Top 5 French cities to see (except Paris)
Whenever we talk about France, Paris is the first city that comes to our minds. Nonetheless, you should know France has many other cities as much beautiful and interesting as Paris. That is why I’m sharing with you today my top 5 French cities to see (except Paris).
Paris was dominated by the Romans until the 5th century. It was during the 6th century that Clovis – first king of the Franks – chased the Romans and settled in Paris, turning it into the capital of the Franks kingdom. Since that time, all kings and men of power lived in Paris. Paris was a strategic point. Its location was perfect, because it is in the center, so protecting the kingdom was easier. But also, the Seine River was fundamental for trade. Paris quickly became the capital of France for obvious reasons.
Throughout all these years, Paris has been the scene of historical events, and the origin of movements, trends and ideologies. Many of the most impressive museums and landmarks are in Paris, such as le Musée du Louvre, the famous Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and so many more!
But we really shouldn’t put aside the others French cities. Let’s give them the attention they deserve! In case, you’ve already been to Paris and you’re coming back to France but want to see a different city, this article is for you! In case, you’re in France for some time and need some guidance on choosing a nice French city other than Paris to see, this article is for you! Read on to find out my top 5 French cities to see and their highlights.
Marseille is probably the second most famous city of France. It is the oldest city of France and the largest one after Paris. But Marseille is in my top 5 French cities to see for the simple fact that it has so much to explore and experience!
You will love the Old Port of Marseille! It is the symbol of the city and, I would say, the starting point to all your most interesting walks. On mornings, it turns into a fresh fish market. All the fishermen gather in the Old Port selling freshly caught fishes. There are also a lot of restaurants, cafes and souvenir stores. On afternoons, you will find many street vendors and street artists. The Old Port atmosphere is pretty cool and dynamic!
At the entrance of the Old Port, you will see the Fort Saint Jean. It offers an amazing view over the Old Port but also of the Mediterranean Sea. You really wouldn’t want to miss it! And right next to it, there is the MuCEM (Musée des civilisations et de la Méditerranée). This museum gives a touch of modernity to the Old Port. And they both perfectly match together! The building looks like it’s floating above water. You’re likely to be impressed by its design!
After you’ve fully enjoyed the Old Port area, my advice would be to walk deeper into the city so that you can discover a more authentic side of Marseille. I’m quite certain you will be delighted by the neighborhood called “Le Panier” (the basket, in English). Le Panier is the oldest but also the trendiest neighborhood of Marseille! It kind of reminds me of Alfama in Lisbon, with its sloping tiny and maze-like streets and alleys! In Le Panier you will find many trendy shops, such as vintage stores and artists workshops.
Another great neighborhood is “le Cours Julien”. This neighborhood is kind of bohemian and you will simply love every single part of it! It looks like an open air art gallery! There are plenty of street art works all around the walls. You will get to admire many different street art technics and styles. Le Cours Julien is extremely youthful, artistic and cool! At night, it is without a doubt the place to be at!
Other Marseille highlights are the Church of Notre Dame de la Garde for its unique architecture and its panoramic view of the city. And to end, you most definitely should get into a boat excursion to the nearby islands, such as the Islands of Frioul, and the Island of If. And as a souvenir, you really cannot forget your “Savon de Marseille” (Soap of Marseille)!
Toulouse is located in southern France, near Spain. This city is also known as “the Pink City” due to the fact of its buildings made out of reddish bricks. Besides its charm, Toulouse is so peaceful and relaxed, you will love its atmosphere.
I would recommend you to start your visit at Place du Capitol because it is the heart of the city. All the streets will take you to this square. This place is very pleasant, with its many cafes and restaurants, it is the perfect place to rest a little after a long walk. And it’s usually the spot where everybody meets during celebrations and events. It’s pretty lively!
Another very important landmark of the second city of my top 5 French cities to see is the Church of Les Jacobins! It is not far from the Place du Capitol, and the church’s architecture is breathtaking! There’s no better place to freshen up! You will be impressed by the arches, the interior and the ceiling of the Church of Les Jacobins!
