Forget Paris. There’s a world outside the French capital to be found in the food, history, and architecture in the rest of l’Hexagon. From the stunning coastline to sleepy cities which feel like stepping back in time, there’s a reason that France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world! Here are 10 underrated cities in France you simply must visit before everyone else does!
Dominated by the imposing papal palace in the very heart of the city and best-known for the half-completed bridge spanning the city’s river, Avignon is located in Provence. Highlights of the city include wandering around the historical streets and delving into the historical area of the city in the form of Roman ruins. A visit to Avignon can easily be combined with trips to the nearby cities of Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, and Nimes.
As the capital of the Languedoc area in South West France, Montpellier is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours in Provence. However, should you opt to visit Montpellier, you’ll find it an excellent starting point for exploring the Languedoc region, the area of France where more wine is produced than in Chile, South Africa, and Bordeaux put together on an annual basis.
Read more: A solo adventure in the South of France!
If your type of holiday is the kind where you chill out and sip on wine, then Ruch is the town for you. After all, while the charm of the place lies in its postcard-perfect views and architecture, the town is best visited in the late summer when you can relax with family or friends in tow.
For fans of seafood, Cancale will likely need no introduction. Best-known for its abundance of seafood, specifically wild flat oysters, Cancale has been inhabited since the Middle Palaeolithic period. Situated seaside, today the city makes most of its money from tourism. After all, the city is a great place to base yourself if you’re looking to explore the rest of the Northern French coastline; Saint-Malo, Dinan, and even Mont Saint Michel are not too far away!
Read more: How to spend three perfect days in Brittany.
Not far from the azure blue mediterranean sea, the underrated French city of Toulouse is worthy of any Occitanie bucket list. Once the capital city of the Visigothic Kingdom, today the city is home to two designated UNESCO world heritage sites; the Canal du Midi and the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, the Basilica of Saint Sernin.
Located in Normandy and often forgotten in favour of Normandy’s most famous attraction, that of Mont Saint Michel, Rouen is a beautiful destination to add to any French itinerary. Rumoured to be the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and the site of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in France, the city is home to oodles of timber-framed houses, as well as several museums.
When it comes to Troyes, a picturesque city in the Aube department, 16th-century architecture is abundant and coffee shops can be found around every corner. Located along the River Seine and situated around 150 km from the French capital city of Paris, Troyes has been inhabited since antiquity. Highlights of the city include admiring art at one of the city’s many museums, as well as venturing out to explore the many vineyards in the area. After all, Troyes is situated in the very heart of the Champagne region of France!
The relatively nontouristy town of Narbonne was once a thriving Roman port city. However, over the past two millennia, silt and sand have built up in the River Aude to such an extent that the city now sits some 15 km away from the sea- so don’t pack your bikini in too much of a rush! Instead, there are small traces of Roman influence throughout the city, as well as plenty of architecture dating back to the middle ages.
As the capital of Flanders and with a population of over 200,000, Lille has been inhabited for well over four thousand years. Some of the very best things to do in this underrated French city include the book market on Vielle Bourse (which takes place every afternoon) and wandering through the city’s main green spaces, as well as quirky architectural buildings.
Not far from the French border of Luxembourg, Metz is a place which more than deserves its place on this list of underrated cities in France. Located in the Grand-Est region of France, the city is best known for its high vaulted cathedral and wonderful covered market. Other places of interest in the city include the Centre Pompidou-Metz and river walks along the Moselle.