France implores the thought of incredible desserts, from its decadent chocolate mousse and buttery croissants to the heartwarming romance that floats through the country. However, this is not the only thing the country has, as its magnificent landmarks go above and beyond anything else.
Europe draws millions of visitors worldwide each year, thanks to its delicious cuisine, high fashion, vibrant culture, and many famous landmarks to visit.
Undoubtedly, the country’s heart is Paris, home to world-class architecture, museums, and nightlife. However, outside the capital, you’ll find an array of small towns, castles, famous landmarks and other incredible attractions that duly belong on your bucket list, too.
Walk through the French streets and feel awed by the spectacular architecture. From the artificial structures of Mont Saint-Micheals to lateral marvels such as Pont du Gard and Mont Blanc, let’s visit some of France‘s most incredible landmarks.
37 Landmarks in France
Table of Contents
- 37 Landmarks in France
- Landmarks in Paris
- 1. The Eiffel Tower
- 2. Le Louvre
- 3. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
- 4. Arc de Triomphe
- 5. Pont Neuf
- 6. Pont Alexandre IIIl
- 7. Le Centre de Pompidou
- 8. Place de La Concorde
- 9. Sacré-Cœur Basilica In Montmartre
- Landmarks in France Outside Paris
- 10. The Palace of Versailles
- 11. Château de Chenonceau
- 12. Mont Saint-Michel
- 13. Pont du Gard
- 14. Mont Blanc
- 15. Viaduc de Garabit
- 16. Viaduc de Millau
- 17. Palace of the Popes – Avignon, France
- 18. Chateaux de Fontainebleau – France
- 19. Chateau de Chambord – Loire Valley, France
- 20. Saint Farbeau Castle France
- 21. Carcassone Castle
- 22. Abbey of Fontenay
- 23. Omaha Beach
- 24. Lavender Fields
- 25. Lac du Salagou
- 26. Strasbourg Cathedral
- 27. Camargue Salt Flats
- 28. Pont d’Avignon
- 29. Pont Valentré
- 30. Briare Aqueduct
- 31. Bordeaux Cathedral
- 32. La Rochelle Harbour
- 33. Cite du Vin, Bordeaux
- 34. Rouen Cathedral
- 35. Jumieges Abbey
- 36. Bayeux Cathedral
- 37. Palais de L’ile
- A Footnote: Landmarks in France
Landmarks in Paris
1. The Eiffel Tower
Kicking off the top French landmarks list is undeniably the most iconic structure in France and the by far, the most photographed, the Eiffel Tower. Standing in sheer wonder, the incredible edifice nestled in Champ de Mars’s centre is the tallest structure in Paris. It stands 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall.
Built between 1887 and 1889 by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower is made of iron rather than steel. It was built to be one of the main attractions at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889.
Parisians quickly fell in love with The Eiffel Tower and more than 2 million visited in the first year that it was open. The tower symbolised French know-how and industrial genius.
Today nearly seven million people visit The Eiffel Tower every year. The top of the Eiffel Tower which can be visited is at 276 metres. The other key viewpoint is on what is called the second floor which is at 116 metres.
I highly suggest you take an Eiffel Tower summit tour and climb to the very top; there, you’ll be welcomed with panoramic views of the capital. Though the tower is impressive at any time, it becomes magical at night as its lights twinkle and oozes with romance.
Ticket prices vary depending on how high you want to go and how you want to get there – stairs or lift. It is possible to take a lift all the way to the top (with the option to stop at the second floor) or to walk up to the second floor and then get a lift to the top.
July and August are the busiest times of year to visit The Eiffel Tower but it is usually quite busy all year round. It is possible to book tickets two months in advance of your visit. I would highly recommend booking a skip the queue ticket for the Eiffel Tower ahead of your visit to Paris.
Psst…Though its incredible structure is one to boot, tons of other magnificent landmarks in Europe are also must-sees.
2. Le Louvre
When you’re in Paris, you’ll certainly not want to miss attending the most visited museum in the world: The Louvre Museum. It first opened in 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, and today, it houses around 38,000 historic objects.
