France, France Destination

France Bucket List experiences you NEED to try

France has to be one of the most iconic countries in Europe. I say that with confidence because year after year Paris is the top-visited city in the world! But how can you get the most out of your holiday in France? How can you make sure you are getting the ‘authentic’ or ‘iconic’ French experience? You can start by building a France bucket list! And that’s exactly what I’m here to help you with.

Because of my French fiancee, I’ve visited France on and off for 6 years before living there for the past 2 years. On my first few visits, I was searching for the iconic French experience—the ones you see on Pinterest that scream France. But after a few visits, I was looking for something more authentic. The more regions I visited the larger, and more unique my bucket list grew.

This post will break down some of the best experiences in France that I truly believe need to be added to your bucket list. Of course, there are endless things I could have added to this list, but here are some ideas to get you started.

I broke down my recommendations into different categories. You’ll find iconic experiences, foodie experiences, experiences for history lovers, beach bums, and outdoorsy people as well as some rather unique recommendations. If you need more help building your France bucket list, you can find my customized travel planning services on Thatch!

*Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.


For the ICONIC French experience:

Climb the Eiffel Tower

(left) A girl stands with the Eiffel Tower in the background. She is leaning on a balcony with a lampost and the tree behind her is orange. (right) the view from the arc de Triomphe overlooking the Paris skyline and the Eiffel tower

This experience goes without saying. Climbing the Eiffel Tower is one of the most popular experiences to try in Paris. Both the monument and the view are iconic! Since it is the most popular thing to do in Paris, my best advice is to book your tickets in advance AND browse the many ticket options available.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: My favourite views of the Eiffel Tower (FREE GUIDE)

PRO TIP: Decide on the type of experience you’d like before you book your ticket. You can either take the stairs or the elevator. You can either visit the second floor or go all the way to the top. Also, you can opt for a guided tour or just an entry ticket. I’ve included a few options for you to check out below! 👇🏻

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Experience the Christmas Markets in Alsace

A compilation of photos of a girl exploring the timber framed houses of the Alsace region. (Left) She is holding a gingerbread man and kisses his cheek. (right) she is looking over her shoulder with colourful half timer framed houses behind her

Did you know that there is a Christmas capital of Europe? Well, it’s Strasbourg in Alsace – the region in Eastern France that hugs the border with Germany. Its high season is, of course, Christmas time when the villages and towns are covered in lights, and decorations and Christmas markets can be found around every corner. It is truly a magical thing to experience and is really worth navigating the crowds!

READ MORE: How to spend the BEST Christmas in Alsace

However, visiting this region should be on your France bucket list no matter the season. Some of the cutest towns in France can be found in Alsace with half timber-framed houses and rolling green hills. My best advice for visiting Alsace at Christmas is to plan ahead. This is a popular time to visit the area so accommodations book up quickly!

I’ve put together an ultimate Holiday Getaway Itinerary in Alsace that’ll take you 6 different towns and some of the most beautiful, authentic Christmas markets in France! The guide also features tips on how to get around the area, where to stay and some food recommendations so you’ll have everything you need to start trip planning!


Visit a lavender field in Provence

Personally, lavender is one of my favourite smells and I have been wanting to see the endless rows of purple fields for years now! One of my best pieces of advice, if you want to add this experience to your own France bucket list, is to visit at the right time! When we took our road trip through Provence, we missed the lavender fields by one week! Instead of rows of purple flowers, we were met with rows of empty green bushes!

To keep in mind: The best time to see lavender in Provence is from mid-June until mid-August!

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Best tours of the lavender fields in Provence


Admire Mont St. Michel

A series of photos of Mont St. Michel. (Left) someone is walking across a field with the Mont St. Michel in the distance. (right) a flock of sheep graze in a field with a smaller mont st michel sitting far in the distance

Mont St. Michel is another one of the most visited attractions in France. This historic Abbey and town sit a top of a tidal island off the coast of Normandy. Here you can find both tourists and French people alike because it really is quite an impressive sight to see.

