6 must-visit destinations in France
From tried-and-true Paris to storybook Strasbourg, these French cities never disappoint.
With breathtaking architecture, delectable cuisine, inimitable fashion, and museums bursting with internationally renowned artwork, there is something for everyone among the villes de France. It’s difficult to name the best cities given the plethora of delightful locations to choose from, but we've narrowed down the options to a few favorites.
Best for: Historic sights and romantic vibes
Beauty and romance permeate almost every corner of the French capital. From the remote allure of Ile de la Cite (an island snugly anchored in the Seine and connected to the city by the Pont-Neuf) to world-class museums like the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, Paris never ceases to amaze. Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining: Should you choose a leisurely meal at a local brasserie like Au Pied de Cochon, a quick bite at a bistro like Le Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, or indulge in a Michelin-starred meal at a spot like chef Tom Meyer’s Granite? (You can’t go wrong with any path, so try to fit them all in.)
Shopping is unparalleled, with spots like Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann and, in the 8th arrondissement, the Golden Triangle—a hub for the city’s luxury brands like Chanel and Hermes, where browsing is almost as fun as buying. Follow up a shopping session with a visit to a historic monument like Notre Dame Cathedral or the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees. And, of course, the nightlife can be just as exciting as your daytime itinerary, with late-night joints like Café Charbon and legendary music hall Moulin Rouge for the cancan.
Best for: Architecture and dining
Situated on the French Riviera, the resort town of Nice beckons with the deep-blue waters of the Baie des Anges. The Promenade de Anglais is a beautiful pedestrian avenue that follows the curve of the bay and overlooks spectacular ocean scenes. In the Vieille Ville (Old Town), charming cobblestone streets boast historic monuments like the 17th-century Cathedral St. Nicolas and the Palais Lascaris, an emblem of Baroque opulence.
Nicoise dishes like the traditional socca, a chickpea pancake cooked in olive oil, can be enjoyed at eateries like L’epicurie Georges. Experience the best of the city’s fine dining at Michelin-starred spots like Jan. Nice becomes even more exciting once the sun sets at nightlife spots like Les Distilleries Ideales, home to a particularly ornate bar that has to be seen in person. For over-the-top fun, head straight to Tipsy.
Best for: Dining and live music
Lyon—which is officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—boasts fascinating history that dates back 2,000 years. This thriving cultural center includes the Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in a former Benedictine abbey. Don’t miss the Lyon Confluence, a former industrial district that has transformed into a neighborhood with new shops, restaurants, and its own science and anthropology museum.
Gastronomes will savor Lyonnaise specialties like paté en croute or pike dumpling with Nantua sauce at a local bouchon, a type of restaurant only found in Lyon that serves hyper-local dishes. Check out the homey Daniel et Denise Crequi, complete with its iconic red-and-white tablecloths, or the more modern Le Bouchon des Cordeliers—happily, both go traditional when it comes to the fare. The buzzy nightlife in Lyon includes the offbeat La Faute aux Ours and the moody, Victorian-inspired Monkey Club cocktail bar. Music lovers can enjoy a variety of jazz sets at Le Hot Club, founded in 1948 by a group of arts students.
Best for: Wine and antiques
Best known for the wine that comes from its surrounding vineyards, Bordeaux offers much more than a perfect glass of red. Situated on the River Garonne, the city features narrow medieval streets and grand monuments like St. Andre Cathedral and the riveting Place de la Bourse. Antique hunters will love markets like Village Notre-Dame in the lovely Chartrons.
There are more relics to be found at the quintessentially French brasserie Le Passage Saint-Michel, which stores its salvaged pieces in a store-cum-café next door. It’s set on a grand square near the flamboyantly gothic 14th-century Basilica of Saint Michel.
Best for: Museums and nightlife
This port city is the second-most populous city in France and a thriving multicultural hub. Once considered gritty and dangerous, Marseille has revitalized its standing among French metropolises thanks to a spate of new museums like The MuCEM and renewed interest in iconic architecture like Le Corbusier’s Cite Radieuse, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Once a Greek settlement, Le Panier is the city’s oldest quarter and features steep streets and an artsy vibe, thanks to hidden squares and hip boutiques.
Here, dining stalwarts like Le Petit Nice Passedat—a local favorite since it opened in 1917—go head-to-head with more modern eateries like Les Bords De Mer, which is located in a renovated Art Deco hotel. Marseille’s nightlife is electric, including Cabaret Aleatoire where partygoers can dance all night in strobe-lit caverns. For those in the mood for a quieter evening, check out Friche la Belle de Mai, which boasts a rooftop with DJs, local brews, and stunning sunset views.
Best for: Historic architecture and dining
This sweet city is a delightful mix of French and German cultures. It makes sense, given Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, a French region snuggled along the border between the two nations. Storybook-pretty with crooked half-timbered houses and the gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame (dating back to 1439), this city is an architectural wonderland. The historic neighborhood of La Petite France is dotted with 16th-century buildings, while the Centre-ville de Strasbourg comes alive during the holiday season with festive Christmas markets.
The dining scene is a blend of French and German delicacies. Check out Au Crocodile, established in 1890, which serves up French haute cuisine. Alternatively, dine on hearty German-inspired fare at Restaurant Guntlerhoft. Strasbourg is a university town, which means there are plenty of nightlife options. Work up a sweat on La Salamandre’s dance floor or grab a drink at a winstub (a name for an Alsatian tavern) like Le Clou. For a change of pace, head to Popartiserie, which features an art gallery, wine bar, and concert venue.