15 Best Places to Visit in France

Some of the best places to visit in France are scattered throughout its many regions. There are 15 destinations listed that are often featured in river cruises on river such as the SeineRhône, Saône, Loire, Dordogne and Garonne rivers.

France is the largest country completely within Europe. Although, Russia and Ukraine are larger than France in terms of square miles, they also have land that is located in Asia.

There are several different natural borders surrounding France. It’s surrounded by a few bodies of water – the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay to its west and the Mediterranean Sea to its south.

Geographical borders are also formed through two different mountain ranges. The Alps form its border with Switzerland and Italy to the East. And the Pyrenees it from Spain to its southwest.

Other European countries that border France, include Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.

There are 27 different regions of France. Each has its own unique characteristics. Although, you might find some similarities between certain areas, too.

Some of the most popular places to visit in France are listed below by region. They are listed randomly and not in order by popularity.

1 Alsace

Pont Couverts in Old Town of Strasbourg, France

Ponts Couverts in Strasbourg's Old Town

Alsace is region that is located in eastern France on the west bank of the Upper Rhine. It actually sits on the Ill River, which is a western tributary of the Rhine River.

A very picturesque area with both the Vosges Mountains and Black Forest nearby, Alsace is bordered by Germany to its north and Switzerland to its south. Its beautiful landscape makes it one of the best places to visit in Europe - along with a few of its other unique features.

Alsace is known for its famous vineyards. Being the second driest city in France, its climate is ideal for making wine.

Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace and the second largest city on the Rhine. The ciy’s culture has been heavily influenced by both German and French roots, which is reflected in Alsation cuisine and wine production.

A few other popular cities in France’s Alsace Region, include Colmar, Mulhouse and Kayersberg.

River barge cruises are offered in Alsace - often between Alsace and the Lorraine Region.

2 Normandy

Harbor in Honfleur, France

Honfleur Harbor

Normandy, France is a region that is west of Paris and is probably best known for the Allied Invasion in WWII at Omaha Beach. There are many other interesting things to see in this part of France.

The Seine River flows from Paris to Normandy, and river cruises are a popular feature along this waterway. Many of the cities along the Seine are included in river cruise itineraries.

Le Havre is a port located on the northern bank of the Seine River. It’s  the second busiest port in France after Marseilles.

During WWII, Le Havre was under German occupation during and was almost completely destroyed during the war. In 2005 UNESCO listed the city centre of Le Havre as a World Heritage Site.

Across the Seine River, the city of Honfleur is also a popular place to visit in France. The two cities of Honfleur and LeHavre are connected by the Pont de Normandie – a bridge over the Seine River. Construction of the bridge took place over 8 years, and it was finally opened in 1995.

One of the city’s main attractions is Saint Catherine’s church. It was built in the 15th century and is the largest wooden church in France.

Rouen is located on the northern banks of the Seine River. Famous for its medieval architecture, it is often referred to as the “City of 100 Steeples). Rouen is the capital of Upper Normandy

Mont-Saint-Michel is another place often visited in Normandy. It is a fortified abbey that was built on a small island in the English Channel during the 11th century. A man-made causeway replaced the natural bridge that connected the island to the mainland of France. The causeway was created so that travel to and from the island would be possible during high tide.

Another city in Normandy that is worth mentioning is Deauville. One of France's nicer beaches along the Atlantic coast, Deauville resembles the French Riviera. It is a restored seaside resort that features a mile-long boardwalk lining the English Channel.

A couple of other cities to see in Normandy are Les Andelys and Giverny.

3 Île-de-France

Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris, France

Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris

Île-de-France is often referred to as the Paris Region of France. It’s not only the most populated region of France, it also has more residents than several other countries in Europe.

Paris is the most well-known city in this region, and a very popular tourist spot. It is surrounded by three rivers – the Seine, Marne and Oise.

Cruise ships on the Seine river are a common site as day or evening cruises, cruises from Paris to Normandy, or canal barge cruises from Paris to the region of Picardy, Champagne, or Burgundy.

