Welcome to France! France is known for its quaint villages, hilltop towns and beautiful cities. And, it’s also known for having a lot of superb UNESCO Heritage sites in France. From its vast vineyards in the countryside to its endless coastline with sweeping sea views, it’s definitely one of Europe’s most diverse and popular destinations to visit.
With its rich history, culture and architecture, France has a total of 49 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. That places them fifth overall for the top number of sites. So, let’s learn more about some of the best ones to visit while in France, shall we?
Table of Contents
16 Best UNESCO Heritage Sites in France
#1 Arles Amphitheatre
Nestled among beautiful villages in Provence is Arles, home to a number of wonderful examples of Roman monuments and architecture. While tourists flock to the Colosseum in Rome and endure long lines to see it, a visit to the amphitheatre in Arles makes a worthy alternative. Plus, you’ll have it all to yourself.
Built in 90 AD, this incredible place—with 120 arches was inspired by the Colosseum itself. It includes a large oval arena and bleachers. It held more than 20,000 spectators and featured chariot races. Today, it hosts summer concerts as well as bullfights during the Feria d’Arles.
A fascinating fact…when the Western Empire fell in the 5th century, this amphitheatre was transformed into a fortress. A town with more than 200 houses was enclosed within its walls, including a public square and two chapels. Life carried on this way inside its walls all the way up until the early 19th century when it was recognized as a national historic monument.
There is no better way to spend your day than visiting the weekly market while in the south of France. Why not plan your itinerary around these villages on market days and enjoy immersing yourself in the Provençal way of life!
2-Hour Private Walking Tour
✅ Professional Guide
✅ Tour Arles Amphitheatre
✅ See where Vincent Van Gogh stayed and the Place de la Republic
The entire historical centre of Avignon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Due to its multiple, well-maintained historical interests, most of which are contained within ancient city walls.
Located at the edge of modern-day Provence, Avignon was once the home of the papacy. The Popes set about building the impressive Papal Palace in the 14th century, and it was expanded on by successive popes thereafter. Today, visitors can take a tour of the interior and get a glimpse into how life once was, with the help of an interactive Histopad.
Nearby, you’ll find the famous Pont d’Avignon (Saint Bénézet Bridge) of which remains just 4 of its original 22 arches spanning the Rhône River. Halfway across the remains, you’ll find the tiny Chapel of St Nicolas.
The historical centre has been lovingly preserved, and you’ll find many examples of Medieval architecture as you wander through the cobbled streets. Be sure to take your time to savour them all. Take a walk up to the Rocher des Doms, where you’ll find a stunning view over the river to Villeneuve les Avignon, with its own stately hilltop fort.
Spending a day in Avignon will be enough time to visit the landmarks that earned their spot on the UNESCO Sites France list.
Explore the historical center of Avignon on a 3-hour guided walking tour. Visit the Palais des Papes, learn about the region’s history, and enjoy a glass of Côte du Rhone wine. Check prices and book your dates.
#3 Banks of the Seine in Paris
One of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France is the Banks of the Seine. This is the area that surrounds the Seine River in Paris. It’s been on this list since the year 1991 and it includes the historic part of the city of Paris. The reason why the banks of the Seine are included in the France heritage sites list is that the Seine River played an important role in the development of Paris.
This area shows the evolution and history of Paris and the influence of the Seine River on this. You find there the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Petit Palais, Notre-Dame, and Place de la Concorde, among other famous spots. It is here you will find many of the reasons to visit Paris. You can also see the different architectural styles and decorative arts of about 800 years of Parisian history along the Seine River. That’s another one of the reasons why it’s included on the list.
Wandering around Île Saint-Louis, one of two natural islands in Paris makes for the perfect escape while in Paris. As it sits in the middle of the Seine with the left and right banks on either side. As you can imagine, it offers a lovely view of the Seine and the Parisian buildings.
The medieval Cité de Carcassonne, in the Occitanie region in southern France, is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Carcassonne is a remarkable example of a fortified medieval city with its keep, ramparts, and other well-preserved buildings.
