Are you planning a trip to France and debating what to see during your stay? It’s practically a guarantee, especially for first-timers in the country, that Paris will be on your itinerary. But is Paris a must-see in France? It’s a subjective question that will probably get a majority of “yes” answers.
However, we’re not here to debate Paris and its world-class museums or its iconic sights. We’re here to share reasons why you should see more than just Paris when you visit France. This country is gorgeous and there are some heavily underrated things around every corner.
In this post, we talk about the many amazing things outside of Paris and why you should seriously consider them for your France trip!
Paris is Packed with Tourists
Just so we get the point across, we’ll repeat it: Paris is packed with tourists. It consistently ranks as one of the most visited cities in the world, with many millions pouring in year after year.
Of course, with world-famous sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame (and yes, EuroDisney), it’s no wonder that Paris is jam-packed with tourists. But because it has those must-sees, Paris needs to be visited at least once in your life.
But if you’re looking for something a little less crowded like we do, you may not want to spend so much of your time in Paris and seek out destinations elsewhere in the country. There are over 30 UNESCO World Heritage sites in France alone, most of which aren’t in Paris. There’s a lot to see in this country!
It’s Cheaper to Visit Outside of Paris
Another bonus of adding more than Paris to your trip? It’s cheaper!
France as a whole is not a very budget-friendly destination (mostly thanks to Paris and the Riviera). That said, we were able to keep our daily costs, excluding accommodation, under $50 USD per day. That’s a total for two people! But most of our time was spent elsewhere in France, not in Paris.
If you’re a fellow budget traveler or just like to save when you can (and still have an amazing adventure), check out our list of cheap European destinations.
The Countryside is Beautiful
The main reason for seeing parts of France other than Paris? The countryside.
That’s really just an overarching term for everything else in France. We’ll break it all down into specifics as we continue in this post but we’d like to drive the point home: France’s countryside is breathtaking.
Whether you’re passing hedgerows in Normandy or following the majestic Loire River through Centre Val de Loire, there are some scenes in nature you just never want to leave.
In addition to the lovely countryside, the French people are very friendly! We’ve heard the stereotype that French people are rude countless times. Please don’t visit with that belief!
Whether you encounter the rudest or the friendliest person you’ve ever met, be respectful and kind to those who live there and you might be surprised how they’ll return the favor!
Wine Country is Calling
France and its neighbors are known for fine wines. And yes, the wines are really fine. But that’s in regards to the taste, not the price! Delectable wine in France, especially if you’re dining in for a romantic meal in your Airbnb, is dirt cheap.
But the real way to experience French wine is visiting the vineyard and experiencing the “terroir” on the spot. We’re big fans of Wine Folly’s guide to French wine regions. White wine enthusiasts should hang around the Loire Valley, which just so happens to be one of the best biking areas in France.
Of course, Bordeaux, the wine capital of the world, is reason enough on its own for a visit to France.
Even though France is known for wine, we fell for the cider. This alcoholic specialty has an entire route dedicated to its production and tourism in Normandy: the Route de Cidre (the Route of Cider). You won’t find many tourists here! Stop by one of the cider farms for a taste!
Biking Along the Loire
We’ve mentioned the Loire River already but this river has always been and still remains of important significance. The best part about the longest river in France? The bike-friendly paths that follow it.
We spent several days near Orleans, which was an ideal base to hop on a bike and ride. Of course, we stumbled upon unknown villages, their chateaus and cathedrals. Some of the best bike rides ever!
If you like cycling at a leisurely pace and capturing views of nature working harmoniously around you, hop on two wheels and follow the Loire River on one of the well-maintained biking paths. Stop for croissants and macarons along the way or better yet, pack some cheap wine and snacks for a picnic next to a chateau. It’s up to you!
Get some great (and free!) advice on biking the Loire Valley and elsewhere in France!
Mont Saint Michel
First and foremost, Mont Saint Michel is a must-see sight outside of Paris.
This historical gem, having been used as a military stronghold as well as a pilgrimage for the common folk, sits grandly atop a rock formation. Its unique position allows visitors to see it from many miles away in good visibility.
Pro Tip: To enjoy Mont Saint Michel without the crowds, arrive early! Even if you’re there before the abbey (at the very top) is open, you can marvel at this wonder from below. It’s especially cool during low tide, as you get to walk around Mont Saint Michel on the ocean floor. Be prepared to get muddy!
You can visit at high tide or low tide; or if you stay long enough you can manage to be present for both atmospheres. And yes, both are beautiful!
Day trips are possible from Paris but we’d advise against it. The travel time will eat up most of your day!
Read our complete guide to visiting Mont Saint Michel. We cover how to get there plus how to make it an awesome experience.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
Want to see some of the most beautiful villages in France? Of course you do! Les Plus Beaux Villages de France lists exactly that! You’ll find these scattered all about France; we visited Le Bec-Hellouin during our stay in Normandy (Normandie in French). It was one of the prettiest sights we witnessed!
It was near the end of our French travels and we wish we had sought these villages out sooner. We think mixing these beautiful villages with some wine tastings sounds like the ideal France itinerary!
