Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by April Verge
Are you looking for the top cities in the south of France? You’ve arrived at the proper location. I hadn’t gone to the south of France in a while, but this summer I had the good fortune to spend a month returning to this stunning region. I got the chance to discover some of southern France’s lesser-known locations.
I was reminded of all the lovely trips we’ve enjoyed over the years to the south of France as we traveled in this region. France truly has everything. Therefore, if you want to plan a vacation that will awaken all of your senses, look into the greatest cities in the south of France to visit.
The south of France is vibrant and exciting, with famed cities, the French Riviera, and stunning beaches. What are the top tourist destinations in the south of France, though? Are you seeking for a city with opulent buildings and interesting cultural sites? Or perhaps one of the picturesque, historic towns with views of the Mediterranean Sea and olive groves? It’s simple to understand why southern France has long been a popular vacation destination, whether it’s for the sand beaches, the art galleries, or the authentic French food.
Everything from the breathtaking natural wonders in the south of France to national parks and the greatest towns will be covered in this book. Are you anxious to get started? Let’s look at it.
If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of the top cities in the south of France:
Best Cities in the South of France
Toulouse was one of the most surprising cities in the south of France, situated inland on the border with Spain. Due to the use of pink bricks in the construction of the majority of its structures, the city is known as “La Ville Rose,” or the “pink city.” Despite being the fourth-largest city in France after Paris, Marseille, and Lyon, Toulouse is simple to navigate on foot. With people dining in outdoor cafés and students unwinding by the river’s bank, Toulouse will give you the impression that you are experiencing the real France. It represents Paris as we picture it from fifty years ago.
Toulouse is a small, thriving university city that is brimming with life. In Toulouse, there are several sights to view, including La Capitole, the Basilica Saint-Sernin de Toulouse, and the Musee Aeroscopia. This museum highlights the history and development of the French aerospace and space industries, which are headquartered in Toulouse.
If you visit, be sure to get a Toulouse Pass so you may enjoy the city to its fullest. The Toulouse Pass offers 1, 2, or 3-day permits that include access to the city’s public transportation system and free admission to the majority of its top tourist sites.
There are several museums, an interesting historic town to explore, and a somewhat modern fashion scene. Additionally, it serves as the beginning of the 240-kilometer Canal du Midi, which leads to the French Riviera. In south France, Toulouse is a terrific destination that will keep you engaged.
Fun things to do in Toulouse:
- Explore La Cité de l’Espace
- Enjoy Toulouse by night, with its lively student atmosphere
- Explore the Old Town with its beautiful Neoclassical architecture
Nice is one of the best cities in the south of France to visit since it is the largest city along the French Riviera. Out of all the locations on my list, it has the most urban vibe, making it the best choice if you want to feel like you’re in the heart of everything. Hotel Nice Riviera is a reputable option for a hotel. One block from the beach, this 4-star hotel offers affordable rates.
It’s interesting to note that Nice is bordered by several lovely cities and villages, many of which are from the Middle Ages. You may unwind for days in the city and on its stunning beaches while sometimes taking a day excursion to a medieval village to experience the best of both worlds.
Fun things to do in Nice:
- Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais
- Relax and sunbathe on one of Nice’s beaches
- Admire Old Town’s baroque architecture
- Enjoy the views of the Baie des Anges from the Colline du Château
Aix-en-Provence is all you’d expect of a city in southern France, and the region of Provence is one of the most gorgeous locations in all of France. It is rich with style, grace, and history. The historic capital of Provence is ideal for those who prioritize culture while making travel plans. The nicknames “The City of a Thousand Fountains” and “The City of Counts” are only two of the many that Aix-en-Provence goes by. It has a regal aura to match its abundance of things to see and do.
Just 20 minutes north of Marseille by car, lies the artistic university town of Aix-en-Provence. The famous painter Paul Cezanne was born and raised there. The city is proud of this historical event, and Cezanne-related remnants may be seen all over the city. The greatest way to see everything about Cezanne is to take the Cezanne walk. I took this enjoyable and educational self-guided tour during m stay on a bright afternoon. I strolled through the Old Town and stopped at Camp De Milles and Cezanne’s Studio.
Exploring Aix’s art galleries, museums, and other historical sites is among the top things to do there. There is also a bustling nightlife and several temporary exhibitions and activities to see.
Fun things to do in Aix-en-Provence:
- Explore the colorful Provencal markets
- A stroll through Cours Mirabeau
- Visit the Atélier Cézanne
Everyone has heard of Cannes. Visit Cannes if you’re in southern France and want a city experience. The city’s yearly glamor and glamour make it maybe the most well-known location on the French Riviera. It is liked by celebrities and known for hosting the Cannes International Film Festival every year. It also offers a lot of popular beaches and cultural sites.
