Our top French cities for sunny-day strolls


EcolabelCultural HeritageFood and WineCitiesSpring

Catedral de Estrasburgo
© RossHelen / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 11 April 2024

Ah, the return of fine weather, the pleasure of wandering around with your nose in the air, strolling with friends or family, lingering on a terrace... In France, more than anywhere else, we know how to take the time to live and enjoy good times together. Follow us on a journey of discovery of 15 French cities that cultivate a slower pace of life.

Strasbourg, little queen's paradise in Alsace

Piste des Forts cycle route around Strasbourg - Alsace
© B. Salmanski ADT - Piste des Forts cycle route around Strasbourg - Alsace

In Strasbourg, pedestrians and cyclists are king. There isn't a single car in the historic centre or around the cathedral. The bucolic banks of the Ill are now also free of motorised pollution. And it is a delight to walk through the heart of Petite France along the typical half-timbered houses, so beautifully decorated with flowers. With 600km of cycle paths, the capital of Alsace will give you an irresistible desire to pedal. One of our favourite routes is the Ill-Rhine, 30km to explore the Malraux peninsula, European institutions and UNESCO-listed Neustadt district, with a wellness break at the historic Bains Municipaux which have just been renovated. And then there's the delightful Pourtalès Park, the Robertsau nature reserve and the Marne-Rhine Canal. A perfect way to enjoy Strasbourg in a different way, taking your time.

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Paris, life on the canal

Adobe stock /Ekaterina Belova
© Adobe stock /Ekaterina Belova

When sunny days arrive, Paris comes alive with an infectious energy. You want to see everything, visit everything. Stroll along the banks of the Seine, walk down the Champs-Elysées, swirl around the Samaritaine or get giddy with contemporary art at the new Bourse de Commerce. But why not go beyond the classics? We suggest a foray to the north-east of the capital, towards the trendy Canal de l'Ourcq via the Parc de la Villette. On the way, at the glittering Philharmonie, the Hip Hop 360 exhibition is on until 24 July. Afterwards, take it easy along the banks of the canal, where you can admire some of the most beautiful street art in Paris.

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Lille, a lifesize utopia in Northern France

The Belfry at the Chamber of Commerce - Lille
© Wirestock / ISTOCK - The Belfry at the Chamber of Commerce - Lille

European Capital of Culture in 2004, World Capital of Design in 2020, Lille has always been at the forefront. In 2023, the metropolis of Hauts-de-France will launch the 7th cultural season of Lille3000 on April 12. Expect an eruption of parades, exhibitions, concerts, shows, urban metamorphoses in such emblematic places. Monumental children's room, school desk, teddy bears, mazes, in the heart of the Saint-Sauveur station, the exhibition "Tidy up your room!", imagined by the artist Jean-François Fourtou invites visitors to dive back into their childhood memories. Afterwards, there will be time to "eat, drink and be merry" at Grand Scène, Lille's new gourmet hall opened in 2022, a temple of cuisine on the site of the former Galeries Lafayette.

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Deauville, green Normandy behind Les Planches

M. McNulty - Normandy Tourist Board
© M. McNulty - Normandy Tourist Board

Ah, Deauville and its famous beaches! Strolling along the seafront between bathing cabins and elegant Belle-Epoque villas is timelessly chic. For lovers, the chabada walk can be continued in the beautiful Parc des Lais de Mer where the romantic Garden of Hearts is nestled. Or a little further on, in the bucolic loops of the Touques. The pedestrianised banks of the river plunge you into Normandy's natural landscape. Calm and serenity can also be savoured at the Franciscaines, a new cultural centre in Deauville - combining a museum, a media library, a performance hall with a magnificently transformed cloister, chapel and large dining room.

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Marseille, scuba diving in Provence

Vieux Port Marseille
© Di DucaM-2017-20575-HD.jpg - Vieux Port Marseille

We wonder what you'll prefer... Climb the open-air passageway on the roof terrace of the Mucem. Or dive into the magical bowels of the Cosquer cave, more precisely the perfect replica of this sunken archaeological treasure, discovered in the creeks of Marseille. It is from the Villa Méditerranée, next to the Mucem and the Old Port, that we embark for the depths of history and cave art. To go back 27,000 years, a few minutes are enough on board hi-tech exploration modules. Wow! Emotions guaranteed before a smooth ascent to the surface. And the beautiful sun of Provence to make your eyes blink.

