It’s hard not to instantly think “Paris” when someone asks where to visit in France, however, the city is only a small peek into the country and French culture as a whole. While every first-timer’s trip to France should include a stop in “The City of Love", consider including some lesser-known cities in your itinerary.
Here’s a look at three French cities you need to know about that will get you started in planning the perfect vacation in France.
Located in eastern France, Strasbourg is the principal city in the Alsace region and the seat of the European Parliament. Due to its close proximity to the German border, the Germanic influence is undeniable. Strasbourg’s historic city center was bestowed the honor of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, becoming the first city center to receive the designation.
The Romans founded the ancient city of Strasbourg in 12 BC, and today it’s home to a wealth of historical sites and museums. To encourage travelers to visit Strasbourg, the city offers free admissions to nearly all its museums on the first Sunday of every month.
Food and wine aficionados are likely familiar with Strasbourg as Alsace is one of Europe’s best wine regions. Drawing influences from both French and German winemaking, the Alsace wine trail encompasses 170 km of vineyards and wine production facilities. Gastronomy is key in this region and culinary travelers could spend an entire week just eating their way through Strasbourg’s restaurants and brasseries.
While renowned for its mustard production bearing the city’s name, Dijon is home to much more than this famous culinary staple. What began as a Roman settlement ultimately became the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy during the 14th and 15th centuries. As the dukes were patrons of the arts, Gothic and Renaissance influences are seen in paintings and sculptures that remain today.
Dijon is home to a number of landmarks, museums, and gardens. Visitors will find the city center easy to navigate and can even enjoy a self-guided walking tour featuring over 20 points of interest. Many museums are free and the Musee des Beaux-Arts is the most recommended if you are short on time. Located in the Palais Ducal, it showcases a number of local artist pieces. Perhaps the most famous part of Musee des Beaux-Arts is the Guard Room, featuring the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy.
As the capital of the Burgundy region, wine production is key in this area. The most famous of the wines found here are dry red wines made from Pinot Noir grapes and white wines made with Chardonnay grapes. Despite being lesser known than regions like Champagne and Bordeaux, Burgundy is home to more wine appellations d’origine controlee (AOCs). Look for countless day trip options to visit tasting rooms in the area or sample local Burgundian wines in the restaurants throughout Dijon.
Typically utilized as a transportation gateway to other spots around France, Lyon is actually one of the largest cities in France and is gaining recognition as a holiday destination. Lyon is ramping up its tourism marketing and travelers are quickly catching on to the city’s diverse charms. Like Strasbourg, the city of Lyon is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its historical importance but also its cultural contributions.
Lyon was constructed over 2,000 years ago and is home to not only a number of historical sights but some rather unique additions as well. Check out the modern residential development “City of Stars” and the Mural of the Lyonnaise people, depicting the city’s 2,000 years of history with 25 historical and six contemporary figures.
Travelers to Lyon can easily pack an itinerary full in order to experience the true charm of this often skipped over European destination. Notable sights include the church of Saint Francis of Sales, famous for its Cavaille-Coll pipe organ, and the Musee Lumiere, originally Auguste Lumiere’s home, one of the brothers who pioneered cinema in the town. If you happen to schedule your holiday over December 8, Lyon hosts the annual Festival of Lights, an important celebration for the Virgin Mary, who is believed to have saved the city from a deadly plague in the Middle Ages.
As with France as a whole, gastronomy plays a significant role in Lyon’s culture. The local Chamber of Commerce even created a label that guarantees visitors a high-quality culinary experience in Lyon. If you want to sample authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, look for the establishments sporting the “Bouchon Lyonnais” label as they are certified as some of the best offerings in Lyon.
Where is your favorite city in France? Tell us about your experience.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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