For many, Paris usually comes to mind when thinking of visiting France. And while Paris is undoubtedly a bucket list destination, southern France is a region unlike any other.
From the rustic charm of the Provence countryside to the ritzy allure of the French Riviera’s Cote d’Azur and the magnificent Pyrenees, the south of France is full of quaint postcard-worthy towns, glamorous cities, Mediterranean beaches, and stunning landscapes.
No matter your style, these are some of the best destinations in the south of France, offering visitors incredibly diverse experiences.
How to Get Around the South of France
France has a fantastic high-speed train network connecting all the major cities in southern France.
Train Discount Tip: If you book well in advance, usually a week or more out, you can get train travel discounts of up to 40%. These early-bird discounts are applicable for train travel throughout Europe. Start looking on the train website around two weeks out when the discounts will start to appear.
See the SNCF site for timetables and prices in France.
Renting a car can also be a fantastic way to experience the South of France. Having a car makes it easier to visit the many natural attractions and some of the most beautiful villages and towns not easily reached by public transport.
Discover Cars find the best car rental deals in all areas of Southern France with no hidden fees and free cancelation. Rentals start at as little as €120 in the low season for a small car (perfect for small cities and towns) for seven days. Find the best car rental deals for southern France.
Best Places to Visit in Southern France
The Walled Medieval City of Carcassonne
In southern France’s Languedoc region is the magnificently preserved, fortified medieval city La Cité de Carcassonne – The City of Carcassonne.
The medieval walled city is one of France’s most famous monuments. The double-walled impenetrable fortress with 52 watchtowers and massive ramparts lends a Disney fairytale quality to the impressive city.
Carcassonne dates back to 100 BC when Romans first fortified the hilltop. Significant additions and modifications throughout the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries resulted in an imposing, self-sufficient, and impenetrable citadel— a city within a city.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Carcassonne is a charming cobbled city with stylish clothing stores, boutique hotels, cafes, white linen restaurants, and an incredible insight into medieval life.
Take a 1.5 hr guided walking tour to learn the city’s history and stories. Walk the medieval ramparts and explore the narrow city streets, past the souvenirs and “Ye Olde World” themed shops. Stop for coffee in the gorgeous city squares.
Visit the Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse, an impressive 12th-century Gothic monument, and the Château Comtal, where the Vicomte of Carcassonne resided in the 12th and 13th centuries. You can find out more about visiting the City of Carcassonne here.
Ariege Midi Pyrenees
In the southwest of France, in the Midi- Pyrenees, the Ariege Department is one of the least populated and unspoiled regions of France.
An incredible French road trip destination, the region boasts extraordinary natural beauty, immense history, and picturesque medieval villages. You’ll also find superb local cuisine – a legacy of fiercely protected traditions.
Discover some of Europe’s most impressive underground rivers and cave systems with preserved prehistoric paintings. The magnificent Pyrenees mountains make the region a perfect destination for hiking, skiing, and climbing.
Drive from town to town, exploring some of France’s most beautiful villages and cities. Foix, the region’s capital, boasts the beautifully restored Chateaux de Foix. The seventh-century castle is one of the last remaining intact castles in the Ariege, a perfect starting point for exploring the Cathar Castles in the region.
Visit the fortified village of Camon, sometimes known as “Little Carcassone” it is also listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. The bustling market town of Mirepoix, with its original wooden medieval town squares, is one of the best preserved and prettiest examples of a medieval town in the Ariege.
The Midi Pyrenees is an incredible destination for beauty, history, nature, culture, and gastronomy.
The coastal city of Nice on the famous Côte d’Azur is one of the most beautiful and laid-back places to visit in the south of France.
Nice’s temperate weather and stunning white beaches are among the biggest attractions of the French Riviera’s most famous city. However, Nice has more to offer than just a glitzy beach getaway.
There are plenty of exciting things to see and do in Nice, from wandering the old port to losing yourself in the medieval tangle of Vieille Ville (Old Town).
Enjoy the greenspace in the Jardin Albert I, or indulge in some of the best art collections in the world at the Matisse and Chagall Museums, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Promenade along the famous palm-fringed 7km Promenade des Anglais soaking up the Mediterranean vistas. Promenade des Anglais is where you will find most of the attractions in Nice and where the Nice Carnival takes place every year in February or early March.
The countryside around Nice offers many opportunities for day trips exploring beautiful medieval villages such as Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Èze or the quaint seaside towns of Cagnes-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer. You can find the best day trips from Nice here, showing you the best of the French Riviera while making Nice your base.
Tour Recommendation for Nice:
The Best of the French Riviera in One Day: Visit the charming village of Èze and Saint-Paul-De-Vence and the glamourous cities of Monte Carlo and Cannes with the best views. Included: driver, pick up, and entries. See here for full tour details.
