The French cities that are really worth a visit
The About-France.com list of top tourist cities is all about cities with a remarkable heritage that makes them interesting places to visit. Many are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, but not all. These are the cities in France - both large and small - that have plenty to interest visitors, including but not neccessarily only a fine historic heritage. These are cities with more than just a single significant attraction, cities with a rich cultural heritage and more.
The list below does not rank cities in any subjective order of interest, nor in order of size. With the exception of Paris, which is in a category of its own at the top of the list, cities are simply listed in alphabetical order, with a brief description for each. For more detail, follow the links for each city.
Note that this is not a standard list of the French cities that attract the most "tourists". Raw visitor statistics don't tell the whole story. There are cities in France that attract lots of visitors because, simply, they are big, and they bring in tourists because they have a well-known name, and they bring in business tourism for trade fairs and congresses.
- In a category of its own, Paris is unique in France in being a "world city". The French capital is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, and offers a staggering choice of attractions, including world-class museums and art galleries, multiple other attractions, a concentration of remarkable historic monuments. There are city tours of all varieties, from customised guided tours by taxi, minibus or historic vehicle, to walking tours, bus tours, segway tours, cycle tours and more. There is plenty of quality accommodation and also plenty of low-cost accommodation too... though in Paris, "low cost" is not as low as many other places. More info on Paris pages
Heritage cities in provincial France
- Albi. Southwest France - Located in the Midi-Pyrenees area of southwest France, northeast of Toulouse, Albi is a small city with a fabulous heritage. The unique redbrick medieval cathedral and former bishop's palace next to it are a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the palace is now home to the Toulouse Lautrec museum, celebrating the great French post-impressionist artist. There is also a Roman bridge, and a very attractive old centre. For more details see Albi guide
- Annecy. In the French Alps - Once the capital of the duchy of Savoy, Annecy , nicknamed the Venice of the Alps, is one of the most attractive small cities in the whole Alps. Ot's old city is built on the banks of a river and canals, ond on the shores of Lake Annecy, the most beautiful lake in the French Alps. The old city, the castle, boat trips and pleasure cruises offer the v isitor plenty to see and do, in addition to discovering the magnificent scenery all around. See Annecy city guide
- Avignon. Northern Provence. A Unesco world heritage site. Standing on the banks of the Rhone, Avignon is one of the great walled cities of France. Its main attractions are the medieval Palace of the Popes, and the famous St. Benezet bridge, known worldwide on account of the song "Sur le pont d'Avignon" There are also a number of interesting museums and historic churches, and the area around Avignon has a rich cultural and historic heritage. See Avignon - the papal palace
- Besancon. Franche-Comté, north of Switzerland. The jewel of eastern France, a historic city circled by a loop of the river Doubs. The Vauban Citadel is a Unesco world heritage site. One of the best provincial museums in France. Museum of time, cathedral, Roman arch, boat trips, zoo, Museum of the Resistance. Beautiful hill country all round. See Besançon
- Bordeaux. Aquitaine, southwest France. One of France's great historic port cities, and centre for the Bordeaux wine trade. The city centre has a remarkable ensemble of seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings, notably the Place de la Bourse and the Grand Theatre. Mediaeval gateways, riverside walks. A Unesco world heritage site. See Bordeaux
- Carcassonne. In Languedoc, in the south of France. The most complete surviving medieval walled city in France, saved from destruction in the nineteenth century. A Unesco world heritage site. Access to the old city is free of charge. Castle, medieval bridge over the river Aude, and the Canal du Midi, another world heritage site . For more information see Carcassonne
- Dijon Burgundy, central eastern France. The historic centre is a Unesco world heritage site. Dijon is the capital of Burgundy, and the former capital of the Dukes of Burgundy. The old city includes the former Palace of the Dukes, one of the best free art museums in France, historic churches, other museums and a very attractive historic area with shops and restaurants. More details on Dijon city guide
