From its high peaks to its vast castles and its world-famous museums, France is still at the top of the list of the most visited countries in the world. Ancient, very high or very large, the 20 exceptional sites we have selected beat national records. If the school teaches us that the Loire is the longest of the French rivers, do you know the largest forest in the country? Or, the largest urban park? From Rouen to Lyon via the capital, here are 20 places to see France in grand style
The Millau viaduct, the highest bridge in France
Vertiginous height means vertiginous figures: 2,460 m long, the Millau viaduct rises to 343 m above the Tarn valley. It is the highest bridge in France but also the largest in the world, ahead of the Rousski bridge in Russia and the Sutong bridge in China. This titanic reinforced concrete structure was inaugurated in 2004 and is now considered an architectural masterpiece
The Place des Quinconces de Bordeaux, the largest in France
With its surface area of 12 hectares, Place des Quinconces is the nerve centre of Bordeaux. It owes its name to the many trees, all planted in staggered rows. Established in the 19th century on the site of the former Trumpet Castle, it now houses an imposing monument erected in memory of the deputies of the Revolution. We will also note the statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu which delimit the square.
The Louvre, the world's largest museum
From Da Vinci's Mona Lisa to Géricault's Medusa Raft, a multitude of masterpieces can be found in the Louvre Museum. This mastodon of culture was inaugurated in 1793 and was then called the Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic. Today, its collections include more than 550,000 works, from antiquity to 1848. The Louvre beats all records: the largest museum in the world, it is also the most visited
La Baule, the longest beach in France
Eight kilometres of fine sand stretch between Pouliguen, La Baule and Pornichet. The longest beach in France is also part, like the coastline of San Francisco or Porto, of the famous World Bays club that lists the most beautiful bays in the world. Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, this stretch of sand allows all swimmers to enjoy a sumptuous setting and many water activities
The Loire, the longest river in France
The Loire flows through France for more than 1,000 km, it is the longest river in the country. It originates in the Ardèche mountains, in Mont-Gerbier-de-Jonc, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In total, it covers 9 regions, 26 departments and occupies a fifth of the territory! An open and wild watercourse, it has very few dams on its course. The famous Loire castles are all located near the river or one of its tributaries
The Pilat dune, the highest dune in Europe
At the entrance to the Arcachon basin, between the Landes de Gascogne and the Atlantic Ocean, stands one of France's natural wonders: the Pilat dune. 110 m high, it is considered to be the highest dune in Europe. Always in motion, it moves 1 to 5 m per year eastward and tends to cover the forest massif along its banks over the years. At the top, the view of the ocean is breathtaking
The Metz Opera Theatre, the oldest theatre in France
The Metz Opera Theatre is today the oldest theatre still in operation in France. Inaugurated in 1752, it has welcomed renowned artists such as Sarah Bernhardt and Jean Cocteau to its splendid Italian-style hall. Its eclectic programming combines opera, operettas and ballets as well as contemporary creation. The opera theatre has its own workshops where costumes and sets are made.
Notre-Dame de Rouen Cathedral, the highest in France
As soon as you approach Rouen, its arrow seems to burst the sky: Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the pride of the Norman capital. Built in the 12th century, it is one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in France and the highest of all the cathedrals in the country. Its facade, with its changing colours according to the seasons, inspired the Impressionists, such as Claude Monet, who painted it 30 times
The First Tower, the highest in France
Located in the business district of La Défense, near Paris, the First Tower, which houses many offices, is the tallest skyscraper in France. It dethroned the Montparnasse tower in 2011 during renovation work that increased its height to 231 m. However, this recognition may only be temporary since in 2021, The Link, a new Defence Tower, is expected to rise to 244 m!