One of the most charming places in the south of France. The seaside commune of Eze in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in Southeastern France is a beautiful medieval hilltop village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Famed for its enviable location above the French Riviera, Eze impresses with spectacular views and architecture.
Located between Nice and Monaco, Eze is the quintessential French Medieval postcard town. Wander the cute cobble streets where stone houses are draped in the greenery Eze is also known for.
Visit Le Jardin exotique d’Eze to see an impressive collection of exotic cacti and other botanical species. Château de La Chèvre d’Or is also famous for its gardens with exotic animal statues. If you’re up for some exercise, you can hike the Nietzsche path for incredible views.
Menton is the last village on the French coast before you hit the Italian border, and Italy’s stunning Liguria region 5 miles away. The small coastal town oozes charm and, understandably, has a good dash of Italian influence.
Considered by many as one of the most beautiful places on the French Riviera, Menton dazzles visitors with clusters of villas in pastel shades of pink, cream, yellow, orange, and red.
While known for its high end designer shops, upscale restaurants, palm-fringed beaches, and a very agreeable microclimate, the hilly old town boasts some beautiful historical buildings and magnificent views over the coast.
The Basilique Saint-Michel, with its 18th-century bell tower, and the Cimetière du Vieux Château offer great views over the city and sea. See the ornate facade of La Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs and visit the Musée Jean Cocteau collection to see works by poet Jean Cocteau. Stroll along the Promenade du Soleil to soak up the sunshine and views. Menton will undoubtedly steal your heart.
Only 45 minutes from Nice, Grasse is famous for its prestigious perfume factories – there are around 30 perfume factories (perfumeries) in the town.
The lovely village is in the foothills of the Maritime Alps, surrounded by beautiful and aromatic fields of Provincial flowers.
Three perfumeries offer tours – Fragonard (by far the most famous), Molinard, and Gallimard. Learn about growing the flowers, collecting the scents, and creating the perfumes.
Visit the Musée International de la Parfumerie (International Perfume Museum) or participate in a perfume-making workshop, where you are guided through the process of making perfume with the chance to create your own signature scent to take home with you.
Explore the cobbled streets of Grasse’s old town with tree-shaded courtyards, charming outdoor cafés, and quaint cobblestone streets. Several romantic gardens offer superb views, and the Grasse Cathedral contains many important works of art, including paintings by Rubens.
Tour Recommendations for Grasse
- Perfume Making Class and Fragonard Factory Tour
- French Riviera & Medieval Villages Full-Day Tour
- Grasse, Valbonne & Gourdon Day Tour with Wine Tasting
Although Monaco is its own country and is not part of France, many visitors to southern France choose to take a day tour from Provence to explore this tiny country that France surrounds.
There is a lot to see and do in the glitzy city of Monte Carlo, which practically oozes money. Everywhere you look, there’s another luxury car, the famous harbor is full of impressive mega yachts, and every top brand has a large storefront.
The Monte Carlo Casino is a must-see. Even if you don’t want to gamble, it is worth visiting to see the beautiful building – and the seemingly never-ending array of luxury cars.
You can tour the Prince’s Palace and the Monaco Cathedral and walk the Formula One Grand Prix race track. Monaco also has museums, gardens, and gorgeous beaches. There is plenty to see in the tiny yet incredibly wealthy country.
Verdon Natural Regional Park and Gorges du Verdon
For some of the best natural attractions in the south of France, head to the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon (Verdon Regional Natural Park) to visit France’s “Grand Canyon.”
Within the 180,000-hectare park in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence are the Gorges du Verdon and Lake of Sainte-Croix. One of France’s most beautiful hidden gems, Gorges du Verdon is a dramatic 700-meter-deep river, the deepest in France and one of the biggest in Europe.
The brilliant turquoise-blue Verdon River runs for 25 km through the white limestone gorge offering abundant water activities, including white water rapids.
After exiting the Verdon Gorge, the river empties into the man-made Lake of Saint Croix. This area is very popular in summer for swimming, kayaking, and boating. There are three villages along the lake shores where you can stop for a bite.
Tour Tip: Gorges of Verdon and Fields of Lavender Tour: Discover France’s most scenic landscapes on a full-day trip to Castellane, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, and the Verdon Gorge from Nice.
Southern France Vineyards
There are thousands and thousands of wineries and vineyards scattered throughout France, with plenty based in the southern France region.
These beautiful wine estates in the idyllic countryside of Provence offer an excellent southern France itinerary for wine and food lovers.
There are many different wine tours in southern France, visiting vineyards, learning about the growing and production, touring the cellar, and tasting various wines.
French Lavender Fields
One of the most iconic sights in southern France is row after perfect row of lavender fields, often with mountains or pretty villages in the background.
