Planning A Second Trip to France?: Best Cities to Visit Besides Paris

When planning a trip to France, Paris is the first thing that pops into the minds of most travellers. However, there’s much more to see than just its capital city and those considering travelling to France for a second time may want to see what other gems the country has to offer.

France has ranked for decades as one of the most visited countries in the world and it has a number of unbelievably beautiful and charming cities that are waiting to be explored.

Cathedrals, castles, picturesque towns, refined cuisine and exquisite culture all combine to entice you on a journey of discovery of all things French.  

 Being such an extensive country, choosing where to go can be an overwhelming task. You can focus on a number of cities and hop between them or explore a specific region more in depth.

Whichever you choose, you’ll find plenty of nice experiences to enjoy and wonderful places to visit. The country’s top-notch public transport system and planes make it a breeze to cover long distances and get you almost wherever you want to go.

However, for a more relaxed and personalized experience _ especially if you’re travelling post-Covid spread _ renting a car can be highly advantageous.

Driving in France is safe as routes and roads are generally well maintained and signaled. Anyway, for a safer drive, you should explore the different options available in the car rental insurance market.

Don’t let the agent press you into purchasing the policy they offer as it can add quite a fortune to the rental fee and look into the coverage provided by your car’s insurance policy and your credit card.

You may be surprised to discover a much better alternative at this third party rental insurance partner.

The Eiffel Tower at Paris, the City of Love
The Eiffel Tower at Paris, the City of Love

Marseille

Marseille is the second largest French city. Founded over 2600 years ago as a port city on the Mediterranean, it is today a dazzling metropolis. It’s the capital of the region Provence- Alpes-Cote d’Azur and a great destination for sightseeing and enjoying great cultural and gastronomic experiences.

As an important commercial port city, it’s a strategic business hub and a major migratory and cultural crossroads in Southern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North Africa there several cultures living side by side in Marseille.

Due to its proximity to other countries in southern Europe, If you love sea-related activities such as diving, sailing or swimming, Marseille will definitely not disappoint you. 

The heart and main attraction of the city is still the Vieux-Port. It’s not rare to see street performers dancing and playing different instruments. There are also delicious street food, cafés and art exhibitions. It’s also the place where to enjoy the best sunsets in town!

Easily accessible from the Vieux Port, Le Panier is Marseille’s Old Town. This picturesque area is well preserved. Take your time to walk around it, browse the many small shops and sit at a café to enjoy the lovely views. 

Notre Dame de la Garde, located on top of a hill that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, is the city’s iconic church and one of the main highlights. Palais Longchamp and the stunning MuCEM are two of the most important museums in town.

The Palais Longchamp is where the Museum of Art is located and it’s worth enjoying outside and inside. Surrounded by a beautiful park, it’s home to a great collection of paintings. The MuCEM or Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean is architecturally marvelous but it also hosts one of the most extensive collections of Mediterranean art and culture in the world. 

Lyon

Located where the Rhone and Saone Rivers meet, Lyon has attracted merchants, industries since it was founded by the Romans in 43BC. It’s one of those cities where the old and the new is exquisitely mixed and a rich cultural heritage is paired with gastronomic delights and fine architecture. It’s the third largest city in France and one of the most beautiful. 

Lyon is a charming city that surprises visitors with its elegant architecture, vibrant museums and magnificent Unesco World-Heritage-protected Old Town set between the hills of Fourviere and Croix-Rousse, its narrow streets punctuated with characteristic passageways that were used by the silk merchants to transport their products back in time. Take your time to stroll leisurely through the charming Vieux Lyon and climb the old streets of the Fourviere for an excellent view of the city below and access the strikingly beautiful basilica of Notre Dame de la Fourviere. Don’t miss the scenic Place Bellecour where there are many attractions to enjoy. 

There are also quite a few interesting museums such as the Museé des Beaux Arts, that ranks only behind the Louvre in terms of its exceptional fine arts collection. It’s a real must- see with its interesting collection of European paintings including masterpieces by Delacroix and Rubens, Egyptian antiquities and ancient Roman coins. Another attractive museum is the Musée des Confluences, which tells the story of mankind and explores the history of life. 