- La Rochelle Charente Maritime, on the west coast of France. Once a major port city trading with the New World, La Rochelle is now a centre for boat building and ychting. Historic port, Maritime museum, attractive historic centre with lots of shops restaurants and cafés, and the second most visited aquarium in France. Boat trips, beaches nearby. More details on La Rochelle
- Le Puy en Velay small city in the Auvergne in central southern France. The historic starting point of the main medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella, a Unesco world heritage site, it has a very unusual romanesque cathedral, a unique 10th century chapel on the top of a rocky pinnacle, and an interesting small art gallery. Lots of beautiful countryside all round.. More details on Le Puy en Velay
- Lyon France's second city is also a popular tourist destination. Lyon is particularly noted for its gourmet restaurants, its museums, and its Unesco listed old city, which is the largest ensemble of Renaissance buildings in Europe. Lyon also has several museums, attractive riverside walks and the hilltop basilica of Fourvière. For more details see Lyon
- Marseille The oldest city in France has an attractive centre, located round the Old Port. Visitors are free to wander round the old castle guarding the mouth to the Old Port, now a marina: nearby attractions include the mondern Mucem museum of the Mediterranean and the quayside cathedral. There are boat trips round the harbour, out to the islands, or along the coast. See Marseille guide
- Nice is the capital city of the French Riviera, and France's second most popular tourist city. Rightly so. It is a city with masses to offer the tourist. Its long Mediterranean beaches are just one of the attractions. Nice also has great museums and art galleries, a very attractive old city, famous traditional markets, and a lot more points of interest. More details on Nice city guide
- Nantes The former capital of Brittany, now no longer in Brittany, is now the capital of the Pays de la Loire region. Nantes is the sixth biggest city in France, and the most westerly of big French cities. Once a major port, it is now a regional hub. Attractions include the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, the art gallery, the cathedral and the old town. See Nantes
- Nimes Located in Languedeoc, a few miles from the Mediterranean coast, Nimes is the "Rome of France". A Unesco heritage site, the city boasts a unique collection of Roman remains including an arena, a remarkably preserved Roman temple, Roman gates and other sites too. Nimes also has one of the finest city parks in Europe and a very attractive old town. See Nimes
- Poitiers In central western France, between the Loire valley and Bordeaux, Poitiers has a very attrctive old city centre. Highlights include the spectacular Notre Dame la Grande, the 9th century baptistry, one of the oldest churches in France, and nearby, at the other end of the time scale, the Futuroscope high-tech theme park. See Poitiers
- Rodez Midi Pyrenees area, northeast of Toulouse. One of France's "undiscovered" small cities, Rodez was until recently well away from most tourist routes. However the hilltop city has one of the finest cathedrals in southern France, an old centre with some remarkable Renaissance town-houses, and the ultra-modern Soulages museum, one of the top six provincial art galleries on France. For more details see Rodez
- Saint-Malo On the north coast of Brittany. Saint Malo is the most interesting city in Brittany, and the one with the most to offer. The old city is built on a granite rock at the mouth of the river Rance, and is protected by Unesco listed fortifications. Attractions include the ramparts and the old city, historic ships, boat trips, and one of the best aquariums in France. See Saint Malo
- Strasbourg In the Rhine valley, close to the German border, Strasbourg, built on an island in the river Ill, has a very picturesque old quarter with many half-timbered houses, wine bars and beer cellars. Its Unesco listed medieval cathedral is second only in visitor numbers to Notre Dame de Paris. There are also several museums, a historic bridge, and boat trips round the old town. For more information see Strasbourg
- Toulouse The capital of Occitania and biggest city in southwest France, Toulouse is called the Pink City on account of the local bricks. With one of the finest urban plazas in Europe, an old city, several museums - including an aviation museum and an aerospace museum - Toulouse is one of the popular destinations for a weekend break in France. See Toulouse
For other interesting cities, towns and villages in France, see...
- The regions of France - regional guides
- Small towns in France - Interesting small towns with character
- Beautiful unspoilt villages in France
- The best of rural France - some great areas off the beaten track
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