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Top 6 French Cities You Probably Won't Visit (But Should)


Say "French city," and most people immediately think of Paris. But that's a bit like saying the only city in the U.S. is New York, or in the U.K. is London. France is filled with bustling, hip and happening cities that are well worth a visit. Even if you are an urban addict, you don't need to confine your visit to the City of Lights for some action. Find out the coolest cities you probably won't visit, but should.

1. Strasbourg

France, Strasbourg, traditional houses
Jean-Pierre Pieuchot/The Image Bank/Getty Images
This city serves as the capital of the European Union, so it's no wallflower. Situated right across the Rhine River from Germany, it is a wonderful melding of French and German cultures. This is one of the best cities for great food. Get away from the bustle by visiting its Petite France neighborhood, an old town with a fairy-tale feel. Rivers wind through the city. Be sure to visit in December for France's oldest Christmas market.

2. Bordeaux

The first time I visited Bordeaux, I was expecting a small city nestled between vineyards. Boy, was I wrong! Bordeaux is a true city, featuring a great pedestrian shopping area, endless cafes and bars, a happening nightlife and several historic attractions. And yes, there is the wonderful wine. This city is also packed with college students, injecting it with a young attitude in contrast to its rich history.

3. Montpellier

This is the classic college town. As in, it's had a medical school since the Middle Ages. This busy city is a true gem of the South, filled with glorious cafe-lined squares, amazing historic buildings and great boutique shops. There are few experiences more sublime than sipping a cafe au lait near the city's famous Three Graces statue. Outdoor and covered markets are everywhere. This also happens to be one of France's most handicapped-friendly cities (not that the bar was set that high).

4. Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is the ultimate Provencal city. There are magestic and aging fountains at nearly every corner. The tree-lined Cours Mirabeau is the bustling hub of the city. This is a pleasant city for wandering aimlessly, discovering wonderful restaurants, boutiques and architectural wonders along the way.

5. Orleans

Orleans is the hometown of one of France's most famous and revered residents: Joan of Arc. (She wasn't actually from Arc, although the British made that mistake in a misspelling of her name). Visit the Maison de Jeanne d'Arc or the city's magnificent 9th century cathedral. The city is well-situated for exploring the Loire Valley chateaux.

6. Lyon

This often-overlooked French city is filled with Roman attractions (such as the Amphitheatre des Tres Gauls), history, divine cuisine and great shopping. Two rivers (the Rhône and the Saône) wind a path through the city. The nightlife here is great, with several cars, clubs and casinos.

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