France, in Western Europe, encompasses medieval cities, alpine villages and Mediterranean beaches. Paris, its capital, is famed for its fashion houses, classical art museums including the Louvre and monuments like the Eiffel Tower. The country is also renowned for its wines and sophisticated cuisine. Lascaux’s ancient cave drawings, Lyon’s Roman theater and the vast Palace of Versailles attest to its rich history.
No one could imagine Paris today without it. But Gustave Eiffel only constructed this elegant, 320m-tall signature spire as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 World’s Fair. Luckily, the art-nouveau tower’s popularity assured its survival. Prebook tickets online to avoid long ticket queues.
Lifts ascend to the tower’s three floors; change lifts on the 2nd floor for the final ascent to the top. Energetic visitors can climb as far as the 2nd floor via the south pillar’s 704 stairs.
Refreshment options in the tower include two snack bars, the 1st-floor58 Tour Eiffel, the sublime 2nd-floor Le Jules Verne, as well as amacaron bar, and, at the top, a Champagne bar.
Beginning with a 2.5m-high bulletproof glass wall built around the tower in 2017 (the base is still free to visit after passing through the security checks), a €300 million renovation project over 15 years will reduce queues, protect visitors waiting for the lifts from rain and snow, modernise the illuminations and improve visitor facilities.
Paris, France’s capital, is a major European city and a global center for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture. Its 19th-century cityscape is crisscrossed by wide boulevards and the River Seine. Beyond such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and the 12th-century, Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral, the city is known for its cafe culture and designer boutiques along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Disneyland Paris, originally Euro Disney Resort, is an entertainment resort in Marne-la-Vallée, a new town located 32 km east of the centre of Paris, and is the most visited theme park in all of Europe. It is owned and operated by The Walt Disney Company and is the only resort outside the United States to be. The resort covers 4,800 acres (19 km) and encompasses two theme parks, many resort hotels, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, and a golf course, in addition to several additional recreational and entertainment venues. Disneyland Park is the original theme park of the complex, opening with the resort on 12 April 1992. A second theme park, Walt Disney Studios Park, opened in 2002. The resort is the second Disney park to open outside the United States following the opening of the Tokyo Disney Resort in 1983. Until June 2017, Disney only held a majority stake in the resort, when they bought the remaining shares. In 2017 The Walt Disney Company offered an informal takeover of Euro Disney S.C.A., buying 9% of the company from Kingdom Holding and an open offer of 2 Euro per share for the remaining stock. This brought The Walt Disney Company’s total ownership to 85.7%. The Walt Disney company will also invest an additional 1.5 Billion Euro to strengthen the company
Notre Dame de Paris
Paris’ most visited unticketed site, with upwards of 14 million visitors per year, is a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. The focus of Catholic Paris for seven centuries, its vast interior accommodates 6000 worshippers.
Highlights include its three spectacular rose windows, treasury, and belltowers, which can be climbed. From the North Tower, 400-odd steps spiral to the top of the western facade, where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with frightening gargoyles and a spectacular view of Paris.
Notre Dame is very much the heart of Paris – so much so that distances from Paris to every part of metropolitan France are measured fromplace du Parvis Notre Dame, the vast square in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris where crowds gather in the afternoon sun to admire the cathedral facade
Chateau de Versailles
Amid magnificently landscaped formal gardens, this splendid and enormous palace was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French monarchy, which was then at the height of its glory. The chateau has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction, though almost all the interior furnishings disappeared during the Revolution and many of the rooms were rebuilt by Louis-Philippe. Some 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers.
Work began in 1661 under the guidance of architect Louis Le Vau from painter and interior designer Charles Le Brun and landscape artist André Le Notre, whose workers flattened hills, drained marshes and relocated forests as they laid out the seemingly endless gardens, ponds and fountains.
Le Brun and his hundreds of artisans decorated every moulding, cornice, ceiling and door of the interior with the most luxurious and ostentatious of appointments: frescoes, marble, gilt and woodcarvings, many with themes and symbols drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. The King’s Suite of the Grands Appartements (King’s and Queen’s State Apartments), for example, includes rooms dedicated to Hercules, Venus, Diana, Mars and Mercury. The opulence reaches its peak in the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), a 75m-long ballroom with 17 huge mirrors on one side and, on the other, an equal number of windows looking out over the gardens and the setting sun.
The French Riviera is the Mediterranean coast of southeastern France. It includes famously glamorous beach resorts such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes, and the independent microstate of Monaco. A health retreat in the 18th century, the area later attracted aristocrats, artists and the 1960s “jet set.” Today it’s an established holiday destination, with paths connecting many coastal villages and towns
Situated in the East of the Cote d’Azur, between the epic mountains of the Mercantour National Park, and the warm Mediterranean Sea, Nice has the vibrancy of Italy, and the charm of France. The city is buzzing with great little boutique restaurants, cafés and bars. The main beach in Nice is stony rather than sandy, so sunbathing there is not that comfortable. As an alternative, head around the coast to Coco Beach, you’ll find a paradise for swimming, snorkelling and jumping off rocks in to the sea. Take a look at our Nice page for ideas on things to see and do in the city, including a tasting of French organic wines.
