17 Must-Visit UNESCO Heritage Sites in France

Welcome to France! Explore the charm of quaint villages, hillside towns, and vibrant cities, set against a backdrop of UNESCO Heritage sites in France.

From lush vineyards to breathtaking coastlines, France, boasting 52 UNESCO sites, stands as Europe’s diverse gem. That places France fifth overall.

This article includes some of the absolute France UNESCO favourites like Avignon, Paris, Loire Valley, and Lyon. But it also includes some under-the-radar gems like Vézère Valley, Chaîne des Puys and Carcassonne.

Curious to find out about these heritage gems of France?

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17 Best UNESCO Heritage Sites in France

1. Arles Amphitheatre

Roman ampitheatre in Arles appears on the  UNESCO Sites France list
Photo by Chris at Explore Now or Never

Nestled among beautiful villages in Provence is Arles, a haven of Roman monuments and architecture. Escape the crowds of Rome’s Colosseum and opt for the solitude of Arles’ amphitheatre—a hidden gem waiting to be explored.

Constructed in 90 AD, this awe-inspiring venue, mirroring the Colosseum, boasts 120 arches, a vast oval arena, and bleachers. Originally accommodating over 20,000 spectators for chariot races. Today, it serves as a venue for summer concerts and bullfights during the Feria d’Arles.

UNESCO Sites France: Arles

Post the Western Empire’s fall in the 5th century, this amphitheatre transformed into a fortress, housing a town with 200+ houses, a square, and chapels. Life persisted within its walls until the early 19th century, leading to its designation as a national historic monument.

🌟I recommend visiting on market day – held outdoors every week on Wednesday and Saturday for an extra lively and infectious atmosphere.

2. Avignon

bridge, river and castle is Avignon is a  unesco heritage sites in france
Photo by Nadine Maffre of Le Long Weekend

Avignon is situated in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France, nestled along the banks of the Rhône River.

World Heritage Sites France: Avignon

The entire historical centre of Avignon which includes the 14th century Papal Palace built for Popes, the famous Pont d’Avignon bridge which is now reduced to four arches from its original 22, stretches across the Rhône River, featuring the petite Chapel of St. Nicolas at its midpoint and the preserved medieval architecture found in the Old Town.

🌟I recommend dedicating a day to exploring Avignon, wandering through its charming cobbled streets and strolling to the Rocher des Doms. From there, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view across the river to Villeneuve les Avignon, graced by its majestic hilltop fort.

3. Banks of the Seine in Paris

eiffel tower with pink sky is Paris World Heritage Sites
Photo by Dymphe of Dymabroad

The inclusion of the historic part of the city makes it a compelling reason to visit Paris.

Paris World Heritage Sites: Banks of the Seine

This area encapsulates Parisian evolution and history, showcasing the profound influence of the Seine River. With iconic landmarks like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Petit Palais, Notre-Dame, and Place de la Concorde, it serves as a rich tapestry of Parisian heritage, spanning 800 years of architectural styles and decorative arts along the Seine River.

🌟I recommend taking a relaxing Seine River cruise and then exploring the quiet yet ever-so-charming Île Saint-Louis, one of Paris’s two natural islands, nestled in the heart of the Seine.

4. Carcassonne

castle with view of town in carcassonne as a France UNESCO site
Contributed by Elisa of France Bucket List

The medieval Cité de Carcassonne, in the Occitanie region in southern France, is a remarkable example of a fortified medieval city with its keep, ramparts, and other well-preserved buildings.

France UNESCO: Carcassone

Carcassonne, a key site in the Crusades against the Cathars, a southern French religious group deemed heretical by Catholics. The Counts of Carcassonne supported the Cathars, leading to a Crusader siege on the Cité, which eventually surrendered.

🌟When in Carcassonne, travel blogger Elisa suggests savouring the local specialty, cassoulet, a slow-cooked casserole featuring meat, pork skin, and white beans, widely available on restaurant menus throughout the region.

5. Chaîne des Puys

mountain with blue sky listed as UNESCO in France site in Chaine des Puys
Photo by Patricia of Ze Wandering Frogs

Exploring the Chaîne des Puys is ideally done through a hike in the popular Volcanoes Regional Nature Park.

UNESCO in France: Chaîne des Puys

The Chaîne des Puys-Limagne fault tectonic arena in Auvergne showcases the West European Rift, formed approximately 35 million years ago in the aftermath of the Alps’ creation. Beyond its geological significance, the Chaîne des Puys region features other highlights including prehistoric Grotta dolmen, the Romanesque Orcival Basilica, and the medieval Castle of Mural.

🌟Blogger Patricia suggests exploring charming villages like Montpeyroux, Usson, and Saint-Saturnin. In the city of Clermont-Ferrand, pivotal even in Roman times, don’t miss the renowned 13th-century Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Cathedral with its impressive 95-meter-high spires.

