Planning a trip to France or looking to learn more about the largest country in Europe? Then you’ve come to the right place. France’s rich history and natural diversity make it one of the most popular European countries to visit. While most French landmarks are located in the capital city of Paris, there are many other grand monuments and gorgeous sites to explore in the rest of the country. From the world-renowned Paris monuments to the most popular French tourist sites, here’s our list of the best landmarks in France to explore.
Famous sites and landmarks in France
You’ll find a map at the end of this article, which will help you visualize all famous French buildings and sites mentioned.
1. Louvre Museum
Let’s kick off this list of French landmarks with the most visited museum in the world: The Louvre in Paris. This stately building houses an incredible art collection, from French scupltures to Islamic arts and Egyptian antiquities to the most iconic paintings such as the Mona Lisa. Visiting the museum requires a solid preparation, unless you have days to spend in the Louvre. We usually combine one collection with one thematic trail. Masterpieces, In Search of Ideal Beauty is the perfect trail for first-time visitors to Paris. It’s highly recommended to buy your tickets beforehand.
When you’ve completed your visit then take your time to admire the majestic 12th century building from the outside. It was originally built as part of a fortification along the Seine river but was transformed into a royal palace centuries later.
- Where to find this museum in Paris: 1st arrondissement.
- Number of visits in 2018: 10.000.000.
- Best place to stay in Paris near The Louvre: Le Narcisse Blanc Hôtel & Spa.
2. Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most famous landmarks in France. Visiting Versailles is convenient when you’re staying in the capital and makes for the perfect day trip from Paris. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 17th century and took no less than 40 years to complete. It was built on the former yachting grounds of Louis XIII’s by his son, Louis XIV, who hosted comedies and operas in the Palace of Versailles. He loved having an audience and hosted numerous parties on the Versailles site. After his death, his son Louis XV lived at the estate with his spouse Marie-Antoinette until the French Revolution.
The Hall of Mirrors is the most popular room of this famous French landmark. A visit to the Palace of Versailles takes about 1,5 hours after which you have plenty of time to explore the spectacular Gardens of Versailles with its fountains, parterres, sculptures and groves.
- Where to find this French monument: Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region (just half an hour from Paris).
- Number of visits in 2018: 8 100.000.
- Best place to stay near the Palace of Versailles: The Waldorf Astoria Versailles Trianon Palace. Click here to check out our review.
3. Eiffel Tower
This iconic Paris monument has been putting its mark on the city’s skyline since 1889 when it was presented to the public during the World Fair. That was also a symbolic year, exactly 100 years after of the French Revolution. With a height of 300 m (1,000 ft), the Eiffel tower became the tallest tower in the world at the time. Gustave Eiffel was in church of the construction of this French landmark, which was completed in just over 2 years. Learn more about the history of the Eiffel tower here.
If you plan on visiting the Eiffel tower, then it’s essential to book your time slot tickets way in advance (especially during the summer months). Personally, we prefer to look at this French monument from a distance because the views over Paris just don’t look the same without the Eiffel tower in it. But then again, our kids disagree and would visit any chance they get.
- Where to find this Parisian building: 7th arrondissement.
- Number of visits in 2018: almost 7.000.000.
- Best places to stay in Paris near the Eiffel tower: Le Narcisse Blanc Hôtel & Spa.
4. Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey
The French landmark with the most impressive location is probably the Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. This amazing monument is perched on a rock and, depending on the tidal conditions, surrounded by the Atlantic waters. The original 11th century Roman abbey was partly burnt down during a violent historic episode. It was rebuilt in the 13th century as the Gothic construction that we know today. The abbey consists of 2 wings (not 3 as originally intended), one being the church-abbey and the other – which is called The Wonder or La Merveille – where the monks lived. At one point, during the French Revolution, this prestigious center of pilgrimage has been a prison. In the 19th century, the Mont-Saint-Michel officially became a French monument. A golden statue of Archangel Michael was placed on the top of the spire and nowadays, several monks live there again.
