Vibe Check: Which French city should you visit this summer?

Summer is comming. You want to brush up on your high school French, or maybe you just fancy a good croissant. You’ve been to Paris, but now you’re ready to explore a bit more of what France has to offer. But with so many tempting French cities at your disposal, it might be hard to choose. That’s why we made for you a mood test on the most popular cities in France outside of Paris, their strengths and restrictions.


Pros: Good beer and friendly people.

Cons: The weather.

Lille is a Flemish town a few minutes by bike from the Belgian border, which means that it shares culturally as much with the Dutch as with the French. Lille are a warm, hearty people, and they had to be to survive the dreary northern winters. As a side effect, Lille has some of the best beers in France, and you won’t be looked down upon if you order a pint at 11am. The food is equally heavy, with lots of meat and cheese, and almost every meal comes with fries. Come here to make friends and have a good time, but maybe wait until around May to venture out.


Pros: Ideal for photo shoots, easy to move around.

Cons: Best for a short drive, not much to do once you’ve seen downtown.

Strasbourg, the largest city in the Alsace-Lorraine region, looks like a living postcard. It’s green and cool and filled with medieval half-timbered houses. You won’t find this style of buildings anywhere else in France, as although once popular, they were extremely flammable and most burnt down. If you think the town looks like something out of a fairy tale, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this area has inspired Disney’s animations. The beauty and the Beast (although the actual villages used as a reference are highly disputed). The city center, which is an island between two rivers, is a UNESCO heritage site, so it is kept clean and impeccably preserved. The food leans more German, with lots of salt pork and sauerkraut (or “Sauerkraut”), and the wine leans sweet and white, with an emphasis on Riselings, so it might be better for those with a more Germanic palate.


Pros: The food!

Cons: hilly and sprawling, easier to navigate by car.

Lyon is France’s third largest city (after Paris and Marseille) and is on the map for one key reason: food. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and, some would say, of the world. You can enjoy Michelin-starred restaurants or humble, welcoming corks, depending on your budget. And a three-course meal at a fancy restaurant is likely to costs you much less here than anywhere else in France. There’s also a vibrant nightlife, where you can find everything from garage rock bars to reggaeton on a boat. Movie buffs might enjoy Light Museumand architecture enthusiasts will marvel at the Tuscan influences of the historic city center.


Advantages: A unique multicultural atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Cons: Dirty, noisy, little nightlife.

Marseille is definitely one of those “love it or hate it” kind of cities. It is the second largest city in France, with a population of over 800,000. Needless to say there is a lot going on there. It doesn’t really resemble France, with its strong Italian and North African influences, which means the food culture is unique to the region and combines many of these influences. It’s dirtier and noisier than most other towns on the Riviera, but makes up for it in its authenticity and lack of pretension. This is perhaps best represented by the city’s street art culture, which turns large swathes of the city into living works of art. Things close early in Marseille, and it’s not as lively as you might expect at night, so revelers might want to look elsewhere for their entertainment.

walking sticks

Pros: Beautiful beaches, glamorous people.

Cons: The price.

Cannes is one of the most infamous resorts on the French Riviera, known for its star-studded film festival and stunning white sand beaches. The restaurants, which lean towards Italian, aren’t cheap, and lounging on the beach can cost you a pretty penny if you want prime seating. But the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean against the white sand beaches and palm trees of the Cruise is truly striking. If all you want is to feel like a movie star for a day or two, it might be worth a little splurge.


Pros: great food, gorgeous beaches, and quaint old town.

Cons: The price.

A few minutes by train from Cannes, Nice is easily accessible by train, bus or even plane (thanks to the proximity of Nice airport). Although it’s a bit less flashy than Cannes, it’s still a top destination for wealthy French people who want to spend long summers at the (rocky) beach. The beautiful old town is a mix of brightly colored buildings with French-Italian influences. The food is great as long as you avoid the tourist traps, and the focus is on pizza, seafood, and all things lemon. aperitif will invariably revolve around Provencal rosé, or maybe a little limoncello. It is also an excellent starting point for riviera day trip.


Pros: Good food, unique architecture, trendy energy.

Cons: The heat.

Also known as “The pink City,» or « the pink city », because of its unique brick architecture, Toulouse has an allure that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. In terms of gastronomy, it is duck country, which means that duck breast, cassoulet, and foie gras will be on every menu in town. The food is rich, but there is no need to enjoy it as there is a wide variety of contemporary and lighter cuisines. Toulouse is a student city, home to one of the oldest medical schools in Europe, and at night this will quickly become apparent. The pink streets turn into a riot of bars and terraces, with music, dancing and more. During the day, this youthful and progressive influence leaves in its wake a trail of trendy cafes, boutiques and restaurants, as well as a distinctive street art culture.


Pros: The wine, of course!

Cons: better with a car if you want to explore nearby vineyards.

Bordeaux is often referred to as “mini Paris” because of its architecture, but you might be surprised to learn that the Haussmannian architecture of Paris was actually borrowed from Bordeaux! The city is quaint, vibrant and obsessed with all things wine. He has an entire museum, the City of Wine, devoted to oenology, and the town is surrounded by some of the best vineyards in France. If you want to take a trip to the vineyards, it’s easiest to go by car, but there are a few places you can reach by tram, bus or train without too much trouble. But just because the wine is good doesn’t mean the Bordeaux skimp on food. Their love of duck, oysters and all things dipped in red wine sauce also gives the town a rich culinary life.

Catherine Rickman is a professional writer and Francophile who has lived in Paris, New York and Berlin. She is currently on a road trip in France, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.

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