Looking for the best places to visit in the South of France? You’ve come to the right place. It had been quite some time since we’d traveled the South of France, but this summer we had the good fortune of spending nearly a month revisiting this beautiful region. While taking a Canal du Midi cruise on our luxury houseboat with Le Boat, we had the chance to explore some of the lesser-known places in Southern France.
During this trip down the historic waterway, we were reminded of all the beautiful places in the South of France that we’ve taken over the years. France really has it all. So, if you are looking to branch out from the ordinary, check out the best places to visit in the South of France to create a holiday that will ignite all the senses.
Top Places to visit in the South of France
Historic cities, the French Riviera, and beautiful beaches; the South of France oozes with energy and excitement. But what are the best places to visit in the South of France? Are you looking for a city filled with elegant architecture and cultural attractions? Or perhaps one of the beautiful medieval villages, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by olive groves? Be it sandy beaches, art galleries, or traditional French cuisine, Southern France is a timeless holiday destination, and it’s easy to see why.
This guide will cover everything from the stunning natural attractions in the South of France to national parks and the best cities. Are you ready to get started? Let’s take a look.
Best cities and towns to visit in the South of France
When looking for the best places to visit in the South of France, a great place to start is with the region’s urban areas. South France has some incredible cities and towns. Let’s dive straight in.
Toulouse was an unexpected city in the South of France, located inland along the Spanish border. The city has the nickname ‘La Ville Rose’, meaning the pink city due to the pink bricks used to build most of its buildings. Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city after Paris, Marseilles, and Lyon and yet it is easy to explore on foot. When visiting Toulouse, you’ll feel as if you are visiting the authentic France with locals dining in outdoor cafes and students relaxing by the river’s edge. It is what we imagine Paris was like 50 years ago.
A bustling university city, Toulouse may be small, but it is filled with energy. There are plenty of attractions to see in Toulouse like the main square of La Capitole, Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse, and the Musee Aeroscopia. Toulouse is the center of the aeronautics and space industry in France and this museum showcases its history and development.
If you go, make sure to pick up a Toulouse Pass to really explore the city. The Toulouse Pass offers 1, 2, or 3-day passes that include public transport and free entrance into most of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
There is an old town to wander, plenty of museums, and a fairly cutting-edge fashion scene. It is also the starting point of the Canal du Midi which winds its way down 240 km to the French Riviera. Toulouse is a fantastic place to visit in South France, and will definitely keep you entertained. Read more: Best Things to do in Toulouse France
Marseille is the oldest city in Southern France. In fact, it is the oldest city in all of France and it is second in size only to Paris. Located on the Gulf de Lyon, which is part of the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille is the perfect blend of African and French culture. A trading hotspot and port hub since 600 BC, Marseille is one of the best places to visit in the South of France if you want a taste of history and ancient culture.
The most important part of Marseille is its Vieux Port. It is here that fisherman once sold their catch, and hundreds of years later, many still do. You should also visit the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, and Palais Longchamp.
We suggest spending a minimum of three days in Marseille so that you experience the seafood scene, and its best attractions including a day trip out to Chateau d’If made famous by Alexander Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo written by Alexander Dumas.
When visiting Marseille, we suggest getting a Marseille City Pass – The city pass is valid for 1-3 days and lets you hop on hop off to see all the top tourist attractions. With unlimited access to public transportation plus a tour on the Tourist train to Notre-Dame de la Garde or through the Old Marseille. You’ll have entry to MUCEM, and Regards de Provence Museum, plus crossing Frioul Island, or If Island with entrance to Chateau D’If. There are plenty of discounts, entry to municipal museums, and a guided city tour. See details here.
Who hasn’t heard of Cannes? If you are visiting Southern France and craving a city experience, you must visit Cannes. The city is perhaps the most famous spot on the French Riviera thanks to the glitz and glamour it exudes on an annual basis. It is loved by celebrities, and adored for its annual film festival, The Cannes International Film Festival. It has many beloved beaches and cultural attractions as well.
