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Things to Do in France - page 4

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Marché d’Aligre
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19 Tours and Activities

Tucked behind the Bastille in Eastern Paris, the Marché d’Aligre is one of the capital’s liveliest markets, mixing the traditional and the bohemian with plenty of rustic French charm. The market is split into two parts: the Marche Beauvau, one of the few remaining covered markets in the capital, and an outdoor flea market where everything from antiques and crafts (including many African and Asia works), to clothes and fresh flowers, is on sale. Seasonal fruits, vegetables and meat line the indoor stalls, alongside huge slabs of local cheeses, fresh oysters and delicious baked goods, and there are plenty of free samples available to challenge your taste buds.

The market is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm, as well as Sunday mornings; although many stallholders take a break for lunch around 1pm. The surrounding streets are packed with bijou cafes and charming eateries where you can watch the world go by while sampling some fine cuisine.

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Île Sainte-Marguerite
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The largest of the Lérins islands located 1 km (2/3 of a mile) from Cannes, the Ile de Sainte-Marguerite is abounding with eucalyptus and pines. The island is most famous for allegedly holding the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask captive during the 17th century. During the summer months, a vast amount of boats stay in the shallow, safeguarded "Plateau du Milieu" between the islands where there is more area for water sports. The village of Sainte-Marguerite is comprised of about twenty buildings. Most of these are home to fishermen, but there are a few establishments offering refreshments to tourists who are exploring the island.

The historic Fort Royal now contains a youth hostel and a Museum featuring items recovered from ancient shipwrecks. Island visitors are also able to explore a number of former prison cells and an old Roman cistern room. Close to the Fort Royal is a small cemetery for French soldiers and another alongside it for North African soldiers.

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Grand Theatre
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Bordeaux's Grand Theatre was built in the late 1700s during the reign of Louis XVI by architect Victor Louis. It is one of the most beautiful 18th-century concert halls in the world, with a facade adorned with 12 Corinthian columns, each topped with a statue. Nine statues represent the art muses, and the other three represent the Roman goddesses Juno, Venus and Minerva. Over the past few years, the theater has gone through restoration to repair damages from oil lamps and revive the 18th-century decor.

On three separate occasions the theater was the seat of the French parliament. In effect this made Bordeaux the capital of France in 1870, 1914, and 1941. Today the Grand Theatre is home to the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, the Opera Ballet of Bordeaux, and the Chorus of the Opéra National de Bordeaux.

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Pont de Pierre
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What is perhaps one of the most iconic bridges in all of France is definitely a must-see for visitors to Bordeaux. Connecting the left and right bank of the city since 1819 but ordered by Napoleon I during the First French Empire, Pont de Pierre–the stone bridge– was the first bridge to cross the mighty Garonne River. Indeed, its construction was a challenging one, as the current is extremely strong at this point in the river; more than 4,000 workers were needed to build it, using an English diving bell to stabilize the pillars. Consequently, Pont de Pierre was actually the only bridge to connect the two banks for nearly 150 years!

The red-stone bridge consists of seventeen spans–the exact number of letters in the name Napoléon Bonaparte–lined with elegant iron light posts; each of the bridge’s pillars is capped by a medallion to honor both the emperor and Bordeaux’s coat of arms.

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Quinconces Square (Place des Quinconces)
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The Quinconces Square (known locally as the Esplanade de Quinconces) certainly impresses with its size - at 12 hectares (30 acres) it's one of Europe's largest squares. And it's impressively situated on the banks of the Garonne, laid out in a semi-circle with trees planted in geometric patterns based on the number five (it's these patterns that give the Esplanade its name).

Laid out in the early 1800s, the square is adorned by some massive public statuary. There are rostral columns, statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu, and an immense monument to the Girondists, who were executed during the Revolution. The monument is a riot of bronze horses and warriors. During WWII it was dismantled by the Germans and the bronze melted, but it has since been restored.

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Port of the Moon (Port de la Lune)
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Bordeaux in southwest France was once a vibrant port city. The port itself was known as the Port of the Moon because it sat on a semi-circular part of the Garonne River. Historically the left bank of the port has been the center of commerce and culture. Throughout the past 2,000 years, the port has played an important role in shaping the city's history and its place as a world city of wine.

When the automobile became more prominent, the historical buildings in this area began to degrade and turn black. The roads were not meant for cars, and traffic jams clogged up the port area. The port's importance declined, and it was eventually moved downstream to the northern suburbs. In the 1990s great efforts were made to clean up the area, including the buildings, and the waterfront is now lined with pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, shops, and museums. In 2007 the Port of the Moon waterfront was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Place de la République
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Nearly a dozen streets converge at Place de la Republique—a popular square in the heart of Paris. This historic town center may measure fewer than 10 acres but was once home to impressive military barracks. Though the grounds are relatively small, there are numerous points of interest including intricate fountains, monuments paying homage to the grand republic and artistic relief-panel depicting some of the city’s most impressive political feats.

