France is well known for its glamourous cities and rich history. Whether you visit the northern region or the sunnier southern area, France can offer tourists beautiful architecture, amazing cuisine and plenty of culture. Below are some of the most underrated cities in France which you should visit.
Lyon is France’s second-largest city but often goes under the radar for visitors. It is one of France’s oldest cities and is known as the gourmet capital of France. It has many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has the largest collection of Renaissance buildings in Europe. It’s home to a number of museums, with some dedicated to history and others to art. There are a huge range of restaurants, from Michelin-starred eateries to small family-run bistros, where you can taste the unique Lyon cuisine.
A key landmark of the city is the Basilisca of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which sits on the highest hill and can be seen from just about anywhere in Lyon. The locals call it the “upside-down elephant” because of its rounded main building and four towers. It was built in the late 19th century as a tribute to the Virgin Mary and also to demonstrate the city’s wealth.
Avignon is in south-east France near the Rhône River. The Pope took residence there in the early 14th century for a few decades. As a result, the city boasts many historical ecclesiastical buildings and architecture. It is also a renowned city of arts and culture, with museums, theatres and cinemas. You’ll be treated to beautiful sights throughout the city, with lush public gardens and spots to take in panoramic views.
Perhaps its most significant landmark is the Palais des Papes, or Palace of the Popes. It is both a palace and a fortress and is one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. It was once the residence of several popes and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s annual arts festival, Festival d’Avignon, is held in the grounds every summer.
Menton is on the Côte d’Azur in the French Riviera. It’s close to the Italian border and enjoys a warm Mediterranean climate all year long. The town has charming pastel-coloured buildings and a scenic old harbour. It’s one of the more laid-back Riviera towns and has beautiful sprawling beaches, ideal for relaxing and enjoying the surroundings.
Of course, being a French town and on the coast, the food is impeccable, with fresh seafood and traditional French cuisine. Thanks to its climate, Menton grows citrus fruit, so you’ll see this influence in many of the dishes on offer. The old town has steep cobbled steps and narrow, winding alleyways to explore. The cemetery at the top of the hill offers a peaceful spot to take in the views.
Toulouse is on the banks of the River Garonne in southern France, halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. It’s known as the La Ville Rose, or the Pink City, due to the colour of the bricks used to construct many of the buildings. It’s a lively city, with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and lots of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The city is compact but there is still plenty to do. The historic old town has a multitude of cafés, bars, restaurants, and boutiques.
The Capitole is the iconic building in Toulouse, built in the 18th century with a majestic neoclassical design. It houses both the town hall and the Théâtre du Capitole. The state rooms include a vast gallery, the paintings of which depict the history of Toulouse.
Vienne is in southeastern France along the Rhône River and was once a major centre of the Roman Empire. As such, it has many Roman buildings, including the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie and the Théâtre Antique, both dating from the 1st century. The city’s rich historical heritage continues to medieval times, with narrow lanes, listed buildings and churches.
The city hosts many annual festivals, including the Vienne Jazz Festival which is held in the remains of the Roman theatre. There’s also an annual festival of humour and a historical festival of Vienne. The city has the second-largest market in France which takes place in the city centre every Saturday, offering the best local produce.
Lille is in Northern France on the Deûle River near the border with Belgium. It was originally a merchant city and has been a manufacturing city since the 16th century, focusing mainly on textile and mechanical industries. It’s now a cultural and commercial hub, with charming French and Flemish architecture in the Old Town, distinguished art museums, and a lively nightlife thanks to the local university.
Lille hosts an annual braderie in September, a street market and fair, the origins of which date back to the twelfth century. It’s one of the largest gatherings in the country and is the largest flea market in Europe. Lille is also where you can find Maroilles cheese tart, or Flemish tart, made with the iconic northern French cheese of the same name.
When you’re ready to begin your French exploration, make sure to get travel insurance so you’re fully protected on your trip. Expatriate Group offers extensive travel insurance and you can purchase cover for a single trip or an annual policy, so you can make sure to visit every city on this list. Get a free, no-obligation quote for your travel insurance today or contact us to speak to our expert team about your requirements.
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