France has long drawn lovers, dreamers, artists, and intellectuals from across the globe to experience all the spectacular history and beauty it has to offer. The entire country is bathed in natural beauty and dotted with stunning historic architecture like Chateau de Chenonceau and the Palace of Versailles. Here are the best things to do in France. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Ancient Theatre of Fourviere
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In 15 BC, the Romans constructed Fourvière with the expectation of seating 10,000 people. However, by the 3rd century AD, the site was abandoned. By the dawn of the 20th century, the theater had weathered into a ruin, and enterprising citizens restored the structure to its original imposing glory, at which point it was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Within the walls lies stone seating where visitors can let their imaginations bring ancient performances to life. Another option visitors have is to plan a visit around the annual live summer performances, where revelers celebrate the Nuits de Fourvière festival inside the ancient walls. Open every day of the week except for Monday, visitors can pass through the stone barriers for free.
Rue Cléberg, 69005 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 72 38 49 30
2.Aquarium de Lyon
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The Lyon Aquarium will take visitors on a trip through an aquamarine world where fish drift behind glass walls as guests move down hallways from one aquatic region to the next. Visitors will want to grab an audio guide that fully narrates the journey, or download one straight to a mobile device. From the moment of arrival, visitors will absorb the beauty of the marine life that surrounds them. From the bright colors of tropical fish to the more demure marine life of temperate waters, the Lyon Aquarium offers a prismatic view of what lies below the waves. There are also plenty of educational presentations and exhibits that allow visitors to dive deeper into the complexities of marine life.
7 Rue Stéphane Déchant La Mulatière, 69350 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 72 66 65 66
3.Arc de Triomphe
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Those who visit the monument that has adorned many a postcard will have a surreal moment as they stand in the middle of swirling traffic and anchor their gaze on one of France's most iconic pieces of architecture. Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, the construction of the Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1836, and ceremoniously inaugurated by King Louis-Philippe. Visitors descend into the tunnels below and visit the marker where the Unknown Soldier is interred. Hope is rekindled each day at 6:30pm, when the flame of remembrance is lit, softly illuminating the panoramic views of Paris from the arch.
Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 55 37 73 77
4.Catacombs of Paris
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The history of the Catacombs of Paris is an infectious one that will resurrect visitors' curiosity about the city. Although they seem ancient, they only date to 1785, when complaints about the Cemetery of the Innocents and the instability of the inner-city highways spurred the Council of State to devise a solution to both problems simultaneously with an underground tomb. Naturally, it didn't take long for this man-made hall of bones to arouse curiosity. The first man brave enough to descend the 130 steps was the future Charles X, in 1787. Since his inaugural descent, the flow of curious visitors has never been stemmed. Occasionally, the Catacombs host special exhibitions.
1, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France, Phone: +33 1 43 22 47 63
5.Chateau de Chenonceau
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Chenonceau has a storied past filled with deceit, mischief, beauty, and splendor. But this castle's fairytale was written by women. Also known as the Women's Castle, Chenonceau was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, who ruled with iron fists in velvet gloves. Today, Chenoceau is home to an exceptional collection of Old Masters' paintings. It is also a testament to the merging of Italian and French culture as it is the site of Catherine de Medici's sprawling gardens. Opening times vary throughout the seasons. However, upon entry, visitors can expect to wander down verdant walkways to discover the garden maze, the 16th-century farm, and the royal stables as well as enter the chateau itself.
37150 Chenonceaux, France, Phone: +33 (0) 2 47 23 90 07
6.Things to Do in France: Eiffel Tower
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Perhaps the most emblematic symbol of France, the Eiffel Tower is a place everyone must visit once in their lifetimes. Visitors who ascend to the top of this 1889 Universal Exhibition sculpture and look down will see 360 degrees of Paris at their feet. After taking in the breathtaking view, visitors should take a moment and visit the tower's shops or one of five restaurants on three levels. For another spectacular view, visitors can descend to the first floor and stroll across the glass "void" separating them from the city below. Simply sitting among the gardens below and watching the hourly twinkle of lights sets the stage for an enchanting evening in the City of Light.
5 avenue Anatole France Champ de Mars, 75007 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 8 92 700 016
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Lyon was founded in 43 BC, at which time the center of this nascent city was Fourvière Hill. Today, the hill and the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière still dominate the city's skyline. Reaching this imposing piece of architecture, however, is not a feat for the faint of heart as visitors will have to hike the hill's "slopes," the longest of which is 798 steps. There are trams for those who are unable to reach the summit unaided. However, the view from the top is worth the exertion. Dotted with ancient churches, Roman baths, and aqueducts, this UNESCO archeological site is unique even among Roman-Gaul cities.
