Planning a trip to France and need some destination inspiration? This is the ultimate guide to 50 must visit landmarks in France, for your France bucket list.
France is a gorgeous country, where history lives on in its monuments. In France, you’ll find a heady mix of glamorous chateaux, towering cathedrals, medieval monuments, and iconic museums.
France is at the forefront of architecture, art, and culture. The country attracts over 90 million visitors a year. It’s the world’s most visited country.
The French landmarks are destinations in and of themselves. They would make the perfect weekend getaway or mini-vacation.
50 Best Landmarks in France
Here are my picks for the top must visit landmarks in France. I’ve put them in alphabetical order for ease.
1. Abbey of Fontenay
Founded in 1118 and enshrined as a UNESCO site, Fontenay Abbey is the world’s best preserved Cistercian abbey. Founded by Bernard of Clairvaux, the abbey is virtually untouched by the outside world.
The abbey offers a fascinating glimpse of the austere (yet serene) surroundings of the Cistercian monks. They led lives of asceticism, poverty, contemplation, and manual labour. Pray and work was their motto. At the time, the monks were a great counterpoint to the excesses of the catholic church.
Set in a bucolic lush valley beside a tranquil stream, the restored monastery is a masterpiece of medieval monastic architecture. The complex includes an unadorned Romanesque church and a barrel-vaulted monks’ dormitory.
Inside, the walls are plain. The only pop of color is in the rounded arches and capitals. Don’t forget to take a stroll in the pretty garden.
2. Albi Cathedral and the Berbie Palace, Albi
Albi is a remarkable destination in southwest France with a rich history. You can immerse yourself in its architectural wonders, Albi Cathedral and the Berbie Palace. Both are major landmarks in France and recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The impressive Saint Cecilia Cathedral, a masterpiece of 13th-century southern Gothic style, will leave you in awe. Its imposing presence, resembling a defensive fortress, showcases its significance as a place of worship.
Located on Place Sainte-Cécile, Albi Cathedral is renowned as the “crucible of faith.” It stands as one of the largest brick structures globally.
Its stern exterior, symbolically formidable, contrasts with the serene blue and gold interior, creating a mesmerizing atmosphere. Don’t miss the sight of its 250 foot tiered bell tower, adding to the cathedral’s grandeur.
Like Albi Cathedral, the 800 year old Berbie Palace is an all brick affair with stout walls of extraordinary height and thickness. Aside from the Pope’s Palace in Avignon, the Berbie Palace is one of the best preserved mediueval castles in France.
The palace was formerly the residence of the Albi’s archbishops. Now, it’s home to the wonderful Toulouse-Lautrec Museum.
3. Amiens Cathedral, Picardy Region
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amien is a remarkable masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. This UNESCO-listed icon dates back 800 years. It proudly stands as the tallest Gothic church and largest cathedral and major landmark in France.
The cathedral’s grandeur is highlighted by its stunning architecture, renowned for its beauty and harmony. The triple portal facade is reminiscent of Reims Cathedral and adorned with statues of the apostles. Recently cleaned, the facade now gleams in white, showcasing its magnificence.
Step inside and you’ll discover the remarkable stone-vaulted nave, reaching an impressive height of 40 feet. Locals proudly claim its volume is twice that of Paris’ Notre Dame. Though the clear glass windows were shattered during the world wars, the result is a flood of glorious natural light that bathes the church’s interior.
A medieval “labyrinth” is a unique feature of the church. It’s a black line guiding you to the center, symbolizing paradise.
Patience may be required as you wait your turn to reach this symbolic destination. While inside, marvel at the intricately carved 16th-century choir, featuring over 4,000 figures within its wooden stalls.
4. Antique Theater of Orange, Occitanie
The southern town of Orange is rich Roman history. You’ll find two extraordinary UNESCO-designated sites: the Roman triumphal arch and the remarkable ruins of a Roman Theater. Additionally, ongoing excavations near the theater reveal a Roman temple, adding to the archaeological significance of the area.
Orangewas among the earliest regions to be annexed by Rome, predating the arrival of Julius Caesar by several decades. Its historical importance is palpable in the well-preserved remnants that still stand today.
The renowned Orange Theater was hailed by Louis XIV as “the finest wall in my kingdom. It served as the main entertainment venue for Roman Orange for an impressive four centuries.
As you explore, you’ll encounter a striking statue of Emperor Augustus positioned at the center stage, a reminder of his significance. His raised right arm appears poised to signal the performers.
During the summer, you have the opportunity to witness operas within the theater, just as the Romans and Gauls did two millennia ago. In fact, the theater hosts captivating “Roman festivals” twice a year, complete with period costumes, gladiator displays, and reenactments of the Olympic games.
5. Arc de Triomphe, Paris
The Arc de Triomphe, officially titled the L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, is one of the most iconic landmarks in France.
It was inaugurated in 1836. Napoleon commissioned the ceremonial structure following his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.
The Arc de Triomphe is the centerpiece of a roundabout with 12 avenues. Beneath the arch lies the flame and tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The top of the Arc de Triomphe offers mesmerizing 360 views over Paris.
6. Arena of Nimes, Nimes
Nimes was once a vibrant town at the heart of Roman Gaul. Founded by Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, in the 1st century B.C., Nimes flourished as “Caesar’s Town,” becoming one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire.
The standout attraction in Nimes, and a compelling reason to visit, is the magnificent Roman Arena. Dating back to 70 A.D., the Arènes de Nîmes is an architectural marvel that seats 20,000 spectators.
This impeccably preserved, two-level stadium boasts perfect symmetry. It once featured an impressive retractable awning, providing shade for the audience on sunny days.
Originally used for gladiator battles, animal hunts, and even executions (a chilling thought), the arena incorporated clever innovations similar to Rome’s Colosseum, including trap doors and lifts for performers. Thanks to extensive restoration efforts, the arena has retained its impressive appearance, defying the passage of time.
