France is one of my favorite places in the whole world. I love the people, the language, the history; it’s all so fascinating. We were lucky enough to live in a suburb of Paris for almost two years while my husband received his MBA at HEC-Paris. While we were there, we tried to really get to know the culture and tried to travel around the country as much as we could.
Below is a list of 10 of my favorite places around the country. It’s not in any specific order and it does leave out some regions that we haven’t been able to visit yet (the Alps, Bordeaux, Riviera, etc.). It also doesn’t include Paris at all because that would take up an entire list all on its own. No, instead I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorite places outside of the country’s capital. Enjoy and have fun planning your next trip to France!
One Major Château near Paris (Versailles, Vaux le Vicomte, Fontainebleau, or Chantilly)
While the Loire Valley is famous for all of its beautiful château, Paris actually has several fantastic ones right outside the city limits that are all worth visiting. Versailles is already well-known around the world, but did you know its architecture was based off of Vaux le Vicomte, a château to the east of Paris? Not only is Vaux le Vicomte absolutely stunning (and potentially more doable to visit with it being smaller than Versailles), it’s also incredibly family friendly with costume rentals and different holiday events (we participated in an incredible Easter Egg scavenger hunt last year that was amazing!). To the south of Paris is Fontainebleau, famous for being the home of Napoleon. Here you’ll learn more about the Emperor’s history and will also be able to see some of his actual outfits (my girls of course loved that). And to the north is Chantilly, famous for its whipped cream (definitely purchase a bowl at the restaurant) and its horse shows. While Versailles is the most famous, any of these châteaux are well worth a visit and make for a fantastic day trip from the city.
Château du Clos Lucé
Like I mentioned above, the Loire Valley is famous for its beautiful châteaux dotting the land around the river. Most are absolutely breathtaking, but one of our favorites was Château du Clos Lucé, home to Leonardo da Vinci. Not only did we adults enjoy learning more about the famous Renaissance man, but our oldest (who was 2.5 years old at the time) loved wandering through the gardens where she could try out life size versions of da Vinci’s inventions. It’s definitely worth adding to your list of châteaux to visit in the region.
Giverny is only an hour’s drive from Paris and was home to Claude Monet. It’s the perfect place to visit in the late spring or early summer when one can wander through the gardens where Monet himself sat and painted. Because most of the sights are outdoors, it’s a great place for kids to stretch their legs and enjoy the beautiful nature all around them. The town itself is also very charming with good food and quaint shops.
Mont Saint Michel
Your children might recognize the abbey as the inspiration for the kingdom in Disney’s Tangled. It certainly is impressive and while pretty touristy, it is definitely worth a visit when traveling through Normandy. Throughout the town are plenty of kid friendly places to eat and shop and the abbey itself is beautiful and unusually quiet compared to outside.
Saint Malo and Chateau de Fougeres
These are technically two different places in Brittany, but only an hour apart and since I couldn’t pick one over the other, they both made the list. Saint Malo is an old historical town with beautiful beaches and an impressive city wall that is safe for little ones to walk around on while offering stunning ocean views.
Chateau de Fougeres is a little known château in the area even though it’s one of Europe’s largest medieval fortresses. While partially in ruin, we could still tour part of the castle and enjoyed the audio guide that was included with our tickets. Both Saint Malo and Fougeres would make for a wonderful day in Brittany.
Carnac and Locmariaquer
Did you know that there are tons of megaliths (prehistoric monuments) in southern Brittany? Our family loves history so we were excited to check out several sites and to learn more about these mysterious stones. Locmariaquer has three ancient sites: the Er-Grah tumulus (a passage grave), a dolmen called the Table des Marchand, and The Broken Menhir of Er-Grah. All are very impressive and well worth the ticket price.
Carnac is a separate area (30 minutes from Locmariaquer) where there are many different sites each full of megaliths. The best thing to do there is to stop by the visitor’s center (Maison des Megaliths) where you can pick up a map of all the different sites and plan out which to visit. Our girls loved being able to run around all the “big rocks” and we loved the history!
Pont Du Gard
An impressive Roman aqueduct that still stands today, the Pont du Gard is definitely worth a visit while in Provence. The summers are quite hot in the south of France and we loved picnicking and going for a swim in the river below. This is such a gorgeous and impressive site and so incredibly family friendly. Our girls loved wading in the water and then going for a walk across the aqueduct. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors.
Carcassonne is a beautifully restored medieval city in the Languedoc region. While a bit touristy (think Mont Saint Michel), it’s still a fun place to visit with great food and plenty to see. We loved exploring the castle itself and even caught a jousting show that our girls loved (even with it being only in French).
Pech Merle Cave
Did you know that there are prehistoric caves in the Dordogne region of France? While planning our road trip down to Provence, we stopped and stayed a night near the Pech Merle Cave where we saw amazing prehistoric art that included spotted horses, woolly mammoths, handprints, and more. While there are many caves in the area to check out, we specifically chose this one due to the fact that it offered a tour in English and because it was a tour of the actual cave, not a reproduction. It’s also a little less well known then the nearby Lascaux and was far less busy. Dordogne is also just a beautiful region of France and is definitely worth exploring!
Strasbourg and Colmar at Christmas
When we moved to Paris, everyone told us that we had to visit Strasbourg at Christmas. Yes, it would be busy, but it would be so worth it. They were absolutely right. Strasbourg is known as the “CAPITALE DE NOËL” (The Capital of Christmas) and for good reason. The different markets, the decorations, and the charming buildings- they all add to the magical atmosphere. The nearby town of Colmar is also worth a visit, popular for its colorful buildings seen all over Instagram and Pinterest. During Christmas, Colmar also has several markets going on as well that are worth exploring. While very crowded, we still thought it was definitely worth a visit and made for a memorable holiday season.
So there you have it. My top ten favorite places in France. We loved our time living and exploring there and it was extremely hard to narrow it down to just ten places! To read more about our family’s experiences at each of these locations, check out my blog.
What do you think? Comment below what your favorite place in France is!
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