The 10 Most Beautiful Cities In France Which Aren’t On Every Tourist’s Map. If you’re interested in visiting France but want to go off the beaten track and steer clear of the most touristy places, these 10 beautiful French cities are definitely worth visiting.
Why Visit France
France received 89 million tourists in 2018, making it the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world. However, there are still loads of places you can visit in France that don’t receive a huge number of travellers and you can even travel to all of these cities by train.
If you like stone buildings, wooden shutters, baguettes, canals, history and wine, there’s no better place to visit than France. Each city has its own unique character, some cities date back to medieval times, and with a huge array of gastronomy, hikes, museums, markets and rivers to choose from, there’s a French city out there for you.
How Can You Get To France?
Driving your own car in France is simple enough, you can hop on the ferry (prices start as low as £80) or ride the Eurotunnel which takes just 30-40 minutes and price start at £68.
Getting to these cities couldn’t be easier by catching the Eurostar (check the price of tickets) and changing at Lille or Paris. Catching the train in France is easy and very manageable with kids. I first travelled alone on a French train back in 1995, when I was just 16 years old, and I travelled from Montpellier up to Nancy, changing stations in Paris. It is very safe and so long as you write down all ‘les changements‘ and don’t forget if you have to change, you’ll have a great time.
Alternatively, you could fly and hire a car at little expense. We always use skyscanner to search for the cheapest flightsand rentalcars for reliable but cheap car rental. Neither has ever let us down.
Which are the 10 Most Beautiful Cities In France Which Aren’t On Every Tourist’s Map? Read below for our top ten list.
Map Of Most Beautiful Cities In France
Mulhouse: 10 Of The Most Beautiful Cities In France
Mulhouse is a city in Alsace in eastern France. The city dates back to the 12th century and was originally named after the German word for mill (Mühlhausen), which is also shown as a symbol of the city. With a strong traditional community and cuisine, Mulhouse has wonderful architecture, markets, museums, parks, gastronomical food houses and lovely walks along its canals.
The 1800s, neo-Gothic Temple Saint-Étienne church stands on the significant Place de la Reunion and has stained glass from the 12th-century. The pedestrian zone around it is enclosed by picturesque houses dating to the 17th century and a warren of narrow streets. It’s a great place for a coffee and to watch the world go past.
Mulhouse has a number of museums, the Cité de l’Automobile exhibits cars dating back to 1878, including classic racing models from Mercedes and Bugatti. The Cité du Train museum showcases locomotives and rail carriages and the Musée de l’Impression sur Etoffes was started in 1833 and now features over 9,000 volumes.
Mulhouse Old Town is unique in comparison to other Alsace cities as many buildings are made of concrete, post-WWII. Despite this fact, Mulhouse features several historical houses beautifully decorated with frescoes and manors as well as bricked houses. Besides the Place de la Réunion and The Saint-Étienne Protestant Temple, you will find other monuments like th townhall, Mieg House and the 13th century Saint John Chapel.
On the outskirts of the city is the amusement park Parc du Petit Prince but Mulhouse is also known for its Christmas Markets
Get the city pass before you go and enjoy discounted entry or the Pass-Alsace if you intend to spend more time discovering this region.
See what events are on in Mulhouse and use the map below to book cheap accommodation.
Orleans: Beautiful Cities In France
Orléans is a city on the banks of the Loire River in north-central France and it’s the capital of the Centre-Val de Loire region. Joan of Arc famously saved the city from English siege in 1429, an event celebrated with an annual festival and Orléans grew from its Loire quaysides in the 18th century as it was the leading port supplying Paris.
Orleans, with its beautiful 13th century St.Croix Cathedral, is one of the oldest cities in France and is the capital of the department of the Loiret. Aside from the re-creation of Joan of Arc’s house, Orleans has museums and lots of them. The Musee des Beaux-Arts features 16-20th century art, the Charles Peguy Centre keeps archives on the writer and his work, the Hotel Cabu Musee D’histoire et d’archeologie showcases 16th century archaeological and historical items and Les Turbulences – Frac Centre offers visitors a new experience of artwork at the heart of innovative architecture.
Orleans also has a fabulous hotel de ville and the ‘Parc Floral de la Source’ is a 35-hectare garden with beautiful gardens, paths and more. There’s also the quayside where miles and miles of walkways welcome you. Don’t miss the enormous bronze statue of St Joan (1855) in the centre of place du Martroi.
The Orléanais have celebrated the liberation of their city by Joan of Arc since 1430. Festivities include a medieval market (5 to 8 May), costume parades, concerts and, on 8 May (also a national holiday) a morning prayer service in the cathedral and a military parade outside.
Get The City Pass before you go or even take this personal audio tour of Orleans.
