20 minutes reading time France
When you think of France, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Paris. And while the City of Light is definitely worth a visit (or ten), there’s so much more to see in France beyond its capital.
From charming medieval villages to sun-soaked Mediterranean beach towns, France is filled with stunning views, endlessly Instagrammable destinations, tons of activities to do, and delicious foods to try!
So if you’re looking to add some new places to your travel bucket list, here are 29 of the best cities to visit in France (that aren’t Paris) and that is definitely worth a detour.
29 Best Cities to Visit in France
Often called the “Capital of Flanders,” Lille is a charming city located in the North of France, not far from the border with Belgium. The historic center of Lille is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is full of beautiful old buildings, while the modern city is known for its lively student population and fantastic nightlife.
When it comes to foods to eat in Lille, make sure to try some of the city’s traditional specialties like waterzooi (a fish and vegetable stew), and tartiflette (a potato dish with bacon and cheese), and gaufres à la crème (waffles with cream).
Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy region in Eastern France and is known for its delicious mustard, as well as for being home to the Dukes of Burgundy in medieval times.
You can also sample some of the local mustard (of course) and wine, and do some shopping at the many markets and independent boutiques in town.
The old town of Annecy is especially lovely, with its medieval streets and canals running through it – in fact, it’s often called the “Venice of the Alps”!
During your time in Annecy, be sure to visit the Palais de l’Ile, Annecy Castle, and the Church of St. Francis, and enjoy the stunning views of the mountains and lake.
In the summer, you can also go swimming in Lake Annecy or take a cable car up to one of the nearby peaks for some hiking.
A city very near and dear to my heart, Nice is a wonderful place to visit any time of year.
Situated on the French Riviera, Nice has long been a popular destination for both tourists and celebrities, thanks to its beautiful weather and stunning scenery. There’s plenty to see and do in Nice, from taking a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais to visiting the Nice Carnival Museum and learning about the city’s famous annual carnival.
And of course, no trip to Nice would be complete without indulging in some of the French Riviera’s delicious food, like socca (a chickpea pancake) and ratatouille (a vegetable stew).
If you’re going to go anywhere in France, Nice is definitely one of the best cities in France to visit!
Another lively beach town, Marseille is located on the southeastern coast of France and is the country’s second-largest city.
Marseille is known for its diverse population, multiculturalism, and Mediterranean atmosphere. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Marseille, from visiting the Old Port and Notre Dame de la Garde to exploring the Calanques (a series of limestone cliffs and inlets) and taking a boat ride to the nearby island of Château d’If.
And of course, no trip to Marseille would be complete without trying some of the city’s delicious seafood! Local cuisine in Marseille consists of a lot of fish and shellfish dishes, so be sure to sample some while you’re in town.
If you’re looking for a charming city to wander around and relax in, Aix-en-Provence is the perfect place for you.
Located in the Provence region of Southern France, Aix is known for its Roman ruins, medieval streets, and abundance of fountains.
You can also enjoy some of the city’s famous thermal springs, or take a day trip to one of the nearby towns or villages, such as Avignon or Arles.
If you’re in Aix-en-Provence and looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, check out the nearby town of Valensole, known for its lavender fields and picturesque scenery.
23. Cap d’Ail
Another one of my most favorite cities, Cap d’Ail is a small town located on the French Riviera, just east of Monaco.
Cap d’Ail is known for its stunning cliffside views, beautiful beaches, clear blue waters, and luxurious hotels and residences.
Some of the must-see sights in Cap d’Ail include the Plage Mala Beach, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, and the Jardin Exotique de Monaco (a garden with over 3,000 species of cacti and succulents). Then, stop for a bite to eat at La Pinède while admiring the view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Cap d’Ail is just a short 20-minute train ride from Nice, so it’s super easy to fit on the itinerary if you’re planning a trip to the Côte d’Azur! You can also take a day trip to the nearby town of Menton, known for its beautiful gardens and Mediterranean atmosphere.
Last but not least is Villefranche-sur-Mer, another gorgeous town located on the French Riviera.
Villefranche is known for its pretty pastel-colored houses, medieval streets, and beautiful bay. It is located right next to Nice but is much less crowded and touristy.
Some of the must-see sights in Villefranche include the Citadelle Saint-Elmo, the Church of St. Vincent, and the Place de la Palme (a square lined with cafes and restaurants).
If you’re looking for a place to relax and soak up some sun, head to one of Villefranche’s beaches, such as the Plage de la Darse or the Plage du Borrigo. After some time under the sun, take a walk along the promenade and take in the stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Be sure to also check out the nearby towns of Éze and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, both of which are located within a short drive from Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Located on the French Riviera, Cannes is known for its luxury hotels, designer shops, and annual film festival.
