The landscapes, the market towns, the culture, the history, the food… oh the food… and let’s not forget the wine! France is a truly unique country with so much to explore and discover.
For as long as I can remember, we’ve kept some kind of bucket list of places and experiences we’d love to try out in France. If you’re a fellow Francophile looking for some travel inspiration, then go ahead and check out our epic bucket list of ideas for visiting France. This list will no doubt keep growing so keep checking back as we work our way through it and as we write up the ones we’ve already done!
We’ve split this epic list into categories for ease of reference. Click on the links below so that you have all the information at your fingertips to get the best out of YOUR experience.
There are plenty of action-packed activities to do in France – whether you’re a thrill-seeker, nature lover, snow-sports enthusiast, there’s something for everyone!
Walk the Calanques de Cassis
There are a number of ‘calanques’ in the south of France including the famous ‘Calanques de Cassis’. If you haven’t visited this pretty seaside town, you’re missing out! Located a short 20 minute drive from Marseille, this picturesque fishing village is a world away from the busy metropolis. It will enchant you with its pastel coloured houses, winding streets and port. The nearby Calanques de Cassis are beautiful rocky inlets featuring the most stunning turquoise waters. The Calanques are spread across 20kms between les Goudes (south-west of Marseilles) to Cassis.
Climb La Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe
Did you know that the tallest sand dune in Europe was located in France? It’s called la Dune du Pilat and is situated in the town of La Teste de Buch. It measures 107m in height, almost 3kms in length and attracts in excess of 1 million visitors a year! Climb to the top – either using the stairs or ascend directly in the sand – and enjoy the amazing panoramic view of Arcachon Bay. It makes for a great day trip from Bordeaux (60kms away) or alternatively, enjoy a stay in the nearby attractive seaside town of Arcachon.
Go canoeing on the Dordogne river
What better way to discover the Dordogne than from the river? You get an amazing view of villages, castles and sweeping landscapes from the comfort of your canoe. We were so excited once our youngest turned 5 as it meant we could finally go on a river outing together as a family. There are plenty of canoe hire companies dotted the length and breadth of the river offering various distances that can be covered in a day. We strongly recommend stopping along the banks of the Dordogne and having a picnic as well as a refreshment or two.
Bike ride from Bordeaux to Biarritz
300kms of bike trails, one sore bottom and lots of laughs… this what the hubby did a couple of years ago. It was a challenge set up by fellow expat. Yes, let’s ride 300kms in 3 days during the month of November. Fun right? Well, apparently it was rather a lot of fun (in spite of a number of punctures, getting lost, poor French sign posts and almost missing a boat across from Cap Ferret)!
Hire bikes and explore l’Ile de Ré
A popular getaway for Parisians, l’Ile de Ré oozes charm and is the perfect place to escape the rush of city life. Famous for its sweeping beaches, salt marshes and kilometres of cycle paths, the island, which is the fourth largest island in France (85 km²), is linked to mainland via a bridge. The entire island is connected via cycle lanes making it the perfect way to explore the area.
Walk the GR20 in Corsica
The infamous GR20 hiking trail in Corsica is not for the faint-hearted. Dubbed as one of the ‘toughest long distance trails in Europe’, this hike will take you from the south to the north of the island covering almost 200kms of rugged terrain, deep forests, lakes, snow-capped peaks. This trek will certainly provide you with your fill of breathtaking views and panoramas. Oh, and very sore legs as well as an incredible sense of achievement!
Discover the family-friendly ski resort of Avoriaz
The family friendly ski resort of Avoriaz is located in the French Alps about 2 hours’ drive from Geneva. This purpose built resort was developed in the 1960s and has a unique pedestrianised centre. It’s been designed in a way that integrates with its environment as much as possible. There are no cars allowed in the village and everyone is able to ski-in and ski-out of their accommodation – perfect if you have little ones… no carting of equipment around! It’s located in the popular ‘Les Portes du Soleil’ skiing region which includes an extensive ski domain of 650 kms and many hours of sunshine to boot. There are plenty of family friendly activities including clubs, an ice rink, a carousel, sleigh contests and the impressive Aquariaz indoor water park.
Mountain biking in the Auvergne, the land of extinct volcanoes
The Massif du Sancy mountain range in central France is a popular place to ski in the winter, but have you thought about visiting the area in the summer? If outdoor activities are your passion then take your pick from swimming, canoeing, walking and mountain biking.
