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!
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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.
So many artists, painters, sculptors, photographers, film makers have been drawn to France over the years and it isn’t difficult to understand why… the landscapes, the light, the colours, the French… And there are of course many homegrown artists – think Monet, Matisse, Derain, Cézanne, Dégas, Gauguin, Chagall, Rodin, and the list goes on…!
Indulge in your love of impressionism in Paris
Lovers of impressionism are spoilt for choice in Paris – whether you head to the Musée d’Orsay or L’Orangerie, you’re sure to find your bonheur! The old converted train station is home to over 1100 impressionist oeuvres d’art by the likes of Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Manet and Degas. If you’re looking for a smaller museum, head to l’Orangerie which is located in the Tuilerie Gardens, a stone’s throw from the Louvre museum. You’ll be blown away by Monet’s Nymphéas paintings – 8 water lily murals housed in two oval rooms within l’Orangerie.
You can even check them out on this virtual visit.
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
It doesn’t take long to understand why the likes of Collioure, Derain, Picasso and other artists were drawn to the beautiful seaside town of Collioure. In fact, as you meander around the town, you’ll spot plenty of frames that capture a gorgeous view of the town that was painted by one of the artists (see image above!). It’s where the fauvism movement originated as many artists were attracted to Collioure’s special light. There’s plenty to see and do in the picturesque fishing village including a dip in the sea, a wander through the colourful old town, a visit to the church and fortress or a cheeky apéritif by the beach at sunset. Bliss.
Spot Cocteau’s work in Menton
Menton is one of our favourite towns along the French Riviera. Located just a few kilometres from the Italian border, you could easily be fooled into thinking you’d arrived in the land of gelatos and pizzas. Famous for its lemon festival, Menton is a beautiful patchwork of pastel-coloured buildings and if you’re interested in Jean Cocteau, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll find several Jean Cocteau sights around the town including a museum dedicated to all things Cocteau.
Photograph the iconic Mont St Michel at dawn
Visit Matisse’s chapel in Vence
From the outside the building looks rather unassuming, set on the roadside on the outskirts of Vence, however, step inside and you’ll discover something rather special. Floor to ceiling bright, colourful stained glass windows, sketches and models, priests’ robes designed by the artist. The Matisse chapel or the Rosary Chapel was one of the artist’s last works. At the end of his life, Henry Matisse was unwell and was cared for by a student nurse called Monique with whom he developed a close friendship. Monique eventually moved on and became a nun. Their paths crossed again when Matisse moved from Nice to Vence where Monique (now known as Sister Jacques-Marie) was now living her new life at the Dominican convent. It is here that Matisse became involved in the design, conception and building of the small chapel through his connection with Monique.
Visit the setting of the Count Monte Cristo
Head to Marseilles, jump on a tour boat and head to the island of If (pronounce ‘eeeef’) where you’ll find the Chateau d’If. This military fortress was used as a prison until the late 19th century and was also the setting of the famous Alexandre Dumas book The Count of Monte Cristo. From the boat, you’ll get some gorgeous views of Marseilles, the old port, the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde and the iconic Mucem museum.
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
Welcome to the Auvergne, an area known as the land of sleeping volcanoes and the perfect playground for lovers of outdoor pursuits! 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 our son – downhill mountain biking.
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!
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.
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.
Champagne at the legendary Co’orniche bar overlooking the bassin d’Arcachon
Three 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!
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 courses!
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
Ah, Bordeaux… the city synonymous with wine! In this instance we’re talking about the wines and not the city. There are literally thousands of acres of vineyards in the Bordeaux area including some 6000 chateaux. Head north towards the Médoc area and indulge in a delicious Margaux or head east to the picture perfect town of St Emilion. Wine making traditions in this region stretch back some 20 centuries! I’ve also decided that if I ever do a marathon, it’s going to have to be the Marathon du Médoc – running through 42 kms of stunning landscape (yes, vineyards and chateaux!), in fancy dress, making wine tasting pit stops every few kilometres – I’m sold!
