The Top 15 Things to Do in France

Villefranche-sur-mer on the French Riviera in summer
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Offering a wealth of cultural and natural attractions, France is one of the world's most-visited countries. The French landscape is also unusually varied with glittering, sophisticated cities like Paris, Lyon, and Bordeaux; quiet, rustic villages in the countryside; valleys studded with castles and vineyards; soaring Alpine peaks; and seaside resort towns overlooking shocking blue waters. Then there's the world-famous food and wine culture, diverse architecture, and rich history, stretching as far as the prehistoric period. These are some of the best things to do in France.

01 of 15

Explore Paris (& Make it Your Own)

Low angle view of the Eiffel Tower in Autumn with buildings and trees in the foreground
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Most tourists start exploring France in Paris, a capital prized as a "city of light," history, and impossible beauty—but also noted for its overcrowded museums, noisy streets, and (supposedly) rude service. To make the most of your trip, carve out a personalized itinerary based on the time of year that you visit, your interests, budget, and whether you've been to the city before. We particularly recommend dividing your time between classic attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral, and exploring more local niches.

Wondering where to start? See our guides to the best things to see and do in Paris, and how to visit the capital in just 72 hours. To get off the beaten path and see the city from more local perspectives, consult this feature on semi-secret Paris neighborhoods, and this one on unusual things to see and do in the capital.

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02 of 15

Taste a Few Traditional French Foods

Car carrying baguettes in Paris, France
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France is celebrated for its food culture, so any trip there should involve a good amount of culinary discovery. Whether you're exploring Paris, Provence, Marseille, or Alsace, make sure to taste a few typical French dishes and treats, from butter croissants and macarons to traditional cheeses, Breton-style buckwheat galettes (savory crepes), and Provence-style flatbreads.

If you're worried that eating out on a tight budget in France will be challenging, fear not: many traditional French dishes and specialties are readily available from local bakeries and inexpensive restaurants. Of course, if you're planning a special occasion, try some of the best restaurants in Paris or Lyon, many of which boast Michelin stars.

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03 of 15

Hit the Beaches & Boardwalks of the Riviera

Cityscape of Monaco and the harbour
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The French Riviera harbors some of France's most sought-after coastlines from the glamorous beach boardwalk at Cannes (La Croisette) to the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, studded with fine hotels, Art-Deco palaces, and restaurants with sea views,

If it's people-watching, glamorous beach clubs, and Michelin-starred restaurants you're after, try the Riviera beaches mentioned above, as well as those in resort towns like Saint-Tropez and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. If it's peace, semi-privacy, and pristine waters that tempt you most, head to quieter beaches at Villefranche-sur-Mer, Menton, and Bormes-les-Mimosa. Learn more about the different towns and things to do with our complete guide for the French Riviera.

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04 of 15

Take a Wine and Vineyard Tour

Autumn vineyards in Burgundy, France show gorgeous fall colors.

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Touring some of France's prized, eye-catching vineyards is something most visitors will want to do at least once. Even if you're not a drinker, it can still be fascinating to explore meandering hills studded with vines, punctuated with chateaux and fortifications. Meanwhile, visiting wineries to learn more about different wine varieties, production methods, and grading systems are key to understanding French culture and history.

Whether you visit Bordeaux or Burgundy, the Loire Valley or the Rhone Valley, each winemaking region has something unique to offer. See our full guide to France wine tours and regions to get inspired, and start plotting your own vineyard tour.

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05 of 15

Explore the French Alps (in Winter or Summer)

A ski resort in the French Alps

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The towering peaks of the French Alps have long served as inspiration for poetry and mysterious tales, and it's easy to see why; who wouldn't feel a bit awestruck by their snowy heights?

Go in the winter for skiing, snowboarding, or other snow sports on some of the world's most popular slopes, then warm up with a soak in an alpine spa or dinner at a cozy inn. In the summer, towns like Annecy, Ecrins, and Chartreuse offer idyllic opportunities for long walks through forest paths, green pastures teeming with wildflowers, and al-fresco lunches at restaurants tucked into the mountainside.

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See Fairy-Tale Castles in the Loire Valley

Chateau de Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

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The Loire Valley in central France is famous for its lavish castles and chateaux, most of which date back to the Renaissance period. Castles like Chambord, Chenonceau, Amboise, and Chaumont-sur-Loire have inspired fairy-tale authors and animation studios, with their graceful turrets and towers, winding staircases, and ornate gardens.

Fed by the Loire and Cher rivers, the region is characterized by fertile plains and wetlands teeming with wild birds and other species. This is also one of France's most important winemaking regions, producing popular whites such as Saumur and Sancerre. Why not visit a few castles, then embark on a wine tour or bird-watching excursion by boat?

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07 of 15

See Mont Saint-Michel and its Jaw-Dropping Abbey

Mont St-Michel Abbey and Bay

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Perched high on a granite outcrop in a bay with dramatically changing tides, the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is the stuff of myths. Located just a couple of hours from Paris and bordering the Normandy and Brittany regions, the UNESCO World Heritage site was founded as a Benedictine abbey in the 10th century. Today, visitors can explore its powerful fortifications, ascending the mount through narrow, winding streets to visit the Gothic church that overlooks the bay.

Exploring the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel can also be magical, not least for the changing light and perspectives that come from the waters drawing back and filing the bay around the Abbey. We also recommend hikes on the wildlife-rich trails around the Bay.

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08 of 15

Visit Lyon for Food, Wine, and History

View of roofs in Old Lyon, France
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Lyon is one of France's most important cities, boasting thousands of years of history. It is the former capital of Roman Gaul and remains an essential destination for visitors interested in French architecture, art, and cuisine.

