This beautiful country on the west side of Europe is renowned for its beauty, home to some of the world’s most iconic structures and buildings, and of course famous for its incredible food, wine, and fashion. The country has featured heavily in some of the world’s best-loved literature, films, plays, and television so its culture and characters can be familiar even to those yet to visit.
France is famous for many things – here are 33 of the most iconic.
What is France Famous For? 33 French Icons
Table of Contents
- What is France Famous For? 33 French Icons
- 1. Notre Dame Cathedral
- 2. Cannes Film Festival
- 3. Croissants
- 4. Mont Saint Michel
- 5. The Eiffel Tower
- 6. Mont Blanc
- 7. French Revolution
- 8. Chateaux
- 9. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
- 10. French Riviera
- 11. Napoleon
- 12. Tour de France
- 13. Claude Monet
- 14. Baguettes
- 15. Lavender Fields
- 16. Le Louvre
- 17. Cheese
- 18. Fashion
- 19. Wine
- 20. Arc de Triomphe
- 21. Perfume
- 22. Literature
- 23. The Palace of Versailles
- 24. Champs-Elysees
- 25. Champagne
- 26. The consumption of Snails and Frogs
- 27. Romance
- 28. Bonjour
- 29. Bastille Day
- 30. Berets
- 31. Scarves
- 32. Disneyland Paris
- 33. Moulin Rouge
1. Notre Dame Cathedral
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 of 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.
2. Cannes Film Festival
The city of Cannes is located on the French Riviera. It is a popular summer destination and home to just over 75,000 people. However, it is best known for its world-famous film festival which has been held every Spring since 1946. Winning awards at Cannes can result in amazing success for films – and its red carpet and paparazzi turn actors and actresses into stars. The highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival is the Palme d’Or.
Is there anything more French than a croissant? It is believed that croissants originated in Austria and that they were brought to France by Marie Antoinette. The croissant was named for its crescent shape and is made of layered dough Modern technology has been incorporated into the process and today between 30 and 40% of croissants sold in French boulangeries are made from frozen dough.
The croissant is the cornerstone of the European continental breakfast and it would be rare to find a boulangerie in France that didn’t have a supply of freshly baked croissants in the morning. However, be aware that the traditional French way to consume a croissant is to dunk it in your coffee. Butter and other condiments are generally not added.
4. 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 are still 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.
5. The Eiffel Tower
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.
6. 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.
There are also different excursions to uncover spectacular viewpoints of alpine lakes, glaciers, and ice falls. Such as taking the Tramway or embark on a Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trip, one of the world’s most luxurious trails.
7. French Revolution
The French Revolution lasted from 1789 to 1799 and completely changed France. It turned France into a democratic republic. People took to the streets to protest against the French royalty. Famines had destroyed crops and bread prices had skyrocketed. Revolutionaries broke into the prison and captured and killed the governor of the Bastille. Many more faced the guillotine including Marie Antoinette.
There are no more guillotines outside museums in France today, but the French are still fond of a protest and of a strike.
The French countryside is filled with stunning chateaux or what we would call castles. Many of France’s medieval and historic chateaus and palaces survived and are major tourist attractions today. The Loire Valley in particular is famous for its chateaux including Chateau de Chambord.
9. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
Often considered the most famous cemetery in the world., Pere-Lachaise is also perhaps the most visited cemetery in the world. It is home to the graves of more than one million people including Jim Morrison from the Doors and Oscar Wilde. It is also a strangely beautiful spot.
10. French Riviera
Also known as the Cote D’Azur, the French Riviera is located in the southeast of France. It has been a popular holiday destination with the upper classes for centuries. Indeed, each year it hosts 50% of the world’s superyachts so it is very rarefied air!
The largest city in the region is Nice, the gateway to some of the most popular cities in the area including Saint Tropez, Montpellier, and Marseille to name a few. The French Riviera is also home to the principality of Monaco and its famous casinos.
Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest military leaders that the world has ever seen. He crowned himself the first Emperor of France and today his tomb is located in the Les Invalides in Paris. Napoleon reigned as emperor from 1804 to 1815 and the Napoleonic Wars raged during most of this time. Apparently, he wasn’t quite as short as history has made out but he was incredibly vain.
12. Tour de France
The world’s most famous bicycle race has been held in France in July every year since 1903. The race covers approximately 3,500 metres and takes over 21 days. It finishes under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
13. Claude Monet
Perhaps the most famous of the Impressionist painters, Monet lived between 1840 and 1926. His most well-known painting is “Water-lilies”. He used to visit the Louvre to surround himself with beautiful art. One of my favourite places in France is lovely Giverny, a small town outside Paris where Monet was based for some years. It is possible to visit his gardens which are most stunning in the Spring.
Baguettes are purchased at a boulangerie in France and are a long thin loaf with a crisp crust. In April of every year, Le Grand Prix de la Baguette is held in Paris to determine who bakes the best baguette in Paris. The French consume 320 baguettes every second, the equivalent of half a baguette per person per day.