Dijon: Prettiest Cities In France
Dijon is the capital city of the historical Burgundy region and is one of the country’s best wine-making areas. Dijon is known for its traditional grainy mustard, vineyard tours, autumn gastronomic fair and eclectic building styles ranging from Gothic to art deco.
Dijon’s pedestrian streets wind between medieval houses, churches and Renaissance townhouses and the city’s main square, Place de la Libération, is a fine square filled with cafe terraces and spectacular floor fountains.
Visit the fine art museum, Parc de la Colombieres, the Halles de Dijon (covered market) was built in 1868 and is enormous, the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne (Museum of Burgundian Traditions) has life-size exhibits showing the history of Burgundy. and the ‘Parcours de la chouette’ is a walking route, taking in 22 places of interest within the old city.
You can book activities in Dijon and your accommodation using the platforms below.
Bordeaux: Most Beautiful Places In France
A walled city divided by the River Garonne, Bordeaux is a port city in southwest France. The historic part of the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of the 18th century.
Best known for its Gothic Cathédrale Saint-André, 18th-century mansions, art museums and public gardens line the curving river quays, Bordeaux is definitely one of the most spectacular and beautiful cities in France and one I am always mesmerised by.
Must-sees are the grand Place de la Bourse with its Three Graces fountain, overlooking the Miroir d’Eau reflecting pool, the Cité du Vin museum, CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art, Gothic St Michel Church (the free-standing spire is the tallest building in Bordeaux) and the Quai de Bacalan with its funky shops & cafes.
Don’t forget to cross the impressive Pont-de-Pierre bridge and admire the view over the river. An easy day trip from Bordeaux is a visit to the vineyards and quaint town of St Emilion.
Use the links below to look for things to do in Bordeaux and book accommodation.
Grenoble: Best Cities In France
Grenoble, a city in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France, sits at the foot of three mountain chains (the Vercors, Chartreuse and Belledonne.) and is traversed by two rivers; the Drac and Isère (the lion & serpent).
The city is most famous for its scientific community and thus attracts a good number of foreign immigrants, making Grenoble especially attractive. You might have also heard about Grenoble from skiers and boarders who tend to use Grenoble as a fly-in base for The Alps’ winter sports.
Grenoble is probably best known for its parks, green living and significant number of trams (which make it look similar to San Francisco). The Parc Paul Mistral is huge and has lovely tree-lined avenues however the city of Grenoble benefits from admirable architecture with enormous Rennaisance buildings looming high above you. The Perret Tower built in 1925 is illuminated with lights at night and has a similar resemblance to the Tower of Mordor.
With four museums, there’s plenty to see. The Musée de Grenoble included the famous Matisse paintings whilst the Musée Dauphinoi is housed in the former convent of Ste-Marie-d’en-Haut, on the side of the Bastille hill.
Grenoble’s top activity is La Bastille (named for the 18th-century fortress on its slopes) and hiking, running or cycling up is possible but most people take the Spherical cable cars called Les Bulles that connect the town to the summit of the hill.
Use the map below to search for accommodation and book fun thrilling activities in Grenoble.
Bayonne: Most Beautiful Cities France
Bayonne is a city in the Basque Country region of southwest France, where the Nive and Adour rivers meet. Bayonne is a small city, void of much of typical city stress and often overlooked for Biarritz but we think it’s charming. The Nive River separates the two main neighbourhoods of the city, Grand Bayonne & Petit Bayonne and the Pont Saint-Esprit where the two rivers meet is both beautiful and relaxing and a great spot for pooh-sticks.
The old district (Grand Bayonne) is characterised by narrow medieval streets surrounded by colourful, slender Basque houses. Here you’ll find the Gothic-style Sainte-Marie Cathedral, with its 13th-century cloister, and Château Vieux castle. Built in 1843, the impressive L’Hôtel de Ville is located at the intersection of the Nive and Adour Rivers and was originally home to the customs office. A must-see is the vibrant Les Halles market and if you’re not vegan you can try gâteau Basque, a local delicacy.
Across the Nive river in the Petit Bayonne district is the Musée Basque, a museum devoted to the region’s arts, crafts and traditions. Sitting in the highest point of Petit Bayonne you will find the Château-Neuf built in the 15th century by Charles IV which is enormous but can only be admired from the gates as it’s now a university.
Bayonne is famous for its chocolatiers so keep an eye out for the sweet, velvety tones which it is known for and maybe attend the chocolate festival on the Ascension weekend.
Book your accommodation in Bayonne using the below grid.
Carcassone: Top Cities In France
Carcassonne is a fortified, hilltop city in the department of Aude, in the region of Occitanie. Famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, there are numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times and built inside them is Château Comtal, a 12th-century castle but there’s also a newer town of Carcassonne across the river which most people don’t get to see.
