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20 Things to Do in France (Local Recs)

Updated April 9, 2023

You'll find plenty of fantastic things to do in France. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to know where to begin! That's why we asked some French locals for their input. With their help, we created this guide to 20 things to do in France. 

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#1: Eat at a Lyonnaise bouchon

Restaurants in Lyon | Pedro Szekely/Flickr

France is obviously known for its cuisine. And locals tell us that Lyon, France's 3rd-largest city, is proud of its culinary reputation. Many consider the city to be the epicenter of French cuisine—it's home to twenty Michelin stars, which is an enormous honor in gastronomy.

Locals tell us you'll find all kinds of restaurants in Lyon, from high-end to the more budget-friendly. Get some local advice to know where to start. Our trip planners say that a traditional Lyonnaise restaurant is called a bouchon. They note you'll find dishes here like duck paté and coq au vin

Local Tip:

The Auberge in Lyon has *three* Michelin stars

#2: Spend a day—or year—touring Paris’ museums

Paris’ most famous museum is the Louvre—and it’s so big that you’d need 64 days to see its 35,000 works of art. This grand museum contains some of the most recognizable paintings and sculptures in the world, like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.

But the Louvre is just one of around 130 museums in France’s capital. Locals note that Centre Pompidou is popular among modern art lovers, and the Musée d’Orsay is filled with modern and impressionist masterpieces.

These are incredible places to visit in France, but you can get off the beaten path with a bit of local advice. Our trip planners tell us that the Picasso Museum in Paris is small, but a real joy to explore.

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#3: Explore the wonder of the French Riviera

Nice | Callum Galloway/Unsplash

Dream of wading in warm waters? Scaling the Alps? Tucking into French classics like salade niçoise? Then locals say you'll love visiting the French Riveria, and especially its largest city, Nice

Don't know where to begin? Get some local advice. Our trip planners note that you'll find plenty of enchanting French towns here, like Antibes, as well as opportunities to play, like at the Monte Carlo casino. And that's in addition to swimming in the ocean and enjoying fresh French food!

#4: Raise a glass in Champagne

Head straight to the source for the world’s favorite celebratory drink: champagne.

Locals tell us that to be called champagne, a glass of bubbly must hail from France’s Champagne region—anything else is just sparkling wine. Tour this charming countryside’s vineyards and find the fizz you fancy most. 

Local Tip:

Many Champagne wineries accept visitors by appointment only. 

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#5: People-watch at a Parisian café

Cafe in Paris | Caterina Beleffi/Unsplash

Parisian cafés are the ideal place to observe passers-by—in fact, their tables are arranged for that very purpose!

So order a coffee—or a glass of wine—and enjoy watching people wander through town. 

Locals tell us that you'll find cafes with generous outdoor spaces throughout the country—but Paris is an excellent place to visit in France because you'll have a front-row seat to the exciting, endless activity that consumes the City of Lights.

Local Tip:

Order “un café” in France and you’ll get an espresso. If you want a mug of coffee, ask for a “un café américain.” 

#6: Order a galette (savory crepe) in Brittany

Bretagne (Brittany) juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Only a part of France since 1532 (a recent addition, given France's long history!), this region abounds with unique culture and fantastic food.

Benefit from local tips while exploring Brittany. Our trip planners tell us that while here, you need to order a galette, or a savory crepe. Made with buckwheat flour, these are darker in color than the sweet crepes you'll find elsewhere in France. They're usually stuffed with cheese, eggs, or sausages. Locals say you can find them at creperies, or at popular weekly farmers markets throughout the region. 

Local Tip:

Brittany is also known for its oysters (huitres). Visit the town of Cancale for an incredible selection.

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Sierra, recent ViaHero traveler to Portugal

#7: Gaze at majestic lavender fields in Provence

Lavender in Provence | Richárd Ecsedi/Unsplash

Starting in July, the fields of Provence, in the south of France, burst into lovely shades of purple. It's lavender season

Locals tell us you'll find tons of small French villages in this region that are surrounded by majestic lavender fields. They note that the town of Sault is especially known for its lavender fields. 

Local Tip:

After seeing the lavender fields, travel to the historic port of Marseilles, France’s second-largest city, or to the beautiful Aix-en-Provence.

#8: Picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower

Opened for the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower is Paris’ most recognizable landmark. This wrought-iron beauty soars above the city’s streets, and after sunset, it puts on a sparkling show.

Locals tell us that a large grassy park called the Champ de Mars stretches below the tower. Our trip planners note that it's one of the few Paris parks where you’re allowed to sit on the grass. They suggest grabbing a picnic of fresh baguettes, cheese, and saucisson sec (like salami). 

Local Tip:

Rue Cler is a nearby pedestrian-only market street, perfect for picking out picnic supplies.

#9: Celebrate France’s cheese culture 

Cheese in France | Lifewithart/Pixabay

France is famous for its cheese—and rightfully so. Locals recommend looking out for famous names like Brie, Roquefort, Camembertwhich are named for the regions they came from. 

And be adventurous! You'll find a wide selection of cheese in grocery stores and at farmers' markets, usually for cheap. (Locals tell us you can often buy a small wheel of high-quality cheese for 5 euros.)  

It's easy to get overwhelmed (when we say you'll have a wide cheese selection, we mean a wide selection) so get some local tips. Our trip planners can let you know what to look for depending on which region you're visiting. 

