UNESCO sites in France enable people to explore obscure locations, contribute to preservation efforts, learn specifics about the history of the planet and humanity, as well as to be in awe of unquestionably gorgeous sites.
1. UNESCO Sites in France
There are many more off-the-beaten-path UNESCO sites in France that deserve to be added to any “off-the-beaten-track” bucket list, even though a select handful, like the stunning landscape of Rio de Janeiro as well as the Singapore Botanical Gardens, is well-known around the world.
Inscriptions fall into one of two categories: either cultural or natural locations or both (mixed). There are 45 UNESCO sites in France, including 39 cultural, 5 natural, and 1 mixed site.
Some of the UNESCO sites in France are Mont Saint Michel, the Roman aqueduct, the Papal Palace, Place de la Bourse, Loire Valley, river Seine, Santiago de Compostela, Pont du Gard, and many more.
See which locations on our comprehensive list of UNESCO sites in France speak to you personally, from spectacular natural beauties to unheard-of human architectural accomplishments. After that, you can utilize them as a guide for the journey of a lifetime.
1.1. Abbey Church
The Abbey Church at Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe is a historic abbey that was refounded in the middle of the eleventh century under the protection of Charlemagne and is located in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France.
The numerous spectacular murals from the 11th and 12th centuries that have been conserved here and portray biblical subjects are the main reason it is classified as one of the unique UNESCO sites in France.
The most famous painting is Noah’s Ark, a crowded wooden boat made up of animal pairings, a few humans, and several human passengers on the top deck and in front of the windows.
This building is a unique example of the medieval practice of painting churches, thanks to its mural art, and comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France.
The murals of the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe are preserved, and there is also a museum and monks’ quarters to tour.
1.2. Amiens Cathedral
One of the biggest churches in France is the Amiens Cathedral. Amiens Cathedral is the most comprehensive of the 13th century’s Gothic cathedrals, in contrast to certain others.
It stands out from the others because of the sculptures and stained glass windows; because of this, it is preserved as one of the popular UNESCO sites in France.
It might take over an hour to tour the cathedral’s interior because there are so many interesting elements within. Even today, the Amiens Cathedral organ, which is located at the back of the building and is elevated over the door, is impressive.
You can hear it being performed during the mass if you go on a Sunday. Three finely carved out of marble and covered in wood sculptures of Charity, Faith, & Hope support the Baroque pulpit and come to the list of UNESCO sites in France.
Both the sculptures on the cathedral’s front and the paintings and sculptures inside depict a variety of Biblical stories. The three-door arches on the western façade are the centre of attention in particular.
They are covered in sculptures of angels, the Virgin Mary, & Saint John along either side of Christ’s throne.
Amiens is located 161 kilometres north of Paris. It is easily accessible by car and rail from several regions of France. Amiens is a great weekend getaway from Calais, Tille, and Paris (1 hour by rail).
During the summer, the cathedral is accessible to visitors from 8.30 am to 5.15 pm. It airs from June 15 to the third Sunday in September.
The city’s Christmas light display begins at 7 o’clock each evening. Before or after the light show, the church is closed.
1.3. Roman & Romanesque Monuments in Arles
One of Southern France’s most significant historical cities is Arles. A visit to Provence must include a stop in this quaint town on the shores of the Rhône River.
Due to the ancient ruins that had survived from the time when Arelate served as the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, Arles was included on the UNESCO Sites in France list many years ago. This is very beautiful.
When Van Gogh stayed in this southern French town for a while, it also inspired several of his paintings.
The Amphitheater, which was carved out of solid rock in the first century B.C. and held more than 20,000 spectators during gladiator battles, is the most prominent remnant of the Roman era.
When bullfights were held there, the arena was once again turned into a Roman amphitheatre after serving as a fortification in the Middle Ages and having several hundred buildings built inside.
A hundred years or so after the Amphitheater was constructed under Augustus, you may also visit the Roman Theater.
Although there can fit about 12,000 people in the theatre, even though it has suffered significant damage, it nonetheless recalls the heyday of the Roman Empire and comes in the UNESCO sites in France.
Several Roman-era structures, including the 4th-century Baths of Constantine, the Roman Forum’s Cryptoportico, and the Tour des Morgues, a defensive tower, still stand today.
A few Romanesque structures, like the Church of St. Trophime and its interesting cloister, are also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1.4. Belfries from France and Belgium
The Belfries of Belgium & France international UNESCO sites in France include a total of 23 French towers. The structures can be seen in northeastern France, Lille, & Dunkirk towns.
A high-speed TGV train takes Lille, the region’s entry point, to Paris in a little more than an hour, and the Eurostar takes it to London in around three.
Because the belfries represent the growth of urban power during the Middle Ages, UNESCO included them on its World Heritage List.
They are neither castle keeps nor church towers. Some, though, resemble fortified towers; the one located in Béthune is an independent building that dominates the market square.