To visit Mont St. Michel, you can opt to take a tour from towns such as Bayeux or Caen. Or if you have access to a car, you can park on the mainland and visit the town yourself. We had a car but we still opted for a guided tour to get the most out of our visit. Here is a link to the exact tour we took of Mont St. Michel. 👇🏻

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Wander around the Palace of Versailles

Various photos of the palace of Versailles - some show casing the beautiful golden interior and another highlighting the manicured gardens

The Palace of Versailles is nothing short of luxury. From the moment you reach the gates you can tell there is endless opulence inside! This also happens to be one of the most popular day trips from Paris. As a matter of fact, it is really straightforward to get to the Palace of Versailles by train. The closest station to the palace is Rive Gauche Station and the palace of roughly a 10 minute walk from there!

Alternatively, there are many tours available to take you from Paris to visit the Palace of Versailles. Again you should be looking at what exactly you want to get out of your experience at the Palace of Versailles. Some tours take you to just the palace and the grounds, however, there are other buildings on site you might want to access if it sounds interesting to you. If you’d like to visit the Marie Antoinette Estate and Trianon, you will need a separate ticket.


Looking for something a bit more customized? I also offer personalized travel planning services on Thatch. I can create a customized list of recommendations or even a bespoke itinerary to your needs and interests!


For Foodies:

Sip wine in a Medieval village near Bordeaux

(left) someone holds a glass of red wine in front of the camera with a series of bottles in the back ground - they are at a wine tasting (right) the medieval town of St. Emilion with vineyards sitting in the foreground

Visiting the vineyards in Bordeaux and St. Émilion is one of the most charming experiences we have had on our France bucket list to date! Even if you are not a big fan of red wine, you will not be disappointed by the adorable town of St. Émilion! Trust me, a visit to the Aquitaine region is not complete without a vineyard and Chateaux tour! This is where you see the wine making process up close and can even taste a sample or two. Alternatively, you can pay a visit to the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux city centre! This wine museum is very interactive and one of the coolest experiences we’ve done in Bordeaux.

Having family in Bordeaux, I know this region particularly well. There are many tours from Bordeaux to St. Émilion however, you can easily take a day trip from Bordeaux to St. Émilion on your own! I put together a complete day trip guide that provides you with details on how to get to the town, where to eat, what to visit as well as recommendations on Chateaux tours.

READ MORE: Best Wine Tours in Bordeaux 


Visit the markets in Provence

A table full of peppers, flowers and other local product sits on a bright yellow table cloth in the middle of a square in Provence

The region of Provence is absolutely picturesque. This is where the French live the slow life, they savor the moment and enjoy their days in the sunshine. It is also in this region where you can find the typical French farmer’s market. Most villages have them on a weekly basis, so no matter where you are in the region you are likely to find one.

Typically in these markets, you can find fruits, vegetables, local produce and flowers. Here are some of my favorites:

1) Aix-en-Provence has its markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (my personal favourite)

2) The Saleya Market in Nice is open every day except Mondays (known for their flower market)

3) The l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market is open on Sundays (known for its antiques)


Take a cider tour in Normandy

(left) a vat of cider sits ready to be open (right) a girl sits on a red and white checkered picnic blanket with a basket of picnic foods in front of her holding a glass of cider

Before visiting Normandy, I never even knew cider tours existed! Little did I know, one of Normandy’s regional specialties is cider. They are known for their Apple products and have orchards everywhere. They even have a designated Cider Route! These tours are incredibly affordable and are an excellent way to support local businesses and learn more about the local culture.

READ MORE: Cider Tour: one of the BEST activities to do in Normandy


Try the regional cheeses

A plate of different french cheeses sit on a dinner table

The more regions of France you explore, the quicker you will learn more about the regional specialties. There are regional drinks (like cider in Normandy), regional dishes, regional desserts, AND even regional cheeses. Make sure to add trying the regional cheeses and dishes to your France bucket list – you’ll be surprised how many varieties there are out there!

