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
France

16 Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France

Welcome to France! France is known for its quaint villages, hilltop towns and beautiful cities. 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 45 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. That places them fifth overall for the top number of sites. All of these places are recognized for their natural, historic and cultural significance, selected by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a way to preserve and protect for future generations. So, let’s learn more about some of the best ones to visit while in France. 

Arles Amphitheatre

Arles, France - home to a number of wonderful examples of Roman monuments and architecture.

Contributed by Chris at Explore Now or Never

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!

Avignon

Discover the beautiful and historic city of Avignon, in Provence, France.

Contributed by Nadine Maffre of Le Long Weekend

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.

Banks of the Seine in Paris

The banks of the Siene river in Paris has been designated UNESCO World Heritage status

Contributed by Dymphe of Dymabroad

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 UNESCO World 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 image, it offers a lovely view of the Seine and the Parisian buildings. 

Carcassonne

The medieval city of Carcassonne, in the Occitanie region in southern France, is listed as UNESCO World Heritage site.

Contributed by Elisa of France Bucket List

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 was 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. 

Chaîne des Puys

Contributed by Patricia of Ze Wandering Frogs

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, medieval Castle of Mural, to exploring 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. 

Le Havre

Le Havre was founded in 1517 at the mouth of the Seine River in the Normandy region of France.

Contributed by Lee & Stacey of One Trip at a Time

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 World Heritage 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!

Loire Valley

The majestic Loire Valley in France from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes

Contributed by Leyla Giray Alyanak of Offbeat France

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, product of centuries of care and attentive cultivation, or the troglodyte houses built into mountain caves, or 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.

Lyon

Lyon, France - known for its historic architecture, food and culture.

Contributed by Elisa of World in Paris

The beautiful city of Lyon, in eastern France, is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its rich history and heritage. From its origins to 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 of 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.

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

Contributed by Victoria of Guide Your Travel 

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 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. There is an entrance fee although it is only a few euros. The rest of Mont-Saint Michel can be seen free of charge. 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.

Thanks to Victoria for the use of the cover photo. 

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard is located in France and it's one of the famous French Landmarks.

Contributed by Ania from The Travelling Twins

One would expect that the highest known Roman aqueduct bridge will be in 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 to 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 in the department of Vaucluse, which is close proximity 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. 

Provins

Provins, France - only 2 hours from Paris. A wonderful medieval town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Contributed by Jes from Tourist to Travellers

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 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, 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.

Saint-Émilion

The St Emilion vineyards and surrounding town in Nouvelle Aquitaine in France were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1999, in recognition of the vineyards from the area dating back to Roman times.

Contributed by Kylie of Visiting Dordogne

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 to explore 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.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg sits on the border of Germany and France has been part of both countries during its history and until today, you can still clearly see the influences of both France and Germany represented in the city
Contributed by Emma Verhaeghe of Emma’s Roadmap

One of the most authentic cities in France is without 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 World Heritage. 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.

Vauban Fortifications

Neuf-Brisach - UNESCO classifies it as a world heritage site under the listing, The Fortifications of Vauban

Contributed 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. 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 designed to protect the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire. It also played an important role in WW1 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.

Versailles

The Palace and Gardens of Versailles, only 30 minutes from Paris

Contributed 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. 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, 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 modeled after it. Because of that unmistakable influence of both the Palace and Gardens on European architecture and landscape design, the Versailles estate was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. It’s also one of the Royal Residences in UNESCO’s Visit World Heritage program.

Vézère Valley

The Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley are a top UNESCO World Heritage Site to visit in France

Contributed by Erica of Tripscholars

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 sites in France to receive the UNESCO 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 original decorated caves. Other highlights include the National Museum of Prehistory and the Cro-Magnon rock shelter, after which the term Cro-Magnon was named. 

As a holidaymaker…

France offers so many amazing options for travel, almost too much. Perhaps looking at the designated UNESCO sites might be a way to help plan your next intinery. As these places are carefully selected for their historic and cultural significance, and always are worth visiting. 

16 of the Best UNESCO World Heritage sites spread throughout France.
16 of the Best UNESCO World Heritage sites spread throughout France. #France
16 of the Best UNESCO World Heritage sites spread throughout France. #France

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44 Comments

  • Jamie Italiane

    I would love to see every single place on this list. So far, I have only been to two, Versailles and the Eiffel Tower area. St. Michel’s may the top of my list, but I also love bridges and would love to see all the beautiful historic towns.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      There’s a lot of inspiring places isn’t there? Hopefully you’ll be able to experience some of them in future travels.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      That’s great that a local approves of this list! Now you just have to go to Saint-Emilion. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Francois.

  • Patricia Pagenel

    Ah quelle est belle, la France! So many beautiful places, and totally biased since we are French-born! But what’s crazy is that France is probably the country we have visited the least, so that’s a great list for us to explore the homeland whenever we are in France. Of this list, the Loire castles and the Vezere Valley would be high on our priority list.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      France eat tres belle! I’m so glad that this list inspired some exploring of your homeland and hopefully the Loire Valley and Vezere Valley are your first destinations to enjoy!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I’m so glad you like it! And, hopefully one day you’ll be able to visit those two destinations.