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Nice, paintings and stars on the French Riviera

Atout France/PHOVOIR
© Atout France/PHOVOIR

What if we took a step up to embrace the famous Baie des Anges? Moving away from the Promenade des Anglais is an opportunity to change the view. So head for the Cimiez district, overlooking Nice and the Mediterranean from a luxuriant hill planted with olive trees. There, no restaurants, bars or shops but, in a green setting, the romantic ruins of the ancient Roman city Cemenelum. Arenas, thermal baths, an amphitheatre... There are beautiful remains to contemplate and a fascinating museum of archaeology. Nestled in beautiful gardens, between Belle-Epoque villas and palaces of yesteryear, you can also visit the Matisse Museum and the Marc Chagall National Museum. And don't forget the Observatory's large dome and its new Universarium to end the walk to the top with your head in the stars.

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Bordeaux, walks and dreams in Nouvelle Aquitaine

The Water Mirror in Bordeaux
© Frankrijk.nl - The Water Mirror in Bordeaux

With its exceptional urban heritage, distinguished by UNESCO, and more than 350 buildings listed or registered as historical monuments, Bordeaux is an invitation to stroll around. To make sure you don't miss anything while strolling through the charming pedestrian streets of the historic centre or along the banks of the Garonne, simply follow the 'Bordeaux port of the moon-World Heritage' route (with a collector's map and immersive audio capsules), marked out on the ground by bronze nails. And if wine is the main theme, before or after a visit to the Cité du Vin, two new walking routes and three cycling routes are proposed this spring, with visits to the properties. The ideal starting point for these gentle escapades? La Zoologie, a new hotel at the height of exoticism housed in the former Bordeaux Zoology Institute.

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Montpellier, an arty tower in Occitanie

The Halles du Lez - Montpellier
© Gilhem Canal - The Halles du Lez - Montpellier

Just a stone's throw from the Mediterranean, Montpellier has energy to spare. Whether you wander the picturesque streets of the Ecusson, its historic heart, with your nose in the air, or take the highly-designed Hirondelles tram to celebrate the finest in contemporary architecture at Port Marianne, all your senses are on alert. Before pedalling to the beach (yes, it's possible!), it's good to get some fresh air on the banks of the Lez. On sunny days, you can take a look at the Marché du Lez where restaurants, food trucks, second-hand goods dealers and petanque players happily cohabit. Street art is obviously part of the scene. Even more arty? Add the MOCO (Montpellier Contemporain) and its three sites to your list. We're particularly fond of La Panacée, with its luminous exhibition space and its café-restaurant where the Sunday brunch is unanimously approved.

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Dijon, the art of living in Burgundy-Franche-Comté

Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon
© INNOVEO / BFC Tourisme - Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon

We already loved the capital of Burgundy for its pedestrianised historic centre. By following the owl's route, between half-timbered houses and gourmet markets, you can tour it in 22 stages. The best idea? Climb the 316 steps of the Philippe Le Bon Tower. At the top, the terrace reveals a 360° view of the city and its new jewel: the International City of Gastronomy and Wine opens its doors on May 6th, at the gateway to the historic centre, the route des Grands Crus and the canal port. And the menu is tempting. Exhibitions, tastings, a restaurant area... All this to introduce you to the gastronomic meal of the French and the famous Climats of the Burgundy vineyards, classified as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

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Brest, the right edge in Brittany

© shutterstock

But what a harbour! One of the largest and most beautiful in the world, so photogenic during the gatherings of old sailing ships, the next of which will take place in the summer of 2024. To the west, at the very end of Brittany, Brest opens up horizons and brings a breath of fresh air with its Capucins district. To discover it without effort, board the first urban cable car in France. Up there, under the gigantic naval halls, the former workshops of the French Navy have become a place of life, culture and innovation. Welcome to the largest covered square in Europe, where you can enjoy a clear view and explore the brand new 70.8, a museum of the sea and the future unlike any other!

