With its beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets that dance in the morning light, and a turquoise coast, France inspires the romantic in all of us. The most beautiful cities in France have maintained their allure through the eras. They tell stories of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the French Revolution. It’s here you can walk the same path as Monet, to see the same brilliant landscapes that drove his most prized works.
The Most Beautiful French Cities
Each French city has its own personality and its own take on French culture and cuisine. Cities in France didn’t pop up overnight; they were polished for centuries and now wait for your footsteps through their magnificent architecture and history.
1. Paris (Capital City)
Paris is one of those destinations that must be visited at least once. It transcends those that wish to stay off the tourist trail on the sheer weight of amazing sights alone. One of the world’s iconic cities, the French capital, firmly belongs at the top of our list. The City of Light, the home of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre will quickly gain the attention of even the most cynical traveler. Start Planning with: 27 Free Things to do in Paris, France
Grand and splendid, you could spend an entire week in Paris exploring the historic streets that lead to the Arc de Triomphe or the Seine River Bridge that crosses to charming waterside parks. You will be floored by the sheer number of historic monuments, art galleries, and historic churches. Read: 3 Days in Paris: The Best Paris Itinerary for Your First Visit
The surrounding neighborhoods like the Latin Quarter still leave much to be explored. Where authentic local culture will greet you on arrival.
Home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a buzzing food scene, and rich cultural heritage, Lyon is one of the most beautiful cities in France. On the edge of two rolling rivers, the nation’s “Second City” is a delight for travelers who can wander down her medieval cobblestone streets through the Old Town.
Despite being one of the largest cities in France, its charm remains intact. Lyon boasts exceptional art galleries, such as the Musee des Beaux-Arts and interesting museums with historic Roman antiquities and Egyptian artifacts. Foodies will love Lyon. A leisurely stroll can lead to a whole manner of culinary adventures and authentic French cuisine.
Featuring Italian flair, a beautiful coastline, and a historic Old Town, Nice is the summer destination of your dreams. Showcasing the beauty of the French Riviera, Nice is a popular resort town with the spectacular Maritime Alps, creating a scenic backdrop. Read more: 24 Hours in Nice
The elegant city is a haven for culture hounds. Under the warm French sun, spend time exploring the pedestrian-friendly and iconic Promenade des Anglais, which envelopes the bay. Later, journey into the Old Town aka Vieille Ville, where awe-inspiring cathedrals and historic monuments shaped by Italian influence await.
As one of the most popular French cities for tourists, you can save by traveling in the shoulder seasons, in March, April, September, and October. You may also like: Enchanting Medieval Villages in France – The French Riviera
2600 years ago, the first homes were built in what is now a bustling seaport. On the banks of the Mediterranean, the former European Capital of Culture, Marseille, is the oldest city in France and the second-largest city in France. But Marseille wasn’t always a modern cosmopolitan city. In fact, it had to shed a seedy reputation and sand off the rough edges during its 20th-century transformation. For this reason, Marseille can often feel different from other popular French cities.
There is an air of possibility as you explore, as if you may stumble upon hidden surprises around any corner. It makes walking around Marseille exciting. When paired with gourmet restaurants at Vieux Port, the historic quarter, and the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, you can see why it’s on our list of beautiful France cities. Read more: Things to do in Marseille, France
In southwest France, Bordeaux is the place to go for the best wine in the country. The charming city is not just home to exceptional wineries, but its position on Garonne River makes Bordeaux a veritable stunner, with its center a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wander along graceful tree-lined boulevards to cozy cafes, boutique stores, and several museums. For excellent views, head to the top of the Pey-Berland Tower to gaze upon the picturesque city, shaped by the distinct urban planning in the 1700s and Neoclassical architecture. The main attraction in the Bordeaux region is of course, the local wineries, of which there are over 100,000. Some of the most popular include Medoc, Margaux, and St. Emilion.
