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Things to Do in France

Chic. Sophisticated. Iconic. France’s cultural identity is prominent across the globe. Paris, known affectionately as the City of Lights, tops every list of romantic destinations yet offers something for every type of traveler, from dinner shows at the Moulin Rouge to world-renowned art at the Louvre Museum and Gothic architecture at Notre Dame Cathedral. In Versailles, the colossal palace exudes grandeur; fine wines beg to be quaffed in Bordeaux and Champagne; and war history enshrouds the battlefields of Normandy and the Somme. Gastronomes will find nirvana in France, where freshly baked baguettes, cheese, casseroles, and delicacies such as snails and frogs’ legs are staples on most menus.
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Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baionnettes)
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The Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baionnettes) is a World War I memorial situated north of the Douaumont Ossuary. It pays homage to the Bayonet Trench soldiers who are thought to have been buried alive during an enemy bombardment on June 12th, 1916. According to the myth, in 1919, Colonel Collet, Commander of the 137 I.R., returned to the location where his unit had fought in 1916 only to find a dozen rifles still sticking out of the ground, some with their bayonets still intact, with a dead French soldier under each rifle. He built a small memorial on the site to honor the memory of his colleagues. The press picked up the story, which immediately captured the public’s imagination. The story, however moving, is believed to not be entirely historically accurate. Experts believe that survivors who wanted to memorialize the place where the attack occurred probably installed the bayonets and the rifles themselves after the bombardment.

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Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles)
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Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles takes the award for the most visited château in France, and the magnificent Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles) are world renowned. A series of beautifully landscaped gardens, show-stopping fountains, and tree-lined pathways covering 800 hectares (1,976 acres), the gardens center on the cross-shaped Grand Canal.

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La Rochelle Towers (Tours de La Rochelle)
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The trio of medieval watchtowers that stand guard over La Rochelle’s Old Port (Vieux Port) are the last vestige of the city’s 12th-century sea walls. Protected as a national monument, the La Rochelle Towers (Tours de La Rochelle) are among the city’s most photographed landmarks.

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Eiffel Tower
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The Eiffel Tower isn't just a symbol of Paris but a symbol for all of France. Erected by Gustave Eiffel to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution in 1889, the 1,050-foot (320-meter) tower once held the title of the world's tallest structure. Despite having been dwarfed by Dubai's Burj Khalifa and The Shard in London, the Eiffel Tower remains one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. View the architectural icon from afar, or stop in at the three observation levels for stellar city views.

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Lake Annecy (Lac d'Annecy)
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Surrounded by the dramatic heights of Massif des Bauges Natural Park, Lake Annecy appeals to leisure travelers and watersport enthusiasts with its clear, turquoise waters,. On its shores, the lush Jardins de l’Europe and Annecy's historic Old Town add to the postcard-worthy scenery.

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Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon)
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At the foot of Fourviére Hill, the historical streets of Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon) offer a welcome change of pace from the modern city across the river. With elegant medieval churches, Renaissance-era monuments, and pastel-painted facades, this is Lyon’s most atmospheric district.

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Colmar Old Town (Vieux Colmar)
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The self-proclaimed capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar is an undeniable highlight of the famous Alsace Wine Route and renowned for its beautifully preserved medieval center. Colmar Old Town (Vieux Colmar) is postcard-worthy from all angles, with its half-timbered buildings painted in a rainbow of colors, fishing boats bobbing along the flower-lined canal ways and maze of cobblestone lanes dotted with small cafés and artisan shops.

Colmar Old Town's compact center makes it feel more like a village than a town, and the main sights can be easily explored on foot, including architectural gems like the dramatic Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads), the 16th-century wooden Maison Pfister (Pfister House) and the pink sandstone St Martin Church. Additional highlights of Colmar include Mathias Grünewald’s 16th-century Issenheim Altarpiece, on show at the Unterlinden Museum; the Bartholdi museum, dedicated to the Colmar-born architect (best known for designing the Statue of Liberty); and the aptly-named La Petite Venise (Little Venice), where visitors can enjoy a boat tour around the scenic canal ways.

The most atmospheric times to visit Colmar are during the Foire aux Vins wine festival held each summer or during the annual Christmas market when the entire town comes alive with festivities.

