Deciding what cities in France to visit can be tricky. Everyone knows that Paris is a timeless travel destination. But where should you go to extend your French vacation?
I’m a Paris, France local who’s spent the last decade exploring the best cities and towns throughout France. I’ve put together this list of where to go in metropolitan France to make your trip planning easier.
Ready to travel? Let’s go!
Table of Contents
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15 Best French Cities
France’s capital city dazzles visitors with its classic architecture and ancient monuments.
Paris is where most international visitors to France fly into. But don’t let this be your only experience with Paris! The French capital has world-class museums, incredible restaurants, and stunning architecture.
First-time visitors should begin with the classic attractions. Visit the Louvre Museum, Café de Flore, and the Luxembourg Gardens. Returning visitors should branch out and enjoy more local areas in Paris by exploring all the unique neighborhoods in Paris.
You’ll be surprised at how intimate Paris can feel. Its municipal population is just over two million which is small among major cities. (The urban area population, including the suburbs, is much larger: around 11 million.)
👉 Related Reading: 5-Day Paris itinerary
This multicultural area with its half-timbered houses blends the best of France, Germany, and Europe.
Strasbourg is one of the major cities in France that doesn’t feel like other French cities. It’s home to the European Parliament. This gives it an international population as a “European capital” that’s important to the European Union. France and Germany struggled over this region for centuries. This gives Strasbourg a slightly German character.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region, so it’s a great base for wine tasting. It’s filled with beautiful architecture, too. Focus your first trip around “La Petite France,” the historic center on Strasbourg’s central island. This is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site section of the city.
This stunning “Pink City” will charm everyone from food lovers to university students.
Toulouse is a terra-cotta metropolis that contains far more than just the pink buildings that give the city its nickname. Toulouse, in the South of France, is a vibrant university town, aerospace center, and food-lovers paradise.
Be sure to explore the local cuisine while in Toulouse. Terrine (loaves of pâté) and cassoulet (a slow-cooked stew) are specialties. Meanwhile, the Cité de l’Espace is the perfect museum for science lovers interested in astronomy.
This mountain city stuns visitors with its pure lake water and important medieval art.
Annecy is one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern France and the French Alps. This hidden gem’s main attraction is Lake Annecy, making it perfect for nature lovers. Lake Annecy is the purest lake in Europe, as locals have protected it with conservation efforts for over five decades.
The lake makes summer the best time to visit Annecy for water sports and local hikes through the mountains. If castles appeal to you more than natural panoramas, check out the Château d’Annecy and the Château de Clermont.
This port city in France provides bohemian fun alongside breathtaking sea views.
Marseille is the oldest city in France. Yet, it has a surprisingly young feel to it. Marseille is also just unique among cities in France because classifying its region is hard to pin down. The street art and street food combined with historic monuments and museums make Marseille a vibrant mix.
Check out the Cours Julien for graffiti, some of which dates back forty years. Marseille also has tons to offer visitors in terms of traditional sites. After all, it is the second biggest city in Metropolitan France.
Wander around Marseille’s beautiful coastline. Then, head up to Notre Dame de la Garde for spectacular views of the city.
This small city will appeal to nature lovers and beach seekers with its gorgeous coast.
Biarritz, in Southwest France, is one of the smaller cities in Metropolitan France. It has a lower urban area population compared to other cities in France. Yet, its energy differs from that of most French towns. The spectacular views and hotels have given Biarritz a glamorous and international history.
Biarritz’s small size also makes it walkable. You can go easily from the main beach to the historic lighthouse to the maritime museum and aquarium in around half an hour.
History buffs will fall in love with this smaller city and its Roman ruins in the South of France.
The southern city of Nîmes has a history dating back to Roman times. This history is still visible in the city’s monuments. The Roman amphitheater in the city’s center hosts “spectacles” that celebrate the city’s history in the summer. Meanwhile, you can still visit the “Maison Carrée,” a well-preserved ancient temple.
Nîmes’ southern location makes the city very hot in summer. However, it has the feeling of a smaller town at this time, with friendly locals and vendors. If you like the heat, this is the place for you!
This “city of a thousand fountains” is the perfect destination for architecture lovers.
This city of Aix-en-Provence is a great base for touring the Provence region. Its nickname, “City of a Thousand Fountains,” holds true: you’ll see many fascinating examples. The city’s markets are top-notch and make this one of the best French cities for cooks. The flower market (Marché aux Fleurs) is particularly impressive.