Much of Cannes and its attractions can be experienced by walking (or driving) along the Boulevard de la Croisette. The boulevard spans the Cannes coastline, with stunning views over the Bay of Cannes on the Mediterranean Sea. The Boulevard de la Croisette is lined by luxury hotels, boutiques, and restaurants and caters perfectly to an upscale crowd.
Cannes is best for those who want luxury, resort-style atmosphere. When we visited Cannes, we couldn’t afford the luxury hotels and instead stayed at a campsite just out of town. But we still had the chance to brush shoulders with the rich and famous as we visited the beaches to work on our tans and enjoy a taste of that five-star hospitality.
Nice is the biggest city on the French Riviera which makes it one of the top places to visit in the South of France. It has the most urban feel out of all the places on our list and is ideal if you want to feel in the middle of all the action. A good choice for a hotel is Hotel Nice Riviera. This 4-star hotel is one block from the beach with reasonable prices.
Like Cannes, Nice has a scenic stretch of road along its coastline. Promenade des Anglais stretches 7 km and is where you’ll find the majority of attractions and the best ocean views. It is on the Promenade des Anglais that you’ll find the Nice Carnival, which takes place every February or March. You should walk the promenade, Old Town, and make time to visit the Castle Hill of Nice – an old medieval fortress overlooking the city.
Interestingly, Nice is also surrounded by a number of beautiful towns and villages – many of which date back to the Middle Ages. You can spend days relaxing in the city and on its beautiful beaches, taking the odd day trip to a medieval town for the best of both worlds. Read more: 24 Hours in Nice – Sometimes You Only have a Day to See it All
5. Aix en Provence
The region of Provence is one of the most magical regions in France, and Aix en Provence is everything you’d expect of a city in southern France. It has class, elegance, and history by the bucket loads. The former capital of Provence is perfect for tourists who value culture when choosing a holiday destination. Aix en Provence has a number of nicknames, including “The city of a Thousand Fountains” and “The City of Counts”. It is packed with things to do and see, and it has a noble atmosphere to match.
Aix en Provence is an artsy university town just 20 minutes north of Marseille. It was also the birthplace and home of the great painter Paul Cezanne. The city is proud of this historical fact and traces of Cezanne can be found everywhere in the city. The Cezanne walk is your best way to see everything Cezanne. This is a fun and interesting self-guided tour that Dave and I did on a sunny afternoon during our visit. Our walking tour took us around the Old Town, visiting Cezanne’s Studio, and Camp De Milles.
Some of the best things to do in Aix en Provence is to explore its art galleries, museums, and other historical attractions. Expect a lively nightlife scene and plenty of temporary exhibitions and events.
6. Saint Tropez
Yearning to be steps away from the ocean? Saint Tropez is the ideal candidate. Saint Tropez is perfect if you want glamour and beauty, yet a quieter feel than big cities like Nice. The small town sits on the French Riviera and was once a little fishing village.
The fishing village shot to popularity after being used as a filming location for And God Created Woman starring Brigitte Bardot in 1955. Since the 1960s tourists have been flocking to one of the most popular places to visit in the South of France, but Saint Tropez has still retained some of its most charming village qualities. You can still spot some little fishing boats in the Old Port, and La Ponche Quarter is still full of narrow streets with cobblestones.
The best beaches in Saint Tropez are Plage de Pampelonne, Plage St. Tropez and Bouillabaisse Beach. However, once you’ve spent a day on the beach make sure to experience the town’s hospitality scene, and don’t miss checking out the central square at the market at Place des Lices. It has a reputation for delicious food and fantastic locally owned restaurants; definitely try the fresh seafood and locally grown olives.
7. Saint Paul de Vence
Saint Paul de Vence is one of the oldest medieval villages on the French Riviera. Picture a walled town with cobblestone streets and historical, overhanging buildings. Everything is built from traditional stone and Saint Paul de Vence is the sort of place where every inch of rock feels like it has a story to tell.
