Thinking of southern France conjures up images of fancy beach clubs, gourmet dining, and boutique shopping, but the charm of southern France goes way beyond that. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, an action-packed sightseeing adventure, or a relaxing wine retreat, the south of France has it all. If you are planning your sightseeing itinerary for the south of France, here are the top 10 cities to visit in the south of France.
Since you are here, you probably want to read this post too: The Best Cities To Visit From Paris By Train
Located on the southern coast of France at the foot of the French alps, Nice is one of the largest cities on the Mediterranean coast. Known for its sunny weather and turquoise blue waters, the city looks more like a beautiful painting. Discovered by British aristocrats as a winter resort, Nice is now popular among tourists from all over the world as a dream vacation destination. If you visit the old town and walk through the maze of narrow streets and alleys, you will experience a unique and lively ambiance with an Italian flare. Some of the most popular tourist activities in Nice include taking a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, wandering through the park of Colline du Château, spending some time with nature at Jardin Albert 1er, and visiting the Musée Matisse.
Aix-en-Provence has a wonderful climate and a laid-back vibe which makes it an appealing tourist attraction. In summer, it is easy to lose track of time while strolling in the peaceful parks or experiencing the art de vivre while having fancy meals on restaurant terraces. Aix-en-Provence is known for its rich history and noble heritage. Founded in 123 BC by the Romans, it became the first Roman province north of the alps and was known as Narbonensis Secunda. The following centuries saw Aix-en-Provence getting plundered by the Franks and Lombards and was later occupied by Saracens in 731. It finally passed to the crown of France in 1487. Apart from a turbulent yet rich history, Aix-en-Provence is famous for its cultural and historical landmarks and artistic heritage. Some of the major attractions include Musée du Vieil-Aix and the Mazarin quarter, the St. Savior Cathedral, Musée Granet, and Musée des Tapisseries.
Situated on the left bank of the Rhône River, Avignon has a population of 93,671, with over 15,000 people still living in the ancient town center protected by its medieval walls. It is one of the very few French cities that still has its medieval walls. The city was under papal control from 1309 to 1791, before becoming a part of France during the French revolution. In 1995 the historic city center was declared a UNESCO world heritage site because of its medieval architecture and historic importance during the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the most popular historic attractions in Avignon is the Palais des Papes, which served as home to 7 different popes from 1309 to 1377. The city is also a hub of art and culture and hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year, including popular summertime jazz festivals and traditional Christmas markets in December. Other major attractions include Musée du Petit Palais, Pont Saint Bénézet, Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon, and Place de l’Horloge.
Situated in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in Southern France, Saint-Tropez is 68 kilometers west of Nice and around 100 kilometers east of Marseille. Known for being a stylish and upscale town, it is hard to believe that this town was once just a small fishing village. Things started to change for this town in the 19th century when Paul Signac, an impressionist painter, inspired other artists like Matisse and Marquet to come to this town. Then in the early 1950s, a movie called the film Et Dieu Créa la Femme changed this small fishing town into what we now know as a luxury seaside resort with sunbathing celebrities, boutique restaurants, and luxury yachts. If you want to experience the glamor and beauty of the French Riviera in its full might, Saint-Tropez is the place to be. Some of the most popular attractions include Vieux Port, La Ponche: The Old Town, Musée de l’Annonciade, Citadelle: Musée d’Histoire Maritime, Maison des Papillons.
Located on the Bay of Biscay, in the French Basque Country, Biarritz is located 35 kilometers away from the Spanish border. This luxurious seaside resort is known for its boutique hotels, casinos on the seafront, and surfing culture. Biarritz was transformed into a fashionable beach town from a humble fishing village by Empress Eugénie, who used to spend her summers in Biarritz appreciating the magnificent setting of the Bay of Biscay. It is now the surfing capital of Europe and has become one of the most desirable beach destinations in France. Some of the major attractions include Grande Plage, Plage du Miramar, Biarritz Aquarium, Biarritz Lighthouse, and Miremont Tearoom.
Extending from the left bank of the lower Rhône to the Italian border, Provence is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It was the first province beyond the Alps and was called Provincia Romana, which has now evolved into its present name. Previously ruled by the Counts of Provence, it became a province of the Kings of France in 1481. Even Though it has been a part of France for over 500 years, it still retains its distinct cultural and linguistic identity that makes it a popular tourist attraction for people from around the world. However, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Provence is its delightful landscape. Each detail of the landscape from the rolling mountains, to the fishing hills, and the scenic villages makes it one of nature’s most vibrant works of art. Some of the most popular attractions include Avignon: Medieval City of the Popes, Ancient Ruins and Provençal Traditions in Arles, Saint-Tropez’s Seaside Glamour, and Marseille: Cosmopolitan Seaport.
One of the largest urban centers in the Occitania region, Montpellier is a southern French city near the Mediterranean Sea. Montpellier was established in 1220 and served as a city of great importance to the crowns of Aragon and Majorca. It became a French city in 1349 when the crown of Majorca sold it to France. Since the early 1990s, the city has seen unprecedented economic growth and has one of the strongest economies in the country. With its tree-lined boulevards, beautiful aristocratic mansions, elegantly built public squares, and picturesque gardens, Montpellier looks more like an open-air museum. The city has a huge population of university students because of the University of Montpellier, which is one of the oldest universities in the world. Some notable attractions include Place de la Comédie and L’Écusson, Promenade du Peyrou, Musée Fabre, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, and Quartier Saint-Roch.
Located on the coast of the Gulf of Lion, near the head of the Rhône, Marseille was founded in around 600 BC by Greek settlers and is the oldest city of France. It is also one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements and has been a trading port since ancient times. With its bustling harbor and vibrant and trendy urban vibe, you will get the perfect tourist experience. What makes it a fascinating place to visit is its multi-cultural and multi-ethnic heritage, as it has a sizable immigrant population from Algeria which means you will see a mix of Arab and French culture, making the city even more colorful and vibrant. Some of the most notable attraction include Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, Abbaye Saint-Victor, Vieux Port, Le Panier (Old Town), and Calanques National Park.
Situated In the Tarn Department in southwestern France, Albi is known for its distinctive architecture. Visiting the city’s historic center, you will see architecture made from red brick that changes shades depending on the time of the day and exposure to light. Popular among tourists for its historic monuments, museums, and old city streets and architecture, Albi has preserved its rich architectural heritage over the years that encapsulates various periods of its brilliant history. If you are a history buff, Albi is the place to be. Some of the most notable attraction in albi include Albi Cathédrale, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Jardins de la Berbie, Historic Centre, and Musée de la Mode.
Carcassonne is situated in the department of Aude, in the region of Occitanie, and is a French fortified city nestled between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. The city has always had great strategic importance, which is why different armies occupied its hilltop at different points in history. Its citadel is a medieval fortress constructed in the Gallo-Roman period and later restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853. The citadel was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 because of its exceptional preservation and restoration. However, the city has a lot more to offer than just historical monuments, it is also home to soft sand beaches with turquoise-colored water, a never-ending collection of wine, and food to die for. Some of the most popular attractions of the city include La Cité de Carcassonne, Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, Carcassonne Lower City, Lac de la Cavayère, and Canal du Midi – barge trip.
What other cities in the south of France, do you enjoy visiting to? Drop them in the comments below.