When you think of France, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you said Paris, you’re definitely not alone. Paris is a beautiful city, BUT it’s not the only beautiful city in France… which brings me to this blog post where I’ll share 8 must see cities in France to visit besides Paris. But don’t despair; if Paris travel tips are what you’re looking for, that blog post is coming next so stay tuned!
You may not have heard of the city Reims but I’d bet you’ve heard of champagne-yes I’m talking about the bubbly alcoholic drink. Well, Reims is the capital of the Champagne region and only champagne made from grapes grown in this region can take the name of “champagne”. The rest must be called sparkling wine, pretty cool right? And even cooler, Reims is a quick 45 minute train ride from Paris which makes champagne tasting an easy day trip. There are many world renowned Champagne cellars that offer tours and tastings, just be sure to make a reservation. In addition to champagne grapes, Reims is home to one of the most beautiful gothic churches; if you thought the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was stunning, just wait until you see this one!
Another must see city in France you can’t leave off your list is Giverny. 32.3 million people visit Paris each year compared to the 50,000 people who visit Giverny, and if you ask me those people are missing out. Giverny is the home of the famous French impressionist painter, Claude Monet. If you’ve ever seen one of Monet’s paintings, be prepared to feel like you’re walking right into one! When you visit Giverny, you’ll see his flower garden, his water garden, and his actual house. Monet was the first painter to shape his subjects in nature before painting them, so essentially he created his works twice! When Monet died in 1926, his son inherited the house and gardens and restored them to what they are today, and opened the space up to the public in 1980. The best time to visit the gardens is in the spring/summer when the vibrant flowers are in full bloom. If Paris is your home base, you can easily make a day trip here too as it is only 75km by car, 45 minutes by train.
If you continue driving northwest from Giverny about 130km you’ll reach the coast where the Seine River meets the English Channel. The town here, Honfleur, is arguably France’s prettiest harbor. The waterfront is lined with boats and 16th century colorful townhouses, and definitely worth a stroll.
Similar to Honfleur, Normandy is also located along the northwestern coastline. Instead of boats though, here you’ll find 360 miles of rugged cliffs looking out onto the ocean. Normandy’s beaches are the well-known site of the D-Day Landings back from World War 2. Today, these landings are commemorated through monuments, museums, and the war graves of those whose lives were lost.
5. Le Mont St. Michel
Built on a rock in the bay, Le Mont St. Michel is a world famous mediaeval abbey. This UNESCO world heritage site is one of France’s most iconic images today. Depending on the height of the tide and the time of day, the abbey either appears to be rising up from the sea or being washed away with the tide. During your visit, be prepared to be transported back to the middle ages as you spend hours exploring this historical site.
At the complete opposite side of the country, on the southeast border, you’ll find Marseille. Situated on the water, Marseille is a port town and is in fact the third largest city in France. The port itself is full of cafes, restaurants, and shopping markets and you can easily spend a morning strolling along the waterfront. One of the best views of the port, the city, and the ocean however, is from the top of the basilica Notre Dame de la Garde. It’s a bit of a hike to reach the top, but the views are breathtaking. Another must see site are the Calanques, the rock formations known as the fjords of the French Riviera. These can only be seen from the water, and lucky for you, boat tours depart from the port daily. On the boat tour, along with the Calanques, you’ll also see the Castle of If; which should look familiar if you’ve seen the movie the Count of Monte Cristo. This chateau was both a fortress and a prison, and today you can take a ferry to the island itself and tour it. If you are familiar with the story, you may be shocked to see the actual hole that the infamous prisoner, Edmond Dantès, carved in one of the cell walls.
Strasbourg is located on the border of France and Germany, just north of Switzerland. Although it is the second visited city in France after Paris, it couldn’t be more different, with its medieval style buildings and its quiet charm. One of the most notable attractions is the Cathedral Notre Dame; with its beautiful stained glass windows, Gothic architecture, and grand design. If you are visiting in the summer like I did, there is a BEAUTIFUL light show ever evening on the face of the church. If you are visiting in the winter, be sure to check out the Christkindelsmärik, Europe’s oldest Christmas market dating back to 1750. My favorite neighborhood is the historical district of Petite France, recognizable by its cobblestone streets lined by wood framed homes situated along the River Il. In fact, Strasbourg’s city center is actually an island surrounded by the two legs of this River, also making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau located in the Ile de France region about 30 minutes southwest of Paris. The Palace covers 2,000 acres and is the largest royal domain in the world, originally built for King Louis XIV in the 17th century. Many tourists visiting Paris, also carve out a day to leave the city and explore the beauty that is Versailles. You’ll recognize the Palace immediately by its extravagant golden gate, however the original gate was destroyed during the French Revolution along with majority of the Palace itself. The most noted rooms in the Palace are the King and Queens Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors. On the outside of the Palace, you’ll find the beautiful Garden of Versailles, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Well, there you have it. France is a beautifully diverse country with so much to offer, and hopefully you agree with me now that you have to venture outside of Paris because these must see cities in France shouldn’t be missed! And these cities only scratch the surface. Do you have a favorite place in France I haven’t mentioned? Comment below and let me know! And after these 8 must see places in France, be sure to check out these 16 things you must do in Paris or this awesome beginner’s guide to Paris.