Nowadays, the hosts bullfights, reenactments, and concerts. Click here for a walking tour of Nimes and the arena.
7. Basilica-Cathedral of Saint-Denis, Paris
Just outside the Paris city limits lies a completely overlooked hidden gem, the fantastic and underrated Basilica Cathedral de Saint-Denis. Built by Abbott Sugar in the early 12th century, it’s a French national treasure and terrifically fun to visit.
Saint-Denis is the birthplace of Gothic architecture. The basilica marked Europe’s transition from a cumbersome Romanesque style to a more elegant Gothic one. Saint-Denis is one of the most historic and religiously important buildings in Paris and a must see landmark in France.
The church is essentially a museum of French religious sculpture and funerary monuments. It’s the burial place of French kings, with over 70 effigies and monumental tombs.
You can say hello to the ill-fated Marie Antoinette and a veritable who’s who of French royalty. In the crypt, the belly of the whale, you’ll find the tomb of the cathedral’s titular saint, Saint Denis.
8. Basilica of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin is an exceptionally preserved Romanesque masterpiece and one of France’s most remarkable churches. This architectural gem, constructed between 1080 and 1120, is rightfully recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Saint-Sernin showcases the beauty of Romanesque architecture and proudly claims to be the world’s largest Romanesque religious structure. Crafted from the distinctive red brick of Toulouse, the basilica takes the form of a crucifix, featuring a barrel-vaulted interior. Its octagonal bell tower, graced with five tiers, culminates in an elegant spire.
Within Toulouse, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin holds sacred ground. The site serves as a shrine for the remains of its namesake, a revered 4th-century saint, enshrined in the inner part of the ambulatory.
Saint-Sernin’s story is one of martyrdom. Sernin met a gruesome fate in 250 A.D. when pagans bound him to a bull and dragged him down the Rue du Taur, aptly named the “Street of the Bull.”
9. Chartres Cathedral, Chartres
Chartres is a charming town in the Loire Valley. But it’s most famous for its massive 13th century Cathédrale Notre-Dame, designated a UNESCO site in 1979. The cathedral looms large, isolated on a hilltop.
Finished in 1220, the Gothic cathedral features two towering spires, flying buttresses, ornate sculptures, a 16th century astrological clock, relics, and elaborate rose windows — all you’d expect in an architectural wonder.
The cathedral’s south, west, and north entrances all boast ornate triple portals. The Royal Portal has a row of 12th century statues, which have been dubbed the Elgin Marbles of French art.
The cathedral’s most stunning feature is its dramatically hued stained glass. Chartres has one of the best medieval collections of stained glass in the world. It’s especially renowned for its “Chartes Blue” color tones.
For an extra fee, you can also climb 350 steps up the lacy north tower, known as Clocher Neuf. There, you can inspect the rooftop and the flying butresses.
10. Chateau de Fontainebleau, Loire Valley
Chateau Fontainebleau is a captivating UNESCO World Heritage site steeped in 800 years of royal history. It’s a premiere landmark in France.
Renowned as “the single greatest assemblage over time of French architecture and decor still in its original state” by The New York Times, Fontainebleau is a rare gem that withstood the ravages of the French Revolution. With over 1,500 rooms adorned with period furniture, the chateau’s opulent gilded ceilings may leave you in awe.
The visionary builder, Francois I, is synonymous with Fontainebleau. Under his influence, a humble hunting lodge transformed into a splendid Renaissance chateau, showcasing his architectural prowess.
Among the highlights of Fontainebleau are the Royal Apartments. You’ll see Marie Antoinette’s exquisite boudoirs (including the Ottoman-themed Turkish Bedroom and the Silver Bedroom), the Papal Apartment, and the magnificent Francoise I Gallery.
Adorned with elaborate gold and stucco embellishments, and adorned with angelic motifs, the gallery is a masterpiece created by Italian Mannerist painter Rosso Fiorentino.
Click here to book a day tour from Paris that also includes Vaux-le-Vicomte.
11. Chateau de Chenonceau, Loire Valley
Built in the 16th century, the Chateau de Chenonceau is the most famous and romantic of the Loire Valley chateaux. It spans the River Cher with picturesque palace arches for boats to glide under. It’s so lovely you may want to take a guided talking tour.
Chateau Chenonceau is a remarkable chateau that has been shaped and influenced by prominent French women throughout the centuries. This enchanting castle has earned the nickname “Ladies Chateau” due to its fascinating associations.
Over the years, Chenonceau became intertwined with the lives of notable figures such as Diane de Poitier, Henry II’s mistress, Catherine de’ Medici, Henry II’s wife, and Louise Dupin. After Henry’s passing, Medici ousted Poitiers.
She reclaimed the crown jewels, and banished her to the smaller Chateau de Chaumont. Medici. Then, she expanded Chenonceau, adding the exquisite two-story Grand Gallery that stretches across the arched bridge.
As you explore the meticulously preserved chateau, marvel at its lavishly decorated ceilings, the ornate chapel, the remarkable Grand Gallery, the bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, and the Medici Gallery, now transformed into a museum. The art displayed at Chenonceau represents the finest of the Loire Valley.
12. Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley
The Chateau de Chambord wins the contest for Loire valley chateaux on steroids. It’s the most famous chateau in the Loire and one of France’s most famous landmarks.
Commissioned by Francois I, Chambord was intended as a lowly hunting lodge. But it was transformed from a would be boys club into a epic monument to royalty and royal sport.
The chateau is laid out as a keep in the shape of a cross with four towers, two wings, and over 400 rooms. The highlight of the interior is the ingenious double helix staircase, definitely a Leonardo contribution.