Some of the must-see sights in Cannes include the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès (the conference center where the annual film festival is held), the Promenade de la Croisette (a waterfront promenade lined with palm trees), and the Le Suquet (the old town of Cannes).
If you’re looking to relax on a beach, head to one of Cannes’ many beaches, such as the Plage de la Croisette or the Plage du Midi. You can also take a day trip to one of the nearby towns or villages, such as Antibes or Juan-les-Pins.
Cannes is home to many high-end restaurants, so be sure to treat yourself to a nice meal while you’re in town. There are also many celebrities that have homes in Cannes, so keep your eyes peeled and you might just spot one!
Located on the French Riviera, Monaco is a small city-state known for its luxury casinos, yachts, and Formula One Grand Prix. Though Monaco is technically its own country, it is closely linked to France, as the French Riviera is located just across the border.
Some of the must-see sights in Monaco include the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the Monte Carlo Casino, the Grand Prix Circuit (the race track used for the Formula One Grand Prix), and the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate.
If you’re looking to relax on a beach, head to one of Monaco’s many beaches, such as Larvotto Beach or Monte-Carlo Beach Club.
Be prepared to spend some money while in Monaco, as it is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Ajaccio is the capital of the French island of Corsica, located just off the coast of Italy. Ajaccio is known for its beautiful beaches, clear blue waters, and Mediterranean atmosphere.
Some of the must-see sights in Ajaccio include the Place d’Austerlitz (the main square of Ajaccio), the Cathedral of Ajaccio, and the Maison Bonaparte (the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte).
If you’re looking to relax on a beach, head to one of Ajaccio’s many beaches, such as the Plage de la Paglia Orba or the Plage de Marinella. You can also take a day trip to one of the nearby towns or villages, such as Bonifacio or Calvi.
When you’re ready to eat, be sure to try some of the local specialties, such as figatellu (a type of sausage) or brocciu (a type of cheese).
Perpignan is a city located in the south of France, near the border with Spain.
Perpignan is known for its Catalan culture and architecture, as well as its sunny weather and Mediterranean atmosphere. In fact, many residents of Perpignan speak Catalan, a language spoken in the nearby country of Spain.
Some of the must-see sights in Perpignan include the Palace of the Kings of Majorca, the Cathedral of Saint-Jean, and the Museum of Catalan Art.
If you’re wanting to soak up some sun on a nearby beach, head to one of Perpignan’s many beaches, such as Canet Beach or Saint-Cyprien Beach. You can also take a day trip to one of the nearby towns or villages, such as Collioure or Banyuls-Sur-Mer.
Be sure to try some of the local specialties while you’re in Perpignan, such as paella (a type of Spanish rice dish) or crema Catalana (a type of custard).
Strasbourg is a beautiful city located in the Alsace region of France, close to the border with Germany. The historic center of Strasbourg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its Gothic architecture, canals, and bridges.
There are tons of sights to see in Strasbourg, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, the Petite France district (a quaint area with half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets), and the European Parliament.
If you’re wanting to take a break from sightseeing, head to one of Strasbourg’s many parks, such as the Parc de l’Orangerie or the Jardin botanique de l’Université de Strasbourg. You can also take a boat ride down one of Strasbourg’s canals or go for a walk across one of its bridges. And if you’re visiting during Christmastime, you’re in luck! Strasbourg is known for its extravagant Christmas market, which is one of the largest in Europe.
Don’t forget to try some of the local specialties while you’re in Strasbourg, such as choucroute (a type of sauerkraut) or tarte flambée (a type of pizza).
Toulouse is the capital of the Occitanie region in southwestern France and is known as the “Pink City” due to the terra cotta bricks used in many of its buildings.
This charming city is located on the banks of the River Garonne and is known for its lively atmosphere, Mediterranean climate, and friendly locals.
Some of the must-see sights in Toulouse include the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, the Capitole de Toulouse (the city hall), and the Museum of the Augustins.
If you’re looking for a break from sightseeing, take a stroll through one of Toulouse’s many parks or gardens, such as the Jardin des Plantes or the Parc de la Tête d’Or. You can also visit one of the nearby towns or villages, such as Albi or Carcassonne.
And be sure to try some of the local specialties while you’re in Toulouse, such as cassoulet (a type of stew) or garbure (a type of soup).
Lyon is a city located in central France and is the country’s third-largest city.
Lyon is known for its historical landmarks, such as the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, the Roman theater ruins, and the Renaissance-era Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) district. The city is also known for its cuisine and is considered the gastronomic capital of France.
With sights like the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, the Roman theater ruins, the Renaissance-era Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) district, and the Parc de la Tête d’Or (a large city park), you’ll never run out of things to do in Lyon!
For a more relaxing day, take a stroll through one of Lyon’s many parks or gardens, such as the Parc de la Tête d’Or or the Jardin Botanique de Lyon. You can also visit one of the nearby towns or villages, such as Villefranche-sur-Saône or Beaujolais.
Lastly, you know I have to mention the food! Be sure to try some of the local specialties while you’re in Lyon, such as quenelles (a type of dumpling) or coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine).
Located near Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France, Colmar is a beautiful city known for its well-preserved old town, half-timbered houses, and canals.
This quaint little town has German influences that date back to its days as part of the Holy Roman Empire. Don’t be surprised if you see some street signs in German or hear people speaking German in addition to French!
Some of the must-see sights in Colmar include the Maison Pfister (a house with an ornate Renaissance facade), the Palais des Chevaux (a former horse market with an ornate Baroque facade), and the Unterlinden Museum (housed in a former monastery).
Colmar is also famous for its Christmas markets, which take place in November and December. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area during that time!
Bordeaux is a beautiful city located in Southwest France, known for its stunning 18th-century architecture and delicious wine – and is definitely one of the best cities to visit in France!
The historic center of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are plenty of things to see and do, such as visiting the Cathédrale Saint-André, the Basilique Saint-Michel, or taking a stroll through the Jardin Public.
Of course, you can’t visit Bordeaux without trying some of the local wine! There are many vineyards and wineries in the area that offer tours and tastings.
So whether you’re looking to explore a beautiful city, sample some delicious wine, or both, Bordeaux is the perfect destination for you!
Located in the Île-de-France region of France, Versailles is a royal town best known for the Palace of Versailles, the former home of the Kings of France.
The Palace of Versailles is one of the largest and most beautiful palaces in the world, and a visit to Versailles is not complete without a tour of the palace and its grounds.
In addition to the palace, there are also several other sights worth seeing in Versailles, such as the Royal Opera House, the Grand Trianon, and the Petit Trianon.
After a long day of sightseeing, you can enjoy a stroll through the town or one of the nearby parks, such as the Park of Versailles. Versailles is just a short drive from Paris, making it the perfect day trip from the city.
If you’re a fan of champagne, then you’ll definitely want to add Épernay to your list of places to visit in France!
Épernay is located in the Champagne region of France and is home to many champagne houses, such as Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. You can tour some of the champagne houses and learn about the production process, or simply enjoy a glass of champagne in one of the many cafes and restaurants.
In addition to champagne, Épernay is also known for its beautiful architecture, such as the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church and the Hôtel de Ville (town hall).
Épernay is a must-visit for anyone who loves all things champagne!
Bayonne is a charming city located in the Basque region of France, near the border with Spain.
The city is known for its medieval old town, which is filled with narrow streets and half-timbered houses. Bayonne is also famous for its delicious chocolate (made with a high percentage of cocoa) and its annual festival, which celebrates the city’s Basque heritage.
If you’re looking to explore a beautiful and historic city, enjoy some delicious chocolate, and learn about the Basque culture, then Bayonne is the perfect destination for you!
Bayonne is also known for being one of the best places to surf in France, due to its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. So if you’re a fan of surfing, definitely add Bayonne to your list!
9. La Rochelle
La Rochelle is a beautiful coastal city located in southwest France.
The city is known for its picturesque harbor, which is lined with tall ships and medieval buildings. La Rochelle is also a popular destination for sailing, due to its location on the Bay of Biscay.
In addition to its stunning harbor, La Rochelle is also home to many museums and historical sites, such as the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle (Museum of Natural History) and the Tour de la Lanterne (Lantern Tower).
Whether you’re looking to relax by the water, explore a beautiful city, or both, La Rochelle is the perfect destination for you!
Nantes is a city located in the western region of France, on the Loire River. This historic city is known for its beautiful architecture, including the Château des ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) and the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul (Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral).
Nantes is also a popular destination for art lovers, as it is home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden).
In addition to its many museums and historical sites, Nantes is also known for its lively nightlife, with many bars and clubs located in the city center.
So if you’re looking for a city to explore during the day and party at night, Nantes is the perfect destination for you!
Biarritz is a beautiful coastal city located in the southwest of France, on the Bay of Biscay.