Carcassonne was one of the crusades’ main sites against the Cathars – a religion that thrived in southern France. History tells us that Cathars were considered heresy by the Catholics. The Counts of Carcassonne and its inhabitants supported the Cathars, and the Crusaders besieged the Cité until it surrendered.
Today, Carcassonne is one of France’s most visited sites, thanks to its beautiful architecture and rich history. Visitors can stroll the medieval streets, lined with lovely shops and restaurants, and explore the remaining structures of this fortified city.
While visiting Carcassonne, be sure to try a delicious cassoulet. A cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole containing meat, pork skin, and white beans. It’s a staple regional dish found on all local restaurants’ menus.
Discover the Château and ramparts of Carcassonne. Walk along the galleries, the fortified walls, and the ramparts. Explore the archaeological museum with your self-guided ticket. Check prices and book your dates.
#5 Chaîne des Puys
The Chaîne des Puys – Limagne fault tectonic arena in Auvergne has been recognized as a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018. It features the West European Rift created some 35 million years ago in the aftermath of the Alps formation.
Hiking the popular Volcanoes Regional Nature Park is the perfect way to explore the Chaîne des Puys. Day trips around the popular Puy-de-Dôme provide a great introduction to the Auvergne landscape, with views across the Chaîne des Puys and all the way to the Limagne Valley.
In addition to its geological importance, the Chaîne des Puys region is very rich culturally and historically. Visiting the Chaîne des Puys is like walking through France’s history. From the prehistory Grotta dolmen, Romanesque Orcival Basilica, and medieval Castle of Mural. To explore the small villages of Montpeyroux, Usson, and Saint-Saturnin considered among the most beautiful villages of the region.
The city of Clermont-Ferrand, which was already crucial under the Romans, is famous for its 13th-century Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Cathedral and 95 metres high spires.
#6 Le Havre
Located in the Normandy region of France, Le Havre was founded in 1517 at the mouth of the Seine River to replace nearby ports that had silted up. It has grown into France’s second-largest port with cargo and cruise ships visiting throughout the year.
Most of the city was heavily bombed in World War II so there isn’t much of its historic architecture left. A design team, led by Auguste Perret, rebuilt the destroyed areas of the city from 1945 to 1964.
Perret and his team preserved historical patterns such as streets and squares, along with buildings that survived the bombs. They then combined those with new planning concepts such as uniform design and the use of concrete. These innovative ideas earned Le Havre a spot on the UNESCO Sites in France list for being an “outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture.”
In addition to experiencing a whole city that is a UNESCO site, visitors will find many hidden gems tucked away amidst the modern post-war buildings just waiting to be discovered!
#7 Loire Valley
Choosing what to protect must have been an impossible task. And, so an entire 280-km stretch of the majestic Loire Valley from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes is now protected – from its cities, castles and cultural heritage. The cities include jewels of history and architecture and include Orléans, Blois, Tours, Chinon and Saumur. Added to these are the famous Loire châteaux, including such exquisite examples as Chenonceau or Chambord, not to mention the cultural genius embodied in places like the Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final days.
Also noteworthy, are the Loire Valley wines, the product of centuries of care and attentive cultivation, the troglodyte houses built into mountain caves, and the magnificent villages that dot the valley. Of particular importance are the many interactions between the people and their land, including the deep historical significance of a region at the heart of France for centuries.
With this ticket, enjoy full access to Chenonceau castle, gardens, Dômes Gallery and Carriage Gallery. Check prices and book your dates.
The beautiful city of Lyon, in eastern France, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its rich history and heritage. From its origins to the present day, buildings are preserved and representative of the urban settlement of over two thousand years, always building new structures while preserving the old ones.
Lyon, the capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, is located at the junction of the Saône and the Rhône Rivers. Thanks to its fast connection to the TGV train, Lyon makes for the ideal weekend trip from Paris.
Lyon is like a stroll through history. Without leaving the city, it is possible to visit the Roman vestiges of antique Lugdunum, get lost in the medieval streets around the Fourvière hill, and admire beautiful Renaissance houses in Vieux Lyon. It is also considered the capital of French gastronomy, and it is an excellent place to taste delicious French food.
Discover the city of Lyon on a convenient hop-on hop-off bus tour. See all the top attractions, including the Basilica de Notre Dame de Fourvière and Place Bellecour. There are 12 stops along the sightseeing route. Check prices and book your dates.