#10: Visit the cathedral at Chartres

If you're looking for an easy day trip from Paris, locals recommend visiting Chartres (about 90 minutes away). Here, you'll find one of France's most majestic cathedrals—Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, the Chartres Cathedral. 

Constructed in the 12th-century, this UNESCO Heritage Site is an incredible example of French Gothic architecture. Locals tell us that stunning stained-glass windows are especially worth visiting. 

Local Tip:

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is beautiful but sadly caught fire in 2019. It's currently being renovated. 

#11: Stroll through Monet’s Garden in Giverny

Monet's Garden | Andy Hay/Flickr

Located in the French region of Normandy, the village of Giverny was once home to the iconic painter Claude Monet.

Monet’s genius plays on light and color is on full display in his beloved large-scale water lilies series. In the Giverny, locals say you’ll feel like you’ve walked right into one of Monet’s masterpieces. They suggest visiting the Claude Monet Gardens to see where the artist planted the inspiration for his greatest artwork.

Local Tip:

To see Monet’s water lilies series in person, visit the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. 

#12: Cruise down the Seine on a bateau mouche 

The river Seine magically twists throughout the heart of Paris. Locals tell us you'll have plenty of ways to soak up the Seine's charm, including hopping on a bateaux mouches. These open-air boats offer a picturesque way to see the city's most famous landmarks. 

Don't worry if you lack sea-legs. Our trip planners say you can also enjoy the Seine by crisscrossing the river's many bridges, and by exploring its islands—especially the charming Ile Saint-Louis.

#13: Partake in a daily French pastry

French pastries | Mink Mingle/Unsplash

You'll find delicious pastries throughout France. Locals tell us you'll find freshly-made sweets at boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (pastry shops). (And at boulangerie-patisseries—a combo of the two.)

As to what to order? We'd recommend tasting something new every day. Or, get advice from a local about what to pick out first. Our trip planners say that the croissant is always a classic—they also love pain aux raisins (a swirled pastry with raisins), pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant), and the dense, sugary, Kouign-amann.

Local Tip:

Be sure to pick up some macarons! Pierre Hermé is well-known for this, but everyone has their favorites.

#14: Explore Montmartre, Paris’ village on the hill

Montmartre is a neighborhood in northern Paris. Today, it lies within the city’s limits, but it used to be its own village and so retains a certain unique charm.

Locals suggest visiting the narrow cobbled streets of this famed hilltop. Montmartre is also home to the iconic windmill of the Moulin Rouge, where you can still see a high-kicking performance of the cancan

Wandering through a variety of neighborhoods is one of the top things to do in Paris and Montmartre is a must-visit. 

#15: Cheers to "cidre" in Normandy

Cidre in Normandy | Chris Gilson/Flickr

Locals tell us that Normandy, which stretches along France's western coast, is home to three French classics: calvados (an apple-flavored-liquor), camembert (one of France's most famous cheeses), and cidre, hard cider made from local apples and pears. 

As you enjoy cities like Caen and Rouen, or explore seaside towns like Granville, be sure to look for cidre on the menu.

Or better yet, go straight to the source. Locals tell us that you can visit a cider distillery, like Le Père Mahieu near Cherbourg. 

#16: See the City of Light from above

For years, Paris officials placed a limit on how tall new buildings could be—nothing could surpass 11 stories.

Locals tell us that, as a result, there are few perches from which you can overlook the city.

You can scale the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe (and battle the crowds) but locals tell us you can seek incredible views off the beaten path. Our trip planners love the funicular to Sacre Couer, which offers a stunning view of the city, and climbing the Tour Maine-Montparnasse.

Local Tip:

You can also grab a great view from the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette.

#17: Travel to the ancient town of Avignon

Avignon | rey perezoso/Flickr

The medieval city of Avignon was once the center of Catholicism; seven popes resided within its walls from 1309 until 1377.

Today, locals tell us that Avignon is a top destination for history buffs. Tour the Palais de Papes, the immense Gothic fortress where the popes lived. Then, traverse the city’s fortified walls to make believe you are back in the Middle Ages—moats and all. 

#18: Linger at the lavish palace of Versailles

Just outside Paris is the grand gilded palace of Versailles. Built by King Louis XIV in the 17th century, this opulent residence will quickly reveal why France’s lower classes became quite angry at the royal family’s extravagant lifestyle (French Revolution, anyone?). Inside, the palace sparkles with gold-embossed everything, and outside, lush gardens extend as far as the eye can see.

Fun fact: Not to be missed is Marie Antoinette’s hamlet—a fairytale village where the Queen was known to playact as a peasant

#19: Discover Roman ruins in Arles

Rome isn’t the only place to find an amphitheater fit for a gladiator. The Romans ruled France until the 5th century, and locals say that Arles is a prime destination for those in search of their legacy. It is home to an ancient amphitheater; built 2,000 years ago for bullfighting, this impressive structure is big enough to hold 21,000 spectators. Additional sites to see are the Roman baths and theater.

Local Tip:

Arles was also home to Vincent Van Gogh; the city inspired many of his most famous paintings, like Starry Night.  

#20: Shop picturesque Strasbourg’s cheerful Christmas market

Strasbourg | Dmitry Djouce/Flickr

The regions of France are as diverse as the eight countries that border it. The forested hills of Alsace border Germany; and so it’s capital, Strasbourg, has a distinctive German flair. The city’s Petit France Quarter is straight out of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, with half-timbered houses lining the Rhine river. Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmӓrik is one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world and attracts more than two million visitors each year. 

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