We spent a long weekend based at the Super Besse ski resort, a small town with a few restaurants, shops and hotels, similar to Aviemore in Scotland. It was an active trip with lots swimming in the amazing fresh water lake called Lac Chambon, hiking and the highlight for my son, downhill mountain biking.
Super Besse is really well set up for mountain biking with a great relaxed atmosphere. There is a choice between a day or an afternoon pass, this allows you to transport your bike to the top of the mountain in a cable car. We opted for the afternoon pass that was around 15 euros as it’s a physical sport. Once at the top there is a choice of downhill routes which are colour coded for difficulty, in much the same way as ski slopes.
We tried some blues and a red, to be honest the red was terrifying, mainly because our bikes and safety equipment weren’t up to the job. So, if you don’t have a specialised downhill bike with rear suspension etc, then I recommend hiring one and the necessary equipment, from one of the many shops in the high street. You will then be able to fully enjoy all the mountain trails have to offer.
The overall experience was fabulous, in fact we can’t wait to go back. The views are spectacular, the trails are clearly marked and professionally maintained. It wasn’t massively busy in July when we visited, so very minimal queuing for lifts and trails were not crowded. After a few downhill runs you will be ready to enjoy a cold drink, or a snack on one of the lovely outdoor terraces.
Kayaking in the Ardèche
Deep gorges, swirling rivers, limestone cliffs… the Ardèche should definitely feature on your French bucket list. This lesser-known area is located in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region of Southeastern France, halfway between Nimes and Lyon. A trip on the eponymously named river is a must – hire a kayak or a canoe and prepare to be wowed by the dramatic scenery. A descent through the iconic Pont d’Arc – a 60m wide natural bridge – is a must!
Snow-shoeing in the Pyrenees
Take a surf lesson in Biarritz
The Atlantic coast around the town of Biarritz is said to attract surfers from around the world and has earned a reputation as a key surfing location. Large swells and waves make it a hot destination for fans of surfing. And of course, the town itself is well worth a visit with its beautiful buildings, kilometres of beaches and seafront promenade. Oh and apparently, some of Biarritz’ landscapes feature in the trailer of season seven of Game of Thrones!
France is one of the world’s best gastronomic centres! Foodies will be spoilt for choice and here are a few bucket list food and drink experiences to add to your French bucket list.
Champagne at the legendary Co’orniche bar overlooking the bassin d’Arcachon
Two for the price of one! Stunning views + champagne + UNESCO listed sand dunes. How about enjoying a gorgeous view on the Arcachon basin while sipping on a glass of champagne at the legendary Co’orniche bar? This funky, trendy bar is located at the Dune du Pilat about 45 minutes from Bordeaux. This coastline is gorgeous and well worth the detour plus you’ll get to enjoy the challenge of climbing the tallest sand dune in Europe!
Have a hot chocolate at Angelina’s in Paris
Now this is something for your Paris Bucket list! Angelina’s patisserie and tearoom in Paris is something of an institution and should definitely feature on your Paris itinerary. Located on the Rue Rivoli, across from the Tuilerie Gardens and a stone’s throw from the Louvre, this quintessentially Parisian tearoom has been around since 1903. We strongly suggest you indulge in one of their delicious, creamy hot chocolate’s accompaned by their signature Mont Blanc cake. This iconic tearoom, with its Belle Epoque interior, is believed to have attracted the likes of Proust, Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.
Improve your culinary skills by taking part in a cookery course
Are you a foodie? Do you enjoy learning how to make regional dishes? France is synonymous with wonderful gastronomy and taking part in a cookery class is such a fun, unique and memorable activity whilst on vacation. I’ve been on two cookery courses and to this day, they’ve been the highlight of my holidays. I took part in a full day’s cookery course which included a market visit and I also embarked on a family course with my then 7 year old daughter. Watch this space as I’ll be writing up our experience on both course!
Learn about wine at la Cité du Vin in Bordeaux
A museum dedicated to wine… I like the sound of that! A bold feat of architecture, la Cité du Vin was completed in 2016 and has attracted over a million wine enthusiasts since its opening. This interactive museum takes visitors through an exploration of the cultures and civilisations of wine-making over the centuries. You’ll learn about the history wine, the process of wine-making and the cherry on the cake, you’ll even get to taste a glass or two! The unique design of the building is said to evoke ‘gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass and eddies on the Garonne’. It can easily be reached by tram (line A) or by hiring one of the city’s many rental bikes and cycling there.
