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The 6 Best Cities in France (Recommended by Locals)

Updated April 21, 2020

What are the best cities in France? Given the exciting diversity of French cities, locals tell us that it really depends on your travel style! Still, with their help, we created this list of the 6 best cities in France—we love these places because they're full of things to do and things to eat. 

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Kate, Recent Traveler
Kate, Recent Traveler

#1: Strasbourg 

Strasbourg | Architects/Pixabay

Strasbourg feels like a fairy tale. This city’s unique charm (and dynamic mix of Franco-German culture) makes it a fascinating place to explore.

Things to Do

Full of color, canals, and Franco-German cuisine, Strasbourg’s unique charm makes it one of our favorite places to visit in France

Locals suggest wandering through the Petite France neighborhood. The half-timbered houses, canals, and cobblestone streets are full of an intense charm. And don’t miss the Strasbourg Cathedral—one of the world’s tallest buildings until the end of the 19th-century! 

Really, what to do in Strasbourg depends on how you like to travel. Our trip planners tell us that you’ll find fantastic museums here (like the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), endless romantic canals, and even the seat of the European Union’s Parliament. (Yes, you can visit!) 

And of course—you’ve got to dig into Strasbourg’s dynamic mix of French and German foods. 

What to Eat

Which brings us to what to eat in Strasbourg. Trip planners in Strasbourg recommend keeping an eye out for Alsacian foods. 

One such dish is tarte flambée. Made of thin dough, tarte flambée is traditionally topped with creme fraiche, bacon, and onions—although you’ll see variations of this. (Locals also note that you may see tarte flambée on a menu as Flammekueche.)

Of course, you’ll find fantastic wine in Strasbourg. But locals recommend enjoying some of the region’s beer as well. Strasbourg is home to the Kronenbourg brewery, as well as dozens of excellent craft beer pubs. 

Local Tip:

Strasbourg is famous for its Marche de Noel (Christmas Market!). One of the biggest holiday markets in Europe, you’ll find vin chaud (mulled wine), Christmas cookies, and plenty of good gifts here. 

#2: Lyon

Lyon | loictijsseling/Pixabay

Lyon’s student population means that this historical city thrives with youthful energy. Plus, it’s considered the culinary capital of France. 

Things to Do

It’s a city crisscrossed by rivers, full of incredible food, and packed with French history. No, not Paris—the lovely city of Lyon

Wander through the cobblestones of Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), go shopping in Presqu’île (the almost-island in the middle of the city), or dive headfirst into Lyon’s fantastic history—locals tell us you’ll find superb sites here, like the Théâtre Romain (Roman Theatre), which was built in 15 BC!

But, really, locals tell us that the name of the game in Lyon is eating. Lyon is considered the culinary capital of France.

What to Eat

Lyon is home to over 4000 restaurants, so getting local advice is helpful as you decide where to dine. Our trip planners tell us that you’ll find a mix of traditional Lyonnaise bistros (called bouchons), restaurants adorned with the highly-coveted Michelin stars, and, of course, plenty of fantastic French bakeries. This wealth of options makes Lyon a deliciously fun place to visit in France.

What to eat in Lyon? Our trip planners recommend indulging in local favorites, like tripe, coq-au-vin, andouillette, and salade lyonnaise. 

Just don’t get caught in a tourist trap! Locals also note that you can tell a real bouchon by a plaque in the window featuring a red-nosed puppet. 

Local Tip:

Lyon’s Fete des Lumieres (Festival of Lights) is an incredible wintertime festival that uses light to create art. 

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#3: Marseille

Marseille | Jonny_Joka/Pixabay

The beautiful port town of Marseille is often overlooked by travelers. But France’s second-largest city offers plenty of beauty, fantastic seafood, and gritty charm. 

Things to Do

Marseille may be France’s 2nd-largest city, but it can feel like a hidden gem. Less visited than places like Paris or Nice, it’s also an excellent place to get some local guidance

Our trip planners rave that Marseille’s diversity and history make it a fantastic place to explore. They recommend visiting the neighborhood of Noailles—there’s a market almost every day, and you’ll find a fantastic selection of North African goods. 

Or, explore the oldest part of Marseille, called Le Panier. It’s historic, but locals note you’ll find excellent street art here. Marseille is generally safe to wander during the day, but some areas can get sketchy at night. Locals can help advise where to avoid. 