  • Gus Feliciano

    Such amazing sites and great recommendations! We have been dying to go to City of Lyon and cannot wait for the borders to open up again so we can finally visit!

  • Catherine Mendoza

    At first look, I thought that the City of Strasbourg was actually a German city. When I read, it was on the border of Germany and France, hence no wonder why they’re quite similar. It’s good to know about these 16 UNESCO world heritage sites in France. We plan to visit France this year when everything permits. Moreover, the Seine river is fascinating to know. Never knew about it until here. Lol. That was indeed a great amount of information, also for anyone who’s the first time visiting Paris or France itself.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Catherine for stopping by. I am happy to hear that you find this blog helpful for your future planning to France! Bon Voyage!

  • Chloe Beaver

    I’m so glad I’ve been able to visit a few of these places, and I didn’t even know they were UNESCO sites at the time! I just love the banks at the Seine, it’s so classic France. I’d love to stop by the rest of these when I can make it back to Europe.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I agree, the Seine is wonderful indeed and there is a lot to discover in France isn’t there!

  • Saurabh

    I didn’t know that there are so many UNESCO sites in France. Would like to explore them even though my previous visit to France was not pleasent. I believe in giving second chance.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I am so sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy your trip to France. Yes, I believe in second chances.

  • Jan

    What an interesting list! The three-level Roman Aqueduct looks impressive. I did not know France had Roman monuments. The beautiful cities of Strasbourg and Lyon are at the top of my wish list. Everyone of these sites have some history behind its origin. I am bookmarking your blog post for future.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks so much Jan, so pleased to hear that you will refer to this list for future travels!

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    France is definitely high on our plans when we can visit Europe again. I love the old medieval towns and would definitely want to visit Provins. Hubby would want to add the Vauban fortifications. But as a foodie treat we would need to finally get to Lyon. We have visited most of the rest but many are definitely worth a return visit.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      We are definitely in synch and hopefully we will be able to experience all these wonderful places soon.

  • Maggie

    I was supposed to go to France and check out several of these last March but of course had to cancel (still bitter about it, but it’s fine haha). But there were a few places on here I’ve never heard of! Like Chaine des Puys and Carcassonne. They sound so beautiful and fascinating!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I completely understand Maggie, not bitter at all. Hopefully we both get a visit soon.

  • Umiko

    I have to admit I haven’t heard almost half of these places. Provins is so interesting though. Not just because it’s beautiful, but I was intrigued by the rose petal jam. I remember reading about Vezere Valley somewhere. Beautiful pre-historic art.

  • Yukti Agrawal

    France has so many architectural wonders and yes that too UNESCO listed too. I have seen those Paris ones and nearby it. Pont du Gard looks impressive and good to know that it is from 1st century. City of Carcasonne is very interesting and even the board game on it also has same castle photo. Thanks for sharing wonderful monuments.

  • Subhashish Roy

    Wow such a wonderful list. And such pretty cities. I have visited the Paris sites but except that we haven’t yet ventured out anywhere else. Strasbourg & Lyon would probably be the first two we would wish to visit next.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I’m so happy that you enjoyed the list and perhaps inspired future travels beyond Paris.

  • Antoine and Marielle

    We live in France but have yet to discover most of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Thank you for rounding them up in this post – we can definitely use this as a bucket list for our campervan road trip around the country this summer. We actually didn’t know that some of the places on this list that we had visited already were UNESCO Sites. It’s great to know and learn more about their history.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      How fantastic that as a local you are continuing to explore some of these places. Thank you for your kind comment and happy to hear you might use this article as a future reference.

  • Anita

    I want to see more of France. From your list Loire Valley is very high on my wish list. So many awesome places to see. Thanks for sharing!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I agree, there are endless options in France aren’t there?

  • Angela

    I’m a big fan of Unesco listings around the world, and France certainly has some wonderful ones. Wouldn’t it be a great trip to tour around and visit each one! Lovely post.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      There is just so much to explore in France- history, food, landmarks, beach, mountains, cities or villages- it has something for everyone.

  • Emma

    I love France, this is a great list. I went on a driving holiday there one year and saw so many amazing small towns. Strasbourg is still very high on my list though, I’d love to visit

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hopefully you’ll be able to visit one day. I have a never ending list of places I want to still see too.

  • Emma Todd

    What a beautiful collection of UNESCO heritage sites. The Medieval town of Provins really speaks to my soul. I just want to wander that town and explore it! I’m also really drawn to the city of Strasbourg with those tudor-style buildings and the river running through the centre.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I agree! I am completely drawn to Provins too. And to know it’s an easy day trip from Paris is just a bonus.

  • Indrani

    I have been to 5 of these sites, so many more remaining. France is a beautiful country, we road tripped for a week there. Kids were keen about the Disneyland but my heart beats for Loire Valley even today.

  • Carol Guttery

    I’ve had my eye on Mont Saint-Michel for a long time- it looks so lovely. Hoping that I can get back over to Europe in the next year or two.

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