8 Place de Fourvière, City of Lyon, Rhône-Alpes, France, Phone: +33 4 78 25 13 01
8.Grand Parc de Miribel Jonage
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The 14th most visited site in France, Parc Mirabel Jonage is not only a beautiful getaway from urban life, it is also responsible for providing Lyon with drinking water. Visitors will discover that the Rhone River connects the various ecological components of the park with each other as well as provides fishing and aquatic activities for visitors. With vast swaths of nature interspersed with horse riding centers, day camps, bicycle trails, beaches, and restaurants, this park is the perfect destination to get away from it all. Except, to do so, visitors only have to travel 15 minutes northeast of Lyon's urban core.
Chemin de la Bletta, Vaulx en Velin (Lyon), Rhône-Alpes, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 78 80 30 67
9.Institut & Musee Lumiere
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It was in the heart of Lyon's Monplaisir neighborhood at the Villa Lumière that film began. In 1894, the first film tests on the now-famous Cinematograph took place in the Lumière brothers' villa. Like a firestorm, their invention gave rise to film screenings of the early 20th century and prompted the brothers to further perfect the ability to record film. At their villa, their original animated images are housed side by side with some of the brothers' other inventions like the Photorama (for 360-degree panoramic pictures), the stereoscopic projector (for 3D films), and their surprisingly articulated "pincer hand," designed by Louis Lumière to aid amputees from the First World War.
25 Rue du Premier Film, 69008 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 78 78 18 95
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The Army Museum is located at the heart of the Hôtel National des Invalides, where treasures from antiquity to World War II are housed. Created in 1905, this military museum has the third biggest collection of old weapons and armor in the world. It also shelters small artillery models and a unique set of Napoleon's 19th-century military items. The facilities themselves are a war monument that both commemorates the generations of war veterans who were housed within the walls of the complex and also gives the museum its memorable façade. Behind this contiguous façade, however, are seven distinct museum spaces - each of which is dedicated to a particular point in France's military history.
129 Rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 44 42 38 77
11.Things to Do in France: Lyon History Museum
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Visitors who are either looking for the perfect introduction to the city of Lyon or want to dive deeper into the history that surrounds them should visit the Lyon History Museum, which has 80,000 objects on display to offer illuminating answers to burning questions. Beginning with the Gauls and passing all the way to modern day, the museum is a research and resource center that strives to help its visitors understand Lyon and all its facets: Urban planning, economic, social, religious, political, and cultural. With strong ties to Lyon's universities and scientific institutions, the Lyon History Museum keeps a close eye on the urban development of the city and current issues facing the population in hopes of educating tourists and locals about the modern city.
1 place du petit Collège - 69005 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 78 42 03 61
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A centuries-old pilgrimage site, Mont Saint-Michel is a gravity-defying medieval abbey settled atop an island in the middle of the bay separating Normandy and Brittany. Begun in the 8th century by the Bishop Aubert, who claimed that Archangel Michael had divinely decided the location, the construction of this abbey spanned centuries. The result is a Benedictine abbey in the middle of a fully fortified, maze-like city. From its inception, Mont Saint-Michel attracted some of Europe's greatest scholars and, for many, bridged the cultural and political gap between France and England. Today, its buildings spill down to the sea, attracting tourists with museums, hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and seaside promenades.
BP 22, 50170 Mont-Saint-Michel, France, Phone: +33 (0) 2 14 13 20 15
13.Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
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The foundations of this museum date back to the 6th century, when the walls that now encompass priceless art surrounded an ancient abbey. It wasn't until September 20, 1814, however, that the site was inaugurated as a true museum of fine art by the Count of Artois. Over the last 200 years, the museum has developed into one of the largest in Europe, housing over 8,000 antiquities, 3,000 decorative objects, 40,000 coins and medals, 2,500 paintings, and 1,300 sculptures. The vast collection is exhibited in over 70 rooms to offer visitors an outstanding and varied sampling of art from antiquity to contemporary that reignites the enthusiasm for artistic discovery.
20 Place des Terreau, 69001 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 72 10 30 30
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Built in an old railway station in the center of Paris, the Musée d'Orsay was constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. A work of art in and of itself, the glass-ceilinged building houses a treasure trove of art dating from 1848-1914. From paintings to sculpture and photographs to graphic arts, many of the most influential artists of the period grace the walls and floors of this old station. Throughout its three floors, visitors will find pieces from the Louvre, Musée de Jeu de Paume, and the National Museum of Modern Art arranged in a moving tour of the impressionist and modernist periods.
1, Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 40 49 48 14
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15.Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization
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Before France, there was Gaul, the domain of the Romans, and Lyon was its crown jewel. For five centuries, beginning in 44 BC, Romans ruled Lugdunum (modern day Lyon). A flourishing city, Lyon eventually became the capital of the extensive Roman Empire. For centuries, trade, travel, and ideas flowed over the cobbled streets before they eventually disappeared into the mists of time. However, the Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization is unearthing these hidden artifacts and making the city's thriving and colorful history accessible to the public. Lined with statues, sculptures, mosaics, and inscriptions, gazing at the walls of this museum is the perfect warm-up for those who would eagerly investigate Lyon's archeological sites in person.