Others are essential to the town hall, such as the belfry at Armentieres. Belfries are fascinating destinations to explore for tourists interested in history & architecture because of their diversity.
By climbing them, one can view the towns and cities they represent and come to the list of UNESCO sites in France.
Two and a half hours northeast of Paris, in Arras, you particularly enjoyed ascending the belfry that towers over the Place des Héros, one of the city’s central cobblestone squares. German artillery during World War One damaged the original 16th-century tower.
The landmark was recreated accurately. The work required demonstrates the significance of the belfry to Arras’s municipal identity & the residents’ desire to see their city rebuilt after it was destroyed.
Views of the city’s rooftops and the surrounding countryside, which were the scene of some of the worst combat during the First World War, can be obtained from the observation platform of the belfry.
1.5. Bordeaux: the Moon’s Port
Bordeaux is listed as “Bordeaux, Port of the Moon” on the UNESCO Sites in France List. Since the ancient Romans brought the custom here more than two thousand years ago, both the city and the larger Bordeaux region have been making wine.
This city served as the primary trading port again for the export of French wine to England during the medieval ages, making it the area’s principal international hub.
Due in part to its efforts to be included on the UNESCO list, which it accomplished in 2007, the city has experienced a revival today.
They also erected the la Cite du Vin, a significant wine museum, and renovated the city’s primary marketplaces and removed the smog and debris from the city’s architecture.
Today you would never guess how much effort it took to keep Bordeaux in such immaculate condition, but it is a sophisticated city to visit. You can go from Bordeaux to a nearby wine chateau for wine tastings.
Booking in advance is essential because tastings and tours tend to sell out quickly, and you can also take a city tour during the day to discover the city’s history as well as its significant architectural landmarks.
Comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France and also takes advantage of the fantastic dining options in this area at night.
Make sure to ask your server for suggestions on wine pairings. No city on Earth has a waitstaff that is more prepared & knowledgeable on what to serve as a beverage with your meal.
1.6. Bourges Cathedral
In 1992, Bourges Cathedral, a picturesque medieval town, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral was listed as an exceptional example of a Gothic & Romanesque building.
The Bourges Cathedral, which was modelled after Notre Dame de Paris, is renowned for its symmetrical dimensions and stained-glass windows. In 1195, construction on the cathedral began.
Saint Stephen was honoured after it was finished in 1230. There are 183 windows made of stained glass, some of which date from 1215. The Chapel of Jacques Coeur’s Annunciation Window is the most well-known.
One of France’s biggest crypts is this one. It houses Jean 1st’s mausoleum, Duke of Berry. The crypt is extremely light and, surprisingly, not underground.
There used to be a crypt beneath the tomb and it comes in the list of famous UNESCO sites in France.
The archbishops of Bourges were interred in a Medieval church that had stood in that location. We adore the cathedral because of the builder’s sense of humour.
The architects and builders disguised a sculpture of buttocks within a beautiful frieze on the cathedral facade.
You can see the entire town from the Bourges Cathedral Tower, and even though there are two towers, only the North Tower is accessible to the general public. The 396 steps to the top are worthwhile because you can see for kilometres.
Among the best things to do in Bourges is to visit the cathedral. In the heart of Bourges, it is situated on Place Etienne Dolet.
From Paris, it takes two hours by train to get to Bourges; alternatively, you can fly to Tours Val de Loire airport. From there, Bourges may be reached by car in around 1 hour & 45 minutes.
1.7. Canal du Midi
Between Narbonne and Sète, a canal built in the 17th century that connects the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans is a cultural marvel.
Up to 241 kilometres of the Canal du Midi go through historic vineyards, Roman fortresses, and old communities in Southern France.
The 240 km-long river is a cultural asset recognized by UNESCO as one of France’s most beautiful places. Huge plane trees that tower above both banks frequently touch each other to create an arc of green over the water.
When the Canal du Midi was completed in 1681, it was a great feat of engineering. The Canal Royal du Languedoc, which engineer and canal builder Pierre-Paul Riquet sponsored, was so masterfully incorporated into the surrounding environment.
Comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France, and water supply issues prevented water from reaching the canal’s highest point, which was 189 meters above sea level.
Many sceptics told Riquet that the canal wouldn’t have enough water to function, but he decided to divert the rivers of the Black Mountains & bring them to Naurouze.
Riquet built the Bassin de Saint-Ferréol, which was connected to the threshold by a channel.
The shared reach was eventually extended & flanked by the two renowned locks with the names of the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Mediterranean Sea due to the tendency of this water reserve to dry up over time.
Cycling, strolling, or exploring the towpaths that run next to the canal are all fantastic activities here. If exercising doesn’t appeal to you, unwind on the deck with a chilled beverage while taking in the view.
On a clear day, one can see the Pyrenees in the distance, but closer to home, more than 1,000 acres of wine grapes and vines go on forever.
1.8. Champagne Houses, Vineyards, and Hillsides
One of the UNESCO sites in France, Europe is undoubtedly the Champagne Hillsides, Buildings, and Cellars site. But why is the Champagne region listed as a UNESCO site in France?
