Planning a trip to France is very exciting. There are so many things to do in the country, so deciding where to go can be a challenge. Do you stay in South France, travel to northern France, or do you have time to see both? Paris is a great city to visit, but there is a lot more to see in the north. Most people are flying there, but if you are coming from another European country the train is another great option to get to France. Here are seven must-see places to visit in northern France written by other travel bloggers based on their experiences there.
Chateau de Chantilly
Written by Anna Liddell. Follow her on Facebook.
Forget the crowds of Versailles and head to quiet Chantilly instead for your family holidays in France. The palace of Chantilly is located just a train ride away to the north of Paris. From Gare du Nord it is just 25 minutes on the TER and costs around 6 euros (2018). Escape the city of Paris and breathe in the fresh country air of Chantilly, one of the best places to visit in northern France. Surrounded by the vast Chantilly forest, the small town is famous for the Chantilly Racecourse and, more importantly, its gorgeous Chateau.
Chateau de Chantilly is an incredible palace, full of lavish interiors, floating upon a lake, set within beautiful gardens. Explore the romantic English gardens, especially the Island of Love. This wonderfully named island used to host garden parties. The Princes of Conde, who lived at Chantilly would invite the gentry during the summer to enjoy the splendor of the island of love. Also make sure you stroll over to the sweet little Hameau at Chantilly, full of quaint cottages, which became the inspiration for Marie Antoinette’s hamlet at Versailles.
After exploring the gardens head inside the spectacular chateau. The interior of Chantilly is lovely. Arguably less impressive than that of Versailles, yet the main draw is that you may wonder at your own pace. There are no crowds to battle through and you may linger for as long as you desire. This also makes it much easier to get those Instagram-worthy photos.
Finally, admire the spectacular reflection of the exterior upon the deep blue lake. Chantilly is truly magnificent.
Chateau de Chantilly is one of Paris’ best-kept secrets as it does not receive the hordes of tourists that Versailles does. Choose a sunny day, pack a picnic, hop on the train, and head to one of France’s prettiest Chateaus.
Read more about Chateau de Chantilly here.
Written by Kate Storm. Follow her on Instagram
As the capital of the Alsace region in northeastern France, beautiful Strasbourg is a fantastic French destination for city slickers and nature lovers alike.
Known for its beautiful architecture (including the La Petite France neighborhood, which boasts dozens of half-timbered buildings), many canals, and unique culture that combines French and German language, food, architecture, and beyond, Strasbourg is a city like no other.
While you’re in Strasbourg, be sure to take a boat ride through the canals, to indulge in plenty of Alsatian food at a traditional winstub (think of an old-fashioned German pub that meets a classic French country restaurant), to visit the rooftop of the Strasbourg Cathedral to take in views over the idyllic city, and to stop into a museum or two to learn the history of this region that has been volleyed back and forth between French and German control.
Getting outside of Strasbourg on day trips holds a whole realm of possibilities as well–the Alsace wine route will have any wine lover excited by the plentiful tastings, the gorgeous mountains are a hikers paradise, the nearby picturesque villages like Colmar and Riquewehir will have photographers enraptured, and for those who want bragging rights, you can even take a quick bike ride to Germany from Strasbourg! Strasbourg is a must-see place to visit when you travel to France.
Read more about Strasbourg here.
Étretat – Normandy, France
Written by Katy Clarke. Follow her on Instagram.
The northern coastline of France has many treasures. Étretat in Normandy is one of these. If you love nature and beautiful landscapes then head to this small town for some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Étretat is a seaside town that sits among the white cliffs that characterize the coastline of northern France. From the town, you can see dramatic rock formations formed by the erosion of the cliffs over thousands of years. L’Aiguille (the Needle) is a pillar rising up from the sea near the other major sight – the Porte d’Aval arch.
The best vantage point to see the formation is from the clifftops and the perfectly placed Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde. You can hike from the town or take the tourist train up the hill. Once you have taken in the views of the English Channel and the coastline, walk back into town. Étretat has many half-timbered buildings typical of Normandy. The most famous of these is the Vieux Marché (old market hall). Close by there are many restaurants specializing in local cuisine. Try the moules frites with cider made from apples found in the nearby orchards. Etretat needs to be on your list of places to see when you visit France.
Read more about Normandy here.
Promenade Plantée, Paris
Written by Iulia Falcutescu. Follow her on Facebook
One of Paris’ hidden gems, the Promenade plantée, is becoming more and more known for travelers. It should be on your list of places to visit in northern France. The promenade is a 4.5 km long elevated linear park, built on top of obsolete railway infrastructure in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, France. It was inaugurated in 1993 and it stretches between Bastille and Bois de Vincennes neighborhoods.
The parkway, as it is officially called by the architects, is literally a breath of fresh air in the middle of a busy city. The creators wanted to return a bit of Paris to its inhabitants. That is why the locals prefer to walk down this parkway, to reach their destinations than on the sidewalk below it. Some even prefer to jog down the parkway, because of the better air quality.