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Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques)
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As Europe's only protected park to contain land, water, and semi-urban areas, Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques) is a mecca for outdoor adventurers. Whether you want to snorkel and sail, kayak and climb, or hike and watch out for wildlife, France's answer to the Garden of Eden has it all.

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Aiguille du Midi Cable Car
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Soaring up the rocky peak of Aiguille du Midi at 12,605 feet (3,842 meters), the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car is one of the highest in Europe. Setting out from Chamonix, the cable car has two stages, culminating in an elevator ride to the summit with spectacular views over Mont Blanc and the surrounding French and Swiss Alps.

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Reims Cathedral of Notre Dame (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims)
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One of France’s greatest Gothic masterpieces, the Reims Cathedral dates to the 13th century and is hallowed as the coronation site of many French kings. The UNESCO-listed landmark—recognizable for its twin bell towers and rose stained-glass window—was shelled during World War I but has since been restored to its former glory.

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More Things to Do in France

Machines of the Isle (Les Machines de L'ile)

Machines of the Isle (Les Machines de L'ile)

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Whether you’re climbing aboard a life-size mechanical elephant, riding on a carousel of fantastical sea creatures, or operating a flying machine, a visit to Les Machines de L'île is probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Inspired by the creations of novelist Jules Verne, Nantes’ flagship attraction is fun for all ages.

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River Seine

River Seine

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The lifeblood of Paris, the River Seine plays many roles in the city: It separates the Right Bank from the Left Bank, acting as a dividing line between Paris’ historically sophisticated and bohemian halves; it provides transportation via riverboat and plenty of opportunity for romantic strolls; and its riverbanks are a UNESCO World Heritage Site lined with the city’s top landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Musée d’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Louvre.

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Promenade des Anglais

Promenade des Anglais

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A stylish walkway monopolizing four miles (six kilometers) along the Bay of Angels, the Walk of the English (Promenade des Anglais or La Prom) is a Nice icon offering stunning views, enticing pit stops, and the best people-watching in the city. Grab your bike, skates, or shoes—and don’t forget your swimsuit—for a sunny afternoon in Nice.

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Île Sainte-Marguerite

Île Sainte-Marguerite

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A 20-minute ferry ride across the waters of the Mediterranean Sea transports travelers from the high-class commotion of Cannes to the tranquil Île Sainte-Marguerite, a small island with more pine trees than people. Bring your walking shoes and your love for the great outdoors for the perfect day trip away from it all.

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Louvre

Louvre

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Primarily associated with the steady gaze of Leonardo Da Vinci's famousMona Lisa, Paris' Louvre museum is home to a 35,000-strong collection of paintings and sculptures considered one of the greatest in the world. The contemporary glass Louvre Pyramid heralds the museum's entrance, which millions of tourists flock to every year to feast their eyes on masterpieces that span from antiquity to the 20th century.

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Walt Disney Studios® Park

Walt Disney Studios® Park

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Most visitors to Disneyland® Paris—Europe’s biggest theme park—make a beeline for the Disneyland®Park, but the adjoining Walt Disney Studios® Park offers even more shows, rides, and Disney®-themed fun, especially for movie fans. Designed like a Hollywood movie studio, the park has four distinct areas—Front Lot, Toon Studios, Production Courtyard, and Backlot.

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Picasso Museum (Musée Picasso)

Picasso Museum (Musée Picasso)

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One of the cultural highlights of the French Riviera, the Picasso Museum (Musée Picasso) is located in the heart of Antibes, between Cannes and Nice. Housed in the 14th-century Grimaldi Castle—where Picasso lived in 1946—the museum exhibits several hundred works by the modernist master.

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Lille Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille)

Lille Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille)

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Notre Dame de la Treille Cathedral in Lille is a Roman Catholic church that took almost 150 years to complete. The building is known for its modern stained glass panels and impressive organ.

