If you’re planning to visit France, we recommend making a list of the French cities you would like to visit. This will help you to plan out your travel itinerary. Start with the cities, then research the small towns and villages you would like to visit between each city, and then plan your driving route.
Of course, if you would like to book one of our self-drive tours, we will take care of all of the planning, so you don’t have to! Here we share some of our favorite cities in France that you might like to add to your France itinerary.
Paris needs no introduction; the capital of France is worth a visit at any time of year! You might like to visit in the summer, when it’s hot but Parisians are out of the city on vacation, so it's less busy. Christmas is also a lovely time to visit, when the city twinkles with lights and the smell of mulled wine fills the air!
Of course, the most popular tourist attractions will be quite busy at all times of year, so here are a couple of tips: visit the Eiffel Tower first thing in the morning, last thing in evening or at lunchtime, when there are fewer people. If you’re visiting the Palace of Versailles, book a tour of the King’s Apartment at 9.30am. You’ll get quick entry into the palace and avoid the long queues.
If you’re visiting Paris in the springtime, don’t miss the Paris Carnival! This annual event dates back all the way to the 15th century. The parade starts at 14.00 from Gambetta Square in the 20th Arrondissement, continues along Rue de Belleville all the way to the Place de la Republic, where the festivities go on until 21.00. Check the website for more information. You may also like to read our post on Alternative Places to Visit in Paris.
A stunning view of the Eiffel Tower at sunset (TheDigitalArtist, Pixabay, CC0)
Referred to as ‘Aix’ (pronounced ‘X’) in France, this is undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in France, and also one of our favorites. It is also easy to get to from Paris – just three hours on the high-speed TGV train from Paris city center.
Aix exudes the joie de vivre that is particularly prevalent in the more relaxed cultures of the south of France. Aix’s beauty has inspired many artists over the decades, and as a result there are many museums, galleries, and places of historical interest to see. Art lovers will want to visit Paul Cezanne’s art studio, which hasn’t changed since he died more than 100 years ago. You can then visit the scenic Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a mountain 15 miles east of Aix that featured in many of Cezanne’s paintings. The Musée Granet also has a whole room dedicated to Cezanne, with nine of his oil paintings.
Aix is a very walkable town, so leave the car behind and explore its boutiques, cafes and bustling markets on foot. We recommend a stroll under the lush trees of the famous Cours Mirabeau avenue in the oldest part of Aix. After you have seen the local haunts once frequented by Paul Cezanne, Emile Zola and Albert Camus, you may want to escape the tourist trail. Our Provence itineraries will take you to the charming back-streets and hidden squares in Aix’s old town that only the locals know about. This will help you to avoid the worst of the crowds during high season.
You will love the warm pastel-colored streets of Aix-en-Provence (djedj, Pixabay CC0)
A pretty town on the Normandy coast, Honfleur will be one of the postcards you send to family and friends back home. It is the third most popular place to visit in France and one of its prime attractions is its picturesque harbor. Beautiful buildings dating back centuries overlook the bobbling yachts stationed in the waters. It’s a view that inspired many painters, including Claude Monet.
Stroll through the old town, stop for some refreshing Norman cider and pancakes, and explore the town’s boutiques. Marvel at Saint Catherine’s Church, the oldest surviving wooden church in France.
If you would like to learn about some local historic figures, you might also enjoy visiting the Eric Satie Museum (a French musician) and the Eugene Boudin Museum, one of Claude Monet’s mentors.
The beautiful buildings that line Honfleur harbor in Normandy, France (Pixabay CC0)
At the heart of one of France’s famous wine regions is the Sleeping Beauty of France, the city of Bordeaux. The surrounding region is famous around the world for its vineyards - Médoc, St Emilion, Margaux and Sauterne. Visitors to Bordeaux can even stay at wine estates and enjoy wine tastings with the experts. The city itself – a UNESCO World Heritage Site - has undergone major development in the last few decades. This is evident in the intriguing architectural styles, particularly its futuristic new bridge. A walk along the river quay on a sunny day is the ideal way to experience the city and enjoy Bordeaux’s relaxed atmosphere.
When you’ve finished in the city, the Atlantic coast and the beautiful Bay of Arcachon are not far away. Indeed, Bordeaux offers something for everyone.
The new bridge in Bordeaux - one of the city's architectural marvels (www.twin-loc.fr, Flickr CC by 2.0)
As nice as its name suggests, the sunny city of Nice can be a bit of a tourist trap, welcoming five million visitors each year. In spite of that, there’s no denying the beauty of this popular destination.