Twin staircases intertwine without actually touching. The rooftop offers breathtaking views over the Loire Valley.
13. Chateau de Chaumont, Loire Valley
The fairytale Chateau de Chaumont combines a medieval facade with 19th century furnishings inside. Construction began circa 1465 and continued until 1510. You’ll love the thick Gothic era spires and lovely Renaissance interiors.
Catherine de Medici purchased the chateau after her husband Henry II died. There, she entertained various astrologers, including Nostradamus. In 1559, as I mentioned, Medici kicked Poitiers out of Chenonceau and gave her the more fortress-like Chaumont instead.
In 1875, the heiress Princess de Broglie purchased and renovated the chateau. Rather high maintenance, she also had the entire village razed and rebuilt.
The chateau has elaborate manicured gardens, a maze, and hosts a “Festival International des Jardins” in high season.
14. Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, Maincy
Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte is a magnificent landmark in France that predates the grandeur of Versailles. Regarded as the most enchanting privately owned chateau in France, it captivated even the esteemed Princess Elizabeth. She declared it “more beautiful than Versailles” during her visit in 1948.
Constructed between 1656 and 1661, Vaux-le-Vicomte stands as a splendid representation of French Baroque architecture. Designed by the talented architect Le Vau, it boasts meticulously landscaped gardens by the renowned horticulturist Le Notre.
Interestingly, Vaux-le-Vicomte served as the inspiration for Versailles itself. Originally belonging to Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s affluent finance minister and the wealthiest man in France, the chateau became a symbol of extravagance.
In 1661, against the advice of his friends, Fouquet hosted a sumptuous dinner reception for the king and his entourage. Just three weeks later, consumed by envy, a displeased Louis XIV ordered Fouquet’s arrest and seized his estate.
While the Sun King plundered exquisite statues and tapestries for Versailles, he left Vaux-le-Vicomte mostly untouched, allowing its captivating allure to endure.
15. Chateau d’Amboise and Chateau du Clos Luce, Amboise
The royal Chateau d’Amboise is a Renaissance jewel, with a taste of Italy and some medieval gargoyles thrown in for good measure. It features the Loire Valley’s iconic gray slate cone-shaped rooftops. Designed by Italian master masons, Chateau d’Amboise is known as the “First Italianate Palace in France.”
Chateau d’Amboise is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the town of Amboise, which makes a great base for a Loire Valley road trip. The chateau was the childhood home of luminaries such as King Charles VIII, Francois I, and Mary Queen of Scots.
At the invitation of Francois, Leonardo da Vinci was a guest at the chateau. Da Vinci lived and worked at his own Amboise chateau, Clos Luce, for the last three years of his life.
Clos Luce was connected to Amboise by an underground tunnel. With a skip the line ticket, you can visit Clos Luce and see model’s of Leonardo’s inventions and military contraptions.
Leonardo brought some of his favorite paintings along with him to Amboise — Sainte Anne, and a special little piece called the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci is buried in the chateau’s Chapelle St.-Hubert, naturally nicknamed the da Vinci Chapel.
16. Chateau de Monte-Cristo, Le Port Marley
Literature lovers will adore the swishy pleasure house of the famed novelist Alexandre Dumas. In 1847, with his characteristic panache and elan, Dumas unveiled a dashing new estate to his coterie of friends and fans.
It was one of the greatest architectural follies of its time — a miniature Renaissance chateau and a Gothic house set in Le Port-Marly outside Paris. I say folly because the cost bankrupted Dumas.
Naturally, Dumas christened the chateau the “Chateau de Monte-Cristo” and the Gothic house the “Chateau D’If.” The novelist Honore de Balzac described the duo as “one of the most delicious follies ever created … the most royal sweetbox in existence.”
The Chateau de Monte-Cristo is now a house museum dedicated to Dumas’ life and novels. Here’s my complete guide to the Chateau de Monte-Cristo.
17. Chateau de Coucy, Coucy-le-Chateau-Affrique
If you fancy a romantically-ruined chateau, the Chateau de Coucy fits the bill. The Chateau was the home of Enguerrand de Coucy VII, the star of Barbara Tuchman’s magnificent novel The Distant Mirror. Chateau de Coucy was the greatest castle of the middle ages.
During its heyday, the chateau was famous for the size of its donjon and was the pride of the Coucy lords. They had a bold motto, which translates to “I am not king, nor prince nor duke nor count; I am the Lord of Coucy.”
In 1400, after Enguerrand’s death, the Duke of Orleans bought the chateau. In 1498, the chateau became Crown property. During the French Revolution, it was transformed into a prison.
Here’s my complete guide to visiting the magnificent ruins of Coucy Chateau.
18. Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, Loire Valley
Chateau Azay-le-Rideau is a hidden gem that exudes romance in the heart of France. Nestled on an island amidst the flowing Indre River, this charming chateau, surrounded by a moat, offers a more intimate and human-scale experience within the Loire Valley.
Azay-le-Rideau mesmerizes with its delightful turrets and ornate stonework, earning it comparisons to a sparkling diamond, as eloquently described by Honoré de Balzac. Like Chenonceau, it harmoniously blends stone, water, and woodland, creating a captivating ambiance.
The creamy white chateau’s most renowned feature is its open loggia staircase, exuding an Italianate charm. From this vantage point, one can admire the central courtyard while ascending or descending the staircase.
Decorated with bas-reliefs depicting salamanders and ermines, symbolic of Francois I and Queen Claude, the chateau proudly showcases their monograms throughout, as if the royal presence was inscribed within its very fabric.
19. Chateau de Montresor, Loire Valley
If you’re looking for more off the beaten path things to do in the Loire Valley, head to Montresor. The small secret French village is one of country’s prettiest hamlets.
The chateau is perched on a hill, surveying the village on one side and the Indre River on the other. You walk through a facade girded by thick walls and massive towers into a small courtyard often filled with roses and peonies.