You can see a lot of Cannes’ sights by driving (or strolling) along the Boulevard de la Croisette. The avenue crosses the Cannes shoreline and offers breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea’s Bay of Cannes. Luxury hotels, shops, and restaurants fill the Boulevard de la Croisette, which is ideal for a luxurious clientele.
For those seeking a luxurious, resort-style setting, Cannes is the best option. When I went to Cannes, I couldn’t afford the expensive hotels, so I stayed outside of city instead. However, I still got the opportunity to socialize with the affluent and famous while visiting the beaches to work on my tan and sample that five-star service.
Fun things to do in Cannes:
- Spend a lazy day on the beach
- Take a stroll along La Croisette walkway
- Explore Le Suquet, Cannes’ oldest neighborhood
Avignon is situated in the Provence region of southwest France. A cultural treasure, Avignon is located near the Rhône River.
Avignon is rich in history, and one of the primary draws for tourists is its cultural attractions. Between 1309 until 1377, Avignon was the seat of the Catholic Popes, and it was a significant medieval metropolis.
The Palais des Papes is the largest civil structure of its sort and was given UNESCO historic status. It was constructed in the Gothic style. Le Pont d’Avignon, the city’s most well-known attraction, is a medieval bridge that serves as a representation of history and architecture.
Fun things to do in Avignon:
- Visit the Palais des Papes
- Discover the Festival d’Avignon (July), one of the biggest performing arts events in the world.
Do you want to be next to the ocean? Then the most desirable option is Saint-Tropez. If you want glitz and beauty with a more relaxed atmosphere than larger cities like Nice, Saint-Tropez is perfect. The little town, which is located on the French Riviera, used to be a tiny fishing community.
The fishing community gained prominence as a result of its usage as a location for the 1955 Brigitte Bardot movie And God Created Woman. One of the most well-liked tourist destinations in the south of France has seen a surge of visitors since the 1960s, yet Saint-Tropez has managed to hold onto some of its most endearing village characteristics. The Old Port still has a few small fishing boats, and the La Ponche Quarter still has several cobblestone-paved, winding lanes.
Plage de Pampelonne, Plage St. Tropez, and Bouillabaisse Beach are Saint-Tropez’s top beaches. After a day at the beach, though, be sure to check out the town’s hospitality scene and don’t skip a visit to the Place des Lices market’s center area. Try the fresh seafood and locally produced olives; it is known for its great locally owned dining establishments and delicious meals.
Fun things to do in Saint-Tropez:
- Relax on Pampelonne Beach
- Dine at La Duchesse Anne
- Visit the Musée de l’Annonciade
One of my favorite cities is Arles, which is unquestionably among the top tourist destinations in the south of France. Arles previously served as a provincial capital during the time of the Roman Empire. Many of the historical buildings and locations still exist today, notably the Arles Amphitheater.
I suggest seeing a performance at the Arles Amphitheater, going on a Van Gogh walking tour to see the locations where he received inspiration for well-known paintings, and exploring the cloisters of St. Trophime. Because Arles has a rich religious and cultural heritage, plan on spending a lot of time touring.
Fun things to visit in Arles:
- Visit Arles Amphitheatre
- See Arles through Van Gogh: Espace Van Gogh & Fondation Van Gogh
- Go to Church and Cloister St Trophime
8. Verdon Natural Regional Park
One of the greatest places to enjoy natural attractions, in addition to hiking paths and picturesque views, is Verdon Natural Regional Park. The Gorges du Verdon and Lake Croix are the two most famous features of the 180,000-hectare park, which is situated in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
A magnificent milky blue river flows through the 25 km (15.5 miles) long river gorge known as The Gorges du Verdon. White water rapids and cliffs that extend up to 700 meters (0.4 mi) on each side of the river are to be expected. The deepest gorge in France is a marvel of nature. You may go on hikes to many different vantage points or even reserve a rafting trip for a little more adrenaline. The Gorges du Verdon are well-known and are regarded as France’s Grand Canyon.
The river enters the Lake of Sainte-Croix directly after leaving the Verdon Gorge. You may choose from one of the three settlements that line its beaches to eat some food and go swimming.
Fun Things to do in Verdon Natural Regional Park:
- Kayak along the Gorges du Verdon
- Go rafting in the Gorges du Verdon
- Go family canyoning in the Balène, Gorges du Verdon
One of the most well-known beach destinations in France is Biarritz, which is situated along the Bay of Biscay, not far from the Spanish border, and 200 kilometers from Bordeaux. Biarritz’s primary attractions include long beach walks, tanning, and ocean surfing.
