France is any traveler’s dream destination, with its prolific mix of medieval landmarks, sunny beaches, and alpine towns. The architecture on display is top-class, alluring every visitor. While some of the nation’s architectural wonders are well known, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles, there are other buildings that are quite underrated but still worth exploring. The many historic and stunning monasteries and cathedrals are an example of France’s lesser-known attractions. We have shed a light on some of these and explored more popular options below, so check out these best famous buildings in France.
The grandiose Palace of Versailles was the official royal residence for French royalty from 1682 until the French Revolution. This massive palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features 2,300 rooms spread across 63,154 sq m (679,784 sq ft). The Palace was turned into the Museum of the History of France in 1837, under the orders of King Louis-Philippe, and remains so to this day. Visitors can indulge in breathtaking art while also exploring the famed Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Opera and the Royal Apartments. The grounds also contain Grand Trianon - an extensive chateau with its own garden. The vast Gardens of Versailles are also great to explore.
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
2. Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Laon
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon, or Laon Cathedral, is one of the finest examples of 12th and 13th-century Gothic style. The memorable carved oxen on its facade is complemented by its equally fine interiors. The cathedral stands as an intimidating presence over Laon, with its six imposing towers that rise over four stories high. The stained glass windows and the choir grille are also worth taking a closer look at. Laon Cathedral was declared “Monument Historique” in 1840.
Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Laon
Address: Rue du Cloître, 02000 Laon, France
Opening hours: 9am - 7pm (daily)
3. Monastere Royal de Brou
Monastere Royal de Brou, or the Royal Monastery of Brou, is an elegant church surrounded by three monastic buildings and three cloisters. It was commissioned by Margaret of Austria following the death of her husband. She wanted the monastery to host three large, grandiose tombs - one for her husband, one for his mother and one for herself. Some of the best European architects were appointed, and the elaborate Flamboyant Gothic-style monastery was built sometime between 1506 and 1532. Visitors today can explore the church as well as the museum, which features religious statues from the 13th to 17th centuries, as well as paintings from the 16th to 20th centuries. There are several tours, workshops and courses offered to the public.
Monastere Royal de Brou
Address: Park Brou, 63 Boulevard de Brou, 01000 Bourg-en-Bresse, France
Website: Monastere Royal de Brou
Opening hours: 9am - 12pm, 2pm - 5pm (daily)
Price: 10 USD (9.5 EUR)
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4. Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, or Rouen Cathedral, was built in the historic city of Rouen as an addition to an already existing church. This is the structure that the world-famous Impressionist artist Claude Monet captured at different times and weather in multiple paintings. These are now on display around the world in places such as Washington DC, Los Angeles, Cologne, Paris, Belgrade, and Massachusettes. The spires of the cathedral are the highest in France and rise up to 151 m (495 ft). It is the only cathedral in the country that also has an adjoining archiepiscopal palace. Visitors can marvel at the Romanesque architecture on the edifice and the Gothic art inside. The cathedral contains the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy and the heart of Richard the Lionheart.
Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, 76000 Rouen, France
Opening hours: Tue - Sat: 9am - 7pm; Sun: 8am - 6pm; Mon: 2pm - 7pm
Paris Tour Guide
Paris Tour Guide
<p>My name is Patricia Bollinger and my family is French. I have always had a passion for art and history and I chose to study them when I went to university. I have been a licensed tour guide for the last 30 years and I work in French, English and Italian. My passion and also as part of my work I travel a lot. For this reason, I have a good idea of visitors expectations. Naturally I want to share this passion for my country and its heritage with foreign visitors.<br>I also love cooking and I am a foody.</p>
Tours by Patricia
5. Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou
Located high atop Canigou Mountain, Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou was built in 1009 by the Count of Confluent and Cerdanya, Guifred II. The abbey overlooks Cady Valley and allows visitors to stroll through the ancient structure while being completely surrounded by nature. Since the place now belongs to Communauté des Beatitudes (Community of the Beatitudes), only guided tours are allowed. Visitors can marvel at the early Romanesque art, a vaulted crypt and the stunning abbey itself. Both tourists and those seeking religious or spiritual advice are allowed to visit.
Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou
Address: 66820 Casteil, France
Opening hours: Tue - Sat: 10am - 11am, 2pm - 4pm; Sun: 10am - 10:15am, 12:30pm - 12:45pm, 2pm - 4pm (closed on Mon)
6. Metz Cathedral
Metz Cathedral, or Cathedral of Saint Stephen of Metz, is a historic structure in the city of Metz, Lorraine. It is the cathedral of the city’s Roman Catholic Diocese and the seat of the Bishop of Metz. It features the largest expanse of stained glass windows, with a record of 6,496 sq m (69,920 sq ft), earning it the nickname “Good Lord’s Lantern”. It also has one of the highest naves in the world, with its arch suspended 40 m (131 ft) off the ground. Construction of the cathedral began in the 13th century, and it was completed 3 centuries later in 1552. Several additions and modifications have been made since then. Visitors are bound to be entranced by the cathedral, its crypt, and its towers.
Address: Place d'Armes, 57000 Metz, France
Website: Metz Cathedral
Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 9:30am - 12:30pm, 1:30pm - 5:30pm; Sun: 2pm - 6pm
7. Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere
A dominant feature of the skyline of Lyon is Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere - a minor basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was designed by architects Pierre Bossan and Sainte-Marie Perrin and built back in 1872. The Virgin Mary is highly regarded throughout Lyon, as she is believed to have saved the city from the bubonic plague in 1643. Every year, the city celebrates the Festival of Lights to thank Mary on December 8, the day of Immaculate Conception. Visitors are bound to be blown away by the exquisite, intricately designed decor inside. The basilica features two expertly designed churches, several sculptures, stained glass windows and mesmerizing artwork on the walls.
Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere
Address: 8 Place de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon, France
Website: Notre Dame de Fourviere
Opening hours: 7am - 7pm (daily)
8. Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile
Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile, or Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral, is known as the largest brick-built cathedral in the world and is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Albi. It was initially built as a fortress in 1282 and was under construction for over 200 years. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. It is the largest painted cathedral n Europe, with 18,500 sq m (199,132 sq ft) of frescos. Visitors can admire an awe-inspiring collection of paintings, sculptures, and statues. It was built in the Southern Gothic style and has been intricately decorated. The oldest representation of the Last Judgement can be found here under the Great Organ. A church and a treasury room can also be explored by visitors.
Address: Place Sainte-Cécile, 81000 Albi
Opening hours: Mon - Wed: 9am - 6pm; Thu - Sat: 8:30am - 6pm; Sun: 9am - 10:15am, 1pm - 5:30pm
Eiffel Tower is among the most famed landmarks worldwide, immortalized in movies, music, images, and nearly every other form of media. Considered the peak point of a trip to Paris, the magnificent, 324-m-tall (1,063-ft) structure was the most popular monument in the world in 2015. Constructed from 1887 to 1889, the tower is named after engineer Gustave Eiffel. Visitors to the tower can explore everything from bottom to top, starting at the Esplanade at the base of the monument. This area showcases the foundation of the tower and features a bust of Gustave Eiffel. The first floor allows visitors to experience the glass windows that provide an amazing view of Paris and glass floors that accentuate the height. The second floor enhances the amazing views of the city, and there are restaurants and shops here as well. The very top is a two-floor wonder, one indoor and one outdoor, that allows you truly take in the wonder of Paris.
Duration: 1 hour
Home to the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, the Louvre Museum is a memorable experience for every visitor. It is the largest art museum in the world, and the glass triangle at its front is recognizable almost immediately. The museum features around 38,000 pieces of art, including statues, monuments, and paintings, all dating from prehistoric periods up to the 21st century. The Louvre first opened in August 1973 with 573 paintings and has since expanded. In 2019, the Louvre attracted over nine million visitors. Those who visit the museum today can admire sculptures like Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, paintings such as the Raft of the Medusa, Liberty Leading the People and lots more. The Mona Lisa is the biggest draw for tourists and is on display throughout the year unless renovations are taking place.
A visit to France is never complete without a look at the nation’s formidable buildings, which host fascinating histories and dazzling art. Some of the above structures are well known, while some are underrated. One thing that is guaranteed is that all of them make for wonderful visits.
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