Eight French Cities & Towns to Visit Outside of ParisBy Dana Givens
May 2 2023, Published 12:09 p.m. ET
To see the best of France, travel beyond the Paris city limits to these cities and towns to experience its diverse landscapes.
Paris is a dream city for so many international travelers as one of the top destinations to visit in Europe and worldwide. But there is so much to explore in France beyond its Parisian chic – to truly immerse yourself into the depth of the country’s culture and landscapes means venturing outside of the city limits. From snowy mountain escapes to soaking up the sun along the beach, you can see a lot you won’t experience just staying in Paris.
While the city of love and lights has played the backdrop to numerous films and books, other towns are worth visiting if you plan a trip to France. Here are just a few to consider if you want to get a more immersive experience with French life outside of its capital city.
The UNESCO heritage site in Normandy has a special place in French history during World War II and was destroyed during a severe bomb raid. Between 1945 and 1964, the city was built by a small team led by French architect Auguste Perret, who inspired blending more modern style with the early designs before the city’s destruction. You can see this especially in the city’s churches,St. Michel and St. Joseph, located near the city hall. It is also home to the Museum of Modern Art André Malraux (MuMa), which houses one of the country’s largest collections of Impressionist and inspired Claude Monet’s famous Impression Sunrise.
Home to medieval châteaus and a small university population of young college students, Nantes offers a nice balance of small restaurants - like the hundred-year-old baroque-style La Cigale brasserie and bars for local French fare - along narrow streets in addition to museums like the l’Musée d’arts to indulge in more of the artistic side of the small city.
Located in the French Alps mountains, the town of Annecy is perfect for travelers coming to France during its winter season. Visitors will be attracted to its enchanting ambiance and its 14thcentury style buildings. It is known as the Venice of the Savoie region that borders Switzerland for its network of small canals similar to the Italian city.
In the capital city (Paris), located more northwest, is Rennes. The city is a hub for young creatives, with visitors walking past Fresco sculptures and installations for the public. The architecture is also an attraction as Rennes is known for its medieval-style, half-timbered houses that you can pass in the city square. From there, it’s worth visiting the Musée de Beaux-arts to see works by artists like Picasso and Botticelli inside and the Rennes Cathedral.
For art lovers, Giverny is a small town just west of Paris known for being the rural retreat of the famous French impressionist painter Claude Monet. Visitors can take a trip to the garden at the Monet House, where it is believed the artist got the inspiration for his watercolor-style paintings and learn about his life in the town (unfortunately, no Monet paintings are on location).It’s an ideal day trip from Paris to see the more natural countryside with different hiking trails that offer gorgeous regional views.
Heading down to the southern coastal region is the city of Nice. For those looking to visit France in the summer, it’s worth flying directly into the city’s airport to take a journey along the south of France from the local transit hub. In addition to the nearby beaches, the city has a lot of restaurants and bars to browse throughout the day.
The small town of Eze in Provence is easily one of the country’s most picturesque locations for visitors to see while traveling, along with the French Riviera located near the small country of Monaco. It makes for a nice day trip outside of Nice to see the castle ruins and views of the coast.
While everyone has heard of St. Tropez’s glitzy alcove of elite travelers, Menton offers visitors the best of both worlds sitting along the border of France and Italy with a quieter ambiance, beautiful views, and sandy beaches to indulge in during your stay. You walk across the border to Italy while in town, so you expect to see influences in the local culture.