One of the most interesting places to visit in northern France, Rouen is a delight for both history buffs and aficionados of half-timbered houses. A relatively small town to some of the other cities in France, Rouen is a journey back to the middle ages.
The capital city of Normandy, Rouen features quaint residences and beguiling architecture, where ancient Gothic churches loom around every corner. The prime example is the 13th century Cathedrale Notre-Dame, best depicted by Claude Monet. Perhaps Rouen’s greatest claim to fame is Joan of Arc. For it was here that she was sent on trial and later martyred.
7. Loire Valley (Unesco World Heritage Site)
Home to several beautiful France cities, the Loire Valley is a romantic escape in every sense of the world. Such is the history, culture, and aesthetics of the valley that it has become a UNESCO heritage site. Winding roads sweep through gorgeous meadows, leading you to old chateaus, cozy BnBs, and scenic wineries.
The best French cities in the Loire Valley include Tours, Saumur, and Orleans. The former is known as the Garden of France. Its location in between the Cher and Loire River will make your heart flutter. Here, 15th-century cobblestone streets meander between old townhouses, embellished fountains, and weeping willows. Read next: 11 Interesting and Fun Facts About France
8. St. Tropez
In the French Riviera, St. Tropez and extravagance go hand in hand. The town boomed in the middle of the 20th century as it attracted the rich and famous. Despite its popularity, the population remains a diminutive 4,300 people.
The city boasts a more leisurely pace, where the fishing boats come in and out of the old port, backed by bright and picturesque homes. Of course, if it’s partying and yachts that you seek, then you won’t find a shortage of that either.
Beyond the local museums, wander down to one of the many iconic beaches in St. Tropez, where the water is as blue as the sky above. Later, dine at La Tarte Tropezienne for mouthwatering desserts, before experiencing the coastal town’s celebrated nightlife.
Read More About Great European Cities
In southern France, Aix-en-Provence is your chance to indulge in joie de vivre and embrace the local culture. The sun-soaked town is best lived outside, where you can venture down the old streets, stumbling across markets and hole-in-the-wall cafes.
Along the leafy Cours Mirabeau, you can experience authentic French cuisine in outdoor patios with the blue sky poking through the canopy. Afterward, wander through the Old Town without a care in the world, discovering charming squares and the Le Grand Marche. Fine arts are no stranger to Aix-en-Provence. Art lovers can make their way to Musee Granet, or explore the works of the luminary Paul Cezanne. Cezanne’s art is on display in multiple locations, including the open-air Terrain de Peintres.
No stranger to guides on the most beautiful cities in France, Cannes is a high-end beach experience. Home to the renowned Canned Film Festival held annually in May, the town offers both the Mediterranean and extravagant streets lined with high fashion and Michelin star restaurants. Check out 50 Best Travel Movies For Travel Lovers
Start your morning on some of the best white sand beaches in the French Riviera. The powder sand will float between your toes as you bathe in the sun of southern France.
Cannes isn’t easy on the budget, but you get what you pay for. Whether that be at any one of the up-scale resorts, gourmet restaurants, or mega yachts in the marina. But you don’t have to be a celebrity to enjoy Cannes. There are a variety of budget-friendly experiences such as the Croix des Gardes and the Le Marche Forville, that will have you feeling like a movie star.
Between Cannes and Nice, the expansive coastline of Antibes awaits. The city’s alluring pine groves and the effervescent Mediterranean have predictably attracted artists as much as travelers throughout the years. If you’re handy with a brush, you’ll have no trouble finding inspiration in Antibes.
For us mere mortals, the camera must stay fully charged as you make your way through the Old Town, a fortified castle from the Medieval Era. Thin cobbled streets carve through the historic city. Ancient industries have long been replaced by waterfront restaurants, independent shops, and dim-lit cocktail bars.
Start every morning at Marche Provencal, where you can mingle with the local community, load up the basket with fresh produce and find the perfect spot for a picnic by the Mediterranean.