From the beachside Promenade des Anglais to the cobblestone streets of the old town, it is an interesting blend of modern and tradition, where multitudes of cultures meet and mix. Nice has a pebble-beach and a warm turquoise sea. If it’s golden sand and sweeping panoramic views you’re after, just head a few minutes out of town to the magnificent St Jean Cap Ferrat. Visit the opulent villa and landscape gardens of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, enjoy the views, before heading to the stunning beach at Plage Cros Dei Pin.
If you prefer not to leave the city, climb the Colline du Château, a hilltop park with dramatic views across the city and Mediterranean Sea.
Nice is also an ideal jumping off point for visiting the gorgeous coastal and hilltop villages around the French Riviera, away from the tourist crowds.
If you plan to be in Nice this February, don't miss the Nice Carnival! And don't forget to bring your most glamorous outfit (check the Carnival theme in advance)! If you are there in May, be sure to check out the excitement of the Cannes Film Festival, just along the coast.
A gorgeous panoramic view of Nice, one of the most beautiful cities in the south of France (Pixabay, CC0)
Toulouse is one of France’s university cities, popular for its alternative vibe, lively music scene and quaint old town. Also referred to as La Villa Rose (the Pink City) due to the warm pastel colors of its beautiful buildings, it is the fourth largest city in France, and has much to offer tourists. River cruises have become more and more popular in France, and a boat trip along the Canal du Midi or the Garonne River can be a lovely way to admire the city. If you prefer to stay on land, Toulouse is another very walkable city.
Start in the old town at the Place du Capitole and head north to the stunning medieval Basilica of Saint Sernin, before continuing to the gorgeous Japanese Garden by the Canal du Midi. Look for the traditional Japanese red bridge and the huge metal dragon sculpture. If you enjoy art, Les Abattoirs art museum often has interesting exhibitions. Finish the day with a drink on a café terrace in one of the old town’s many squares.
A typical street in 'the Pink City' of Toulouse (MaxPixel CC0)
Dijon is the capital of Burgundy, a region famous across the globe for its exquisite wines. It is one of the most beautiful cities in France to visit in the late summer or fall, when the grapes are ripe and the leaves are starting to turn. As well as its wine, the city naturally conjures images of one of our favorite condiments. We’re talking about Dijon mustard, of course! Try some of the best Dijon mustard at Edmund Fallot’s Moutarderie, but be warned: this is full-strength and the real-deal… it is not for the faint-hearted! The city of Dijon is also famous for its gingerbread, which you can learn more about (and taste!) at the Mulot & Petitjean Gingerbread Factory.
Beyond its mouth-watering gastronomy, Dijon has a very interesting history. Historically it was the home of the Dukes of Burgundy, who ruled independently of the French kings for centuries until 1477. You’ll love strolling around the old town, admiring the 17th century mansions, its famous cathedral Saint-Bénigne de Dijon, and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy. You can also visit the birthplace of Gustave Eiffel (architect of the Eiffel tower and the Statue of Liberty) and home of French writer and philosopher, Voltaire. Climb the Philippe de Bon tower for a glorious bird’s eye view of the city and the surrounding region.
Even on a cloudy day, the city of Dijon is lovely to visit (Paul Barker Hemmings, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)
Of all the beautiful cities in France, a visit to this double-walled fortress and citadel is an absolute must if you’re visiting southern France. Just an hour’s drive from Toulouse it is an ideal stop-off point if you’re driving east or heading toward Spain.
Another of France’s World Heritage Sites, historically this medieval city has been one of France’s most important cities. It was situated right at the epicenter of many of France’s historical trade routes, and has been occupied for more than 5,000 years. It did, however, go through a period of neglect in the 19th century, and, incredibly, was scheduled for demotion at one point. Thankfully, it was saved by efforts from the local mayor of the time. It now receives around three million visitors every year, who come to explore and admire the largest fortified medieval city in Europe.
The walled city of Carcassonne dates back to the middle ages (Pixabay CC0)
Planning a tour of France by yourself can be time-consuming if you don't know the country well. Tell us about your wishes for your dream trip to France, and we will take care of everything. This includes the driving itinerary, driving routes, premium B&B accommodation, car hire, private guided tours and pre-booked activities. We can also make restaurant reservations, book concert tickets, and make sure you avoid the tourist crowds as much as possible. We would love to plan a wonderful tour of France - just for you!