• Leslie

Ultimate Guide To 50 Famous and Historic Landmarks in France

Updated: Jun 26


Notre Dame de Paris, one of France's most famous landmarks
Notre Dame de Paris


Planning a trip to France and need some destination inspiration?


In this France travel guide, I give you an overview of 50 of the most amazing must see landmarks and monuments in France, for your bucket list or France itinerary. From the glitter and glitz of Versailles to ancient Roman ruins, you can travel through France soaking up culture along the way.


France is a gorgeous country, a heady mix of glamorous chateaux, historic landmarks, massive cathedrals, 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.



40+ famous landmarks in France


Why? Because there are so many beautiful things to see and do in France.


Many of these must see landmarks in France are UNESCO World Heritages sites or designated historic monuments. They could be weekend getaways or mini-vacations in and of themselves. These landmarks can also be combined to create a customized road trip or itinerary for France.


READ: 10 Day Itinerary for Southern France


50 Unmissable Landmarks in France


Here are my picks for the must visit landmarks and monuments in France, in alphabetical order for ease.



the UNESCO-listed Abbey of Fontenay
the UNESCO-listed Abbey of Fontenay


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, who 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. You'll even find Europe's earliest metallurgical forge -- complete with a working reconstruction of the actual hydraulic hammer used by 13th century monks.


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.



Albi Cathedral, a must see landmark in southern France
Albi Cathedral


2. Albi Cathedral and the Berbie Palace, Albi


Albi is a serious town, with a weighty history, a wondrous must see destination in southwest France. Albi has two architectural wonders, Albi Cathedral and the Berbie Palace, that are both UNESCO-listed.


The doughty Saint Cecilia Cathedral is a 13th century masterpiece of southern Gothic style. Inside and out, it's a place of superlatives. The cathedral is almost menacing, more defensive fortress than church.

Located on Place Sainte-Cécile, Albi Cathedral is knicknamed the "crucible of faith." It's one of the largest brick structures in the world. The cathedral has a stern largely unadorned exterior, befitting a symbolic threat, and a 78 meter tiered bell tower. The interior is serenely blue and gold.



the 800 year old, and perfectly preserved, Berbie Palace in Albi
the 800 year old, and perfectly preserved, Berbie Palace


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. This world class small museum celebrates the life and art of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a Post-Impressionist who lived most of his life in the then-bawdy halls of Montmartre.

Here's my complete guide to underrated Albi and my guide to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum.


READ: Beautiful Villages in Occitanie



Amiens Cathedral, the largest cathedral in France
Amiens Cathedral, the largest cathedral in France


3. Amiens Cathedral, Picardy Region


The 13th century Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens is the tallest Gothic church and largest cathedral in France. It's an 800 year old UNESCO-listed icon of French Gothic architecture. It packs a punch.


The massive cathedral is known for the beauty and harmony of its architecture. It has a triple portal facade similar to Reims Cathedral. The central door is flanked with statues of the apostles. The facade has been recently cleaned, hence the white appearance.


Inside, the stone vaulted nave reaches 42 meters. According to locals, the volume is double that of Paris' Notre Dame. Most of the glass is clear, as the windows were blown out during the world wars. But that means, happily, that the church is flooded with natural light.


You walk through the "labyrinth," a typical medieval church feature. A black line leads you to the center, which represents paradise. You may have to wait in line to secure paradise. While inside, admire the 16th century choir, with wood carved stalls and over 4,000 figures.



Roman Theater in Orange, a historic monument in southern France
Roman Theater in Orange


4. Antique Theater of Orange, Occitanie


Orange has both a Roman triumphal arch and the spectacular ruins of a Roman Theater. Because of their historical importance, they're both designated UNESCO sites. There's also ongoing excavations of a Roman temple near the theater.


Southern France was one of the first regions Rome annexed, many decades before Julius Caesar arrived on the scene to snatch up more of France.


Louis XIV called the Orange Theater "the finest wall in my kingdom." For four centuries, it was the main entertainment venue of Roman Orange. There's a large statue of Emperor Augustus perched center stage, just to remind you of his importance. His right arm is raised as if to signal the performers.


In the summer, you can watch operas in the theater, just as the Romans and Gauls did 2,000 years ago. In fact, the theater hosts "Roman festivals" twice a year complete with period costumes, gladiators, and reenactment of Olympic games.

the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
the Arc de Triomphe in Paris


5. Arc de Triomphe, Paris


The Arc de Triomphe, officially titled the L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, 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 amazing 360 views over Paris.


READ: 3 Day itinerary for Paris



Roman Arena of Nimes
Roman Arena of Nimes

6. Arena of Nimes, Nimes


The town of Nimes was the epicenter of Roman Gaul. The town was founded by Augustus, Rome's first emperor, in the 1st century B.C. Nime's was "Caesar's Town," one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire.