The location of the Mont-Saint-Michel is spectacular, especially during high tide when the Mont St-Michel becomes an island. However nowadays, it remains accessible via pedestrian bridge. At low tide, you can reach the Mon St Michel by walking barefoot over the sand. You can check the tides here. In the south-east side of the rock, protected from the violence of the Hundred Years war by the thick ramparts that you can still see today, a village formed. When walking the medieval streets, you’ll notice the stairs in the ramparts and the wooden roof tiles on the traditional houses.
- Where to find this French landmark: Manche department in the Normandy region.
- Number of visits in 2018: 1.396.200.
- Best place to stay near Mont-Saint-Michel: Hôtel Oceania Saint-Malo.
The Sainte-Chapelle is located on the on the Seine island of Île de la Cité in Paris, where you’ll also find the damaged Notre Dame cathedral. It was King Louis IX who commissioned the construction of this royal chapel, part of the former Palais de la Cité, in the 13th century. The Saint-Chapelle or Holy Chapel, a prime example of the Gothic Rayonnant style, once housed the most exclusive relics of Christianity.
This Paris landmark is a true piece of art thanks to its spiral staircase and 15 huge windows showing over a thousand scenes from the bible’s old and the new testament. It got damaged during the French Revolution but was restored shortly after, although some of the colorful vibrant colors that once decorated the walls were toned down during these renovation works.
- Where to find this monument in Paris: 1st arrondissement.
- Number of visits in 2018: 1.270.300.
- Best place to stay in Paris near the Sainte-Chapelle: Hôtel La Lanterne.
6. Loire Valley Castles
It was no secret that the French royals liked to live life to the fullest. While they mainly resided in and around Paris, they considered the Loire Valley to be their happy place. During the French Renaissance, they commissioned the construction of a range of pleasure palaces in the verdant Loire Valley. Legendary, decadent parties were held in the sumptuous palaces. But the French royals soon lost their interest for these palaces in favour of sites such as Fontainebleau and Versailles. The Châteaux de la Loire were acquired by the French nobility and are now among the most famous landmarks of France.
Each castle has its own story to tell, from the splendid Château de Chenonceau castle to the spectacular Château de Chambord and the stately Château de Villandry with its iconic gardens. More information on the Loire castles can be found here.
- Where to find these French castles: Indre-et-Loire and Loir-et-Cher departments in the Centre – Val de Loire region.
- Number of visits in 2018: 1.017.836 in Chambord and 800.000 in Chenonceau.
- Best place to stay near the Loire castles: Relais de Chambord or Hôtel & Spa L’Aubinière.
7. Arc de Triomphe
At the center of the Place de l’Étoile in Paris, where 12 grand lanes meet, you’ll find the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a symbol of victory, built to honor Napoleon’s triumph in Austerlitz in the early 19th century. After the first World War, the French army proudly marched under the Arc de Triomphe. The Parisian monument remained kept its function however the focus shifted from celebrating Naopelon’s accomplishment to commemorating World War I. The Memorial Flame burns at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who lost his life during World War I.
The Arch is decorated with scenes that represent the French history, such as shields with Napoleon’s main victories. Climb the 384 steps and admire the views over the City of Lights from one of the major landmarks in France. Or witness the Eternal Flame being relit every evening at 6.30 pm. Learn more about this famous French building here.
- Where to find this landmark in Paris: 8th arrondissement.
- Number of visits in 2018: 1.698.100.
- Best place to stay in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe: La Villa Maillot.
8. Provence Lavender Fields
Every summer, the landscape in the Provence transforms in an ocean of purple lavender. These fragrant flowers bloom from mid-June to mid-August when they are harvested. Most lavender farms are family owned. A perfect period to travel to the Provence is the last week of June to the first days of July, just before the high season kicks in. The places to be on your lavender-hunt are Sault, also known as the Lavender capital, the picturesque Sénanque Abbey near Gordes and the Plateau of Valensole.
