13 Most Underrated Cities in France to Visit in 2024

France is a popular tourist destination, known for its beautiful architecture, rich history, and delicious cuisine.

While most travelers flock to well-known cities like Paris and Nice, there’s much more to explore in this diverse and fascinating country.

I moved to France six years ago, but my first visit was in 2012. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to uncover the most underrated cities in France.

I’ve traveled all over the country, visiting big cities, small villages, and everything in between.

In this post, I’m going to share with you which places are worth adding to your travel itinerary in 2024.

Here are the most underrated cities in France to visit.
Underrated Places to Visit in France

13 Must-Visit Underrated Cities in France

France has so much more to offer beyond the tourist hotspots.

Below I’ll cover which French cities I recommend you add to your travel bucket list.

1. Strasbourg

This is a photo of me, Jen Ciesielski, in Strasbourg's La Petite France. I'm wearing a jacket, shorts, and gym shoes. Behind me is Benjamin Zix Place, which has several white half-timbered houses.
Me in La Petite France

I moved to Strasbourg in 2019 from the ever-popular Paris.

I was looking to live somewhere that wasn’t overrun with tourists and still maintained a charming and authentic French feel.

Strasbourg was the perfect fit.

Located in Alsace, it’s known for its blend of French and German cultures, towering Notre Dame Cathedral, and hearty cuisine.

There’s a ton to do here, even if you’re on a budget.

My favorite is walking around La Petite France.

Here you’ll find narrow cobbled streets lined with buildings from the 16th century. It’s a fairytale-like setting that feels straight out of a storybook.

Then, if you’re visiting in December, Strasbourg is home to the oldest Christmas market in Europe.

2. Amiens

This is the backside of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens in Amiens. You can see the towering spire and there are several statues lining the outside of the church.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens

The first time I visited Amiens was on a day trip from Paris, and I’ve been back several times since.

What I loved most about Amiens was its mix of history, architecture, and natural beauty.

It’s home to the largest cathedral in France, Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens, and a series of floating gardens called Les Hortillonnages.

Then, of course, there’s the Saint-Leu district. The combination of colorful buildings and cobbled streets make it the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.

But you can’t visit Amiens without stopping by some museums.

There’s the Musée de Picardie, showcasing fine art, and Maison de Jules Verne, dedicated to the famous French writer.

3. Besançon

This is the view from the Citadel of Besançon in Besançon. You can see the rooftop, the Doubs river, and on the left there is a small hill covered in leafy green trees.
View from the Citadel of Besançon

Besançon is often overlooked by tourists, so much so that it has been dubbed the city that tourism forgot.

But let me assure you, there is plenty to see and do here.

Its biggest attraction is the Citadelle de Besançon. It was built in the 17th century by Vauban and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

I loved everything about this site.

It has three fascinating museums with my favorite being the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation.

Then, there was a multimedia presentation where I learned about the history of the citadel.

And, finally, the views from its outer walls were some of the most spectacular I’ve seen.

Of course, there are more reasons to visit Besançon than just the citadel. The city also has a charming Old Town, picturesque parks, and an awe-inspiring astronomical clock.

So, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you won’t find a more secluded city that’s easy to get to from Paris.

4. Verdun

This is Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun. This is the exterior so you can see the building and the thousands of white crosses that are used to resemble the 130,000 unidentified soldiers that lost their life in the Battle of Verdun.
Douaumont Ossuary

If you’re a history buff, then Verdun is a must-visit destination. This small town was the site of one of the deadliest battles of World War I.

The Battle of Verdun lasted for 10 months and resulted in over 700,000 casualties.

Today, you can visit the battlefields, trenches, and forts that have since been transformed into a memorial.

For me, one of the most moving sites was the Douaumont Ossuary.

This monument contains the remains of over 130,000 unidentified soldiers who perished during the battle.

But Verdun isn’t just about war history.

It also has a beautiful Old Town filled with quaint shops and cafés.

I loved strolling along the Meuse River, visiting the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Verdun, and touring the Underground Citadel.