The French Riviera
Of course, second only to Paris in terms of tourism is the French Riviera. Those dreamy, blue waters clash perfectly with the shore, enticing visitors from all over the world year-round with gorgeous weather. Nice is a great city to settle down and live the good life. Monaco is practically next door, as is Cannes.
If you’re on a budget like we were then you might find the Riviera hard to manage. However, we’ve put together a 2 day Nice itinerary (on a budget) that will guide you to the must-sees while keeping your wallet in mind.
The beach in Nice is very pretty but it’s also very rocky. You’ll see plenty of locals and tourists spread out on the rocks but if you’re looking for sand under toes, you’ll find sandier beaches near Cannes.
However, we loved chilling on the shores of Nice’s beach with a bottle of rosé. It’s hard to beat warm weather and chilled wine on the beach in October!
Driving in France is Amazing. Driving in Paris? Yikes!
Many of the places we’ve mentioned are best seen by car. Public transport is possible but can be a major headache to plan and execute. There’s also the unexpected train strike! You just never know.
The roads in France are so well-kept so don’t worry about problems on the road. However, avoid “A” roads at all costs! On short stretches, the toll fee isn’t so bad; however, we drove from Nice to Orleans, which took several hours. We had no idea what we were doing and took the “A” toll road the whole way. When you finally get that bill…WHOA!
But there are plenty of great options besides the toll roads so don’t fret! To save you from the same mistakes we made and to give you some good tips for the road, we’ve put together a guide for driving in France.
What about driving in Paris? We highly recommend avoiding it! We survived the Arc de Triomphe roundabout and we’re certain you can too but you don’t need that kind of stress in your life. Trust us, rent the car outside of Paris and see the rest of the country on four wheels. Paris has great public transportation so a car isn’t necessary!
Again, the best way to see France is by car! Keep an eye on Kayak for deals and enjoy the road in one of Europe’s prettiest countries.
Discover WWII History in Normandy
Interested in WWII? You’ll have no lack of historic sights in France, especially the Normandy region. Visit the famous beaches where the D-Day landings took place (Omaha, Utah, Sword, etc…) and see where the paratroopers dropped in the night before the landings.
There is no shortage of guided D-Day tours that will take you around all the invasion locations as well as the American cemetery.
La Cambe (German Cemetery)
Pointe du Hoc
For more must-see WWII sights in this region, read our ultimate guide to Normandy! We cover much more than just WWII (like food and drink)!
Chateaus, Chateaus, and More Chateaus
One of our favorite parts of France was the abundance of Chateaus. You can see so many chateaus by leaving the Paris city limits.
We fell in love with one chateau in particular: Chateau d’Amboise. This is where Leonardo da Vinci is buried; Amboise is a fun village to spend a day in as well. Check out our guide to Amboise for a lovely day trip!
Château de Chambord, which is the largest Chateau in the Loire Valley, served as a hunting lodge for King Francis I.
Chateaus seem to neighbor wine regions. Can it get better than that? Rent a bike and casually explore all the chateaus you can!
Visit Cheese Towns and Regions
One thing all of France does extremely well is make delicious cheese. You can drive around the country and discover as many of the 1600 cheese varieties as you can.
Some notable cheeses to seek out:
Camembert: This cheese easily became one of our favorites! It goes great on crackers or turn it into a creamy sauce for duck, pork, chicken (or whatever dish you want!). You can visit Camembert in the Normandy region of France. If you do, be sure to sample as much cheese as you can!
Roquefort: This pungent cheese gets its name from the town Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in Southern France. In order for this cheese to get its name it must be aged in the Combalou Caves.
Brie de Meaux or Brie de Melun: Made in the Meaux and Melun towns of the Île-de-France region, you can stop by and try the cheeses and even tour local producers.
There Are Great Cathedrals Outside of Paris
Notre-Dame is one of the most visited places in Paris. However, we found it to be much smaller in person than we anticipated (Disney makes it seem massive).
While you need to see Notre-Dame because…well…it’s Notre-Dame, there are so many impressive cathedrals elsewhere in France that you need to see too!
By no means have we visited all the other cathedrals but we have seen some downright amazing structures that leave you in utter awe.
Orleans, Tours, Caen, Lisieux, and Rouen have insanely beautiful cathedrals. And they’re all FREE! Notre-Dame of Paris is also free to enter but the tower and crypt cost extra.
For a real look into the Gothic style, take some time to wander around inside and check out the stained glass! They’re some of the best in Europe, no doubt.
So, Notre-Dame of Paris is pretty cool but our favorites lie outside of the city. Maybe you’ll find one of your favorites outside of Paris as well!
As you may know, after the fire at Notre Dame in April of 2019, the Cathedral is closed to visitors until further notice. So another reason to add some of the beautiful cathedrals outside of Paris.
Summary of Why You Should See More than Paris in France
By no means are we telling you to not visit Paris. We think it’s a great stop, especially for first-timers. However, we think the real beauty of France lies outside of Paris.
The best part about planning a trip to France? There’s not a wrong decision to be made! The food, the people, and the incredible landscape all blend to make one of the most colorful cultures out there.