The Lighthouse and the Plateau de l’Atalaye are just two of the numerous locations in this seaside city where you may take in breathtaking views. Numerous magnificent Art Déco structures can be seen around the city, including the Casino of Biarritz and the Hotel du Palais, which served as Napoleon III and his wife’s vacation home.
Another must-see is Port des Pêcheurs, often known as the “Fishermen’s Port,” which still exudes an air of antiquity and is the ideal location for a wonderful seafood dinner.
Biarritz is one of the best day trips from Bordeaux whether you enjoy the beach or appreciating historic sites. If you depart early in the morning, you may get the most of Biarritz in one day as the train ride from Bordeaux to Biarritz is less than two hours.
Fun Things to do in Biarritz:
- Tour the historic lighthouse
- Shop for souvenirs
- Enjoy the sun and sand at one of Biarritz’s many beaches
One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera is Saint-Paul-de-Vence . Imagine a village that is walled off, has cobblestone streets, and historic buildings that hang above the settlement. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is the kind of location where every rock feels like it has a tale to tell and where everything is constructed out of traditional stone.
The village has a hilltop location with views of the French Riviera. It is rather simple to go there today from Nice, although you should aim to stay in the town itself if at all possible. Saint-Paul-de-Vence has the aura of a fantasy location. Its Old Town and cobblestone streets alone will keep you engaged for the entire day, so bring your camera.
One of its major attractions, the Cimetière de Saint-Paul-de-Vence, is where you can find the resting place of renowned painter Marc Chagall, who formerly called Saint-Paul-de-Vence home.
Additionally, you have to eat at La Colombe d’Or, where the Roux family used to exchanged meals for works of art by Picasso, Braque, Calder, and Matisse. Eating good cuisine while being surrounded by pieces of art is much better.
Fun Things to do in Saint-Paul-de-Vence:
- Take a walk through the Fortification walls
- Stroll through the quaint streets and soak up the atmosphere
On the fringes of the Alpilles Natural Regional Park sits Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, another lovely little village. In addition to having lovely buildings and a serene urban environment, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence’s natural beauty served as the inspiration for a well-known artist.
For a year, Vincent Van Gogh resided at Saint-Rémy, when he checked himself into a mental institution and started one of his greatest creative periods. The Starry Night was painted by him at Saint-Rémy. Saint-Rémy is an excellent place to learn more about art history, whether you are a lover of Van Gogh, an art aficionado, or just curious.
Estrine Musee Presence, is the best attraction to learn more about Van Gogh. The best historical attraction is Glanum, an immense archeological site and an ancient Roman town. Additionally, you may go to the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole, where Van Gogh was checked into a mental institution. You’ll never be bored visiting Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Fun Things to do in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence:
- Walk or bike through the lavender fields
- Learn about the history of Vincent van Gogh at the mental hospital where he lived
Similar to Saint-Rémy, Vers-Pont-du-Gard is a little town with a rich Roman tradition. The Pont-du-Gard bridge and aqueduct, which have been preserved and kept in good condition to this day, are one of the most well-known Roman landmarks. I recall detouring from my route during my road trip across the south of France just to visit this bridge. If you enjoy visiting areas with charm, Vers-Pont-du-Gard is full of stunning architecture, so you’ll be in for a treat.
The Pont du Gard Museum and Chapel Notre Dame de Laval are the ideal sites to enjoy after visiting the town’s bridge. The River Gardon also has swimming and fishing holes. Vers-Pont-du-Gard is a pleasant visit even in the height of summer since it is inland yet is close to a river. Going to the river instead of the beach doesn’t cost much more, and it’s cool to swim on a hot day.
Fun Things to do in Vers-Pont-du-Gard
- Take a dip in the Pont du Gard
- Go for a scenic hike or bike ride through the beautiful countryside
Montpellier is yet another of the south of France’s top cities. It has character, is close to the Mediterranean Sea (10 km), and offers a choice of fun activities.
Explore the beautiful old neighborhood, which is filled with stylish shops and grand houses. The Fabre Museum is one of several museums to explore. The Promenade de Peyrou and the Montpellier Cathedral have grown to be recognizable sights in the city.
The Camargue, Nîmes, and Narbonne are just a few of the locations in the Occitanie area that make Montpellier an excellent starting point for travel.
