From the boulevards of Paris to the fashionable seaside resorts of the Côte d’Azur, France offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Fairy-tale castles, glorious cathedrals, and picture-perfect villages delight romantics. At the same time, the country’s contemporary monuments and rapid train transit jolt visitors from the storybook surroundings into the ambience of the 21st century.
Begin with the Eiffel Tower, the modern emblem of France. Then discover famous masterpieces of art at the Louvre Museum. Spend a day pretending to be royalty at the elegant Palace of Versailles. Save time for leisurely gourmet meals – traditional French gastronomy has been inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Each region has its own distinctive cuisine and culture. The coastal region of Brittany offers the old-world charm of quaint fishing villages and ancient seaports, while the French Alps reveals the region’s heartycuisine of cheese fondue and charcuterie served in cozy chalets near ski slopes. Indulge in it all and savor the country’s irresistible charm with our list of the top attractions in France.
1. Eiffel Tower
The symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is a feat of ingenuity as much as it is a famous landmark. This structure of 8,000 metallic parts was designed by Gustave Eiffel as a temporary exhibit for the World Fair of 1889. Originally loathed by critics, the 320-meter-high tower is now a beloved and irreplaceable fixture of the Paris skyline.
The Eiffel Tower’s gracefulness has earned it the nickname of “Iron Lady.” Visitors are impressed by the tower’s delicate airiness despite its monumental size and the breathtaking panoramas at each of the three levels.
Tourists can dine with a view at the first level or indulge at the Michelin-starred Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second level. At the exhilarating height of 276 meters, the top level offers a sweeping outlook over the city of Paris and beyond. Vistas extend as far as 70 kilometers on a clear day.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Paris: Best Areas and Hotels
2. Louvre Museum
In a stately palace that was once a royal residence, the Louvre ranks among the top European collections of fine arts. Many of Western Civilization’s most famous works are found here, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci, the Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, and the 1st-century-BC Venus de Milo sculpture.
The collection owes its wealth to the contributions of various kings who lived in the Louvre. Other pieces were added as a result of France’s treaties with the Vatican and the Republic of Venice, and from the spoils of Napoléon I.
The Louvre has an astounding collection of 35,000 artworks, including countless masterpieces. It’s impossible to see it all in a day or even in a week. Take a private guided tour or focus on a shortlist of key artworks for the most rewarding experience.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Paris: Best Areas and Hotels
3. Palace of Versailles
More than just a royal residence, Versailles was designed to show off the glory of the French monarchy. “Sun King” Louis XIV transformed his father’s small hunting lodge into an opulent palace with a sumptuous Baroque interior. The palace became Louis XIV’s symbol of absolute power and set the standard for princely courts in Europe.
Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart created the elegant Baroque facade and lavish interior of the Château de Versailles, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most emblematic space in the castle is the Hall of Mirrors, where courtiers waited for an audience with His Majesty. This dazzling hall sparkles with sunlight that enters through the windows and is reflected off massive ornamental mirrors.
Versailles is equally renowned for Les Jardins, formal French gardens featuring decorative pools, perfectly trimmed shrubbery, and magnificent fountains. The gardens were created in the 17th century by renowned landscape designer André Le Nôtre and are surrounded by 800 hectares of lush parkland.
Beyond the formal gardens is the Domaine de Trianon, which includes Le Grand Trianon palace; Le Petit Trianon château; and Le Hameau de la Reine, Marie-Antoinette’s fabricated pastoral village featuring quaint rustic buildings set around a lake.
Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet originally had a working dairy and farm. This idyllic spot was designed as a place for Marie-Antoinette to escape court life and spend time with her children. Marie-Antoinette also came here for walks and to visit with friends. The hamlet is one of the best places to visit at the Château de Versailles to get a glimpse of the private world of Marie-Antoinette.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near the Palace of Versailles
4. Côte d’Azur
The most fashionable stretch of coastline in France, the Côte d’Azur extends from Saint-Tropez to Menton near the border with Italy. Côte d’Azur translates to “Coast of Blue,” a fitting name to describe the Mediterranean’s mesmerizing cerulean waters. To English speakers, this glamorous seaside destination is known as the French Riviera, words that have a ring of sun-drenched decadence.