Here is some inspiration to get you started:

🧀 North of France: try maroilles

🧀 Normandy: try camembert

🧀 Alsace: try munster

🧀 Alps: try raclette (best enjoyed in the winter)

🧀 Burgundy: try comte

🧀 Corsica: try brocciu


Take a cooking class

A girl stands holding 2 boxes of freshly baked baked goods in a kitchen

This has become one of my favourite travel experiences in any country I visit now! You really get to learn about local cultures up close, plus you have the opportunity to take home one of the most unique souvenirs: recipes! Personally, I have taken several cooking classes in the North of France because this is where we were located. But, to give you some inspiration, here are some of the top cooking classes in Paris:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Fun baking class in Paris to add to your itinerary

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For History Buffs:

Castle hop in the Loire Valley

A girl explores the grounds of the chateau chenonceau in the Loire Valley.

There is nowhere in France quite like the Loire Valley. It’s a history buffs paradise! In this region, you can find 300 different castles! The best part is that they are all relatively close to each other. Over a few days, you can hop around and visit as many castles as you would like! A majority of them are accessible by train, but there are also bike trails to explore the region on a closer level. My personal favourite castle was Chateau Chenonceau and you can read more about my other recommendations below!

READ MORE: Beautiful Chateaus to visit in the Loire Valley


Visit the Paris Catacombs

Inside of the catacombs of Paris - a series of skulls and bones sit staked on top of each other

The Catacombs in Paris are quickly becoming one of the more popular activities to do when visiting the city. More and more people are adding this spot to their France bucket list due to its unique view of Paris’s history. Although this excursion is quite pricier compared to other activities in Paris, it is definitely worth it. I can confidently say that I learned many things about the history of Paris after my visit to the catacombs!

PRO TIP: You NEED to book your tickets in advance. I was only able to visit the catacombs after many visits to Paris because all of the other times I tried to visit the tickets were all sold out. You can book your tickets below!

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Pay your respects at a war memorial

3 different world war 2 memorials found on the D Day landing beaches in Normandy

Whether you are interested in learning more about World War I or World War II, there are many memorials you can visit to pay your respects and learn more about the war from a local perspective.

Normandy is very popular for history buffs as you can visit the D-Day Landing beaches including Omaha and Juno Beach. Alternatively, you can also tour the Somme and visit cities like Albert, Arras, and Vimy Ridge. My personal favourite experiences so far have been the Carrière Wellington in Arras, Vimy Ridge, and the Australian War memorial in the Somme!

READ MORE: Vimy Ridge: Amazing (and informative) day trip from Lille


Visit the Bayeux Tapestry

If visiting a tapestry does not sound enticing to you, let me explain why it is so interesting to see in person. For starters, its from the 11th century and has survived the test of time. That fact alone is really quite remarkable! It is 70 meters in length and tells the story of William the Conquerer conquering England in 1066. Personally, it blew my mind to see the level of detail and storytelling they managed to achieve back then and I cannot recommend visiting enough!

READ MORE: 5 things to do in Bayeux, Normandy


Spend a day at the Louvre

A girl sits in front of the glass pyramid - the iconic entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris

Although it is definitely a touristy spot, your France bucket list is not complete without visiting the Louvre. This museum is massive and the works of art inside are some of the most treasured pieces in history. Whether you love art museums or not, the Louvre is an excellent place to learn more about Ancient civilizations like Egypt, Rome, Islam, and Greece, as well as some of Europe’s finest paintings and sculptures.

PRO TIP: Do not underestimate the size of the Louvre! It is MASSIVE and will take you at least a day to visit. The maps they provide helpfully identify some of the more well-known pieces of art so you know you aren’t missing anything, but to see everything will take some time.

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For Beach-Goers:

Find turquoise waters in Corsica

3 photos of the clear turquoise waters in Corsica

If you’re looking for the best beaches in France, go to Corsica. You will be blown away by its crystal clear, turquoise waters and sandy beaches. Corsica is known for its beaches and even though it is a popular holiday destination for French people, it is still relatively unexplored by many international tourists.

