Ten inspirational things to see and do in France
It’s the largest country in western Europe and is also the world’s most visited holiday destination.
So coming up with a list of just 10 best things to do in France presents something of a challenge!
A country rich in history and tradition, steeped in artistic culture, loaded with stunning scenery and
positively bursting at the seams with delicious food and drink, is hard to condense.
But we’ve whittled down the options to those things that should be on all French bucket lists.
Taking our eight signature regions – Alsace, Aquitaine, Brittany, Burgundy, Canal du Midi, Champagne, Paris and Provence –
we bring you the ultimate 10 best things to do in France.
1. When in Alsace – enjoy some festive fun
With a big nod to neighbouring Germany and Switzerland, Alsace pulls out all the stops at Christmas when most large villages and towns celebrate a traditional market. The largest of all, in Strasbourg, sees the city become a giant winter wonderland bedecked in Christmas lights and trees. Hundreds of stalls sell gifts, Christmas sweetmeats and mulled wine. Don’t miss the carols in the Cathedral.
2. When in Aquitaine – look in the mirror
The city of Bordeaux has more historic buildings than you can shake a stick at, but our top pick is decidedly modern: the Mirroir d’Eau sits on the Place de la Bourse and has become the city’s biggest attraction. Its 2cm of water gently floats on 3,450 m² of granite. Admire reflections of the 18th century façades or cool off in the artificial mist that rises from the mirror in the summer.
3. When in Burgundy – Sample a Grand Cru
Tucked away in central France, Burgundy comes relatively small in size but big on scenery, medieval abbeys, monasteries and churches and, of course, wine. Three waterways make a play: the Seine and the Saône pop into the region while the Yonne takes in a longer stretch. Hence two must-dos in the region:
Taste some of the best wine in France on the Route des Grands Crus. One of the oldest and finest wine routes in the country, it covers 60km of stunning landscapes, pretty villages and 1,247 climats (vineyards). If you’re there in November, see the historic Wine Auction at Beaune.
4. When in Burgundy – Walk the Morvan
Morvan National Park is something of an outdoor activity paradise for hikers, mountain bikers and anyone who loves messing about on the water. 2,590 square miles of countryside come with mountains, woods and freshwater lakes warm enough for summer swimming. Get off your bike or out of your kayak to see the Chateau de Vaubin. Read more about national parks in France.
5. When on the Canal du Midi – Count the bridges
Europe’s oldest navigable waterway needs no introduction. Now 350 years old, the Canal du Midi is one of the biggest tourist attractions in France and a must-sail for hotel barge and self-drive boat fans. As queen of the French waterways, we’ve picked two must-do activities:
126 bridges feature along the 260km of canal joining the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and offering quintessentially French countryside along the way. Highlights include the bridge at Capestang, one of the tightest and a serious challenge even for seasoned canal-goers; the Tunnel de Malpas, the first tunnel built on a canal anywhere and a full 160m long; and the Répudre and Casse pont canals where the water goes over a bridge rather than under it.
6. When on the Canal du Midi – Be kings of the castle
Carcassonne is the biggest historic draw on the Canal du Midi. Take a walk around the walls of this restored medieval fortress (be prepared for a long one because these walls stretch the furthest in Europe). Admire the turrets, battlements and ramparts as well as the sweeping countryside views. At night the entire fortress is floodlit, the open-air restaurants full of happy diners, and if you’re there on 14 July, be sure to see the fireworks celebrating French National Day.
7. When in Brittany – sail round a gulf
The Golfe de Morbihan, an almost completely landlocked sea with 42 islands, ranks among the most picturesque bays in the world. It’s best explored by boat – better still if you board a sinagot, a typical local sailing craft with a black hull. Treats to discover include the megalithic site on uninhabited Gavrinis, the largest standing stone in Europe at Locmariaquer, the medieval walled town of Vannes, the sands on the Île aux Moines, the coves on the Île d’Arz . . .
8. When in Champagne – crack open some bubbly
This small region is just a stone’s throw from Paris. Laurent Perrier, Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, the most famous bubbly producers, have their headquarters here and Reims stands tall as the capital of the world’s favourite toast for a big occasion.
You can visit many champagne houses in the region from big names to smaller family-run vineyards. See the cellars, some of which hold millions of bottles, and discover the secrets behind the region’s unique méthode champenoise. Visit during the September/October harvest to see grape pickers at work, before sampling the bubbles for yourself. Best of all?
Pick a champagne house where you can create your own blend of fizz.
9. When in Paris – savour a macaron
City of Light, City of Love, city of the iconic Eiffel Tower, endearing Quasimodo, romantic Sacre Coeur, enigmatic Mona Lisa, sparkling Champs Elysees, elegant Versailles… Choosing the best thing to do in Paris is more than a challenge.
We’ve gone for the ultimate sweet morsel, the macaron (or macaroon) and the best place to try this melt-in-the mouth-pastry? Chez Pierre Hermé – crowned the world’s best pastry chef in 2016. He has several stores in town but we like the one on Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, just a few blocks north of Notre Dame. Go for delicious pistachio or cassis, or treat yourself to Hermé’s signature Ispahan, a supremely delicate mix of raspberry, lychee and rose water in one humble macaron.
10. When in Provence – be inspired like the Impressionists
A land of scented lavender, sun-drenched olive groves, hilltop villages, one must-paint landscape after another, and of course, a seriously expensive wine: Chateauneuf du Pape. This region is home to world famous cities and towns including Avignon, Arles, Aix-en-Provence and perhaps the most stunning of all, Les Baux de Provence.
Some of the most famous late 19th and early 20th century painters found their muses in Provence. Picasso, Monet and Cézanne all painted the unique landscapes, but most prolific of all was Vincent Van Gogh. While in Arles he created over 200 paintings, including one of his most famous: “Starry Night over the Rhone”. None of his paintings remain in Provence but the Van Gogh walk in Arles takes you round the 20 places where he found most inspiration.
Self-Drive Canal Boating
Go your own way. Explore the pleasures and treasures of the French waterways.
Luxury Hotel Barging
Lie back and let the skipper and crew take care of everything. Great food. Fine wine. Unique.