Rick Steves France


By Rick Steves

By Steve Smith

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Now more than ever, you can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling through France. Wander the lavender fields of Provence, climb the steps of the Eiffel Tower, and bite into a perfect croissant: Inside Rick Steves France you'll find:
  • Fully updated, comprehensive coverage for planning a multi-week trip to France
  • Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles to neighborhood cafés and delicate macarons
  • How to connect with local culture: Stroll through open-air markets in Paris, bike through rustic villages, and taste wines in Burgundy and Bordeaux
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a glass of vin rouge
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
  • Vital trip-planning tools, like how to link destinations, build your itinerary, and get from place to place
  • Detailed maps, including a fold-out map for exploring on the go
  • Over 1,000 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
  • Coverage of Paris, Chartres, Normandy, Mont St-Michel, Brittany, The Loire, Dordogne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, The French Riviera, Nice, Monaco, The French Alps, Burgundy, Lyon, Alsace, Reims, Verdun, and much more
  • Covid-related travel info and resources for a smooth trip

Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves France.

Planning a one- to two-week trip? Check out Rick Steves Best of France.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my bus tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

Written with my talented co-author, Steve Smith, this book offers you a balanced mix of France’s lively cities and cozy towns, from the traditional heartland to jet-setting beach resorts. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of beautiful châteaux in the Loire region, we cover only the top 10. And it’s in-depth: Our self-guided museum tours, city walks, and driving tours provide insight into the country’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to pricey chain hotels and famous restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit France to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging by the positive feedback we receive from our readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.

Bon voyage! Happy travels!


Bon Appétit!

France’s Top Destinations

Map: France’s Top Destinations



Planning Your Trip


Whirlwind Three-Week Tour of France by Car

Whirlwind Three-Week Tour of France by Train (and Bus)


Travel Smart

Bienvenue! You’ve chosen well. With its distinctive regions and renowned cuisine, France is Europe’s most diverse, tasty, and exciting country to explore. It’s a cultural bouillabaisse that surprises travelers with its varied, complex flavors.

A delightful blend of natural and man-made beauty, France offers chandeliered châteaux, forever coastlines, soaring cathedrals, Europe’s highest mountain ranges, and museums showcasing cultural icons of the Western world.

In many ways, France is a yardstick of human achievement. Here, travelers can trace the path of European history, from magnificent prehistoric cave paintings to dazzling Roman ruins. In medieval times, France cultivated Romanesque and Gothic architecture—erecting towering cathedrals and inspiring copycat trends throughout Europe. With revolutionary zeal, French philosophers refined modern thought and politics. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the châteaux of the Loire and the grand palace of Versailles announced France’s emergence as the first European superpower and first modern government. Later France gave birth to Impressionism and with that, the foundations of modern art. And the country remains at the forefront of technology, architecture, fashion, and cuisine.

France is a big country by European standards—and would be one of the biggest states if it ever joined the US (unlikely). It’s a bit smaller than Texas, but has 66 million people (Texas has 26 million). This country features three mountain ranges, two very different coastlines, several cosmopolitan cities, and countless sleepy villages.

From chic attire (in Paris) to traditional garb (at a festival in Arles), the French wear it well.

There are two Frances: Paris...and the rest of the country. France’s government and cultural heart have always been centered in Paris, resulting in an overwhelming concentration of world-class museums, cutting-edge architecture, historic monuments, trendy energy, and famous cafés. Travelers can spend weeks in France and never leave Paris. Many do.

The other France venerates land, tradition, and a slower pace of life. Romantic hill towns and castles, meandering river valleys, and oceans of vineyards carpet this country’s landscape. Wheat farms flourish in the north, dairy farms in the west, fruit orchards and lavender fields in the south...and vineyards and sunflowers just about everywhere. Even city dwellers venerate the soil (le terroir) that brings the flavor to their foods and wines.

France has more geographical diversity than any other nation in Europe. Paris and the land around it (called Ile de France) is the modern, bustling center. To the west are the dramatic D-Day beaches and thatch-roofed homes of Normandy; to the south lie the river valleys of the Loire and Dordogne, with elegant châteaux, medieval castles, and hilltop villages. In the far southwest are the Spanish-tinged Languedoc-Roussillon and the overlooked Pyrenees. Closer to Italy, windswept Provence nurtures Roman ruins and rustic charm, while the Riviera celebrates sunny beaches and modern art. And to the east are Europe’s highest snowcapped Alps, the vineyards of Burgundy, and the Germanic culture of Alsace.