Fun things to do in Montpellier:
- Visit Saint-Pierre Cathedral
- Visit l’Ecusson (Montpellier’s historical neighborhood)
- Enjoy Montpellier by night, and its lively student atmosphere
The oldest city in southern France is Marseille. It is really the oldest city in all of France and is just second to Paris in terms of size. Marseille, which is situated on the Mediterranean Sea’s Gulf of Lyon, is the ideal fusion of African and French culture. Since 600 BC, Marseille has been a center for trade and commerce, making it one of the top destinations in the south of France to experience history and ancient culture.
The Vieux Port of Marseille is the city’s most significant location. Hundreds of years later, many of the fisherman who formerly sold their catch here still do so. Additionally, you should to go to Palais Longchamp, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, and the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde.
To fully explore Marseille’s seafood scene and top sights, including a day excursion to Chateau d’If, which Alexandre Dumas made famous in The Count of Monte Cristo, I recommend staying at least three days.
When visiting Marseille, I advise purchasing a Marseille City Pass, which allows you to hop on and off at all the city’s best tourist sites for a period of 1 to 3 days. Included is unlimited use of public transit and a visit of Old Marseille or Notre-Dame de la Garde on the tourist train. You will get access to the MUCEM and the Regards de Provence Museum in addition to crossing to If or Frioul Island and entering the Chateau D’If. Numerous discounts, free admission to public museums, and a tour of the city are available.
Fun things to do in Marseille:
- Explore Marseille’s Old Port
- Visit the Cathedral and Fort Saint-Jean
- Visit the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde
- Sample the local cuisine, including dishes like ratatouille, pissaladière, and bouillabaisse
15. Calanques National Park
The 128,000-acre reserve is located on the coast an hour’s drive from Marseille on the way to Cassis. Calanques National Park spans both land and the water. Calanques is the ideal location if your concept of paradise involves coastal treks with secret coves and towering cliff walls. It is the only national park in Europe that is both on land and in the water, and that is close to a city.
Calanques, or spectacular light grey or white coastal cliffs, are inlets made of dolomite or limestone. These gorgeous spots are all across the park, so getting a high-quality camera is a must if you want to capture them for memories of your trip.
Keep a look out for dolphin pods while trekking as well, as the marine reserves are frequented by them. A nature lover’s paradise, the park is home to over 140 kinds of protected animals and plants.
Fun Things to do in Calanques National Park:
- Go swimming in the clear blue waters
- Take a hike through the stunning landscapes
- Watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea
One of the most picturesque seaside towns in the south of France is Cassis, which is situated on the Cassis side of the Parc National des Calanques de Marseille. One of the nicest coastal villages in France for a weekend of “dolce far niente” by the sea is this charming town close to Marseille, which is so typical of Provence. One of the best day trips from Marseille, which is accessible by train.
Don’t forget to see the majestic Château de Cassis while you are in Cassis, as well as the charming Port of Cassis. The port, the bay, and the surrounding vineyards are all beautifully visible from this old fortified castle that was constructed in the eighth century. The castle is now a privately owned piece of land that offers a bed and breakfast option and may be hired out for special occasions.
While visiting Cassis, be sure to see the picturesque Port of Cassis as well as the magnificent Château de Cassis. This medieval fortified castle, built in the eighth century, has a magnificent view over the harbor, the water, and the surrounding vineyards. The castle is currently a privately owned plot of property that may be rented out for special events and provides a bed and breakfast option.
What to do in Cassis:
- Climb to the top of Cap Canaille
- Enjoy a kayaking excursion in the Calanques of Cassis
- Rent a boat, with or without a skipper
Albi is undoubtedly one of the most stunning cities in the south of france, despite not having the greatest reputation. This little city is conveniently reachable for a weekend trip because it is situated in the Occitanie area and only a train ride from Toulouse.
In terms of things to do in Albi, there are several options. The Sainte-Cécile church, the world’s biggest brick-built church, is the reason this gorgeous city is so well known. To truly appreciate its 78-meter height, the bell tower alone must be viewed.
Albi’s attractions alone are enough to warrant a trip, but what really makes the city so memorable is its welcoming atmosphere. This is the ideal location to get away for a few days because life is slow here. There may be no better spot than Albi to witness the passing of time.
Fun Things to do in Albi
- Visit the Albi Cathedral
- Visit the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum
- Enjoy the views from the Colline Sainte-Cécile
- Make a wish at the Pont Vieux
Final Thoughts on Cities in the South of France
The south of France is a dream destination for many travelers, and with good reason. From the stunning coastline to the charming villages nestled in the hills, there are countless cities worth visiting. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation or an adventure-filled trip exploring historic landmarks, the south of France has something for everyone. We’ve highlighted some of the best cities to visit in this region, but there are certainly many more to discover. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to explore all that the cities in the south of France has to offer. Bon voyage!