The courtyard is flanked by two manors, one is a a true Renaissance manor and one is a replica. When Montresor was purchased in the 1950s by Count Branicki, he built the replica to live in.
Dating from the 13th century, the main chateau is furnished in a classic Victorian style. There are scads of marble busts, Neo-Gothic furniture, embossed leather, and quite a few Winterhalter portraits.
The billiard room has a stunning painting by Vigee-Lebrun. But the highlight of a visit to Montresor is its treasure trove of decorative arts, mostly silver, a gift from the Hapsburg family of Vienna.
20. Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg, Alsace
The Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg is in France’s Alsace regions, a magical land straddling and influenced by three countries. Construction began in the 1100s.
The chateau is a massive castle built and rebuilt over the centuries with a distinctly medieval vibe. The castle was fully restored in the 20th century, making it unusual in a region of ruins.
The chateau’s final itineration is complete with a fairytale moat and drawbridge. Inside, you’ll find highly decorated walls with intricate details, ceramic tile heaters, weapons, the imperial apartments, and period furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The chateau, like most, is perched on a hill to achieve the most intimidating effect. Like the town’s famous cathedral, it was built of pink sandstone. The pink color makes the chateau particularly glowing at sunset.
The chateau is famous as the inspiration for the dark castle of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings film series.
21. Chateau de Beynac, Dordogne
Chateau de Beynac is a doughty castle-fortress set on limestone cliffs, one of the best known chateaux in the Dordogne region. The town of Beynac-et-Cazenac itself is listed as one of France’s les plus beaux villages. Unlike chateaux of the Loire, this castle was meant for military action.
Arriving in Beynac, it’s a steep and cobbled climb up to the castle. For awhile, Richard the Lionheart seized the castle from the barons of Beynac. You can see his bedroom inside.
The rather villainous Simon de Montfort made an appearance at Beynac during the Albigensian Crusade. And Beynac featured in the skirmishes of the Hundred Years War.
The oldest part of the castles is the keep and donjon, dating from the 12th century. The most impressive room is the State Hall, clad with tapestries. Upstairs, the apartments have some period furniture and a monumental fireplace.
22. Chateau de Vincennes, Vincennes
Lying in the eastern suburbs of Paris is the 14th century Chateau de Vincennes. The underrated chateau began life as as a royal hunting lodge in the 12th century. During the 13th century, the lodge was transformed into a larger, palatial estate for the French kings.
In the 14th century, the venerable building you see today was reconstructed, renovated, and modernized. It became the primary royal seat until Versailles was completed. When the 52 foot Donjon was added, Chateau de Vincennes became the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe.
The chateau is wholly intact with a keep, dungeon, moat, and fortified concentric walls. It makes the perfect half day trip from Paris. You can combine it with a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, another hidden gem in Paris.
23. Conciergerie, Paris
The Conciergerie is an imposing palace-fortress that stands as a landmark in France, commanding the banks of the Seine. This formidable structure became synonymous with Marie Antoinette’s tragic fate as it served as her gloomy prison following her arrest by the revolutionaries.
Originally built in the 6th century, the Conciergerie held great historical significance. It once served as the residence of Clovis, the first King of France, and functioned as a royal palace. The current iteration of the Conciergerie dates back to 1200.
During the 14th century, the kings and queens of France abandoned the somber Gothic palace, seeking more luxurious abodes. It was during King Charles V’s reign, the last royal resident, that the building acquired the title of La Conciergerie, with the appointment of the first “Concierge.”
The Conciergerie became the seat of police administration and supervised the prisons. In the tumultuous era of the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, the Conciergerie witnessed the imprisonment and swift sentencing of the perceived “enemies of the people.” Verdicts were stark, with no middle ground—either innocence or death.
Functioning as the ominous “antechamber of the guillotine,” the Conciergerie served as the final stop for those condemned, who would then be led to the Place de la Concorde for decapitation. The Hall of Soldiers boasts a stunning and evocative vaulted ceiling, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.
Click here for a combined ticket to the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle.
24. Eiffel Tower, Paris
The Eiffel Tower is the most iconic landmark in France. It’s a lacy iron edifice on the Champs de Mar. The Eiffel Tower was built for the World Fair in 1889 in record construction time. It was meant to demonstrate France’s engineering might and marvel.
At the time, the Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building. But when it debuted, the tower was shunned by architectural critics. Nicknamed the “Tower of Babel,” the Eiffel Tower was thought to be a stain on the elegant cityscape.
Originally, the Eiffel was just meant to be a temporary exhibit, the main showpiece for the World Fair. There are several viewing platforms. In 2014, a glass floor was added to the first floor. At night, there’s a top-of-the-hour light show when 20,000 lit bulbs sparkle and gleam.
25. Fortified City of Carcassonne, Carcassonne
Carcassonne is one of France’s most breathtaking medieval landmarks. This 13th century wonderland will transport you to a world of spiky turrets, stout walls, winding alleys, and moats. It’s a medieval aficionado’s ultimate dream city, elevated to extraordinary levels.
Carcassonne boasts a magnificent double row of fortified walls that stretch nearly 2 miles, adorned with 52 watchtowers. Each tower is crowned with whimsical “witch hat” turrets, adding to the fairytale allure.
The medieval streets of Carcassonne exude perfection, evoking a sense of wonder and nostalgia. It’s no wonder that Carcassonne earned its rightful place on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997, given all its magnificence.
The Château Comtal, the central castle within the upper town, traces its origins back to the 12th century and impresses with a remarkable 31 towers. Look up to the roofline to catch sight of the intriguing gargoyles that adorn the castle.
Additionally, don’t miss the Basilica of Saints Nazaire, Carcassonne’s main church, which showcases exquisite 12th-century stained glass and remarkable stonework.
