Top French Cities: Seaside Family Vacations in France

 Calanque de Marseille a Cassis
Musee Maritime - La Rochelle
Press release

In France, families don’t need to forgo cultural activities for a fun holiday at the seaside. Cities on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean are perfect for escapades in art, food, and history not far from the shore. For a well-rounded vacation with sandcastle building and beach lolling included, consider these cities, which cover all the bases for families in their own distinctive ways.

Nantes: Situated on the Loire River and about an hour from windswept Atlantic beaches, Nantes has become a true urban playground thanks to Le Voyage à Nantes. Since 2012, visitors can follow a green line on foot to admire art exhibits around the city. New works are featured every October, but many have become permanent fixtures for people to enjoy any time of year. Les machines de l'île is also a must for families. In one of the city’s former shipyards, giant animal machines (imagine a goliath manta ray, sea snake, heron, and elephant—all made of wood and steel) come to life as the machinists explain their workings.

Get to the beach for another giant wonder at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, where Chinese-French artist Huang Yong Ping designed a 400-foot skeletal dragon, called the Serpent d’océan right on the water’s edge. For sandy beaches, head to Pornic, a quaint fishing port complete with charming medieval old town and castle.
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La Rochelle: With year-round sunshine and a friendly vibe, La Rochelle was one of France’s key ports in the 14th century. Appreciate its maritime heritage with its impressive marina, beautiful lighthouses, and waterfront seafood restaurants. A big draw for families is France’s favorite aquarium, home to over 12,000 marine animals from all over the world, sharks included. Note that La Rochelle is remarkably eco-friendly with a well-organized public transport system: bike share, electric boats, and even solar ferries. Navigate from Vieux Port to the Ville en Bois in less than 5 minutes by solar barge. One of the highlights is neighboring Ile de Ré, an island connected to La Rochelle by toll bridge. Get to the center of the island in less than 45 minutes by bus. Circle the island by bike to visit the Phare des Baleines lighthouse. A specialty here, salt has been farmed from the marshes since the 12th century, and you can take home treats like salted butter caramels, and the chef-adored fleur de sel. For beach time, head to the south side of the island.
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Bordeaux: Renting bikes is a great way to get the lay of the land when you first arrive in Bordeaux. Families love le Miroir d’eau, a giant reflecting pool across from La Bourse, which mists water skyward every 15 minutes to create the mirrored effect during the summertime. It’s fun for hours for the little ones. For a bird’s eye view of the city and the surrounding vineyards, consider a hot-air balloon ride. For an indoor activity, Cap Sciences has a range of interactive workshops for kids. While the activities are in French, guides happily lead English-speaking families through.

Getting out of the city to the seaside can take you to Arcachon, widely known for oyster harvesting, but which also has plenty of beaches where you can set up the umbrella for the day, some more peopled than others. Take a bike ride to Plage des Arbousiers for outdoor playgrounds and plenty of shady spots. From Arcachon, you may also like to explore the otherworldly landscapes of Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe.
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Marseille: The second largest city in France after Paris, Marseille is a major port city and multicultural hub named European Capital of Culture in 2013. With this honorific came hundreds of cultural events and museum openings and renovations, such as The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM). Touring the MuCEM structure itself is a wonderful sensorial experience. Young ones with shorter attention spans take pleasure in simply walking around the building. At the Vieux Port, find a colorful ambiance with a giant Ferris wheel. At over 180 feet tall, it’s magical at sunset. Notre Dame de la Garde, located at the highest natural elevation in Marseille, offers great views of the city, and the church itself with its golden Madonna is a sight. Hold onto your hats—it’s windy up there.

When it’s time for the sea, take a short ferry ride from Vieux Port to the Iles du Frioul. Four islands make up the archipelago and the first stop on the ferry is Chateau d’If, the infamous prison in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Then head to Ile de Ratonneau to explore tiny hidden inlets perfect for dipping your toes. The archipelago is only one part of the Les Calanques National Park, which makes up nearly 200 square miles of untouched coves and glistening blue waters on the Mediterranean.
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About Top French Cities –

Top French Cities is an association of 29 cities, from regional capitals like Bordeaux to important towns like Avignon and Versailles. They are perfect for young travelers, families and anyone else looking for fun and authentic French experiences that will fit their budget. Most of these cities are university towns with a youthful atmosphere, but all of them reflect the heritage and distinctive flavors of the regions to which they belong. Many are forward-looking too, with historic buildings repurposed to house contemporary art and activity centers like Les Docks in Marseille. Many have created or integrated new, modern museums to contrast with their classical, architectural heritage, like in Nimes, where the cutting-edge Museum of Roman Civilization (Musée de la Romanité) is located across from the historic Roman amphitheater, or in Nantes, where whimsical mechanical creatures are being created, or in the UNESCO World Heritage Site concrete city of Le Havre.


Marion Fourestier
ATOUT FRANCE – France Tourism Development Agency
(212) 745-0963/67