Aix-en-Provence is also wonderful for pedestrians, as many of its narrow cobblestone streets don’t allow cars. Finally, music lovers should check the local conservatory’s schedule. This is one of the best music schools in the country!
This sun-soaked Riviera haven has been a ritzy destination for luxury travelers for centuries.
Nice will appeal to art lovers and beach lovers alike. Nice is one of the main cities on the French Riviera and is pedestrian-friendly. Its “Promenade des Anglais” walk along the coast provides great views of the water. Go inland for charming cobblestone streets. I also recommend visiting the Matisse Museum.
Nice’s place on the map, between Monaco and Antibes, makes it a good base for a French Riviera trip. Just know that Nice can get very hot in summer, so spring and fall are the best times to visit.
This volcano-surrounded city offers both challenging hikes and a lively indie arts scene.
Clermont-Ferrand is a university city but it’s far more than just a student destination. Volcanic mountains surround the urban Clermont-Ferrand area. You can explore these mountains on a walking tour. You can also visit the Vulcania museum and amusement park for a volcano-based adventure.
Clermont-Ferrand is also known for its indie arts scene. The city frequently hosts concerts, short film screenings, and other artistic events.
Food lovers will adore Lyon’s adventurous restaurants and vibrant market scene.
Lyon is one of the major cities in Metropolitan France with the second-largest municipal population. But don’t let the size of this urban area fool you. Although Lyon is one of France’s largest cities, it’s also one of the friendlier cities in France. And it’s a paradise for foodies.
The urban area of Lyon has twenty-one Michelin-starred restaurants. However, you don’t need to spend a ton to eat well in Lyon. Local bistros serve top-notch specialties like quenelle and praline tarts. A food tour in Lyon is also a great idea, as it’s one of the best things to do in France.
📚 Related Reading: Lyon is a great day trip from Paris at just two hours away.
This wine-country city is a beautiful base from which to explore the surrounding vineyards.
Bordeaux isn’t just a wine region. It’s also one of the main cities in Southwestern France. Its role as one of France’s major cities is clear from its architecture and monuments, which are clean and well-preserved. And of course, visiting restaurants in Bordeaux is a great way to sample local wines.
Bordeaux is a great stop on a tour of Metropolitan France because it has a more intimate feel than Paris. At the same time, Bordeaux offers excellent dining with more than twenty Michelin-starred restaurants.
This Northern France municipality features bustling student life and access to the Loire and Brittany regions.
Nantes is a key urban area for history fans, located in Northern France between Brittany and the Loire Valley. Its old town looks small on a map. However, you’ll find a ton of important monuments to visit.
Nantes’ rich historical heritage includes grand buildings. Check out the 15th-century Château des Ducs de Bretagne and the Église Saint-Clement church. However, you can also get a taste of history just by wandering through the streets. Look for statues of King Louis XVI and General Cambronne.
This Loire Valley capital has all the charm of a small town while acting as a gateway to wine country.
Tours is an important university city. However, its relatively small size gives its neighborhoods a small-town feel. Tours has beautiful gardens. Check out the botanical gardens, the Prébendes d’Oé garden, and the gardens surrounding the Château de Villandry.
Architecture and art fans will also have plenty to do. Visit the Cathédral Saint-Gatien and the Basilique Saint-Martin de Tours. The Museum of Fine Arts, in a former bishop’s palace, has an important collection of masterpieces.
👉 Read Next: Best Places to Live in France
This small city displays its immense historical importance in WWII with pride.
Dunkirk is not one of France’s major cities—but it’s not a tiny town either. Instead, this medium-sized urban area in Northeastern France is perfect for anyone interested in the Second World War. Therefore, it’s one of the major cities for World War II buffs in France.
First, visit the Beach of Malo-Le-Bans to see where the Allied evacuation took place. Then, go to the Dunkirk 1940 Museum to learn more about the evacuation. Lastly, the Port Museum features ships dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
👉 Pro Tip: Normandy can get a lot of rain in spring and fall, so bring rain gear if you plan to visit then.
FAQs about Cities in France
What are the largest cities in France by population?
How many cities does France have?
There are 42 cities in France with populations over 100,000. This French statistical data comes from INSEE, France’s National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies.
All of the cities in France have a unique character. There’s everything from UNESCO World Heritage Sites to street art! I hope this guide was useful in helping you plan the ultimate trip to the best places to go in France.
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