26. Hotel de Sully, Paris
I have to include one of Paris’ finest mansions on my list of must see French landmarks. The Hotel de Sully is a private mansion in Paris’ Marais neighborhood, right off the elegant Place des Vosges. It’s a remaining scrap of medieval Paris, most of which was plowed down by Haussmann.
Built between 1625-30 during the reign of Henry IV, the architect was Jean Androuet du Cerceau. Originally owned by the duke of Sully, the mansion has had a series of owners.
It’s now owned by the French state, home to the Center for National Monuments. In 2008-09, the lovely mansion underwent a complete renovation.
The Renaissance building is decorated with allegorical bas reliefs. Inside, the 17th century apartments have illusionistic frescos by Antoine Paillet. The Hotel de Sully also has a magnificent formal garden and courtyard, which you can access for free.
27. Laon Cathedral, Aisne Region
Laon is an ancient medieval village perched high on a limestone rock. Its crowning glory is the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Laon (pronounced Lon). The cathedral can be seen from miles away.
Constructed between 1160-1230, Laon Cathedral is one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals in France, pre-dating even the Notre Dame in Paris.
The cathedral is renowned for its six imposing towers and as a key stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago in northern Spain. It’s a musty, dusty, and ancient affair, unspoiled by modernity or excess adornment, and with little of the elegance of its Parisian counterpart.
Perhaps what most enchanted me, and what sets Laon Cathedral apart from its other Notre Dame siblings, is the nature of the adornment that does exist. There’s a veritable farm on the upper towers — 16 oxen in total. Local legend holds that the sculptures are a tribute to the animals who hefted the granite up the steep hill.
28. Les Baux de Provence, Provence
Chateau de Baux is a famous landmark in southern France. It’s a remarkable medieval fortress-castle nestled in the village of Les Baux. While mostly in ruins today, the historic stone slabs exude a captivating atmosphere that will enthrall any lover of ancient remnants.
These ruins serve as a reminder that Les Baux was once a formidable stronghold, fending off marauding bands of medieval villains. Eventually, the fortress met its demise at the hands of Cardinal Richelieu in the 14th century, when it fell into rebel control.
Thankfully, visitors can freely explore the ruins, even venturing onto the crumbling stairs. Grab an audio guide to enhance your experience as you delve into the remnants of the keep, towers, chapels, lower courtyard, hospital, windmill, oven house, cistern, and cave houses.
From the strategic vantage points, breathtaking views of the village and the picturesque countryside await, providing a picturesque backdrop to your explorations.
29. Les Invalides Complex, Paris
The Les Invalides complex in Paris’ 7th arrondissement is an homage to France’s eventful military history. This remarkable site encompasses several buildings, including the awe-inspiring Cathedral of St. Louis des Invalides, the renowned Musee de l’Armee, and the iconic resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte.
As you approach the royal chapel, you’ll be greeted by grand bronze doors adorned with fleurs-de-lys and the initials of Louis XIV. Step inside to a world of sumptuous decoration, featuring painted cupolas, pilasters, columns, intricate low-relief sculptures, and beautifully crafted stained glass windows. Dominating the space is Napoleon’s tomb, situated directly beneath the legendary golden dome of Les Invalides.
The Musee de l’Armee within the complex stands as one of Europe’s premier military museums. It’s a haven for military enthusiasts and history aficionados alike.
With seven extensive collections and over 500,000 art pieces, the museum offers a comprehensive display of weaponry, armor, uniforms, paintings, and more spanning from antiquity to the 20th century. Among the fascinating exhibits, you’ll even find Napoleon’s preserved horse and one of Hitler’s notebooks, adding to the allure of this extraordinary museum
Click here to purchase a skip the line ticket.
30. Louvre Museum, Paris
The Louvre is one of the most iconic landmarks in France. It’s Paris’ crown jewel and the most visited museum in the world. This magnificent institution houses an astounding collection of 35,000 works of art spanning from the 6th century BC to the 19th century AD.
The museum itself is a sumptuous Renaissance palace, adorned with opulent interior decorations and exquisitely painted ceilings.
The sheer size of the Louvre can be overwhelming; it’s truly massive. Even with a map in hand, it’s easy to lose your way within its vast halls.
The Louvre boasts a distinctive U-shaped layout, divided into three main wings: Denon, Sully, and Richelieu. Each wing encompasses four floors of artistic treasures and wonders.
The Denon Wing is home to the Louvre’s most renowned paintings, including the world-famous masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The Sully Wing is celebrated for its impressive collection of statues and antiquities, highlighted by the iconic Venus de Milo. The Richelieu Wing showcases the extravagant apartments of Napoleon III and houses a remarkable selection of Dutch art, including Vermeer’s exquisite painting, The Lacemaker.
It’s vital to have a skip the line ticket for the Louvre.
31. Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy
This famous French landmark is an island sanctuary that appears as if it were plucked from the realms of imagination. This surreal medieval masterpiece boasts sky-high spires, sturdy ramparts, and rocky outcrops that dramatically rise from the surrounding sea.
As the tides recede, the immensity of Mont Saint-Michel’s stone structure reveals itself, overlooking glistening sands that stretch out as far as the eye can see. At high tide, this magnificent island seems to effortlessly float amidst the expanse of the sea.
This colossal abbey stands as one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Christendom, attracting countless devotees throughout medieval times who sought to pay homage to the Archangel Michael.
The crowning jewel of Mont Saint-Michel is undoubtedly the ancient abbey that graces its pinnacle, serving as a testament to centuries of religious devotion and architectural marvel.
32. Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Ah, the Musee d’Orsay is one of my favorite museums in Paris. It’s housed in a beautiful converted Beaux-Arts railway station, which is a Paris landmark.