6. Le Havre

white bridge over water listed UNESCO France sites
Photo by Lee & Stacey of One Trip at a Time

Founded in 1517 at the Seine River’s mouth to replace silted-up ports, Le Havre, situated in the Normandy region, has evolved into France’s second-largest port, welcoming cargo and cruise ships year-round.

UNESCO France Sites: Le Harve

Le Havre, largely destroyed in World War II, underwent a post-war reconstruction led by Auguste Perret from 1945 to 1964. Preserving historical patterns and incorporating innovative concepts is an outstanding example of urban planning and architecture, making it a unique destination for exploration amid modern post-war buildings.

🌟Bloggers Lee & Stacey recommend finding hidden gems like the Maison de l’Armateur (Shipowner’s House), the Saint-Joseph Church, and the Jardins Suspendus (Hanging Gardens).

7. Loire Valley

castle with gray sky listed as UNESCO sites in France
Photo by Leyla Giray Alyanak of Offbeat France

Preserving the Loire Valley’s splendour was a daunting task, resulting in the protection of a 280-km stretch from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes, encompassing cities, castles, and cultural heritage.

UNESCO Sites in France: Loire Valley

Cities like Orléans, Blois, Tours, Chinon, and Saumur, adorned with historical and architectural gems, are complemented by famous Loire châteaux, such as Chenonceau and Chambord, along with cultural landmarks like Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final days.

🌟Blogger Leyla suggests exploring the Loire Valley’s wines, a result of centuries of careful cultivation, along with troglodyte houses nestled into mountain caves and the picturesque villages that adorn the valley.

8. Lyon

colourful buildings along riverbank listed as World Heritage sites in France
Photo by Elisa of World in Paris

Lyon, the capital of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, lies at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône Rivers and is easily accessible for a weekend getaway from Paris via the TGV train.

World Heritage Sites in France: Lyon

Preserving the urban settlement’s evolution over two thousand years, buildings in the area, from their origins to the present day, reflect a continuous cycle of constructing new structures while safeguarding the old ones.
Explore Roman vestiges in antique Lugdunum, wander medieval streets around Fourvière Hill, and admire Renaissance houses in Vieux Lyon—all within the city’s bounds.

🌟Acknowledged as the capital of French gastronomy, Lyon stands out as an exceptional destination to savour delectable French cuisine, making it a compelling reason to visit Lyon.

9. Mont Saint-Michel

small rocky island in a sheltered bay listed as UNESCO heritage sites France
Contributed by Victoria of Guide Your Travel 

Mont-Saint Michel stands as a marvel, showcasing unique architecture, a picturesque natural location, and profound significance to the Catholic faith.

UNESCO Heritage Sites France: Mont-Saint Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel, known as the “Wonder of the West,” is a remarkable construction situated on a small rocky island in a sheltered bay in northern France. Initially home to an abbey in the 8th century, it later evolved into a complete village.

🌟Blogger Victoria recommends spending a full day exploring this ever-so-popular site.

10. Pont du Gard

bridge with water reflection listed as UNESCO world heritage France site
Photo by Ania from The Travelling Twins

Surprisingly, the highest known Roman aqueduct bridge is not in Italy but in France—the famous Pont du Gard. Built in the first half of the 1st century, it is part of an aqueduct system that transported water from Uzès to Nîmes, making it a famous French landmark.

UNESCO World Heritage France: Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard, a three-level structure made from local quarries, spans 275 meters and reaches a height of 48.77 meters. Noteworthy for its exceptional architecture, it garnered attention in the 16th century, ensuring its near-perfect preservation to the present day. In 1743-1747, a road bridge was added to enhance its utility.

🌟I recommend exploring Luberon, the heart of Provence, located in the Vaucluse department near Avignon and Pont du Gard. While these seven beautiful French villages may not be on the UNESCO list, they are certainly worth exploring for their charm and picturesque beauty.

11. Provins

medieval town with buildings and road listed as UNESCO France site
Photo by Jes from Tourist to Travellers

Don’t miss Provins if you’re exploring places beyond your week in Paris; this medieval town is just a 2-hour train ride away.

UNESCO France: Provins

Provins, a beautifully preserved medieval town, showcases old buildings that maintain their original form. During the 13th century, Provins held significance as one of France’s important towns, thriving on its wool production, which led to the hosting of numerous fairs in the region.

🌟Blogger Jes recommends exploring highlights like Cesar Tower, the rampant, the church of Saint Quiriace, and Place du Chatel in Provins. Don’t forget to indulge in local specialties like cheese and rose-flavoured products, including rose syrup, candies, and petal jam.

12. Reims

A weekend trip from Paris to Reims offers the perfect blend of medieval charm, cultural importance, and a celebrated champagne heritage, reflecting the city’s rich history and grandeur.

UNESCO Sites France: Reims

Reims boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a masterpiece of Gothic art; the Tau Palace, an archbishop’s residence; and the Saint-Remi Basilica, a prime example of early Christian architecture.

