Interesting Cities to Visit in France
Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, was nicknamed “The City of Light” because it was the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700s. The nickname stuck and has since popularized because every evening, the city’s many famous landmarks and sites are illuminated to full glory. These include the Eiffel Tower, the many boulevards, bridges, the Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe and many more. The Louvre Museum is the world’s largest art museum as well as being a historic monument. Finally, the Marais district is the focal point of the city’s LGBTQ+ scene with the landmark BHV and BHV Homme department store, the many small cafes, LGBTQ+ bars like Duplex, boutique shops and art galleries.
Nice is located in southern France along the Mediterranean. The historic center of Nice (called Vieux Nice) has narrow cobblestone streets, Baroque churches and lively markets selling ‘Niçois” ingredients like black olives, tomatoes and anchovies.
Nice has a long 7km (4.4 miles) beachfront promenade called Promenade des Anglais, which is a romantic spot for sunset strolls or a morning run.
Nice also has a vibrant LGBTQ+ scene, largely based in and around the Vieux Nice with hangouts like Le Glam. There are LGBTQ+ events taking place throughout the year like the Lou Queernaval, which takes place during the city’s large Carnival in February/March. Finally, LGBTQ+ travelers will want to note the gay/nude beaches in and around Nice, like St Laurent d’Eze, Coco Beach and Castel Plage. Nice has been a Silver-level IGLTA Global Partner since 2011.
Lyon is nicknamed the gastronomic capital of France with an abundance of restaurants called bouchons. This is the place to come for culinary French highlights like saucisson de Lyon (sausage), andouillete (sausage of coarsely cut tripe) and coq au vin (chicken casserole cooked in wine).
Lyon is France’s third-largest city (after Paris and Marseille), located right in the heart of the country, on the doorstep to the Alps. The pretty cobblestone Old Town (Vieux Lyon) is not only UNESCO listed, but a delight to explore whatever the weather. Lyon comes alive during the annual four-day Light Festival in early December called the Fête des Lumières.
Carcassonne, located in the south of France, is famous for its UNESCO-listed fortified city, which looks more like something taken from a Medieval fairytale. The walled town of Carcassonne is called the Cité. It includes many narrow winding cobblestone lanes and quaint old houses and has been really well maintained so that every building, street and square looks like it would have in the Middle Ages.
Some of the touristic highlights of Carcassonne include the double-circuited ramparts with 54 towers and the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire which dates back to the 1200s. The city is busy throughout the year, but the best time to visit is on Bastille Day on 14 July for the fireworks.
Bordeaux is renowned for its wine. As such, this is the place to come for some of the best wine tours. The city is also great for exploring, particularly the cobblestone street Rue Saint Catherine, which at 1.2km (.74 miles) is Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street. There is also an entire museum in Bordeaux dedicated to wine called La Cite du Vin, which includes tasting sessions. Also look out for the Miroir d’Eau, which is the world’s largest reflecting pool, located on the Quay of the Garonne in front of the Place de la Bourse.
Deauville is a seaside resort town on the northwest coast of France. It’s an upscale holiday destination and is well known for its casino, golf, horse races, sailing and film festival. Deauville offers fine-sand beaches with colorful sun umbrellas and its famous Boardwalk "Les Planches," as well as its many turn-of-the-century villas. The town also hosts a number of cultural events throughout the year including the Asian and American Film Festivals, Easter Festival and Musical August, the Books & Music Fair and the Women’s Forum.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in France
SKIING IN THE FRENCH ALPS
France’s skiing industry comes alive during the winter months of December, January and February, which see the heaviest snowfall. The small towns and villages around the Alps mountain range become ski resort hotspots, with annual gay ski weeks taking place like the European Gay Ski Week. The villages and small towns of the Alps are also worth visiting for hiking and rock climbing. Foodies will want to factor plenty of fondue and raclette into their skiing adventures.
THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES
The Versailles Palace was the main royal residence from 1689 under Louise XIV until the start of the French Revolution in 1789 under Louise XVI. It was built to show off the glory of the French monarchy with a lavish interior and elegant Baroque facades. Highlights for visitors include the Hall of Mirrors, where courtiers waited for an audience with the king; sunlight enters through the windows and is reflected off the large ornamental mirrors. The Palace is also surrounded with a vast garden, which has decorative pools, perfectly trimmed shrubbery and fountains.
Mont St-Michel is a large castle on a rocky islet located on the coast of Normandy in the northwest. It is one of France’s most striking landmarks. At high tide, Mont-Saint-Michel is an island. At low tide, you can walk across the sand to reach it.
The main tourist attraction here is the Gothic abbey, Abbaye de Saint-Michel. It was founded in 708 by Archbishop Aubert of Avranches after the Archangel Michael appeared to him in a vision. The Gothic spires soar 155 meters (508 feet) above the sea.
