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Exciting Places to Visit in France

A list of our favourite places to visit in France which, we think, should be added to your travel wish list

Lyon Rooftops

Is there a country on earth that has a more impressive laundry list of big-ticket attractions than France? With so many places to visit in France, this country is one of the world's number one travel destinations for a good reason. Travellers come from all over the world to experience France's sophisticated cities, sunny shores, snow-covered mountains and sleepy countryside. Add to this, cheese, wine and culinary culture and France is the destination where you really can have it all.

But, with such a plenitude of riches, how does one begin to build the perfect France itinerary?

We've taken a closer look at some of our favourite places to visit in France to give you a head start, so all that's left to do is pick your favourite and pack your striped shirt and French beret… (Just kidding - though, if you're wondering what to wear in France, you can check out our ultimate French-style guide).

Exciting Places to Visit in France - Contents

Marseille

Marseille is often misunderstood and gets overlooked in favour of its glitzy neighbours like Cannes and St. Tropez. Once considered dirty and dangerous, France's second city has blossomed into an ever-prosperous port that is proud of its chequered history and comfortable in its own skin.

At the heart of the city, the Vieux Port is a historic harbour where fishermen come to sell their catch each morning. Turn right at the port and you'll find the Fort Saint-Jean and the striking Museum of European and Mediterranean Culture (MUCEM), which was unveiled to mark Marseille's reign as a European City of Culture in 2013. Modern buildings sit side by side with ancient wonders including the Palais du Pharo, a clifftop palace built by Napoleon III. Winding along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille, the Corniche is a picturesque road that rewards visitors with spectacular seaside views, the Iles du Frioul (islands), 19th century villas, and the Prado Beaches. The 5km stretch can be strolled, cycled or explored by car. And it makes sense that a city known for its cultural diffusion would also be a gastronomic melting pot with a notable culinary reputation. Be sure to try Marseille's traditional fish stew, Bouillabaisse.

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Lyon

Situated at the meeting point of the Rhone and Saone rivers, Lyon lures urban explorers with its raft of historic landmarks, roman sites, modern museums and culinary excellence. Dubbed France's ‘Capital of Gastronomy', Lyon has more restaurants per capita than any other city in France including 14 Michelin starred restaurants. It's famed for its sophisticated cuisine, fine wines and luxurious sweet treats, but for a quintessentially Lyonnais experience, enjoy a hearty feast at one of the city's Bouchon bistros - family-run restaurants that were formerly the eating place of factory workers looking to get their late night fill.

Lyon Rooftops

Although a relatively small city, Lyon is packed with ancient sites and modern marvels. The Roman remains and Renaissance Quarter lies to the west of the Saone River, but the city's most striking landmark is the white basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which sits atop the city's main hill affording riverside views. Lyon boasts many titles, including the birthplace of cinema, which is reflected in the city's many film houses and the impressive Institut Lumière - where brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, invented the first-ever film camera (the cinematography).

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Loire Valley

Visiting the Loire Valley is like stepping into a fairytale. France's lavish royal past is everywhere in the rolling landscape of the Loire Valley, where hundreds of majestic chateaux are sprinkled along the banks of the river, each of which lay claim to their own unique history. Kings and Queens came to the valley during the middle ages to establish fortified castles, which were later remodelled as extravagant palaces for aristocrats. Many of the palaces are open to the public, but perhaps the most impressive is the royal castle, Château de Chambord, with its towering turrets and lavish staircases.

Day trips from Paris to Loire Valley

The region's vineyards and farmland feed off the fertile soils and mild climate, producing some of France's most revered ingredients and wine varietals. The lush valley is peppered with underground wine cellars that invite visitors in for tastings and tours. Pack up a picnic and wander the idyllic countryside on foot, explore the landscape by bicycle or drift down the river on board a barge boat.

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Paris

A city that needs no introduction. For centuries, the French capital has enticed travellers from around the globe hoping to get a taste of the city's romantic architecture, sophisticated culture and world-famous gastronomy. When it comes to must-see sights, Paris' major players include the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and Notre-Dame, and are usually a France novice's first port of call. When picking where to stay in Paris, make sure you take into account all the beautiful places you want to visit in Paris so you can get the right place, for your budget and proximity to attractions.

When to visit Paris

If you're looking for an Insta-worthy shot, the pastel-hued houses and cobblestone streets of Paris' Rue Crémieux will get you more than a few hits. Creative minds can take inspiration from one of the city's many galleries and museums, including the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay, or follow in the footsteps of some of the world's most famous literary geniuses, poets, playwrights and painters on a walking tour. Take a stroll through Édith Piaf's Belleville and explore the late-night haunts of Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, and Pablo Picasso.

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Exciting Places to Visit in France

Exciting Places to Visit in France

Dordogne

Those who want it all should head straight to the Dordogne, where charming cliff-top towns, castles, caves and countryside await you. The Périgord Noir - named after the dark oak forests, black soils and truffles that once covered this pocket of land - is the most popular part of the Dordogne.

Millions of visitors descend on Sarlat, the capital of Périgord Noir, each summer to experience the magic of the Old Town and to stroll the colourful markets dotted around town. In nearby Montignac, the famous Lascaux caves are thought to date back almost 20,000 years and house some of the most famous examples of prehistoric art. Nestled upstream of the Vézère Valley, the pretty village of Montignac is also a hiking hotspot and a great starting point for a canoe trip up the Vézère.

The region's hundreds of castles and chateaus serve as a reminder of the Dordogne's rich history. Perched on a rocky promontory above the Dordogne River, the Château de Beynac offers one of the most commanding views of the valley. From the highest rampart, you can see much of the ‘Valley of the Five Castles,' including the imposing Château de Castelnaud.

