The Best Cities To Visit In France (Other Than Paris)

I have absolutely nothing against Paris. It’s the city of l’amour, the birthplace of revolution, the home of the Mona Lisa, and was once the site of the world’s tallest building. (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you which one…) But though Paris should be on every new adventurer’s bucket list because, well, it is Paris after all, there are many more vibrant and gorgeous cities that this beautiful and cultured country has to offer beyond its uber-famous capital. And, with the French ETIAS visa waiver in effect, NOW is the time to visit!

  1. Strasbourg

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Strasbourg is right on the German border and – perhaps suitably – is also currently home to the European parliament. Walking through it is like stepping back in time in some ways, with its incredible gothic architecture, winding streets and old canals. It’s no wonder it’s thought of as being one of the greatest historical cities not only in France but in all of Europe.

  1. Nice

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Pronounced ‘Neess’ (for the unfamiliar), this Southern city resort sits right between the Mediterranean and the French Riviera, so temperatures can reach a toasty 74 Fahrenheit in the summer months. As you’d expect from a coastal city, its beaches are big tourist draw, particularly the sweeping Baie des Anges, which is right next to the renowned Promenade de Anglais. Farther into the city itself, there are lots of art galleries, museums, the historic ‘old town’ district, and – of course – the famous flower market.    

  1. Bordeaux

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Bordeaux is the place for wine enthusiasts! But as well as its vineyards, it’s also mainly known for its being home to one of the finest theatres of the 18th century, as well as a great collection of 17th – 19th statues and monuments in its ‘old’ center. Situated on the banks of the Gironde, Bordeaux was once a bustling port city in its heydey, and to a certain extent, it still is, as it’s become a popular spot for cruise liners to dock.

  1. Lyon

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If Paris is the city of love, then Lyon is the city of food – packed full of some of the best restaurants in the country. There’s also a fine selection of museums and shops, making it an attractive weekend getaway destination. Nestled between the Saone and Rhone rivers sits its historic center (listed as a UNESCO world heritage site) home to the busy urban piazza: Place Bellecour. The pleasantly contrasting “old quarter” – Fourviere – sits to the west of the Rhone.

  1. Toulouse

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You might also know Toulouse as La Vie En Rose (‘The Pink City’) thanks to the terracotta bricks used in most of it buildings. Toulouse is home to both another UNESCO world heritage site: the oldest canal in Europe (Canal du Midi), and also a hugely popular aerospace museum – truly making it a place to suit all holiday-maker’s tastes. The other must-see attractions include the Place du Capitole at the center of the city, the breathtaking St Sernin basilica, and the impressive Jacobins church and cloisters, and because of its Southern location near the Spanish border, it also has a distinctly Mediterranean feel – similar to Nice.   

 

Amazing European Destinations To Visit For A Culturally Rich Holiday

It’s so important to visit destinations that offer so much to do and see for the whole family. You are in a different country, so it’s a great chance to find out more about how other people live. You want to enjoy a culturally rich holiday that will help you to understand different beliefs and traditions that others have. It’s an excellent way to educate your children about other countries in the world. Here are some amazing European destinations to visit for a culturally rich holiday.

Germany

One amazing destination to visit for a culturally rich holiday is Germany. It’s an amazing place full of cities which are brimming with culture and history. A lot of people head to the capital of Berlin. It has over 170 museums for you to visit, so that you can learn more about their history. There are festivals on throughout the year with plenty to see for the kids including Berlin Art Week and the Festival of Lights. A lot of people head to the site of the Berlin Wall or to the Reichstag. Other culturally rich areas in Germany to visit include Nuremberg, which boasts a beautiful castle. Munich is also a popular choice to visit with plenty to see including the Marienplatz and the Munich Residenz.

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Greece

An additional destination to visit for a culturally rich holiday is beautiful Greece. The country has the most archeological museums in the world. Athens is one of the top places that people head to. There are many ancient monuments which you can look around which will teach you more about the country’s history. A lot of people head to the Acropolis museum to find out more. There are also several art museums which are also worth a visit. You should visit the Athens Festival which occurs every year. I talked previously in my blog about other great things to do in Athens. There are also many other great culturally rich places to visit in Greece such as Argolis. You can find beautiful resorts to stay in such as Amanzoe Greece, so you are in the heart of all the amazing areas.