What is truly interesting, is the way the parkway blended into the neighborhood – in some parts, in such a way that it was actually impressive. It cuts through buildings, ascends, and descends, following the lines of the old railway. At one point even, it goes below street level towards the east, passing through several tunnels.
For the more cinephile travelers, one has to know that the parkway was featured in the 2004 movie, “Before Sunset”, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Despite this, it is still not yet conquered by tourists, which makes it a very desirable location for those who want to experience the beauty of Paris.
The parkway is open to the public, without an entrance fee, however, it is closed during the night.
Read more on The Best Arrondissement In Paris here.
Written by Elisa. Follow her on Facebook.
Nantes, located in the Pays de la Loire Region in France, is a very cool city with lots of things to see and do. For many centuries Nantes was the capital city of Brittany, where the dukes of Brittany lived. The Duchess Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) is still a much-loved character in the city and you can see her sculpture and visit the castle where she lived.
Nantes is crossed by the river Loire and during many centuries the city was known for its shipbuilding activities. The shipyards were located on an isle in the middle of the river and its frenetic activity turned Nantes into a very wealthy city. The last shipyard closed in the eighties and the Isle of Nantes and the banks along the river were converted into public spaces, great for a Sunday stroll or drinks with friends at night.
Today the Isle of Nantes is occupied by quirky machines known as Machines of the Isle of Nantes. These machines are built in one of the former shipyards on the island by a company of artists and machinists named La Machine. There are machines everywhere on the Isle, but the most famous ones are the Giant Elephant and the Carousel of the Sea Worlds which was voted in 2014 the most original attraction in the world.
Apart from the machines, there is a lot of interesting urban art around the city, and you will definitely love wandering around its commercial streets and beautiful main squares for some shopping or a cafe. Nantes is also the city where Jules Verne was born and visiting his little museum is a must. It needs to be on your list of places to visit in northern France.
St. Malo, France
Written by Johnathan. Follow him on Instagram.
Located in the northwestern corner of France around Brittany and Normandy, the coastal city of St. Malo is in a prime location for visitors. It is definitely one of the best places to visit in northern France. Ideal for a long weekend getaway thanks to the direct ferries from the UK but also an excellent point for a longer trip to France and the rest of Europe.
On a fine and clear day at low tide, a stroll along the beach is very refreshing. It is a great way to gather your thoughts and clear your mind, feeling in the moment. Likewise, doing a full circle of the old city walls is a great insight into history. It is quite contemplative to see the city from two sides here. Looking inside at the granite-walled buildings of the old town and also looking out to sea. You may also see the small islets of the Grand Bé and Petit Bé. Between June 1st and September 30th, you can visit Fort National as long as the tide is low. For centuries it was a defense against invasions, and today you can see where the old armory was stored.
St. Malo is also a great family destination too. The Grand Aquarium, one of the largest in France and maybe even Europe too, delights visitors of all ages with around 11,000 marine animals to see. The beach is perfect for building sandcastles too. The old town charm mixed in to makes it a perfect combination for the perfect city sur la plage.
Read more from Johnathan on his blog here.
Written by Carolyn. Follow her on Facebook.
With a cluster of narrow, slate-roofed buildings lining a small harbor, Honfleur is one of the most loved and most-photographed of France’s seaside towns.
Aside from its aesthetic charm, visitors flock to Honfleur for its delicious seaside. The town is built at the junction of the River Seine and the English Channel and fishing have long been a source of income for the townsfolk. Today, visitors can reap the rewards of their daily fishing expeditions with the freshest seafood, including a local favorite, Moules (mussels).
Honfleur’s attractive architecture isn’t confined just to the harbourside, with pretty half-timbered buildings lining the town’s narrow, cobbled streets. Former artists’ studios and fisherman’s cottages, many now serve as B&Bs or shops.
In the center of town, the timber-framed St. Catherine’s Church, which dates back to the 15th-century, resembles an upturned boat. It is France’s largest wooden church with a separate bell town and is one of Honfleur’s major attractions. With such a picturesque setting, it’s no wonder that artists were drawn to Honfleur during the Impressionist period. Eugene Boudin and Claude Monet, amongst others, visited Normandy town to paint the idyllic seaside scenes.
Just a two-hour drive from Paris, Honfleur is a popular destination for weekend getaways and if you visit on a summer weekend, the streets and harbor are packed with tourists. A busy market centered around St. Catherine’s Church is held every Saturday morning. Browse the many galleries, museums, artisan boutiques, cafes, and shops. Then enjoy some seafood or a drink alongside the pretty harbor.
I hope this helps you with planning your visit to France. Read about my stay at A Room In Paris B&B. It is a fantastic Bed and Breakfast in Paris. If you are planning to visit southern France, check out the 10 Must-See Places To Visit In Southern France.
Get a customized activity plan for your trip: