It has been said France is the most popular tourist destinations in the world with 86 million visitors each year. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, France has been the world’s most popular tourist destination for over 25 years.
I have had the great pleasure of traveling there twice on two trips of a lifetime, once on a 3 generation trip with my mom, daughter Brooklyn, while I was pregnant with Cali before I took my mom on a Mediterranean cruise. The second time with my handsome hubby, and our daughters Brooklyn and Cali before we started an epic race around the world visiting 21 countries, and 4 continents in under a month!
Let’s explore some of the things that make France so popular with tourists, including our family, as we share some of our family adventures with you!
Check out this video compilation of our Trips to France, and some fav memories in Paris, Marseille, Cannes, and Nice!
“Je t’aime pour toujours”
“I will love you forever”
The Eiffel Tower
Originally constructed as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, today it is what people think of first when they think of France. Measuring 321 metres tall, the equivalent to 81 stories, the Eiffel tower serves not only as a national monument and major tourist attraction but also as an observation and radio broadcast tower.
It is the second most visited attraction in France after Disneyland Paris, but as far as monuments go, it is the most visited-paid monument in the world. In 2019, almost 7 million people ascended this French treasure (close to 300 million since being built). Some by elevator, others climbed the 1664 steps by foot from bottom to top. Others, just take selfies and enjoy it’s splendor for free.
We stayed at the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel which boasted proudly standing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the 4-star hotel is the gateway to Parisian adventures with a view of the Eiffel Tower. I thought perhaps we would see it from a corner if you squinted real hard… alas, it was there in full view exquisitely right from our balcony. In fact my daughter Brooklyn woke us from a jet lagged haze to advise us the tower was sparkling- a memory I will cherish forever.
The Louvre and Art
The Louvre has a long and sorted history. The Louvre, which we know today, is not only one of the largest museums in the world, housing over 380,000 pieces of art and artifacts; it’s also one of the most visited galleries on the planet. in 2019 had 14 million visitors. As reported in Les Echos, over the period between 12 March and 22 May the Louvre has 10.5 million virtual visitors over 71 days. During this time, 17% of visits were made from France and 17% from people in the U.S. while closed for Covid 19.
Initially built as a fortress in the late 12th century, it was converted to the primary residence for French kings in the 16th century. Then in 1682, Louis XIV relocated the imperial home to Versailles, leaving the Louvre primarily to display the royal collection. One hundred years later, during the French revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces to the masses.
Some of the more notable treasures housed at the Louvre include Winged Victory of Samothrace, Vénus de Milo, Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, Great Sphinx of Tanis, Aphrodite of Milos, La Jaconde, known in English as The Mona Lisa and the list goes on.
The Mona Lisa pictured to the right is a half-length portrait painting by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. It is considered an archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, and has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”. It also appears wee Brooklyn has a crooked little Mona Lisa Smile in this photograph.
You can soak up every inch of beauty in and outside of Paris. It felt like every corner was an intricate and exquisite piece of art. From the statutes of intricate details and gold, buildings strewn in sweet smelling flowers, stone carved statutes, and beauty abounding.
Palace Versailles The King’s Palace
Transformed from a humble hunting lodge by Louis XIV into the now-familiar Versailles Palace, which epitomizes royal elegance. Every year over 3 million people travel to Versailles to see how former French royalty lived. Everywhere you look is a breathtaking view. It’s embellished by generations of lavish gardens, landscape, architecture, sculptures, decorations, art and more. Some of the more popular things to see at the palace include the State Apartments, the incredible Hall of Mirrors, the Versailles Gardens and The Trianons.
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai qui tu es”
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are”
France is known for their delicious cuisine, and regardless of your budget you can get mouthwatering delicacies at every turn. If you want “food truck” bites you can have a sweet or (and) savory Crêpe, which date back from the thirteen century in Brittany, France… or a Croque monsieur -The dish originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack and first graced Paris cafe menus in 1910.
Unfortunately, Many Americans attribute the dish to France, the “french fry” or Pommes frites, is actually from Belgium in the 1600’s. Still a delicious and popular side dish.
If you want an amazing dining experience, I would highly recommend glamming it up at the Hotel Plaza Athenee. Designed by esteemed architects Charles Lefebvre, Hôtel Plaza Athénée officially opened its doors on April 20, 1913. Created in the distinctive Parisian Haussmann style of architecture, the classic cut-stone façade is decorated with wonderfully ornate wrought-iron balconies. Interwoven with a rich history and next-door neighbour, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, which first opened just a few weeks after the hotel. It soon became a popular haunt for both composers and theatre goers, who regularly dined with us after an evening at the theatre. The Hotel became a leading Parisian hotel, symbolizing the spirit of the city. If you would like to savor the start of your day, relish in a delectable breakfast in their main restaurant unfolds in pure Parisian style, offering a taste for every appetite. Within this spectacular setting of sparkling chandeliers and contemporary design, discover an exquisite menus of freshly-baked pastries, smoked salmon, eggs and seasonal fruit.
French wine is produced all throughout France, in quantities between 7–8 billion bottles. France is one of the largest wine producers in the world, along with Italian, Spanish, and American Wine Producing Regions. French wine traces its history to the 6th century BC, with many of France’s regions dating their wine-making history to Roman The wines produced range from expensive wines sold internationally to modest wines usually only seen within France. France is the source of many grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon (my personal fav), Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, and Syrah. Just remember there is only one rule…
“Quand le vin est tire, il fair le boire”
“When the wine is poured , it must be drunk”
I still have not made it to the iconic Paris cabaret, the Moulin Rouge but it is still on my bucket list. With a storied history stretching back over a century. Most notably, it was the birthplace of the iconic can-can dance. History lesson: Early dancers in the space experienced night after night of perverted men attempting to grope them inappropriately while on stage. The dancers would have to kick at the men to get them to behave; so saw the emergence of the Can-Can.
