50 Things to Do in France (from the Obvious to the Best-Kept Secrets)
Ah, France. The land of charming villages, delicious food and so many croissants. It’s a country you could spend years exploring and never quite see all of it, especially since there’s so much to see and do in Paris alone. It can be hard to distill the best of an entire country into a list, but we did it anyway. Here are the 50 best things to do in France, from dining in Michelin-starred restaurants to exploring the beaches of Normandy.
1. Ascend the Eiffel TowerStart your French vacation by taking in the sights from the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Pro tip: Skip the lines by booking tickets in advance online.
2. Museum Hop
Purchase a Paris Museum Pass to take in the best of the city’s museums, from the Louvre to the Musée d’Orsay. Don’t miss the Musée des Arts et Métiers, an often overlooked museum.
3. Visit the Paris Catacombs
Head underground to discover the Catacombs of Paris, which hold the remains of 6 million people. It’s equal parts creepy, fascinating and peaceful.
4. Eat a Croissant
No trip to France is complete without a buttery, flaky croissant. You can’t go wrong with most boulangeries, but Paris’s Du Pain et des Idées is notoriously the best.
5. Drink at Harry’s New York Bar
This dingy spot is the supposed birthplace of classic cocktails like the Bloody Mary, and you can absorb the historic atmosphere with a drink of your own. Sit at the upstairs bar for the best experience.
6. Dine at Bistrot Paul Bert
There’s a lot of amazing food to choose from in Paris, but the absolute best steak au poivre can be found at Bistrot Paul Bert, a low-key spot that’s friendly to travelers. Get the prix fixe lunch menu if you’re on a budget.
7. Explore the Palace of VersaillesA short train journey from Paris, the ornate Palace of Versailles was once the home of Louis XIV. Today visitors can explore the rooms and gardens, and learn about the royal residence’s history.
8. Tour Monet’s House and Gardens
Head to Giverny to experience Claude Monet’s former home, which includes the famous gardens that inspired many of his paintings.
9. Sleep in a Castle
Bunk up in an actual castle at Château de Bagnols, a five-star historic hotel in Bagnols that features a spa, swimming pool and the promise of a suite fit for royalty.
10. Indulge at Restaurant Paul Bocuse
Just outside Lyon you’ll find Restaurant Paul Bocuse, a Michelin-starred restaurant created by acclaimed (late) chef Paul Bocuse. Reserve a table far, far in advance.
11. Shop a Food Market
In Lyon, Les Halles de Lyon features endless food stalls and vendors selling all kinds of sweet treats, cheese and local produce.
12. Explore Aix-En-Provence
From Lyon head south to picturesque Aix-En-Provence, which has been home to many artists and chefs. The outdoor market is a great find, as is the Musée Granet and Cézanne’s House.
13. Smell the LavenderThe famous Provence lavender blooms every year in late June and early July. Visitors can catch a glimpse (and a sniff) around the region, but the Valensole Plateau is best known for its purple flowers.
14. Drink in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a mecca for wine lovers, who can tour the winery cellars and taste test the different Rhône blends around town. Don’t miss the ruins of the medieval castle that overlooks the area.
15. Cross the Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard is an impressive Roman aqueduct, dating back to the first century AD, that spans the Gardon River. Visitors can walk across and even swim in the waters below.
16. Eat Bouillabaisse
Journey to the coastal city of Marseilles to chow down on some bouillabaisse (fish stew). Le Petit Nice Passedat has one of the best, made famous from a visit by Anthony Bourdain.
17. Spend a Night in Saint Paul de Vence
Farther along the coast, just north of Nice, Saint Paul de Vence is a walled city up on a hill featuring incredible views. No cars are allowed inside the walls, so it’s best to book a room and spend a few days exploring by foot. Don’t miss the Fondation Maeght museum.
18. Sunbathe in Saint-Tropez
Splurge on a fancy hotel in Saint-Tropez, a beachside city known for its wealth and luxury (or just pop by for the day).
19. Stroll Le SuquetThere’s a lot to see and do in Cannes, but the old town area of Le Suquet is the best spot for dining, drinking wine and shopping. For dinner, try Restaurant Gavroche or Auberge Provencal.
20. Walk the Red Carpet
Consider planning a trip to Cannes during the annual film festival, which is held every year in May.
21. Watch the Tour de France
Every summer the famed bike race Tour de France traverses across the country. Visitors can experience the race firsthand from various points around France, which is best done is smaller towns throughout the countryside.
22. See Rouen Cathedral
Paris isn’t the only French city with famous cathedrals. Rouen has one of France’s most impressive and beautiful Gothic cathedrals, which is a great reason to add the city to your itinerary.
23. Explore the Beaches of Normandy
Relive the history of D-Day at the beaches of Normandy, which continue to be an important historical site. There are several to see, including Omaha Beach and Juno Beach.