During summer, the seaside resorts are packed with beach lovers and sun-worshippers. The rich and famous are also found here in their lavish villas and luxury yachts. The town of Nice has panoramic sea views and stellar art museums. Cannes is famous for its celebrity film festival and legendary hotels.
The best sandy beaches are found in Antibes, which also has an atmospheric Old Town and superb museums. Saint-Tropez offers fabulous public and private beaches along with the charm of a Provençal fishing village, while Monaco seduces with its exclusive ambience and stunning scenery.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Côte d’Azur
5. Mont Saint-Michel
Rising dramatically from a rocky islet off the Normandy coast, the UNESCO-listed Mont Saint-Michel is one of France’s most striking landmarks. This “Pyramid of the Seas” is a mystical sight, perched 80 meters above the bay and surrounded by imposing defensive walls and bastions.
The main tourist attraction, the Abbaye de Saint-Michel is a marvel of medieval architecture with soaring Gothic spires. Visitors are awed by the serene beauty of the Abbey Church, with its harmonious Romanesque nave and ornate high-vaulted choir.
Since it was built in the 11th century, the Abbey Church has been an important Christian pilgrimage destination, known as “The Heavenly Jerusalem.” Modern-day pilgrims are still inspired by Mont Saint-Michel and continue the tradition of crossing the bay by foot as it was done in the Middle Ages.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mont Saint-Michel
6. Loire Valley Châteaux
Traveling through the Loire Valley feels like turning the pages of a children’s storybook. Throughout the enchanting countryside of woodlands and river valleys are fairy-tale castles complete with moats and turreted towers. The entire area of the Loire Valley, a lush area known as the “Garden of France,” is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some of the Loire castles are medieval fortresses built on hilltops and surrounded by ramparts. However, the most famous Loire châteaux are sumptuous Renaissance palaces that were designed purely for enjoyment and entertaining, as an extension of court life outside of Paris.
The Château de Chambord, built for King Francis I, is the most magnificent château; Château de Chenonceau has a distinctive feminine style; and the Château de Cheverny is a Neoclassical-style manor house in idyllic surroundings.
It is also worth visiting the UNESCO-listed cathedrals in Chartres and Bourges as well as the city of Orléans, where Joan of Arc helped defeat the English army in 1429, and the Château Royal d’Amboise, the residence of French kings for five hundred years.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in the Loire Valley
7. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de ChartresEditor’s Pick
For more than eight centuries, the magnificence of Chartres Cathedral has inspired the faithful, and some say this sublime sanctuary has restored belief in the doubtful. The UNESCO-listed cathedral exemplifies the glory of medieval Gothic architecture.
The Chartres Cathedral is renowned for its marvelous stained-glass windows, most dating to the 13th century. Covering 2,500 square meters, the brilliant stained-glass windows allow colorful light to filter into the vast nave, creating an ethereal effect. The intricately detailed windows reveal the incredible craftsmanship in depicting biblical stories.
The rose windows are especially noteworthy for their incredible size and details. Other highlights are the Passion window, one of the most original in its style and expression, and the Blue Virgin window that dates from the 12th century.
From April through October, the city of Chartres hosts a Festival of Lights (Chartres en Lumières). This free public event includes spectacular evening light shows, illuminating the cathedral and over 20 other monuments in the city. The cathedral is enlivened by multicolor scenes that resemble the monument’s medieval-era painted facade. The light shows are accompanied by music for a truly dazzling presentation.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chartres
Provence is a gorgeous landscape of olive groves, sun-drenched rolling hills, and deep purple lavender fields, with little villages nestled in the valleys and perched on rocky outcrops. The vibrant scenery has enchanted many famous artists, including Cézanne, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso.