The museum has the world’s largest collection of French paintings from 1848 to 1914, a period when Paris was the undisputed artistic capital of the world.
The Orsay is where you’ll find one of the world’s best stash of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including works by Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, and Pierre-August Renoir.
In particular, the Orsay is a Van Gogh treasure trove. You can inspect his Self Portrait, Starry Night, Dr. Gachet, The Church at Auvers, and The Siesta. Other standout masterpieces at the Orsay include Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, Cezanne’s Card Players, Monet’s Houses of Parliament, and Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette.
33. Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris
On April 15, 2019, Notre Dame and I cried. Located on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine River, the Gothic cathedral is probably the most famous landmark in France.
With its awe-inspiring flying buttresses, the cathedral stands as a remarkable testament to time, boasting a remarkable age of 859 years. Construction began in 1163 and was completed almost two centuries later in 1345.
The cathedral’s storied history is filled with notable events and illustrious figures. In 1239, Louis IX placed the crown of thorns within its sacred walls, In 1431, following the culmination of the Hundred Years’ War, Henry VI’s coronation as king took place within its hallowed halls.
Mary Queen of Scots exchanged marriage vows within its sacred confines, while Napoleon’s imperial coronation in 1804 and subsequent wedding in 1810 further solidified the cathedral’s pivotal role in French history. Additionally, in 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified by the Pope, adding to the cathedral’s spiritual legacy.
Since the fateful fire, you can’t currently visit. But renovations are ongoing and the cathedral is slated to reopen in December 2024.
34. Opera Garnier, Opéra National de Paris, Paris
The magnificent Opera Garnier may be the most exquisite building in all of Paris. This architectural gem offers a resplendent alternative to the opulence of Versailles, with its lavish displays of gold and grandeur.
The exterior of the Opera Garnier has often been likened to a delightful wedding cake, and upon closer inspection, it’s easy to understand why. The grand structure showcases a bombastic Beaux-Arts style, incorporating a blend of eclectic Neo-Baroque elements that exude an air of majesty and extravagance.
Once you step inside, prepare to be dazzled by the abundance of gold and marble that adorns the interior. Every corner exudes luxury, with a mini Hall of Mirrors reminiscent of Versailles itself.
Don’t miss the grand staircase, the captivating stage, the elegant balconies, and even the sumptuous red velvet seats that beckon you to indulge in a captivating performance. Be sure to cast your gaze upward to admire the breathtaking ceiling, skillfully painted by Marc Chagall.
35. Palace of Versailles, Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is massive, flashy, and very, very gold. The opulence is overwhelming. Even the bathrooms are gold plated. It’s the most famous and popular day trip from Paris. It’s been a UNESCO site since 1979.
The Sun King Louis XIV transformed his father’s hunting lodge into a monumental palace in the mid 17th century. Located in the quaint suburb of Versailles, the Baroque palace was France’s political capital and royal seat from 1682 until October 5, 1789.
As exemplifies the Baroque style, Versailles was decorated with gilding, stucco, arabesques, frescoed vaulted ceilings, mirrors, and tromp l’oeil effects. The king’s apartments were in the center, because the world revolved around him.
Aside from the palace, you can visit the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and the Hameau. The ultra refined Grand Trianon was built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1687. Made of pink marble and porphyry, this was where Louis XIV escaped court life and pursued his affair with Madame de Montespan.
Built in 1762-68, the Petite Trianon was originally a gift from Louis XV to his mistress Madame du Barry. When Louis XVI inherited it, he re-gifted it to Marie Antoinette. “This pleasure house is yours,” he told her.
Not content with just the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette hired two architects to create a pastoral fantasy for her. On the surface, the resulting Hamlet, or Hameau, appeared to be a rural hamlet of crackled tumbledown cottages and wisteria vines.
36. Pantheon, Paris
It was built after a king’s near death experience and celebrates the greatest dead heros of France. Though initially disliked, the building is now a fixture on the Paris skyline.
While the exterior is Romanesque, the gigantic interior resembles a Gothic cathedral. The overall design is that of a Greek cross, with Corinthian columns and elaborate marble floors everywhere.
Except for the disappointing lack of windows inside, the interior’s the most fascinating part of the Pantheon. You can see a copy of Foucault’s Pendulum. As an added bonus, the rooftop boasts one of the best (and mostly secret) viewing points in Paris.
37. Pierrefonds Castle, Picardy Region
In 1857, Napoleon III hired the famed architect Viollet-le-Duc to rebuild the romantic ruins of Pierrefonds Castle. The ruins have been captured by many artists. Napoleon III longed for a lavish castle, fit for a king and evoking a medieval fantasy.
Inspired by Coucy Castle, one of my favorite French ruins, Viollet-le-Duc wanted to maintain an equilibrium between a fortified palace with beautiful state rooms and a residence. The rooms are recreated in vibrant rich colors as they would have appeared in the Middle Ages, with medieval motifs like St. George and the Dragon.
To be sure, Pierrefeonds is not a faithful reconstruction of a medieval castle. Some think it’s a faux-chateau. But I appreciated Viollet-le-Duc’s remarkably inventive free interpretation, with ornament, color, and architectural references from the Middle Ages.
38. Place de la Concorde, Paris
The expansive Place de la Concorde is a French landmark from which the city of Paris unfolds before your eyes. Dominating the square is a remarkable 3,300 year old obelisk crafted from pink granite, bestowed upon France as a gift from Egypt in 1831.
Originally designed in 1755, the square was initially named after King Louis XV, reflecting its royal connections. However, during the tumultuous era of the French Revolution, the square took on a pivotal role. It became the stage for significant events, notably with the guillotining of Louis XVI in 1793.