#9 Mont Saint-Michel
Described by UNESCO as the “Wonder of the West”, Mont-Saint Michel is an impressive construction located on a small rocky island in a sheltered bay in the north of France. Originally, in the 8th century, only an abbey was built on the island but a whole village soon followed.
Today, Mont-Saint Michel has become a tourist hotspot and a popular weekend location for thousands of visitors every week. Recently, an updated walkway was built so the island is easily accessible on foot. There are complimentary buses that will take you there if you’re not up for the 30-minute walk.
The main attraction in Mont-Saint Michel is the beautiful historic abbey that sits at the highest point of the island. Definitely plan to spend at least a day here to see everything. Mont-Saint Michel was named a UNESCO world heritage site because of its unique architecture and natural location as well as its significance to the catholic faith.
Explore the medieval monuments of Mont-Saint-Michel on a full-day trip from Paris to this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage site in France, the Gothic Abbey. Opt for a guided tour, audio guide, or just the ticket to go at your own pace. Check prices and book your dates.
#10 Pont du Gard
One would expect that the highest known Roman aqueduct bridge will be somewhere in Italy, but no. The largest still existing three-level Roman aqueduct bridge is Pont du Gard. It’s located in France and is one of the famous French landmarks. Pont du Gard was probably built in the first half of the 1st century and was part of the aqueduct system, which carried water from Uzès to Nîmes.
The structure built on three levels with stones from local quarries is 48.77 metres in height and 275 metres long. The pipe on the third level is 1.8 metres high and 1.2 metres wide. The exceptional architecture of the Pont du Gard attracted attention in the 16th century. Thanks to this, the bridge survived our times almost untouched. To make better use of it, a road bridge was attached to it in 1743-1747.
This is now used as a pedestrian bridge when you are visiting Pont du Gard. In 1840, the aqueduct was classified as a historical monument and in 1985 registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The heart of Provence is Luberon found in the department of Vaucluse, which is close proximity to Avignon and Pont du Gard. This part of France has the greatest number of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (or Most Beautiful Villages in France). Although these seven villages are not on the UNESCO list, they are definitely worth seeing.
Grab your Pont du Gard Skip the Line Admission Ticket. Check prices and book your dates.
If you are travelling to Paris and wish to check out some offbeat places then do not give Provins a miss. This medieval town is only a 2-hour drive from Paris. Provins is a beautifully well-preserved town whereby most of the old buildings are in their original form.
In the 13th century, Provins was one of the important towns in France and was prosperous due to its making of wool. Many fairs were held here as a result and this is another reason why this town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.
The beauty of the town is best explored on foot and sightseeing the historic places will not take up more than a day’s time. Some of the places of interest include Cesar Tower, rampant, the church of Saint Quiriace and Place du Chatel to name a few.
While in Provins, do not forget to try the cheese and rose flavours products, such as rose syrup, rose candies and rose petal jam.
The Saint-Émilion vineyards and surrounding town in Nouvelle Aquitaine were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1999, in recognition of the vineyards from the area dating back to Roman times. Along with the beautiful landscapes of vines for miles around, the town is also home to many notable buildings including churches, monasteries and hospices.
The town grew from the 11th century due to its location on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims’ walk. Many grand buildings were constructed in the town from the local yellow stone including the Grotto of Saint-Émilion, the Monolithic Church, and stunning château dotted amongst the vines.
Saint-Émilion is well worth spending a few days exploring the gorgeous town and surrounding wineries. Towards the end of summer, when the crowds are less, you can also witness the harvest in action. The town is full of wine shops also, where you can taste and purchase red wine with this amazing heritage behind it.
Discover the wines of Château Saint-Georges Côte Pavie on a visit to their wine cellars. Learn about grape varieties and taste the fine Bordeaux wines produced at the estate for over five generations. Check prices and book your dates.
One of the most authentic cities in France is without a doubt Strasbourg. This lovely city on the border of Germany and France has been part of both countries during its history. You can clearly see to this day the influences of both France and Germany represented in the city.