The rustic natural beauty and country charm of Provence immerses visitors in a place where the art de vivre is a way of life. Sultry weather encourages leisurely strolls along cobblestone streets and afternoons spent on sunny terraces of outdoor cafés. Provence is also a region known for its delicious cuisine, which is based on olive oil, vegetables, and aromatic herbs.
The quintessential Provençal town, Aix-en-Provence is famous for its colorful open-air markets and the hundreds of fountains that are typical of southern France. Fascinating ancient ruins and traditional festivals distinguish the town of Arles. The medieval city of Avignon is home to the UNESCO-listed Palais de Papes.
Even tiny villages, like Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Saint-Rémy, and Gordes, have amazing historic sites, fantastic museums, and an irresistibly quaint ambience.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Provence
The awesome spectacle of Mont Blanc in the French Alps is an unforgettable sight. The highest mountain peak in Europe, Mont Blanc soars to 4,810 meters. Thanks to its elevation, Mont Blanc (“White Mountain”) is always blanketed in snow.
Beneath its heavenly peak is the traditional alpine village of Chamonix, nestled in a high-mountain valley. This quaint little town is filled with historic churches, cozy chalet restaurants, and charming auberges.
Chamonix is a great base for skiing, hiking, rock climbing, and outdoor adventures, or just relaxing. This delightful village is one of the best places to visit in France for inspiring natural scenery and alpine accommodations. Upscale mountain lodges and cozy chalets welcome guests in style.
Catering to diners with good appetites, local restaurants serve hearty traditional French meals, as well as international cuisine. To sample the regional Savoyard specialties, try the charcuterie, fondue, and raclette (melted Gruyère, Comté or Emmentaler cheese served with boiled potatoes).
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chamonix
10. Alsace Villages
Some of the prettiest villages in France are tucked away in the green, rolling hills of Alsace, where the Vosges Mountains border the Rhine River of Germany. These picturesque Alsatian villages feature pastel-painted, half-timbered houses clustered around small parish churches. Cheerful flowering balconies and pedestrian cobblestone streets add to the appeal.
Many of the villages have won France’s “Villages Fleuris” award for their lovely floral decorations, such as Obernai, with its characteristic burghers’ houses; the charming little village of Ribeauvillé, where many homes are adorned with potted flowers; the “town of art and history” Guebwiller; and the captivating medieval village of Bergheim.
Other flower-bedecked Alsatian villages are so pretty that they have been designated as both “Villages Fleuris” and “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (Most Beautiful Villages of France), including the storybook hamlet of Riquewihr, with its quaint historic houses, and the enchanting village of Eguisheim, nestled in a valley. Another “Most Beautiful Village” is Mittelbergheim, known for its gastronomy and gorgeous pastoral landscape, at the foot of the verdant Mont Saint-Odile.
For those planning an Alsace vacation itinerary, Colmar is a good base to explore the Alsatian villages and surrounding nature trails.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Alsace
With its turreted towers and crenellated ramparts, Carcassonne seems straight out of a fairy-tale scene. This well-preserved (and renovated) fortified city offers a total immersion into the world of the Middle Ages.
Known as la Cité, the UNESCO-listed walled medieval town of Carcassonne is a warren of narrow, winding cobblestone lanes and quaint old houses. Nearly every street, square, and building has retained its historic character. Within la Cité, the 12th-century Château Comtal is particularly interesting and reveals the fascinating heritage of the Cathar country in the Languedoc region.
Must-see tourist attractions are the double-circuited ramparts with 54 towers and the Basilique Saint-Nazaire with spectacular stained-glass windows. One of the other popular things to do here is view the Bastille Day fireworks on July 14th.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Carcassonne
Brittany is a beautiful historic region on the northeastern coast of France. A rugged coastline, quaint fishing villages, and weathered sea ports characterize this region, which is steeped in ancient traditions and famous for its costumed religious festivals.
A mystical land of myths and legends, Brittany has a Celtic influence and a dialect related to Gaelic. The local cuisine is delicious, best known for its savory buckwheat crêpes and sweet dessert crêpes.