Paris is a great place to visit in terms of culture and history. There over 80 museums and 200 art galleries in Paris. Many of the famous attractions you’ll find, include the Louvre Palace, the Moulin Rouge, Disneyland, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, and Luxembourg Gardens.

Many of the famous sites are located along the Seine River. The Louvre Palace and Notre Dame are located on the right banks of the Seine River, and the Eiffel Tower and Luxembourg Gardens are located on the left bank of the Seine.

UNESCO added Paris, The Banks of the to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.

The Louvre Palace was built during the 12th and 13th centuries. It is where you can see Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Mona Lisa.

The Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in Paris. It was built in 1889 for the World’s Fair. Construction took nearly two years to complete.

Just north of Paris, the popular white marble Basillica, Sacre Couer, is perched on a hill in the Montemarte District overlooking the city.

The city of Conflans is about 15 miles NW of Paris. It’s a featured stop on most Seine River cruise itineraries. Conflans sits on the right bank of the Seine River, where the Seine and Oise Rivers form a confluence.

Disneyland Paris is the most visited theme park not only in France but throughout all of Europe! The resort opened in 1992 and is located about 20 miles from the center of Paris.

Another popular site in this region of France is the city of Versaille. It’s a wealthy suburb about 11 miles west of the centre of Paris. Versaille Château de Versailles and the gardens of Versailles were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1979. The palace was the principle residence for French Kings from the reign of Louis XIV to XVI.

Chateau of Fountainebleau was home to many kings and queens during the 15th century. The remarkable palace was built in the 12th century. It has 1500 rooms and sits on130 acres of land! The city of Fountainebleau is about 40 miles south of Paris.

Chartres Cathedral is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Added to the list in 1979, the cathedral was built during the 12th century and is one of the world’s greatest medieval cathedrals. The town of Chartres is about 50 miles southwest of Paris.

Although, Paris is considered one of the best places to visit in France, there are many other cities nearby that have much to offer, too!

4 Loire Valley

Chateau de Chambord on the Loire River

Château de Chambord on the Loire River

Loire Valley is an area of about 310 square miles located in central France southwest of Paris. Often referred to as the Garden of France, Loire Valley is a very picturesque region of France. Chateaux, vineyards, fruit orchards and vegetable fields line the banks of the Loire River in this region.

UNESCO added Loire Valley to its list of World Heritage Sites in 2000.

The Loire River is 629 miles long and is the longest river in France. Loire Valley is located between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes – about 170 miles of the river.

Loire Valley is a popular area for canal barge cruises in France. It’s also known for its historic towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Orleans, Saumur and Tours.

And it’s also a popular region in France for visiting Chateaux. The more well-know chateaux, include Amboise, Chambord, Blois, Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau, and Chenonceaux. If you’re in this area during the evening, some of the chateaux offer light and sound shows at night.

Chambord Castle is one of the most recognizable castles in Loire Valley. It’s located in Blois, France on the Loire River between Orleans and tours.

The castle has French Renaissance architecture, and its interior construction has both French- and Italian-style influence. There are 440 rooms, 84 staircases and 282 fireplaces!

Another popular place in Loire Valley, is the city of Saumur is famous for its National Riding School, many wine cellars and a mushroom museum.

5 Aquitaine

The Aquitaine Region, also known as Perigord, is located in the southwestern region of France along the Atlantic coast. Famous for its vineyards, Roman ruins, prehistoric cave paintings, and quaint towns built on hillsides, it is one of France’s most diversified tourist areas.

In Aquitaine the Pyrenees Mountains form a natural border between Spain and France. There are several ski resorts in the Pyrenees. They tend to be less popular and less crowded than resorts and ski slopes in the Alps region of eastern France.

Cruises on the Dordogne, Garrone and Gironde waterways are popular in this region as well as barge canal cruises.