17 Rue Cléberg, 69005 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 72 38 49 30
16.Notre-Dame de Paris
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This cathedral is without question one of the most iconic sites in Paris. As "The House of God and the abode of men," this ancient monument to the divine still operates as a house of worship. It also serves as a house for bees and biodiversity as well as a record for over 850 years of architecture and liturgical music. Visitors can attend a mass, see Paris like Quasimodo from atop the 13th-century towers, visit the treasure room that houses 19th-century documents, or visit the crypt that lies below the floors of the imposing cathedral.
6 Parvis Notre-Dame - Place John Paul II 75004 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 42 34 56 10
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17.Palace of Versailles
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Glinting with gold, the Palace of Versailles draws visitors into its labyrinth of hallways as they tour the grand rooms in which royalty lounged centuries ago. Both the catalyst of a civil war and a museum dedicated "to all the glories of France," Versailles displays five centuries of French history through its arresting architecture, expansive 800 hectares of gardens, and 6,000 pieces of artwork. However, the palace is not the only thing on the estate. After viewing the ornate interior, visitors can wander the period gardens to discover the Estate of Trianon and the royal stables. Each area of the palace has its own unique exhibitions as well as shows that run throughout the year.
Place d'Armes, 78000 Versailles, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 30 83 78 00
18.Things to Do in France: Place Bellecour
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Situated in the heart of the city, the Place Bellecour is the zero point from which all distances in Lyon are measured. This grand gravel-covered plaza is the largest pedestrian square in Europe and is used as a meeting point for the city's inhabitants. However, this square is strangely empty with no flower beds, seating, or other architectural features outside of two statues - one of which is an equestrian statue of King Louis XIV and the other a sculpture of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Although empty, Lyon's four major shopping streets feed into the square, and around the edges visitors will find the tourist information center, charming shops, plenty of cafes, and the post office.
20 Place Bellecour, 69002 Lyon, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 72 40 29 07
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19.Planetarium de Vaulx en Velin
© Planetarium de Vaulx en Velin
See the world through a different lens at Lyon's planetarium. Ask questions and gain a new perspective on the world beyond ours. Since 2014, the planetarium has had a permanent exhibition dedicated to unraveling the history of the universe as well as a temporary exhibition that rotates every 6 months. Visitors may take total-immersion astronomy sessions, attend a lecture from France's leading astrophysicists, or gaze skyward and reach for the stars on the dome screen of the immersion room. Regardless of where visitors focus their curiosity, within these walls they will find answers to some of life's great questions.
Place de la nation 69120 Vaulx-en-Velin, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 78 79 50 13
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20.Pont du Gard
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Flow through 40 centuries of history and trail through the Mediterranean landscape at the Pont du Gard. This ancient monument is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument that is as full of life today as it was hundreds of years ago. Visitors to the site can swim in the river and admire the ancient Roman aqueduct or step into the museum next door to admire life-sized and virtual reconstructions of the ancient outdoor surroundings. They can also dive further into the ancient Roman world by taking a turn around the 1.4-km loop of the Memoires de Garrigue, where they will learn everything from Roman dry stone architecture to early Mediterranean agricultural practices that sustained life before modernity.
400 Route du Pont du Gard, 30210 Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France, Phone: +33 (0) 4 66 37 50 99
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Visitors will take a walk through history when they visit the Reims Cathedral. Here, they will discover a place where the Bishop Saint Remi opened "the doors of the faith" to the King Clovis I, first king of the Franks, as well as where many coronations of French kings were celebrated. In more recent times, the cathedral witnessed the Franco-German reconciliation of 1962. Built in the 13th century, the cathedral boasts splendid Gothic architecture and some of the most ornate stained-glass windows in France. Whether visitors pass through its doors for the love of art or the refreshment of spirit, the Reims Cathedral will awe with a grandiosity that remains a lively hive of parish activity.
3 Rue Guillaume de Machault, 51100 Reims, France, Phone: +33 (0) 3 26 47 55 34
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Seated atop a steep incline at the heart of Montmartre, Sacré Coeur is a basilica that offers majestic views both indoors and out. Consecrated in 1919, Sacré Coeur sits on ancient hallowed ground. Since the time of the ancient druids this hill, which offers sweeping views of Paris, has been a place of worship. Visitors who enter through the portico of this center of worship and gaze upward toward the dome will be moved by this ancient heart of the city. Every centimeter of the sloping arches is decorated with a 1923 mosaic of "Christ in Glory," in a perfect stylistic echo of the basilica itself. Besides enjoying its architectural splendor, visitors can attend a mass, enter the Crypt of Martyrs, or view an adoration.