5. Metz

This is the Porte des Allemands in Metz. It has three towers that are connected by a bridge. The sky is cloudy and there are trees in front of the towers.
Porte des Allemands

Metz is another great destination for history and culture lovers.

It’s filled with stunning architecture, museums, and galleries.

One of the highlights of my trip to Metz was visiting the Centre Pompidou-Metz.

This branch of the famous Centre Pompidou in Paris features contemporary art exhibitions in a modern building.

Other must-see attractions include the Metz Cathedral, the Porte des Allemands, and the Temple Neuf.

Aside from its cultural offerings, Metz also boasts beautiful parks like the Jardin de l’Esplanade, which is perfect for a relaxing stroll.

And don’t forget to try local delicacies like quiche Lorraine. I tried several, and the best was from Chez Mauricette. It’s located in Metz’s covered market, which is, itself, worth visiting.

6. Lille

This is Place Gilleson in Lille. There are five colorful buildings stacked side by side. Then there are trees in front of each.
Place Gilleson

Lille quickly became one of my favorite cities in northern France.

It’s known for its beautiful Old Town, Vieux Lille, delicious food, and fascinating museums. Not only that but it also has two major train stations, Lille-Flandres and Lille-Europe, so it’s easy to get to.

When I was in Lille, I spent hours wandering around Vieux Lille. There were so many colorful houses, charming cafés, and quaint shops to discover.

Some of the prettiest streets were Rue de Weppes, Place Gilleson, and Rue de la Monnaie.

I also visited the Palais des Beaux-Arts, one of the largest art museums in France.

Its collections include paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from world-renowned artists.

But what made my trip to Lille unforgettable was the food.

From hearty local dishes like carbonnade flamande to delicate pastries from Méert, there’s something for every taste bud.

7. Nancy

This is one of the iron gates that leads to Place Stanislas in Nancy. There are intricate flower designs that are painted in gold. And there is a person walking through the gate.
Entrance to Place Stanislas

Nancy is one place that surprised me.

It’s most known for its stunning architecture, particularly Place Stanislas.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site features two striking gold fountains and intricate wrought iron gates. It’s easily one of the most beautiful squares I’ve seen in France.

But besides its renowned architecture, Nancy also has a vibrant cultural scene.

The Musée Lorrain is a must-visit for history lovers, and the Musée de l’École de Nancy showcases stunning Art Nouveau pieces.

And of course, I couldn’t leave Nancy without trying its famous macarons.

These delicate cookies are a specialty in the city and can be found in many patisseries around town.

But the best I had were from Maison des Soeurs.

8. Dijon

This is Rue des Forges in Dijon. It's a street lined with beige stone buildings. They all have intricate carved statues and there are people walking up and down the street.
Rue des Forges

Dijon is a charming town filled with cobbled streets, medieval buildings, and of course, mustard.

Yes, the famous Dijon mustard originated here. You can even visit the Maille boutique to learn about its history and taste different variations.

But aside from mustard, Dijon also has a rich history.

The Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne is a magnificent building that now houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts. And the Notre-Dame de Dijon Cathedral is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture.

There are also tons of picturesque streets. My favorites were Rue Verrerie and Rue des Forges.

They’re lined with boutiques, restaurants, and cafés, some of which are housed in buildings from the 15th century.

And if you’re a wine lover like me, you won’t find a better place to go wine tasting. My favorite winery was Domaine Besancenot.

Helpful Tip: Most wineries and vineyards are not in Dijon itself but are easy enough to visit as a day trip.

9. Dunkirk

This is the view I had from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi in Dunkirk. You can see the rooftops and there are two skyscrapers. Then, in the distance there is the North Sea.
View from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi

Dunkirk is a beautiful seaside town known for its rich history and sandy coastline.

During World War II, it played a crucial role in the evacuation of British and French troops.

You can learn about Operation Dynamo at the Musée Dunkerque 1940 and even visit the beaches where it happened.

Dunkirk also has some incredible attractions.

My favorite was the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi. It’s a tall bell tower located in the city center.

From the top, I could see as far as the North Sea on one side, and on the other, I had a stunning view of the Saint-Éloi church.