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Orléans, capital city of Centre-Val de Loire

Street with Cathedral in Orleans, France
© adobe stock - Street with Cathedral in Orleans, France

The capital of the Loire Valley is in the front line of the gentle way of life, bathed by the royal river and just a few kilometres from the most beautiful châteaux in France. From the city centre, where all roads lead to Sainte-Croix cathedral, hop on a bike and ride along the quays in complete tranquillity. From the Cabinet Vert, the oldest restaurant in Orléans, to the pretty seafaring village of Combleux, wilderness and sandbanks have a charm all their own. Do you prefer to glide along the water? Come aboard one of these traditional boats - toues, flats or gabarres - before learning more about flora and fauna at the MOBE (Orléans Museum for Biodiversity and the Environment). Afterwards, a picnic in a green setting, in the large Parc de la Source.

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Lyon, La Confluence and guinguettes in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Bouchon Lyonnais in Lyon
© Javier García Blanco/ISTOCK - Bouchon Lyonnais in Lyon

Seen from the Saône, the former capital of the Gauls reveals its most beautiful assets. All year round, boat cruises provide a spectacle by shuttling between the Renaissance Vieux Lyon and the mysterious Ile Barbe. On sunny days, from the Confluence river stop, a stone's throw from the fascinating Musée des Confluences, we recommend an electric boat trip to admire the sumptuous panorama at your own pace. On the pedestrian banks of the Saône, some twenty artists' works punctuate the cruise and are as many stops before pushing on, why not, to Fontaines-sur-Saône and Rochetaillée-sur-Saône. Sandy beaches and lively dance halls await you for a good time, with your feet in the water.

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Ajaccio, all the flavour of Corsica

Exploring southern Corsica
© LaClefProduction - Sofitel Golfe d’Ajaccio - Exploring southern Corsica

There is no more beautiful season than spring to discover Corsica, its flowering scrubland, its crystal-clear creeks, its forests and mountain streams. Ajaccio and its enchanting gulf where the Sanguinaires islands stand guard immediately offer this concentrate of beauty. A little hello to Napoleon, the local boy, at the Maison Bonaparte and a visit to the Palais Fesch where the Fine Arts Museum and its exceptional collection of Italian paintings are housed are a must. But we advise you to take the maquis after a gourmet tour of the Marcatu, Ajaccio's recently refurbished market hall. There you can fill up on local specialities, figatelles and lonzu, canistrelli and brocciu before setting off on the ridge path for a hike - with a view - with the intoxicating scents of myrtle, rockrose and immortelle.

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Nantes, a journey like no other in Pays de la Loire

Opéra Graslin in Nantes - Pays de la Loire
© © Franck Tomps / LVAN - Opéra Graslin in Nantes - Pays de la Loire

Take note of the dates. In 2023, the 12th edition of the Voyage à Nantes will take place from July 1 to September 3. Once again, the city will become a large open-air stage with a profusion of cultural proposals, exhibitions, installations, performances and places to explore or rediscover in new ways. It is up to you to programme your own stops on this fun, offbeat and poetic route that criss-crosses the city over some twenty kilometres. A green line drawn on the ground will guide your steps. We promise you some great encounters, including a large elephant living on the Ile de Nantes, just a stone's throw from the Hangar à bananes, where you can enjoy cafés and terraces on the banks of the Loire. You will surely feel the call of the sea. By boat cruise or by bike, the estuary and the Atlantic beaches are not far away!

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Biarritz, tonic of the Basque Country

© C.Rebière@balloide-photo.com

Even if surfing is not your cup of tea, Biarritz promises great experiences and wonderful food. Get your legs into gear by climbing the 248 steps of the lighthouse. At the top, you will have a bird's eye view of the Hôtel du Palais and its exceptional site. The only palace on the Atlantic coast, the former summer residence of Empress Eugenie, has just reopened after a complete facelift and we advise you to book a table at La Rotonde, its iconic restaurant. Then return to the Port Vieux via the Grande Plage. A look at the waves, a visit to the Art Deco aquarium and then face to face with the Rocher de la vierge from the Olatua Biarritz Rooftop. At sunset, the tapas revisited in the Basque Country style are well deserved.

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Recommendations and advice France has an abundance of superb destinations to visit all year round. If it's more pleasant to explore them in fine weather, a word of advice: for many of them, opt for a holiday out of season. This way, you can enjoy your getaway in optimum conditions (avoiding the crowds), benefit from prices that are often more attractive and tourism professionals are more available. What's more, don't hesitate to take care of this beautiful country and the destinations of your dreams. To do this, opt for eco-responsible transport solutions to get to your destination (train, public transport, car-sharing...) and once there. Happy exploring to you!

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