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Top 10 City Break Destinations in France

Posted on August 14, 2020 by Gillian Thornton
Strasbourg Alsace France

Before you visit the attractions mentioned below, it’s important to check their website information. Even if the attraction is open, you might need to pre-book and follow local guidelines on social distancing. Check if you need to wear a face covering during your visit.

Think about a French city break and many people immediately think of Paris. But France has many other wonderful cities too.

Here are ten of my favourite French cities to inspire your next adventure…

1. Lille

This historic textile town underwent a major transformation and is now a vibrant cultural centre. It takes just over an hour to get to Lille from London by Eurostar.

Enjoy the elegant heritage buildings round the Grand Place and the outstanding Fine Arts Museum, then browse the designer boutiques and soak up the city’s café culture, events programme and buzzing lifestyle.

2. Strasbourg

Capital of the Alsace region, this stylish city on the Rhine is home to the European Parliament and Council of Europe.

Cruise the canals for a tranquil view of the half-timbered Petite France district, the covered bridges and Vauban Dam. Then stroll the historic centre on foot to the soaring Gothic cathedral.

3. Chartres

Northern gateway to the Loire Valley and just an hour from Paris by high-speed train, Chartres is renowned for the rich colours of its cathedral windows.

Visit the nearby Stained Glass Museum to see reproductions at eye level and maybe book a Pilgrim’s Tour of the cathedral by candlelight. Visit between April and October for the Chartres en Lumières free light festival played out on 24 historic buildings.

4. La Rochelle

Jewel of the French Atlantic Coast, La Rochelle’s Vieux Port is bordered by photogenic twin towers.

Stroll the quaysides to watch the boats; visit the aquarium and museum of floating ships; and stroll the picturesque arcades to find a scrumptious seafood lunch. Need to relax? Then cross the road bridge to Ile de Ré to relax on a sandy beach or maybe hire a bike to explore the cycle trails.

5. Lyon

UNESCO-listed (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for 2,000 years of urban history, Lyon delivers on every level.

Twin Roman theatres; a glorious Renaissance old town with hidden courtyards and secret passages; elegant Belle Epoque mansions and squares; and the buzzing new Confluence district where the Rhône and Saône converge. Plus, Sunday morning markets and a myriad of museums including the Lumière brothers, pioneers of cinema.

6. Bordeaux

Located on the Garonne river at the heart of the vineyards, Bordeaux is an elegant and historic river port with a real contemporary buzz.

Tour the interactive Musée du Vin; watch the changing patterns of light and cloud in the Water Mirror; and browse the boutiques and wine bars of Rue Sainte-Catherine and the Triangle district, not forgetting a self-guided walking tour through the historic centre.

7. Arles

Northern gateway to the Camargue, the largest area of wetland in France, Arles boasts an outstanding Roman heritage. Book a seat in the Roman arena for the famous bull races (don’t worry, no bull is ever harmed) and walk in Roman footsteps through the theatre and public baths.

Van Gogh spent his most productive period in Arles and Picasso donated 57 drawings to the Réattu Fine Arts Museum.

8. Marseilles

Resist, if you can, the colour and vibrancy of Marseilles. Visit the bustling fish market on the quayside of the Vieux Port, home of traditional Bouillabaisse fish soup; stroll through the diverse ‘village’ districts; and soak up the panorama from the 19th century hilltop church of Notre Dame de la Garde.

Take a boat trip to the infamous Chateau d’If and along the rugged inlets of the Calanques. A shuttle bus will also whisk you to nearby Aix-en-Provence, home town of post-impressionist painter, Cézanne.

9. Biarritz

Principal resort on the French Basque Coast, elegant Biarritz attracted the Belle Epoque aristocrats of the late 19th century.

Today, Biarritz is a winner with its promenade walk and broad sandy beaches, its casino and museums, aquarium and unique Cité de l’Océan, dedicated to protecting the world’s seas.

10. Nice

What’s not to like about Nice? There’s culture to suit all tastes in the city’s many museums and galleries, plus cosy cafés and renowned restaurants serving local specialities.

Soak up the atmosphere of the flower market; stroll down the iconic Promenade des Anglais; and take the lift – or cliff path – to look over the broad bay and yacht marina.

Getting there

The average Eurostar journey from London St. Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord takes 2.5 hours. Make sure you have travel insurance for France, so you can enjoy your city break with peace of mind.

Looking for more travel inspiration?

If you haven’t decided on France yet, why not take a look at some of our other guides? We’ve also covered city breaks in Spain and Italy.

First published 5 September 2019

Gillian Thornton

by Gillian Thornton

A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she is an award-winning freelancer and specialist in France. She also writes widely on the UK and Europe, plus a mix of far-flung destinations from Cape Town to Cambodia. Gillian is a regular contributor to France Today, Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The People’s Friend and, as well as writing for This England and Platinum magazines.  Look out for her articles on subjects ranging from holidays for the over-50s to ocean and river cruising, walking breaks to heritage days out.  And her favourite place?  ‘Usually where I’ve just been!’