Over the course of the following years, the square witnessed the execution of 1,343 more individuals, including prominent figures like Marie Antoinette, Danton, and Robespierre. Following the end of the Reign of Terror, the square was renamed as Place de la Concorde, embodying a collective aspiration for peace and harmony.
Noteworthy features of this landmark square are the eight statues positioned at its corners, representing the once great cities of France. The square’s two fountains were completed in 1840 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe. The fountains showcase six tritons, each with fish-shaped spouts, elegantly dispensing water.
39. Pont Alexandre III Bridge, Paris
Often said to be the most beautiful bridge in the world, the Pont Alexandre III is a beautiful Parisian Belle Epoque bridge. As you pass over it, you have views onto the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, and Les Invalides.
Classified as a National Historic monument since 1975, Pont Alexandre III was constructed between 1896 and 1900. It’s the most ornate bridge in Paris. The bridge has four gilt gold statues of Fames at the corners, art nouveau lamps, and golden highlights.
As you may have guessed, the bridge is named for Tsar Alexandre III, who completed the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. The bridge was thus a symbol of the friendship between France and Russia.
The bridge is one of the greatest feats of architectural engineering from the latter part of the 19th century. It has a single low slung steel arch (to not block the views). The four pillars hosting the horses stand at 17 meters high, providing a counter-weight to the bridge’s arch.
40. Pont du Gard, Occitanie
The majestic Pont du Gard is a remarkable remnant of a Roman aqueduct and a must see landmark in southern France. Dating back to the 1st century, the aqueduct is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The aqueduct is a testament to ancient engineering marvels. It originally designed to transport water from Uzes to Nimes.
With its impressive height, the aqueduct gracefully spans the Gardon River and its striking gorge, creating a truly breathtaking sight. In fact, it proudly holds the title of being the tallest Roman aqueduct in the world, standing at an equivalent height of a towering 16 story building.
Despite its colossal size, the Pont du Gard was constructed in just five years. The bridge is made entirely of limestone, ingeniously pieced together without the use of concrete. Spanning an impressive length of over 900 feet, the aqueduct has 52 arches arranged in three receding tiers, creating a visually captivating architectural composition.
To truly appreciate the magnitude of this grand structure, take some time to explore the Visitor Center. There, you can delve into the fascinating history and construction techniques behind the Pont du Gard. Then, venture down to the picturesque Gardon River, where you can leisurely stroll and marvel at the awe-inspiring sight before you.
41. Pope’s Palace, Avignon
News Flash! Here’s a fascinating fact: The popes haven’t always resided in Vatican City.
During the period from 1309 to 1377, the popes made their home in the enchanting riverside town of Avignon, rather than in Rome. This era became known as the “Avignon Papacy.”
Constructed between 1335 and 1352, the Pope’s Palace stands as the largest Gothic palace in the entire world. Its commanding facade bears a resemblance to medieval fortified churches, exuding a sense of grandeur.
Upon entering the palace, one may find the interior somewhat austere, with its stark stone walls. However, within these walls lies a treasure trove of remarkable sights. You’ll be amazed by the Pope’s private apartments, adorned with frescoes depicting idyllic garden and hunting scenes.
And don’t miss the magnificent Great Chapel, which reaches skyward in breathtaking fashion. The Banquet Hall, boasting an astonishing timber vault, stretches an impressive 135 feet in length.
To truly immerse yourself in the splendor of the palace, make sure to check out the histopad. It allows you to envision what the palace looked like in the 14th century.
Click here to book a skip the line ticket. You can also book a walking tour of Avignon with skip the line tickets to the palace.
42. Reims Cathedral, Champagne Region
With or without a glass of champagne, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is one of Europe’s greatest cathedrals. Some experts think it’s France’s most beautiful cathedral, surpassing even Notre Dame de Paris. Reims Cathedral was designated a UNESCO site in 1997.
The church was built over 60 years, beginning in 1211. The ornate western portal is distinctive for its beauty, unity, and harmony. The now restored smiling angel smiles back at you. Inside, there’s a towering 500 foot nave. You’re greeted by a wall of 52 intricately carved statues.
In the apse behind the ornate altar, you’ll see the catastrophically beautiful stained glass windows created by the famed French painter Marc Chagall in 1974.
Reims Cathedral is also the spot for the coronation of French kings, making it the equivalent of Westminster Abbey in England. Joan of Arc made an appearance, crowning Charles VII in 1429.
43. Chateau de Rocamadour, Dordogne
Rocamadour is a stunningly romantic 11th century village carved into the limestone cliff face of a canyon. Rocamadour may be France’s most dramatic village.
Because of its precipitous vertical location, it’s entirely pedestrianized. Naturally, there are many hills and stairs to challenge your quads. You’ll have to climb up to see the Chateau de Rocadamour at the very top of the hill. Or take the gondola.
Rocamadour is a pre-medieval 14th century fortress. It was built to protect the town’s pilgrimage sites, the Lady Chapel and the UNESCO-listed Basilica of Saint-Sauveur.
Only the castle ramparts are open to visitors. But it’s worth passing through the turnstile. The castle offers epic views of the beautiful village and countryside.
44. Roman Monuments, Arles
Arles is a fantastic and underrated UNESCO town in Provence. And it’s a veritable playground of ancient UNESCO-listed Roman ruins and French landmarks.
You’ll find the massive Amphitheater, a Roman Theater, and Constantine’s Baths. You can also stroll through les Alyscamps, a tree-lined Roman necropolis a short distance outside the old town walls dating from 241 B.C.
Like nearby Nimes, Arles’ amphitheater was inspired by Rome’s Colosseum and is largely intact. Built in the 1st century when Augustus reigned, the two tiered arena could hold up to 25,000 people. Much of the structure’s original architecture remains, including terraces, galleries, and the original Roman drainage system.
