The country of France is literally filled with medieval cities, alpine villages, and glorious beaches. Vineyards and wines make it world famous, as do the many classical museums and monuments. Ancient caves with prehistoric drawings, theatres and palaces, art galleries and eclectic villages – there is something for everyone in this amazing country!
1. The Eiffel Tower
Named after Gustave Eiffel, this is the huge wrought iron tower on the Champ de Mars, Paris. It is one of the most recognizable structures in the world and graces many postcards. It is also the most visited monument, with 6.9 million visitors each year.
There are three levels of visitors, and you will find restaurants on the first and second floors. You can buy tickets online or right outside the tower.
There is a lift to the first and second floors, although if you are fit, you may choose to climb the 300 steps.
Plan to spend a half day here, and then combine your day seeing other parts of the city.
2. Arc de Triomphe
This is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, it should not be confused with the smaller arch near the Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe was built to honour men and women who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The tomb of the unknown soldier lies in the vault. You will find the names of all the French generals and their victories engraved on the surfaces.
Until 1938 this was the tallest triumphal arch in the world. Now Mexico City has the highest (Monumento a la Revolution)
To see this is really only an hour or so unless you want to find a particular name or event, but you should allow a half day to explore all around it.
3. The Louvre
This is the world’s largest museum and historical monument. It houses some 38,000 objects dating from prehistoric to 21st century. It is also the most visited museum in the world with 7.3 million visitors per year.
Here you will find the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci – also known as La Giaconda with no eyebrows.
The museum is filled with other collections such as Egyptian antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman collections, and Islamic arts. There are many fascinating sculptures, drawings, and prints.
Plan on spending a full day here if you want to get a good look. You can also buy two and three-day ticket passes if you want to return the next day.
4. Disneyland Paris
This used to be known as Euro Disney Resort and is located in the resort of Marne-la-Vallée, about 20 miles east of Paris. It can get very busy as it is the most visited theme park in Europe.
There are two theme parks, many hotels, a shopping centre, golf course, along with many recreational venues.
Plan to spend the whole day there! Preferably book a hotel and spend a second day there – the kids will thank you!
5. Le Mont-Sant-Michel
This is an island community in Normandy with a population of just 44. At low tide, the island is accessible although at high tide it is completely cut off.
The island is visited by more than 3 million people every year and it is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are over 60 interesting buildings on the island that you can explore.
The Abbey is located on the island and well worth a visit.
It is important that you check the tides before going there – and this is well advertised on the island – as there is no hotel there for you to stay.
6. Notre-Dame de Paris
This is a medieval cathedral meaning ‘Our Lady of Paris’. It is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and one of the largest church buildings in the world. Things you may see are the ‘Crown of Thorns’, one of the Holy Nails, and a piece of the true Cross. These are some of the most important artefacts in the Catholic religion.
The cathedral has some of the most well-known stained-glass windows and magnificent sculptures.
Allow a half day to see the inside, and then spend some time looking around the exterior and gardens.
7. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart
This is often referred to as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. You will find it located at the top of Butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in Paris. The monument is both political and cultural, is known for events of the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war, and the public dedication to the ‘Sacred Heart’. Work first began here in 1875 and it was completed in 1914, although it was only dedicated after 1919.
8. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées
This street is 1.2 miles long and 230’ wide. It runs from Place de la Concorde to Place Charles de Gaulle where the Arc de Triomphe is found. The avenue is famous for luxury shops and cafes, theatres and small boutiques.
The annual Bastille Day military parade takes place here. Another fact is that it is also the end of the Tour de France cycle race. It is, without doubt, one of the most famous streets in the world!
Take your time – and your camera – and spend the day exploring the street, stopping for lunch at one of the many restaurants or small cafes along the way.
9. The Promenade de la Croisette
You will find this road in Cannes running along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The road is about 2 km long, and this is where the Cannes Film Festival takes place.
If shopping is what you enjoy, then head to the many expensive shops such as Gucci, Hermes, Prada, Chane, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton or Burma.
There are plenty of restaurants along the way, as well as hotels such as the Carlton and Marriott.
If money is no object, then stay a night, otherwise spend a day exploring the street.
10. Moulin Rouge
You will find this in the red-light district of Paris, in Pigalle. This is a very popular landmark for tourists to take pictures under the famous red windmill – it is the original one.
Stay for the evening shows of the cancan, along with many other forms of entertainment. If long legs, swirling skirts and sexy lingerie is what you want, then this is the place to be!