The town sits on a hill overlooking the French Riviera. It is relatively easy to visit as a today trip from Nice but, if you can, you should try to stay in the town itself. Saint Paul de Vence feels like somewhere out of a fairy tale. Just walking through its cobbled streets and Old Town (remember a camera) is enough to keep you entertained for a full day.
It was once the home of famous painter Marc Chagall and when you visit one of its top attractions, the Cimetière de Saint-Paul-de-Vence, you will see his grave.
You should also dine at La Colombe d’Or, where the Roux family once let artists such as Picasso, Braque, Calder, and Matisse dine in exchange for now famous paintings. Eating delicious food is even better when you are surrounded by works of art while you eat.
8. Les Baux de Provence
Okay, we may be concentrating on cities and towns but the village of Les Baux de Provence was too beautiful not to include. This hilltop village is still protected by medieval walls and makes a wonderful, memorable getaway. In fact, it is so beautiful that the city is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The top attractions in the village are, The ruins of Castillo de Los Baux, a 12th-century castle, and Carrieres de Lumieres. Carrieres de Lumieres (the quarry of lights) is a unique attraction with artwork projected onto the disused quarry’s limestone walls. Art enthusiasts will love the novelty of a digital exhibition, and the artwork displayed changes frequently which keeps the quarry exciting to visit.
Sure, Les Baux de Provence is quiet and distanced from the Mediterranean Sea, however, the village has a film set feel and is bursting with history and charm. If you want a quaint, lesser experienced impression of Southern France, Les Baux de Provence is a fantastic place to visit. You may also like Enchanting Medieval Villages in France – The French Riviera
9. Saint Rémy de Provence
Saint Remy de Provence is another gorgeous, rural town located on the outskirts of the Alpilles Natural Regional Park. Not only does Saint Remy de Provence have beautiful architecture and quiet urban scenery, but its natural beauty was also the muse of a very popular artist.
Vincent Van Gogh lived in Saint Remy for a year, where he checked himself into a mental hospital and began one of his most prolific working periods. It was in Saint Remy that he painted The Starry Night. Whether you are a Van Gogh fan, art enthusiast, or just intrigued, Saint Remy is a great place to learn more about art history.
Musee Estrine Presence Van Gogh is the best attraction for learning more about the artist. Glanum is the best attraction for history and is an old Roman town and extensive archeological site. You can also visit the Monastery Saint Paul de Mausole – the psychiatric asylum where Van Gogh was admitted. Saint Remy de Provence has lots to keep you entertained.
10. Vers Pont Du Gard
Vers Pont Du Gard is another small town and, like Saint Remy, has lots of surrounding Roman heritage. The most famous Roman attraction is the Pont du Gard bridge and aqueduct, which have been protected and maintained to still stand today. I remember taking our road trip in the South of France and making a detour for the sole purpose of seeing this bridge. Vers Pont Du Gard is full of impressive architecture, and if you like visiting places with character, you will certainly be in for a treat.
Once you’ve visited the town’s bridge, the Pont du Gard Museum and Chapel Notre Dame de Laval are the best attractions to enjoy. You can also swim and fish in the River Gardon. Despite being inland, being located next to a river makes Vers Pont Du Gard an enjoyable destination even in the height of summer. You aren’t sacrificing much by skipping beach days for river days, and taking a dip is refreshing on a hot day.
Arles is our final recommendation and easily one of the best places to visit in the South of France. In the ancient Roman period, Arles was once a provincial capital. Today, many of the architecture and historical sites remain – including Arles Amphitheater.
We recommend catching a performance at the Arles Amphitheater, taking a Van Gogh walking tour to see the areas which inspired famous works, and visiting the cloisters at St. Trophime. Arles has lots of religious and artistic history, so allow lots of time for sightseeing.
The city itself sits on the banks of the Rhone River. It is flanked by the Camargue Nature Reserve and, while located inland, is less than an hour’s drive from some of the best beaches on the Riviera. If you are looking to hire a car and explore lots of France, Arles is a wonderful base.