24. Visit Mont Saint-Michel
Nearby, Mont Saint-Michel is an abbey and monastery on a rocky island, which is accessible via a shuttle bus from the mainland.
25. Walk the Cliffs of EtretatThe scenic white Cliffs of Etretat can be found along the north coast of France, best seen either by boat or via a hike down to the beaches below.
26. Bicycle in Bordeaux
Discover the vineyards and charming streets of Bordeaux through a guided bike tour. Book with Bordeaux Bike Tour, which offers a two- to three-hour journey around the region.
27. Learn to Make Cognac
France isn’t just known for its wine. The town of Cognac features several iconic distilleries that welcome visitors, including Hennessy, which offers a tour and tasting.
28. Climb the Dune of Pilat
Not far from Bordeaux, travelers can find the Dune of Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe, which draws more than a million visitors a year.
29. Tour a Prehistoric Cave
Tourists often miss the many prehistoric caves that can be found around France. Pech Merle is one of the most famous, with drawings on the wall that date back 29,000 years, and Lascaux Cave is UNESCO listed.
30. Surf in BiarritzThe seaside town of Biarritz, located along the Atlantic coast, is known for its surfing, drawing French tourists every summer. Take a lesson at the Jo Moraiz Surf School if you’re a newbie.
31. Explore Carcassonne
Found in Languedoc, Carcassonne is a medieval walled citadel, with a castle dating back to the 12th century. It’s a great spot for history buffs, but the local town is also a nice place to visit, with charming streets and a stop on the peaceful Canal du Midi.
32. Book a Table at Auberge de L’Ill
33. Ski in Chamonix
The Alps offer some of the world’s best skiing, and Chamonix is your best bet for powdery slopes. Located near Mont Blanc, the high-end resort town is perfect for ticking off an item on a skier’s bucket list.
34. Hike the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail
For more outdoor fun, embark on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, a 140-mile trek through Haute-Loire, Lozère and Gard best done in the spring or fall.
35. Camp at Lake AnnecyThe French love camping during the summer months, and well-kept campsites can be found all over the country. Look for Camping Les Fontaines at Lake Annecy, which has tent sites and mobile homes for rent.
36. Kayak in the Verdon Gorge
Adventurous travelers won’t want to miss the blue waters of the Verdon Gorge. Visitors can kayak, swim and paddleboard while taking in amazing views.
37. Sightsee in Castles
The Loire Valley is filled with historic castles, many of which are open to the public. Rent a car and explore the region with requisite stops at the Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau
38. Explore Conceptual Art
While in the Loire Valley, visit the Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art, an old castle that now houses a collection of conceptual art.
39. Take a River CruiseA great way to experience France is via river cruise, particularly on the Loire or the scenic Rhône River. Look for one of the options from Viking River Cruises, which hit destinations like Avignon and Lyon.
40. Snack on Oysters
Delicious oysters can be found along the coasts of France (as well as in Paris) and Riec-sur-Belon is the place to go if you’re serious about the briny delicacy.
41. Visit a Patisserie
It can be hard to control yourself in French pastry shops, but why try? No trip is complete without tasting a Paris-Brest, a classic éclair and a few macarons.
42. Sit at a CaféOne of the nicest things about France is that it’s acceptable to sit for hours at an outdoor café table and order nothing more than an espresso. While in the country, post up at a table at the nearest café and just watch the world go by.
43. Relax at a Spa
Les Sources de Caudalie is a five-star hotel and spa in Martillac where you can unwind and enjoy wine-inspired treatments (you can drink wine there too).
44. Celebrate Bastille Day
While we have the Fourth of July, France has Bastille Day, held on July 14 to celebrate the 1789 storming of the Bastille. Expect fireworks, festivities and colorful parades throughout the country.
45. Learn French
It might seem obvious to practice speaking French while in France, but the locals – especially Parisians – appreciate it when visitors at least attempt a few words in their language. Consider embarking on an immersive program in Paris, Nice or Lyon with France Langue.
46. Explore a Small Town
Instead of spending a week in Paris, head out into the countryside to discover one of France’s adorable small towns. You really can’t go wrong, but a few to consider include Strasbourg, Riquewihr and Beaune.
47. Holiday in Corsica
People sometimes forget that the Mediterranean island of Corsica is part of France. It’s a great destination for beaches, snorkeling and hiking.
48. Enjoy a Christmas MarketColmar, Strasbourg and Reims are well known for their magical Christmas markets, which pop up every December. Paris also gets in the spirit with holiday markets in Montmartre, near Notre-Dame and at La Défense
49. Shop the Champs-Élysées
Before you leave, don’t forget to buy a few souvenirs and gifts. Head to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris for a vast array of shops (don’t miss the treats at Ladurée).
50. Drink a Cocktail
Say au revoir to Paris with a final drink at Danico, a chic cocktail spot hidden in the back of an Italian restaurant.