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Côte D'Azur

If it's French splendour, style and glamour you seek, the Côte D'Azur is the ultimate summertime hotspot. This dreamy French region stretches along the Mediterranean Coast from Menton to Saint-Tropez and has been a playground for the rich and famous for decades. In between, you'll find the seaside hotspots of Cannes, Monaco and Nice, as well as medieval towns, 14 natural parks and Roman ruins.

Observational Deck Nice France

But the region's real calling card is its seaside staples. Lavish villas, harbours housing superyachts, high-end eateries and exclusive beach clubs are dotted along the 75 miles of coastline - all of which reinforce the Riviera's world-class status. Book a beach bed on Cannes' Boulevard du Midi, wile away your day in Nice's Old Town or cruise the Monaco coastline.

Time your visit right and you could find yourself at one of the region's many summer soirees, festivals and exclusive events. The Monaco Grand Prix, the Cannes Film Festival and the Nice Jazz Festival are just a few of high profile events in the Côte d'Azur social calendar. Yes, it can be a little pricey. Yes it can be overcrowded. But, this sun-soaked corner of South France is the place to go for a little glitz and glamour.

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French Alps

A playground of picture-perfect mountain silhouettes, crystal-clear lakes and ancient forests, the French Alps are a promised land for outdoor lovers. Strap into your ski boots and hit the slopes of Mont Blanc - the highest mountain in western Europe. In the shadow of Mont Blanc's peak is the charming alpine village of Chamonix, characterised by its cobblestone streets, shops and cafes. Even with five main ski areas on four different mountains, the Chamonix Valley cannot compete with the world-famous Trois Vallees (Three Valleys) - the largest ski domain in the world, with over 350 miles of piste and 180 lifts. Here, firm favourites include the resorts in Méribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens.

Cory French Alps Maritimes

The French Alps is famous for its snowy terrain in the winter, but the region's roster of warm-weather activities continue to grow. Come summer, ski lifts whisk visitors from pretty villages up to high altitude hiking trails; festivals welcome stars of opera, jazz and film; and the glacial lakes and gorges offer a multitude of activity including white water rafting, kayaking and canyoning.

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Normandy

While it might not inspire the imagination of romantics like its southern counterpart, the northwestern province of Normandy satisfies a different kind of itch. Normandy has provided the stage for significant events throughout history, including the reign of William the Conquerer, the execution of Joan the Arc in Rouen, and the D-Day landings that liberated north-west Europe from Nazi operation. History Buffs can take in the heroics and horrors of the D-Day landing beaches - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword - marked with memorials and museums.

Normandy Beaches

Beyond the beaches, travellers flock to the pretty medieval town of Rouen, the pastel-hued harbour of Honfleur and the iconic island of Mont-Saint-Michel - a UNESCO site visited by more than 3 million people each year. Normandy's rich landscape and regional traditions also make it a hotbed of culinary treasures, with everything from seafood and fresh bread, to camembert, calvados, cider and crepes.

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Bordeaux

Once nicknamed ‘Sleeping Beauty' Bordeaux has emerged from its slumber and now welcomes around 5.5 million visitors each year. The southwest city's contemporary feel and creative energy are so inherent that it's hard to believe that Bordeaux was once considered old fashioned and stuffy. Some 1,810 hectares of Bordeaux are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its 15th and 16th-century monuments, which today sit side by side with modern buildings and attractions.

The best way to experience the city is by foot. As you stroll through the streets, keep your eyes peeled for the Grand-Théâtre, Gothic Cathédrale Saint-André, Allées de Tourny and Place de la Bourse. Just in front of the Place de la Bourse, the Miroir d'Eau provides the perfect place to cool off. Covering 3,450 square metres, the water mirror is the world's largest reflecting pool and one of the city's most photographed attractions.

Bordeaux is a city for creatives, with heritage museums and art galleries on every corner. The star attraction is the Cité du Vin - a stunning piece of contemporary architecture resembling a wine decanter. Of course, wine continues to play a major part in Bordeaux's appeal. And where there is wine, there is food. The country's best chefs continue to make the move from Paris to Bordeaux, boosting the city's once quiet and conservative restaurant scene. Visitors will find hundreds of places to please their palettes, with modern bistros, Michelin star eateries, and cosy cafés all over the city. Don't leave without picking up a box of canelés - a traditional Bordeaux pastry flavoured with rum and vanilla.

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Toulouse

Situated between the Pyrenees mountains, a short distance from the Med and a stone's throw from the Dordogne, Toulouse has one of France's most enviable locations. In fact, during some months of the year, visitors can ski on the slopes in the morning, laze on the beach or dip into thermal baths in the afternoon, and dine on Spanish tapas in the evening.

Romantically nicknamed La Ville Rose (the Pink City) because of its distinctive terracotta stone buildings, Toulouse is awash with culture, art, history and heritage. Small and compact, the city is easily explored on foot. With local galleries, french boutiques, cosy cafes and an atmospheric Old Town, there are few cities which feel as authentically french as Toulouse.

While Toulouse might not have the same long list of must-see sights as Paris, the ancient city has an intriguing history harking back beyond the Roman times. Among the many UNESCO World Heritage sights dotting Toulouse's streets, don't miss the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, the largest surviving Romanesque church in Europe, as well as the Church of Jacobins, a 13th-century convent complex and a gem of Gothic art.

A leisurely stroll along the banks of the Garonne River, peppered with flea markets, pop-up food stalls and parks, is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a day in Toulouse.

Like all of the best French cities, Toulouse has a flourishing culinary scene, with its streets lined with modern eateries that run the gamut from low key taco joints to sushi bars. But, for authentic dining, head to one of the city's humble eateries to sample a soul-warming dish of cassoulet, hearty meat and bean stew, or confit de canard, preserved duck cooked in its own fat.

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