Things to Do in France - page 3
Ile de la Cité shares the Seine River with its upstream neighbor, Ile Saint-Louis, right in the middle of Paris's city center. The westernmost end of the island is mostly residential with a small park at the tip, while the eastern end gives visitors the best view of the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame Cathedral. The Palais de Justice is also housed on the island, which has the Sainte-Chapelle inside, a tiny jewel box of almost kaleidoscopic color thanks to its wonderful stained glass.
Archaeologists found evidence of habitation on this island by the Romans, as early as the first century BC. But the early 17th century was when the island came into its own, after the construction of the Pont Neuf that spans the river and intersects with the western end.
A gleaming retro-Byzantine confection of Roman columns and religious iconography, the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière is visible, by design, from almost anywhere in Lyon. Today it is the symbol of the city and Lyon's most visited attraction, well worth the climb just to enter the outrageous interior.
Completed in 1896 as a challenge to secular forces then gaining power in France (like Sacré-Coeur Montmartre), the basilica's gleaming marble, gold gilt, fantastic stained glass, and borderline hallucinogenic ceiling are meant to impress. And they do.
In addition to the basilica and an adjacent chapel dedicated to a particularly miraculous Virgin Mary, both free to the public, this site also offers an observatory, museum, and fantastic views.
The oldest Roman theater in France, Lyon’s Ancient Theatre of Fourvière was built under the orders of Augustus and expanded in Hadrian’s time. Completed in 17 B.C. with space for 10,000 people, today the Grand Theatre is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lyon.
Restored in the 20th century, the ancient theater is now used to stage popular cultural events such as the summertime Nuits de Fourvière festival, where dance, opera and circus performers play alongside international music acts like Franz Ferdinand.
Situated on Fourvière Hill near the Notre Dame Basilica, from the theater you can also see the grand remains of the Odeon of Lyon, with its beautiful inlaid floor of marble and porphyry. Forming a pair with the main theater, the Odeon was built early in the second century with space for 3,000 people. Behind the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, you can also visit the remains of an ancient Roman temple, dedicated in 160 A.D. to goddess Cybele.
The attention-grabbing, exuberant house on Rue des Marchands is a must in Colmar. Built in 1537 for wealthy hatter from nearby Besançon named Ludwig Scherer, the house boasts extravagantly ornate frescoes (representing Germanic emperors and Biblical scenes) and medallions with typical medieval features; it is, however, regarded as the finest example of Colmar’s architectural renaissance. Maison Pfister also boasts a beautifully carved balcony, long wooden galleries, octagonal turret, a two-story corner oriel, and ground-floor arcades. The house is named after the family that lived in it and restored it in the late 19th century. It was made a historic monument of France in 1927.
An idyllic stretch of greenery encircling the iconic pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars is one of the most popular of Paris' parks. Named after Rome’s Campus Martius, a tribute to the Roman God of War, Champs de Mars was originally designed as a military training area for the nearby Ecole Militaire (Military School), but became an important arena for national events when it opened to the public back in 1780. Many key moments throughout the French Revolution took place here - including the first Fête de la Fédération (Federation Day or Bastille Day) in 1790, the legendary Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794, and it was the site of the 1791 Champs de Mars massacre - a bloody demonstration against King Louis XVI.
The 289-acre Parc de la Tete d'Or was designed by landscape architect Denis Bühler and opened in 1856. It is also home to one of France's leading botanical gardens, with more than 20,000 plant varieties. There is an international rose garden that is popular in the spring when the flowers are in bloom. Another popular attraction is the African plain, which is a zoological area of more than 7 acres where zebras, giraffes, antelopes, lions, and other rare species roam free.
The lake is a great place to participate in water activities such as boating and swimming. Children can enjoy mini boat rides in a pool dubbed the Little Lake. There are also pony rides, two tourist trains, quads with pedals, swings, go karts, and a carousel to make the day more fun for younger visitors. Bring your own picnic or stop at the park's shop for sweets, snacks and souvenirs.
More Things to Do in France
Nice Old Town (known locally as Le Vieux Nice) is a lovely honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with beautiful Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Thronging with tourists eating the famous ice-cream during the day, at night it becomes one big party with bars and nightclubs spilling out onto the streets.
The key things to see are the Cours Saleya (the open air market), Chapelle de la Miséricorde (a wonderfully ornate Baroque church dating from 1740), Chapelle de l'Annonciation (known locally as Sainte-Rita), Eglise Saint-Jacques (dating from 1612 and built by the Jesuits, it has some excellent frescoes), the Cathedral Sainte Réparate (1699), and the Palais Lascaris (paintings and statues).
Place de la Bastille is one of the more well-known squares in Paris and occupies an important place in French history. This is where the Bastille Prison stood until 1789, when this 'symbol of royalist tyranny' was stormed on July 14 during the French Revolution. No trace of the Bastille prison remains but the square is still a place where Parisians go to raise their voices in political protest.
In the middle of the square stands the July column, commemorating the three-day July Revolution of 1830. yet another overthrowing of a French king.
These days the Bastille is a large traffic roundabout and the surrounding area is known for its bars, cafes, and nightclubs. It is home to the Opera Bastille, a marina for pleasure boats and the Canal Saint Martin.
The Petit Palais, as you can imagine, is the smaller of the two museums on Avenue Winston Churchill, between the Champs-Élysées and the Pont Alexandre III. Unlike many museums in Paris, it was built (in 1900) specifically as an exhibition space, as evidenced by its abundance of soft natural light and open spaces. It is now home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.
