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Gorges du Verdon
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The 12 best places to visit in France

From buzzing cities to gorgeous countryside escapes, these are the essential places in France to visit at least once in your life

James Manning
Ed Cunningham
Written by
James Manning
&
Ed Cunningham
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France is one of the most visited places on the planet – and you better believe that it lives up to every bit of the hype. This famous country has been at the cultural heart of western Europe for millennia, and you can see signs of its complex and fascinating past all over the place. But it’s not all grand old châteaux: France is also blessed with some exceptionally beautiful natural wonders and some of Europe’s coolest city-break destinations.

So, from heavenly beach destinations and picturesque rural villages to grand old cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille, these are the best places to visit in France – and some of the world’s most essential destinations.

Discover France:

📍 The best things to do in France
🌳 The prettiest villages in France
🏖 The best beaches in France
🏰 Spectacular French châteaux you can rent
😋 The best restaurants in France

Best places to visit in France

Where do you start with a city like Paris? The French capital is one of the great global cities, as renowned for its world-class museums, magnificent grub and lavish shopping options as it is for its mere vibe. From the Louvre to the Jardin de Luxembourg, the place oozes history, beauty and, yes, romance. There is, quite plainly, nowhere quite like it.

Discover Paris:

📍 The best things to do in Paris
🧑‍🍳 The best restaurants in Paris
🎨 The best museums in Paris
🥐 The best cafés in Paris

The port city of Marseille has been one great big melting pot of cultures ever since it was founded by the Greeks a whopping 2,600 years ago. Having thrown off its rep as a town of sailors and gangsters, these days Marseille is a dazzlingly multicultural city with galleries and rooftop bars galore – and all within easy reach of marvellous spectacles of nature in the form of calanques and coves. 

Discover Marseille:

📍 The best things to do in Marseille
😋 The best restaurants in Marseille
🥾 The essential guide to Marseille’s calanques
🚤 The best boat trips from Marseille

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Nice by name, nice by... alright, that’s a bit too cheesy. But it’s true. With its lavish beachside promenade, throngs of established museums and hearty wine bars, Nice is a rather exceptionally lovely coastal city. It’s the former residence of Henri Matisse, with an entire museum dedicated to the legendary artist – and with skies this vibrant, it’s not hard to see where he found the inspiration for his bold blues.

Discover Nice:

📍 The best things to do in Nice
🏖 The best beaches in Nice
😋 The best restaurants in Nice
🛍 The best shops in Nice

Lyonnais are known for being particularly proud of their city – and they’ve every right to be. This place is a gastronomic wonderland and (disputedly, we admit) France’s food capital, with each of its Michelin-starred abodes matched by dozens of under-the-radar culinary masters. And with its Unesco-protected city centre, Rhône and Saône river views and its history as a silk centre, Lyon has loads of non-foodie stuff to do, too.

Discover Lyon:

🍴 The best restaurants in Lyon

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Bordeaux
Photograph: Eo naya / Shutterstock.com

Bordeaux

Not just the greatest winemaking hub in the world, Bordeaux is also a full-blown dream of a city: packed with characterful medieval architecture, a top-tier dining scene and sprawling green open spaces, and within touching distance of some of the mightiest (and warmest) beaches on France’s Atlantic coast. Even teetotallers will find a shedload to do here.

Nîmes, Arles and Orange
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Nîmes, Arles and Orange

For history buffs, there are few regions of France more worth a week’s visit than the lower reaches of the River Rhône. Impressively preserved Roman amphitheatres, arches, temples and baths draw as many visitors to the cities of Nîmes, Arles and Orange as the laidback lifestyle, local wines and year-round sunshine. But the highlight is the spectacular Pont du Gard: the 2,100-year-old three-tiered aqueduct that straddles the Gardon river. It’s one of the most impressive Roman monuments surviving anywhere – Rome included.

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Provence
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Provence

Inland from the bustle of the Riviera, the vast and ancient rural region of Provence is the place for a slower pace of life. If you don’t like the smell of lavender, best avoid the Valensole plateau, with its fields of purple stretching into the distance – 300 square miles’ worth of the fragrant stuff. We recommend renting a mountain bike and cycling the yellow dirt paths, with a charming stopover in a village such as Riez or Esparron-de-Verdon. Not far away, the gravity-defying limestone flanks and dazzling turquoise-green waters of the Gorges du Verdon draw hikers, swimmers and kayakers from far and wide.

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Dordogne
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Dordogne

Named after the river that runs through it, the Dordogne region is almost surreally picturesque. Vines as far as the eye can see, endless rolling hills, impossibly pretty hamlets… from the seventeenth-century Chateau de Marqueyssac and its hypnotic gardens to the oak forests of the Périgord noir, it’s so beautiful it can feel like the stuff of dreams.

Alsace
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Alsace

On the Upper Rhine plain between France and Germany, Alsace has changed hands several times. Start in regional capital Strasbourg for a taste of Alsace’s culture, architecture and food – a distinctive blend of French and German – then head to half-timbered Colmar for shades of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (plus one of Europe’s best Christmas markets). And whatever you do, stop off at the twelfth-century Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg: an epic complex with views all the way to the Black Forest.

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Lake Annecy
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Lake Annecy

Bordered by snow-capped mountains in the Haute-Savoie region, Annecy is known as ‘Europe’s cleanest lake’ thanks to strict local environmental regulations. It’s also very beautiful. The third-largest lake within France’s borders, its ten square miles draw bathers, sailors, divers and sunbathers alike to its grassy ‘beaches’ in summer. Rich with flora and fauna, the area’s hills are ideal for hiking, and the town of Annecy itself brims with brilliant restaurants, delis and canals.

Canal du Midi
Photograph: Shutterstock

Canal du Midi

Connecting the Garonne river at Toulouse with the Étang de Thau basin on the Mediterranean, the 150-mile-long Midi makes for the dreamiest of waterside cycle adventures in summer. Built under the patronage of Louis XIV’s first minister Colbert in the seventeenth century, it is now connected to the Canal de Garonne, and together the two canals allow for barges to travel from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. For the full canal experience, you should rent one. A barge, that is, not a canal.

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