This iconic structure is the world’s largest art museum and is famously known for housing Mona Lisa. The original of this famous painting hangs in the Louvre today and has been since 1804.
Apart from Leonardo Da Vinci’s jaw-dropping painting, you’ll find plenty of other interesting antiques in this mega museum and symbol of Paris.
From Oriental, Egyptian, Roman & Etruscan antiques to the Greek antique section. Aside from antiques and famous paintings, the museum also houses impressive sculptures like the ‘Venus de Milo’.
IM Pei’s iconic glass pyramid was completed in 1989, adding another element to this Parisian landmark.
The Louvre Museum receives over 15,000 visitors per day, so I highly suggest booking a skip the line tour to get your spot in this iconic space. Tickets purchased online ahead of time are slightly more expensive than those purchased at the museum. However, you will be given a timed entry ticket and will not have to queue which I think is worth the extra.
In 2019, the Louvre was the most visited museum in the world receiving over 9.6 million guests.
3. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris was initially erected in the 14th-century to honour the Virgin Mary. The French Gothic cathedral is located in the heart of Paris on Île de la Cité island in the middle of Seine and is considered one of the most famous and beautiful in the world.
Notre Dame’s full name is Notre Dame de Paris. This means Our Lady of Paris.
With its grand facade and equally awe-inspiring interior, Notre Dame was certainly built to impress. From its noble church bells, marvellous sculptures, bell tower, stained glass windows to one of the world’s largest music organs.
Notre Dame was damaged during the French Revolution in the 1790s. But it was Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame that really drove interest in the cathedral.
In April 2019, Notre Dame caught fire whilst it was being restored. Serious damage was done, but restoration plans began quickly. The aim is for Notre Dame to be restored to all of its glory for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit the inside of Notre Dame Cathedral during this restoration work. However, it is, of course, possible to come and see this stunning building.
4. Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end of the Champs-Elysee in Place Charles de Gaulle and the middle of one of the scariest roundabouts in the world.
This famous European landmark is a tribute to those who died fighting for France in the Napoleonic and Revolutionary Wars. The names of all French victories and the generals are inscribed on the arc. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War 1 lies underneath the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon. However, it was not completed until 1836. By this time, Napoleon had been banished to Elba. He was never able to see the Arc de Triomphe but his remains passed through it on the way to Les Invalides.
Every year the Bastille Day parade on July 14 starts at this triumphal Arch and the Tour de France also finishes here.
5. Pont Neuf
Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge that runs over the Seine River in Paris. The first stone of the bridge was laid by Henry III in 1578. However, it wasn’t until 1604 that it was open to traffic, and not until 1607 that it was inaugurated by Henry IV.
Like most bridges built during that time, it followed Roman precedents. It was constructed as a series of short arch bridges and made using stone. Over the years, it has gone through many repairs and renovations, including a major restoration project that took place from 1994 to 2007.
An equestrian statue of Henri IV stands proudly on the bridge. It was commissioned by his widow, Marie de Médicis, after his assassination. During the French Revolution, the statue was destroyed. However, it was replaced in 1818.
⇒ Book a Paris Illuminations River Cruise
6. Pont Alexandre IIIl
Pont Alexandre III is a deck arch bridge that’s widely viewed as the most ornamented and grand bridge in Paris. It crosses the Seine River and connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.
It was named after Tsar Alexander III to celebrate and honour the diplomatic relationship between France and Russia at the time. Although, it was Alexander’s son, Nicholas II, who laid the first stone for the bridge in 1896.
Pont Alexandre III was built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900. It features an array of masterful and unique sculptures, including cherubs, nymphs, winged horses, and Art Nouveau lamps. It’s also one of the best spots to watch the sunrise in Paris.
7. Le Centre de Pompidou
Opened in 1977, Le Centre de Pompidou is a modern art museum with over 100,000 works of art. When it opened, its high-tech architecture was very cutting-edge. The center is located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris near Les Halles and it is the largest museum for modern art in Europe.