6 Bordeaux

Perigord Medieval Bridge over the Dordogne River

Perigord Medieval Bridge over the Dordogne River

Dordogne is another popular area in the Aquitaine Region of France. It is located between Loire Valley and the Pyrenees Mountains. Perigeux is the capital of Dordogne or le Perigord as the French refer to it. Limestone cliffs, castles and picturesque villages characterize Perigeux.

Some of the main waterways include the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers. The Gironde Estuary is formed just north of Bordeaux where the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers meet.

The Garonne River forms part of the Canal des Deux Mers, which allows ships to reach the port of Bordeaux. The canal links the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The Canal des Deux Mars meets the Canal du Midi in the town of Toulouse.

Bordeaux is a port city located on the Garonne River about 310 miles southwest of Paris. It’s the main wine industry capital of the world and has been producing wine since the 8th century. The historic part of the city is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Not far from Bordeaux, the city of Medoc is also a wine-producing area. It’s known for some of France’s top vintage wines.

St. Emilion is also one the main red wine areas in France. The city is famous for a few other things, though. St. Emilion is a medieval city built into a limestone wall. It’s another one of France’s UNESCO sites.

The well-known Castle at Beynac is located in Dordogne Valley. This area has over 1500 castles throughout the land!

Another popular tourist site – Lascaux Caves - is located near the village of Montignac in Dordogne.  The caves are part of the UNESCO Site “Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley”.

A few other cities in the Gironde District of Aquitaine are Mont de Marsan and Bayonne. Mont de Marsan is south of Bordeaux and is situated on the confluence of the Douze and Midour Rivers.

The city of Bayonne is at the confluence of the Nive and Adour River. The Nive River divides Bayonne into Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne. There are 5 bridges between the two.

7 Biarritz

Biarritz, France

Beach in Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the best places to visit in France. Located 11 miles north of Spain on the Bay of Biscay, it’s a luxurious seaside town that is very popular with tourists.

Surfers from around the world also flock to Biarritz as a prime destination for surfing. In addition to surfing, many people visit the city each year for its Annual Biarritz Surf Festival. It’s one of the premier longboarding events in the world.

8 Burgundy

Chalon-sur-Saone, France on the Saone River

Chalon-sur-Saone on the Saone River

The Burgundy Region is one of France’s main wine-producing areas. Both red and white wines are produced in Burgundy.

The Alps are located in eastern part of the region forming a border with Switzerland and Italy. The highest peak on the French-Italian border is Mont Blanc, on the French-Italian border. The central part of the region is made up of River Valleys.

Cruises on the Saone River and canal barge cruises are popular in the Burgundy Region.

Chalon-sur-Saone is located on the Saone River. It’s the beginning or ending destination for Saone River cruises, which are usually combined with the Rhone River.

The city of Chalon is also known as the birth place of photography dating back to the 19th century. There is a museum in the town that has early photography equipment on display.

Auxerre is world famous for its production of burgundyl It’s the 4th largest city in Burgundy. Some of the main sights in Auxerre, include the gothic-style Cathedral of St. Etienne, the Abbey of Saint-Germain and the Clock Tower located in the Old Town.

Other popular places in France, include Dijon and Beaune. Between both cities there are several wineries.

Dijon is in the heart of Burgundy about 193 miles southwest of Paris. There are many museums in the city. Dijon is also famous for its mustard, which was first produced in 1856.

Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy. The town is surrounded by some of the world’s famous wine villages. Although, Beaune is not one of France’s main tourist areas, many people visit the city each year.

9 Rhone-Alpes

Lyon, France

Lyon, France Where the Saone and Rhone Rivers

In addition to the Rhone River, there are six main lakes. It’s located next to Burgundy Region with the Alps to its east bordering Switzerland and Italy.

The Rhone River and the Alps form the link between north and south France. The French Alps is a very popular tourist area and is great for people who love to ski.

Some of the best cities and towns in the French Alps, include Chamonix, Val d’Isere and Grenoble.

Chamonix is located near Mont Blanc, which is one of Europe’s highest mountains. It’s a large, trendy ski resort town that offers spectacular views.

