France was visited by 84.7 million foreign tourists in 2013, making it the most popular destination in the world. Thanks to shorter stays, it ranks third in tourism receipts. 20% more tourists spent less than half of what they spent in the United States.
France has 37 sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including cities of great cultural interest (first and foremost Paris, but also Toulouse, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, etc.), beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts and rural regions that many people appreciate for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). Small picturesque French villages with a quality heritage (such as Collonges-la-Rouge or Locronan) are highlighted by the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (litt.). The label “Jardins remarquables” is a list of more than two hundred gardens classified by the French Ministry of Culture. This label serves to protect and promote remarkable gardens and parks.
In 2012, the travel and tourism sector directly contributed €77.7 billion to French GDP, of which 30% came from international visitors and 70% from national tourism spending. The total contribution of the travel and tourism sector accounts for 9.7% of GDP and supports 2.9 million jobs (10.9% of employment) in the country. Tourism contributes significantly to the balance of payments.
Most tourists arriving in France in 2014
Most tourists arriving in France in 2014 came from the following countries:
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Number of overnight stays in France in 2014
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Paris, the capital, is the third most visited city in the world. Paris has some of the most important and prestigious museums in the world, including the Louvre, which is the most visited art museum in the world, but also the Musée d’Orsay, which is mainly dedicated to Impressionism, and the Beaubourg, which is dedicated to contemporary art. Paris is home to some of the world’s most famous monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower, which is the most visited paid monument in the world, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Sacred Heart. The City of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in Europe. Located in the Parc de la Villette in Paris, France, it is the centrepiece of the Centre culturel des sciences, des technologies et de l’industrie (CCSTI), a centre for the promotion of science and scientific culture. Near Paris is the Palace of Versailles, the former palace of the Kings of France, which is now a museum.
With more than 10 million tourists a year, the Côte d’Azur in southeastern France is the second largest tourist destination in the country, after the Paris region. According to the Côte d’Azur Economic Development Agency, it enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, 115 kilometres of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants. The Côte d’Azur hosts 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet each year, 90% of which visit the region’s shores at least once in their lifetime.
A large part of Provence will be named European Capital of Culture in 2013. The region is home to many famous natural sites, such as the Gorges du Verdon, the Camargue Regional Nature Park, the Calanques National Park and the typical landscape of the Luberon. Provence is home to dozens of famous historical sites such as the Pont du Gard, the Roman monuments in Arles or the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. Some cities also attract many tourists, such as Aix-en-Provence, Marseille or Cassis, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Another important destination is the castles of the Loire Valley. This World Heritage Site stands out for the quality of its architectural heritage, in its historic towns such as Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Nantes, Orleans, Saumur and Tours, but above all for its castles (chateaux), such as the castles of Amboise, Chambord, Ussé, Villandry and Chenonceau, which illustrate in an exceptional way the ideals of the French Renaissance.
Notable French cities
France has many cities of cultural interest, some of which are classified as “Cities of Art and History” by the French Ministry of Culture.
- Amiens and its cathedral
- Annecy with the lake and the mountains (French Alps)
- Avignon with the Palace of the Popes.
- Arles: Arles has important remains from the Roman period, which have been a World Heritage Site since 1981, including the amphitheatre, the Alyscamps, the obelisk and the aqueduct and the mill of Barbegal.
- Bayeux and its Tapestry Museum, home of the tapestry
- Bordeaux: Bordeaux is classified as a “City of Art and History”. The city has 362 historical monuments (only Paris has more in France), some of which date back to Roman times. Bordeaux has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as an “outstanding urban and architectural ensemble”. Bordeaux is home to one of the largest 18th century urban ensembles in Europe, making it a sought-after destination for tourists and film crews. It stands out as one of the first French cities after Nancy to enter an era of urban planning and major urban projects, with the Gabriel père et fils team, architects of King Louis XV, led by two administrators (governors), first Nicolas-François Dupré de Saint-Maur and then the Marquis de Tourny.
- Cluny with its abbey and medieval town
- Carcassonne and its medieval fortress
- Chartres and its Cathedral
- Dijon with its cathedral and the palace of the Dukes of Burgundy
- Giverny with the house and gardens of the painter Claude Monet
- La Rochelle
- Lyon: Its historic centre was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. In its designation, UNESCO cited the “exceptional testimony to the continuity of urban settlement over more than two millennia in a place of great economic and strategic importance”. The specific areas that make up the historic site include the Roman Quarter and the Fourvière, the Renaissance Quarter (Old Lyon), the Silk Quarter (slopes of the Croix-Rousse) and the Presqu’île, which contains 12th century architecture.
