5 French Cities to Visit Now
Ah, France. The country of cheese, wine, bureaucracy and the Tour Eiffel. For many travellers, Paris and perhaps Nice are the most desirable destinations to visit. And while both boast beautiful sights and truly unique experiences, I’m here to argue that France’s lesser known villes have just as much to offer. Here’s five cities you shouldn’t miss on your next voyage.
The picturesque city of Lille is situated near the border of Belgium in northern France. The fourth most populous city in the country, Lille is a bustling town with plenty to offer for visitors. Architecture here differs from other French cities, having had a historic Flemish influence due to their northern proximity. That being said, the city’s cobblestone streets are inviting, and sights such as the Palais des Beaux Arts, two stunning botanical gardens, and public squares lined with delicious eateries are bound to please.
By many standards, Lyon has a ‘leg up’ on the French capital. The third largest city in the country, it’s stunning architecture and rich history has made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s also a major economic epicentre, and was recently rated number 38 in Mercer’s international 2016 Quality of Life Rankings. From pastel-coloured residences and quaint restaurants in the old town to the riverside pathways along the Saône or Rhône, this city is best explored on foot. Many believe Lyon to be the true birthplace of modern ‘gastronomy’, though traditional foods like Lyonnaise sausage and ‘tarte aux pralines’ are as delicious as ever.
Annecy is an alpine city uniquely situated on the shores of the Lac d’Annecy’s turquoise waters, surrounded by wooded mountains and overlooked by a stunning Château from the Middle Ages. For visitors and locals alike, this is a city that’s hard not to be outside in, with beautiful lakeside walkways and swimming areas, the charming ‘old town’, and a canal system that guides past pastel-coloured residences, cafes and the Palais de l’Isle (not in fact a palace, but a prison). On Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, the market in the old town offers some of the best eats, including seasonal fresh produce, regional cheeses and charcuteries.
The history of Bordeaux dates back over 2000 years, and walking through this ancient city will certainly make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time. The city in France with the most historical buildings after Paris, Bordeaux’s architecture is certainly a marvel, and those who take the time to explore on foot are certain to have plenty of ‘stop and stare’ opportunities. Other modes of transportation include the city’s popular tram system and the VCub bike share. Of course, this is a region infamous worldwide for its wine (and deservedly so), so enjoy some indulgent sipping and people watching at one of the street-side cafés.
Marseille (sometimes known as Marseilles in English) is France’s oldest city, and its second largest. Ideally located on the Mediterranean coast, visitors will have no shortage of outdoor activities during the summer months, including daytrips to sandy beaches and rocky cliffs for diving all within a 30 minute drive from the city. The birthplace of France’s favourite drink, pastis, as well as the traditional bouillabaisse will certainly keep foodies happy. Surprisingly, Marseille is also home to a mean pizza scene that could rival Naples, primarily due to historical ties with the Italian region. Between tasty eats, seaside activities, and an endless array of other historical sites and attractions, you’re bound to fall in love with this city.
Did we miss your favourite city in France? Be sure to share it with us in the comments below!