As far as European countries go, France will always have my heart. When I was younger, I read all the Madeline books and dreamed of going to Paris. For my 16th birthday, my grandmother took me to the City of Lights, and three years later, I found myself living in Paris for 6 months. Now, I’ve traveled all over the country, from the northern coasts of Brittany to the heights of the French Alps. Paris is wonderful, but the small towns in France make me return to the country time and time again. Here’s my guide to the best small towns in France!
Is this your first trip to France? Read my complete guide to visiting France for the first time!
Guide to the Best Small Towns in France
Walking through the cobbled streets of Annecy’s old town is like stepping into a fairytale. Located in southeastern France, Annecy is situated on a beautiful lake surrounded by alpine mountains. The old town of Annecy, called the Vieille Ville, has everything you’d want in a charming French town: pastel buildings, quaint shops, and delicious food. Walk along the canals or rent a boat to explore the lake during the day, and enjoy a traditional fondue dinner in the evening!
Check out my full guide for more things to do in Annecy!
Saint-Malo might be northern France’s best-kept secret. Although the small town has been a popular destination for the French and British, not many Americans visit this coastal gem. The old, walled city was almost completely decimated in World War II, but efforts to rebuild successfully restored this city to its former glory. Today, Saint-Malo is a resort city with beautiful beaches and an adorable old city filled with amazing cafes. My favorite place to eat in Saint-Malo is the Bistro Autour du Beurre Bordier, a restaurant that serves dishes made with a world-famous butter made next door! The appetizer is a plate of 8 flavored kinds of butter, and it is unbelievably delicious. Walk along the ramparts of the walled city for views of the beach and the clear, turquoise-blue waters!
Avignon is a small town located in southern France, known best as the 12th-century residence of the papacy. Several popes lived in Avignon in the 1300s, and the city wasn’t considered a part of France until the French revolution. Today, you can explore the medieval remains in Avignon’s walled city center. The Papal Palace is located in the center of the city, and it looks out over the Rhône River, where another Avignon landmark is located. The Avignon bridge, built in the 1200s, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I loved wandering through the medieval city, which has lots of little canals and cafes.
On the border of France and Germany lies an adorable small town called Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsatian region, also known as the Grand Est region. This small town is the perfect mix of French and German, with charming half-timbered houses lining the river and canals in the Petit France quarter. You can visit the historic cathedral to check out a cool astronomical clock and climb to the top of its towers to enjoy stunning views of Strasbourg. I loved trying the Alsatian food, which is a mix of French and German cuisines. My favorite food to try in Strasbourg is the tarte flambée, a pizza-like food topped with creme fraiche, onions, and bacon.
Èze is a tiny hilltop town located near Nice on the southern French coast. Èze is a perfect day trip from any city along the French Riviera or from Monaco. The small, medieval town is perched on a cliff, with sweeping views of the Riviera and the ocean. On your way up the hill, you’ll pass adorable shops and cafes, perfect for a lunch with a view. At the top of the hill, you’ll find an exotic garden filled with cacti and succulents. Èze is one of the best small towns in France, and it’s a must visit if you’re staying in (or near) Nice!
Fontainebleau is a small town located on the outskirts of Paris. Although Fontainebleau is technically part of the Parisian metropolitan region, it has a very small-town feel. This town is best known for the Palace of Fontainebleau, a former residence of the French monarchy, occupied primarily from the 1600s to the 1800s. Even though Versailles draws the most tourists looking for a castle day trip from Paris, Fontainebleau is well worth a visit. It’s not as famous as Versailles, but it is just as grand, and you’ll likely get to visit without as many crowds! The Fontainebleau Forest is a French national park, and you can do all sorts of outdoors activities there!
Trying to decide whether to visit the Palace of Fontainebleau or Versailles on a day trip to Paris? Check out my in-depth guide to the castles!
7. Mont Saint Michel
There are few sites in the world as breathtaking and iconic as Mont Saint Michel. This island village is located a kilometer off the shore in Normandy, France. When it was built, Mont Saint Michel could only be reached by foot at low tide when the ocean’s waters left a dry path for people to cross. Today, a road links the mountain to the mainland, so you can get to it at all hours of the day! This landmark was created to house an abbey, which was originally built in the 8th century. Mont Saint Michel has been a major pilgrimage site since its founding, and now, it brings millions of visitors every year who come to see this unique (ad beautiful) monument.
8. Les Baux de Provence
To step back into the middle ages in a beautiful, Provencal setting, visit Les Baux de Provence. This hilltop commune is home to less than 500 people, but it draws thousands of tourists who want to explore the ruins of a 13th-century town. Explore the ruins of the old fort and watch actors (in period costumes) demonstrate what life was like in the Middle Ages. At the bottom of the hilltop commune, you have to visit the Carrières de Lumières, an immersive art show where famous works are projected onto the walls of an old mine.
I loved Les Baux so much, I wrote a whole post about it! Check it out for more information about the medieval village and the stunning Carrières de Lumières!
Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is a ski resort town located in the French Alps near the borders of Switzerland and Italy. Chamonix is a great place to visit at any time of year for stunning views of snow-capped mountains and unique attractions. When I visited during the summer, I visited the Mer de Glace and the Aiguille du Midi. The Mer de Glace is a huge glacier that you can check out up close and personal- look at the photo of me touching the inside of the ice below! Take a cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi, a high point in the mountains! You can even stand in a clear glass box 1000 meters in the air! Of all the best small towns in France, this is probably the most adventurous!
For more things to do in Chamonix, check out my full guide to this awesome French town!
Quaint Towns in France for a Fairytale Trip
From Mont Blanc in Chamonix to the walled city of Saint-Malo, there are so many beautiful and charming small towns in France. What’s your favorite of these best small towns in France?