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Top Things to See and Do in France

Alexander III bridge, Paris, France

Paris – Paris has everything – the Louvre, impressionist museums, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, parks, clubs, culture, and great food. This list goes on and on. Paris is especially good for people who love art and food as the city has a long rich history with both.

(Make sure to enjoy all the amazing pastries!) It’s as magical as people say and, while it would take a lifetime to really see it all, four or five days gives you a good idea. This is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I always find something new when I am here. Take your time, drink some wine, and enjoy the city of lights.The D-Day beaches, Normandy – Learn about the WWII Allied forces D-Day landings along the beaches of northern France. There are memorials and museums detailing the history of the event. You can still see some of the old bunkers and fortifications.The Palace of Versailles – Located very close to Paris, the old palace of the French kings was built by Louis XIV. This palace was constructed during the height of French power and seeks to show off the monarch’s tremendous wealth. It’s as awe-inspiring today as it was back then. It was used by the French Kings until the French Revolution in 1789. You definitely don’t want to miss it!Explore the Loire Valley – The Loire is lovely and picturesque, with tons of vineyards and chateaus. You will find some of the best wine in the world, beautiful small towns, and great food. It’s an area not to be missed (though often missed by solo travelers and backpackers. Tsk tsk.)Drink wine in Bordeaux – Some of the best wine in the world is made here. It’s an expensive destination and not for someone on a tight budget, but it’s beautiful and worth all the Euros you will spend! Bordeaux has one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, amazing seafood (eat at Le Petit Commerce), seaside access, and of course, wine. It’s a magnificent place to diverge from your backpacking mentality. Next to Paris, it’s my favorite place in France.Hang out in Nice – They say Nice is nice, but you’ll have to find out exactly how nice it is on your own. This seaside town in the south is a popular destination for budget travelers who want to soak up some sun in Southern France but might not be able to afford Cannes or Monaco. The beach here isn’t that great, but the central location makes it easy to explore the rest of the coast (and its better beaches).Explore history in Lyon – The area around Lyon has wonderful castles and small villages. It’s great for those looking to explore the French countryside. If you want a look at medieval France, this is where you should go. The whole place is a UNESCO World Heritage site and truly feels like you have stepped back into the past.Go to Marseille – It’s one of France’s largest cities – the second behind Paris. It is a metropolitan city that also has a rich history. Marseille is filled with nightlife, great restaurants, theaters, museums, and even an international soccer stadium. Many say that Marseille is not the kind of city you will fall in love with as it is too industrial, but, while the city is a bit gritty, it’s worth a visit for its beautiful waterfront.Hob nob with the rich in Monaco – This tiny kingdom is home to tiny streets, beautiful buildings, a world famous casino, and gigantic modern yachts. Hang out with society’s well-heeled, those who flock to the Cote D’Azur from other parts of France during the summer.Visit St. Tropez – If life in Marseilles is too mundane for you, catch a boat out to St. Tropez where you can relax in beautiful hillside towns, swim in azure blue water, and bump shoulders with the rich and famous.See Alsace – This northeast region of France is a beautiful place to visit. Colmar is an old town and the main attraction. Some of the buildings date back to the 1300s. It’s as picturesque a French town as one could ever one!Wander through Parc de la Villette – This park is host to a science museum and some other odd attractions. There is a large collection of architectural follies, theme gardens, and open space for activity and exploration. It was designed for children as well as adults and is a neat place to check out.Return to the trenches – France was ground zero during the First World War, and there are still many indicators of the damage caused during those years around the country. For example, two important battles took place at Vimy Ridge (which marked a huge success for Canadian forces) and Verdun. Both sites have set up excellent tourist centers and visiting facilities. It’s a moving and educational experience.Explore Roman ruins – France has some of the best Roman ruins outside of Italy. Orange, Nimes, and Arles all have beautiful Roman theaters, and Nimes also contains a well-preserved temple (I loved Nimes a lot). It’s certainly a surprise to see so many indicators of Roman rule in the south of France, and these sites are definitely worth a visit.Visit the Medieval town of Carcassonne – Carcassonne is a medieval walled city. Legend has it that the town survived a siege when one of the townswomen had the bright idea of feeding the remaining food to a pig. Once they fattened it up, they threw it over the fortifications so that it appeared that they were so well-fed that they were being wasteful and gluttonous. The attacking troops gave up and went home. That’s probably not true but, no matter, this town still retains a lot of medieval character and offers plenty of interesting shops and alleys to explore.Go skiing – The French Alps offer some of the best ski slopes in Europe. If you’re in Europe in the winter months and at a loss for what to do, consider getting a group together and renting a ski chalet, or staying at one of the slope-side hotels or hostels. Bring plenty of beer and wine to warm you up after a long day on the hills! Note that skiing in France is not that cheap!

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