Beyond Paris, the Best Places to Visit in France This Year

France can capture your heart in a week but takes a lifetime to truly explore.

One person walking on Biarritz's waterfront

Surf culture and Basque cuisine meet in Biarritz.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

The French have long perfected the art of vacationing and take great pride in exploring their own country year after year. There’s little wonder why. France packs a lot within its borders. There are two gorgeous coastlines, one lapped by the gentle waters of the Mediterranean, the other pounded by Atlantic surf, plus more than 1,000 islands and islets. Inland, as soon as you get away from the big cities—having gotten your fill of restaurants, markets, and museums—you’ll find yourself in blissfully peaceful countryside, meandering between villages and vineyards, or even hiking the slopes of now-extinct ancient volcanoes.

The most important thing is to take your time. You can easily spend two weeks just in Provence or Corsica. So, as you’re researching places to visit in France, do as the French do—pick one destination and get to know it inside out. You can always visit somewhere new next year. Here’s a complete guide on where to go next in France.

Where should I go if it’s my first time in France?

Aerial view of the countryside of Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence: the birthplace of Paul Cézanne and a quintessential Provençale getaway

Photo by Eric Masur/Unsplash


There’s nowhere more quintessentially French than Provence, where olive trees dot the arid countryside and lavender fields burst into barely believable color come June. This is the France that inspired Cezanne’s softly focused landscapes, the France where the sun shines some 300 days a year, and where market day still sets the rhythm of weekly life.

Aix-en-Provence should be your first base. This sun-soaked tangle of ancient stone buildings with creaky shutters is at once a sleepy college town and elegant former provincial capital. A few days is plenty to soak up its charms: guided tours of the olive-laden markets followed by a game of pétanque, the Bonnard exhibition (and checking out the beautiful courtyard garden) at the Hôtel de Caumont, and at least one afternoon spent sipping rosé in a shady square, church bells tolling in the background.

You’ll need a car to explore further, staying in a mas (farmhouse B&B) or two as you go. The hilltop village of Gordes, its tile-roofed houses stacked up a rocky outcrop, is so pretty it’s officially classed as one of the most beautiful in France—and attracts plenty of visitors, especially in July and August, when the French enjoy their month-long vacations. Take your time exploring the Luberon to discover Provence’s lesser-known highlights, among them discovering the medieval village of Oppède le Vieux, hiking through the Foret de Cedres near Bonnieux, and kayaking down the Sorgue River.

How about if I like big waves and taking it easy?

Surfboards on beach (left) and alfresco dining in Biarritz, France

Biarritz, an erstwhile seaside getaway for royalty, is now renowned for its surf breaks and high-end alfresco dining.

Photos by Michelle Heimerman


You can really let your hair down in France’s surf capital, just 30 minutes’ drive from the Spanish border. It’s undoubtedly the only place in the country where you can watch a surfer tuck a longboard under their arm in the middle of a city street on your way to a Michelin-starred dinner. This is France, but not as you know it, fueled by wild Atlantic waves and the richness of Basque culture and cuisine.

That said, the secret is definitely out. Biarritz is now as chic and expensive in some parts as it is laid-back in others. But if you’re not a Parisan driving up local property prices, you’ll find the welcome warm, the surf powerful, and opportunities to try the local hot pepper, piment d’Espelette, plentiful.

Steer away from the fancy Grand Plage and hire boards or book lessons from Hastea on the Côte des Basques instead. It’s not uncommon to see surfers rescued by helicopter when the beach vanishes at high tide and waves crash into the promenade, so keep an eye on the shore as well as the break. If you’d prefer not to get your feet wet, watch the action with a beer from Etxola Bibi high on the clifftop.

I’m all about urban music and street art


France’s second most populated city divides opinion. To some, Marseille is a sleepy southern backwater. To others, it’s wild and downright dangerous. The truth is somewhere in between. While your first impression is likely to be one of charming pastel buildings and a yacht-stuffed harbor, the real beat of Marseille is harder to find.

Street art tours are a great way to get under the city’s skin. The best guides take you away from the waterfront to explore the area around Le Cours Julien. Once dominated by markets and warehouses, this neighborhood is now a colorful outdoor canvas, peppered with expressive street art, cool galleries, coffee shops, and bars. At night, it’s one of the best spots to join the locals for a spritz (or three).