Nime's centerpiece, and key reason for visiting, is its fantastic Roman Arena. The 20,000 seat Arènes de Nîmes was built in 70 A.D. It's a perfectly symmetrical two level stadium that's remarkably well preserved. It once boasted a giant awning that could be unfurled to protect spectators from the sun.


When first built, the arena hosted gladiator fights, animal chases, and even (shudder) executions. Like the Colosseum in Rome, the arena had clever features, like trap doors and lifts for "performers." The arena looks great for its age, mostly due to extensive restoration.


Nowadays, the hosts bullfights, reenactments, and concerts.



the lopsided Basilica of Saint-Denis
the lopsided Basilica of Saint-Denis


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. A milestone, 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.


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.


As the world's first Gothic church, the basilica is even on the tentative UNESCO list. If it still had its north tower (destroyed in the 19th century) it might be already. Here's my complete guide to visiting Saint-Denis.



Basilica of Saint-Sernin, a must see site in Toulouse France
the UNESCO-listed Basilica of Saint-Sernin


8. Basilica of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse

The Basilica of Saint-Sernin is a magnificent well-preserved Romanesque basilica, and one of the greatest churches in France. In a city brimming with medieval church spires, Saint-Sernin is Toulouse's most defining landmark. Built between 1080 and 1120, the basilica is now a UNESCO site.

Saint-Sernin is a fine example of Romanesque architecture, claiming to be the world's largest Romanesque religious edifice. The basilica is built in the characteristic Toulousain red brick, designed in a crucifix with a barrel vaulted interior. It has an octagonal bell tower with five layered tiers, capped by a spire.


The basilica is holy ground in Toulouse. The site is a shrine for the remains of its eponymous 4th century saint, housed in the inner part of the ambulatory.

Sernin was Toulouse's first saint. He met his death in gruesome fashion, when pagans tied him to a bull and dragged him down the Rue du Taur (the Street of the Bull) in 250 A.D.


READ: Best Things To Do In Toulouse



Chartres Cathedral
Chartres Cathedral


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. To my mind, the cathedral resembles its contemporary in Laon France.


Interesting, however, the two steeples don't match. One's in the Gothic style and one's in a Romanesque style. 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 marble Assumption sculpture, which adorns the altar
the marble Assumption sculpture, which adorns the altar


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.


The colorful windows survived the French Revolution and both world wars. During WWII, they were taken down and temporarily stored in the Church of Saint-Emilon. Scout out the Jesse Window, the Blue Virgin Window, the Noah Window, and the South Rose Window.

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.


READ: Most Beautiful Towns in Normandy



Chateau de Fontainebleau
Chateau de Fontainebleau


10. Chateau de Fontainebleau, Loire Valley


Chateau Fontainebleau is ravishing a UNESCO site. The rambling chateau boasts 800 years of royal patronage.


The NYT calls Fontainbleau "the single greatest assemblage over time of French architecture and decor still in its original state." It's a rare royal residence that escaped the war time ravages of the French Revolution. There are over 1,500 rooms with period furniture. The stunning gilded ceilings could give you neck strain.


The busy builder Francois I is most associated with Fontainebleau. He significantly expanded it, replacing a hunting lodge with a lovely Renaissance chateau.


Fontainbleau's highlights are the Royal Apartments, Marie Antoinette's boudoirs (the Ottoman-themed Turkish Bedroom and the Silver Bedroom), the Papal Apartment, and the grand Francoise I Gallery. Decorated with ornate gold and stucco (and lots of angels), the gallery was created by Rosso Fiorentino.



Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau


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 chateaus. It spans the River Cher with picturesque palace arches for boats to glide under.


Chenonceau housed and was influenced by many famous French women over the centuries -- Diane de Poitier (Henry II's mistress), Catherine de' Medici (Henry II's wife) , and Louise Dupin. It's nicknamed the "Ladies Chateau."


In fact, upon Henry's death, Medici kicked out Poitiers, reclaimed the crown jewels in her possession, and banished Poitiers to the smaller and more fortress-like Chateau de Chaumont. Then, Medici expanded the chateau to add the two story Grand Gallery over the arched bridge.


Highlights of the meticulously maintained chateau are the lavishly decorated ceilings, the ornate chapel, the Grand Gallery, the bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, and the Medici Gallery (now a museum). The art at Chenonceau is the best of the Loire Valley.



Chateau de Chambord
Chateau de Chambord


12. Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley


The Chateau de Chambord wins the contest for Loire valley chateaux on steroids. Building started on this massive Renaissance chateau in 1519. As you approach, the striking view is the stuff of farirytales.