🌟I highly recommend delving into the captivating world of Reims’ UNESCO-listed champagne houses and their historic caves. Make sure to join a champagne tour in Reims with well-known producers like Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger. It’s a delightful way to experience the fascinating history of champagne-making in the area.

13. Saint-Émilion

view of town from grassy bank listed as world heritage sites France list
Photo by Kylie of Visiting Dordogne

Nestled in history, Saint-Émilion flourished from the 11th century, positioned along the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims’ path. Grand structures, like the Grotto of Saint-Émilion, the Monolithic Church, and charming châteaux amidst the vineyards, showcase the town’s beauty in local yellow stone.

World Heritage Sites France: Saint-Émilion

Saint-Émilion, in Nouvelle Aquitaine, is acknowledged for its vineyards dating back to Roman times. The picturesque town, surrounded by expansive vineyards, hosts notable structures like churches, monasteries, and hospices.

🌟I recommend visiting Saint-Émilion, a top autumn destination in France, to witness the harvest and sip on local wine at many of the town’s numerous wine shops.

14. Strasbourg

medieval buildings on riverbank listed as UNESCO France
Photo by Emma Verhaeghe of Emma’s Roadmap

Undoubtedly one of the most authentic cities in France, Strasbourg, nestled on the border with Germany, has a rich history of being part of both countries. The city proudly displays influences from both France and Germany, evident to this day.

UNESCO France: Strasbourg

Initially, only Strasbourg’s historic Grande Île was designated a UNESCO site for its rich history, Gothic cathedral, and canals. Recently, the younger Neustadt, built under German administration in the late 19th and early 20th century, was added, showcasing distinctive German architecture, creating a unique blend with the French style.

🌟Emma suggests taking a boat tour to appreciate the city from the water and exploring the charming La Petite France neighbourhood with its half-timbered houses, making Strasbourg a delightful off-the-beaten-path destination in France.

15. Vauban Fortifications

grassy embankment with fortified wall listed as UNESCO heritage sites in France
Photo by Mark from Wyld Family Travel

Neuf-Brisach is a small town in the Alsace Region of France very close to the Rhine and the German border. Most people come across Neuf Briasch when travelling from Freiburg Germany to Colmar France.

France UNESCO: Vauban Fortifications

Neuf-Brisach, renowned for its fortifications by the renowned French military architect Vauban, features a unique octagonal design, with walls completely enclosing the town for strategic defense in times of war.
Constructed in 1697, the fortified town played a pivotal role in safeguarding the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire. It also served a crucial function during WWI and WWII, attempting to thwart German invasions into France.

🌟Mark recommends parking and going for a walk on the defensive walls, which gives you a view of the amazing countryside and the town.

16. The Palace and Gardens of Versailles

flowers with castle in background listed as UNESCO heritage sites in France
Photo by Sarah of CosmopoliClan

Just half an hour from Paris lies an estate that, to this day, sparks the imagination: the Palace and Gardens of Versailles.

UNESCO in France: Versailles

Built in the 17th century on his father’s hunting lodge site, Sun King Louis XIV’s opulent palace, particularly the iconic Hall of Mirrors, became the central hub for Parisian political and aristocratic gatherings.
Versailles’ magnificence became a model for many palaces and gardens in Europe, influencing their architecture and design significantly. The impact of Versailles on European landscapes and buildings is clear and influential.

🌟Sarah suggests exploring the lovely Versailles Gardens, known for intimate parterres, fountains, and flowerbeds, as famous as the Palace. Hidden gems include the Trianon Palaces, royal retreats, and the Queen’s Hamlet—a romantic garden with cottages, a lake, a farm, and a grotto, designed by Marie-Antoinette.

17. Vézère Valley

The Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves listed as UNESCO heritage sites in France
Photo by Erica of Tripscholars

It is a profound experience to see the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley. The whole area is a wonderland for curious travellers.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France: Vézère Valley

UNESCO World Heritage recognizes 15 prehistoric sites in a small region, but there are over 150. The acknowledgment is for masterpieces of prehistoric art and the wealth of sites and artifacts aiding our understanding of these ancient civilizations.

🌟Erica suggests a visit to the most famous Lascaux cave, often dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory. Although the original is closed for preservation, Lascaux IV offers an accurate reproduction and an interactive museum. Other attractions include the National Museum of Prehistory and the Cro-Magnon rock shelter, from which the term “Cro-Magnon” originated.

Europe UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO designates World Heritage sites based on exceptional cultural or natural significance, with countries nominating and undergoing rigorous evaluation to recognize contributions to humanity’s collective heritage.

I’ve written about many other European UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I often use these designated sites to help me plan my travel itineraries.

As a Holidaymaker

Discover France’s UNESCO gems! Plan your trip effortlessly using my recommended resources for hotels, cars, and trains on my Travel planning page.