Lyon has also a fascinating history related to the silk industry. In fact, the city attracted silk merchants from all over Europe during the XV and XVII centuries from. Le Maison des Canuts, where you can admire the beautiful works of silk is one of the best and most enjoyable things to do here. The city is also famous because of its traboules or hidden passageways that are open to the public. Each of them is marked with a small identifying seal. It’s definitely quite an adventure to search for them!

Tourists with a soft spot for history will be delighted admiring the well-preserved Roman ruins. Amongst the highlights we can mention the Odeon of Lyon (an Ancient Roman theatre) and the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls. Back in time, the Roman Amphitheatre could hold up to 10 thousand spectators. Unfortunately, only the middle and lower terraces are now visible.

Other interesting attractions are the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste with its gothic architecture and gorgeous astronomical clock, the Lumiere Museum where you can see where the first film was made, the Parc de la Tête d’Or, which is a wonderful place to visit with its beautiful lake, ponds, statues and fountains. 

Bordeaux

Located in the Aquitaine region, in the south-west of France, the city of Bordeaux is France’s wine capital. It’s definitely the place to be if you’re a wine connoisseur and if you want to enjoy a remarkable wine-tasting experience. Straddling the banks of the Garonne River, Bordeaux is a truly enjoyable city with a lot to offer. 

A port town since the ancient Roman era, it reached its zenith during the Age of Enlightenment in the XVIII century. It is during that time that urban planning flourished with an abundance of Neoclassical buildings. While the Old Town is absolutely charming and walkable, the Place de la Bourse highlights the city’s role as a center of commerce while Le Grand Theatre with its lavish interiors and stunning chandeliers shows the remarkable influence that Bourdeaux had on humanism.  

The city is also famous for its thriving university community whose fun and vibrant vibe and modernism contrast sharply with impressive buildings such as the Place de la Bourse or the Porte Cailhu. 

Bordeaux’s city center is known as the Pedestrian Zone. Take your time to stroll the area quietly and enjoy the over 350 historic structures and landmarks that can be found here and there. Amongst them we can mention: a Roman amphitheatre, medieval churches and charming old bridges as Ponte de Pierre.The city’s waterfront is also a magnet for tourists. Make sure you explore the several quays with their markets and designer outlet shops, admire the stunning views of the river and enjoy a delicious meal in any of the lovely restaurants. 

Needless to say, no trip to Bordeaux would be complete without a road trip through the surrounding wine country. It’s definitely one of the best things to do as you’ll be able to admire incredible scenery, picturesque villages, chateaux and vineyards. Some of the must-visit wineries are Sauternes, Saint-Emilion and Medoc. If you’re a true wine lover don’t miss the Cite du Vin Museum, a world-class museum devoted to exploring the history and culture of French wines and vineyards.  

Other interesting attractions in Bordeaux are the Musee d’Aquitaine, the Big Bell of Bordeaux, the Cathedral of Saint-André, the Miroir d’Eau, the Basilica of Saint Michael, Rue Sainte-Catherine, Jacques Chaban-Delmas Bridge, Basilica of Saint Michael, the Place des Quinconces and the Museum of Fine Arts. If you love panoramic views, climb up the 299 steps to the top of Pey-Berland Tower _ a gothic bell tower built next to the Cathedral Saint-André. 

Strasbourg

With its strategic setting on the west bank of the Rhone, Strasbourg has been disputed over and over by France and Germany throughout its long history. Capital of the Alsace region, it now offers a fascinating and exquisite blend of the French and German cultures.

It’s one of the seats of the European Parliament and several other EU institutions. The city is famous for its charming Christmas markets, cultural treasures and wonderful medieval architecture.  

Strasbourg is also an interesting destination for wine lovers. It’s the main starting point for the Alsace Wine Route and gives travelers the chance of tasting the delicious Alsatian wines. But before this, take your time to explore this beautiful city. Take a stroll through the Grande-Ile, the historic centre of Strasbourg.