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Porte Cailhau
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Built in 1495, this dramatic Gothic Revival 35-meters tall city gate was built to commemorate King Charles VIII's victory at Fornovo in Italy during the Italian War of 1494. At the time, it was the main entry point to Bordeaux from the port. It faces Place du Palais and features several ornamental sculptures and towers, something that is very typical of architecture built under the reign of Charles VIII; indeed, the monarch wanted this gate to showcase his power and affluence. The gate, which was once part of the Bordeaux city wall, was later on used as a defensive tower (the multitude of portcullis, murder holes, and machicolation features are there to prove this), and as a salt scale and storehouse. Nowadays, it houses an informative exhibition dedicated to the tools and materials with which the tower was built as well as the urban development of Bordeaux. There is a wonderful view of the old town center, the Garonne River, and the Pont de Pierre Bridge from the top floor.

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Basilica of St. Michael (Basilique St. Michel)
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The Basilique Saint-Michel is a Gothic gem built between the 14th and 16th centuries. Its charms include an altarpiece depicting the triumph of Michael, its patron saint, over the dragon and some fine stained glass (although a lot of its stained glass was destroyed in WWII). It's also a stop on the Santiago de Compostello pilgrimage.

But the church itself is overshadowed by its freestanding belfry, which at 114 meters (374 feet) somewhat grabs the attention. From June to September, it's possible to go inside the tower and climb to the top. It's worth it for the views over the river.

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More Things to Do in France

Grand Trianon

Grand Trianon

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The pink-colonnaded Grand Trianon was built in 1687 by the famous architect Mansart, as a tranquil getaway from court life for Louis XIV.

Setting the benchmark for Italianate garden conservatory design, the elegantly long and low palace of pink marble and porphyry features geometrically ordered rows of columns and windows, topped by a balustrade roof.

The original furnishings were plundered during the Revolution. Today, the palace is furnished in Empire style, reflecting the decoration installed by Napoleon, who was particularly enamored of the building. Surrounding the palace is a lovely flower garden.

While the Grand Trianon is open to the public, it is also an official residence of the French President.

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Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe)

Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe)

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Of France’s 62 million residents, it’s estimated that as many as 7 million of them have Arabic roots. In appreciation of this multiculturalism, France partnered with 22 Arabic nations to found the Museum of the Arab World (Institut du Monde Arabe) in Paris in 1980. Housed within a contemporary building designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum houses a collection of Arabic art, scientific objects, textiles and other items spanning thousands of years.

Spread across four floors, the newly renovated museum’s collection includes everything from pre-Islamic ceramics to modern Palestinian art. The building itself is noteworthy, as the intricate latticework on the building’s southern exterior was inspired by a traditional Moorish screen. The museum regularly hosts large temporary exhibitions, with past topics such as contemporary Moroccan art, silks of al-Andalus and hip-hop in the Bronx Arab streets.

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Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica (La Bonne Mère)

Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica (La Bonne Mère)

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Everywhere you go in Marseille, you'll see the golden statue of the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, the Romano-Byzantine basilica rising up from the city's highest hill, La Garde (530ft/162m). Built between 1853 and 1864, the domed basilica is ornamented with colored marble, murals, and intricate mosaics, which were superbly restored in 2006 after suffering damage from the atmosphere, candle smoke and war. Bullet marks and vivid shrapnel scars on the cathedral's northern façade mark the fierce fighting that took place during Marseille's Battle of Liberation in August 1944.

Its bell tower is crowned by a 30 ft (9.7m) tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on a 40 ft (12m) high pedestal. Locals see her as the guardian of their city and call her 'la bonne mere' or the good mother. Each year on August 15th, there is a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage to the church. From the dome you get a 360-degree panorama of the city's sea of terracotta rooves below.

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Marseille Cruise Port (Terminal Croisières Marseille)

Marseille Cruise Port (Terminal Croisières Marseille)

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Marseilles has grown from being a tiny trading port established by the Greeks in 600 BC to being France’s second largest city. Topped by the hilltop Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde cathedral, it rises from the lovely harbor front of the Vieux Port or Old Harbor out into a sprawling, modern metropolis.

Given its role as France’s major port and its proximity to Africa and the Mediterranean, it is not surprising that Marseilles is an extremely culturally diverse city with great transport links to most of the country. Marseilles is the gateway to Provence, an area famed for its cooking and its artists.

As well as being an important port and industrial city, Marseilles is also an important center for culture with the Opera de Marseille and the Ballet Nationale de Marseille housed in the historic Opera House. It has also attracted many famous artists over the years, including Renoir and Cezanne, and spawned much of France’s hip hop music.

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Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Le Mucem)

Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Le Mucem)

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The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM; Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée) is a national museum in Marseille, France. It was inaugurated in 2013, the same year Marseille was designated as the ‘European Capital of Culture,’ and is dedicated to showcasing the multifaceted history of the Mediterranean and its different landscapes, cities, and shores.