Mostly because it is one of the most recognizable drinks with a rich history that dates back hundreds of years and enduring customs that have had a significant impact on this region and beyond.
Most of the people who live in Champagne are addicted to this beverage. They either work in the Champagne industry or are acquainted with someone who does.
The Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Mareuil-sur-Ay, and ultimately the Boulevard de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay make up the Champagne UNESCO Site.
Each of the three areas concentrates on a different stage of the creation of Champagne. Raising the grapes on the verdant hillsides, making the champagne and maturing it in the cellars, & finally exporting it to all corners of the globe via the renowned Champagne Houses and comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France.
Planning a trip, there is highly advised if you enjoy the fizzy beverage. You can visit some of the most recognizable Champagne Houses, like Mumm & Co., Mot et Chandon, and Perrier-Jout, and of course, sample your way through several Champagne tastings.
You will also get to learn about the Champagne-making process. At Epernay, the heart of the Champagne region, you may stroll down Boulevard de Champagne.
1.9. Chartres Cathedral
The construction of the Chartres Cathedral, a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture located 80 kilometres southwest of Paris, began in 1145. Before a fire in 1194 destroyed it before it was complete, work on its 25-year restoration began.
The Cathedral is a magnificent structure that represents the pinnacle of French Gothic art.
The large yet elaborate nave reinforces its attraction, the porches embellished with fine sculptures from the 12th century, as well as the eminent 13th-century stained-glass windows, all of which are in remarkable condition and come on the list of UNESCO sites in France.
UNESCO preserves one of the most authentic and comprehensive pieces of religious architecture from the time.
It was one of the most well-liked Mary-centered pilgrimage sites in all of medieval Western Christianity. Free admission is available to this fascinating Church.
1.10. Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
From the 12th century until far into the 18th century, when massive dechristianization during the French Revolution forced all of the monks to leave the abbey, Fontenay Abbey was a Cistercian abbey in the Burgundy area of France.
The location was afterwards converted into a paper mill, which operated there for a while before Edouard Aynard, a private owner, brought and repaired the facility in the 1900s.
The abbey was designated one of the popular UNESCO sites in France in 1981 as a result of its location in a valley of exceptional beauty and the fact that it is the oldest Cistercian abbey still standing in the entire globe.
Visitors now have the opportunity to explore this amazing location and experience the abbey’s atmosphere thanks to its heritage designation, which comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the monastery’s structures, including its well-kept gardens, lapidary museum, and library, learning about the buildings’ pasts and gaining an understanding of the life of the monks who once lived there.
In the east of France, between Auxerre and Dijon, is the location of Fontenay Abbey, which is easily accessible from either town in just over an hour (by car).
1.11. Episcopal City of Albi
Comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France, and two of the Episcopal City’s structures dominate the skyline, consisting of four medieval districts that are mostly made of bricks with a reddish tinge.
Cathedral Ste-Cecile, which is regarded as the largest brick structure in the world, started as a stronghold to stave against invading Crusaders back in the 13th century.
This majestic house of worship still exudes importance today with its 78-meter bell tower.
Despite having a fairly stern façade, the Cathedral’s interior is breathtaking.
It’s impossible not to be amazed by the beautiful stained glass windows, hand-carved woodwork carvings, and towering ceilings.
1.12. Fortifications of Vauban
Military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban served as Roi Soleil Louis XIV’s counsellor and built 12 forts, 12 of which have been included in the list of UNESCO sites in France. Visit the Castle de Blaye & Fort Médoc, two of Vauban’s buildings, near Aquitaine in southwest France.
Citadel de Blaye is placed on the right bank of the Gironde estuary, and Fort Médoc is on the left.
In addition to those two additions, the engineer also constructed Fort Paté on an island. The trio is sometimes referred to as Vauban’s trilogy or Le verroux de l’estuaire (Bolt of the Estuary).
Comes in the list of UNESCO sites in France, and Blaye is perched atop a rocky cliff with stunning views in all directions. It is a well-preserved castle, and the former barracks are currently used as studios by artisans.
There are dining options, a hotel, and a museum that details the history of the region, and the area is also home to intriguing handicrafts.
The Berbie Palace is another UNESCO site close to the Cathedral. This bishop’s palace, which was built in the 13th century as well, is regarded as one of France’s best-preserved episcopal palaces.
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, which has the largest collection of the artist’s work anywhere in the world, and the Tourism Office are both located at the Berbie Palace, even though the bishops no longer live there.
2. Final Note
Being designated as a World Heritage site, whether it be natural or man-made, is similar to winning the Academy Awards; it takes time, extensive documentation, and effort yet provides visitors with a guarantee of high quality.
The designations ensure that the finest representations of our common human heritage will be preserved for future generations to marvel at and explore, but that isn’t the main point.
France may have the fourth-highest number of UNESCO sites in the world, yet many of them go unnoticed by tourists.