Things to Do in France
The Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baionnettes) is a World War I memorial situated north of the Douaumont Ossuary. It pays homage to the Bayonet Trench soldiers who are thought to have been buried alive during an enemy bombardment on June 12th, 1916. According to the myth, in 1919, Colonel Collet, Commander of the 137 I.R., returned to the location where his unit had fought in 1916 only to find a dozen rifles still sticking out of the ground, some with their bayonets still intact, with a dead French soldier under each rifle. He built a small memorial on the site to honor the memory of his colleagues. The press picked up the story, which immediately captured the public’s imagination. The story, however moving, is believed to not be entirely historically accurate. Experts believe that survivors who wanted to memorialize the place where the attack occurred probably installed the bayonets and the rifles themselves after the bombardment.
The Eiffel Tower isn't just a symbol of Paris but a symbol for all of France. Erected by Gustave Eiffel to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution in 1889, the 1,050-foot (320-meter) tower once held the title of the world's tallest structure. Despite having been dwarfed by Dubai's Burj Khalifa and The Shard in London, the Eiffel Tower remains one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. View the architectural icon from afar, or stop in at the three observation levels for stellar city views.
At the foot of Fourviére Hill, the historical streets of Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon) offer a welcome change of pace from the modern city across the river. With elegant medieval churches, Renaissance-era monuments, and pastel-painted facades, this is Lyon’s most atmospheric district.
The self-proclaimed capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar is an undeniable highlight of the famous Alsace Wine Route and renowned for its beautifully preserved medieval center. Colmar Old Town (Vieux Colmar) is postcard-worthy from all angles, with its half-timbered buildings painted in a rainbow of colors, fishing boats bobbing along the flower-lined canal ways and maze of cobblestone lanes dotted with small cafés and artisan shops.
Colmar Old Town's compact center makes it feel more like a village than a town, and the main sights can be easily explored on foot, including architectural gems like the dramatic Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads), the 16th-century wooden Maison Pfister (Pfister House) and the pink sandstone St Martin Church. Additional highlights of Colmar include Mathias Grünewald’s 16th-century Issenheim Altarpiece, on show at the Unterlinden Museum; the Bartholdi museum, dedicated to the Colmar-born architect (best known for designing the Statue of Liberty); and the aptly-named La Petite Venise (Little Venice), where visitors can enjoy a boat tour around the scenic canal ways.
The most atmospheric times to visit Colmar are during the Foire aux Vins wine festival held each summer or during the annual Christmas market when the entire town comes alive with festivities.
The largest marina in Europe, with over 100 berths, Antibes’ ritzy Port Vauban is one of the most popular spots for yachts on the French Riviera. Originally a natural port run by everyone from the ancient Greeks to the Romans and the Barbarians, it wasn’t until the 15th century that the site was given adequate protection from raiders, when Louis XIV ordered military engineer Seigneur de Vauban to fortify the marina.
Port Vauban Antibes is home to the Yacht Club d’Antibes and has its own private heli-pad for all those superyacht owners like Roman Abramovich. Berths at Port Vauban don’t come cheap—each
spot costs between 1 and 4 million euros. Each spring, the marina hosts the Antibes Yacht Show, which attracts more than 15,000 visitors every year.
Just behind the archway to Antibes’ Old Town on the western edge of the marina is a lively market that is open every day except Monday. After checking out all the glittering yachts, the market serves as a great place to order all kinds of Provençal cheeses and fruits, and to stop and enjoy a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants.
A 20-minute ferry ride across the waters of the Mediterranean Sea transports travelers from the high-class commotion of Cannes to the tranquil Île Sainte-Marguerite, a small island with more pine trees than people. Bring your walking shoes and your love for the great outdoors for the perfect day trip away from it all.
Surrounded by the dramatic heights of Massif des Bauges Natural Park, Lake Annecy appeals to leisure travelers and watersport enthusiasts with its clear, turquoise waters,. On its shores, the lush Jardins de l’Europe and Annecy's historic Old Town add to the postcard-worthy scenery.
Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles takes the award for the most visited château in France, and the magnificent Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles) are world renowned. A series of beautifully landscaped gardens, show-stopping fountains, and tree-lined pathways covering 800 hectares (1,976 acres), the gardens center on the cross-shaped Grand Canal.
As Europe's only protected park to contain land, water, and semi-urban areas, Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques) is a mecca for outdoor adventurers. Whether you want to snorkel and sail, kayak and climb, or hike and watch out for wildlife, France's answer to the Garden of Eden has it all.
Soaring up the rocky peak of Aiguille du Midi at 12,605 feet (3,842 meters), the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car is one of the highest in Europe. Setting out from Chamonix, the cable car has two stages, culminating in an elevator ride to the summit with spectacular views over Mont Blanc and the surrounding French and Swiss Alps.
More Things to Do in France
One of France’s greatest Gothic masterpieces, the Reims Cathedral dates to the 13th century and is hallowed as the coronation site of many French kings. The UNESCO-listed landmark—recognizable for its twin bell towers and rose stained-glass window—was shelled during World War I but has since been restored to its former glory.
Whether you’re climbing aboard a life-size mechanical elephant, riding on a carousel of fantastical sea creatures, or operating a flying machine, a visit to Les Machines de L'île is probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Inspired by the creations of novelist Jules Verne, Nantes’ flagship attraction is fun for all ages.