- Mâcon, famous for its wine and the Solutre rock.
- Marseille, known for the Calanques National Park, the new MuCEM, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, the Velodrome stadium, the Palais Longchamp, the Old Port of Marseille, the Vieille Charité, the Saint-Victor Abbey, the Château Borély or Le Corbusier’s residential complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2016, and several museums such as the Museum of the History of Marseille, the Cantini Museum, the Museum of the Roman Docks, the Museum of Ancient Marseille, the Grobet-Labadié Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Marseille and the Museum of Decorative Arts, Fashion and Ceramics.
- Metz: Metz has one of the largest urban conservation zones in France and over 100 buildings in the city are listed. Due to its historical and cultural past, Metz benefits from its designation as the “City of Art and History”. The city has remarkable buildings such as the Gothic Cathedral of Saint-Stephen, the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, the Palais de la Gare or the Opera, the oldest in France. Metz hosts world-famous venues, including the Arsenal concert hall and the Centre Pompidou-Metz museum, the most visited art venue in France outside Paris.
- Mulhouse, home of the French Automobile Museum and the French Railway Museum
- Nancy with Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance, UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983.
- Nantes with the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
- Nîmes: Nîmes is home to many remains of the Roman Empire, including the Maison Carrée, the Arena of Nîmes and the nearby Pont du Gard.
- Orange (city): The city has many Roman remains, including the ancient theatre and the Arc de Triomphe.
- Perpignan with its cathedral and the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca
- Rennes with its Parliament of Brittany, its cathedral, its cultural centre Les Champs Libres, its Thabor Park and its medieval streets with numerous half-timbered houses.
- Rouen with its cathedral, castle and half-timbered houses
- Strasbourg: The historic centre of the city of Strasbourg, the Grande Île, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988. It is the first time such an award has been given to an entire city centre.
- Toulouse: with two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Canal du Midi and the largest Romanesque building in Europe, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. The city’s historic centre is also home to the complex of the Convent of Saint James (tomb of Saint Thomas Aquinas), a 13th century Gothic monastery, and the Pont Neuf, a 16th century bridge in Toulouse.
The most beautiful villages in France
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an independent association founded in 1982 with the aim of promoting small picturesque French villages with a high quality heritage. In 2008, 152 villages in France were awarded the label “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”.
Some criteria must be met before joining the association: The population of the village must not exceed 2,000, there must be at least 2 protected areas (picturesque or legendary sites or sites of scientific, artistic or historical interest), and the decision to apply must be taken by the local council.
Other regions of France
In the east of France, there are ski resorts in the Alps.
Tourists also travel to take part in the annual cycling race, the Tour de France.
Famous are the Mediterranean beaches of the French Riviera, Languedoc-Roussillon or Corsica. Away from continental tourism, there is French Polynesia (especially Tahiti), the Caribbean islands (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Martin and St Barthélemy).
The Route Napoléon, the route Napoleon took on his return from exile in 1815, starts at Golfe-Juanto Grenoble in south-eastern France. It is a scenic route and a very popular destination.
The monuments to the battles of the First and Second World Wars are also popular. The former include the Mémorial des disparus de la Somme, the latter the D-Day Museum in Arromanches, one of the landing sites.
There are also many large natural areas with important collections of flora. For example, the federal arboretum of Pézanin gathers one of the richest forest collections in France, or the regional nature parks scattered throughout the territory.
France attracts many religious pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela or to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées that receives several million visitors every year. The Taizé community has become one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites in the world. More than 100,000 young people from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Taizé every year to pray, study the Bible, share and work together.
Disneyland Paris is the most popular theme park in France and Europe. In 2009, a total of 15,405,000 visitors visited Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios. The historic theme park of Le Puy du Fou in the Vendée is the second most visited park in France. Other popular theme parks are Futuroscope in Poitiers and Parc Astérix.
Most popular sites by number of visitors
The most popular tourist destinations include (number of visitors per year) :
- Louvre Museum ($8.5 million),
- Eiffel Tower (6.2 million),
- Palace of Versailles (6 million),
- Centre Pompidou (3.6 million),
- Musée d’Orsay (2.9 million),
- Quai Branly Museum (1.3 million),
- Arc de Triomphe (1.2 million),
- Mont Saint-Michel (1 million),
- Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille (800,000),
- Chambord Castle (711 000),
- Sainte-Chapelle (683,000),
- Metz Cathedral (652,000),
- Bastille (Grenoble) (600,000)
- Centre Pompidou-Metz (550,000),
- Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle (549 000),
- Puy de Dôme (500 000),
- Picasso Museum (441,000),
- Carcassonne (362,000).