The country is famous for its pâtés, foie gras, escargot, fine sauces, cheese (more than 350 different kinds), and delectable pastries. But the forte of French cuisine lies in its regional variety. You’ll enjoy Swiss-like fondue in the Alps, Italian-style pasta on the Riviera, crêpes in Brittany, Spanish paella in Languedoc-Roussillon, seafood in Normandy, and sausage and sauerkraut in Alsace.

L’art de vivre—the art of living—is not just a cute expression; it’s the foundation for good living in France. With five weeks of paid vacation, the French are obligated to slow down and enjoy life. It’s no accident that the country is home to pastimes like café lounging, bike touring, barge cruising, and ballooning—all require a slower pace. You’ll run headlong into that mindful approach to life at mealtime. The French insist on quality food and conversation. They don’t rush lunch, and an evening’s entertainment is often a meal with friends.

The socially minded French are proud of their cradle-to-grave social security system. On the other hand, French taxes are among the highest in Europe. The country sees more than its share of strikes, demonstrations, and slowdowns as workers try to preserve their hard-earned rights in a competitive global economy. Mainly Catholic, the French are not very devout, and are quick to separate church from state. France also has Europe’s largest Muslim population. The influx of Muslim immigrants and their integration in French society is one of France’s thorniest issues.

Whether meeting a friend or cruising on a barge, the French cultivate the art of living.

France has Alps to inspire and D-Day beaches to ponder.

French people can come across as moody and complicated, though most will welcome you with a smile. Still, think where they’ve come from: In just a few generations, they’ve seen two debilitating world wars destroy their cities, villages, landscapes, and self-respect. But proud and resilient, they have risen from the ashes of the wars to generate the world’s sixth-largest economy. Wine, agriculture, tourism, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, cars, and Airbus planes are big moneymakers. Productivity is nothing new to a people who invented the metric system, pasteurization, high-speed trains, and the Concorde jet.

Highly cultured yet down to earth, France is fascinating. From the Swiss-like Alps to the molto Italian Riviera, and from the Spanish Pyrenees to das German Alsace, you can visit France and feel like you’ve sampled much of Europe—and never be more than a short stroll from a bon vin rouge.

France’s Top Destinations

Mon Dieu! There’s so much to see in France and so little time. This overview breaks the country’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests), listed in book order. I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.


The magical city of Paris, historic Normandy, the sun-dappled region of Provence, and the breathtaking Riviera coastline offer an excellent sampler of France.

▲▲▲Paris (allow 3 days)

The City of Light is not only the capital of France, but also the world capital of art, fashion, food, literature, and ideas, offering historic monuments, grand boulevards, corner cafés, chic boutiques, avant-garde architecture, and top-notch art galleries, including the Louvre (Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa) and the Orsay (Impressionists and more).

▲▲▲Normandy (2-3 days)

This region offers a pastoral mix of sweeping coastlines, half-timbered towns, and intriguing cities, including bustling Rouen (Gothic architecture and Joan of Arc sites), the cozy port town of Honfleur, and historic Bayeux (with its remarkable tapestry of the Battle of Hastings). Normandy’s D-Day beaches and museums are profoundly moving, while the almost surreal island abbey of Mont St-Michel seems to float above it all.

▲▲▲The Loire (2 days)

The river valleys of the Loire region host appealing towns (such as Amboise and Chinon) and hundreds of castles and palaces, including Chenonceau (arcing across its river), the massive Château de Chambord, Villandry (wonderful gardens), lavishly furnished Cheverny, and many more.

▲▲▲Provence (2 days)

This beloved, hilly region is home to the cities of Arles (with Van Gogh sights and the evocative Roman Arena), Avignon (with the famous bridge and Palace of the Popes), and Orange (Roman theater), plus photogenic rock-top villages (such as Les Baux, Roussillon, and Vaison-la-Romaine). Attractions include the simply awe-inspiring Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard and the inviting wine road of the Côtes du Rhône.

Montmartre café scene in Paris; historic Bayeux tapestry; Roman Arena in Arles; American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach

▲▲▲The French Riviera (2 days)

Along the Riviera lies a string of coastal pearls, starring Nice (big city with a lively seafront promenade, Italianesque old town, and art museums), romantic Villefranche-sur-Mer, glitzy Monaco (casino and Prince’s Palace), and easygoing Antibes (silky-sandy beaches and seafront hikes). Intriguing inland villages are Vence, St-Paul-de-Vence, and sky-high Eze-le-Village, with marvelous Mediterranean views.

Canoeing on the Dordogne; beautiful Amboise; a Riviera moment; Monet’s flowery gardens at Giverny (below)


You can weave any of these destinations—rated or ▲▲—into your itinerary. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to Paris, Versailles is next door), but some out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.