Crowning the hilltopcité (citadel) of Carcassonne—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the imposing Château Comtal dates back to the 12th century, although the site’s historic roots stretch back as far as Roman times. A classic medieval castle, with fairy-tale towers and dramatic ramparts, the restored château is now open to the public as a museum.
Bordeaux has long been one of the world’s top wine destinations but when Cité du Vin opened in 2016, it finally got a museum to match its reputation. Housed in a modernist building that resembles a wine decanter, the center comprises exhibition spaces, cultural events, a wine bar, a cinema space, and more.
Built in 1495, this dramatic Gothic Revival 35-meters tall city gate was built to commemorate King Charles VIII's victory at Fornovo in Italy during the Italian War of 1494. At the time, it was the main entry point to Bordeaux from the port. It faces Place du Palais and features several ornamental sculptures and towers, something that is very typical of architecture built under the reign of Charles VIII; indeed, the monarch wanted this gate to showcase his power and affluence. The gate, which was once part of the Bordeaux city wall, was later on used as a defensive tower (the multitude of portcullis, murder holes, and machicolation features are there to prove this), and as a salt scale and storehouse.
Nowadays, it houses an informative exhibition dedicated to the tools and materials with which the tower was built as well as the urban development of Bordeaux. There is a wonderful view of the old town center, the Garonne River, and the Pont de Pierre Bridge from the top floor.
A stylish walkway monopolizing four miles (six kilometers) along the Bay of Angels, the Walk of the English (Promenade des Anglais or La Prom) is a Nice icon offering stunning views, enticing pit stops, and the best people-watching in the city. Grab your bike, skates, or shoes—and don’t forget your swimsuit—for a sunny afternoon in Nice.
One of the cultural highlights of the French Riviera, the Picasso Museum (Musée Picasso) is located in the heart of Antibes, between Cannes and Nice. Housed in the 14th-century Grimaldi Castle—where Picasso lived in 1946—the museum exhibits several hundred works by the modernist master.
The lifeblood of Paris, the River Seine acts as a dividing line between Paris’ historically sophisticated and bohemian halves; it provides transportation via riverboat and plenty of opportunity for romantic strolls; and its riverbanks are a UNESCO World Heritage Site lined with the city’s top landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Musée d’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Louvre.
The Strasbourg Cathedral of Notre Dame (also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, or simply, Strasbourg Cathedral) is the second most-visited cathedral in France, after Notre Dame in Paris. Up to 4 million people visit each year to admire its 465-foot (142-meter) spire and dramatic red facade sculpted from Vosges sandstone.
At the heart of Lyon is Bellecour Square—more commonly known as Place Bellecour—an enormous, unbroken brick expanse (the third largest square in France) sprawled between theSaône and the Rhône Rivers. These are echoed by two sculptures, named for the waterways, that flank a famed statue of Louis the X1V, on horseback.
The Sun King, in 1708, took this former vineyard, army barracks, and private gardens, and developed it into a public square. His architects framed the space with elegant facades, and it has since hosted public events and, more recently, an iconic Ferris wheel.
The shadeless plaza is surrounded by excellent eateries and cool cafés - Lyon is, after all, the Gastronomic Capital of France - w here you'll find respite on steamy summer afternoons.
As the highest municipal building of France at 104 meters high, the Lille belfry, attached to the town hall (Beffroi de l'Hôtel de Ville de Lille), is certainly a must when in the north of France. Both the belfry and town hall are reminiscent of Flemish architecture with their typical triangular gables and red bricks – understandably, so, considering the border to Belgium is just a few kilometers away. The belfry was built in 1932 as part of the reconstruction of the town hall, which was, unfortunately, torn to pieces during the First World War. And although it is not in use anymore, the belfry contains a headlight that was once used to inform the population of imminent municipal gatherings. Because of how it dominates the city, the belfry offers unobstructed and unparalleled 360-degree views of Lille, and even surrounding areas on clear days. The city hall and its belfry have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005.
Primarily associated with the steady gaze of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa, Paris' Louvre museum is home to a 35,000-strong collection of paintings and sculptures considered one of the greatest in the world. The contemporary glass Louvre Pyramid heralds the museum's entrance, which millions of tourists flock to every year to feast their eyes on masterpieces that span from antiquity to the 20th century.
Soaring dramatically over Annecy’s intact Old Town and set atop a rocky promontory, the Annecy Castle (Chateau d'Annecy) is a fine display of Savoyard defensive architecture as it was the princely residence of the Counts of Geneva between the 13th and 17th centuries; it was later on abandoned and served a military barracks until the end of World War II. Imagine yourself as a brave 14th century knight and try to identify the primitive keep, the gates, and the cellar rooms. Like many other fortresses elsewhere in Europe, the castle was considerably extended and given several upgrades throughout the centuries, both in terms of style and defensive purposes. The furniture, artworks, and accessories nowadays found inside the otherwise bare yet fascinating exhibition area are testament to these changes, and perfectly complemented by sections on contemporary Savoyard art and Lake Annecy’s eventful history.
Most visitors like to enjoy an excursion to Annecy as a half-day tour from close by Geneva, where they can dwelve in the city’s rich history and wander its colorful canal-side streets. Another option would be to hop on a full day tour of both Geneva and Annecy, which includes a scenic cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva.
Notre Dame de la Treille Cathedral in Lille is a Roman Catholic church that took almost 150 years to complete. The building is known for its modern stained glass panels and impressive organ.
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