Visit the world renowned vineyards around Bordeaux
Sample the best food market stalls in France
Visit a ‘Bouchon’ restaurant in Lyon
Eat oysters in Arcachon
We’ve visited the attractive seaside resort of Arcachon on a number of occasions and have noticed that oysters feature rather prominently on their local menus. The area around the Bay of Arcachon is famous for oyster farming so we feel that Arcachon would be the perfect place to indulge in this delicacy. I’ll actually be completely honest and admit that I’m not entirely sold on the whole slimy, gluey slurping down of oysters but the hubby is actually a numero uno fan of said delicacy. My lovely French neighbour introduced me to a slight variant on oysters – cooked oysters! Yum! Much more up my alley. So here’s to those of you who are into the slurping down of oysters – Archachon OR Bordeaux is the place to indulge. And let’s not forget the accompanying crisp white wine.
Be brave and try snails
Snails, frogs’ leg, baguette and a garland of garlic … and there you have it – the epitome of the French stereotype. So have you ever tried snails or frogs’ legs? When we first moved to France back in 2012, our kids were young uninhibited 3 and 5 year olds and thought nothing of munching on chewy, garlickey mollusk! I once had a go at munching on a snail but I remain unconvinced…
Eat an authentic tartiflette in Annecy
Champagne tasting tour *without* the kiddos
Foodie tour in one of France’s gastronomic capital’s, the Dordogne
Foie gras, duck confit, truffles… the Dordogne is a foodie heaven (as well as somewhere you’ll most likely gain a few inches around your waistline!) The Dordogne is indeed one of the gastronomic capitals of France and is one of the best places to sample local, regional food at its best. There are plenty of options available including markets, food festivals, michelin starred restaurants and more.
Discover how rosé from Provence is produced
BUCKET LIST ART EXPERIENCES IN FRANCE
Stand on *that* bridge in Monet’s Gardens in Giverny
I’ve always loved and admired Monet’s work. Visiting the artist’s home and gardens ‘Les Jardins de Giverny’, has been on my bucket list since I was about 20 years of age. I fell in love with the impressionists’ work when my parents took me to Paris aged 14 and we visited the famous Musée d’Orsay. I was delighted to finally be able to make it to the home of the founder of the impressionism movement. A dream come true! Indeed as you stand on *that* bridge, you feel as though you’ve stepped straight into one of his painting’s. The waterlilies, the pond, the bridge, the flowers…
Go on Van Gogh’s trail in Arles
The town of Arles is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of France and boy does it deserve this status. This vibrant and arty town was home to the Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh, for the last few years of his life. Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888 where he produced over 300 works of art over the course of his 15 months’ stay. You can join a walking tour that takes you around the various sites and views that inspired the artist or you can simply download a map for a self-guided tour.
Marvel at Da Vinci’s lifesize recreations in the Chateau Clos Lucé
Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life living in France at the service of King Francis I? The monarch was an avid fan of the talented artist and invited him to come live in Amboise as his ‘Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King’. Da Vinci was based in the Chateau du Clos Lucé, a short 300 meters from the King’s residence, le Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire Valley. Visitors can tour the manor house and get a glimpse into the life of this genius – his workshop, his rooms as well as many lifesize replicas of his inventions in the beautiful gardens.
Visit Les Carrières de Lumière in les Baux de Provence
This is an absolute must on your France bucket list! A quarry in the beautiful town of Baux-de-Provence was converted into an art museum of sorts. The walls of the quarry provide the backdrop to a stunning art and music show. We visited when they were showing exhibitions on Van Gogh, Starry Night and Dreamed Japan.We strongly recommend you book your tickets ahead online to avoid large queues!
Check out the views that Matisse painted in Collioure
Spot Cocteau’s work in Menton
Photograph the iconic Mont St Michel at dawn
Visit the Picasso museum, photograph his statue of l’homme et le mouton in the main square of Vallauris
Visit Matisse’s chapel
Indulge in my love of impressionism by visiting l’Orangerie + Le Musée d’Orsay in Paris
Follow in Van Gogh’s footsteps in St Rémy de Provence
Visit the setting of the Count Monte Cristo
BUCKET LIST HISTORICAL EXPERIENCES IN FRANCE
Visit the top chateaux in the Dordogne
The Dordogne, the land of 1001 chateaux! You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to visiting chateaux in the Dordogne. You’ll find everything from chateaux, fortresses, fairy tale castles to manor houses. Check out our comprehensive guide of must-visit chateaux in the Périgord!