France

Another amazing destination to visit for a culturally rich holiday is France. The capital is the place to go if you want to learn more about the exciting county. You will find amazing art in the Louvre including the famous Mona Lisa piece. You will find many breathtaking sights including the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame cathedral. The kids will love seeing these iconic monuments As well as these, you can also enjoy the array of different festivals and concerts in the capital. Also, in France, you will find the Cannes festival which arrives every year. It is brimming with life and often has the best films on of that year. Other culturally rich areas include Nice’s medieval old town, which is one of the best preserved in the world. Here are some other medieval towns across Europe you should visit.

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Any of the above European destinations will offer you a fantastic holiday which will be unforgettable. Remember to take some time to relax on your trip, after you have seen all these beautiful sights!

Few hours in Nancy, France

NANCY, FRANCE: Nancy is an elegant medium-sized French town in the region of Lorraine. The city is famous for some of its architectural masterpieces. You can see touch of both medieval and Renaissance in its old part. Nancy is also considered as an Art Nouveou jewel in this region of France. Being a university town, its old town offers a melting pot atmosphere for Nancy’s students, locals, and tourist.

Old town of Nancy, France

Old town of Nancy, France

TIME of TRAVEL: Nancy was the last stop on our summer road trip of 2014. The main highlight of this trip was visiting Mont-Blanc…the highest peak of the Alps. We also visited Annecy, Chamonix, and Dijon before coming to Nancy. It was a nice weather but Nancy looked a bit slow and less-crowded when we were there.

EATING and SHOPPING: We really didn’t eat anything here, except for our girls who had sandwiches from Subway. But streets near Place Stanislas had some cafes and restaurants and shops. Other than that I didn’t really see too many eateries or souvenir shops.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We barely stayed only couple hours in Nancy. It was on our way from Dijon to Brussels. So we stopped for a little break and to look around its old part. It makes a great day-trip from places like Dijon. Walking is the most convenient and best way to explore the city.

Arc Here at one side of Place Stanislas in Nancy, France

Arc Here at one side of Place Stanislas in Nancy, France

1) CATHEDRAL of NANCY: Also known as Cathedrale-Primatiale de Nancy, was our first stop in Nancy. Nancy is known for having many beautiful and old churches.

The church was built between 1703 and 1742. This is a very Gothic looking cathedral with powerful Corinthian pillars, angel sculptures, decorative arches, painted dome, small chapels, and chapel gates. The altar from 1763 is made of different colored marbles. Check out the organ which fills the entire rear of the church. It is considered as one of the most beautiful one in whole France. The façade, as well as the interior are of the Corinthian order. Interior plan has a Latin-cross shape.

It’s free to enter the cathedral.

Cathedral of Nancy in France...a Gothic church from 1742.

Cathedral of Nancy in France…a Gothic church from 1742.

2) PLACE STANISLAS: Listen as the UNESCO World Heritage site, Place Stanislas is an impressive square from mid-1700s which is a popular public gathering point. Town hall of Nancy stands on one side of Place Stanislas. Statue of King Stanislas dominates the square surrounded by buildings and decorative doors. Right in front of the statue of King Stanislas and opposite of the town hall is Arch Here, which was built in honor of King Louis XV and looks very similar to Arc de Triumph in Paris. The square is guarded by few fancy golden wrought iron gates…reminded me of Tsars’ Village in St. Petersburg, Russia. Two lavishly decorated fountains with statues can be seen on the two sides of this square.

Place Stanislas in Nancy, France...you can see Cathedral of Nancy from the square

Place Stanislas in Nancy, France…you can see Cathedral of Nancy from the square

3) LA BASILIQUE ST. EPURE: Our last stop in Nancy before heading back to Belgium was this extravagant basilica, known as La Basilique St. Epure. This is a must-see in Nancy which receives thousands of people from all over the world each year. The basilica is standing over an old parish church from 9th Before this current basilica was built in 1871, there were three more churches that have been erected on this site. A large number of European artists and architects were involved giving this edifice its present look.

Exterior of La Basilique St. Epure in Nancy, France. It was built by many architects and artists from all over Europe in 1871.

Exterior of La Basilique St. Epure in Nancy, France. It was built by many architects and artists from all over Europe in 1871.