Together with Neustadt or New Town, it’s recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The heart of the Grande-Ile is occupied by the Strasbourg Cathedral, an impressive masterpiece of gothic architecture and one of the cultural highlights of the city. It has an astronomical clock that offers daily shows and it’s possible to climb partway up the spire and enjoy incredible views of the Rhine River.

There are plenty of interesting museums to visit as well. You can’t miss the Musee Alsacien and the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain is also exquisite. Other cultural highlights are the Palais Rohan, Place Kléber, Parc de l’Orangerie or  the Palais de l’Europe. La Maison Kammerzell is another beautiful thing to do in Strasbourg; it’s a jewel of renaissance architecture with its charming half-timbered facade.

Don’t forget to spend some time wandering the streets of the famous La Petite France, with its canals, cobbled streets, and pretty architecture. 

Toulouse

Toulouse, also known as the Pink City due to its rose-colored buildings, is the fourth largest city in France. It has bustling markets, a vibrant music scene, picturesque and peaceful areas to walk around and an energetic university community.

It’s one of those places that exquisitely combine the old and  the new, medieval architecture with the active student life and an avant-garde art scene. 

Perched between the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi in the Occitanie region, there’s plenty to see and do in Toulouse.

Amongst the highlights of the city we can mention the Musee des Augustins, Toulouse Cathedral, Pont Neuf, the Couvent des Jacobins with its breathtaking high-vaulted ceiling and peaceful cloister and the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, a Romanesque church that dates from the XI century.

The city’s main square, Place du Capitole is a lively and enjoyable place filled with cafés and restaurants. 

Toulouse is the largest center for aerospace in Europe. That said, no visit to the city would be complete without some space exploration.

The Cité de l’Espace is an interactive science museum focused on space and the l’envol des Pionniers is an interactive aeronautics exhibition exploring the history of French long-haul flights.

Do you like shopping? Don’t miss Carmes and St Georges districts! And when hungry, head to Esquirol or Rue du Taur where you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants.  

Colmar

Situated in the Alsace region, Colmar is a charming small town close to Germany that has seduced tourists with its stunning old town, cobblestone alleys, delightful canals and distinctive houses.

Colmar is a picturesque city and, as you wander around you won’t help feeling that you’ve been transported to a fairy tale! You can take a ride on one of the little tourist trains and learn more about this lovely place or opt for a boat ride in Petite Venice and enjoy one of the most romantic ways of discovering the area.  

It’s the home of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (the artist behind the Statue of Liberty) and you can learn more about him at the Bartholdi Museum. Go inside the St Martin’s Church and the Dominican Church, as both the architecture and the artwork are impressive.

The Toy Museum and Musee Unterlinden, an art and history museum inside a former convent are also popular attractions. Make sure to visit the beautiful Carrousel 1900 in Parc du Champ du Mars!  

Hungry or thirsty? Head to the covered market and get ready to sample delicious dishes of Alsatian food and the tasty local wine.

Arles

Arles will be forever related to Vincent Van Gogh as the Dutch artist painted some of his most memorable pieces while living here from 1888 to 1889.

It’s possible to download a Van Gogh Walking Tour Map that connects the sites where the artist painted and you can also appreciate his genius at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh. That’s really a must-do in Arles if you are into art.

Located in the Provence, Arles is a picturesque and charming city with a wealth of classical antiquities and Romanesque stonework, quarried-stone buildings and shuttered town houses that cast a shade over the graceful streets and squares of the Old Town.

When Julius Caesar defeated Marseille in the I century BC, Arles was transformed into an important Roman city with thermal baths, a hippodrome, a theatre, an arena and aqueducts. Much of this glorious past can be still appreciated today.

Giverny

Located on the border of Normandy, Giverny is most famous for being the site of Claude Monet’s cherished riverside house and garden, both of which can now be visited by the general public. It’s easily one of the most stunning places to visit in France and a must-see destination if you admire Monet’s works.

Planted by Monet himself, the walled water garden features white and purple wisterias, water lilies, weeping willows and the iconic green Japanese bridge!

Monet’s house and its surrounding garden is one of the main reasons why people come to Giverny! But there are also picturesque shops, charming cafés and an Impressionist Museum that is also worth visiting!