There are many places to see the lavender fields bloom in southern France. The best area to see lavender fields in Provence is the Plateau de Valensole. Located between the valley of Durance and the Gorges of Verdon, Valensole is the most famous lavender location.
The areas surrounding Mont Ventoux, in Pays de Sault, and the Luberon Valley are also excellent places for seeing France’s most beautiful natural display.
The lavender flowering season spans from mid-June to mid-August. The best time to see lavender in Provence will depend on climate factors and where you are in the region.
Most Lavender in Provence is in bloom by late June, and harvesting is usually completed by the end of July. If you are running late in the season, head to the Sault lavender fields or around Banon, where you’ll find lavender in bloom until around the first or second week of August.
Lavender Fields Tour Recommendations:
Marseille is the oldest city in France and the second biggest city after Paris. It also has the largest port in France on the Gulf de Lyon, part of the Mediterranean.
Marseille is a bustling, sprawling, and diverse city with a fascinating blend of African and French cultures, thanks to the north African immigrants who chose to stay in Marseille.
While fairy-tale-like villages and glittering cities characterize the Provence region, Marseille is a gritty and raw city with immense history. A trading hub since 600 bc, Marseille’s ancient history is evident in places like Vieux Port (Old Port), where Marseille’s history began.
Besides the old port, the most well-known attraction in Marseille is the Château d’If, the island prison fortress where the main character in the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.
Other main attractions in Marseille include the new MuCEM Museum, the Cathedrale de la Majeure, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Palais Longchamp, Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, and La Canabière street.
Visiting Tip for Marseille: As with many big cities, a city pass is the most economical and efficient way to get the most out of your visit. The Marseille City Pass gives unlimited public transport, boat crossing to the If or Frioul islands, or the hop on hop off Colorbüs tour. Free entry to many attractions, including the tourist train, and discounted entry to many other sights and city tours. See here for full details.
Cassis is a beautiful, Provençal fishing village less than 30 km from Marseille.
The charm of the pastel-painted houses, picturesque port, and Mediterranean climate that attracted Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Signac, Henri Matisse, and Raoul Dufy continues to attract visitors. Cassis is also a short drive from the Parc National des Calanques, another of the best natural attractions in southern France.
The Calanques of Cassis is an area of incredible beauty and diverse landscapes. Beautiful inlets with tall, sheer limestone cliffs descend into the crystal-clear turquoise water.
There is a trail just outside Cassis that takes you past three different Calanques, with the final one being the descent into the most stunning Calanque d’En Vau. There are some beaches by each Calanque where you can swim, with incredible views. This is truly one of the best places to visit in southern France for gorgeous natural scenery.
Tour Tip: The Provence Sightseeing Tour is the perfect option for those who want to visit Marseilles, Cassis, and the Calanques in one day.
Avignon is an often-overlooked on many people’s southern France itinerary, but the city has a ton of charm and some interesting sites to see. One might argue that Avignon is where you will discover the cultural heritage of Provence.
The UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) is the main attraction in Avignon.
The largest Gothic palace in the world, Palais des Papes, was a fortress, a palace, and the papal residence from 1273 when the popes were forced to flee Rome as they were no longer safe. Avignon became the center of Western Christianity during the 14th century.
A tour of the Palais des Papes is a must in Avignon. The interactive tour gives you a true sense of how the palace would have looked during the time of the popes.
Walk the unique Pont Saint-Bénézet, also known as the Pont d’Avignon. Only four arches of the medieval bridge survive, leaving only half a bridge spanning the Rhône.
Wander the charming streets to discover the city’s gorgeous medieval churches and head up to the Rocher des Doms, a beautiful public park on a hill overlooking the city and the river. It’s a lovely spot to enjoy a coffee in the afternoon sun.
The museum of fine arts, Musée du Petit Palais, is worth a visit, and make sure to check the calendar as there are many lively festivals throughout the year.
Tour Recommendations in Avignon
- City Walking Tour with Popes Palace Entry
- Half Day Cooking workshop with a Chef
- Afternoon Wine Tour Châteauneuf du Pape
- Roman Sites and Historical Places Small-Group Day Trip
Arles is another city in southern France shaped immensely by the Roman empire. The main attraction of Arles is the incredibly well-preserved Roman amphitheater. Dating back to the 1st century, the amphitheater was built to accommodate over 20,000 spectators.
Along with other Roman-era archaeological sites, Roman monuments, and traditional festivals, Arles is a historical gem of Provence.
Aside from being one of the best places in southern France to see Roman architecture, many of these venues are still used for concerts and shows.