The museum is built on reclaimed land at the entrance to Marseille’s harbour. Its exhibits are devoted to European and Mediterranean civilizations in the Mediterranean basin, taking an interdisciplinary approach to presenting the different societies who have called this area home throughout the ages and in modern times. It is the first museum in the world to focus entirely on the cultures of the Mediterranean, and it includes all the social sciences: anthropology, political science, sociology, history, archaeology, and art history.

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La Corniche

La Corniche

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Winding along the Mediterranean coast along the South of France, La Corniche is a waterfront roadway that stretches five kilometers through Marseille. As both a walkway and a road for cars, it offers wonderful views of the sea and coastline. It was a particularly popular promenade for residents of Marseille in the 1920s. From there you can also see the Iles du Frioul, elegant villas of the late 19th century, and the Prado beaches. The Chateau d’If (of the Count of Monte Cristo fame) is also visible.

Along the way sits the Maregraph Building, which took measurements over thirteen years to determine France’s sea level elevation. The bench of La Corniche runs three kilometers between the Pont de la Fausse-Monnaie and Hotel Sofitel Palm Beach, making it the longest bench in the world. Part of the roadway is named after President Kennedy, who was assassinated during its construction.

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Vallon des Auffes

Vallon des Auffes

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With its charming jumble of fishing boats and fishermen’s cabins clustered around the small harbor, and framed by the arches of a stone-brick bridge; visiting Vallon des Auffes feels like stepping back in time. Located along the Marseille Corniche, the historic port village is a world away from the bustling city and makes a tranquil detour for those traveling along the coastal road.
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Palais du Pharo

Palais du Pharo

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Wouldn't it be nice to be a prince, to be able to go to seaside town, decide you liked it and wouldn't mind having a little holiday home there, then have the city give you the prime location on the waterfront to build your palace? Welcome to the mid-19th century world of Prince-President Louis-Napoleon. In September 1852, he visited Marseille, said he liked it, was given the Pharo headland overlooking Vieux Port and Ile d'If, built the magnificent Palais du Pharo, then never even stayed there. Luckily his wife seems to have had a more generous nature and the Empress Eugenie gave it back to the city.

In 1904, the city of Marseille turned the building into a medical school. This necessitated some architectural changes and the balance of the building's appearance was altered losing some of its beauty. Since then, the building has been again modified to become a modern conference centre, with many of the auditoriums skillfully concealed underground below the forecourt.

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Marseille History Museum (Musee d'Histoire)

Marseille History Museum (Musee d'Histoire)

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Following extensive renovations back in 2013, the Marseille History Museum is now one of the largest history museums in Europe and it’s a fitting homage to France’s oldest city, showcasing a fascinating array of archaeological finds. Exploring the interactive exhibitions and multi-media displays, visitors can follow the evolution of Marseille from its founding by the Greeks back in 600BC, to the early Christian settlers, through to medieval times and the redevelopment of the city under Louis XIV.

Notable highlights include an impressively preserved 3rd-century Roman cargo boat, a remarkable collection of 13th century pottery and a series of architectural works by Pierre Puget. Also worth a visit is the open-air Jardin des Vestiges, which displays excavated remains, including a paved Roman Toad, necropolis and antique Greek walls.

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Palais de Chaillot

Palais de Chaillot

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The Palais de Chaillot is located on the Place du Trocadéro in Paris’ 16th neighborhood (arrondissement). Because it is just across the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot provides one of the city’s best views of the tower — it is a great place to snap photos of the famous landmark. Visitors can easily spend an entire day visiting the Palais de Chaillot, the Eiffel Tower, and walking or taking a cruise along the Seine. The Palais’ surrounding gardens (Jardins du Trocadéro) are ten hectares surrounding Paris’ largest fountain, which is well worth viewing at night while lit up.

The Palais de Chaillot was originally built for the 1937 World’s Fair/Universal Expo, and today houses the national theater (Théâtre National de Chaillot) and a number of different museums: the Musée de la Marine (Naval Museum), the Musée de l'Homme (The Museum of Man), and a museum of architecture (Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine).

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Girondins Monument (Monument aux Girondins)

Girondins Monument (Monument aux Girondins)

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Located in the very center of Place des Quinconces in Bordeaux, this striking column was elevated in the late 1800s to commemorate the Girondists, a fervent republican political faction consisting of militants originally part of France’s Legislative Assembly, and one of the first group to openly denounce Louis XVI’s reign and the monarchy in general. Their 1793 mass execution, which was caused by their resistance against the rapidly increasing momentum of the revolution, is often considered to be the starting point of the Reign of Terror.

At 54 meters high, the Monument aux Girondins overlooks one of the city’s busiest squares and is adorned with an intricate bronze statue representing Lady Liberty breaking free of her shackles and gracing Bordeaux with her palm of victory. At the base of the column stands a colossal fountain and two basins, with dramatic bronze sculptures of charging horses, each signifying a different aspect of modern French society.

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