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. It's rumored that Leonardo da Vinci, who relocated from Italy to France as a court artist, influenced some of the chateau's architectural elements.


Some theorize that the roofline's capricious mass of turrets and towers represent a futuristic city that Leonardo and Francois planned to build one day.



Chambord's double helix staircase
Chambord's double helix staircase


READ: Guide To Leonardo da Vinci's Paintings


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.



Chateau de Chaumont
Chateau de Chaumont


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.



Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte
Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte


14. Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, Maincy


Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte was Versailles before Versailles existed. Vaux-le-Vicomte is the most beautiful privately owned chateau in France. When Princess Elizabeth visited in 1948, she pronunced it “more beautiful than Versailles!”


Built between 1656-61, Vaux-le-Victomte is a fine example of French Baroque architecture. It was designed by Le Vau and boasts gardens by the famous landscaper Le Notre.


In fact, Vaux-leVicomte was the inspiration for Versailles. The chateau was originally owned by the ill-fated Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister and the wealthiest man in France. In 1661, against his friends' advice, Fouquet invited the king and his entourage to a luxurious dinner reception.


Three weeks later, suffering from a serious case of chateau envy, a peeved Louis XIV ordered Fouquet's arrest and seized his estate. Louis XIV stole the exquisite statues and tapestries for Versailles. But otherwise left Vaux-le-Vicomte largely intact.



Chateau d'Amboise
Chateau d'Amboise


15. Chateau d'Amboise and Chateau du Clos Luce, Amboise


The royal chateau of 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. 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.


READ: All the Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci



Chateau de Monte-Cristo
Chateau de Monte-Cristo


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.



ruins of the Chateau de Coucy
ruins of the Chateau de Coucy


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 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.


In 1829, King Louis-Philippe purchased the chateau. It was renovated by Viollet-le-Duc, the famous restorer of Notre Dame, Carcassonne, and Pierrefonds.


Here's my complete guide to visiting the magnificent ruins of Coucy Chateau.



Chateau Azay-le-Rideau
the beautiful Chateau Azay-le-Rideau


18. Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, Loire Valley


This exquisite and petit chateau is one of France's most romantic hidden gems. Situated on an island in the middle of the Indre River, the moat-ringed Chateau Azay-le-Rideau is a more human size Loire Valley structure.


Chaumont dazzles with fanciful turrets and decorative stonework. Honoré de Balzac described it as a diamond. Like Chenonceau, it successfully integrates stone, water, and woodland.


The creamy white chateau's most famous feature is its open loggia staircase. The staircase is Italianate in style and overlooks the central courtyard.


It's decorated with bas reliefs of salamanders and ermines, symbols of Francois I and Queen Claude. There are also monograms everywhere, as if the royals were compelled to put their mark on the chateau.



Chateau de Montresor


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.



Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg


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.



Chateau de Beynac
Chateau de Beynac


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.



Chateau de Vincennes
Chateau de Vincennes


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.



the imposing Conciergerie on the banks of the Seine
the imposing Conciergerie on the banks of the Seine


23. Conciergerie, Paris


The Conciergerie fortress was Maire Antoinette's gloomy prison after her arrest by the revolutionaries. It was built in the 6th century. The Conciergerie was the residence of Clovis, the first King of France, and used to be a royal palace. Today's version of the Conciergerie dates from 1200.


In the 14th century, the kings and queens of France abandoned the gloomy Gothic palace and decamped for fancier digs. When King Charles V, the last royal resident, moved out, he appointed the first "Concierge" and renamed the building La Conciergerie.

The Concierge oversaw the police and supervised the prisons. During the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution, "enemies of the people" were imprisoned without trial and duly "sentenced." The verdict was either innocent or death, no murky middle ground.


The Conciergerie became the "antechamber of the guillotine," the last stop before people were marched to the Place de la Concorde and decapitated. Its stunning and atmospheric vaulted ceiling in the Hall of Soldiers, the Salon des gens d’armes, was declared a UNESCO site in 2006.

the Eiffel Tower, a famous landmark in France
the Eiffel tower


24. Eiffel Tower, Paris


The Eiffel Tower is Paris' iconic landmark, a lacy iron edifice on the Champs de Mar. It 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.


The Eiffel Tower can be a cliche tourist trap in Paris. If you want to avoid long lines, buy timed entry tour on the official Eiffel Tower website. Or, hike up the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.



the stunning walled city of Carcassonne
the stunning walled city of Carcassonne


25. Fortified City of Carcassonne, Carcassonne


Magical Carcassonne will take your breath away. It's a 13th century fantasy world of towers, spiky turrets, stout walls, winding alleys, and moats. It's a medieval junkie's dream city on steroids.