Best natural places to visit in the South of France
Now that we’ve covered the best cities and towns let’s look at the best natural places to visit in the South of France.
Southern France is full of amazing natural places to visit, whether you want to use them as a day trip or just arrange to stay nearby. You best have a Google Maps account because you’ll need offline maps to head to these spots. These places are the creme de la creme.
12. Verdon Natural Regional Park
Verdon Natural Regional Park is one of the best places to explore natural attractions, not just hiking trails and beautiful views. Located in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the 180,000-hectare park is most known for the Gorges du Verdon and Lake Croix.
The Gorges du Verdon is a 25 km (15.5 miles) long river canyon with a brilliant milky blue river. Expect white water rapids and steep cliffs reaching up to 700 meters (0.4 mi) on either side of the river. This natural wonder is the deepest gorge in France. You can hike to numerous viewpoints, or even book a rafting experience for a bit of extra exhilaration. The Gorges du Verdon is a big deal and is known as France’s answer to the Grand Canyon.
After exiting the Verdon Gorge, the river runs straight out into the Lake of Sainte-Croix. There are three villages along its shores and you can take your pick to grab a bite to eat and go for a swim.
13. Calanques National Park
Calanques National Park covers both ocean and land, and the 128,000-acre reserve is situated on the coastline an hour’s drive from Marseilles en route to Cassis. If your idea of heaven is coastal hikes with hidden coves and dramatic cliff faces, then Calanques is a perfect spot. It is the only national park in Europe that is located near urban areas and is both on land and sea.
The word ‘Calanques’ describes a dolomite or limestone inlet – basically dramatic pale grey or white sea cliffs. The park is full of these beautiful areas and you should definitely invest in a good quality camera so that you have pictures to cherish after your holiday.
Keep your eyes peeled while hiking as well, as the marine reserves are popular spots for pods of dolphins. The park has over 140 species of protected animals and plants, which is a nature lover’s dream.
14. Natural Reserve of the Courant d’Huchet
Compared to the other spots on this list, the Natural Reserve of the Courant d’Huchet is tiny. However, it has some of the most striking landscapes and is easily one of the best natural places to visit in the South of France. It is located an hour’s drive north of Biarritz and makes for a fantastic day trip.
The reserve is primarily marshland but has a beach in the midst of the park. The beach contains high hills of sand dunes that beautifully contrast the surrounded marshes and forest. Visitors can head to the beach to swim and climb the sand dunes.
You can also hike the network of trails, spotting native animals and flora as you walk. If you want something really different though, we recommend a boat tour. You can hire a boat to explore independently or take a tour for a more informative experience – whichever takes your fancy.
15. Baronnies Provencales Regional Natural Park
Have you ever seen those artsy lavender field photos plastered all over Instagram? Well, Baronnies Provencales Regional Natural Park is where you can take your very own. Apart from its remote villages and low-lying mountains, Baronnies Provencales is full of lavender fields. If you visit the South of France between June and September, you should definitely make your way to the park to see them.
Baronnies Provencales Regional Natural Park is about an hour and a half drive from Avignon. You could visit on a day trip or find accommodation in one of the park’s villages. Apart from the lavender fields, you’ll find thousands of hiking trails and other outdoor activities.
16. Regional Park of Camargue
Camargue Park is famous for many things, including the once wild herds of Camargue horses. The Camargue horses are highly prized in France and are considered to be one of the most ancient horse breeds in the world. While breeding is strictly regulated now, you might still be lucky enough to spot a semi-feral herd.
Apart from the horses, Camargue Natural Regional Park features wetlands, rough grazing areas, and a marine reserve. It is also located along the coastline, just outside of Marseilles and near the city of Arles.
The best things to do in Camargue are animal related. You can spot flamingoes at Ornithological Park of Pont de Gau and visit a ranch to take a horseback ride out to spot the semi-feral horses from afar.
