When you think of Paris, the French capital of love, lights and the arts, the sweet sound of the accordion from the movie “Amélie” might begin to play in your mind.
But when you add 30 million annual tourists to the city’s 2.2 million people, you get a sense of how the city has become so busy.
So, as the saying goes, do like a tree and go.
These nine French cities are worthy competitors of Paris, while being cheaper, less crowded and easier to navigate.
A few kilometers from the German border, Strasbourg is a popular international destination, hosting major European political institutions and one of the largest Christmas markets.
Its majestic cathedral is the most visited in France, after Notre-Dame de Paris. A true symbol of the city, it was built in 1220 and remains one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. The Grande-île, where it is located, makes it the historic center of Strasbourg.
After strolling through its alleys, treat yourself to a well-deserved sauerkraut break (cabbage and sausages) and Alsatian beer for a typical experience in the heart of Alsace.
Close to the Mediterranean Sea, Arles is home to one of the most famous in the world photography festivals.
It is the city with the most Roman monuments… after Rome. No wonder Vincent Van Gogh fell in love with his endless landscapes of sandy beaches and salt ponds in the Camargue National Park.
Bordered by a lake at the foot of the Semnoz mountains, Annecy enjoys an exceptional geographical location. A real postcard, the city is a succession of charming half-timbered houses and views of the Bauges and Aravis massifs which surround it.
In summer, a dip in the lake is highly recommended, while in winter, long walks along the water will give you a taste of the tranquility of the place.
If you come with your other half, don’t forget to kiss them on the Pont des Amours – rumor has it that you will be bonded for life.
6. Basque Country
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and its vigorous waves, the Basque Country stretches between France and Spain.
Here you will not find a village without a wall for “pelota” (a sport similar to tennis), nor a hill without a hiking trail or golf course.
Sea lovers will also be delighted with the kilometers of beaches for surfing and scuba diving.
A popular holiday destination for the French, Brittany is a land of contrasts that offers a veritable patchwork of places to discover.
It has fishing ports and farms, tourist sites and mysterious places, woods and forests, stories and legends, museums and amusement parks.
You can easily explore the region on foot via one of the many hiking trails, such as the GR 34 which runs along the coast for nearly 2000 km.
But above all, Brittany is the place to go if you are a foodie. Oysters, cider, pancakes and folk dances are surely the ingredients of an unforgettable trip.
Ideal for a peaceful vacation in a hybrid French Italian culture, Corsica is an island that can be divided in two. Bastia is the main city to the north and Ajaccio the main city to the south.
Its humble nickname is the Isle of Beauty, which gives you an idea of how proud the inhabitants of their home are.
Depending on the type of vacation you fancy, you can either lie in the sun on its sandy beaches with crystal clear waters at your feet. Or walk and climb dramatic needle-shaped peaks like the Bavella pass.
2013 European Green Capital, Nantes stands out for its commitment to environmental protection.
You can take advantage of the protected roads and greenways of the banks of the Loire for cycling, then visit the medieval castle of the Dukes of Brittany. Or be splashed by the mechanical elephant inspired by the books of Jules Verne.
Do not hesitate to take the ferry to the old fishing village of Trentemoult, where the intertwined streets are enlivened by the colorful facades of the houses, opening the way to the river where an atmosphere of “guinguette” (open-air café) reigns.
Marseille has so much to offer and leaves an imprint on every visitor. A port city with a rich past, it is the oldest city in France. From Goudes to L’Estaque, it faces the Mediterranean Sea, sparkling under the sun. But beware of the mistral wind, which can blow up to 100 kilometers per hour.
You can also take a walk in the Calanques National Park, but don’t forget to bring your sunscreen and water with you as temperatures can reach 35 degrees Celsius in the summer.
We reserved the first place in the former capital of France. A large city until 297 when Paris took the title, the former capital has preserved a remarkable architectural heritage.
No wonder the districts of Vieux Lyon, the Fourvière hill, the Presqu’île and the Croix-Rousse hillsides are listed as World Heritage.
You can take the tram to glide over the Rhône, which gives a cruising atmosphere to your travels, but it is on foot that you will climb the 567 steps to Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière cathedral.
Here, you will be treated to a complete panorama of the city, ranging from the Tête d’Or park to the contemporary Confluences district.
A must in Lyon? Stroll through the traboules (secret covered passages) then eat in a stopper on the banks of the Saône, a traditional restaurant that serves red wine and cold meats.
Please note that travel restrictions are currently in place due to COVID-19. Depending on the country you are visiting, hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions may be closed. Always check government advice before making reservations.