Rap is just as intertwined with the city’s creative soul as its graffiti scene. An ever-evolving legacy started in Marseille’s 1980s heyday can be traced across spots name-checked by the likes of Jul and SCH. If French rap is new to you, the lyrics to their 2020 smash (with several other rappers) Bande Organisée perfectly paint the city’s seedy side, giving new meaning to the phrase “C’est Marseille, bébé” (This is Marseille, baby).

For DJs and epic views, head to R2 Le Rooftop, where thousand-strong crowds dance the night away to everything from hip-hop to house.

I’m looking for art, culture, and photography. Surprise me.

Exterior of Luma museum designed by Frank Gehry

Modern architecture and Roman amphitheaters share a home in Arles.

Photo by Baptiste Buisson/Unsplash


The opening of the Frank Gehry–designed arts center, Luma, really put Arles on the map three years ago. But this tiny, UNESCO-listed southern city has been on the French cultural radar for much longer.

It doesn’t take long to get your bearings. Arles is set around a magnificently preserved Roman amphitheater, where mock gladiator fights enrapture groups of kiddos. Beyond, narrow alleyways lace between ancient ruins and vine-draped houses, restaurant tables spilling into the streets and barely a car in sight. It’s a magical place, particularly during its many festivals and events. Watch flamenco performers dance beneath the moonlight in cobblestone courtyards during FlamencA, held this year from July 29 to August 15, and then go wandering in search of free live music during Les Rues en Musique, which runs around the same time from July 26 to August 10.

The best time to visit is between July and September when you can catch the internationally renowned Rencontres d’Arles, the annual photography festival, which spreads exhibitions across venues around the city. This year, the festival will explore the theme “beneath the surface”, exploring new perspectives and intertwining narratives.

Staying at L’Arlatan, a gorgeously colorful boutique hotel set in a private mansion, protected as a historic monument and renovated by artist Jorge Pardo, puts you in the center of the city.

I’ve eaten my way around Lyon. Where next?

Elegant old buildings reflected on shiny plaza in Bordeaux

Bordeaux has the most restaurants per capita outside Paris.

Photo by Guillaume Flandre/Unsplash


Bordeaux is fast becoming one of France’s most youthful, dynamic cities, with a growing tech scene and culinary offering that easily ranks among the best in Europe. The wine trade, of course, has underpinned the very fabric of Bordeaux since the Middle Ages. Barrels might no longer be rolled down to barges on the Garonne, but you can visit the engaging Cité du Vin, a museum dedicated to the history of wine and winemaking. The tourist office has the most comprehensive schedule of tours and tastings at nearby vineyards.

As for dining out, your options abound. Aside from Paris, Bordeaux claims to have the most restaurants per capita in the country; 12 of them have received one or two Michelin stars. Try the superb Ressources, with affordable and inventive three-, four-, or five-course menus. Expect delicate and precisely constructed dishes, such as scallops with garlic and cédrat (a large, knobbly cousin of the lemon otherwise known as citron) or beetroot or goose breast with porcini mushrooms and caviar.

Seafood, especially oysters raised in the tidal Arcachon basin, is particularly worth seeking out, as is an entrecôte bordelaise (steak with a rich, red-wine sauce) and at least one canelé (Bordeaux’s famous rum-soaked pastry). No matter the season, you’ll always find the very best of local produce on display at the city-center covered market, the Marché des Capucins.

Stay at the Bordeaux outpost of funky budget-boutique chain Mama Shelter to see the city at its most vibrant (and to soak up the views from the rooftop terrace).

Challenge my idea of France and French culture . . .

The old town of Bonifacio, Corsica, surrounded by green hills

The island of Corsica is a dream destination for hiking, kayaking, and exploring medieval architecture in the town of Bonifacio.

Photo by Vadym Lavra/Shutterstock


What if you could lay on the beach in the morning and hike a snow-covered trail in the afternoon? It’s a combo more than possible on a trip to Corsica, the French island neighboring Sardinia in the northern Mediterranean, where vertiginous mountains appear to shoot straight from sea to sky.

Corsicans themselves will tell you one thing: They’re Corsican first and French second (if at all). Fiery politics aside, they’ve got plenty to be proud of. As well as some of the country’s most beautiful beaches (the white sands and translucent waters of Palombaggia and Rondinara in the southeast could be straight out of the Caribbean), you’ll find prehistoric ruins, ancient citadel cities, and scenic port towns such as Bonifacio and Saint-Florent, their marinas crowded with luxury yachts and speedboats.