Loved the woodwork, stone carvings, and stained-glass windows here. There are 74 large windows and 3 rose windows which all together, represent about 2300 sq. meters of stained glass surface. This church is known to have “more glass than wall”. Most of these windows are from Vienna, Austria. Check out the carved wood decoration on altars, choir-stalls, cross, statues, and pulpit. The church collected items from all over Europe, like the heaviest bell of the main choir is from Hungary, chandeliers from Belgium, a 25-sq. meter pavement from the Pope Pius IX in Rome. Small chapels on the sides and behind the main altar are very decorative with statues, stained-glass windows, and old religious artifacts. Its 84 meters (or 275 ft.) height spire rises high and looms over Nancy’s old town with a glaze.

Inside La Basilique St. Epure represents 2300 sq. meters of stained-glass windows...a place that has "more glass than walls"

Inside La Basilique St. Epure represents 2300 sq. meters of stained-glass windows…a place that has “more glass than walls”

The basilica is located at the very heart of Nancy, only few minutes’ walk from Place Stanislas. There is no fee to get inside. Check out Museum of Lorraine, an artistic building in front of this basilica, which once used to be the Ducal Palace.

 

Dijon, France – the town of Mustard

DIJON, FRANCE: Yep it is that Dijon which you keep in your refrigerator for flavoring your sandwiches or other dips and sauces. And that was the sole reason for me to visit this town. I wanted to know where my Dijon mustard originally came from which I generously use on my turkey sandwich every time. But Dijon is more than just mustard or dipping sauces.

Old town of Dijon, France

Old town of Dijon, France

Dijon is the capital of Burgundy, a region in eastern France. It was a booming major center for Gothic and Renaissance culture and art around 14th and 15th centuries. And since the city wasn’t heavily damaged during the WWII, some of its historic buildings and icons from that era can still be seen around the old town of Dijon.

If you have spare time in Dijon, make sure to visit nearby towns and cities, like Annecy, Chamonix, or Nancy. Within couple hours from Dijon, Mont-Blanc stands majestically looking over whole Europe.

Owl is the icon of Dijon in France, this particular owl is located outside Notre Dame Church, one of the earliest owls of this town, from the 16th century

Owl is the icon of Dijon in France, this particular owl is located outside Notre Dame Church, one of the earliest owls of this town, from the 16th century

TIME of TRAVEL: We made a road trip in July of 2014 to the French Alps, visiting Mont Blanc…the highest peak of Alps. After visiting Annecy, Chamonix, and Mont-Blanc, our next stop was Dijon. It’s usually nice in July, but we got some wind and rain the day we were there. Being the last road-trip before leaving Europe, this whole journey was a memorable one for all of us.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Holiday Inn Dijon, a bit outside the main city center. We had free Wi-Fi and parking but breakfast wasn’t included. Hotel was of course great with cleanliness, staff, and everything else…it’s Holiday Inn after all, good reputation and good service.

EATING and SHOPPING: Rue de la Liberte is one of the best places for meals or shopping. Other old parts also have hidden cafes and restaurants. We did our mustard shopping from “Maille” on Rue de la Liberte. This is a mustard store from 1747 that has more than 30 different types of mustard in their collections. “Edmond Fallot” is another store we went inside where you can find tons of different kinds of mustard and the store dates back to 1840. These stores offer free samples before buying…make sure you know what you are buying.

A mustard shop "Maille" on Rue de la Liberte in Dijon, France

A mustard shop “Maille” on Rue de la Liberte in Dijon, France

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Walking is the best way to explore the city center of Dijon. And an easy way to do it in Dijon is following numbered “owl” metal plates on the ground. There are total of 22 stops and this self-guided tour takes you to most of the interesting places in walkable distances. Owl is the icon of this city and you will see lots of it at every corner here.

Picture of owls on steel plates like this one that you can follow in Dijon, France for a self-guided tour

Picture of owls on steel plates like this one that you can follow in Dijon, France for a self-guided tour

1) LA PORTE GUILLAUME and RUE de la LIBERTE: We parked our car right below this square or pedestrian zone. Rue de la Liberte is a long stretch of pedestrian only path packed with countless shops and eateries. La Porte Guillaume is an old gate, similar to Arc de Triumph in Paris, at one end of Rue de la Liberte.