The building was named after ex-French President Georges Pompidou. The building covers 5 acres and has seven floors. The design is based on the “open approach” to architecture. Nearly 15,000 tons of steel lattices went into this modern art museum, as well as glass facades and metal frames.
The result is a building that almost looks like it is inside out. The pipes, cables, plumbing and all the other “internals” are external and colourful.
In addition to art exhibits, the Centre Pompidou also has a public library, a research centre for acoustics and music and more. And don’t miss the fantastic views of Paris from the top of the Pompidou Centre.
The Pompidou Plaza in front of the museum is also known for its street performers and is home to other cultural activities.
8. Place de La Concorde
Located between the Champs Elysee and the Tuileries Gardens, Place de La Concorde is the largest square in Paris. During the French Revolution, the square was renamed for a time the Place de la Revolution. This was where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed.
Between 1836 and 1840 an Egyptian obelisk that was already 3,300 years old was placed in Place de La Concorde. Around this time, two beautiful fountains were added to the square.
Today, Place de La Concorde is the finish line for the Tour de France and also home to the beautiful Hotel Crillon.
9. Sacré-Cœur Basilica In Montmartre
France is home to some of the most exquisite palaces, cathedrals and monuments and the Sacré-Cœur is no exception. Situated on the highest natural point in Paris, giving you sweeping aerial views of the city as it wakes and turns golden.
Climb the stairs up the hill going towards the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Once you are at the top facing the Basilica, turn to the city. This is one of the best places to watch the sunrise in Paris.
From here you can see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. But the most impressive view is that of the horizon turning pink as the sun rises.
Take the opportunity to explore the Montmartre neighborhood where you will find quaint cafes serving delicious coffee and fresh pastries.
Landmarks in France Outside Paris
10. The Palace of Versailles
What once was the official residence of France’s royals – before the French Revolution – is now a jewel of French Baroque architecture and is by far one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe. The Palace of Versailles contains 2,300 rooms of many kinds and is spread over 63,154 m2.
Feast your eyes on the dazzling chandeliers and the painted ceiling in the Hall of Mirrors; it’s truly remarkable. The palace is surrounded by stunning French gardens designed by the famous landscape designer, André Le Notre. You’ll find sculptures, fountains, and water features dotted throughout the area.
With nearly 10 million visitors every year, I highly recommend you book a tour to discover Versailles Palace and Gardens to learn more about this incredible French landmark.
11. Château de Chenonceau
There are more than 300 castles in the Loire Valley, with Château de Chenonceau being one of the most beautiful, nestled on the Cher River. It was initially built in the 15th century and later rebuilt in the 16th century.
Chenonceau is not only incredible for its beautiful castle but also its manicured gardens and canals. There are currently 42 castles listed as UNESCO world heritage sites dotted throughout the Loire Valley; take a full-day tour and explore these fairytale spaces.
Chateau de Chenonceau is located in the Loire Valley in France on the River Cher. Whilst the first mention of the estate was in the 11th century, the current version was built between 1514 and 1522.
The stunning bridge over the River Cher was built between 1556 and 1559. Catherine de Medici took control of this French castle in 1559 and it became her favourite residence. The first-ever display of fireworks in France took place here in 1560.
Chenonceau Castle was taken over by the Germans during World War 2 and bombed by both sides of the war. Its restoration began in 1951.
Today this European castle is open every day of the year – opening and closing times vary with the seasons.
12. Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint Michel is found nestled on a small island beside Normandy‘s coast. This impressive landmark was first erected in 708 and was one of the first monuments first inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979.
From afar, together with the Abbey, it looks like one magnificent medieval structure. However, as you get closer, you’ll find an entire town whose medieval features remain intact.
Although it’s nestled on a rock, this incredible place turns into an island when the tide comes in, making it an even more incredible sight.
