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Things to Do in France - page 5

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Place du Capitole
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Place du Capitole, a huge pedestrianized open space in the heart of Toulouse, serves as the main city square. Flanked by grand municipal buildings, the square includes the long neo-classical facade of Capitole, the city hall, built in the 1750s.Cafes also cluster around the edge of the massive square, which hosts outdoor markets and is floodlit at night.

Along with administrative functions, the pink brick Capitole building also houses the Théâtre du Capitole opera house, as well as the Salles des Illustres, which includes many 19th-century paintings of the city’s famous citizens.

On the square’s western side is a series of roofed arcades; look up as you stroll to see the history of Toulouse represented on the ceiling panels, from prehistoric times through today’s aeronautics industry.

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St. Sernin Basilica (Basilique Saint-Sernin)
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The ancient Romanesque beauty that is the St. Sernin Basilica (Basilique Saint-Sernin) was once an abbey church dating back to about 1190. In fact, the basilica is the most complete Romanesque building in France. Its unusual eight-sided, five-tiered tower was added in the 13th century and was topped by a spire 200 years later. St. Sernin is huge, built of brick and featuring rounded apses and chapels, soaring barrels and rib-vaulted ceilings, as well as a chapel-ringed ambulatory encircling the nave.

The basilica was an important stop for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela, and it houses the tomb of St Sernin beneath a sumptuous 18th-century canopy.

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Lyon Les Halles Market (Les Halles Paul Bocuse)
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The covered markets of the Les Halles de Lyon have been open since 1970. The full name of the markets includes the name Paul Bocuse, a legendary figure on both the French and international cooking scene. Many of the shops located here are star-rated by the Michelin guide, and more than 95% of the shops are run by business owners who really know their products. These are local businesses, which draws in loyal customers.

There are approximately 60 shops in Les Halles selling products that have to do with cooking and food. You'll find butchers, bakers, caterers, fishmongers, and more selling their high quality fresh products. It is also a showcase for local food products and a great place to find good meats, poultry, seafood, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. You can also enjoy a sit down meal with a glass of wine at the markets.

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Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon)
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With its dramatic limestone cliffs and azure waters, the Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) is one of the French Riviera's most delightful secrets. Escape the manicured glamour of St. Tropez and Cannes in favor of the canyon, which provides opportunities to swim, sail, sunbathe, and rock climb on routes that stretch as far as the eye can see.

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Lyon Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Jean)
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Stroll the cobblestoned streets of Old Town Lyon (Vieux Lyon) and Place St-Jean to discover the Lyon Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Jean). Among the draws of the 12th-century cathedral are stained-glass windows and a 16th-century astronomical clock. A top Lyon attraction, Cathédrale St-Jean is a must-see for Old Town visitors.

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Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes)
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The largest Gothic palace in the world, Avignon’s Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes) was home to the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in the 14th century. Visitors can tour the grand rooms, landscaped gardens, and secret passages used by members of the clergy, and see special exhibitions and concerts held at the palace.

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Senanque Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque)
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The 12th-century Senanque Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque) which to this day is the home and worshiping place of Cistercian monks, has no great history. There are no iconic frescoes or statues to see, and while pretty, it isn't especially notable architecturally. So why is it on every visitor's must-see list when visiting Provence?

One word: lavender. The monks here grow, harvest and process lavender from the surrounding fields, which means that come June visitors have a front-row seat to one of the most gorgeous photo ops of all time. Whether passing by in a car or stopping to smell the flowers, the Sénanque Abbey, near Gordes, is a summertime treat.

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Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle (Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle)
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Charles de Gaulle is one of the most celebrated Frenchmen of the past few centuries—and Lille’s Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle (Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle) offers a glimpse into the early years of the French general and statesman. Visit his birthplace-turned-museum to see family keepsakes, documents, and other mementos.

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Fleury-devant-Douaumont
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Fleury-devant-Douaumont is located in Lorraine, near the sadly infamous city of Verdun; locals know it as the “village that died for France.” Though easy to miss on the road to the Verdun Battlefield, Fleury remains a vivid reminder of the damages caused by World War I in provincial France. This portion of Lorraine was badly hit by the war, ravaged in such a way that the land was deemed uninhabitable, the area surrounding the commune being littered with explosives, corpses and poisonous gas – effectively ruining Fleury’s chances of being rebuilt into the thriving agricultural town it once was, as it would be difficult for farmers to work on such contaminated grounds. During the Battle of Verdun alone, Germans and the French successively captured the commune 16 times.