Rue de la Liberte and La Porte Guillaume in old town of Dijon, France

Rue de la Liberte and La Porte Guillaume in old town of Dijon, France

2) CATHEDRALE SAINTE-BENIGNE: Walking from Rue d la Liberte, you can’t miss the Gothic spires and steeples of this cathedral. Built in the 14th century, this is a national monument of France. Inside is as gorgeous as its exterior. We spent some time going around and enjoying cathedral’s huge organ, big paintings, sculptures, and vibrant stained-glass windows.

Cathedral Saint-Benigne - a 14th century Gothic cathedral in the heart of Dijon, France

Cathedral Saint-Benigne – a 14th century Gothic cathedral in the heart of Dijon, France

The cathedral is open from 8:30am to 7pm and free for any tourists.

3) EGLISE SAINT-PHILIBERT: Built in the 12th century on the site of an old basilica, this church is a remarkable example of Romanesque edifice. A flamboyant Gothic steeple was added in the 16th It was across the street from Cathedral Saint-Benigne. We walked past it without going inside the church because its current precarious state forbids visits.

4) THEATRE DIJON-BOURGOGNE: After the above church, we continued following the “Owl” of Dijon and in couple minutes the “Owl” brought us to this old theatre which looked more like a medieval church. This was closed to tourists as well.

An old entrance of Theatre Dijon-Bourgogne in Dijon, France

An old entrance of Theatre Dijon-Bourgogne in Dijon, France

5) DUCAL PALACE: Although we didn’t go inside the Ducal Palace, it is a beautiful building in Place de la Liberation with an open space/square in front of it. It now houses a museum, known as Museum of Beaux Arts, which is considered as one of the best in this region. Other than that it has decent collection of medieval arts, paintings by local and Flemish artists, and some recent art collection which includes Picasso and Monet as well.

Place de la Liberation has many small shops, restaurants, and cafes. My girls loved the water fountain in the middle of the square, even though it was wet and cold.

Ducal Palace in Dijon, France

Ducal Palace in Dijon, France

6) NOTRE DAME CHURCH: Just 5 minutes of walk from Ducal Palace is Notre Dame Church. This 13th century church is small but very elegant inside. Old walls, stained-glass windows, and bold stone pillars put middle age touches everywhere.

Once you are done with visiting inside the church, go around and look for the “Owl” icon sculpted at one side of the church. This is known to be one of the earliest image of the owl in Dijon, from the 16th century. Tradition is to touch it with your left hand from left to right to bring good luck.

Notre Dame Church - a 13th century church in Dijon, France

Notre Dame Church – a 13th century church in Dijon, France

7) MICHEL CHURCH: It started drizzling when we came close to this church. We walked about few minutes from Notre Dame to get here. The present look of this church dates back to the very end of 15th century. The remarkable choir is from 1763. This is a big church, similar to Cathedral Saint-Benigne. It’s free to go in, don’t miss the grand stained-glass over the main altar.

Gorgeous carvings on the main entrance of St. Michel Church in Dijon, France

Gorgeous carvings on the main entrance of St. Michel Church in Dijon, France

 

A French Alpine Town – Chamonix

CHAMONIX MONT-BLANC, FRANCE: Located at the foothill of majestic Mont Blanc in south-eastern France, Chamonix Mont-Blanc (or just Chamonix in short) is an attractive Alpine village to visit any time of the year. For decades, Chamonix was known to be a winter getaway for the up-scale travelers. It was this city which hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924. Being 1030 meters (3400 ft.) above sea-level, many tourists keep coming back here for winter activities and for its charming and unique location.

Center of Chamonix, at the foothill o Mont-Blanc in the French Alpine region

Center of Chamonix, at the foothill o Mont-Blanc in the French Alpine region

Chamonix is one of the towns that surrounds Mont Blanc from one side and is itself surrounded by the Alps. This is where passionate mountaineers come to fulfill their dreams of climbing the highest peak of Europe…Mont Blanc. Its picturesque squares with the Alps in the backdrop, artistic buildings, countless restaurants, and buzzing crowds make this place a relax getaway for travelers of any age.

TIME of TRAVEL: Visiting Mont Blanc was on our list for a long time when we were living in Belgium. The opportunity finally came right before we left Europe in July of 2014. Our friend Sidfar from Antwerp also joined us in this 5-day long trip. We visited Annecy, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, then Dijon, and Nancy afterwards. It was our last road trip in Europe, that’s why even memorable for all of us.

