It’s challenging to narrow down what sights to see in France because there is such incredible variety. We’ve compiled a list of more unusual things to do to step away from the more touristy sites.
Our list contains some unique experiences that will give you a fascinating insight into French history and culture.
This post is part of our series Discover Europe
Deep beneath the city, you can walk through tunnels lined with human skulls and other bones. This famous ossuary, a palace where bones are stored, has a macabre beauty, as well as a fascinating history.
In the late 18th century, Parisian cemeteries were overflowing, resulting in disease spread. As a solution to this problem, authorities moved the remains into the underground tunnels.
We can find the bones of over 6 million people in the catacombs, but only a limited portion is accessible to tourists because of safety concerns. However, there have been reports of concerts, bars, and even a cinema hidden deep underground.
WWII Tour of Normandy
For the history buffs, you cannot beat a Band of Brothers Tour that takes you from the beaches of Normandy to the foxholes of Bois Jacques in Belgium. Stand in the footsteps of the Allied soldiers who turned the tide of the war efforts.
Certain tours will even take you across the border to see sights like Eagle’s Nest in Austria, where you can eat lunch in a building that housed both government meetings and social events for the Nazis.
Dordogne Cave Paintings
For some ancient history, head to Rouffignac Cave in Dordogne where you can see 13,000-year-old cave paintings of mammoths, rhinos, and horses. Rouffignac houses over 250 paintings, including the Grand Ceiling, a massive assortment of over 60 animals.
Dordogne also boasts Lascaux 4, a recreation of the original Lascaux Cave which had to be closed because of airflow damaging the paintings. Lascaux 4 incorporates digital art to help bring the 2200 ancient cave drawings to life.
Dordogne’s caves also boast an array of natural wonders, with ancient stalactites, stalagmites, and underground rivers and lakes.
59 Rivoli is an iconic Parisian building with vibrant graffiti that houses artist studios. It is a piece of art in its own right, but you can attend exhibitions, visit artists’ studios, and even attend concerts.
For years, this attraction was an illegal squat for artists and fell into disrepair. To preserve this piece of history and ensure it was safe, the city gained the property in 2006 and restored it, making it one of the best ways to see free contemporary art in France.
Floating Gardens Of Amiens
Known as the ‘Venice of the North’, the floating gardens of Amiens are an exquisite sight to behold. You can view the hortillonnages (French for floating garden) which have to be experienced by boat.
The islands that make up the gardens used to be mostly planted with vegetables that were then sold at the market, a practice that continues to this day. You’ll also see an array of beautiful plant life and colorful birds.
Abandoned Village of Montfaucon
In Verdun, you can see the remains of Montfaucon, a village destroyed during WWI in the 1916 Battle of Verdun. Very little of the village survived the shelling, and it is another chilling reminder of the horrors of war throughout the 20th century.
The Battle of Verdun was crucial to the French victory in the war, and you can visit the nearby Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, which holds over 14,000 American military dead.
When drawing up your packing list, consider outings like this that are outdoors and can get quite muddy. Planning your itinerary beforehand helps you get your packing right.
Sacha Sosno Garden
In Nice, the Sacha Sanzo sculpture garden contains many beautiful and intriguing sculptures. The most famous is probably Squarehead, a giant sculpture officially called “Thinking Inside the Box”.
This massive 85ft tall head was the first giant structure to be turned into a habitable building. Its seven floors contain books and offices, and it is unfortunately no longer open to the public.
Play A Basque Sport
Basque Country, on the border between France and Spain, has a whole set of unique customs and traditions. One of these is basque pelota, a term for several racket sports where you hit a small hard ball against a wall.
To hit the wall, you can use either a wooden bat, a special glove, or just your hand. There are several regional variations, and playing a game is a great way to feel more like a local than a tourist.
When touring Paris with kids, it can be hard to find activities that are kid-friendly and enjoyable for adults, and playing basque pelota certainly ticks both boxes.
Eat At A Frog Themed Restaurant
A trip to France is not complete without some culinary adventures, and we love Roger La Grenouille, a frog-themed restaurant that Picasso frequented.
There is a huge assortment of frog dishes on the menu, but also a lot of traditional French cuisine. The decor is quirky, and the restaurant is filled to the brim with frog posters, figurines, and various knick-knacks.
Paris Sewer Museum
The Louvre is far from the only museum in Paris, and for something off the beaten track, why not head to the Paris Sewer Museum? It provides incredible insight into the work it takes to manage the sewerage of such a densely populated city.
We hope this list has provided you with some fun and unusual ideas to add to your France itinerary. Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best nature attractions in France for more unique places that may be considered off-the-beaten-path.
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