval walls are stunning.
Provins has a unique series of underground tunnels accessible from the houses. These tunnels were used to stock the woods for the fairs, and today visitors can explore part of this vast underground network on a guided tour.
If you visit Provins in June, don’t miss the Médievales de Provins, considered the best medieval fair in France. In December, Provins’s medieval Christmas Market is often listed as one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in France.
The list of fun things to do in Provins includes:
- Old Town
- Walk the medieval ramparts
- Tour César
- Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church
- Provins’ underground tunnels
- Médiévales de Provins (one weekend in June and in December)
TIP: This Champagne Road Trip explores Provins and other beautiful sites!
11. Boulogne sur Mer (Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France)
This beautiful seaside town on the English Channel is one of the main tourist attractions in the region of Hauts-de-France. First French fishing port, Boulogne-sur-Mer is also a city of art and history with three labels: ‘ville d’art et histoire’, ‘ville fleurie’ (4 flowers), and ‘aquarium.’
This walled city on the coast of France has a fascinating history dating back to Roman times. Boulogne was the major Roman port for trade and communication with its Province of Britain. Later in Medieval times, Boulogne was at the center of the County of Boulogne (belonging to the Kingdom of France), and was occupied by the Kingdom of England numerous times due to conflict between the two nations. In 1805 it was a staging area for Napoleon’s troops for several months during his planned invasion of the United Kingdom.
Boulogne-sur-Mer is also known for Nausicaa, a large aquarium and center for discovering marine life. Nausicaa has hundreds of marine species and is considered one of France’s main tourist attractions.
The list of fun things to do in Boulogne-sur-Mer includes:
- Medieval ramparts
- Basilique Notre Dame
- Colonne Napoléon de Wimile
- Mémorial de la Légion d’Honneur
- Fish direct sale at the port
- Poudrière Napoléon
- Palais Impérial – Hôtel Desandrouin
- Camp de Napoléon
- Château de Pont de Briques
- Square Auguste Mariette Pacha