In Cannes, expect luxury, glamour and glitz to ooze out of (almost) every fashion boutique, fine dining restaurant and VIP nightclub. Slightly more ‘rich’ than neighbouring Antibes and Nice, Cannes is the go-to place for a week of indulgence and pampering. Walk along the Promenade de la Croisette and down to the sandy beach where you can rent a sun lounger for the day, and work on your tan whilst being served fresh cocktails by your personal waiter. If you’re in Cannes in May, be sure to check out the lights, camera and action at the Cannes Film Festival. You’re also spoilt for choice for accommodation in Cannes, but there’s one hotel we really love.
Further to the West, you will find the busy little town of Antibes. This Mediterranean village, is now a port for many of the world’s most expensive superyachts. Navigate your way around the narrow streets and you’ll fall in love with Antibes and not want to leave. There is a small sandy beach next to the port which is well worth a visit, although it can get over crowded in the busy time of high summer. Take a wander up to Château Grimaldi which owes its name to the Grimaldi family, who ruled Antibes from 1385 to 1608. There you’ll enjoy spellbinding views over the surrounding coast and to the mountains in the distance.
Strasbourg is the capital city of the Grand Est region, formerly Alsace, in northeastern France. It’s also the formal seat of the European Parliament and sits near the German border, with culture and architecture blending German and French influences. Its Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame features daily shows from its astronomical clock and sweeping views of the Rhine River from partway up its 142m spire.
A prodigy of the gigantesque and the delicate,” as Victor Hugo claimed. Strasbourg Cathedral (1015-1439) is an absolute masterpiece of Gothic art. The 142 m high spire looks incredibly lightweight and made the Cathedral the highest edifice in all Christianity until the 19th century. Three high-spots make the visit unforgettable. Outside, the facade is the greatest “book” of images the Middle Ages has to offer. Hundreds of sculptures stand out from the wall accentuating the effects of shadow and light. The colour of the red sandstone changes throughout the day depending on the colour of the sky. In the summer evenings, the illuminated scenography is an enchantment. Inside, the long aisle inspires peace and reflection. The 12th- to 14th-century stained-glass windows and the rose window are not to be missed. The monumental organ has a remarkable cabinet decorated with automated figures. The astronomical clock built in the Renaissance period and mechanism dating back to 1842 is a masterpiece in itself, where the procession of apostles can be admired every day at 12:30 p.m.
Just across the Ill from the European Parliament and the Court of Human Rights, the Parc de l’Orangerie took shape during the revolution when 140 orange trees confiscated from Chateau de Bouxwiller were granted to the city.There are now only three of these trees remaining, and you can still see them on certain days in the park’s greenhouses.Naturally there’s a lot more to this fantastic park than that: You have a large boating lake, lots of long, leafy avenues, lawns, and even a mini-zoo and farm for kids.There’s also a stork reintroduction centre; this type of bird has a special place in Strasbourg folklore, and it’s meant to be good luck for a household if a pair perch on the roof.
Founded in 1979, the European Parliament has been home to 785 Euro MPs representing the 27 countries of the European Union since 1 January 2008. Here, they vote on legislation concerning the environment, labour, equality etc. The sittings are held 4 days a month in Strasbourg. The building of the European Parliament called “Louise-Weiss” after the oldest member who gave the opening speech at the 1st session of the Parliament. It is made up of 2 buildings, an ellipsis and a circle representing the exchange between democracy and power. The ellipsis, housing the vast hemicycle, is made of glass and metal and sits on the banks of the river Ill. In the centre, the second building contains the MEPs’ offices. In the evening, the transparency of the Parliament means you can admire a play of light, which may of course vary with the intensity of the debates inside!
Cathedrale de la Major
Beside the sea on a terrace in the northwest of the Le Panier quarter, the Cathedrale de la Major of Marseille boasts a picturesque location fitting of this port city. The mighty cathedral stands high above the port installations, with its impressive domed towers-the highest rising 16 meters. Constructed between 1852 and 1893 using a mixture of white and green limestone, the Cathedral blends Romanesque and Byzantine styles to a harmonious effect. The interior is richly decorated with marble and mosaic; in the crypt lie the tombs of the Bishops of Marseilles. With a length of 141 meters, the Cathedrale de la Major is the largest ecclesiastical building created in the 19th century.