- Where to find this French site: Vaucluse department in the Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur region.
- Best place to stay near the lavender fields: Hôtel Les Bories & Spa or Mas des Herbes Blanches Hôtel & Spa.
9. Omaha Beach
Omaha beach is one of the best D-Day sites to visit in Normandy. The coast represents a turning point in World War II since the Allied Forces had chosen this stretch of shore as the location for D-Day. The Germans had expected to be attacked further up north, closer to England and were taken off-guard. The flat beaches of Normandy had been divided into 5 sections with codenames Sword, Gold, Juno, Utah and Omaha and divided over the allies. Omaha beach, which had been assigned to the American troops, proved to be the most difficult to conquer. Thousands of American soldiers were injured at this beach on that fatal day. Those who didn’t survive found a final resting place at the The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
At the cemetery, you’ll see almost 10,000 white crosses that point towards the American continent. The memorial site features a semicircular colonnade around the bronze statue “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”, a chapel and an orientation table overlooking the beach. The Walls of the Missing mentions 1,557 names of soldiers who weren’t recovered. Rosettes mark the names of those that have been identified in recent years. The onsite museums tell their stories and commemorates the sacrifices that where made.
- Where to find this important site in France: Calvados department in the Normandy region.
- Number of visits in 2018: Approximately 1.000.000.
- Best place to stay near Omaha beach: Château la Chenevière.
10. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
This architectural masterpiece in style has stood the test of time. It’s over a thousand years old, built in the year 1015. However, because of damages by a fire, there was a second building stage in the 12th century resulting in the Gothic architectural style that you can admire today. Construction of the Strasbourg Cathedral, one of the most famous buildings in France, was finally completed in 1439. Climb the steps of this ‘prodigy of the gigantesque and the delicate”, as it was referred to by Victor Hugo, for a mesmerizing view over the stunning city of Strasbourg.
This French landmark’s interior is impressive, with beautiful stained-glass windows and a huge decorated organ. Several secret codes and enigmas are said to be hidden inside the gothic cathedral’s ornaments as well. The outside is spectacular, with its pink sandstone that changes color depending on the light of day, its elegant spire and the hundreds of lively sculptures that decorate the walls. An eye-catcher is the astronomical clock which initiates a parade of automated figures every day (excepts Sundays) from 12:30 am to 12:40 pm.
- Where to find this landmark in France: Bas-Rhin department in the Grand Est region.
- Number of visits in 2017: Over 4.000.000.
- Best place to stay near the Cathédral de Strasbourg: Hôtel Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg – MGallery.
11. Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
The Basilique de Notre-Dame de la Garde towers out over the city of Marseille from atop a 161 m high cliff. It was built in 1864 by architect Henry-Jacques Espérandieu on the site of a 13th century chapel and a 16th century fortress. The Basilica, lovingly called la Bonne Mère (the Good Mother) by the city’s inhabitants, is the most emblematic building in France and one of the most popular landmarks in France. Its style is a combination Roman and neo-Byzantine or Byzantine Revival in Italian marble with the most stunning mosaics. Its most impressive feature is the 60 m high bell-tower topped with a 10 m monumental statue of Virgin Mary on a 14 m pedestal. Considered the protector of sailors, this statue is visible from both land and sea.
There’s an esplanade around the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, offering an impressive view over the city of Marseille and the Mediterranean. An orientation table points out the various points of interest in the area.
The Basilica can be reached from the Vieux Port by means of the tourist train. Plans to install a cable car from the port to the clifftop are currently being evaluated.
- Where to find this landmark in France: Bouches-du-Rhône department in the Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur region.
- Number of visits in 2018: Just under 2.000.000.
- Best place to stay near the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde: Les Bords de Mer and Hôtel C2.
12. Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard or Bridge of the Gard, which is a region in the Provence, dates back to AD 50. You can find it in Nîmes, a wealthy colony of the Roman empire at that time. This city, with tens of thousands inhabitants, didn’t have sufficient water supplies. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, appointed by Roman emperor Augustus to manage the empire’s water supplies, worked on a solution with his team of engineers. The idea was to build an aqueduct allowing the spring water from nearby mountains to reach the city. The selected source was the springs of the Eure Fontain near Uzès.