17. Alpilles Regional Nature Park
Fancy getting active? Alpilles Regional Nature Park has the most to offer in terms of biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails with plenty of equestrian centers. With all its limestone rock formations and cliffs, there is plenty of climbing opportunities as well.
Alpilles has a great mix of activities. Whether you want history, culture, a fitness challenge, or a new profile picture, Alpilles has enough diversity to match your needs. It is a walkers paradise with hiking trails through pine forests, olive groves, and vineyards.
You can also easily visit the castle, and quarry art display in nearby Les Baux de Provence which we already mentioned above.
18. Sainte Baume Natural Regional Park
Sainte Baume Natural Regional Park is where the alpine meets the Mediterranean. The park is full of dramatic limestone mountains, ridges, and pine tree forests.
Climbers will love Saint Baume, which is centered around a long mountain ridge. There’s a great range of climbing routes to explore, ranging in difficulty and style. Sainte Baume also holds lots of religious significance. Visitors will find a grotto where Mary Magdalene allegedly lived. The site is popular amongst pilgrims and can be reached via a pretty forest path in around forty minutes.
19. Pyrenees National Park
Pyrenees National Park is one of the best places to visit in the South of France. The park sits on the French-Spanish border and we were surprised to find them in South France. We had known the Pyrenees from our time in Spain, but we always thought of them as further north. We were surprised to see the mountains while cruising in 40-degree heat to Carcassonne.
From alpine meadows and high-altitude lakes to towering, craggy mountains, the park is stunning. If you want an exciting, beautiful place to visit in Southern France, Pyrenees National Park is bucket list worthy.
Cirque de Gavarnie is one of the most famous attractions in the Pyrenees of France. A cirque is a large cliff face that curves in shape like a huge, natural amphitheater. Cirque de Gavarnie is best known for its many waterfalls, which cascade down the cliff walls.
Apart from the Cirque de Gavarnie, the park is full of hiking trails, endless outdoor activities, and climbing opportunities. If you love mountain climbing in particular, you’ll love it here.
20. Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park
Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park is a nature reserve first and foremost, which we love. The park caters to tourism but in environmentally friendly ways, and there are attractions like an eco-museum and bird sanctuary to visit.
The park sits in southwest France, including some coastal areas and some inland. Visitors can kayak down rivers, swim in natural lakes, or hike the numerous trails. Landes de Gascogne is a serene, beautiful park that is bursting with nature. Visitors can cherish being surrounded by hundreds of different species of flora and fauna.
21. Narbonnaise en Mediterranee Natural Regional Park
Narbonnaise en Mediterranee is a diverse region. You’ll find beaches, cliffs, forests, and even vineyards. The vineyards are particularly popular, and some people refer to the park as the land of wine.
You can go wine tasting, take a hike, or go for a camping getaway. Narbonnaise en Mediterranee is about an hour and a half’s drive from Montpellier and Toulouse. It sits on the Mediterranean coastline and is ideally combined with a beach holiday. If you want somewhere to wine taste and explore, it is a small, beautiful, and easy natural place to visit in Southern France.
22. Mercantour National Park
A stunning 167,297-acre park, Mercantour is a mixture of alpine lakes, irregular mountain ranges, and lots of scenic hiking trails. Even better? It is just an hour’s drive away from Nice.
The park is diverse and relatively unvisited compared to France’s other national parks. For those that make the trip though, there are endless rewards. You’ll discover tiny villages and mountain communities where many people still live off of the land. You can sample decadent cheeses and sumptuous honey and maybe even bring some home as a souvenir.
After appreciating the cultural side of Mercantour, you can dive straight into its outdoor activities. Hike, bike, climb, swim, and ride until your heart is content.
It’s no secret that the South of France is mesmerizing. This is just the tip of the iceberg of places to visit in the South of France.
We hope that this helped give you a sense of what you can see and do from walking cobblestone streets in medieval towns or lazing on sandy beaches on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. All of these places to visit in the South of France are worth visiting. Glamorous, historical, and naturally beautiful, the South of France is sure to guarantee memories for a lifetime.