French Cities To Visit That Aren’t Paris

For obvious reasons, Paris is a must-visit city for any tourist visiting France. But what visitors are missing is a chance to really experience France as a whole. Paris is a great place to start your trip to France, but there are many more cities (including many not listed in this post) that deserve as much of your time as Paris. I originally planned to write this post about the best day trips from Paris, but all of these cities are worthy of much more than a day of your time. So, I present to you four cities in France, other than Paris, that you must visit!

Lyon

Lyon, in Eastern France, is located on the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Lyon is the third largest city in France, yet it feels like a small and welcoming town. The city is filled with many great parks and gardens, as well as a ton of museums, boutiques and great restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, Lyon is also the gastronomical (food) capital of its country. Some of its famous culinary offerings include Cochonnailles, a meal made from pig, including its tongue and feet; Gras Double, a tripe dish cooked with onion; Gateau de Foie, a liver cake; and finally Cervelle de Canut, a cheese dip with garlic and herbs.

As I mentioned earlier, Lyon is located at the intersection of two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône. The Rhône river is lined with many boats which have been converted in restaurants and cafes, and it is the perfect place to spend an evening. The Saône river is full of culture and it is quite high-class, and so also expensive. The picture above was taken on the Pont de la Guillotière (Bridge Guillotière in English), and it is showing the Pont Wilson (Bridge Wilson). Both of these bridges run across the Rhône river.

A famous attraction in Lyon is the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière (Basilica of Our Lady of Fourvière). This church, atop the Fourviére hill, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As you can tell from its position on a hill, this church has phenomenal views of Lyon. If you are thinking about visiting Lyon, I would definitely make time to go here. I’d recommend at least two full days in Lyon, so that you have enough time to visit all the famous spots as well as try all of the different foods the restaurants in the city have to offer!

Avignon

Avignon is a historic, medieval town located in southeastern France, which overlooks the Rhône river (yes, the same one as in Lyon!). It is a small city, but it has pretty much everything. Avignon is located in the region of Provence, famous for its lavender fields.

One of the most famous sites in Avignon is the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), a very significant example of medieval Gothic architecture in Europe. It is actually made up of two separate buildings, the Palace of Benedict XII and the Palace of Clement VI. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Another famous landmark is the Pont Saint-Bénézet (Saint-Bénézet Bridge), which partly crosses the Rhône. The bridge is the inspiration for the popular children’s french song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”. It was destroyed by a flood, rebuilt, and finally abandoned in the 17th century. Now only four of its original twenty two arches have survived, and they are assumed to be built in the mid 1300s. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and tourists can now walk across the surviving part of it. If you’re planning on visiting Avignon, I’d suggest staying at least two to three full days.

Arles

Also in southeastern France, about an hour’s drive south of Avignon, you will find Arles! Arles is also on the Rhône river, and it is known for being the home of Van Gogh, specifically the town where he cut off his ear. Arles is small town, and it is less touristy and crowded then some of the other cities in this post.

Arles’ most famous attraction is its spectacular, two-tiered Roman amphitheatre. The Arles Amphitheatre is capable of seating 20,000 spectators, and it was built around the same time as the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. The history of the amphitheatre is actually very interesting: in the middle ages, the amphitheatre was actually turned into a walled off town, called the La Cité Arenoise (Arena town). At the same time it was walled off, medieval towers were added to the amphitheatre.

As you can see, Arles is full of picturesque streets and alleyways. When my family visited Arles, we actually only stayed for a day, as we took a train down from Avignon to Arles. I think that the best way to see Arles is to do the same thing my family did, but it would also be a great idea to stay overnight in Arles as there is a lot more to Arles than everything I mentioned.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux, the wine capital of France, is located in Western France on the Garonne river. It is a mix of historic and modern, and it is full of welcoming locals (called Bordelais!). Just like Lyon, Bordeaux has a ton of public gardens, and as with almost every city in France, scenic streets and buildings. Shown above is the Rue Sainte Catherine, the longest shopping street in all of Europe. It is also one of the two main streets running through Bordeaux, and it is 1.2 kilometers long.

This is the Porte Cailhou, a Gothic revival style city gate that is 35 meters (115 feet) tall. At the time the Porte Cailhou was constructed (1495), it was the dominant entrance point to Bordeaux from the port. The city gate also faces the Place du Palais (Place of Palace), a decent sized square full of restaurants. It is neighbored by beautiful buildings and of course the Porte Cailhou!

A symbol of Bordeaux, the Place de la Bourse played a major role in the shaping of Bordeaux. It was built in the 18th century, and it has now been modernized with a water mirror and lights that come on in the evening. The surrounding buildings include the Hôtel des Fermes and the Hôtel de la Bourse. It is a great place to relax after a long day of sightseeing!

That’s it for my post today! Hope you enjoyed. Have you been to any of the French cities on this list? If not, which would you most like to visit? Leave a comment below letting me know.

Thanks for reading.

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10 Comments

  1. JW
    May 15, 2017

    I would like to visit all of the cities, but mostly Lyon. Nice photos.

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      May 17, 2017

      Thank you!

      Reply
  2. Michael Johnson
    May 15, 2017

    Lots of good ideas for me to take the kids when we visit France again. Great commentary!

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      May 17, 2017

      Thanks! I’m glad it was helpful.

      Reply
  3. Babaloo
    May 15, 2017

    I love Paris but there are so many other cities and towns in France that are worth visiting. Some of the places on my to-do list include Nice, Biarritz, Marseilles and Toulouse.

    A couple of cities that I have also visited outside Paris are Metz, La Rochelle. Montpellier, Lille, Cognac, and Saintes.

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      May 17, 2017

      Very true. I have been to Toulouse, and it was very beautiful! I’d also love to visit some of the other cities you mentioned, especially Lille!

      Reply
  4. nana jw
    May 15, 2017

    Hannah another Great blog I would love to visit Avignon and see the Lavender fields also Rue Sainte Catherine and visit the longest street with all the shops your writing and phot’s are great N J W

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      May 17, 2017

      Thanks Nana!

      Reply
  5. Kenza
    May 17, 2017

    Really nice pictures 🙂

    I’ve been to Lyon this weekend, it was really lovely and the food was amazing.
    I’ll also add Anecy to the list, such a nice city

    Kenza from http://travelwithkenza.blogspot.fr/

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      May 28, 2017

      Thank you Kenza! I’ve heard a lot about Anecy as well, hopefully I’ll be able to visit someday.

      Reply

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