And don’t forget to try some fresh seafood. There are tons of restaurants around town, but my favorite was Comme Vous Voulez.

The food was tasty and the view of the beach, Malo des Bains, was unmatched.

10. Marseille

This is the view of Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille from Passerelle Parvis-St Jean. In the foreground there is the Vieux Port filled with boats. Then in the distance you can see a hill and the church is at the top of the hill.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Marseille is the oldest city in France, but it’s often left off vacation itineraries. It has a reputation for being unsafe, but, in reality, it’s a vibrant, diverse city with lots to offer.

One of the must-visit spots is the Old Port.

Here you’ll find traditional fishing boats and fishermen selling their catch of the day.

It’s also a great place to sit and people-watch while enjoying a glass of wine, especially if you’re visiting for more than one day.

Other highlights include the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, Palais Longchamp, and Mucem – Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée.

But my favorite thing to do in Marseille was wander around Le Panier.

This charming neighborhood is full of colorful buildings, street art, and cute cafés. It has some of the most Instagram-worth spots I’ve seen.

It’s also the oldest part of the city and has kept its traditional charm.

11. Montpellier

This is the Aqueduc Saint-Clément in Montpellier. It's a stone structure that goes from the bottom left to the middle of the photo. It's surrounded by trees and in the distance you can see rooftops.
Aqueduc Saint-Clément

Montpellier is a lively university town with a beautiful historic center.

It’s also close to some stunning beaches, making it the perfect city if you want a mix of culture and relaxation.

One of the main attractions in Montpellier is Place de la Comédie, a bustling square lined with gorgeous architecture and outdoor cafés.

Nearby, there’s the Musée Fabre. It houses one of the most impressive collections of European art in France.

I loved wandering down the side streets. There was so much to see like the L’Escalier Arc en Ciel Belvédère and Église Saint-Roch de Montpellier.

Of course, nothing was as picturesque as the Château d’eau du Peyrou.

This 18th-century water tower serves as a symbol of the city and is connected to the impressive Aqueduc Saint-Clément.

12. Clermont-Ferrand

This is the front of Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand. It's a black stone church with two towers. It has a rose window in the center and bright orange doors. I took this photo from the street so you can see buildings on either side of the church.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption

Clermont-Ferrand sits in the heart of the Auvergne region surrounded by dormant volcanoes.

It’s known for its dark volcanic stone buildings, the most famous being the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption.

Its stunning Gothic architecture makes it stand out among other cathedrals I’ve seen in France.

Then, next to the cathedral is Place de la Victoire, a popular hang-out spot for locals and tourists alike.

But the coolest thing I did in Clermont-Ferrand was hike the Puy-de-Dôme.

This volcano sits at 1,465 meters (4,806 feet) and offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside.

It took me about two hours to get to the top, but it was definitely worth the effort.

13. La Turballe

This is the Marais Salants de Guérande. It's a salt marsh. It's divided into squares and each is filled with water. Some are half-dried and you can see the salt forming.
Marais Salants de Guérande

La Turballe is a charming fishing village located on the Atlantic coast in Brittany. It’s known for its fresh seafood, beautiful beaches, and traditional Breton culture.

I spent most of my time here strolling along the sandy beaches and watching the colorful fishing boats come in with their catch of the day.

The village also has a bustling market where you can find all sorts of local delicacies.

But the highlight of my trip was touring the Maison des Paludiers.

It’s dedicated to the traditional salt harvesting techniques used in the region.

It was a fascinating look into an important aspect of Brittany’s history and culture.

Of course, no visit to La Turballe is complete without trying some fresh oysters. The village is known for its oyster beds, and you can often see local fishermen harvesting them from the sea.

Conclusion: Underrated French Cities

France is full of charming and well-known cities, but there are still so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

From the ancient city of Marseille to the fishing village of La Turballe, each offers a glimpse into the country’s rich culture.

Now that you know about these cities, it’s time to plan your trip to France. I recommend starting with Strasbourg.

It can be done as a day trip from Paris so you can easily fit it into your schedule.


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Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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