MAGICAL PRIDE AT DISNEYLAND PARIS
Disneyland Paris maybe a popular attraction for children and families, but LGBTQ+ Disney-loving travelers will want to check out one of the Magical Pride days that take place here throughout the year. It includes access to selected areas, Meet ‘n’ Greets with Disney characters, a Magical March Diversity Parade, DJs, live music performances and karaoke theatre experiences.
THE BEACHES OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA
The Côte d'Azur or French Riviera boasts France’s best beaches. Its name translates to “Coast of Blue,” a reference to the deep blue color of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Côte d'Azur is located in the southeastern corner of France from Saint-Topez to Menton near the Italian border. During the summer months, the seaside resorts come alive as they pack out with beach lovers looking for their slice of Mediterranean paradise. LGBTQ+ travelers will want to check out the gay and nude beaches here, such as Saint-Laurent-d'Eze Plage and Coco Beach. Nice is considered the port of entry for the Côte d'Azur and has the third largest airport in France.
ROAD TRIP IN THE LOIRE VALLEY
The picturesque Loire Valley in Central France is famous for its wine production, woodlands, river valleys, castles and medieval fortresses built on hilltops and surrounded by ramparts. It stretches from the Muscadet region on the Atlantic coast to the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé just southeast of the city of Orléans in north central France, making it ideal for a road trip.
The Loire Valley is so pretty that it is nicknamed “the Garden of France” and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of the most impressive buildings to look out for in the region include Château de Chambord, Château de Chenonceau and Cheverny.
HIKING IN THE PROVENCE REGION
The Provence region in southeast France has unique landscapes with olive groves, rolling hills and lavender fields, with little villages nestled in the valleys, perched on dramatic rocky outcrops. This makes it an ideal place for hikers, with no fewer than 398 hiking trails.
Some of the popular stopovers include the market town of Aix-en-Provence, Arles for its ancient ruins and traditional festivals, and Avignon, the medieval city of popes. Also look out for beautiful tiny villages like Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Saint-Rémy and Gordes, each with their own quaint ambience.
Experiencing French Food
French cuisine is one of the most popular and highly regarded in the world. So much so that it was UNESCO listed in 2010. Every village and town in France will have several mouthwatering bakeries. Good bread is extremely important to the French, so freshly made baguettes will be present at most meals. A common French breakfast will include croissants, pain au chocolat, jams, honey, butter and baguette.
Each village and town in France also has its own unique cheese, wine and cured meats (charcuterie). Therefore, a meat or cheese platter at a restaurant is a must: it will include regional cheeses as well as slices of cured meats like saucisson (sausages) and jambon (smoked ham).
Most of the popular French dishes in fact originated as “peasant” food, which made use of every single ingredient and minimized waste. For example, ratatouille is a stew of vegetables, which was used as a way to utilize old vegetables. French onion soup is made from caramelized onions and beef stock, served with croutons and melted cheese, which dates back to the Romans when it was regarded as a “poor man’s dish.” Beef bourguignon is another peasant dish, now regarded as haute cuisine. It is a stew made of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, onions, herbs and mushrooms.
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ visitors to France
France is often regarded as one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly countries in the world and travelers shouldn’t experience issues. The French have always maintained a laissez-faire attitude towards sexuality, i.e. not interfering in matters that may seem too personal, and respecting the privacy of others.
France was one of the first countries to legalize homosexuality in 1791 and has long had in place proactive anti-discrimination legislation for employment, gender identity and hate speech. Same-sex marriage and adoption laws were passed in 2013.
A word of caution to all travelers is to avoid some of the city suburbs, which can be dangerous. For example, the Saint Denis suburb in north Paris is known for its crime, with high rates of robbery, drug offences and murder. France is also under ongoing threats by Islamic terrorist groups.
Finally, always check local news before going to France. Strikes are common and can take place last minute or are scheduled beforehand. When they happen, they can cause large traffic jams, queues at airports and other nuisances.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for France
Paris has the largest LGBTQ+ scene in France, following by Nice and Marseille. Most hotels in France will be LGBTQ+ friendly and won’t mind two men/women sharing a bed. If visiting a guesthouse in a small village, attitudes may be more conservative.
There are a variety of LGBTQ+ events taking place throughout the year across France. The most famous ones to look out for include Paris Pride (Marche des Fiertés LGBT) at the end of June, the Festival des cultures LGBT film festival in Paris in January, Nice’s Lou Queernaval in February, the Salon du livre lesbian book fair in July in Paris, the “Jerk Off” queer artistic festival in September in Le Marais, Paris, and the Existrans March in Paris every October celebrating on trans and intersex people.
Gay dance parties take place each month in most cities. The most famous is the Matinée Paris, also known as SCREAM.
Stefan and Sebastien are a gay couple who met in London in 2009 and have been traveling extensively together in Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe. Stefan is originally Greek Cypriot and Sebastien is from Lyon in France. Together they have also spent a great deal of time visiting Sebastien’s homeland whether on camping trips or extensive road trips. They write about their travels on their Nomadic Boys gay travel website.
Featured image photo credit: @world_mappers