OUR HOTEL: Our hotel was not in or near Chamonix. We stayed in Annecy, about an hour drive from Mont Blanc. It was “Sejours & Affaires Pont Neuf – Cran Gevrier” somewhat close to Annecy Old Town. The hotel (which was more like a hostel) didn’t have 24-hour reception service. That was not a problem although we reached there really late at night (they left the keys in a safe-box for us). Good part of this place that we had a small kitchen and a balcony. We also had free Wi-Fi and parking. Annecy, situated by Lake Annecy, itself is a stunning town and is known as The Venice of France. Spare a day if you can for this little town and you won’t regret it for a second.

EATING and SHOPPING: Chamonix city center is the probably the best area for tourists to buy souvenirs or winter gears. There were tons of brand name stores where you can buy all the things you need to climb Mont Blanc massif from winter jackets, clothing accessories, to foot gears, and heavy duty sports items. This small town also boasts for gastronomic restaurants. Although we saw an Indian restaurant and did a take-away order from there, you will find tons of other restaurants offering traditional Mont Blanc cuisine right here in the heart of Chamonix.

A souvenir shop in Chamonix, France

A souvenir shop in Chamonix, France

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Of course the biggest attraction of Chamonix and the reason most of the tourists is to get a glimpse of the highest peak of the Alps…Mont Blanc (check out my page/post on Mont Blanc). Upon arriving in Chamonix in the morning of our visit, we took a cable car to Aiguille du Midi and spent the whole day visiting different summits of French Alps enjoying glaciers, valleys, green meadows, and whitest snow of Mont Blanc massif. After Aiguille du Midi, we came down to the town and spent about little more than an hour in the city center of Chamonix.

1) CITY CENTER: This is the heart and the liveliest spot of Chamonix. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with trendy shopping streets and stunning view. Each block of this area was decorated with colorful fresh flowers bouquets and baskets. River Arve dissects the city center in two parts carrying water from the mountains.

River Arve running thru city center of Chamonix, France

River Arve running thru city center of Chamonix, France

 

Being so close to Mont Blanc, one of the popular destinations for winter sports in the Alps, Chamonix city center has tons of sports stores like North Face, Columbia, and Ice Breaker. The place is crowded with serious and experienced climbers and hikers. Just looking at their heavy gears made me adventurous…they were here for real Alpine wilderness. And then of course, there were tourists like us who were enjoying the atmosphere and the natural beauty from our own comfort zone.

 

If you are there in summer, like us, take your time and go around the town center, enjoy the view of the River Arve, summer blooms, energetic crowds, and outdoor cafes. I am imagining, it’s completely a different scene in the winter time. May be the river freezes, Mont Blanc gets a new facelift with heavier and thicker snow pile, whole city center may look white but be dazzling with Christmas trees, lights, and decoration…not to mention Christmas markets and enthusiastic winter athletes.

2) STATUE of de SAUSSURE: This is a statue of heroism and bravery in the center of Chamonix in front of a casino. It honors Horace Benedict de Saussure who was the first person to climb Mont Blanc. The statue portrays Horace Benedict de Saussure, beside him Jacques Balmat standing, pointing his finger towards Mont Blanc.

Statue of de Saussure in the city center of Chamonix, France

Statue of de Saussure in the city center of Chamonix, France

3) CATHOLIC CHURCH of St. MICHAEL: This church is in the city center near Place d’la Eglise which also houses Chamonix Town Hall. It was impressively decorated with vibrant hanging flower baskets and flags. I didn’t go inside the church but walking along that street was a pleasure no doubt.

Catholic Church of St. Michael and Chamonix Town Hall on the right in Chamonix, France

Catholic Church of St. Michael and Chamonix Town Hall on the right in Chamonix, France

4) PLACE JACQUES BALMAT: This beautiful and little square in the city center was named after Jacque Balmat who was the climbing partner to ascend Mont Blanc in August 8th, 1786 with Dr. Paccard. Again, plenty of flowers adorned this pedestrian zone while many shops and cafes made it a place where I wouldn’t mind going back over and over again.

Rue du Docteur Paccard is, you can say, the main shopping street in city center and got its name from Doctor Paccard who climbed Mont Blanc in 1786 as mentioned above. Their ascension to Mont Blanc was a historic achievement in mountaineering.

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