The quintessential Breton port is Saint-Malo surrounded by ancient walls. Quimper is a picture-postcard historic town with handsome half-timbered houses, pleasant squares, and an impressive Gothic cathedral. Nantes has a spectacular château and is where the Edict of Nantes was signed in 1598 granting freedom of religious belief to Protestants.
Other highlights of Brittany are the pristine sandy beaches, tiny remote islands, and ancient castles. Belle-Île-en-Mer, the largest of the Breton islands, appeals to vacationers in search of a peaceful seaside setting. Ferry boats run from Quiberon, Port Navalo, and Vannes to Belle-Île-en-Mer.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Brittany
Biarritz is a fashionable beach town on the beautiful Bay of Biscay in France’s Basque country. This celebrated seaside resort has an elegant and aristocratic air; it was a favorite destination of Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III.
The imperial couple’s grandiose Second-Empire-style palace has been converted into the Hôtel du Palais, a luxury hotel featuring a gastronomic restaurant and sensational views of the Grande Plage beach. This large sandy beach, with its broad seafront promenade, has attracted high-society vacation goers since the Belle Epoque.
Other must-see sights are related to the ocean: the Aquarium de Biarritz; Lighthouse; and Rocher de la Vierge (Virgin of the Rock) figure, which stands along the coastline on an immense rock beaten by the Atlantic’s wild waves. For a taste of the town’s regal past, visit the chic Miremont Tearoom that has served exceptional pastries since 1872.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Biarritz
Suspended between heaven and earth on a sheer limestone cliff, Rocamadour is an unforgettable sacred site. In the 11th century, this pilgrimage destination was the third most important in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome. Rocamadour was also a stop on the medieval Way of Saint James pilgrimage trail to Santiago de la Compostela in Spain.
The village has seven ancient sanctuaries, but pilgrims flock to the Chapelle Notre-Dame (Chapelle Miraculeuse), which possesses the venerated Black Virgin (Notre-Dame de Rocamadour). This precious Virgin Mary figure was carved from walnut wood that naturally darkened over the centuries and is associated with miracles.
Another must-see sight is the UNESCO-listed Basilique Saint-Sauveur, the largest church of Rocamadour built in Romanesque and Gothic style between the 11th and 13th centuries. For a challenging spiritual experience, pilgrims can ascend the steep flight of steps, with 12 Stations of the Cross, leading up to the château at the highest point in the village.
About 145 kilometers from Limoges in the Limousin, Rocamadour is surrounded by the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy, a natural park of the Dordogne region.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rocamadour
15. Prehistoric Cave Paintings in Lascaux
Visitors can delve into the fascinating world of prehistoric art in Lascaux, the finest example of Paleolithic art in the world. This UNESCO-listed site is in the Vézère Valley of the Dordogne region. Discovered in 1940, the Lascaux Cave contains exquisite prehistoric paintings, but in 1963 was closed to the public to prevent damage.
A replica of the cave was created at the nearby Lascaux II site, 200 meters from the actual cave. Opened in 1983, Lascaux II is a faithful reproduction of the Lascaux Cave and its paintings. The Paleolithic art has been carefully recreated, including every detail of the animal paintings in authentic ochre hues. Lascaux II represents 90 percent of the paintings depicted in the prehistoric cave. Tourists must take a guided tour to visit Lascaux II.
Opened in 2016, the sleek ultra-modern International Centre for Cave Art presents a complete replica (Lascaux IV) of the original Lascaux Cave along with museum exhibits that provide context for the prehistoric artworks. Virtual reality exhibits and a 3-D film help bring the prehistoric period to life. To visit the Lascaux IV cave, tourists must go on a guided tour. The museum portion of the visit is self guided.
Highlights of the Lascaux prehistoric cave paintings are the Salle des Taureaux (Hall of the Bulls) with panels featuring unicorns and bears and the Diverticule Axial, a narrow 30-meter-long hall with impressive drawings of bulls, cows, and horses. The art reproductions of the replica caves are so accurate that visitors would not be able to tell the difference from the original.
Official site: https://www.lascaux.fr/en
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