It required an aqueduct of 50 km (31 mi) long, which they managed to build with a slope of only 12 m (about 40 ft) so that the water could flow from the source to the city of Nîmes. The aqueduct also had to span the Gardon river. For that purpose the Romans built the Pont du Gard as part of the aqueduct. It was used to support the pipeline for multiple centuries and later served as a pedestrian bridge.
With its height of 48.8 m (160 ft), the Pont du Gard was the highest aqueduct of the Roman era. This architectural masterpiece spans a length of 275 m (900 ft) and consists of 3 levels of arches: 6 on the lowest, 11 on the middle and 35 on the highest level. Between both sides of the bridge, there’s a lean of no more than 2,5 cm (about 1 inch). The most remarkable fact is that, apart from a small part at its highest point, the Pont du Gard was built without mortar. These impressive features make this UNESCO World Heritage site one of the most significant landmarks in France. There’s a museum at the left bank of the river where visitors can learn more about this bridge and its fascinating history.
- Where to find this French landmark: Gard department in the Occitanie region.
- Number of visits in 2018: 821.152.
- Best place to stay near the Pont du Gard: Hôtel Entraigues Uzès.
13. Mont Blanc
The Mont Blanc or White Mountain is the highest peak in the Alps. It’s also the highest mountain in Europe, at least according to those who feel that the Caucasus belongs to the Asian and not the European continent (there’s some discussion on the exact border). It’s located near the Italian and Swiss border. The city of Chamonix is mostly used as a travel base to explore the 4810 m (15 780 ft) high Roof of Europe, as the Mont Blanc is sometimes referred to. There are different excursions that allow to admire the mountain vistas as well as the intriguing glaciers, alpine lakes and ice falls from several breathtaking viewpoints.
- Hiking all the way to the top, which is always covered in snow, is reserved for experienced hikers. Then again, at the Mont Blanc even the less strenuous hikes are highly rewarding in terms of scenery. Refreshments can be obtained at the alpine huts and chalets along the hike. Alternatively, visitors can opt for these popular alternatives to explore one of the most spectacular natural landmarks in France.
- The Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola, which leaves from the centre of Chamonix and offers 3 stops (or 2, depending on the season). The first stop is the Plan de l’Aiguille at 2 310 m (7,578 ft), the second the Aiguille du Midi summit at 3 777 m (12,391ft) and the third, which is only available during the summer months, is the Pointe Helbronner summit terrace at 3 842 m (12,605).
- The Tramway du Mont-Blanc departs from either Le Fayet or Saint-Gervais and offers 2 stops. The first stop is Bellevue at 1 900 m (6,233) and the second Nid d’Aigle at 2 372 m (7,782 ft).
One of the first people to climb to the top of the the Mont Blanc was researcher Horace-Bénédict de Saussure in the late 18th century. And he took a souvenir: the highest piece of ice-free rock that he could find. That small piece has been displayed at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem ever since.
- Where to find this landmark in France: Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
- Best place to stay near the Mont Blanc: Heliopic Hôtel & Spa and Hôtel Mont Blanc.
14. Arena of Nîmes
The city of Nîmes is home to not one but two of the most famous landmarks in France. Apart from the Post du Gard, the Arena is another eye-catching construction that dates back to the Roman era (around AD 70). It’s the best preserved Roman amphitheater in the world, built around the same time as the Colosseum in Rome. The Nîmes Arena has an elliptical shape, 133 m (436 ft) long and 101 m (331 ft) wide. The 60 arches are divided over 2 levels and the total height of the construction is 21 m (68 ft). Around 24,000 gallo-roman spectators came to watch the popular gladiator fighting events. They public, that entered and exited via the ground-floor arcades, was divided over 34 rows and terraces according to social status. They were sheltered from the elements by a canvas canopy that was stretched over the arena.