The shows are not cheap so be ready to spend your money. It will give you an idea of France at the turn of the century. Splurge, and treat yourself to a cigar while you watch the dancers!
You can book your tickets online for an unforgettable evening.
11. Pèlerinage de Lourdes
This is also known as The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. What used to be a tranquil village became a busy pilgrimage site when Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. Now the village has the second greatest number of hotels in France! Millions come here every year to see the ‘Cave of Apparitions’.
Whether you are a devout believer or not, it will be a moving experience for you. There are 17 pools in the grotto, which are alleged to contain healing waters.
Allow yourself a day to soak up the atmosphere and perhaps take a dip in one of the pools.
12. The Alps
This is the highest mountain range, lying across Europe and stretching about 750 miles. It covers eight countries. There are over 100 peaks which are higher than 13,000 feet.
You will find wildlife such as Ibis at altitudes of about 11,000 feet and plants such as the well-known Edelweiss in both low and high elevations.
The Alps are world renowned for skiing, although they are also known for cheesemaking, farming and woodwork in various regions.
Take your skies, and spend a few days in the amazing mountains!
13. Musée d’Orsay
This museum is housed in what used to be a railway station. You will find mostly French art dating between 1848 and 1914. Look out for artists such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Manet, and Sisley to name but a handful.
This is one of the largest art museums in Europe so be prepared to spend a full day there.
14. Strasbourg Cathedral
Also known as the ‘Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg’, this is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture.
Between 1647 and 1874 it was the tallest building in the world. Now it holds 6th place.
Sandstone from the Vosges was used to build it, and it is this that gives the cathedral the well-known pink shade.
15. The Palace of Versailles
This is now open as a museum and is very popular. You will find it 12 miles southwest of Paris. The palace, also known simply as ‘Versailles’ is a symbol of ‘absolute monarchy of the Ancient Regime.’ Louis XIV moved his court there back in 1682.
While the main building is still intact, many things were destroyed through the years. The gardens and chateau are well worth visiting.
The palace has been a world heritage site for some years now.
Plan on spending a half day here, allow a little longer if you want to explore the gardens.
16. Centre Georges Pompidou
This is a collection of buildings housing the Public Information Library and the Museum of Modern Art, which is the largest modern art museum in Europe. Also, you will find the Centre for Music and Acoustic Research.
The centre is named after the President of France, George Pompidou, who commissioned the building in 1969.
Over 3 million people visit the museum each year while the centre itself has drawn some 180 million since 1977.
Plan to spend a full day around the area, you will find many small cafes where you can grab a bite to eat.
17. Palais des Papes
In English, this means ‘Papal Palace’. It is one of the largest Gothic buildings in Europe. It used to be a fortress and a palace and is now a papal residence.
There are in fact, two buildings namely the old building, and the new Palais of Clement VI. Combined, they are the largest Gothic building of the middle ages.
There is a papal library with over 2,000 books, and it was here that Johannes Ciconia came to study.
Be prepared to spend a half day here, more if you want to look around the gardens.
18. Le Marais
This is also known as the Historic District in Paris. For many years it has been considered the aristocratic area of Paris. You will find many amazing buildings of historical and architectural interest here. It is a spread-out area on the Right Bank of the Seine River.
You will be able to see most things in a half a day, although there are many small cafes if you want to stay for longer.
19. Gorges du Verdon
You will find this in the southeast of France. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in Europe. Also called the Grand Canyon of Verdon. The canyon is 25 km long and in areas is 700 meters deep. The turquoise colour comes from the River Verdon running through the limestone.
The river flows into the artificial lake Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. It is very popular, and you can hire kayaks.
If rock climbing appeals to you, then this is the place to go, as the walls reach hundreds of meters high in places.
20. Tyne Cot Graveyard
This is the largest Commonwealth War Graveyard. It is near Ypres. The graveyard is filled with white graves, and it is the most visited cemetery in the world. Visiting this war memorial is a truly awesome experience. You will be able to place a wreath on a grave if you so wish.
The stone wall which surrounds the cemetery is the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.
You will be able to locate individual cemeteries to find a specific area.
Be prepared for this to be a profound visit, and spend as long as you like there.
21. The Champ de Mars
Literally translated this means Field of Mars, and it was so named as a tribute to the Roman God of War. It is a huge public green space.
The lawns were at one time used as drilling grounds for the French military.
Pack a picnic basket and enjoy the beautiful gardens in the middle of the city.
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