You can’t see the whole island on one visit, but you can easily link the larger towns, such as Ajaccio, Porto Vecchio, and Bonifacio, driving your way across Corsica’s rugged interior in between. Hiking the entirety of the island’s infamous 124-mile-long trail, the GR20, requires serious commitment and at least two weeks, but you can get a taste by joining one of the “stages” for a day.

Give me rolling countryside.

The brown mountains of Auvergne

Trips to the Auvergne are all about scaling mountains—and rewarding yourself with plenty of local cheese.

Photo by Adrien Brun/Unsplash

The Auvergne

The French love to joke about the diagonale du vide, a vast diagonal swathe of rural France that sweeps from the country’s northeast to southwest. At its heart, you’ll find the Auvergne, the embodiment of bucolic sleepiness, where dense woodland seems to stretch endlessly over rolling hills—actually extinct volcanoes.

This wild region is fascinating to explore, especially with a pair of good hiking boots. Climbing the Puy de Dôme, the highest peak in the chain of 80 or so volcanoes that make up the UNESCO-listed Chaîne des Puys outside the city of Clermont-Ferrand, is a great place to start. You can also follow the Auvergne cheese route, tasting your way through slices of pungent Bleu d’Auvergne, crumbly Cantal, and earthy Saint-Nectaire.

There’s luxury, too, if you know where to look, including at the Hôtel Restaurant Le Pré with its two-Michelin-star dining room. Unforgettable stays also await in the forest canopy itself at the Cabanes des Volcans tree houses (bookable in English via Airbnb).

I want to visit the Riviera, but Cannes isn’t my vibe.

Shoppers at the Cours Saleya outdoor market in Vieux Nice

Kick-start a jaunt around southern France with a few days in Nice.

Photo by Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock


There’s so much more to the Riviera than the glitz of Cannes and Saint-Tropez. Nice, unlike the resort towns, remains an authentic city in its own right, especially when you wander beyond the Promenade des Anglais and the romantic (if touristy) old town into the genteel, residential neighborhoods that stack up the hillside.

Place du Pin, where cafés buzz from the first purr of the espresso machine to the last pour of beer, is the perfect local spot to get your bearings over coffee. From here, you’re steps from the modern art museum, MAMAC, or the start of the walk through the leafy Park de la Colline du Château, which offers wonderful views over the bay. The other essential Niçoise experience in this part of town is eating. Italian influences abound with the border just 30 minutes’ drive away, but the real local specialty is the crispy, chickpea-flour pancake, socca. Try it at Chez Pipo.

Down by the seafront, the Cours Saleya markets are always interesting to wander, overflowing with flowers and fresh produce each morning from Tuesday to Sunday. Nice’s narrow beach is best enjoyed from the comfort of a lounger, sequestered beneath one of the many beach clubs’ blue-and-white striped parasols, cocktail in hand. Or book a stay at Hôtel la Pérouse, up on the cliffs with far-reaching sea views over the sweeping Baie des Anges.

How about a totally untouched coastline?

White sailboat near coast in Britanny

Wild, rugged Brittany is a land of secret coves, charming ports, and excellent sailing opportunities.

Photo by Maureen Cosnard/Unsplash


If you’re looking for coastal isolation, Brittany’s calling your name. Especially out of high season, France’s northwestern tip is still a land of wild and windy coves, idyllic harbor villages, strings of protected islands, and salt-water swimming pools, fed by the tide. Avoid July and August, when Parisians flock to their second homes, and you’ll almost feel as if you have Brittany to yourself. The only downside is you can’t see the whole region on one trip.

If you’re dreaming of sunsets, long walks, and sea swims, base yourself on the northern pink granite coast. The village of Ploumanac’h, famous for the Men Ruz lighthouse, and Plougrescant, Brittany’s northernmost point, are among the best spots to see the glowing pink granite from which the area takes its name.

In the Gulf of Morbihan, to the south, it’s all about setting sail. Some 40 islands dot this protected bay. You can explore them from the deck of traditional fishing boats as well as small ferries that ply some of the major crossings.

True seclusion comes true with a short stay on wind-lashed Ouessant, part of the Molène archipelago, strung out in the Atlantic swell. The four-star Le Sport Ouessant & Spa has an outdoor pool, meditation spaces, and a restaurant serving local cuisine—but only 11 tranquil rooms.

Read more on why Brittany is best seen from the sea.

This article was originally published in June 2023 and was updated in June 2024 with new information.

Eleanor Aldridge is a writer based in Paris and the author of Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide. She specializes in food, travel, and (often natural) wine.
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