Its collection covers a wide range of styles and eras, from medieval paintings to 19th-century sculpture. Fans of Monet and Cézanne will enjoy their lesser-known works, and there's plenty of Rubens, Rembrandt and Rodin to go around.
One of Paris’s most beloved cabarets, Au Lapin Agile has been delighting audiences in Montmartre for decades. The title translates to “The Nimble Rabbit” from French, originating from a painting of a rabbit jumping out of a hot frying pan. The small theater was once a hotspot for bohemian Parisian artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Toulouse-Latrec, and Utrillo. Picasso helped to make the space famous with his 1905 painting of “At the Lapin Agile.”
The iconic pink cottage cabaret drew in some of Paris’s most eccentric characters, many of which carved their names into the original wooden tables that still remain today. Having opened in 1860, the Paris institution has long been a source of evening revelry, good food and drink, and French song and dance performance. It continues to be an authentic venue for all three today.
If you were just walking by Clos Montmartre on a trip to the Sacre-Couer, you might assume it was just a particularly lovely community garden dotted with peach trees and vines. Actually, the Clos is the oldest working vineyard in Paris, and on clear days, from here you can see all the way out to the Eiffel Tower.
The best time to visit Clos Montmartre is during Fête des Vendanges — the harvest festival — when the grapes from the Clos are taken over to Montmartre town hall to be fermented and turned into around 1,500 bottles of gamay and pinot noir.
Despite only opening its doors in May 2016, the spectacular La Cité du Vin is already on its way to becoming one of Bordeaux's star attractions. Both an architectural landmark and a fascinating tribute to the city's wine-making heritage, the futuristic building looms over the banks of the Garonne and offers a unique 360-degree view from its 115-foot-high (35-meter-high) belvedere.
Described by some as part museum, part theme park, La Cité du Vin whisks visitors on a self-guided, fully interactive tour of French wine history and heritage, with multi-sensory exhibitions and multimedia displays spread over 10 floors. Travelers are also offered the opportunity to sample wines from around the world (or grape juices for younger visitors), plus a choice of restaurants, wine bars and boutiques. Plans are underfoot to also host temporary art exhibitions.
It's easy to pass by the Palais-Royal in Paris's first arrondissement; there is so much around it of note, and visitors are either rushing past to get to the Louvre, or wiped out after an afternoon at that world-famous museum. But its gardens, which are free and open to the public, are an oasis in this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood that's practically hidden in plain sight – so keep it in mind when you want to take a load off after trekking through the Louvre.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it was built in the 1630s and after the Cardinal's death fell into the hands of King Louis XIII. Today it is the location of the Ministry of Culture and a branch of the National Library.
Located in the center of Paris in the 2nd arrondissement, Rue Montorgueil is a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where, within a three block radius, you’ll find some of Paris’s best bites. The market street was once the home of the iconic Les Halles wholesale market, and while that was disbanded in the 1970s, its foodie culture remains in the form of fish and meat markets, restaurants, bistros, food shops, chocolatiers, pastry shops and kitchen supply stores.
For many a traveling foodie, the crowning jewel of the Rue Montorgueil neighborhood is La Maison Stohrer, a patisserie that opened in 1730, making it the oldest still-standing pastry shop in the city.
The Panthéon was originally meant to be the final resting place of the relics of Ste-Genevieve, but it now serves as a deconsecrated, non-denominational mausoleum of some of France's most revered artists and writers, such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola and, most recently after an exhumation and the moving of his coffin, Dumas. It also has a tribute to the French Jews who survived the horrors of World War II.
But visitors often find their gaze divided between the final resting places of these distinguished Frenchmen and the stunning, vaulted open space that remains from its construction, completed in 1790. The Panthéon is one the world's best examples of early Neoclassical architecture. Don't forget to stay a moment on the exterior stairs and enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower.
The Place de la Bourse (or Place Royale) faces onto the river Garonne. It was laid out in the 1700s by Louis XV's architect, Gabriel, to act as a dramatic frame for an equestrian statue of the monarch.
The Place de la Bourse is framed on one side by the Stock Exchange (the 'Bourse' that gives the square its name) and on the other side by a museum. In the center of the square is its chief beauty and attraction, the fountain of the Three Graces, built by Visconti in 1869. When it's lit at night it is highly photogenic.
Les Invalides began as the army hospital, initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished six years later. These days, it is a complex of buildings including a collection of museums, a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, and a chapel which is a burial place of war heroes including Napoleon Bonaparte. The museums include Contemporary History, Maps, as well as Military History.
As is the way with French Kings and their projects, a simple idea to build a place for war veterans to retire grew into a massive and grand statement with fifteen courtyards, a chapel - the Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides, and then a royal chapel - Eglise du Dome. Based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this latter became the prime example of French Baroque architecture.
Things to do near France
- Things to do in Paris
- Things to do in Nice
- Things to do in Marseille
- Things to do in Cannes
- Things to do in Bordeaux
- Things to do in Arles
- Things to do in Marignane
- Things to do in Montpellier
- Things to do in Nîmes
- Things to do in Blois
- Things to do in Switzerland
- Things to do in Monaco
- Things to do in Burgundy
- Things to do in Rhône-Alpes
- Things to do in Languedoc-Roussillon