But if you’re just looking for a quiet moment, you should take a walk along the charming Canal du Midi. It connects the Garonne River to the Mediterranean Sea. You can rent or simply take a boat cruise, have lunch or dinner on the boat. If you prefer to stay on land, walking or having a picnic along the Canal is simply awesome!
Toulouse is the best to spend a nice quiet weekend! Also, don’t you dare leave Toulouse without trying the Cassoulet (stew of meat and beans), their traditional dish!
My top 5 French cities to see continues with Lyon! Its cobblestone lanes and gothic and renaissance architecture will enchant you! The first highlight I want to share with you is the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste. Its gothic architecture is simply gorgeous and its astronomical clock is unmissable!
The funny thing about Lyon is that some aspects remind me of Paris. On top of the Fourviere Hill, there’s the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere. And this scenery kind of brings me back to Montmartre in Paris: when you go up Montmartre and reach the Sacre-Coeur. When you reach the top of the hill, you get a wonderful view over the city of Paris. Well, exactly the same happens on top of Fourviere hill in Lyon. Nonetheless, the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere really doesn’t remain in the shadows. Because it is pretty unique and marvelous inside and out, just like the Sacre-Coeur! Right next to it, there’s the Tour Métallique de Fourvière. I consider it to be a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower!
In the Old Town of Lyon, you will find something very typical of the city: the traboules. Traboules are secret passages! They are kind of shortcuts. They were used in the past to reach faster different streets. Nowadays, they’re not that secret anymore, because you will find traboules maps at the tourist office! But it still remains funny to use the traboules.
Nice is also in the south of France, located around 190 kilometers away from Marseille. It would take you 2 hours and 30 minutes to get to Nice by car from Marseille. And let me tell you something, this city really deserves its name. Because, indeed, Nice is so nice!
First of all, it’s sunny all year round! We have the Mediterranean Sea and Art Deco architecture! One of the most extraordinary art deco constructions is found to be in Nice, it is the Palais de la Mediterranée.
The design, architecture, and the lifestyle style of Nice will make you feel like you’re back in time, during la Belle Époque! The Promenade des Anglais (translated, “The walk of English”) is a must if you happen to come to Nice. Talking a walk down this avenue is so rejuvenating and inspiring. The view is the nicest. The sky is blue, the sea is blue…
And if you’re looking for an even more majestic view, you have to go up the hill and reach Le Château, this place offers a panoramic view of both the city and the sea… And the opportunity to take the most stunning photos!
Also, parallel to the Promenade des Anglais, you will find Cours Saleya and its flower market! Cours Saleya is another highlight of Nice, thanks to the flower market but also for all its little stores and cute cafes surrounding the square!
Then, if you’re into modern art and want to know a bit more about Henri Matisse (a French artist), you definitely have to visit the Musée Matisse. Matisse died in Nice and has a whole museum dedicated to his work. The museum is great and the collection perfectly shows us the evolution of the artist, the different styles and technics he went through, and his inspirations.
And if you want to know where to hang out at night. I’d say the coolest district is the Old Town of Nice, also known as Vieux-Nice. In this neighborhood, you will find out that Nice’s inhabitants are actually the nicest!
I saved this little gem for last because, to me, it is the cutest city of France. Saint Malo is located in northern France. It is a walled port city in Brittany, to be precise. In one day, you will see all its landmarks and attractions, but believe me, you will want to go back!
From Plage de l’Éventail, you can get to two little islands: Petit Bé and Grand Bé. These islands are accessible by foot, but only when the tide is low! But it’s totally worth the visit. Because the islands are pure treasures. You will feel close to nature more than ever! If that interests you, Chateaubriand, a famous French writer, was buried at le Grand Bé.
Otherwise, you can see the islands from the Fort National that has been preciously preserved all through the years. The Fort National was built in 1689 and was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. But it passed the test of time and continues to offer us the nicest view of the sea.
For you to enjoy a good meal, you should go to Rue Jacques Cartier. This street is full of restaurants, and creperies. You will plenty of choice to taste the most delicious seafood and crepes specialties!
My top 5 French cities to see (except Paris) is now over! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that I’ve inspired you for your next travel destination! This article was about showing you my favorite cities of France and the highlights I most liked. Feel free to share your experiences!
See you in France!