The Orléans forest, the largest in France
Between Orléans and Dampierre-en-Burly, in the Loiret region, France's largest state-owned forest covers more than 35,000 hectares. Between its oaks and Scots pines live nearly 760 plant or animal species such as the osprey or the booted eagle. This huge green lung is ideal for hiking enthusiasts in the heart of nature as it has a large number of trails
The Mazarine library, the oldest in France
Located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, the Mazarine library contains collections originally from Cardinal Mazarin's personal collection, which was opened to researchers in 1643 in his own private mansion - now the historic site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Its reading room, although restored in the early 1970s, retains its unique 17th century décor
Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe
Nicknamed the "roof of Europe", Mont-Blanc rises to 4806m and extends like a natural border between France and Italy. From Chamonix, its ascent is reserved for experienced climbers. At the top, with your head in the clouds, you can admire the highest alpine peaks, such as the Aiguille du Midi and its 3842m altitude. A wonder of nature, Mont-Blanc will never cease to delight travellers.
Grenoble, the longest straight avenue
Named Cours Jean Jaurès in the northern part of Grenoble, then Cours de la Libération-et-du-Général-Charles-de-Gaulle in the south and finally Cours Saint-André in the commune of Pont-de-Claix, this wide urban furrow extends over 7.8 km: it is the longest straight avenue in France, regardless of the mythical Champs-Elysées and the approximately 1,910 m ! To observe the impressive length of this avenue, you have to go up to the Bastille, the military fort overlooking Grenoble
Allouville-Bellefosse, the oldest oak tree
Located in Normandy, in Allouville-Bellefosse, this thousand-year-old oak tree houses two tiny chapels: the first, dedicated to Our Lady of Peace, is located in its hollow trunk, the second, the Calvary Chapel, at the top. According to legend, the Allouville oak tree was planted in 911, the year the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte was concluded, which confirmed the birth of Normandy. From a scientific point of view, it would rather date from the 9th century
The lighthouse of the virgin island, the highest in the world
Where to find the highest lighthouse in the world, if not on the Breton coast? Between the English Channel and the Celtic Sea, the Virgin Island is part of the municipality of Plouguerneau in Finistère. Built at the end of the 19th century, its impressive ashlar lighthouse reaches a height of 82.5 m. To reach its lantern, you have to climb 397 steps, but the exceptional panorama of the Abers is well worth it!
Versailles, the largest castle in the world
With its 700 rooms spread over 67,000 m2, the Château de Versailles is the largest castle in the world. The one that, when it was built in 1623, was only to be a "small gentleman's castle" for Louis XIII is today the most lavish representation of the French monarchy that made it its main residence from 1682 until the Revolution in 1789. It is one of the most visited monuments in France
La Vélodyssée, the largest cycling route
To discover France, there is nothing better than cycling! La Vélodyssée is the largest developed cycling route in the country, stretching over 1,200 km and crossing 9 departments and 3 regions. Its starting point is Roscoff, in Brittany, and its arrival in Hendaye, in the Basque Country. We then follow the west coast of the country, with the ocean as a backdrop, on a fully marked and developed road.
The Virgin of Mas Rillier, the highest statue in France
The hamlet of Mas Rillier, located in Miribel, in the Ain, houses the highest statue in France: Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Cœur stands at 32.6m! This Virgin and Child was made of cast concrete and inaugurated in 1941. Since 1947, a 28-metre bell tower has also been associated with it. To reach the summit and enjoy a splendid view of the surrounding mountains, take a staircase of 152 steps
The Tête d'or park in Lyon, the largest urban park
To get a breath of fresh air, Lyon residents can visit France's largest urban park: the Tête d'or park. It takes its mysterious name from the legend that Crusaders buried a golden head of Christ in the Middle Ages in its current enclosure. In addition to spending time hunting down this treasure, you can also visit the splendid rose gardens, the botanical garden and the zoological garden
Saint-Véran, the highest village in France
Located in the Queyras National Park in the Hautes-Alpes, this village of 290 inhabitants, labelled "the most beautiful village in France", is also the highest in the country, standing at an altitude of 2,042 m. In Saint-Véran, as the motto says, "the rooster picks the stars" in a sumptuous high mountain setting. Along its pedestrian streets, you can discover a rich local heritage, from old bread ovens to wooden chalets.