After the fall of the Roman empire, locals sought protection against invasions in the amphitheater and in the Middle Ages, it had even become a fortified village. In the 19th century however, it was returned to its original state and soon the first bull-fights were organised in its arena. Nowadays, also other events are hosted there such as concerts and sports competitions. The most popular event is the yearly Féria de Pentecôte bull-fighting festival, a tradition since 1952.
Visitors can learn more about the fascinating history of this French landmark in the recent Museum of Roman Civilisation or visit the arena, the gladiator’s quarters and the corrida exhibition.
- Where to find this French monument: Gard department in the Occitanie region.
- Number of visits in 2018: Over 350 000.
- Best place to stay near the Nîmes Arena: Maison Albar L’Imperator and Hôtel C-Suites.
15. Cité de Carcassonne
In the valley of the Aude river, in between the Pyrenées and the Massif Central mountain ranges and surrounded by vineyards, lies Carcassonne. The Aude splits the city into two towns: the Cité on the right bank and the 13th century Ville Basse (Down Town) on the left bank.
The Cité is a medieval fortification on a hilltop, built by the Romans around the year AD 100, on a former Gaul site. In the 5th century, the Visigoths conquered the city and it soon became a thriving centre of trade. In the 8th century, Carcassonne was invaded by the Muslims but soon after, the King of the Franks took over the power. When their empire fell apart, it was divided in feudal states and ended up under the rule of the Trencavel dynasty. The viscount of Carcassonne ordered the construction of the Saint-Nazaire Basilique and incorporated the Comtal Castle in the fortification. The crusaders invaded Carcassonne and soon after, the city came under the rule of France. Gothic touches replaced some Romanesque features and the beautiful Narbonnaise Gate with its two towers was added to the ramparts.
In the 17th century, the city was left neglected when it lost is function as a royal fortress and it wasn’t until 1853 that Carcassonne was saved from demolition and rebuilt. Architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was in charge of these restoration works, which would only be completed in 1960. The posthumous crown to his work was the classification of the Cité as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
There’s so much history in this fortification, making this one of the major landmarks of France. Navigating the labyrinth of winding passageways and alleys of this hilltop settlement is an adventure in itself. The 3 km (1.9 mi) of double walls with 52 towers enclose the old stone buildings, some of which are still inhabited.
- Where to find this historical site in France: Aude department in the Occitanie region.
- Number of visits to the Cité in 2018: 597.200.
- Best place to stay in Carcassonne: Hôtel Restaurant Le Parc Franck Putelat.
16. Château de Fontainebleau
While the Palace of Versailles was the residence of one king, Louis XIV, the Palace of Fontainebleau has been a royal retreat for centuries. The palace was adapted and decorated to the personal taste of every king who resided there, starting with François I and ending with Napoléon I. As a result, the architectural style of the palace, located near Paris, can only be defined as eclectic. Its more than 1500 rooms are a living testimony of French art, especially Renaissance and Empire, making the Palace of Fontainebleau one of the most important cultural landmarks in France.
After visiting the Château de Fontainebleau and its gardens, explore one hiking, biking or horse-riding trails in the surrounding park. This designated UNESCO Biosphere reserve stretches out over no less than 130 hectares (321 acres).
- Where to find this French monument: Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region, just 1 hour from Paris.
- Number of visits in 2018: 515.000.
- Best place to stay near the Castle of Fontainebleau: Hôtel La Demeure du Parc.
17. Dune du Pilat
The Dune du Pilat is another important natural landmark in France. It’s a huge sand dune, with a varying height of around 110 m (360 ft) and 2.9 km (1.8 mi) long and over 600 m (0.37 mi) wide, located at the entrance of the Arachon Bay near Bordeaux. The sand originates from the neighbouring mountain ranges of the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. The streams transported the fine grains of quartz out to the coast, where the waves pushed it onto the beaches and the wind blew it a bit further inland against the local vegetation. It’s an ongoing process, one that keeps the dune moving towards the forest at a speed of about about 1 to 5 m (3 to 15 ft) per year. Because of that natural evolution, the dune has a story to tell. It consists of several layers of sand and darker paleosols (old forest soils), each with a unique mix of sediments, serving as a natural archive.