Visit a ‘Bouchon’ restaurant in Lyon
Again, we’re not talking about wine here… in this case, ‘bouchon’ refers to a type of restaurant rather than a ‘corked’ wine. Often referred to as ‘the stomach of France’, Lyon is famous for its bouchon restaurants. These are traditional eateries that usually serve sausage dishes, duck paté, hearty, meaty fare.
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 who 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
Known as the Venice of the Alps, Annecy is located in eastern France (Haute-Savoie), close to the Swiss border (about 40 minutes from Geneva). This picturesque town lies at the northern tip of lake Annecy and enjoys a unique location next to the water as well as the mountains. The food in this area is hearty and one of their signature dishes is the tartiflette! Made with reblochon cheese, potatoes, lardons and onions, tartiflette is a must if you’re visiting Annecy. Try this local speciality at one of the many restaurants that line the canals in the old town. Bliss.
Champagne tasting tour *without* the kiddos
Who doesn’t love Champagne?! Apparently, it’s Tom Jones’ tipple of choice and his secret to looking young… Mumm, Veuve, Moët, Taittinger… you name it, you’ll find it. The Champagne region is located northeast of Paris and makes for an easy trip from the capital – either by train in 45 minutes or by car in around 2 hours. You’ll want to stay ‘sur place’ though and we highly recommend joining a tour to avoid having to get behind the wheel.
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.
Go rosé wine-tasting in the beautiful Provence region
There is so much to love about the Provence region of France. Stunning landscapes, pretty villages, fields of lavender, historic cities and wine… Peter Mayle has sold many people the Provançal dream with his wonderful A year in Provence book. Almost everywhere you go in France, you’ll find they’ve perfected the art of wine making and nowhere more so than Provence is particularly famous for its rosé – nothing beats a cold glass of crisp and fruity rosé on a summer’s day. And there are so many vineyards to choose from…
BUCKET LIST HISTORICAL EXPERIENCES IN FRANCE
Marvel at the Chateau Versailles
The Palace of Versailles, wow. Two words: stunning and overwhelming. This place oozes grandeur, opulence, over-the-topness (is that a word?). Apparently half of France’s GDP was spent on the Palace. It actually started out as a fairly modest hunting lodge until King Louis XIV became its owner and started adding additional wings, acres of formal gardens, impressive fountains with mythical creatures. A visit to the chateau de Versailles is a must if you’re planning a trip to Paris – it’s an easy day trip from the French capital.
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.
Discover the Chateaux of the Loire Valley
Visit 18,000 year old caves paintings at Lascaux IV in the Dordogne
The world famous Lascaux cave paintings are located in the town of Montignac in the Dordogne. At the end of 2016, a brand-new ultra-modern multi-million-pound visitor centre opened, Lascaux IV, that allows visitors access to the full replica of the cave. A visit to Lascaux IV is an absolute must on your Dordogne itinerary. You’ll learn about the fascinating story of how 4 boys discovered this prehistoric Sistine chapel back in 1940. The original caves were opened to the public from 1948 til 1963, however the human footfall (1 million visitors over 15 years) eventually took its toll resulting in the definitive closure of the caves. The tour will take you on a journey back in time… 20,000 years to the prehistoric period with the use of cutting-edge multimedia technology including 3D cinema.
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!
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.
Learn about Roman history in Nimes
You could be fooled into thinking you’d landed in Rome but you’re actually in the French city of Nimes. And another surprising fact is that the denim you might be wearing originates directly from this city – De Nimes (denim!) Pretty cool, huh?! Anyway, this attractive city located in the South of France boasts a number of Roman ruins including an amphitheatre (les Arènes), la Maison Carrée, the Temple of Diane and La Tour Magne. You’ll also want to check out the nearby Pont du Gard.
Discover the Cathar Castles in Occitanie
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.
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
Walk in the steps of the pilgrims at Rocamadour
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
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
Have you heard of the two famous gauls, Asterix and Obelix? You’ll usually find them on the screen or in the pages of Goscinny’s comic books, however, did you know that there’s a large theme park dedicated to these two fellows? The Parc Asterix is located 30 minutes north of Paris and is the second largest theme park after EuroDisney with 14 million annual visitors! A visit is definitely on our kids’ French bucket list!
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.