Val d’Isere is quieter and less crowded than Chamonix. It’s a better choice for serious skiers who want to share the atmosphere with fewer people.

Grenoble is accessible from Geneva, Switzerland and is one of the most beautiful towns in the Alps.

Away from the mountains, the city of Lyon is the capital of the Rhone-Alpes Region. It’s the second largest metropolitan area in France after Paris. One of the best-preserved villages, Perouges, is located near Lyon.

Lyon is located on the confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. River cruises along these waterways are very popular.

A couple of other popular cities in this region of France, include Annency, which is also referred to as the Flower City and Evian, which is famous for its spas, therapeutic springs and bottled water.

10 Provence

Provence – the region between the Rhone River and the Italian border along the Mediterranean - is another one of the best places to visit in France. Some of its most popular tourist spots, include the French Riviera, Arles and Avignon.

The Rhone River, one of the main rivers of France, is on the western border of Provence. The river originates in Switzerland and is joined by the Saone River in Lyon.

Rhone River cruises are popular in this region as well as barge canal cruises on the Canal du Midi.

11 Arles

Roman Amphitheatre in Arles, France

Roman Amphitheatre in Arles

The city of Arles has strong ties to Roman history, which is marked by its Romanesque Monuments. These structures were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981.

Famous painter, Vincent van Gogh, completed some of this most famous painting in Arles, where he lived from 1888-1890.

The Rhone River divides into two branches in Arles forming the Carmague Delta. Both waterways - the Grand Rhone and the Petit Rhone - empty into the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Balearic Sea.

13 Avignon

Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France

Palace of the Popes in Avignon

The city of Avignon is on the left bank of the Rhone River just north of its confluence with the Durance River. It’s north of Arles and northwest of Marseille.

Its Historic centre – Palace of the Popes, Rocher des Doms and the bridge of Avignon – was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is also famous for its annual Festival d’Avignon, which began in 1947.

14 Nice

Nice, France

Nice, France in the Provence Region

Nice is the capital of Provence and is the largest city on the French Riviera. Cote d’Azur, which is also known as the French Riviera, extends along the Mediterranean from the border of italy to St. Tropez. Other popular cities include Nice and Cannes.

Cannes is a busy city with lots of activity. It’s famous for its international movie festival, boardwalk, casinos and nightclubs.

St. Tropez is between Marseille and Nice. It has long been considered a very chic destination. It’s also very crowded.

Cap d’Antibes is quieter than St. Tropez and offers a luxurious seaside vacation. The Picasso Museum is located in a nearby town.

St. Paul de Vence has many galleries, boutiques, fine restaurants, and the world-class museum, the Maeght Foundation.

The city of Grasse is famous for its perfume factory.

Monaco is also on the French Riviera. It’s an independent principality near the border of Italy. The road between Monaco and Nice goes through an area called Corniches, which has winding cliffside roads that offer spectactular views of the sea and of France itself.

Some more of the best places in France that are outside the French Riviera but are still in Provence, include Marseilles, Toulon, and Aix-en-Provence.

15 Languedoc-Rouissillon

Languedoc-Rouissillon, France

The Fortified City of Carcassone

The Languedoc-Rouissillon region is one of the most popular places to visit in France. It’s the southernmost region of France bordering Spain, Andorra and the Mediterranean.

Another wine-producing area, Languedoc-Rouissillon has nearly 750,000 acres of vineyards! That’s about three times the vineyard area in Bordeaux.

The Canal-du-Midi flows through this region featuring canal barge cruises.

Montpellier, the capital of Languedoc-Roussillon, is one of the largest cites in France and is the third largest city along the Mediterranean coast.

Located about 6 miles from the Mediterranean, Montpellier is built on two hills near the River Lez. It’s highest point is 187 feet above sea level.

The Carcassone is a fortified city and is apopular attraction. It’s the largest medieval fortress in Europe and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in France.

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Lauri Wakefield is a travel writer who specializes in  river cruises in Europe and the U.S. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

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