The French Cities to Visit (if You've Done Paris)

Want to graze your way around the beautiful bistros of Lyon? Or discover the sun-drenched shores of Montpellier? Don’t miss our shortlist of six beautiful French cities to visit this summer that aren’t Paris. Bon voyage!

From its tree-fringed allées and bistro-lined boulevards to its legendary galleries and ornate architecture, Paris is always a great idea. As much as we love being charmed by its romantic air, however, there's also plenty to be said for discovering the magic of other French cities - the ones that don't always get the airtime they deserve. Sounds like your sort of summer adventure? Tag along with us as we stroll through the artsy neighbourhoods of Nice, bar-hop across Bordeaux and sun ourselves on Marseille's Mediterranean shores.

Six fabulous French cities to visit this summer

Nice old town



This sun-scorched pocket of the Côte d'Azur has long attracted Europe's cultural jet-setters. Loved by artists such as Matisse, Renoir and Chagall, Nice has a touch of old-world opulence running through the veins of its rugged neighbourhoods. Soak up the sparkling waters, then wander beneath the skyscraper-tall shuttered buildings of Vieux Nice, settling on a dimly lit restaurant in which to feast on seafood - Chez Freddy is our favourite. Be sure to stop by Cours Saleya market, where producers from the foothills of the Alps peddle fresh produce and stalls serve street snacks including socca (a chickpea-flour pancake) and pissaladière (caramelised onion tart).

Where to stay: Hôtel Oasis



What Lyon lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in exceptional food and drink. Dubbed the gastronomic capital of France, the city specialises in nouvelle cuisine, drawing on the spoils of the surrounding Burgundy and Rhône-Alpes countryside to create innovative, flavour-packed menus. In those rare instances when you're not stuffing your face, ramble across bridges, laze on the banks of the River Rhône and admire Renaissance architecture. We also suggest renting a bike to ride through the old town, catching a sunset from the top of Fourvière Hill and browsing the many independent boutiques in the quaint Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse neighbourhood.

Where to stay: La Villa Florentine

The historic buildings of Rennes, Brittany



Rennes, the storybook-like capital of Brittany, charms with its cobbled alleys and sprawling gardens, while its many cafés, boutiques and landmarks ensure visitors won't get bored. Almost entirely rebuilt following a fire in 1720, the city is home to a dizzying blend of historic half-timbered houses and acclaimed avant garde architecture, showcasing the creative spirit that flows through its street art-stamped streets. Pick up a buckwheat galette - a pancake-like local speciality that comes in countless sweet and savoury combinations - stroll along the banks of the River Vilaine, which sweeps through the city centre, then finish your day among the Picassos, Gauguins and Gaudís at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. We're booking tickets for the Pan sommeil exhibition - open until 18 September - which explores the meaning of "party" through a diverse array of mediums.

Where to stay: Balthazar Hôtel & Spa



No longer a city to pass through en route to Paris, Lille has become a French destination in its own right. Spend days bar-hopping through cobbled streets, sipping fresh-from-the-vine wine and nibbling on merveilleux - sweets made up of two meringues covered with whipped cream and rolled in chocolate shavings. Lille was World Design Capital in 2020, so be sure to dedicate time to explore the city's beautiful Flemish architecture. Thrifters should visit in autumn for Europe's largest flea market, La Braderie, which dates back to the 12th century. Not your vibe? Swing by the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille to enjoy works by Van Dyck, Rubens, Goya and Picasso instead.

Where to stay: Mama Shelter Lille



Often overlooked due to the popularity of neighbouring Nice and Toulouse, Montpellier's sandy beaches and fawn-hued streets are all the better for not being rammed with tourists. This is an inherently walkable city: amble through bougainvillea-draped boulevards and elegant squares, making stops at family-run bakeries and cute cafés, before heading to the city's sun-drenched beaches to work on your tan. Also set aside some time to browse the antiques markets for trinkets to take home, pausing to admire the Haussmann architecture as you go.

Where to stay: Disini Hotel

Marseille waterfront, France



Head directly from Montpellier to Marseille in just two hours by train and see for yourself that the south of France isn't all yachts and jewel-drenched celebrities. Swing by the Old Port for a culinary feast of traditional Provençal cuisine, or, alternatively, eat your way around the Med: the city's large proportion of immigrants means that Greek, Italian, Corsican and Armenian cuisine are in broad supply. Further off the beaten track, the hidden bays and limestone cliffs of the Calanques await. A hike there will cost you nothing and this gorgeous stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis is well worth the detour.

Where to stay: Hôtel Le Ryad

This article was updated 7 July 2022.

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