A great way to experience this impressive medieval architecture is to climb to the Abbey. You can also walk around the ramparts and explore its only street, Grand-Rue. If you’re coming from Paris, there are some incredible day trips to explore Mont Saint-Michael.
13. Pont du Gard
Image from Skitterphoto on Pixabay
Pont du Gard holds significant historical importance. It was constructed from 40 to 60 AD and is one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in the world. It’s located in southern France, near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard.
The ancient bridge showcases the brilliance of Roman engineering. It contains three tiers of arches and stands 49 metres high.
When it was used for its original purpose, it carried an estimated 40,000 m3 (8,800,000 imp gal) of water per day to nearby homes, fountains, and baths.
It is thought to have been used up until the late 6th century, with some parts possibly used for longer. After the Roman Empire collapsed, the aqueduct was abandoned. However, it remained in use as a toll bridge.
Its upkeep was paid for by levy tolls from travellers crossing the river. Between the 18th and 21st centuries, it went through a series of renovations. Today, it’s one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
14. Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc, also known as White Mountain, is the highest peak in the Alps, reaching a lofty 4,804 meters (15,774 ft) above sea level. The Massif is located between France and Italy and is a must-see for outdoor lovers and nature enthusiasts.
For a gobsmacking scenery, take a cable car up to the top of Mont Blanc, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Alpine range. As well as some popular ski resorts like Chamonix in France and Courmayeur in Italy or less well-known but beautiful Vaujany.
There are also different excursions to uncover spectacular viewpoints of alpine lakes, glaciers, and ice falls. Such as taking the Tramway or embarking on a Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trip, one of the world’s most luxurious trails. And don’t miss the lovely Grenoble, a gateway town to the French Alps.
15. Viaduc de Garabit
Viaduc de Garabit is a railway arch bridge that crosses over the River Truyère, near Ruynes-en-Margeride, France. It was designed by famed French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel, the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The bridge was constructed from 1882 to 1884. It opened in 1885 and was, at the time of its completion, the world’s highest arch bridge. The brilliant red iron bridge is a masterpiece of civil engineering.
It’s so large, it can easily be seen from afar, especially in the evenings during the summer months when it is beautifully illuminated.
16. Viaduc de Millau
The Millau Viaduct is a cable-stayed bridge that stretches 2.4 km across the Tarn River near Millau in Southern France. It has a structural height of 336.4 metres, making it the tallest bridge in the world (as of January 2021).
After three years of construction, it opened to traffic on 16 December 2004. It has been ranked as one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times. It has a thin, slightly curved appearance.
The seven slender masts contain eleven stays (metal cables) between them. This gives the bridge a large yacht-like appearance.
17. Palace of the Popes – Avignon, France
The Palace of the Popes is the world’s largest medieval gothic palace. In 1305, Pope Clement V moved the Papacy from Rome to Avignon to avoid political issues.
This 15,000 square metre palace ended up housing a library and was a meeting point for philosophers, musicians and all sorts of artists. Alas, these days were not to last that long as the papacy returned to Rome in 1403.
Today this rather large palace is a UNESCO site and it is open to the public daily. A ticket covers the frescoes, bedrooms, chapels and more.
18. Chateaux de Fontainebleau – France
Fontainebleau was home to the French Royal Family from 1137 to 1870. Originally a medieval fortress, it was re-designed as a Renaissance palace. Louis XV and Louis XVI would spend autumn at Fontainebleau. After the French Revolution, Napoleon found the palace empty and restored it. He spent his final days before his departure to Elba at Fontainebleau.
Today your Fontainebleau ticket will cover chapels, galleries, guest apartments, Marie Antoinette’s bed, Napoleon’s throne, and much more. And don’t miss the stunning gardens.
Fontainebleau is about 55kms from Paris. Trains leave from Gare de Lyon and only take about 40 minutes.
19. Chateau de Chambord – Loire Valley, France
This stunning palace is the largest of the palaces and castles in France’s Loire Valley. It was commissioned by King Francis I and created by Leonardo da Vinci.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Chambord is definitely a palace as the key reason that King Francis I commissioned the building was to demonstrate his power. Indeed, he only spent 50 days at Chateau de Chambord.