Along with several other villages in Lorraine, Fleury has since been unoccupied, with the official population being a heart-wrenching zero. Visitors can, however, visit the town, which is now more of a large wooded area, a veritable testimony to the First World War. The site is close to the Verdun memorial, and signs point to where streets and houses once sat. Only a small chapel from the 1930s remains on the exact spot where the town’s church once stood. Access is free and self-guided.

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Lochnagar Crater
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Often nicknamed the Glory Crater, the 80-meter wide and 30-meter deep Lochnagar Crater was created by a mine detonation executed by the 179th Tunneling Company Royal Engineers on the first day of the now-infamous Battle of the Somme at precisely 7:28 a.m. The mine itself consisted of 27 tons of explosives and was planted by Welsh miners in a secret tunnel between the English/French and German fronts in La Boisselle. The men had to work in a discreet yet highly effective manner, using bayonets with spliced handles for silence and working barefoot on a floor covered with sandbags. Spoil was passed hand-by-hand in sandbags and stored along the side of the tunnel. It would eventually be used to tamp the charge during the detonation. The men excavated the passageway at a rate of about 46 centimeters per day, eventually reaching 1,017 feet (310 meters) long, 2.5 feet (0.75 meters) wide and 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) high—unbeknownst to the German troops.

The crater has been preserved as a memorial ever since the end of the war, with a special service held at 7:28 a.m. on the first of every July, kick-starting the yearly Battle of the Somme commemorations. Visitors should know that Lochnagar Crater is the only remaining war-era crater that is open to the public and that the crater was named after Lochnagar Street, the trench from which the gallery was originally driven.

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More Things to Do in France

La Turbie

La Turbie

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Perched on a hilltop looking down over the Cote d’Azur and just minutes from the border of Monaco, La Turbie makes a worthwhile detour for those en-route to Monte Carlo. With its narrow paved streets and stone-brick archways, the small village offers an authentic slice of old Provence, and its baroque church and medieval buildings make for a pleasant walking tour.

The undisputed star attraction of La Turbie is the striking Tropaeum Alpium or ‘Trophy of the Alps’, a grand 35-meter-tall monument that looms over the town and was built by the Romans in 7 BC. North of the Tropaeum, walking trails run up into the surrounding hills and offer impressive lookouts over the Mediterranean coast below, with views spanning Cap Ferrat, Antibes and as far as Vintimille bay in Italy.

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Castle Hill (Colline du Château)

Castle Hill (Colline du Château)

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Rising up over the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis, the 300-foot Castle Hill (Colline du Château) affords fantastic views over the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Old Town of Vieux Nice, the Baie des Anges, and the glittering Côte d’Azur.

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Château du Clos Lucé

Château du Clos Lucé

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Château du Clos Lucé may not be the country’s grandest castle, but it’s still gained favor among art and history loving travelers thanks to its notoriety as the official final residence of famed artist Leonardo da Vinci. While the castle was once home to King Francis I, today it stands as a museum to the great painter’s works. Travelers can wander the halls and check out more than 40 models and machines designed by da Vinci, as well as wander the underground tunnel that connects Château du Clos Lucé to the royal Chateau d’Amboise.

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Rouen Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts)

Rouen Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts)

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Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) was created in 1801 by Napoleon I. It features a collection of over 8000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and decorative art collections from the Renaissance to the present age, including household names like Renoir, Degas, Fragonard, and many more. The museum also has an exceptional Depeaux collection, and is considered one of the most outstanding public collections in France. Visitors can also enjoy sought-after temporary exhibitions and occasional contemporary art exhibitions.

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Dijon Ducal Palace (Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne)

Dijon Ducal Palace (Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne)

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One of Dijon’s most important historical landmarks (and included in the Historic Center of Dijon UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Dijon Ducal Palace was, for centuries, the seat of Burgundian power. Constructed in the 14th century, it is today host to a museum and government offices, and is open to the public.

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Wellington Quarry (Carrière Wellington)

Wellington Quarry (Carrière Wellington)

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The Wellington Quarry (Carrière Wellington) museum opened in March 2008 in Arras in the North of France, inside a quarry used during World War I. It commemorates those who built the tunnels and, subsequently, fought in the Battle of Arras during World War I. The Arras Tunnels formed an intricate network that ran from the town center to the German front lines, and housed over 20,000 soldiers of the British Empire and the Commonwealth. In fact, it was New Zealand soldiers who named the quarry after the city of the same name in their home country.

Although they were used as air shelters during the Second World War, the tunnels remained essentially forgotten until their rediscovery in 1990. 350 meters of the quarry’s galleries, located approximately 22 meters underground, can be accessed today. The museum showcases historical artifacts to help visitors understand the context around the Battle of Arras, notably why the military strategy was so remarkable at the time and what life was like for the underground soldiers.

