If you’re conflicted about when to travel to France—why not plan your journey around a local event that suits your fancy? From music and dance to history and technology, there are many regional festivities all year long that showcase France’s cultural prowess, both traditional and modern. If you’re alighting in Paris, these cities are located under two hours from the capital by high-speed train. Here is a sampling of notable events worth traveling a bit further for.
Just an hour and half south west of Paris, Rennes hosts Les Rencontres Trans Musicales (or Les Trans for short), France’s number one event for contemporary music. This is where Lenny Kravitz, Björk, and Ben Harper first took the stage in France. This venue is also where France first discovered MIA, Daft Punk, and the Fugees. The annual event is hosted in December. Visit Le Trans web site for this year’s dates. For something a little less mainstream but culturally relevant, opt for the Yaouank Festival in November, a revival of Breton music, featuring the biggest traditional dance in Brittany.
Sports fans must know by now that France will be hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup from June 7 to July 7 in 9 cities, including Rennes.
Poitiers, also southwest of Paris, is even a bit closer: one hour and 20 minutes by TGV. If you’re visiting Paris in the month of August and find it particularly empty, it’s because most are on vacation en region, spending time in other great cities like Poitiers. Here, there’s an incredible mix of events happening during August, which they simply call Poitiers, l’Eté, or Poitiers, Summer. The whole city lights up with music, theater, dance, movies, and street art.
If your schedule doesn’t permit a trip in August, try Le Confort Moderne, a venue showcasing a year-round program of concerts, workshops, and exhibits. Come hang out with the locals here.
Birthplace of Art nouveau, Nancy is popping with culture, becoming known as one of France’s top cultural cities. Located one hour and 35 minutes from Paris by TGV, come here for opera, ballet, or theater. In summer, every night, from June to August, Rendez-Vous Place Stanislas is a modern sound and light show, transforming this UNESCO-listed historical city center. For jazz lovers, come for Nancy Jazz Pulsations, October 9-19, 2019, which hosts eclectic, quality jazz events year round, with the highlight being these ten days. Special events for kids, too.
Metz, also just an hour and 25 minutes from Paris, is becoming more and more avant-garde all the time. Through April 15, 2019, Centre Pompidou-Metz is hosting an intriguing temporary exhibit entitled Painting the Night, which explores not only the aesthetic role of the night, but also society’s debate on night-time issues related to science, politics, and the environment. There’s also an annual event called Constellations, a digital arts festival, happening from June to September, with a varied calendar of events including shows, street art, and video mapping. 2019 is its third edition. Traveling with kids? Go treasure hunting at the Metz Expo flea market, the second largest in France, open once or twice a month.
Lille is a cozy one hour by TGV, and its triennial Lille3000 event is worth the trip. This is an epic happening that lasts almost all year long (this year: April 27 to December 6, 2019) featuring over 500 events in the city itself, and more in nearby towns. For every edition a theme is chosen and artists are welcomed to present their works corresponding to that theme by preparing creative installations, performing art shows, debates, and more in various outdoor spaces, public squares, and in gardens. This year explores the myth of Eldorado and has invited artists from Mexico in honor of the 500th anniversary of Mexico's conquest by Hernàn Cortés.
Lille will also host March 13 to June 11, 2019 a major Giacometti retrospective featuring over 150 works at its Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Tours & Orleans
2019 is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Renaissance, marked by the birth of Catherine de Medecis and the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, two events which claim the Loire Valley as birthplace of the Renaissance in France.
Between Tours and Orleans, both cities just over one hour from Paris by TGV, there are a number of key historical chateaux, which will organize themed events this year treating a bevvy of subjects including literature, heritage, gastronomy, gardens, and architecture.
These cities make for an ideal jumping off point to start your Loire Valley chateaux explorations, which should include Chambord, Clos Lucé, Blois, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, and those of Amboise. Visit the various chateaux websites for their specific event dates.
For further Loire Valley chateaux experiences, visit Angers, an hour and 30 minutes from Paris by train, west of Tours and Orleans. While Angers will also be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance, you might be tempted to step back a bit further into the Medieval period with the Balade du Roi René, a night-time event showcasing historical spots in the city like the Castle of Angers, Place Kennedy, St. Maurice Cathedral, St. Martin’s Collegiate Church, and the Museum of Fine Arts. The show is on every Saturday night from the end of July to the beginning of August, with lights and entertainment, all for free.