Taking a page out of the book of the canal houses in Amsterdam, Bayonne features similar colorful Basque houses along the serene Nive River. On either side of the river, you can witness the vibrant architecture, home to delicious restaurants and bars.
Bayonne is officially a “Town of Art and History” where historic churches complement the Basque Museum and the Old Castle (Chateaux Vieux). Much of Bayonne has been preserved or masterfully restored in order to represent Basque culture and heritage.
Aside from 13th-century buildings, Bayonne is also known as the French capital of chocolate. The tradition began in the early 17th century when Jewish Portuguese migrants settled in the town.
With its rose-hued buildings rising out of the storied streets, it’s easy to see why Toulouse is the “Pink City”. In southwestern France, Toulouse rose to prominence from the 1300s to the 1500s when pastel production reached its zenith. The powdered pigment brought gorgeous blues to the rest of France.
Its elegant Old Town harbors narrow cobblestone streets and expansive boulevards that are a delight to walk down, made even better by the city’s pristine weather. Along the way, you’ll find the red-brick buildings filled with an exciting food scene and atmospheric patios.
Toulouse has long been on the traveler’s trail. The Romanesque Basilique Saint-Sernin, is on the Camino de Compostela. The cathedral is a stunning example of the Pink City, with its brick composition changing slightly under the falling sun.
Home to the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, Chamonix is a storybook alpine town. Exploring the famous town, which played host to the 1924 Winter Olympics, will uncover a range of chalet-style structures, old and modern architecture.
While you could spend all day wandering the pristine streets, you’ll soon be inspired by the surrounding landscapes, none more than the towering Mont Blanc. Its summit stands 15,777 feet above sea level. Presenting a challenging and technical climb, the mountain remains a bucket list trek.
But you don’t have to strap on crampons to make it to the peak. With the help of the adorable Tramway du Mont Blanc, you can arrive without breaking a sweat while admiring the spectacular views.
Around town, you’ll find plenty of fun befitting of such a location. Ski the longest run in Europe, go whitewater rafting, or zoom down the mountain on the Alpine Coaster.
On the cusp of the German border, Strasbourg combines French and Germanic culture with aplomb. The French city is the location of the European Parliament and also home to one of the best Christmas markets on the continent.
Since the end of the First World War, Strasbourg has remained French. But its unique heritage as a part of the Alsace region is a huge aspect of local culture. The 2000-year-old Strasbourg has a historic quarter on an island in the center of town, known as La Petite France.
Other top attractions include the second-most visited cathedral in all of France and the embellished Kammerzell House. The local cuisine is, unsurprisingly, delicious, combining the best of both worlds to delight the taste buds.
Small yet majestic, Honfleur is a historic port town made famous by Eugene Boudin and the works of Monet. For almost a millennium, ships have departed the local port with loaded cargo bound for England. The commercial hub surrounded itself with a medieval fort for protection, adding another layer of intrigue for tourists exploring in the modern era.
One of the smallest towns on our list, Honfleur, is as charming as it comes. Discover quintessential half-timber homes, old trawlers, and one of the best art galleries in France, the Eugene Boudin Museum.
But to appreciate the town’s history, head to its maritime museum, where you can learn about the sailors and shipbuilding in the early days of Honfleur.
Rising from the banks of the local river and canals, Annecy is known as the Venice of the French Alps. Surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, Annecy is an old regional capital and where you’ll find the breathtaking Lake Annecy.
Just like Venice, one of the best ways to see Annecy is from the water. Cruises and small boat trips will guide you along the narrow canals lined with eye-catching homes. From one body of water to another, head to the lake where its turquoise alpine waters lead to soaring peaks.
You’ll have to explore on foot to see the ancient Annecy Castle. In the center of town, the historic structure was built in the 14th century and remains at the heart of local life to this day.
Replacing vinegar with verjuice in 1856, Jean Naigeon forever changed the perception of this beautiful city in France. Dijon is now one of the most popular types of mustard around the world, but you’ll quickly forget that as you venture between architectural marvels, palaces, and monuments.