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Commarque Castle (Chateau de Commarque)

Commarque Castle (Chateau de Commarque)

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Founded in the 12th century, but abandoned from the 17th century until after World War II, Commarque Castle (Château de Commarque) is a ruined medieval chateau. Visit to see the ruins and a cave with prehistoric art, as well as caves once used as homes. Participate in games, workshops, and treasure hunts held on school vacations.

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Rivau Castle (Chateau du Rivau)

Rivau Castle (Chateau du Rivau)

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With its medieval buildings and fairy-tale turrets encircled by landscaped gardens, lush woodlands, and bursts of lavender and roses—Chȃteau du Rivau is among the most underrated of the Loire Valley castles. Once visited by Joan of Arc, the 15th-century castle is also renowned for its Royal Stables.

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Hautvillers

Hautvillers

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Just north of popular Épernay, Hautvillers at first may seem like just another village in the countryside. But for true fans of Champagne, it has become a pilgrim's destination. That's because it is the birthplace of Champagne! The town's Saint-Pierre Abbey is where Dom Pérignon first made the bubbly elixir, and today he is buried in the abbey, now owned by Moët & Chandon.

But there's more to Hautvillers than simply this historical fact. A stroll through the streets reveals the whimsical iron signs that grace every public or commercial building and what lies within. And there are wine tastings at Au 36, charming dining options and lots of activities nearby. Hautvillers' motto is “Entre Vignes et Forêts,” meaning between the vineyards and the forest–the perfect place to discover the magic of this verdant region.

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Grand Trianon

Grand Trianon

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The pink-colonnaded Grand Trianon was built in 1687 by the famous architect Mansart, as a tranquil getaway from court life for Louis XIV.

Setting the benchmark for Italianate garden conservatory design, the elegantly long and low palace of pink marble and porphyry features geometrically ordered rows of columns and windows, topped by a balustrade roof.

The original furnishings were plundered during the Revolution. Today, the palace is furnished in Empire style, reflecting the decoration installed by Napoleon, who was particularly enamored of the building. Surrounding the palace is a lovely flower garden.

While the Grand Trianon is open to the public, it is also an official residence of the French President.

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Carcassonne Castle (Cité de Carcassonne)

Carcassonne Castle (Cité de Carcassonne)

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As the former seat of the Counts of Carcassonne, Carcassonne Citadel (Cité de Carcassonne) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of France’s most visited historic landmarks. Perched on a hilltop above the River Aude, the walled citadel is crowned by the Château Comtal.

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Palais des Festivals et des Congrès

Palais des Festivals et des Congrès

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The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès was built in 1982 and houses year-round events in Cannes, most notably, the Cannes Film Festival. The prestigious film festival attracts movie stars and the media from around the world. The festival is one of the most prestigious international film events and overtakes the Cannes luxury establishments for two dizzying weeks in May.

The famed Palais provides 25,000 square meters for exhibitions as well as many rooms and 18 auditoriums equipped with state of the art sound and lighting. The original Palais was built in 1949, and a new one was built in 1982 in response to the growing popularity of the film festival and the need for business convention space. Now, the Palais is a contemporary building that plays hosts to a variety events besides the film festival, such as the international music trade show MIDEM and the International Television Programme Market.

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National Archeology Museum (Musée d'Archéologie Nationale)

National Archeology Museum (Musée d'Archéologie Nationale)

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Founded by Napoleon and placed in a former royal residence, France’s National Archeology Museum (Musée d'Archéologie Nationale) has one of the top collections in the world of its kind. Dating back to pre-history, there are nearly 30,000 artifacts presented in its exhibits that tell the story of humanity through art, culture, religion, and technology. It is fascinating to trace the introduction and development of industrial and agricultural activity in France. The ability to see time periods stretching from earliest Paleolithic to the early Medieval in the same place is a draw for many.

The elegantly restored exterior of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye is worth the trip alone. Inside, the Comparative Archaeology permanent collection, comprised of artifacts collected on five continents, is where you’ll want to spend most of your time. Exhibits are divided into era (Iron Age, Bronze Age, etc.) making it easy to tour in chronological order. Entrance to the museum is included in the Paris Pass.

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Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde

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Situated on the right bank of the Seine River and flanked by the idyllic Tuileries Garden and the grand boulevard of Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. The infamous guillotines of the French Revolution were located here, but today the square is best known for striking monuments, elegant hotels, and elaborate fountains.

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