Ah, Paris je t’aime. The French city of love and light may have a ton to offer travelers (yes, even beyond Eiffel Tower selfies and shopping the Champs-Élysées), but there's so much more to explore throughout the country. From glorious seaside getaways to ancient fort cities, here we reveal seven of the most unmissable cities outside the iconic capital. Prepare your tastebuds and iPhone storage...
This gritty port city in the south has been reaaally overlooked in the past but totally found a new lease of life since being crowned the European Capital of Culture in 2013. Going out in Paris may be fun, but every local knows it’s the capital’s feistier, younger sister who parties hardest. Start off with cocktails at the oceanfront Café de la Plage or listen to live jazz in Le Pelle Mêle before mingling with locals to see where the party’s at. Just don’t let the hangover defeat you because there’s loads to do during the day too. While the Vieux Port (old port) and pretty old streets deserve snapping pics for hours, the nearby islands are the city's hidden Mediterranean treasure. To see the best of them, take a boat trip to the crazy clear waters of Calanques National Park.
While Saint-Malo is a historic walled city in the country's northwest, it's the scenery outside it that you'll be Instagramming. The two-mile-long beach is a favorite for serious wind surfing and sand yachting (yep, it's a thing), while the port itself is pretty cool – home to some of the highest tides in Europe. There's also comfort food galore nearby, AKA Maison du Beurre Bordier, the holy grail for all cheese fiends. The local region of Brittany is known for its galettes (flat cakes), so get in on the action at a traditional crêperie like Crêperie Le Tournesol or Breizh Café. Then walk it off through the city's ramparts – it's so pretty you won't even feel like resorting to Uber.
Au revoir diet, because gluttony is 100 percent on the menu with any trip to Lyon. Known for its rich cooking and home to some of the world’s top chefs, this historic town in the Rhône-Alpes region is arguably the foodie capital of France. Order hearty sausage dishes in a traditional bouchon (a traditional Lyonnais resto) and you'll be rewarded with the happiest food coma of your life. Then check out Café la Fourmilière or La Cave d’à Côté for wine from the nearby Beaujolais or Burgundy vineyards. Feeling guilty after all that indulgence? Fair play. Burn off some calories by walking up the Fourvière hill for a panoramic view of the city or wander through some of Lyon’s famous traboule passageways (secret alleyways and staircases, FYI). Then reward yourself with a bright pink tarte aux pralines at À la Marquise. Mmm.
As we know, the French Riviera is all about old-school glamor and year-round sunshine, but Nice’s cool mix of grit and opulence makes it the queen of the Côte d’Azur. Plus, the southern city’s trademark pebble beaches means no sand getting into absolutely everywhere. Feel like a local by visiting the lively Cours Saleya market, which overflows with fresh fruit and flowers, then browse the famous Promenade des Anglais (you can rent scooters!). In your downtime try out the strangely addictive spa treatment called ‘chococooning’. Yes, it literally means being cocooned in ganache and melted chocolate. One for the Snapchat, if your hands aren't already smothered.
With twisting old alleyways lined with crooked half-timbered houses, it’s hard to believe Strasbourg is an actual, functioning city. Sitting in the northeastern Alsace region near the German border, it's super dooper cutesy. Even sweeter is the Christmas market, filled with mulled wine and gingerbread, making for a dreamy winter wonderland. Have a traditional meal in a cozy winstub (Alsatian tavern) by the pretty canals – Chez Yvonne or Winstub Meiselocker are local faves. The fondue at Cloche à Fromage is also totally worth spending the next three months on the treadmill.
Aix-en-Provence's leafy boulevards and quaint public squares are the inspo behind Paul Cézanne's paintings (fittingly, the city is also home to his studio). It's all ultra walkable, and perfect for sipping coffee and people watching on the terrace of Les Deux Garçons, a famous intellectual hangout. Weave your way through the old town streets, where you'll find the chicest gift shops (for all your fomo-filled pals) and cutesy flower-shaped gelato at Amorino. For a lavish stay in Marie Antoinette-inspired surroundings, stay at Villa Gallici, but if you just want a day trip, Marseille is only 45 mins away by train. Last tip: visit between June and August for the blooming lavender fields. Though it sounds like something your mom might drag you to, it's genuinely SO pretty.
If your idea of a glorious weekend away is hopping from wine bar to wine bar (erm, whose isn't?), Bordeaux is the city for you. Where else would you find a whole museum devoted to wine? La Cité du Vin covers everything from grape varieties to vine cultivation – tasters included, obvs. The capital of wine is home to 120,000 hectares of vineyards (that’s a lot of grapes) and produces around 70 million bottles a year (that’s a lot of hangovers). Start your wine bar crawl at Le Verre Ô Vin in the city’s ancient wine district, before staggering to super chic Le Bois dit Vin. Booze aside, half the city is UNESCO-listed (read: really, really pretty and old), and there's a massive fun student population, while the food trucks are next level.