A stunning complex of three different sites, this expansive museum features a wealth of discoveries. Through the museum’s galleries as well as lectures and film screenings, visitors can explore the history of Mediterranean civilization. The newest part of the museum is built on the former J4 Pier by the architect Rudy Ricciotti. This section addresses themes such as the invention of gods, the treasures of the spice route, the visions of Jerusalem, and the seven wonders of the world. The second stage of the museum is located in the vaulted rooms of the Fort Saint-Jean, a historic monument that dates back to the 12th century. The Fort Saint-Jean also has spectacular Mediterranean gardens accessible by a suspended footbridge over the sea. Here, visitors can enjoy a scenic stroll and take in the panoramic views of the coastline. The third site is the Conservation Center (located in the Belle de Mai quarter), which offers a behind-the-scenes look into the work of the museum
Marseille, a port city in southern France, has been a crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Greeks circa 600 B.C. At its heart is the Vieux-Port (Old Port), where fishmongers sell their catch along the boat-lined quay. Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is a Romanesque-Byzantine church. Modern landmarks include Le Corbusier’s influential Citée Radieuse complex and Zaha Hadid’s CMA CGM Tower.
Lyon’s Presqu’ile District is a piece of land, sort of like an island, within the river. This neighborhood is distinguished by its beautiful architecture and monumental town squares. The Place des Terreaux is worth visiting just to see the fountain by F.A. Bartholdi. This grandiose work of art depicts the triumphal chariot of the Garonne River. Notice the four marvelously sculpted horses that look very hardworking, they represent the four different rivers that flow into the ocean. Lyon’s Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) is found on the east side of the square. Originally built between 1646 and 1672, the Hôtel de Ville was rebuilt (after a fire) by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in his signature Baroque style. Another monumental edifice in this area is the Palais de la Bourse et du Commerce, on Rue de la République. Although the building has a Renaissance architectural style, it was constructed in the 19th century. Continuing south of the Palais de la Bourse, tourists will come across the Eglise Saint-Bonaventure, a former Franciscan church built in the 14th-15th centuries.
Lyons’s finest square in the Presqu’ile district is Place Bellecour, between the Rhône and Saône Rivers. The square’s centerpiece is an equestrian statue of Louis XIV created by the Lyons sculptor F. Lemot. Elegant 19th-century buildings line the east and west sides of the square. From the north side of the square, there is a view of the Fourvière hill. A few steps away from the Place Bellecour is the Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon, a splendid 17th-century building that once served as a hospital. The Hôtel-Dieu now houses the Musée des Hospices Civils, an interesting museum with an eclectic collection of decorative arts and antique medical devices. Another lovely square, thePlace Carnot, is found by way of Rue Victor-Hugo. This square features an immense monument to the Republic created in 1890.
Lyon, the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, sits at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its center reflects 2,000 years of history from the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, medieval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux (Old) Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu’île peninsula. Traboules, covered passageways between buildings, connect Vieux Lyon and La Croix-Rousse hill.
On the Place de la Comédie, the Opéra de Lyon is a beautiful 19th-century opera house with a majestic dome. The original theater was renovated by Jean Nouvel who tripled the size of the building using modern architectural techniques. The Opéra de Lyon presents a wide variety of opera, from Romeo and Juliet to Carmen as well as dance performances and classical music concerts. The Théâtre des Celestins at Place des Célestins, is an impressive Neoclassical theater built on the vestiges of a Celestine monastery. The gorgeous Italian-style auditorium has a sensational ceiling painting, gilded balconies, and plush velvet seats. The theater offers a wide variety of dramatic performances (in French), ranging from classical repertory to contemporary plays.
Where the Rhône and Saône rivers meet in Lyon is the location of the historic French city’s urban development project, which has been transforming the former industrial wasteland into spaces for residences, offices, shopping and leisure since the early 2000s. One of the leading attractions to this new riverfront is the Musée des Confluences, a unique interdisciplinary institution that merges ethnology, anthropology, the natural sciences, geography, technology and more. Through the 2.2 million objects within its collection (some of which visitors are even invited to touch), the museum contemplates what we know and the much we still don’t. The museum is located at the tip of the peninsula—the confluence of the two rivers—a landmark symbol of its own objective: the converging of knowledge and place.
Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon
Lyon’s elegant Museum of Fine Art (Musee des Beaux Arts) is housed in a 17th-century palace that was designed for the Royal Abbess of the Dames de Saint Pierre and later remodeled to outrageous heights by Louis XIV.displays one of the finest collections in all France. More than 70 rooms display one of the finest art collections in all of France, including an outsanding array of antiquities and artwork, more than 600 Ancient Egyptian pieces, rare Asian ceramics and the second-largest numismatic collection in the country. Thirty-five rooms are dedicated to European paintings, from classic artists such as El Greco and Rembrandt to more modern masters such as Picasso and Renoir. The museum also offers temporary exhibitions, as well as activities and events for adults and children. The shady sculpture garden is often softly lit for visitors on special summer evenings.