France is still the most visited country in the world, and one of the most renowned places for culture, arts, food and lifestyle. And with so many different cities with unique charm and atmosphere to discover, you may need a list of the top 5 best cities to explore for your first trip to beautiful France!
1 - Paris: the city of love and romance
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its great Haussmannian architecture, and the most popular destination for tourists when they come to France.
With its style of "open museum city", this city is a fantastic place for culture! The Louvre Museum, Orsay Museum, Rodin Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, Sacré-Cœur Basilica...there are endless options for your visit.
Of course, you also need to visit the grandiose sites of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame Cathedral which are the typical postcard sets of the city. Nevertheless, be careful with your personal belongings when you visit those buildings.
For a relaxing afternoon in Paris, you can sit at one of the many parks and gardens throughout the city :
- Tuileries Garden and Luxembourg Gardens: two beautiful Renaissance gardens built in the heart of historic areas of the city, with museums et renowned buildings in their surroundings
- Buttes Chaumont and Monceau Park: two urban parks, in the 19th and 17th districts. Buttes Chaumont is a lovely place for its hilly green spaces, central little lake and wildlife
- Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes: two massive woods on the outskirts of the city ideal for a walk or a run. Don't forget to visit the splendid Vincennes Castle!
2 - Bordeaux: the wine capital
France has a worldwide influence on the wine industry with a recognized know-how in enology for centuries. And if Bordeaux is the second most popular destination in France, it's indeed for its reputation as the “wine capital of the world”.
The region is also known for its amazing wineries that are open for visitors if you book it in advance: Château du Taillan, Château Bernateau, Château Lamothe Bergeron or Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
Back in the city center, you can admire the rich history and centuries-old architecture, as well as several fascinating museums like "La Cité du Vin", a wine museum right in the city with a stunning view over the city on its last floor.
For some shopping, you should explore Sainte-Catherine Street. With more than 1,2 km long, it is the longest pedestrianized street in France and a real paradise for shopping.
3 - Marseille: the lively Mediterranean port
Marseille is one of the oldest and largest cities in France, located on the beautiful Mediterranean coast. The harbor has been a major trading center for centuries, and it's still an important commercial port today.
The old port is indeed worth the visit, with many restaurants and bars scattered along the waterfront. From there, we recommend taking a ferry to visit the famous Château d'If, an old fortress built in 1524.
In Marseille, you can also go on a walk up to the Notre Dame de la Garde, an iconic basilica that overlooks the city.
Last but not least, don't forget to take a whole afternoon to discover the fantastic Calanques de Marseille! This famous national park is a stunning set of limestone cliffs, white sand beaches and turquoise waters that should not be missed.
4 - Nice: the pearl of the French Riviera
Nice is a city with a very unique charm and culture, located on the French Riviera. It has a pleasant Mediterranean climate all year round, plenty of sandy beaches along with an amazing southern old-town atmosphere.
The city is home to some wonderful museums and monuments. The Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (MAMAC) is worth a visit, as it houses an impressive collection of 20th Century artwork.
The Matisse Museum is also worth exploring, as well as the stunning Massena place, the Promenade des Anglais and the Cours Saleya which hosts one of the best markets in all of South France!
And if you're looking for a more peaceful experience, there are plenty of street markets, restaurants and quaint cafes to explore.
5 - Lyon: city of lights
Lyon is one of the favorite cities among tourists when they visit France. The history of the city is very diverse. Some buildings were built during the roman empire, which is when the city was founded with its original name "Lugdunum".
The city has always been very prosperous ever since and is now home to a lot of UNESCO classed areas such as the Fourviere Hill and its magnificent Basilica of Notre Dame of Fourvière that overlooks the city, the Croix-Rousse district which used to welcome the "Canuts", the silk workers of the city, but also the Presqu'île, the heart of old Lyon.
To discover more about the glorious past of the city, you should visit the Odeon of Lyon where you can find beautiful Roman ruins that date 2000 years back in time.
For a more modern vibe, you can explore the district of Confluence which is a newly renovated district with a lot of high-end nightclubs, bars, modern parks, a big mall and views of the Saône and Rhône rivers.
Last but not least, for a more relaxing atmosphere, you may go to the Parc de la tête d'Or, the biggest urban park in France built during the 19th century. You will find a botanical garden, a big lake, and special events during the famous festival of lights Lyon is known for.