The dune is especially beautiful at the end of day, when the changing light creates a colorful spectacle.
- Where to find this French site: Gironde department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.
- Number of visits in 2018: 1.330.000.
- Best place to stay near the Grande Dune de Pilat: Hôtel & Spa les Bains d’Arguin.
18. Parc National des Calanques
The Calanques National Park, one of the most important natural landmarks in France, stretches from Marseille to Cassis along the French Riviera. Calanques are rocky inlets between limestone cliffs that are topped with pine trees. You’ll find 9 such inlets in the cliffs near the town of Cassis, a gorgeous little fishing village in the South of France. Various hiking criss cross this national park, allowing to visit the rocky beaches with their aquamarine waters. The most popular inlets are the first 3: The Calanque de Port Miou, the Calanque de Port Pin and the Calanque d’En Vau. Hiking, supping or kayaking are the only ways to reach those inlets since boats are not allowed to moor. The many boat excursions do, however, offer a nice view from the ocean inwards. We chose to hike to the Calanque d’En Vau. It was a strenuous but rewarding hike to the sensational Cassis Calanques.
- Where to find this park in France: Bouches-du-Rhône department in the Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur region.
- Number of visits in 2018: Approximately 1.000.000.
- Best place to stay in Cassis: Hôtel Les Roches Blanches.
The site of Carnac in Brittany counts as one the most important European prehistoric sites and therefore one of the most important landmarks in France. Groups of no less than 3,000 standing stones, spread over 40 hectares (99 acres), are arranged in a particular layout. Ménec is the largest of such groups, consisting of over a 1,000 menhirs in 11 lines. The alignments are believed to have played a role as “fields of remembrance” while the dolmens where used in funerals in the Neolithic era, over 6 000 years ago. The highest point on the site is the Tumulus of St. Michael. Based on the luxurious materials used and artefacts recovered, this large burial place would have been destined for a single person of high social standing. More information on the French site of Carnac can be found on the official website.
- Where to find this historical place in France: Morbihan department in the Bretagne region.
- Number of visits in 2018: 39.300.
- Best place to stay near the alignments of Carnac: Hôtel & Spa Les Salines Carnac by Thalazur.
20. Pampelonne beach
The crown jewel of beaches in the French Riviera is Pampelonne beach in St Tropez. It was a filming location in the And God Created Woman movie featuring Brigitte Bardot. Most of this iconic beach – about three quarters of it – is public and free of charge while the other part is home to numerous beach clubs. In recent years, however, the influx of tourists enjoying the luxury concessions have damaged the environment. Therefore in 2019, the number of beach clubs was decreased from 27 to 23 in order to give the sand dunes a necessary break. Expect to pay anywhere from €40-€70 for a sun bed at one of the concessions.
- Where to find this site in France: Var department in the Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur region.
- Best place to stay near Pampelonne beach: La Bastide des Salins.
French landmarks map
For your convenience, we’ve created this map indicating all the landmarks in France as mentioned in this article.
Many more landmarks in France
Other famous buildings in France didn’t make the list, mainly because this article would have been a one-city show if we had included sites such as the Panthéon, the Centre Pompidou, the Palais Garnier, the Catacombes and visits to exhibitions in the Petit and Grand Palais. Another big name that we excluded from the list is the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire of April 2019 left a big scar in the heart of Paris and for now, visiting the 14th century gothic cathedral is no longer possible.
So, for the purpose of this article, we wanted to give you a taste of the best that France has to offer and not just focus on Paris. It’s not a list of most-visited landmarks in France, after all, but rather an overview of the most remarkable attractions in this fabulous country.
Which of these famous French landmarks have you visited yet?
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