One of the most famous elements of Chambord is the double helix staircase which was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It allowed guests to descend on one side without making eye contact with those guests ascending.
On top of that there are 60 rooms to visit, Salamanders on the ceilings, French gardens and a park as big as Paris! Yes, the park at Chambord is the same size as inner Paris and is the largest enclosed park in Europe.
Chateau de Chambord is open every day all year round, apart from December 25 and January 1. Opening hours are slightly longer in the summer.
20. Saint Farbeau Castle France
This 17 century Renaissance chateau is in Yonne in the Burgundy region of France. Saint Farbeau Castle’s origins can be traced back to the 10th century when it was used as a hunting lodge. The castle was built on the remains of that lodge in the 15th century and it became a royal residence.
In 1809 an English-style garden was added to this castle in France, which is intact to this day and in 1949 it was classified as a Monument Historique. In 1977, Saint Barbeau Castle got new owners who decided to restore it with the help of the local government.
The restored areas of Saint Farbeau Castle, France are open to the public. A highlight is a two hour sound and light show which runs on Friday and Saturday evenings during the summer.
21. Carcassone Castle
When I was in my early 20s backpacking (ugh) around Europe I visited Carcassone Castle and was absolutely blown away by its size and scale.
Carcassone is a fully fortified city in France – it is a walled city – in the South of France 80 kilometres east of Toulouse. It is one of the oldest surviving medieval walled cities in Europe. Only just as it was nearly destroyed in 1849 when fortifications went out of fashion.
This caste in France joined the UNESCO list in 1997. It is possible to visit the walled city at no charge but there is an entry fee for Carcassone Castle.
22. Abbey of Fontenay
Situated on a canal in Burgundy, Abbey de Fontenay is the oldest Cistercian Abbey in Europe. The abbey was founded in 1118 and sits over 1,200 hectares. The Abbey had a mostly peaceful history until it was confiscated during the French Revolution.
Following this the Abbey was converted into a paper mill and then a paper factory. In 1906 the industrial activity ceased and the process of returning the Abbey of Fontenay began to be restored to its former glory.
The site was declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and several movies have been filmed here, including Cyrano de Bergerac. Today the Abbey has a small museum and guided tours run each day between mid-April and mid-November.
23. Omaha Beach
This beach in Normandy is best known for being where some of the most critical battles were fort during the famous Normandy Landings in 1944. The beach was in the American sector and sadly, the number of Allied casualties was very high.
Today Omaha Beach has a war memorial monument and museum. Behind the beach is the American cemetery of Colleville Sur Mer. The nearest town is Bayeux which has further information on the battle, including a war museum.
Buses run infrequently to Omaha Beach. It is best to visit via a tour or to have your own car. I can highly recommend visiting Normandy and Omaha Beach as well as the other sites in the region related to the famous Normandy Landings of D Day.
24. Lavender Fields
Lavender fields are to France what cherry blossoms are to Japan – and they have become even more important in the age of social media. I think we have all seen photos of influencers like myself hanging out in lavender fields, often from behind and wearing a hat!
The most famous area of France of lavender is Provence. Lavender begins to bloom at the end of June and tends to be at its peak mid July. This is also when harvesting starts and the fields will be empty by the middle of August so time your visit carefully.
There are several lavender farms in Provence that offer tours during the peak season. Some of the best places to visit are the Valensole Plateau, Salut, Notre-Dame de Semanque and Drome.
25. Lac du Salagou
Located 30 minutes from Montpellier, you’ll find the artificial Lac du Salagou. It was created in the 1960s to irrigate the valley.
The soil has a reddish-brown colour which is caused by iron oxide in the sandstone rock. It’s quite a distinctive look, especially compared to other French lakes. The water is a turquoise blue which contrasts wonderfully with the surrounding.
The lake is an all-around wonderful place to explore the great outdoors. It’s a popular spot for swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing. With 27 kilometres of trails around the lake, it’s also a nice spot for hiking and mountain biking.