▲▲Near Paris (1 day)

Four very different sights make good day trips from Paris: Europe’s grandest palace at Versailles, the radiant cathedral of Chartres, Monet’s flowery gardens at Giverny, and a mouse-run amusement park (Disneyland Paris).

Brittany (1 day)

Windswept, rugged Brittany has an untouristed interior, gorgeous coast, Celtic ties, and two notable towns—Dinan (with Brittany’s best medieval center) and the beach resort of St-Malo—plus the sea-swept castle of Fort la Latte.

▲▲Dordogne (2 days)

Prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages, lazy canoe rides past medieval castles, and bustling market towns such as pedestrian-friendly Sarlat-la-Canéda are among this region’s charms. Just east is the spectacular pilgrimage village of Rocamadour, and to the west is St-Emilion, with vineyards and tastings.

Languedoc-Roussillon (1 day)

This sunny region with a Spanish flair boasts the medieval, walled town of Carcassonne (with towers, turrets, and cobblestones) and the lovely Mediterranean village of Collioure. Albi makes a good stop for its fortress-like cathedral and beautiful Toulouse-Lautrec museum.

▲▲The French Alps (2 days)

These majestic mountains feature the beautiful lakefront city of Annecy, Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest peak), and the world-famous ski resort of Chamonix at its base, with lifts to stunning alpine views and hikes galore.

▲▲Burgundy (1-2 days)

An aged blend of vineyards and spirituality, Burgundy is home to the compact town of Beaune, renowned vineyards and wine roads, the well-preserved medieval abbey of Fontenay, the magnificent Romanesque church of Vézelay, and a medieval castle under construction at Guédelon.

Lyon (2 days)

This metropolitan city, wedged between Burgundy and Provence, features delicious yet affordable cuisine, a made-for-wandering old town, two Roman theaters, a terrific Gallo-Roman museum, the riveting French Resistance Center, and an impressive fine arts museum.

▲▲Alsace (1-2 days)

The Franco-Germanic region is dotted with adorable and colorful wine villages, half-timbered Colmar with a wonderful pedestrian-only center and world-class art, and the high-powered Euro-capital city of Strasbourg and its sensational cathedral.

Reims and Verdun (1 day)

Two very different sights, paired by proximity, are the champagne-soaked city of Reims with its historic cathedral and cellars serving the sparkling brew, and nearby Verdun, the site of horrific WWI fighting, with unforgettable battlefield memorials and museums.

Carcassonne’s castle walls; dining under medieval arches in Beaune; cute wine village along Alsace’s Route du Vin; lovely Annecy

Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For our best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.


As you read this book and learn your options...

Choose your top destinations.

The recommended whirlwind trip (see the sidebar on the next page) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in three weeks, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame.

Nearly every destination in this book can enjoyably fill a week or more of a focused trip, especially Paris, Normandy, the Loire, the Dordogne, Provence, and the French Riviera. Linking any two or three of these destinations would make a terrific trip.

France has something for everyone. Art lovers and museum-goers linger in Paris. Cyclists pedal between châteaux in the Loire, and canoeists paddle between castles in the Dordogne. Connoisseurs of wine and villages meander along the wine roads of Burgundy, Alsace, and the Côtes du Rhône.

Historians are at home in France. The Dordogne’s prehistoric cave paintings literally rock. For ancient Roman ruins, roam through Provence. Medievalists marvel at the walled town of Carcassonne and the island abbey of Mont St-Michel. Revolutionaries and monarchists alike appreciate Paris and Versailles. WWII historians make a pilgrimage to Normandy’s D-Day sites, while WWI students ponder Verdun.

Sun worshippers simmer on the Riviera while hikers love to go a-wandering in the Alps. If hill towns and sunny skies appeal, Provence and Languedoc deliver. Germanophiles think Alsace is wunderbar, foodies are fond of Lyon and Burgundy (but aren’t disappointed elsewhere), and photographers want to go everywhere.

Decide when to go.

Late spring and fall are best, with generally good weather and fewer crowds, though summer brings festivals, livelier villages, reliable weather, and long hours at sights.

Weekends in May—with its many holidays—can be busy anywhere, but June is generally quiet outside of Paris. In July and August, vacationing Europeans jam the Riviera, the Dordogne, and the Alps. And although many businesses close in August, you’ll hardly notice.

A sound-and-light show at Chartres; a Van Gogh easel in Arles; sunflowers in summer


  • "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
  • "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
  • “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
  • "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
  • "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
  • "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
  • "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
  • "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
  • “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
  • "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
  • "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
  • "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News

On Sale
Oct 18, 2022
Page Count
1208 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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