France is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, so it is not a surprise that there are many wonderful places to discover there. Besides the capital, Paris, the northern part of France is filled with charming towns and villages, beautiful monuments worth seeing and of course the stunning French countryside, perfect for a day trip by train or car.
I’ve decided to put together an article with some of the top places to visit in Northern France to help you plan your next trip there.
Top Destinations in Northern France
Just by the French border with Belgium, Lille, the fourth largest city in France is located. Traditionally elegant, it attracts tourists with a relaxed atmosphere, beautiful, Flemish architecture and a wide range of art galleries and restaurants.
As a cosmopolitan center of arts, Lille’s Palais des Beaux Arts is the second-largest French museum and exhibits works created mostly between 15th to 20th century by well – renowned artists, such as Rubens, Van Dyck or Manet. Besides the paintings, you can also discover their collections about archaeology and 18th-century models of French and Belgian cities. If you are traveling France by train, this is one of the first places you should visit.
The most notable place in Lille is probably Place du General-de-Gaulle (La grand place), which is the center of the city life. The statue of a goddess and a fountain, the memorials of the Siege of 1792, are in the middle of the palace, creating a magical atmosphere. The statue is an allegory of the besieged city and can be an invitation to explore the fascinating city of this city in the French Flanders.
Strasbourg is often seen as the truly “European city”, since many EU’s buildings, such as the European Parliament, are located there. One of the main spots of the city is the Gothic Cathedral, Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg, considered as one of the finest examples of this type of architecture. Moreover, the historic center of the city, Grande Ile (Grand Island), made its way to the UNESCO list back in 1988.
The city is a mix of French and German heritage, retaining the best of both cultures. The city has been a cultural bridge between the Catholics and the Protestants, and today it has the biggest Islamic worship place in France, The Grand Mosque, remaining one of the most international cities in the country.
For the enthusiasts of the European interior design, 18th century Palais Rohan, a former residence of French princes and bishops is a must-see. This masterpiece of Baroque architecture is nowadays a museum of decorative arts, fine arts, and archaeology, creating a unique, noble, mansion-like atmosphere. It is a perfect place to learn more about history and different cultures and to discover a little bit of modern France.
When it comes to finding a unique place to stay, Strasbourg and the outskirts are full amazing apartments, townhouses and country mansions.
For those wishing to run away from the city’s hustle and bustle, Etretat is a perfect getaway destination located in Nomady. Best known for the cliffs, natural arches, and breathtaking view at the sea, it has been an inspiration for various artists and painters, such as Monet or Courbet.
Besides going to a beach and hiking along the seaside, many visitors choose to spend some time in the experimental gardens which surround a villa which belonged to Madame Thebault, a French actress. The man-made gardens are a mix of art, nature and technology, and combines live action characters, flowers and plants, music and art installations.
The Alice-in -Wonderland-inspiration can be seen everywhere in the garden and it managed to impress and influence many popular painters. The Etretat garden consists of a few parts and each of them embodies something different – from emotions to an expression of architect’s philosophies and flower collections.
Le Mont Saint Michel
The Disney-like Mont Saint Michel remains one of the most breathtaking buildings in Europe and in the world. Baptized as the “Wonder of the West”, it is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage list as well as a protected monument, known in France as “monuments historiques”. A tiny island which lies approximately 1 kilometer from the mainland France and has a population of 30 (in 2017) is accessible only at low tide, which makes it even more fascinating.
To get to the castle, located at the top of the island, you need to climb steep stairs, so make sure to take comfortable walking shoes. It is possible to stay in the village overnight, which is an experience in itself.
Loire Valley is not a specific place, but rather a road trip opportunity. The trail includes five fairytale castles and little cities. From a historical town of Saumur where you can try local vines while admiring the Chateau d’Usse located on a nearby hill. A way to the next two castles, Chateau de Azay-le-Rideau and Chateau de Villandry is very easy, as the castles are located 11 and 15 kilometers from the town. The first one is a great example of Renaissance architecture, whereas the second one is known best by its huge gardens surrounding the palace.
The last two castles, Chateau de Chenonceau and Chateau de Chambord, located slightly further to the East of the region, are some of the most popular on the trail, due to its long history leading back to the eleventh century. The Castle de Chenonceau was also a residence of the Menier family, which was famous for their chocolates and is a luxurious product until today.
Plage de Wissant
Wissant Beach is a seaside commune in the Hauts de France region in the northernmost part of the country, just by the English Channel. A very popular spot for weekend getaways for Parisians, the village is surrounded by nature and fields, creates a great opportunity for hiking. Besides stunning sandy beaches and promenades perfect for sunset and sunrise hunting, it offers typical holiday feeling, with its multitude of bars, hotels, restaurants, and places to relax.
Besides being a resort, it is also a fishing port and a farming village, which gives the visitors an opportunity to explore the real life of French fishermen and see them at work. A great attraction for both solo travelers and families, it is a popular place for various water sports, such as surfing.