Visitors from around the world come every day to take in the spectacular show. In 1881 Moulin Rouge became the first building in Paris to use electricity to decorate its façade and electrify their red light district every evening after 10 pm. Today men and women, dance cabaret and even children over 6 years of age are able to attend shows without fuss ( I would use some eye and earmuffs as you walk past the main strip though, as it is still the unofficial “red” district of the city and hosts some infamous risqué bars and shows).
FUN FACT: I walked down the aisle on our wedding day to the cinematic theme of Moulin Rouge “Come What May” Click here to listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YsMvzgeSuI
Next on our journey we went on a scenic drive south and landed in beautiful Marseille, a port city in southern France. Marseille has been a crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Greeks circa 600 B.C. At its heart is the Vieux-Port (Old Port), where fishmongers sell their catch along the boat-lined quay. Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is a Romanesque-Byzantine church. Modern landmarks include Le Corbusier’s influential Cité Radieuse complex and Zaha Hadid’s CMA CGM Tower. Like many port around the world, Marseille long had a reputation for seediness and crime… but that gives it some magical unique color.
Marseille’s massive rectangular port has been trading for 2,600 years, and is more of a whole district than a single sight.
On three sides are quays with broad promenades enclosed mostly 18th-century former warehouses.
It seems like almost every one of these has a cafe, fish restaurant or bar on its ground floor, with outdoor seating so you can see life in this enchanting city unfold as you nurse a pastis (an anise-flavored spirit).
It’s hard to miss this monument rising above the skyline to the south of the Old Port.
A 19th-century neo-Byzantine church 150 metres above the water, with a large golden statue of the Virgin and Child at the top of its tower to watch over Marseille’s maritime communities- the Notre Dame de la Garde.
Notre-Dame de la Garde, in French for Marseille’s citizens “la bonne mère”, the good holy Mother, is a Catholic basilica in Marseille, France, and the city’s best-known symbol. The site of a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage, it was the most visited site in Marseille.
There had been religious sanctuaries and watch towers on La Garde for many centuries, and the basilica incorporates the lower levels of a renaissance fort that also included a chapel.
The climb isn’t to be taken lightly in the summer, but there’s a tourist train departing regularly from the Old Port (and if you are lucky, like us, the friendly driver will pick you up mid climb). Needless to say the scenery from up here is jaw-dropping. The view inside the church is equally breathtaking.
One of Marseille’s most artistic walks can be taken along the gorgeous Boulevard Longchamp with its upmarket 19th-century houses and twin row of plane trees.
The best way to do it is to head from Canebière station up towards Palais Longchamp, and the crescent-shaped colonnade and fountain of this impressive 19th-century complex will slowly come in to view.
Palais Longchamp and the park and attractions around it were built to celebrate the completion of the Canal de Marseille, which linked with the Durance River and ended centuries of water supply problems for the city. The city’s Natural Museum and Museum of Fine Arts are set here too. The photo below was our 3 generation trip (Cali was in the oven).
Cannes is an iconic city on the French Riviera, notoriously known all over the world for arranging the Cannes film festival each year.
Every year, Cannes attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, the majority of which visit outside of the summer months.
You might ask what is it that makes Cannes so attractive, and what is it about the city that people like so much that they consider it the best city to travel to? After visiting it was easy to see.
The beautiful Mediterranean with its azure blue water keeps Cannes warm during the summer, and mild, with relatively little rainfall in the winter.
Cannes is considered by many to have the best beaches on the whole French Riviera. Unlike most beaches on the Riviera, Cannes has sand beaches, with white, soft sand. The beautiful Mediterranean contrasts the white sand beautifully and glitters in the sunlight.
At night, the glow and sparkle continues with an array of colors, music, and dancing. People of all ages gleefully danced in the magical evening under the moonlight and stars along the rainbow path. With two small toddlers, we had a few extra dance partners, but that certainly didn’t slow us down.
There was plenty to do whether it was a romantic rendezvous, a family affair or a solo adventure. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a night to remember- McBain style…
The Cannes Festival: Festival de Cannes, until 2003 called the International Film Festival (Festival international du film) and known in English as the Cannes Film Festival, is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres, including documentaries, from all around the world. Founded in 1946, the invitation-only festival is held annually (usually in May) at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.
On 1 July 2014, co-founder and former head of French pay-TV operator Canal+, Pierre Lescure, took over as President of the Festival, while Thierry Frémaux became the General Delegate. The board of directors also appointed Gilles Jacob as Honorary President of the Festival.
It is one of the “Big Five” film festivals, alongside the Venice Film Festival in Italy, the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada and the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. The Big Five are internationally acclaimed for giving creators the artistic freedom to express themselves through film.
The girls and I had fun debuting our “Red Carpet” walk accordingly 🙂
Next we took a scenic drive down to the city is nicknamed Nice la Belle (Nissa La Bella in Niçard), which means Nice the Beautiful. Nice is capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department on the French Riviera, sits on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges. Founded by the Greeks and later a retreat for 19th-century European elite, the city has also long attracted artists. Former resident Henri Matisse is honored with a career-spanning collection of paintings at Musée Matisse.
French culture has many faces: It includes baguettes as well as escargot; snowy Alps and warm beaches; Roman ruins and modern art. There are accordions as well as electric guitars. The French Riviera is completely stunning and unique to the lights of Paris. I love them both, for completely different reasons. The sights, the sounds, the delicious food and wine, the bustling streets in the city, the beautiful breeze and color of the French Riviera were equally breathtaking and indescribable.