The list goes on—our trip planners in Marseille also recommend enjoying the city's grand port (Vieux Port) and hiking up to the grand Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde.

What to Eat

Marseille offers a great selection of culinary options. Go traditional and pick up a bowl of Marseille’s famous bouillabaisse (fish soup). 

Or, enjoy Marseille’s rich mix of cultures. Locals tell us you’ll find great food from North Africa—Moroccan restaurants like Le Souk, where you can enjoy delicious couscous and kebabs. 

Local Tip:

From Marseille, it’s an easy day trip to Aix-en-Provence. Filled with Roman fountains and daffodil-colored buildings, it’s a lovely and romantic place to visit in France.

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#4: Bordeaux

Bordeaux | Geralbe/Pixabay

A hub for incredible wine, Bordeaux offers a fantastic jumping-off point if you’re looking to visit vineyards. But don’t discount the city itself, which is full of superb restaurants, bars, and history. 

Things to Do

Obviously, one of the top things to do in France is to drink wine. This is especially true in Bordeaux! 

Not only will you find fantastic wine bars in the city, but locals recommend visiting one (or three) of the surrounding vineyards. Here’s a good place to benefit from local knowledge—our trip planners tell us you can opt for a big, well-known winery, or one of the smaller, family-run vineyards. 

Outside of wine, Bordeaux is a lovely place to explore. Locals recommend picnicking along the Garonne River, exploring the old city walls (Porte Cailhau looks like Cinderella’s castle in miniature), and shopping along Rue Sainte-Catherine. 

What to Eat

Locals tell us you’ll find a great mix of regional food in Bordeaux! Enjoy rich steaks, dishes made with black truffles, and—this comes highly recommended—the sweet cannelés de Bordeaux. 

#5: Rennes

Rennes | Dmitry Djouce/Flickr

The capital of Bretagne (Brittany) Rennes offers distinctive Breton cuisine, lively nightlife thanks to its student population, and easy access to many of Brittany’s charming sites and villages. 

Things to Do

Rennes is a joy! This Breton city (established some 2,000 years ago) is filled with green spaces, half-timbered houses, classical architecture, and plenty of fantastic bars and cafes. It’s considered one of the most liveable cities in the country—and is an excellent place to visit in France

Here, locals recommend wandering through the Centre Historique de Rennes (Old Rennes), sunning yourself in the Parc du Thabor, and shopping for fresh produce at the Marche de Lices. 

They note that Rennes is especially fantastic because it makes exploring Brittany easy. Don’t know where to start? Our trip planners tell us that from Rennes you can visit Mont-Saint-Michel (France’s famous island abbey), Saint-Malo (a medieval walled city), Cancale (for incredible, fresh oysters), and more! Rennes is a great place to stay in France if you envision taking lots of day trips.

What to Eat

In Rennes, definitely seek out Breton cuisine. This means enjoying savory crepes (called galettes—you can find these at restaurants or farmers’ markets). When ordering dessert, locals suggest indulging in anything that includes caramel beurre salé (salted caramel). And salt! In Rennes, everyone loves a pinch of thick, gray sea salt on their meal.

#6: Paris

Paris | skeeze/Unsplash

It’s impossible to leave Paris off a list of the best cities to visit in France. The dynamic French capital contains rich charm and culture, some of the world’s best restaurants, and endless romance.

Things to Do

France’s capital city is home to sweeping Gothic cathedrals, incredible museums, fantastic historic sites, and endless pockets of romance and charm. What’s your travel style? Our trip planners can give personalized recs. 

Locals recommend enjoying both Paris’ touristy sites (like Sacre Couer) and places more off the beaten path (like the vibrant Marais neighborhood). Transportation in Paris is easy to use—which makes zipping around the city a breeze. (Although locals recommend walking whenever you can.) 

Generally, Paris is a safe destination—even at night.

What to Eat

In Paris, locals suggest enjoying meals at bistros and brasseries. They tell us that bistros are small, with limited menus—brasseries are usually much bigger and have a more extensive selection. 

Keep an eye out for French classics, like steak-frites (steak and fries), moules marinières (steamed mussels), and confit de canard (duck confit). 

Local Tip:

Croissants are wonderful, but you’ll find lots of different kinds of pastries to try. Look out for pain aux raisins, pain au chocolat, and more!

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