The tiny village of Celles rests on the north-western shore. It was abandoned when the lake was created, as the water level was predicted to drown the area.
However, the plans changed and the water never rose enough to submerge the buildings.
It looked like a ghost town for many years, but recently, new inhabits have moved to the village and have slowly started to rebuild.
⇒ Book a Montpellier Segway Tour of the new and old city
26. Strasbourg Cathedral
This magnificent Catholic Cathedral is considered to be one of the best examples of Rayonnant Gothic architecture. It is over 1000 years old and sits on what was the site of a Roman temple.
The building of Strasbourg Cathedral took the entire 13th century – something to keep in mind if you are building or renovating yourself! Today it is the sixth tallest church in the world. This is quite incredible, considering that the highest structure of the church was built in the Middle Ages.
One of this gothic church’s most famous elements is its astronomical clock. The mechanics of the clock date back to 1842. At half-past 12 every day the movements of the clock’s characters attract the crowds.
27. Camargue Salt Flats
When you think of France, pink lakes don’t tend to be the first things to come to mind. However, in the Occitane region of France which borders Provence, are the pink salt flats of Camargue.
These salt lakes are known as the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes. The salts are naturally occurring and produce up to 500,000 tons of salt per year. This makes it the biggest salt marsh in the Mediterranean.
The pink colour comes from the algae in the flats. The algae actually protects the lake from the sun – and it also gives the colour to the local flamingoes.
28. Pont d’Avignon
Image from gillag on Pixabay
Pont d’Avignon is a beautiful medieval bridge in the town of Avignon, France. From 1177 to 1185, a wooden bridge was constructed where the present structure stands. This early bridge only stood for 40 years; it was destroyed during the Albigensian Crusade in 1226.
The bridge was rebuilt in 1234 and contained 22 stone arches. However, it met a sad fate again In 1663, when the structure was abandoned. It proved too expensive to maintain, as the arches often collapsed each time the river flooded.
Today, only four of the original arches remain. Nevertheless, Pont d’Avignon is a famous feature of the town and in 1995, this historic place was designated a World Heritage Site.
⇒ Book an Avignon Walking Tour & Wine Tasting
29. Pont Valentré
Image from pbarnoux on Pixabay
Pont Valentré is a handsome 14th-century fortified stone bridge crossing the Lot River in Cahors, France. It features six Gothic arches and three bridge towers. The construction period lasted for 70 years, from 1308 to 1378, with its opening for use in 1350.
According to the local legend, the foreman, angered by the sluggish pace of the work, signed a deal with the Devil. If the Devil sped up the work, the foreman would sacrifice his soul. When the bridge was all but finished, the foreman went back on his word, trying to save his soul.
He gave the Devil an impossible task — to collect water with a sieve for the workers. In revenge for being tricked, it is said that the Devil sends a demon each night to loosen the stones so that the bridge can never be complete.
From 1867 to 1879, a restoration project for the bridge was carried out. Familiar with the legend, the architect seeing out the project, placed a sculpture of a small demon on the central tower. This is said to confuse the devil into thinking that his imp is there to carry out his vandalism.
Visitors can cross the bridge on foot and see the small statute for themselves.
30. Briare Aqueduct
Image from luctheo on Pixabay
The Briare Aqueduct is a canal bridge in Briare, France. It carries the water from the Canal Latéral à la Loire over the Loire River on its journey to the Seine River in Paris. It opened in 1896 and held the title of the longest steel canal aqueduct in the world for quite some time.
Currently, it’s France’s longest canal aqueduct. Both sides are outlined by a paved walkway people can walk or cycle across.
31. Bordeaux Cathedral
Bordeaux Cathedrals’ official name is Cathedrale Saint-Andre. This gothic-style cathedral was consecrated in 1096 by the Pope. It hosted two royal marriages. The first was between local girl Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future Louis VII. Eleanor and Louis’ marriage didn’t last and she went on to marry Henry, the future King of England.
