Paris is one of the greatest cities in the world, without a doubt. But there’s a lot more to France than simply Paris.
Here are five other French cities worth visiting:
Lyon, France’s third largest city is located at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers. The streets of the old town are warm and pastel-colored, making it extremely picturesque. Lyon mixes old and new, with a Gallo-Roman amphitheater, a modernist museum and everything in between.
One of my favorite views of Lyon is from the Passerelle du Palais de Justice (or Red Bridge).
Rennes is the capital of Brittany and is famous for its slender, slanted, wood-thatched houses. The city also strives to preserve its ancient Celtic language, Breton, so look for it on street signs.
If you’re looking for great crepes, look no further: Rennes claims that the sweet treats were invented right here.
Load a hot pancake up with fresh forest berries, Grand Marnier, and hand-whipped cream. Savory crepes made from buckwheat flour are also popular here. My favorite is forest mushroom and onion with garlic cream sauce.
Located in the German-speaking region of Alsace, Strasbourg is a mix of German and French styles. Petit France, the canal area of Strasbourg, is the center of the old town, where the smells of freshly-baked croissants meet accordion music in the air.
Strasbourg has the oldest wine in the world, dating back from 1472 in this cellar, La Cave des Hospices.
I highly recommend the restaurant La Corde de Linge for lunch or dinner– their hand-rolled knepfle, an Alsatian pasta, is excellent!
Bordeaux: Everything is big in Bordeaux: tall churches, wide boulevards, and huge portions. In fact, Bordeaux’s main square is the largest in Europe; it houses an amusement park and a green market, and still somehow has plenty of room for the all the dog-walkers and roller-skaters. The Ferris wheel in the center offers a great view of the city.
Bordeaux monuments and churches such as La Grosse Cloche, or Big Bell, attest to the ‘big’ theme. It is rumored that Georges-Eugene Hausmann, the architect credited for modernizing Paris in the 1860’s, was inspired by Bordeaux’s buildings and boulevards, which led to the creation of the Champs Elysees.
Many famous red wine varietals are grown in this region such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Students and architecture geeks will love Lille, a small city in the rainy region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Lille is an eclectic mix of many French and Dutch styles in every color of the rainbow. People tend to avoid Nord-Pas-de-Calais, mostly because of the weather. In my mind, cold weather = hot chocolate, and Lille’s got several specialty hot chocolate shops.
Lille has a great nightlife, with curiously-themed bars, inexpensive (by French standards) restaurants, and lots of beautiful young people. Lille also makes for a good stop on the way to Belgium if you’re heading in that direction!
Forget Paris, Annecy is the real City of Love. This gorgeous city in Haute-Savoie has the best fondue and white wine in France by far, in my opinion. Nestled in the Alps near Switzerland, Annecy’s beautiful mountains and crystal clear waters are unmatched by any other French city. Annecy is also close to the some of best skiing in France and Switzerland.
Annecy’s old town is famous for the Palais de l’Isle, a medieval prison, and its many canals. This alpine city is lovely to visit any season of the year. Take a boat ride on Lac Annecy, devour some delicious Gruyere and crack open a bottle of Chautagne to finish the day.
There’s a popular French saying: “Paris is not France, and France is not Paris”. Though Paris is an incredible place to visit, there are several other incredible cities worth visiting, such as Lyon, Rennes, Strasbourg, Lille, and Annecy.
Each region of France has its own culture (and wine), from the Celtic origins of Brittany to the German-inspired Alsace, each charming in its own way. These smaller cities are less touristy and less expensive, and in my opinion, have better and more authentic local cuisines.
Thanks for reading!
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