Lyon offers medieval and Renaissance-era facades in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), Roman arenas and museums on Fourvière Hill, and the grandiose city squares or Bellecour and Place des Terreaux. It's also a gastronomic powerhouse, home to some of France's most acclaimed tables, and lies at the gateway of the Rhone Valley wine region. In short, give this underrated city a chance.

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09 of 15

Stroll the Palace and Gardens at Versailles

The Palace and Gardens at Versailles, France

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A whirl through the Palace and gardens at Versailles—an architectural feat dreamed up by King Louis XIV in the late 17th century—is a must-do day trip from Paris.

The UNESCO World Heritage site draws millions every year to explore its over 2,000 rooms in the central Palace, including the recently-renovated Hall of Mirrors, Royal Bedchambers, and Royal Operahouse. Meanwhile, acres of ornately designed gardens, fountains, sculptures, parterres, two smaller palaces, and Marie-Antoinette's "Queen's Hamlet" offer hours of potential exploration. If visiting in the summer, stay until nightfall to see the musical lights show, in which fountains are illuminated and set to live classical music.

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Visit Prehistoric Cave Replicas at Lascaux

Lascaux caves, France

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While most people associate France with the Roman, Medieval, or Belle-Epoque periods, the marvelous prehistoric caves and wall paintings of Lascaux remind us that the country's history stretches back much further.

Situated in the southern region of Dordogne, the Lascaux caves were discovered in 1940, revealing elaborate wall paintings dating to the Paleolithic period. Depictions of animals including bison, horses, cows, rhinoceros, and one human figure graced the caverns, which have been wholly replicated at the Lascaux IV Center. Although visitors can't see the originals—owing to measures to protect the delicate paintings from damage—the replica is nevertheless breathtaking. From Lascaux, you can explore other prehistoric sites and caves in the region.

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Enjoy the Scents & Sights of Provence Lavender Fields

Gordes, Sénanque Abbey and lavender fields in France

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Starting in late June and stretching through early August, the delicious fragrance of lavender wafts on the air in parts of Provence, chiefly in the area known as the Luberon. Here, wide, blue-purplish fields of the aromatic flowering plant abound, often framed against centuries-old abbeys and rustic houses.

Rent a car to explore the Provencal lavender route, from Senanques Abbey near Gordes to the pretty towns of Sault and Coustellet; in the latter, you can visit a lavender museum and purchase products made with "blue gold," from teas to lotions and perfumes. Some tourism offices in the region offer lavender tours, including ones departing from nearby Avignon.

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Tour the Seascapes of Brittany

Minou Lighthouse in Finistère, Brittany, France

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Stretching from the northern Atlantic coast to northeastern France along the English channel (and bordering Normandy), Brittany is a region of wide, rugged spaces, mythical lighthouses perched on craggy clifftops, old fishing villages, and plenty of Celtic lore.

To the north, the walled city of Saint-Malo and nearby towns of Dinard and Saint-Brieuc are worth a visit; the Emerald Coast is revered for its wildflower-studded coastlines, biodiversity, and unusual microclimate. On the north Atlantic Coast, visit destinations like L'Ile d'Ouessant, an island ringed with lighthouses and beaten by large waves. In the south, the Morbihan Gulf offers calm lagoon waters and impressive megalithic sites, while Quimper and Belle-Ile-en-Mer island boast azure waters, old fishing boats, and plenty of Breton charm.

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Visit Avignon and the Old Pope's Palace

Saint Benezet bridge in Avignon in a beautiful summer day, France
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One of the most beautiful cities of Provence, Avignon is an imposing, walled medieval city with a fascinating history. The Catholic papacy was based there from 1309 to 1377, and a total of seven French popes presided in Avignon during the period, leaving behind an impressive fortified palace, boasting ten towers.

Composed of two main buildings, the Old and New Palace, the structure merits a full half-day of exploration. Meander through its interior halls and interconnected courtyards, take in stunning views over the Rhone river, and explore Avignon's shops, centuries-old houses, charming museums, and restaurant terraces. In the summer, the whole city comes alive with theater and music festivals, making it an ideal time to visit.

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Witness the Gothic Masterpiece of Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral, illuminated for a special event.

Arnaud Chicurel / Getty Images

Located just 57 miles from Paris and a popular day trip from the French capital, Chartres is home to the 12th-century Cathedral of the same name—widely considered to be a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

The Cathedral features delicate, remarkably well-preserved stained-glass windows dating to the 12th and 13th century, a handsome facade with two spires and three distinctive portals, biblical paintings, monumental sculptures, and a large nave and choir that became a model for many others during the high-Gothic period. It rivals Notre Dame in Paris for its harmonious architecture and well-preserved, original medieval art. Go in the morning to explore the Cathedral before enjoying lunch in the quaint little town.

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Swim in Azure Sea-Creeks Near Marseille

Cassis, France and its "calanques"(creeks)

 Pakin Songmor / Moment / Getty Images

Marseille is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city in southern France with a history stretching to the Ancient Greek and Phoenician period. While there's so much to explore, you should make sure to spend a day swimming in the nearby "sea creeks" of the Calanques National Park.

One of France's most stunning conservation areas. the park features meandering azure creeks and coves that feed into the Mediterranean, bordered and shaped by craggy, lush cliffsides. It's ideal for boating, swimming, snorkeling, and diving. You can also catch a ferry from the main port in Marseille to the Friuli archipelago and its pristine islands.

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