Walk across the 2000 year old Pont du Gard
Located in the South of France, this amazing feat of engineering was built by the Romans some 2000 years ago. It’s an ancient aqueduct bridge which was built to carry water from Uzès to Nimes, over 50 kms away. It’s as wide as 3 jumbo jets, as tall as the Statue of Liberty and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Oh, and it’s on the 5 euro note! Check the website for further details on opening hours, prices and access.
Visit 18,000 year old caves paintings at Lascaux IV and Font de Gaume
Learn about Roman history in Nimes
Marvel at the Chateau Versailles
Discover the Chateaux of the Loire Valley
Visit the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in the French Riviera
This beautiful Renaissance villa, located in St Jean Cap Ferrat, was owned by Beatrice Rothschild and was donated to the Académie des Beaux Arts following her death in 1934. During the 2nd World War, in 1943, the town of St Jean Cap Ferrat was evacuated and remained empty for 2 years. The grounds fell into disrepair and great work ensued to restore the gardens to their former glory. The main garden was designed to resemble a ship’s deck with the Mediterranean sea surrounding the deck. You can see it clearly when viewing from within the Villa. There are also a total of 9 different gardens including French, Spanish, Florentine and Japanese ones.
Walk in the steps of the pilgrims at Rocamadour
Visit Oradour-sur-Glane, the Martyr Village
Chilling and haunting. Oradour-sur-Glâne, the village where time has stood still. On 10th June 1944, the German SS descended on the small town located near Limoges and rounded up all the inhabitants. They told the mayor they were carrying out a check but the reality was far grimmer. Women and children were sent into the church while the men were rounded up into a barn. A bloody massacre ensued where a total 642 men, women and children were killed. Following this horrendous massacre, the town remains as a memorial village to this atrocity committed during World War II.
Visit the Pope’s Palace and THE famous bridge in Avignon
Visit the cathedral of Orleans, Joan’s of Arc’s resting place
Pay our respects at the battlefields of Somme
Learn about the Knight’s Templar’s history at the Cathar Castles
BUCKET LIST EXPERIENCES IN FRANCE
Admire the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower
Visit the largest private aquarium in Europe at La Rochelle
Experience a hot air balloon festival in Rocamadour
Take a hot air balloon ride
Stay in a tree house
Take the kids to Eurodisney
Go on the scariest ride at Futuroscope
Take a trip on a barge on the Canal du Midi
Visit the Zoo de Beauval
Check out some of the best campsites in France
One thing’s for sure, the French know how to do camping. We’ve been to a fair number and have been very impressed with the standard and caliber. Read this post if you want to find out about one of our favourite campsite’s. And because we’re nice, we’ve also compiled a guide to some of the top campsites in the Dordogne.
Experience the carnaval in Nice
Explore the garden exhibition at Chaumont-sur-Loire
Boat trip into the Gouffre de Padirac in the Lot
Road trip through the Gorges du Verdon
Drive around the F1 racetrack in Monaco
Experience the citrussy scent of Menton’s Lemon Festival
Menton, literally on the Italian border, is one of my favourite towns in the French Riviera. The colours, the seaside, the atmosphere – there’s not much to not like about this place. There’s a famous lemon festival that takes place there in February. I’ve heard that a lot of the lemons are now imported so it may have lost some of its authenticitiy, however, a stay on the riviera is never a bad thing.
Admire the views of the French Riviera from the picturesque hilltop town of Eze-Village
Experience the Lights Festival in Lyon
Take in the heady smell from the Lavender fields in Provence
Ride on the famous Large Elephant in Nantes
L’Île de Nantes is a fun, vibrant, arty neighborhood in the trendy town of Nantes, West of France. L’Ile de Nantes is home to the whimsical ‘Les Machines de l’Ile’ where you’ll get to see a giant mechanical elephant wander around. Apparently, the elephant ride was inspired by the 1880 novel “The Steam House” by Jules Verne. The story is about a house which is pulled by a steam-powered mechanical elephant in India.
Mingle with Asterix and Obelix at the Parc Astérix
Attend a night show at Le Puy du Fou
So have you booked your flights yet? What’s on YOUR France bucket list? Please let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything and provide me with some more wanderlust inspiration.