To keep in mind: Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean, close to Italy. For French people, it is known for being a bit more expensive compared to mainland France but it is still beautiful nonetheless!

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Best Beaches in Southern Corsica (FREE GUIDE)


Walk along the promenade in Nice

The beach in Nice covered with blue and white umbrellas and people enjoying a cloudless day

Although the beaches here might not be as picturesque as Corsica, they are no less iconic. The French Riviera is another popular spot that people flock to to find endless sunshine and warm waters. Nice in particular has a gorgeous promenade with beautiful views of the sea and endless blue and white umbrellas. It is also a great city to base yourself to explore more of the sea-side towns along the French Riviera like Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes, Monaco and Cannes.

To keep in mind: The beaches on the French Riviera are mainly rocky, so you might want to look for waterproof shoes for your visit.


Beach hop in the Bassin d’Arcachon

The sandy beaches and picturesque restaurants along the Arcachon bay

Moving over to the west side of the country, there are many beautiful beaches close to Bordeaux. In the Arcachon Bay, you can find the largest sand dune in France, called the Dunes du Pilat. You can also find adorable coastal towns and fishing villages, such as l’Herbe, Andernos, and Le Canon. These towns not only have beaches, but they also have incredibly fresh seafood (they are particularly known for their oysters).


Surf in Pays Basque

If surfing is more your speed, you can find the best surfing in Pays Basque, more specifically the Anglet Beaches. You can find various levels of surf along these beaches, some of the most well-known are Cavaliers Beach, La Marinella and Côte des Basques Beach. For a more in-depth look at the surf spots in Pays Basque, read more here!

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Did you know I offer custom travel planning services, and that I specialize in visits to France? You can learn more about that on my Thatch page!


For Outdoor-Lovers:

Ski in the Alps (or the Pyrenees)

France is gifted with two gorgeous mountain ranges! The Alps to the east and the Pyrenees to the south west. If you are looking for high-altitude skiing with endless mountains to explore and some of the most iconic ski stations in Europe, head to the Alps. You can look into Les 3 Vallees, Courchevel, or Val Thorens to name a few!

If you are looking for skiing that is a little more affordable and generally less crowded, you should look towards the Pyrenees. To ski here, I’d look into Grand Tourmalet, Les Angles, or Lux Ardiden. But there are plenty more!


Hike along the cliffs of Étretat

A coastal arch along the Alabaster coast

If you haven’t heard of the Cliffs of Étretat, you’ll most definitely recognize them. These white chalk cliffs on the Alabaster coast have been featured in impressionist artworks for decades and more recently in pop culture. Not only is this coastline a great city escape, but you can hike along it to appreciate the cliffs up close. The experience is very similar to walking along the Cliffs of Dover!

READ MORE: Best things to do in Étretat


Bike around Lake Annecy

Another impressive lake in France that hugs the border with Switzerland is Lake Annecy. This also happens to be one of the most beautiful villages in France. One of the best ways to enjoy your day out on this alpine lake is rent bikes. You can spend the day taking a tour of the lake, maybe popping in for a swim or two.


Rent a boat at the Gorges du Verdon

Boaters explore the turquoise waters of Europe's largest canyon

Another beautiful natural wonder in France is the impressive Gorges du Verdon. This is Europe’s largest canyon filled with turquoise blue waters. No matter where you are staying in Provence, I can confirm that the Gorges du Verdon is definitely worth the trip. To make the most of the experience, renting a boat or kayak is an excellent way to spend a day on the water.

PRO TIP: We visited this spot at the end of August where the weather was still perfect but the crowds were much thinner!

READ MORE: How to make the most of your visit to the Gorges du Verdon


Spend a weekend in Alpe d’Huez

If you’re looking for as many adventure activities that you can think of, head to Alpe d’Huez. Normally a ski station in the winter, in the summer it is transformed into a giant playground. You can find zip lining, paragliding, hiking, biking, luges, swimming among some of the other fun activities. You’ll need at least a few days to get the most out of all of the experiences they have to offer here!