The second wedding was between Anne of Austria and Louis the VIII in 1615.
Today there is no charge to enter Cathedrale Saint-Andre. Don’t miss going inside and in particular, don’t miss its stunning stained glass windows.
32. La Rochelle Harbour
For many years La Rochelle was one of the greatest port cities in Europe. Whilst it may not have the level of wealth and stature that it did in the 16th century, La Rochelle Harbour still has 5,000 moorings and the manufacture of boats is big business in the town. (Local children still spend one week learning how to sail at the age of nine).
And then there is the jaw-dropping beauty of the harbour. Its three towers are extremely well preserved, like the rest of the town. The Chain Tower guarded the entrance to the harbour from foreign intruders. It was named the Chain Tower as it literally had a big chain that attached it to Saint Nicolas Tower and blocked entry to the port. Saint Nicolas Tower held pirates and political prisoners.
The Lantern Tower guided ships from across the Atlantic. All three were built almost 1000 years ago. Today, you can visit all three towers and climb to their tops to experience some fantastic views of the harbour and La Rochelle in South West France.
33. Cite du Vin, Bordeaux
Cite du Vin opened in 2016, so it is still relatively new. The extraordinary building was created by architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières.
The building’s unusual shape was created by a desire to evoke the soul of wine between the river and the city. It is also meant to evoke gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass and the eddies of the Garonne River.
The exhibits within Cite du Vin have been designed to please everyone, from those who know little about wine to connoisseurs. I am probably somewhere in the middle and I learned a huge amount during my visit.
The tasting room is quite stunning (every entrance ticket includes a tasting) and there is an outdoor area with excellent views over Bordeaux. The 8th floor is also home to a restaurant.
34. Rouen Cathedral
Notre Dame cathedral sits at the heart of Rouen. Construction of this gothic marvel began in the 12th century using the foundations of a 4th-century basilica. Its 19th-century cast iron spire is the highest in France at 151 metres.
The cathedral suffered extensive damage during World War Two. Three bombs fell on the church in 1944 and the restoration took 12 years. Since then, the Cathedral has gone through frequent periods of renovation. It really is a jaw-dropping sight – don’t leave Rouen until you have visited the Notre Dame Cathedral.
35. Jumieges Abbey
The land for this Benedictine monastery was first given in 654. It somewhat survived Viking invasions and the Hundred Years War. It was sold during the French Revolution and turned into a quarry. It was about to be destroyed when it was discovered and preserved in the 19th century by the Romantics.
Today the remains of Jumieges Abbey are located in a 14 hectare park. The exterior has remained unchanged since the French Revolution. It is a beautiful and quite haunting site. Don’t miss the dramatic cloisters.
36. Bayeux Cathedral
I was quite blown away by the cathedral in Rouen, so Bayeux’s cathedral had a tough measuring stick. Originally built in the 11th century, the Bayeux Cathedral is a national monument of France. The present cathedral was consecrated in 1077.
It was in this cathedral that William made Harold Godwinson take the oath, later broken, that led to the Norman conquest of England. It is a spectacular building and well worth a visit.
37. Palais de L’ile
Ironically, in the beautiful French town of Annecy, the most photographed spot was actually a prison. This 12th-century building was actually a justice court and a prison, thus the name Palais de L’ile. The building was used as a prison up to 1864 and was even rejuvenated for that purpose for some captured German soldiers in 1944.
It is possible to visit the inside of Palais de L’ile. It is open every day except Tuesday. The best photos, of course, are of the outside of the Palais de L’ile and its unique ship shape.
A Footnote: Landmarks in France
There are a plethora of other incredible landmarks in France that didn’t get to make this list. From Parc National des Calanques, Dune du Pilat to Château de Fontainebleau, Cité de Carcassonne and Arena of Nîmes.
There is no doubt France is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, for its beautiful land rich in culture and history, and a wealth of monuments to marvel at. From beautiful castles to spectacular mountain peaks, which French landmark have you visited?
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