Carcassonne has a double row of fortified walls stretching nearly 2 miles with 52 watch towers. Fantastical “witch hat” turrets crown each tower. The medieval streets are fairytale perfect. As a result of all this medieval magnificence, Carcassonne was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.


The Château Comtal, the central castle of the upper town, dates from the 12th century. It has an epic 31 towers. Cast your eyes to the roofline so you don't miss the gargoyles. The Basilica of Saints Nazaire (Carcassonne's main church) also has lovely 12th century stained glass and stonework.


For the full scoop on this dreamy UNESO town, read my complete guide to Carcassonne.



the beautiful Hotel de Sully
the beautiful Hotel de Sully


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.


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.



Laon Cathedral
Laon Cathedral

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.



the ruins of a medieval castle-fortress in Les Baux de Provence
the ruins of a medieval castle-fortress in Les Baux de Provence


28. Les Baux de Provence, Provence


Les Baux is a popular destination in Provence, located in the heart of the Apilles Mountains and perched on a cliff. Les Baux is home to a great medieval fortress-castle, the Chateau de Baux. It's now mostly in ruins. But the historic stone slabs are very atmospheric. Perfect for ruin lusters.


And the ruins remind you that Les Baux once fended off maraunding bands of medieval villains. The fortress was eventually destroyed by Cardinal Richelieu in the 14th century, when the fortress fell into rebel hands.


Happily, you can trample all over the ruins, even the crumbling stairs. Get an audio guide and inspect the keep, the towers, the chapels, the lower courtyard, the hospital, the windmill, oven house, cistern, and cave houses. From the lookouts, you'll have wonderful views of the village and surrounding countryside.



Les Invalides
Les Invalides


29. Les Invalides Complex, Paris


Les Invalides is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement, celebrating France’s tumultuous military history. The complex includes: (1) the royal chapel, known as the Cathedral of St. Louis des Invalides, with its iconic golden dome; (2) the Musee de l'Armee; and (3) Napoleon's Tomb.


The cathedral was Paris' tallest building until the Eiffel Tower was erected in1887. It's definitely one of Paris' must see churches.


You enter the royal chapel through monumental bronze doors decorated with fleurs-de-lys and Louis XIV's initials. Inside, the decoration is sumptuous -- painted cupolas, pilasters, columns, low-relief sculptures, and stained glass windows. Napoleon's tomb takes center stage, lying directly under Les Invalides' fabled golden dome.





Paris' Army Museum is one of Europe's best military museums. Military buffs and history geeks will be in heaven.


The impressive museum has seven collections and over 500,000 pieces of art -- artillery, weapons, armor, uniforms, and paintings from antiquity to the 20th century. You can even find Napoleon's stuffed horse and one of Hitler's notebooks.


READ: Guide To Paris' Army Museum



the Louvre Museum, iconic landmark in Paris
the Louvre Museum


30. Louvre Museum, Paris


The Louvre is Paris' crown jewel and the world's most visited museum. The Louvre is the busiest and most loved museum in the world. It has 35,000 works of art art from the 6th century BC to the 19th century AD. It's a sumptuous Renaissance palace itself, with a lavishly decorated interior and beautifully painted ceilings.

The Louvre is huge, really massive. Even with a map, you may get lost. The Louvre is U shaped, divided into three wings: Denon, Sully, and Richelieu. Each of the wings has four floors.


The Denon Wing is home to the Louvre's best known paintings, including Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The Sully Wing is known for its statuary and antiquities, including the Venus de Milo. The Richelieu Wing houses the lavish apartments of Napoleon III and some famed Dutch art works, including Vermeer's The Lacemaker.


Here's my guide to the history of the Louvre. I've also written an extensive guide to the underrated masterpieces of the Louvre and one on tips and tricks for visiting the Louvre.



Mont Saint-Michel at high tide
Mont Saint-Michel at high tide


31. Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy

Mont Saint-Michel is the crown jewel of Normandy. It's one of France's most recognizable silhouettes, a veritable castle in the clouds.


The famous landmark is a pretty-as-a mirage island sanctuary. Its steeply built architecture seems almost impossible. A surreal medieval stage set, the Mont's sky-high spires, stout ramparts, and rocky outcrops rise dramatically from the sea.

The immense stone pile stands guard over gleaming sands laid bare by a receding (and unpredictable) tide. At high tide, Mont Saint-Michel seems to float in the sea.


The hulking abbey is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Christendom. In medieval times, devotees flocked to venerate the Archangel Michael. The Mont’s star attraction is the ancient abbey crowning its top. Here's my complete visitor's guide to Mont Saint-Michel.


READ: Most Beautiful Towns in Normandy



sculpture hall of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris
sculpture hall of the Musee d'Orsay


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. 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.


READ: The Monet Guide To Paris