Explore Van Gogh’s history with Arles and discover the famous landmarks immortalized in Van Gogh’s paintings, such as Café du Forum, Starry Night over the Rhone, and the Yellow House. Visit the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh for guided tours and workshops.
Tour Tip: Classic old town Arles from Romans to Vincent Van Gogh half-day private tour
Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard in the heart of Provence, is the tallest of all Roman aqueduct bridges. It is also one of the best preserved, earning it UNESCO status in 1985.
Spanning the Gardon River, this aqueduct carried water over 50 km to distribute water to nearby regional towns. The aqueduct is not just a site of historical importance, it is a work of architectural ingenuity.
When you visit Pont du Gard, you can walk around the paths to see the massive ancient structure or across the top of the aqueduct where the water flowed. Further down the river, there is a picnic spot where it is possible to swim in the river.
See the Pont du Guard site for information on tours and all the activities and events at this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site.
L’Isle Sur La Sorgue
The small Provençal town of L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue in the department of Vaucluse, southeast France is known for its antique stores, weekend markets, scenic canals, and waterwheels on the Sorgue river. It’s one of the best towns in Europe to go antique-ing.
The International Antiques Fair – a massive, sprawling market of antique treasures, happens in L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue over Easter and in August. Every Sunday, there is a big market with over 300 vendors selling fruits and vegetables, local artisanal goods, and plenty of antique vendors. There’s also a regular market on Thursday.
Visit the Campredon Art Center to see contemporary works in an 18th-century mansion. See the magnificent frescoes in the baroque Collégiale Notre Dame des Anges church and for an incredible collection of vintage toys and dolls, visit the Museum of Old Toys and Dolls.
The quaint town with its picturesque canals and historic water wheels is a place in southern France not to be missed.
Cannes takes the international limelight every May thanks to the Cannes Film Festival. Cannes is undeniably one of southern France’s most glamorous and glitzy destinations, full of high end boutiques, luxury yachts, and five-star hotels.
But, if you’re more of an average traveler than a wealthy movie star, there’s still plenty in Cannes for you. Stroll down La Croisette, a lovely walking street along the seafront, where you can enjoy the sea view while window shopping in some of the city’s high end stores.
No visit to Cannes would be complete without stopping by the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, the building that hosts the Cannes Film Festival. Take a picture on the red carpet that is always laid out in front of the building.
In contrast to the pebbly beaches in most of southern France, Cannes has soft, sandy beaches. You can also explore the Old Port, wander the Old Town, or go shopping at the Forville Market.
Cannes Tour Recommendations:
- Round-Trip Ferry to St Marguerite Island
- Round-Trip Boat Transfer to Saint Tropez
- Discover the Calanques of the Esterel
More than any other spot on this list, Saint Tropez on the French Riviera coast is synonymous with the luxurious Mediterranean life. For a glamourous retreat from the cities, the small, former fishing village of Saint Tropez ticks the boxes.
One of the most popular places to visit in southern France, the tiny fishing village found fame in 1955 when it was used as a filming location for the movie, And God Created Woman starring the blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot. And while the international “jet set” have flocked to Saint Tropez since the 60s for its beaches and nightlife, the fishing village has retained some of its charms.
While luxury yachts now outnumber fishing boats in the Vieux Port (Old Port), you can still explore the cobblestone streets in La Ponche Quarter with its quaint pastel-colored buildings to discover the fishing village’s history.
Head to the central square at the market at Place des Lices for delicious food and fantastic local restaurants. Make sure you try Tarte Tropézienne, also known as “La Tarte de Saint-Tropez,” invented in 1955 in Saint Tropez.
After a day at the beach, enjoy St Tropez’s many bars and nightclubs. You never know; you may even bump into someone famous.
Tour Recommendations for St Tropez
- From Nice – Round-Trip Transportation to Saint Tropez by Boat
- From Nice – Saint-Tropez and Port Grimaud Boat Tour
- From Cannes – Round-Trip Boat Transfer to Saint Tropez
Best Time to Visit the South of France
There’s never a wrong time to visit the South of France. However, it is a good idea to plan the best time to visit with the weather in mind.
- Spring, while incredibly beautiful, can be unpredictable when it comes to rain – those April showers can be experienced even on the Cote d’Azur.
- Between May and October is ideal for the weather and longer days, especially if you plan time by the pool or beach.
- July and August are the peak season in France, which means holiday destinations like the south of France will be very busy. On the plus side, it’s also the best time of year for festivals and fairs.
Final Thoughts on Best Places to Visit in the South of France
Southern France is one of my absolute favorite places in the world. It is deeply historical, incredibly glamorous, and naturally stunning – the combination of Mediterranean Sea views, charming villages and medieval towns, beautiful cities, and gorgeous countryside make this area of France one of the most unique in the world. And then, there’s the gastronomy.