France is the most popular tourist destination in the world. Known as a country of art, culture, and romance, millions of travelers arrive in France every year.
Some head for the mountains, others to the seaside, and some to the picturesque villages of rural France. Millions, however, are drawn to the urban heartlands of French culture — the cities of France.
Paris: The Most Visited City in France
France’s cosmopolitan capital holds the number one spot on this list and it is not hard to see why. A truly global city and one of the largest in Europe, Paris has a reputation for being among the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. It is a focal point of tourism in France.
The “City of Light” is renowned for having been a center of European art for centuries, from Baroque to Impressionism and its many world-famous art museums reflect this history.
A world capital of fashion, food, and culture, visitors can enjoy fine dining, stroll along the banks of the Seine, and visit the cobbled streets of the historic Montmartre district where artists from Manet and Van Gogh to Picasso set up their studios.
Few cities can claim to have as many iconic landmarks as Paris. The most famous include:
- The Eiffel Tower
- Arc de Triomphe
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées
- Notre Dame
- Sacré Coeur
- Moulin Rouge
- The Catacombs of Paris
- The Luxor Obelisk
Paris is also famous for its many museums, many of which are architectural icons in their own right, such as:
- The Louvre
- Musée d’Orsay
- Centre Pompidou
Major attractions close to Paris, but outside the city itself include:
- Palace of Versailles
- Disneyland Paris
Paris is the center of France’s road and rail network and is served by 2 international airports: Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly.
Located on the French Riviera close to the Italian border, Nice is the second most-visited city in France.
The city has a long history dating back to the Ancient Greeks. It has been a tourist destination since the 18th century, when wealthy English visitors would take advantage of the Mediterranean climate during the winter. This is why the main walkway on the seafront is dubbed “La Promenade des Anglais”.
With its beautiful sand, clear blue waters, and hot, sunny weather, Nice is the perfect French city for beachgoers.
Sights to see include:
- The Hotel Negresco
- Jardin Botanique de la Ville de Nice (botanical garden)
- Château/Castle of Nice (a hill and park where a castle once stood, offering panoramic views)
- Museum of Asian Art
- Vieux Nice (the old town)
- Roman ruins at Cemenelum
Nice is served by Nice Côte d’Azur Airport — the third busiest airport in France. TGV high-speed trains run between Nice-Ville railway station and other major French cities like Paris and Marseille, while international trains connect Nice to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and Russia.
Lyon is a historical city founded by the Romans. It was an important region for silk production and weaving from the Renaissance through to the 19th century. It later played a crucial role in the birth of cinema when Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph in the city.
The Historic Site of Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to architecture from throughout the city’s long history. Impressive landmarks include:
- The Odeon of Lyon — an Ancient Roman theatre
- Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls — Roman ruins
- Lyon Cathedral
- Vieux Lyon (the old medieval and Renaissance quarter)
- Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
- Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon
Lyon is well-known for its cuisine, with more than one food critic referring to it as “the gastronomic capital of the world”. Visitors can enjoy traditional mâchons, coq au vin, and the recent Lyonnais invention of French tacos at the typical bouchon restaurants.
The most important event of the year in Lyon is the spectacular Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières). For 4 days in December, candles are traditionally used to light up residents’ homes and the facades of buildings all over the city are bathed in dramatic light and sound displays.
Lyon is easily reached by French public transport, with trains, including TGV, connecting Perrache and Part-Dieu Stations with other major cities. The city is served by Saint-Exupéry Airport.
The largest French city on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille is France’s main commercial port. Founded as an Ancient Greek colony around 600BC, Marseille has been an important city for centuries. Modern Marseille is notable for being very inclusive and multicultural.
Marseille’s opera house and art galleries make it a regional center for the arts. Famous artists like Renoir and Cézanne were known to visit Marseille to capture its beautiful scenery in paintings.
Marseille is also known for its hip-hop music and is sometimes credited as the birthplace of French rap.
Key sights to see in Marseille include:
- Notre Dame de la Garde
- Le Vieux Port (The Old Port)
- The Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure (“La Major”)
- The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)
- Calanques National Park
- The Marseille History Museum
Marseille can be reached by flying to Marseille Provence Airport (Aéroport de Marseille Provence). The main railway station, Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles, connects the city with most other major cities in France, including Paris.
World-renowned for its wine, Bordeaux is surrounded by vineyards. It is the world’s second-largest wine-producing region and wine tours and tastings are a big draw for visitors.
The capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, Bordeaux has the highest number of preserved historical architecture in France outside of Paris. The historic part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Among the many impressive landmarks are:
- The Grand Théâtre
- Place des Quinconces
- Basilica of Saint Michael
- Pont de pierre
- Place de la Bourse
- Église Sainte-Croix (Church of the Holy Cross)
- Rue Sainte-Catherine
- Jacques Chaban-Delmas Bridge
Bordeaux can be reached by flying to Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport, or by train from Paris, Nantes, Nice, Marseille, and Lyon.
Visiting the Cities of France
All of France’s most visited cities are served by international airports and major railway lines. They are easy to reach for international travelers who have the correct documentation to cross the border into the country.
For citizens of the EU and other Schengen countries, no documentation is required to enter France (although it is advisable to carry an ID card or passport).
For nationals of a number of non-EU countries, it will be necessary to acquire an ETIAS to visit France, while travelers from other countries will have to apply for a visa. Learn more about who needs ETIAS to enter France.