Today, the arena hosts spectacles and concerts, befitting a cultural hot spot like Arles. It also features Camargue-style bull runs and controversial bullfights, which while once beloved by Picasso, is controversial or illegal elsewhere in France.
I recommend booking a guided walking tour to see all the monuments.
45. Rouen Cathedral, Rouen
Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral is a landmark of art history, one of Europe’s best cathedrals. Constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries, the cathedral was built on the foundations of a 4th century basilica.
The cathedral rises 151 meters tall, making it one of the tallest in France. The Dukes of Normandy were traditionally crowned and buried there. Richard the Lionhearted insisted his heart be kept there.
Inside, Rouen Cathedral is High Gothic at its best. The nave soars four stories high. In length, only Amiens Cathedral and Reims Cathedral are longer. Many of Normandy’s most famous citizens are buried there, including Richard the Lionheart and early Norman rulers Rollo and William I.
There’s an interesting two story high Escalier de la Librarie (Booksellers’ Stairway). The first floors dates from the 15th century. The second floor dates from the 18th century.
But it’s the cathedral’s lacy western facade that’s made it enduringly famous. The facade is styled in a highly ornate Flamboyant Gothic fashion and is a sight to behold. Claude Monet painted 30 versions of it.
46. Sacre Coeur, Paris
The striking white Sacre Coeur is one of the most iconic attractions in Paris’ popular Montmartre neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement. It sits atop Montmartre Hill, the highest point in Paris, overlooking the city.
Construction of the Sacre-Cœur began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. The architectural style of the basilica is unique combination of Romanesque and Byzantine elements.
The creamy white stone is pristine, due to calcite in the stone. The church’s large dome reaches a height of 272 feet.
The interior of the basilica is equally impressive, with intricate mosaics, stained glass windows, and a beautiful altar. The centerpiece of the interior is the famous mosaic of Christ, known as the Christ in Majesty, located in the apse of the church.
The panoramic views from the dome are sublime.
You can visit Sacre Coeur on a guided walking tour of Montmartre.
47. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
Completed in 1248 and enshrined within the Palais de Justice, Sainte-Chapelle is Paris’ most exquisite Gothic landmark. It’s a 14th century royal chapel, built by Louis IX to house the relics of the passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns.
You’ll be awed by the gorgeous stained glass. Saint-Chapelle has some of the oldest pieces of glass in the world. Nearly 2/3 of the windows survived the French Revolution. To prevent further damage, the windows were temporarily removed during WWII.
Saint-Chapelle also features beautiful painted wood columns and a starry night sky. There are two parts to Saint-Chapelle. The glass awaits you at the top of a spiral staircase.
It depicts scenes in chronological order from the Old and New Testaments. The masterpiece is the Rose Window in the upper chapel.
48. Senlis Cathedral, Senlis
Senlis itself is a fantastic day trip from Paris. And you might be rather surprised that such a diminutive town is lorded over by an impressive cathedral. Built between 1153-91, under the reign of Louis VII, Notre Dame de Senlis is listed as a historic monument in France.
It’s in the heart of medieval Senlis, surrounded by cobbled lanes and ancient stone buildings. Pure old world French charm.
The cathedral seems a little lopsided, with one massive 78 meter tower, completed in the 13th century. Two tall columns flank the facade, preventing the entrance from being engulfed by the tower.
Its magnificent carved-stone Grand Portal is thought to have inspired the one in Chartres Cathedral. Inside, there’s pretty stained glass.
49. Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg
Nothing prepares you for your first glimpse of Strasbourg’s Cathedrale Notre-Dame. The red sandstone cathedral was completed in all its Gothic grandeur in 1439. The intricate lacey facade lifts the gaze to flying buttresses, leering gargoyles, and tall spires.
The interior is exquisitely lit by 12th to 14th century stained glass windows, including the western portal’s jewel-like rose window.
Victor Hugo declared it a “gigantic and delicate marvel.” Goethe proclaimed that its “loftiness is linked to its beauty.” The cathedral has an elaborate pulpit, organ, and a famous astronomical clock.
A spiral staircase twists up to a viewing platform, from which the tower and its Gothic spire soar another 250 feet. The city of Strasbourg is at your feet.
50. Lascaux Caves, Lascaux
The Lascaux cave paintings are an important landmark in France dating back 20,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic era. Within the cave are some of the rarest paintings in the world.
The cave has around 15,000 polychrome depictions of animals, including majestic bison, graceful reindeer, elegant horses, and mighty woolly mammoths. Celebrated for their artistic brilliance and aesthetic allure, these ancient artworks have stood the test of time.
Sadly, the popularity of the cave paintings posed a threat. Tourists inadvertently brought with them a detrimental green fungus and increased humidity. This led to the growth of mold, which deteriorated the delicate surfaces of the paintings.
In an effort to preserve these invaluable treasures, the caves were closed to the public in 1964. Even experts were forbidden entry, and the cave underwent extensive treatments with disinfectants and fungicides to rectify the damage.
To provide an alternative for visitors, a replica cave called Lascaux II was constructed right next to the original site in 1983. This faithful reproduction allowed people to experience the wonder of the paintings while ensuring the preservation of the originals.
More recently, in 2017, another replica named Lascaux IV opened its doors. This remarkable recreation replicates 100% of the cave’s paintings, providing an immersive experience for visitors. If you have to choose between the two, opt for Lascaux IV and indulge in a 40 minute guided tour that will transport you back in time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best landmarks in France. You may enjoy these other France travel guides and resources:
- 30+ beautiful towns in northern France
- Beautiful villages of Brittany
- Beautiful villages in Normandy
- 10 day itinerary for southern France
- 1 Week Loire Valley Itinerary
- Charming hidden gems in Provence
- Hilltop villages of the Luberon Valley
- 3 day itinerary for Paris
- Hidden gems in Paris
- Best museums in Paris
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