In 1993 France passed Le Decret Pain (the Bread Decree) which stated that by law an authentic baguette must be made by hand, sold in the same place it is baked and made only with water, wheat, flour, yeast and salt.
15. 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 which offer tours during the peak season. Some of the best places to visit are the Valensole Plateau, Salut, Notre-Dame de Semanque and Drome.
16. 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.
Every region in France has its own cheese specialties and there are more than 1600 cheese varieties in the country. These vary from hard to soft cheeses and goats cheese to blue cheese. Some of the most well known types of French cheese are Brie de Meaux, Camembert, Roquefort, Reblochon, Pont l’Eveque and many more. Cheese is served at lunch and at dinner, just before dessert, in France. And remember in France cheese is eaten with bread, not crackers.
If reading about cheese is making you hungry check out this article on 43 Facts about French Food.
Paris is known as the home of fashion and the women of Paris as the most stylish in the world. Fashion is a big industry for the French and has been since the 15th century. Paris Fashion Week happens twice a year and features shows by some of the biggest names in French fashion. And Paris is home to designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and many more.
The history of wine in France can be traced back to the 6th century and the country is one of the biggest wine producers in the world. Wine is intrinsic to the French culture and it is traditional to serve wine with food rather than on its own. The quality of the wine produced in France is recognised as some of the best in the world. Some of the most famous wine regions in France are Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Cotes du Rhone.
20. Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end of the Champs-Elysee in Place Charles de Gaulle and in 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 as well as 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.
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France is well known as the centre of the world of fragrance, particularly Grasse in southern France. France is home to some of the world’s most famous perfume brands included Chanel and Christian Dior. Paris is home to the perfume creators but Grasse is home to the fragrances themselves. Grasse is known for its amazing natural scents as well as for producing synthetic scents. Chanel No 5 is perhaps France, and the world’s, most famous perfume.
From Voltaire (The Human Comedy) to Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers) to Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) to Jules Verne (Around the World in Eighty Days) and so many more, France has produced the writers of some of the world’s most well-known literature.
23. 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 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.
This famous avenue is one of the most well-known streets in the world. It is located in the eighth arrondissement and is nearly 2 kilometres long. The Champs-Elysee is filled with shops, cafes and theatres. It is bookmarked by Place de la Concorde at one end and Place Charles de Gaulle and the Arc de Triomphe at the other.
This iconic sparkling wine is synonymous with celebrations all over the world. The Champagne wine region is in the north east of France. The terms champagne cannot be used to describe a sparkling wine unless it has been produced in the region of Champagne in France. Dom Perignon is perhaps the most famous French champagne brand but it is followed closely by Moet & Chandon, Tattinger and Veuve Cliquot.
26. The consumption of Snails and Frogs
The French are known for eating both frog legs and snails. Frog legs are generally served only in restaurants but snails are served all over France particularly for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Snails don’t have much taste as they are small, chewy little things so they are served with garlic butter.
Paris is known as the City of Love and both the country of France and its beautiful language are said to be the most romantic in the world. Add to that the stunning historic buildings and general impressive architecture plus the atmospheric cafes and the amount of greenery and France is a country filled with romance. Many of the English words for love and affection come from the French language such as amorous and amour.
It is customary in France to say “bonjour” to all as you walk down the street. It is also considered good manners to say “au revoir” when you leave say a store or a restaurant. The French do kiss people on both cheeks when they say hello although this may often be air kissing which is called bisou in French.
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29. Bastille Day
July 14 is France’s biggest public holiday, Bastille Day. The date commemorates the start of the French Revolution in 1789. Today there are big celebrations held on Bastille Day, much singing of the French national anthem La Marseillaise and fantastic fireworks displays.
This flat hat was originally part of military uniforms and is intrinsically linked with France. However, you are unlikely to come across many Parisians or French people in general wearing Berets today. Perhaps they will return to style at some point in the future.
I have already mentioned fashion in this post but I do feel that France and scarves deserves its own mention. French women are renowned for their fantastic sense of style that seems to be impossible to replicate by those who weren’t born in France.
A key element of this style is their ability to tie a scarf in different, nonchalant ways that look fabulous. And France is home to the makers of the world’s most famous scarves, Hermes.
32. Disneyland Paris
Somewhat strangely, the only Disneyland in Europe is in France and it is about 32 kilometres outside Paris in Marne-la-Vallee. Disneyland Paris first opened as a theme park in 1992 and ten years later Walt Disney Studios Park opened. In addition to the parks there are many hotels, resorts and even a golf course.
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33. Moulin Rouge
One of Paris’ most popular tourist attractions, the Moulin Rouge was first built in 1889. This iconic cabaret is well known for the red windmill on its roof and it has been in many films, movies and books. In the 20th century, well-known French singers like Edith Piaf performed at the Moulin Rouge and it is still operating today.
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