"The Hexagon," as France is commonly known, has all the climates and terrains you could ever need, which means the best things to do in France are... well-rounded? To be honest, it would be a real challenge to experience them all in just one lifetime. From Paris (and its supersized dose of culture) to gastronomic delights at every turn, we’ve pulled together the best of the France you don’t know, right here.
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Best things to do in France
Which chef comes top of the top of French gastronomy year after year? Alain Ducasse, of course, who took over Le Jules Verne on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, 125 metres above the ground – a few years ago. Expect haute cuisine French ingredients prepared by talented chef Pascal Féraud.
Under architect I.M Pei’s glass pyramid, commissioned by President Mitterrand in 1983, awaits hours of culture vulturing. From Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman treasures to the mythical Mona Lisa, Musée du Louvre has one of the most beautiful collections in the world.
From the Galerie des Glaces to the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette's estate, to the Opera Chapel, treat yourself to an overdose of gilding at the Château de Versailles. Jeff Koons, Xavier Veilhan, Takashi Murakami, Bernar Venet and Joana Vasconcelos have all exhibited at the Palace of the Sun King - keep an eye on the program to see which contemporary artists is up next.
Pigalle is hands down one of the capital’s most mythical and mystical neighbourhoods. The area never sleeps and each of its streets tops the last. Beyond its gaggle of sex shops, there are more bars than you can shake a cocktail at. Before a heady concoction at the classic Glass or the trendy Mansard, fill your belly at the great-value brasserie Bouillon Pigalle. Believe us, it’s worth every second you queue.
Decide what you want out of your time at Europe's largest amusement park: Fantasyland is a must for the little ones, while Walt Disney Studios is an adrenaline hit for the grown-ups. But everyone, big or small, will love meeting Mickey and Minnie in real life at the park.
Known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Massalia, a stay in the city of Marseille would not be complete without a detour through the idyllic creeks - or calanques. Sormiu, Sugiton, Morgiou...the names for these little corners of paradise are as enchanting as the hike to reach them. Expect the walks to be more than just a stroll, but surrounded by turquoise water, the smell of pine trees and the sounds of the cicadas, you’ll forget your aching feet. Magical.
Much more than just a football stadium, Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome is a cathedral to the sport. The atmosphere is warmer than a summer barbecue, but you’ll barely notice, as the fans will make it an experience to remember.
If the gastronomy of Lyon was represented in just one street, it would be rue Mercière. Filled with bouchons - traditional Lyon restaurants - you can feast on quenelle, gizzard salad or Lyonnaise sausage, making it the mecca of meat.
Corsica’s reputation, local accent and breathtaking, demanding landscape has put this Mediterranean island on the map. With a centre that is all iridescent mountains, its heavenly beaches are a stark contrast. Lotu is one of the best, accessible via an energetic hike through the arid, steep landscapes of the Agriates Desert from Saint-Florent. And for the perfect picnic, stock up on figatellu sausage, lonzu charcuterie and sheep’s cheese.
Long before Mbappé, Kimpembé and Pogba, the Tour de France was summer’s most electrifying summer sporting event. The early stages might send you to sleep, but the last stage is worth rerouting a holiday for. More specifically, The 21 Turns of Alpe D’Huez. Our advice? Stop at turn number seven, the Dutch one, where the atmosphere is madness, aperitifs are aplenty and inevitably, everyone’s decked in orange.
The world’s most famous film festival takes place each May and all the glitziest personalities descend on this French Riviera town to hang on the Croisette. If you really want to starspot, hang around in the evenings, when the expression "rhinestones and sequins" takes on a new meaning.
All music fans should do the "Charrettes" at least once in your life. Since 1992, the unmatchable Breton festival has brought the music industry’s biggest stars to... Carhaix-Plouguer. And as anyone who’s already been Brittany will know: those Bretons seriously know how to party. Dancing shoes on!
For those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the Carnac Stones, head to Quiberon. With its typical fisherman's huts, you'd think you were in an episode of Thalassa. The ultimate reward for your visit to the peninsula? Mussels and a bowl of cider before a breathtaking walk along the Côte Sauvage.
Mussels in a flea market may not sound the most likely of combinations but The Grande Braderie de Lille lets you do just that. The annual event draws the crowds in their hundreds of thousands at the beginning of September, with everything from vintage furniture to car parts on sale. Once you’ve shopped ‘til you drop, make the most of the free-flowing beer moules, and frites.
An age-old bone of contention between the Bretons and the Normans, Mont Saint Michel is one of the most visited sights in France. After navigating the tempestuous tides, check out the timeless city itself, with a trip to the Abbey in particular - it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
France might not immediately strike you as a surfer’s paradise but the Basque coast is one of the best spots to catch a wave in the world. And the stunning beaches of Biarritz make coming ashore all the more pleasurable. With a backdrop of buildings dating back to the 19th century, life in Biarritz really is a beach.
The Strasbourg Christmas Markets are the oldest of their kind in Europe. Running for over 450 years, it’s the loyalty of its visitors that keep it feeling fresh every year. Expect giant fir trees with twinkling lights, wooden chalets, gingerbread and mulled wine: the perfect start to the festive season.
Champagne is the party drink par excellence. To find the best appellations, go to the region where it got its name - especially the northeast. From the Massif de Saint-Thierry to the Marne Valley, knock on the doors of local producers and they will be more than happy to give you a tour and a taste of those glorious golden bubbles.
A sojourn at the Festival d’Avignon guarantees a serious dose of the creme de la creme of contemporary theatre. Created by Jean Vilar in 1947, the Festival d’Avignon transforms the Cité des Papes into one huge open-air theatre every July. As well as the more classic shows performed in the Courtyard of the Palais des Papes, make sure to dip your toes into the flourishing OFF Festival program.
4808 metres above sea level, Mont Blanc continues to be a huge draw for visitors to Chamonix. Once you’ve ticked off all the traditional walks in the alpine village, venture further to the heights of Brévent for a real feast for the eyes. Other unmissable spots include l’Aiguille du Midi and hikes through Lac Blanc and the Grand Balcons.
Climb to the top of the tallest dune in Europe to admire a unique panoramic view of the Bassin d'Arcachon. The 3km-long Dune of Le Pilat is constantly moving and sits upon one of France’s most exquisite nature reserves, with everything to amuse explorers from the age of 7 to 77. Don’t miss a boat trip to Ile aux Oiseaux or ‘Bird Island’.
In the 19th century, literary and artistic movements made Étretat a top holiday resort. Adored by impressionist painters for the white chalk cliffs and three natural arches, Étretat towers high over the Atlantic Ocean and draws visitors from much further afield than just Upper Normandy. In fact, it’s become one of the most frequented French tourist areas. Stroll to Caux while you’re there, which is quieter but just as beautiful.