For Hidden Gem Seekers:

Look for bargains at the Braderie de Lille

Crowds of people and stalls cover the streets of Lille for the Braderie

There are so many unique festivals and events in France that it deserves its own article, however, I must mention the Braderie de Lille. This event takes place in Lille, in the North of France, during the first weekend of September. ‘Braderie’ translates to flea market. During this weekend-long event, the entire city is transformed into a giant flea market. It is actually the largest and oldest in Europe!

During this weekend, around 10,000 stalls are opened and 2.5 million visitors attend. So yes it is a popular time to visit Lille, but also one of the most exciting and authentic events to experience in France!

READ MORE: 7 things you need to know about the Braderie de Lille


Walk the red streets of Roussillon

A girl smiles facing the camera with a beautiful orange building behind her - one of the many in Roussillon

This is one of the most unique towns I stumbled across on all of my years exploring France. The town of Roussillon was built on ochre deposit, which means that everything in the town is varying shades of red. Although the town isn’t huge, it is definitely unique and is well worth the visit. You can even spend the afternoon hiking along the Sentiers des Ochres also known as the Ochre trail. You can find this spot and many other picturesque villages in Provence in the our itinerary below! 👇🏻

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 10 days in Provence itinerary


Take a side-car tour of Paris

A couple sitting in a side car with the Seine river and the Eiffel tower behind them

After having visited Paris almost 10 times, I can tell you that this tour of Paris we took last autumn was one of the most memorable experiences on my France bucket list. They personalize the tour for depending on what you’d like to see on your tour. Our guide was pointing out personal recommendations of places to eat or museums to visit all along our route. It was such fun and unique experience that I’m confident anyone would enjoy! It really is an exciting and original way to explore the city!

Find the exact tour we took here 👇🏻

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Visit medieval villages

3 beautiful medieval villages in different regions in France.

There are many medieval, picturesque villages to discover in France. I highly recommend escaping the cities in France and venturing into the smaller towns. This is where you truly experience French culture in a more authentic way. You will feel like you’ve stepped back in time or walked straight into a fairytale.

Here are some of my medieval favourite villages I’ve discovered in France:

🏰 Carcassonne

🍷 St. Émilion

🥨 Colmar

🌊 Dinan

🏰 Les Baux de Provence

☀️ Èze

⛰️ Gordes


Stop by France’s largest buffet

(left) a cook in the process of cooking a crepe (centre) a luxurious dining room equipped with chandeliers and red velvet decorations (right) rows and rows of cheese from the largest collection of cheese in a restaurant in the world

This last recommendation is a fun one. In the southeast corner of France, you can find France’s largest buffet called Les Grands Buffet! It is one of the most popular restaurants in France and reservations are often made months in advance. But inside, you will find the most impressive collection of food you’ll set your eyes on! You can find French delicacies, seafood, salads, meats, and desserts in the most beautiful dining room.

Fun Fact: Les Grands Buffets offers the largest selection of cheese in a restaurant in the world!

You can make your reservation on their website here!


How long is your France bucket list now?

France bucket list experiences you need to try

As I said, this is only a small taste of some of the amazing experiences I’ve discovered after my many years exploring France. If this is your first visit to France, I hope you’ve found some of the most iconic experiences to prioritize during your visit. Or if you’re returning to France, I hope you’ve discovered something new to add to your bucket list.

Either way, my ultimate goal is to help people discover all that this amazing country has to offer! If you need more help with your trip planning to France, check out my travel planning services! I offer consultation calls, custom travel guides, and personalized itineraries! Let’s make your visit to France as memorable as possible!

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Caity Zagar

Travel Planner & Blogger

Welcome to CZ Phones Home! I’m here to help make your travels easier by giving you tips, advice and inspiration to make your trips memorable!

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