By Rick Steves and Steve Smith
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, we've listed our top picks for where to go in France, and our plan for your best three-week trip.
Depending on the length of your trip, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are our recommended priorities:
- 3 days: Paris, maybe Versailles
- 6 days, add: Normandy
- 8 days, add: Loire
- 11 days, add: Dordogne, Carcassonne
- 16 days, add: Provence, Riviera
- 19 days, add: Burgundy, Chamonix
- 22 days, add: Alsace, northern France
- 26 days, add: Basque Country
If you have only a week and it's your first trip to France, do Paris, Normandy, and the Loire.
If you have about 8–10 days, consider a loop linking Paris, Normandy, and the Loire. Or do a one-way trip, such as flying into Nice and out of Paris, seeing the Riviera, Provence, the Alps, and Burgundy along the way.
For a 10- to 14-day trip that highlights Paris, Provence, and the Riviera, fly into Paris and out of Nice. After touring Paris, take the TGV train to Avignon, rent a car there, and drop it in Nice (or use trains, buses, and minivan tours to get around). This trip also works well in reverse.
Travelers with a little more time could add Burgundy and/or the Alps, which are about halfway between Paris and Provence and easy to explore by car or train.
Rick’s Best Three-Week France Trip by Car
While this trip is doable in 22 days, most will appreciate adding an extra day here and there to rest their engine.
Day 2: Morning in Honfleur, afternoon in Bayeux to see its tapestry and cathedral (sleep in Bayeux)
Day 3: Spend day touring D-Day sights: Arromanches, American Cemetery, and Pointe du Hoc — and Utah Beach Landing Museum, if you're moving fast (sleep in Bayeux)
Day 4: Drive to Dinan and see its sights. In late afternoon, drive to Mont St-Michel and visit its abbey (sleep on/near Mont St-Michel)
Day 5: Head for châteaux country in the Loire Valley. Tour Chambord, then settle in Amboise and take my guidebook's self-guided town walk (sleep in Amboise)
Day 6: Day trip to Chenonceau and Cheverny or Chaumont — or all three if you don't need more time for Amboise (sleep in Amboise)
Day 7: Leave early and head south to the Dordogne region, stopping en route at Oradour-sur-Glane. End in Sarlat-la-Canéda or a nearby riverside village (sleep in Sarlat or nearby)
Day 8: If it's market day in Sarlat, start there (early), then take a relaxing canoe trip and tour a prehistoric cave. If it's not market day, start with a cave, then canoe and browse Sarlat late (sleep in Sarlat or nearby)
Day 9: Head to Languedoc-Roussillon, lunch and sightsee in Albi, then dinner in Carcassonne (sleep in Carcassonne)
Day 10: Morning in Carcassonne, then on to Arles, with a stop at the Pont du Gard aqueduct (sleep in or near Arles)
Day 11: All day for Arles and Les Baux; visit Les Baux early or late (sleep in or near Arles)
Day 12: Make a beeline for the Riviera, and explore your home base in the afternoon (sleep in Nice, Antibes, or Villefranche-sur-Mer)
Day 13: Sightsee in Nice and Monaco (sleep in Nice, Antibes, or Villefranche-sur-Mer)
Day 14: Make the long drive north to the Alps (sleep in Chamonix)
Day 15: If the weather is even close to clear, take the mountain lifts up to the Aiguille du Midi and beyond (sleep in Chamonix)
Day 16: Allow another half-day for the Alps (in Chamonix or Annecy), then head to Beaune, in Burgundy, for wine-tasting (sleep in Beaune)
Day 17: Spend half of the day in and around Beaune, then move on to Colmar, in the Alsace (sleep in Colmar)
Day 18: Enjoy Colmar and the Route du Vin villages (sleep in Colmar)
Day 19: Return to Paris, visiting Verdun or Reims en route — consider dropping your car in Reims and training to Paris (collapse in Paris hotel)
Day 20: Sightsee Paris (sleep in Paris)
Day 21: More time in Paris (sleep in Paris)
Day 22: Finish your sightseeing in Paris, with possible side trip to Versailles (sleep in Paris)
Rick’s Best Three-Week France Trip by Train (and Bus)
This itinerary is designed primarily for train travel, with some help from buses, minivan tours, and taxis. It takes 11 days of train travel to do this trip (also consider the cheaper Ouibus and Flixbus for some trips). If using only the train, buy an eight-day France rail pass, and make it stretch by buying point-to-point tickets for cheaper trips on day 5, day 13, and day 18. If you only have two weeks, end your tour in Nice. Bonne route and bon courage!
Important: Book TGV (also called "InOui") train trips (marked here with a *) well in advance, particularly if traveling with a rail pass.
Day 1: Fly into Paris (sleep in Paris)
Day 2: Sightsee Paris (sleep in Paris)
Day 3: More time in Paris (sleep in Paris)
Day 4: Train* and bus to Mont St-Michel via Rennes (3 hours, arrive in Mont St-Michel about 13:00); spend afternoon and evening exploring Mont St-Michel (sleep on/near Mont St-Michel)
Day 5: Train to Bayeux (2 hours, arrive by noon); spend afternoon and evening exploring Bayeux (sleep in Bayeux)
Day 6: All day for D-Day beaches by minivan, taxi, bus, or a combination of these (sleep in Bayeux)
Day 7: Train* to Amboise via Caen and St-Pierre des Corps (5 hours); spend afternoon visiting Amboise sights (sleep in Amboise)
Day 8: All day for touring Loire châteaux — by bus, bike, or minivan tour (sleep in Amboise)
Day 9: Early train* to Sarlat-la-Canéda (6 hours, arrive about 13:00); spend afternoon and evening exploring Sarlat (sleep in Sarlat)
Day 10: All day for caves and canoes — by train, bike, or minivan/taxi tour (sleep in Sarlat)
Day 11: Train or bus to Carcassonne via Bordeaux (7 hours); dinner and evening wall walk (sleep in Carcassonne)
Day 12: In early morning, take another wall walk in Carcassonne. Train to Arles (3 hours; possibly with change in Narbonne); spend afternoon and evening enjoying Arles (sleep in Arles)
Day 13: Train to Nîmes (30 minutes), then bus to Pont du Gard (50 minutes) to explore the ancient aqueduct, then bus to Avignon (50 minutes) and spend your afternoon/evening there (consider dinner). Return to Arles by train (30 minutes; sleep in Arles)
Day 14: Morning in Arles or Les Baux (by taxi or tour), afternoon train* to Nice via Marseille (4 hours; sleep in Nice)
Day 15: All day for Nice (sleep in Nice)
Day 16: All day for Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco (sleep in Nice)
Day 17: Morning train* to Lyon (5 hours); spend afternoon and evening exploring Lyon (sleep in Lyon)
Day 18: Morning in Lyon, then early afternoon train or Ouibus to Chamonix (4 hours); spend afternoon and evening relaxing in Chamonix (sleep in Chamonix)
Day 19: If the weather is even close to clear, take the mountain lifts up to the Aiguille du Midi and beyond (sleep in Chamonix)
Day 20: Linger in Chamonix or take an early train* to Paris (7 hours) or Annecy (2 hours), finishing your trip in either (the Geneva Airport is 1 hour by bus from Annecy). To extend your trip, spend a night in Burgundy (in Beaune) or two nights in the Alsace (in Colmar); each is a 6.5-hour train ride from Chamonix. End in Paris.
Steve Smith is the co-author of the Rick Steves France guidebook.