35, Rue Du Chevalier De La Barre, 75018 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 53 41 89 00
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23.French Wine Explorers
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Every wine enthusiast’s dream is to spend some time exploring France’s wine regions and sampling some superb French wines. But, given the endless choices, there is a significant possibility that you will miss that one very special winery or will not be able to get into that one famous chateau. So, why not let French Wine Explorers do the planning for you? Established in 2000, this highly reputable professional tour company will take you on a first-class luxury tour of France’s best wine regions, from Bordeaux to Burgundy and Champagne. They will carefully select the wine domains, famous chateaus, restaurants, and hotels, allowing you to have a fantastic experience that will last you a lifetime. You will learn about French wines, culture, history, and food without having to do the difficult job of planning and organizing yourself.
St Michaels, MD 21663, Phone: 877-261-1500
24.Things to Do in France: The Louvre
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The Louvre is more than the largest museum in the world; it is an awe-inspiring experience. Masters of every discipline of art line the walls of this palatial building and even spill onto the grounds surrounding the museum. Visitors are encouraged to take a guided tour or a workshop to better discover the canon of western art from the Middle Ages to 1848. From the iconic pyramid in the center of the entrance courtyard to the Mona Lisa, there are more works of art housed in this palace than there is room to display them. Lovers of architecture will be thrilled to wander the hallways and admire the museum itself, which is a work of art and was inhabited by both royalty and the French heads of state until 1870.
Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 40 20 53 17
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True to French sensibilities, the Tuileries Gardens are a work of art. Taking their name from the tile factories that previously stood on the site when Queen Catherine de Medici built the Palais des Tuileries in 1564, the grounds were formally re-landscaped in 1664. Today, the formal French gardens separate the Louvre from the Place de la Concorde and are dotted with Maillol, Rodin, and Giacometti statues. However, visitors who are more keen to rest their weary feet than wander the grounds can meditate by the gardens' two ponds or admire Monet's impressionistic works amid a natural setting at the Musée de l'Orangerie.
Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris, France, Phone: +33 (0) 1 40 20 53 17
25 Best Things to Do in France
- Ancient Theatre of Fourviere, Photo: Courtesy of alfenny - Fotolia.com
- Aquarium de Lyon, Photo: Courtesy of Iuliia Sokolovska - Fotolia.com
- Arc de Triomphe, Photo: Courtesy of INTERPIXELS - Fotolia.com
- Catacombs of Paris, Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Izzotti - Fotolia.com
- Chateau de Chenonceau, Photo: Courtesy of Yvann K - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in France: Eiffel Tower, Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
- Fourviere, Photo: Courtesy of joe¨l BEHR - Fotolia.com
- Grand Parc de Miribel Jonage, Photo: Courtesy of PackShot - Fotolia.com
- Institut & Musee Lumiere, Photo: Courtesy of MangAllyPop@ER - Fotolia.com
- Les Invalides, Photo: Courtesy of cdrcom - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in France: Lyon History Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Ricochet64 - Fotolia.com
- Mont Saint-Michel, Photo: Courtesy of Colinda McKie - Fotolia.com
- Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Photo: Courtesy of MangAllyPop@ER - Fotolia.com
- Musee d'Orsay, Photo: Courtesy of K'Steel - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization, Photo: Courtesy of Jo¨rg Hackemann - Fotolia.com
- Notre-Dame de Paris, Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Izzotti - Fotolia.com
- Palace of Versailles, Photo: Courtesy of sarymsakov.com - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in France: Place Bellecour, Photo: Courtesy of Richard Villalon - Fotolia.com
- Planetarium de Vaulx en Velin, Photo: Planetarium de Vaulx en Velin
- Pont du Gard, Photo: Courtesy of lamax - Fotolia.com
- Reims Cathedral, Photo: Courtesy of dietwalther - Fotolia.com
- Sacre-Coeur, Photo: Courtesy of Gerd Lutz - Fotolia.com
- French Wine Explorers, Photo: Courtesy of Luis - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in France: The Louvre, Photo: Courtesy of yobab - Fotolia.com
- Tuileries Garden, Photo: Courtesy of neirfy - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Freesurf - Fotolia.com
Visitors can experience France's Christian heritage in a whole new way at the Cathedral of Strasbourg. From 1439 to 1527, the cathedral was the supreme lodging of the Holy Roman Empire. Situated between the Vosges region and the Black Forest, the Strasbourg Cathedral offers a spectacular example of Gothic architecture as well as breathtaking views of Strasbourg for visitors who climb its 330-step tower. Those who remain on the ground can search for signatures within the stone walls of the church. Once found, they can be traced to discover the chronological construction of the walls, where visitors can read the names of those who mobilized the heavy stone blocks into their current resting positions.
Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France, Phone: +33 (0) 3 88 21 43 34