Initially, only the Grande Île, the old historical part of Strasbourg had been named UNESCO Site France. Thanks to its rich history, impressive Gothic cathedral and surrounding canals.
But recently, the younger Neustadt, built under the German administration in the late 19th and early 20th century, was also added to the list. This is because of the specific, highly recognizable German architecture, which had been built to represent the ‘new’ German town of Strasbourg. However, this clash of German and French styles is only one of the things that makes Strasbourg so unique.
See the old and new landmarks of Strasbourg from a different perspective on a 2-hour Segway tour of the city and its districts. Check prices and book your dates.
#14 Vauban Fortifications
Neuf-Brisach is a small town in the Alsace Region of France very close to the Rhine and the German border. Neuf-Brisach is known for its fortifications, built by the famous French military architect Vauban. The octagonal design of the fortification makes this a unique site. The town is completely surrounded by walls thus making it easy to defend in war times. UNESCO classifies it as a world heritage site under the listing, The Fortifications of Vauban.
The fortified town was built in 1697 and was designed to protect the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire. It also played an important role in WWI and WW2 trying to stop the Germans from invading France. Most people come across Neuf Briasch when travelling from Freiburg Germany to Colmar France, you can park and go for a walk on the defensive walls, which gives you a view of the amazing countryside and the town.
Just half an hour from Paris lies an estate that, to this day, sparks the imagination: The Palace and Gardens of Versailles. Sun King Louis XIV had it built on the site of his father’s hunting lodge in the 17th century. The opulent palace, and especially the iconic Hall of Mirrors, soon became the gathering place of the Parisian political and aristocratic society.
The Versailles Gardens, a collection of intimate parterres, lavish fountains, and fragrant flowerbeds are just as renowned as the Palace. Hidden behind the Gardens are the Trianon Palaces, which served as a place of refuge for the royals, and the Queen’s Hamlet, Marie-Antoinette’s very own romantic garden and model village, complete with cottages around an artificial lake, an operating farm and a grotto.
The grandeur of Versailles became a model of excellence and various palaces and royal gardens were modelled after it. Because of the unmistakable influence of both the Palace and Gardens on European architecture and landscape design, the Versailles estate was listed as one of the UNESCO France sites in 1979. It’s also one of the Royal Residences in UNESCO’s Visit World Heritage program.
Make the most of your holiday time with a priority access ticket to the Palace of Versailles. Get a glimpse into the life of French royalty by exploring the halls with the help of an audio guide. Check prices and book your dates.
#16 Vézère Valley
It is a profound experience to see the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley. UNESCO World Heritage specifically recognizes 15 prehistoric sites, but there are over 150 in a small geographic region. So the whole area is a wonderland for curious travellers.
In 1979, it was among the first places to receive the UNESCO World Heritage sites France designation. It was admitted for containing masterpieces of prehistoric art and for the incredibly rich abundance of sites and artifacts that help us piece together our understanding of these long-extinct civilizations.
Visit the most famous cave, Lascaux, often called the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory. The original cave is now closed to visitors to preserve it, but Lascaux IV provides an accurate reproduction as well as a multimedia hands-on museum. Visitors can also have the transformative experience of exploring six of the originally decorated caves. Other highlights include the National Museum of Prehistory and the Cro-Magnon rock shelter, after which the term Cro-Magnon was named.
FAQ: UNESCO Sites France
How many UNESCO World Heritage sites are in France?
There are 49 UNESCO World Heritage sites in France, including iconic landmarks such as the Reims Cathedral, Palace of Versailles, and Mont-Saint-Michel to name a few.
How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Paris?
Paris has one UNESCO World Heritage site, which is “Banks of the Seine”, recognized for its exceptional urban and architectural development of Paris.
Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe
If you would like to read more about other designated sites by country, be sure to check out these other European countries and their best UNESCO sites.
If you are planning a trip to France and beyond, be sure to check out my Europe Travel page which has all the featured articles plus travel resources- from accommodations to car rentals to train travel and more.
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As a holidaymaker
France offers so many amazing options for travel, almost too many. Perhaps looking at the designated UNESCO sites might be a way to help plan your next itinerary. As these places are carefully selected for their historic and cultural significance, and always are worth visiting.