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Annecy Castle (Chateau d'Annecy)

Annecy Castle (Chateau d'Annecy)

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Soaring dramatically over Annecy’s intact Old Town and set atop a rocky promontory, the Annecy Castle (Chateau d'Annecy) is a fine display of Savoyard defensive architecture as it was the princely residence of the Counts of Geneva between the 13th and 17th centuries; it was later on abandoned and served a military barracks until the end of World War II. Imagine yourself as a brave 14th century knight and try to identify the primitive keep, the gates, and the cellar rooms. Like many other fortresses elsewhere in Europe, the castle was considerably extended and given several upgrades throughout the centuries, both in terms of style and defensive purposes. The furniture, artworks, and accessories nowadays found inside the otherwise bare yet fascinating exhibition area are testament to these changes, and perfectly complemented by sections on contemporary Savoyard art and Lake Annecy’s eventful history.

Most visitors like to enjoy an excursion to Annecy as a half-day tour from close by Geneva, where they can dwelve in the city’s rich history and wander its colorful canal-side streets. Another option would be to hop on a full day tour of both Geneva and Annecy, which includes a scenic cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva.

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Lille Town Hall and Belfry (Beffroi de l'Hôtel de Ville de Lille)

Lille Town Hall and Belfry (Beffroi de l'Hôtel de Ville de Lille)

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As the highest municipal building of France at 104 meters high, the Lille belfry, attached to the town hall (Beffroi de l'Hôtel de Ville de Lille), is certainly a must when in the north of France. Both the belfry and town hall are reminiscent of Flemish architecture with their typical triangular gables and red bricks – understandably, so, considering the border to Belgium is just a few kilometers away. The belfry was built in 1932 as part of the reconstruction of the town hall, which was, unfortunately, torn to pieces during the First World War. And although it is not in use anymore, the belfry contains a headlight that was once used to inform the population of imminent municipal gatherings. Because of how it dominates the city, the belfry offers unobstructed and unparalleled 360-degree views of Lille, and even surrounding areas on clear days. The city hall and its belfry have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005.

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Château Margaux

Château Margaux

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Found in the sandy flatlands of the Médoc region in southwest France, Château Margaux is today known for producing some of the finest – and most expensive – Premier Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux wines in the world. Unusually for Bordeaux, the Margaux estate produces whites as well as rich, spicy world-renowned reds, and sells around 30,000 cases per year. All Margaux wines are produced organically and the average age of the vines is 36 years old, forming from a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc grapes.

Although wines have been produced on the estate since the 1580s, it was confiscated from its aristocratic owners in the French Revolution of 1789–99 and its fortunes were only revived with the advent of the Marquis de la Colonilla in 1810. He built the elegant Palladian mansion, to a design by Louis Combes, which still stands at the heart of the estate; since 1977 it has been the home of the Mentzelopoulos family, who are credited with restoring the reputation of Margaux wines and consistently improving their quality. In 2010 an upgrade of the cellars was undertaken by British mega-architect Lord Norman Foster; a new cooperage, visitor center and tasting rooms were added at the same time.

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Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces)

Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces)

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The opulence of the Palace of Versailles reaches its peak in the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces)—a 240-foot-long (73-meter-long) ballroom with 357 mirrors adorning 17 huge arches on one side and 17 arcaded windows overlooking the formal gardens on the other. It was also the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended World War I.

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Bellecour Square (Place Bellecour)

Bellecour Square (Place Bellecour)

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At the heart of Lyon is Bellecour Square—more commonly known as Place Bellecour—an enormous, unbroken brick expanse (the third largest square in France) sprawled between theSaône and the Rhône Rivers. These are echoed by two sculptures, named for the waterways, that flank a famed statue of Louis the X1V, on horseback.

The Sun King, in 1708, took this former vineyard, army barracks, and private gardens, and developed it into a public square. His architects framed the space with elegant facades, and it has since hosted public events and, more recently, an iconic Ferris wheel.

The shadeless plaza is surrounded by excellent eateries and cool cafés - Lyon is, after all, the Gastronomic Capital of France - w here you'll find respite on steamy summer afternoons.

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Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

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As one of Normandy’s D-Day landing beaches, Omaha Beach was the backdrop to one of the most significant events of World War II, immortalized in the movieSaving Private Ryan and forever etched into history. Today, visitors to Omaha Beach can follow in the footsteps of the Allied soldiers and pay their respects at the American Cemetery.

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