Dijon is the capital of Burgundy, home to the former Palace of the Dukes. The Dukes of Burgundy were high royalty in the Middle Ages, above everyone but the King himself. The Dijon region has become only smaller over the ensuing centuries, but its streets still tell the stories of medieval times.
You can experience the history and culture of old Dijon at the local museum and art gallery. Both free, learn about Burgundian life before exploring one of the oldest galleries in the nation. Unsurprisingly, Dijon is a culinary haven. You’ll find ample authentic cuisine, exceptional markets, and even old-fashion gingerbread cakes first made in the 1700s.
Visitors may flock to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but the largest such structure in France is right here in Amiens. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is just a short walk away from the first skyscraper ever built in Europe, the Tour Perret.
These are just two of the delightful treasures that await those that travel to Amiens. On the River Somme, the city harbors all the characteristics of French culture while remaining somewhat off the beaten path.
Here, art and literature are celebrated in the Musee de Picardie and the Maison Jules Verne, respectively. You’ll also find a medieval quarter-turned modern hot-spot, the Quartier Saint-Leu, home to a bustling food scene.
Among the maze of cobblestone streets is the wonderful city of Montpellier. A place where the wave of tourism has yet to roll through. Now a university town, Montpellier has a long and storied past. Tucked away from the Mediterranean, it’s often overlooked by those seeking the sun and sand on the coast. Leaving plenty of room for you to explore its charming streets, left untouched through the centuries.
Montpellier’s architecture will be the highlight of your time here. In the center of the city, you’ll find rows of historic buildings, with ornate facades and intricate stonework that are highlights of Renaissance architecture. For those that like to indulge in some people-watching, you can do just that in the enormous Place de la Comedie and under the city’s triumphal arch.
The varied neighborhoods combine the old eras with a personality more in-line with Montpelliers’ position near to the Mediterranean. Here you’ll find swaying palm trees above 17th-century homes and town squares enveloped with boisterous patios.
France’s own version of Silicon Valley, Grenoble, is still renowned for its breathtaking scenery, culture and Old Town. Backed by the French Alps, Grenoble is arguably the most wheelchair-accessible city in France. Its residents also have an immense sense of community pride.
The mountain city has its own greeters. Not your typical Walmart greeter, however. These are local “Grenoblois” who will be more than happy to show you around town, unveiling a whole host of local secrets.
Although a progressive city, its streets remain historic and its buildings as old as time. Explore the Old Town and its many museums before taking the Red Bubble high above the town, where you can appreciate the skyline and nearby mountains.
The old capital of the Dukes of Lorraine, Nancy, is home to a trio of remarkable squares, astonishing architecture and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Exploring on foot and without a plan is the best way to stumble upon endless Art Nouveau treasures, including the jaw-dropping Villa Majorelle. The Carriere and Alliance town squares will make your camera work overtime, but it’s the famous Place Stanislas that commands the bulk of your time.
The iconic landmark is a prime example of French elegance in the lead-up to the 18th-century revolution. Nancy is one of the rare French cities where modern history trumps ancient. Its urban designs are relatively recent, with the prominent square a part of the city’s New Town.
Getting Around France
Making your way around France is fairly simple. A national rail network connects all major cities and regions and is relatively inexpensive.
If you want more power over your adventure, you may wish to hire a car. Reserve ahead of time to guarantee the cheapest rates. Keep in mind that car rental agencies require drivers to be at least 21 years old (sometimes 25) who must have their own credit card.
While car rentals will make traveling between destinations a breeze, you may find a dearth of parking in major cities. The cost of tolls can also quickly add up. Check out prices on Car Rentals Here.
The best way to get around France is via train. The network is efficient, smooth, and simple. With regular departures, you won’t be scrambling at 4 am for the day’s only train. While from your window seat, you can enjoy the countryside float by.
For budget travelers, the bus network presents a valid alternative to the TGV rail network. The bus will help you cut costs, however, transit is slower and departures less frequent.