The city is known for its stunning beaches, which are popular with surfers and sunbathers alike. Biarritz is also home to many historical sites, such as the Château de Biarritz (Biarritz Castle) and the Musée de la Mer (Museum of the Sea). Biarritz is also another popular surfing destination, due to its waves which are some of the best in Europe.
Biarritz is also known for its delicious food, with many restaurants serving traditional Basque cuisine. Traditional Basque foods like pintxos (small bites) and txakoli (a type of white wine) are definitely worth trying while you’re in Biarritz!
So whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, surf the waves, or explore Biarritz’s history and culture, add Biarritz to your list.
Saint-Malo is a beautiful coastal city located in the northwest of France, on the English Channel.
The city is known for its stunning beaches, which are popular with sunbathers and swimmers alike. Saint-Malo is also home to many historical sites, such as the Château de Saint-Malo (Saint-Malo Castle) and the Grand Aquarium de Saint-Malo (Saint-Malo Aquarium).
In addition to its beaches and historical sites, Saint-Malo is also known for its delicious seafood, with many restaurants serving traditional Breton cuisine like crêpes (thin pancakes) and galettes (salty pancakes).
This popular ski town is located in the French Alps, at the base of Mont Blanc.
Chamonix is known for its skiing and hiking trails, as well as its stunning views of Mont Blanc. The town is also home to many bars and restaurants, as well as the Musée Alpin (Alpine Museum).
Though this city is pretty sleepy during the Spring and Summer months, it comes alive during the winter when skiers and snowboarders come to hit the slopes! Chamonix is a great destination for travelers looking to enjoy the outdoors and take in some stunning views.
Whether you’re looking to hit the slopes or explore a beautiful mountain town in the French Alps, look no further than Chamonix!
Montpellier is a city located in the southern region of France, on the Mediterranean Sea. This historic city is known for its beautiful architecture, including the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre (Saint-Pierre Cathedral).
Montpellier is also a popular destination for food lovers, as it is home to many restaurants serving traditional French cuisine. The city is also known for its lively nightlife, with many bars and clubs located in the city center.
Montpellier is a popular destination for students, as it is home to many universities and colleges. The city is also a popular destination for tourists, as it is home to many historical sites and museums.
So whether you’re looking to learn about French history, enjoy the delicious food, or party the night away, Montpellier has it all.
Anyone who’s ever heard of France has definitely heard of Saint-Tropez!
This glamorous city, located on the French Riviera, is known for its luxury hotels, beaches, and yachts. Saint-Tropez is also home to many celebrities, as well as the wealthy and famous.
The city is also known for its delicious food, with many restaurants serving traditional Provençal cuisine. Saint-Tropez is also a popular destination for nightlife, with many bars and clubs located in the city center. It’s a rather expensive destination – but it’s well worth it!
If you’re looking to rub elbows with the rich and famous, enjoy the French Riviera, or just eat some delicious food, Saint-Tropez is the place for you.
This stunning coastal town is located in Normandy, on the English Channel.
Étretat is known for its breathtaking cliffs, which are popular with climbers and hikers alike. The town is also home to many beaches, including the Plage d’Étretat (Étretat Beach), which is a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing.
Étretat is most known for its stunning cliffs and rock formations, which stretch across the coastline. The town is a popular destination for photographers and nature lovers, as it offers some of the most beautiful views in all of France.
In addition to its stunning natural scenery, Étretat is also home to many historical sites, such as the Château d’Étretat (Étretat Castle) and the Musée d’Étretat (Étretat Museum).
From hiking, climbing, and swimming, to historical sites and museums, Étretat has something for everyone.
Carcassonne is a medieval walled city located in southern France. It is best known for its well-preserved fortifications, which were used in the movie “The Last Crusade”.
Carcassonne is also home to many historical sites and museums, including the Château Comtal (Count’s Castle), the Basilique Saint-Nazaire (Saint-Nazaire Basilica), and the Musée de l’Inquisition (Inquisition Museum).
The city is also a popular destination for food lovers, as it is home to many restaurants serving traditional French cuisine. Carcassonne is also a popular destination for nightlife, with many bars and clubs located in the city center.
Whether you’re a history buff looking to indulge in French history or enjoy the delicious food, Carcassonne has it all.
Are you ready for France?
So there you have it – a few of the many reasons why France is the perfect destination for your next vacation!
I hope this post has inspired you to think outside of the Parisian box and explore some of the other amazing places that France has to offer. France is truly such a beautiful country with lots to see and do for any type of traveler!
Whichever city you decide to visit in France, you’re sure to have an amazing time.
A bientôt! (See you soon!)