Once you’ve explored the fortifications and ramparts, you’ll realise that Carcassonne is a rather sleepy little city with a nice central square and a big fountain. It does, however, benefit from the Canal du Midi and it’s fairly easy to rent canal boots and pootle up and down the waterway.
Carcassonne’s lower town dates back to the Middle Ages and in 1355 was burnt to the ground by the Black Prince, one of the key figures in the Hundred Years’ War of the Middle Ages, who was upset by his failure to capture the higher citadel. This area is known as the ‘Bastide Saint Louis’ and it’s here that you’ll find typically French bars, shops, cafés, restaurants and charming boutiques.
Great day trips are of the course the vineyards that dominate the region and wine tasting.
Use the map below to book accommodation in Carcassonne.
Vannes: Beautiful Cities Of France
Vannes is another walled town but this time in the Brittany region of northwest France. The old town is known for its narrow cobbled streets and medieval gates and there are a phenomenal 272 historic monuments hiding within the city’s walls.
The Vannes Ramparts walkway and pretty lined gardens are Vannes main selling point. Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Vannes blends Romanesque and Gothic styles, while Place des Lices square is lined with colourful half-timber houses and has a vibrant market on Tuesdays and Thursdays. See the old washhouses and Place Henry IV is a roughly 400 metre public square inside the city walls. The square is surrounded by half-timbered houses with slated roofs, dating as far back as the 14th century.
The Musée des Automates (19th-century mechanical toys) and la Papillonneraie (Butterfly house) are good for kids but Vannes especially comes alive at the end of July when the town celebrates its Jazz Festival. The Château Gaillard (a 15th-century mansion house) showcases an exhibition of archaeology and Vanne’s history and La Cohue, is a museum of fine arts, located in a 13th-century covered market that was home to the Breton Parliament from 1675-89.
The harbour features a wide quayside with plenty of restaurants and boats that cruise the Gulf of Morbihan which is an inland sea and sailing metropolis, famous for its oyster farms.
Check out accommodation in Vannes using the stays below.
Pau: Nicest Places In France To Visit
Pau is a quiet city in southwestern France, located amongst the Pyrenees mountains. On clear days if you take a walk along central Pau’s wide Boulevard des Pyrénées, you’ll be rewarded with mountain panoramas. The boulevard runs from the 12th century Château de Pau, the birthplace of King Henry IV of France and Navarre (which now displays artworks) up to the Palais des Congres at the other. Next to the Palais des Congres is Beaumont Park featuring century-old trees.
Although Pau is charming, it does not have big-name attractions and becomes a relaxing place to visit and will give you a chance to experience a more typical French city. The old town has a number of pedestrian streets that are lovely for exploring and wandering. The modern Place Clemenceau features a variety of fountains and some shops. The main part of the city is on a cliff high above the Gave de Pau River. The train station is in the lower town and the lower and upper cities are connected by a Funicular that goes to the Place Royale.
Pau has several museums, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée Bernadotte, a historic house and the birthplace of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who became king of Sweden and is also home to the Grand Prix de Pau auto race, which has been held there since 1930.
Make sure to visit the Quartier du Hédas. Pont Neuf and Pont de Lassansaa are two of the bridges that cross here and it is a charming neighbourhood with peculiar details such as Tor deu Borreu and steep passageways.
Book accommodation in Pau below
Bourges: Top Ten Cities In France
Bourges is the capital of Cher in the Centre-Loire Valley region on the Yèvre river. It was also the capital of the former province of Berry and the city was first developed under the Romans who built a wall around it in the 4th century.
Bourges is described as a city of art and history and has a rich architectural heritage. The 13th century Saint-Etienne Gothic cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby, the flower garden of the Archbishop’s Palace offers a magnificent view of the cathedral.
Bourges also has many museums. The museum of decorative arts is located in a former 16th-century mansion and the museum of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France is in the former palace of the archbishop. There’s also the Berry museum, the Estève museum and the museum of natural history. Not to forget the museum of the Resistance and the museum of military equipment.
Some other must-dos include the famous Jacques-Coeur palace, a 15th-century civil building of Flamboyant Gothic style ad=nd a stroll around the old, narrow paved streets which are lined with wooden houses.
The city is renowned for its music festival that takes place in April, Le Printemps de Bourges and the 35 hectares of gardens that dot the marsh district (now drained for the canals and lakes) where you can jog, play sports and even sail and canoe. You should also look to visit the Pélargonium conservatory and the Jardin des Prés-Fichaux.
Use the map below to search for easily bookable accommodation in Bourges.
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