3 In Active Experiences/ Advice and Money Saving Tips/ Arts and Entertainment/ Learning Experiences/ Outdoor Experiences/ Sites

France Bucket List Ideas For 2021

France Bucket List Chateau de Peyrepertuse

If you need some travel inspiration, here are some France bucket list ideas organized by month-places I’d still like to see and travel ideas for you. 

I miss France like crazy. I don’t plan on visiting until sometime next year….depending on how the pandemic goes and when we can get a vaccine. But I do think about where I WILL go all the time. I keep a running list of bucket list of things to do in France–places I still want to see and experiences I want to have when I visit. In case you’re looking for additional ideas, I’ve added sites, festivals, events, and experiences in various regions of France that I have really enjoyed each month.

[As of December 2020, France is still in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. For many of the events listed below, it is still unknown if the events will go ahead or if the venues will be open to the public. If you are interested in traveling to France and want to see one of the places on the bucket list, be sure to check if and when it will be open]

January: Fête de la Truffe A Sarlat

Truffles at the Sarlat market
  • Location: Sarlat, Dordogne department (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)
  • Takes place: mid-January

Truffles in the Dordogne are also known as the “Black Gold of the Périgord” and there is a big celebration-the Truffle Festival- in Sarlat in mid-January with wine tastings, truffle-hunting demonstrations, culinary events, and of course truffles for sale. 

The first time I ever tried a truffle was in 1978 when a family friend let me taste her pasta that had been made with truffles. To be honest, I thought they tasted like him. (Oh, what an amateur I was!).

When I was in Sarlat in May 2019, there were a few truffle vendors at the market, but it would be much more interesting to “experience” and learn more about truffles (there are workshops).

Other place to consider in January:

February: Carnaval de Nice

  • Location: Nice, Alpes-Maritimes department (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)
  • Takes place: It was just announced that the 2021 Nice Carnival (with the theme, “King of the Animals”), originally scheduled from February 13 to 27, 2021 would be postponed to 2022. It’s definitely on my list for the month of February….whatever year it happens!

While wintertime is perfect to go skiing in the French Alps, if you’re looking for something warmer, consider the Côte d’Azur. For two weeks at the end of every February, the focus is the Nice Carnival.

The Carnaval de Nice has been running since 1873 and the 135th edition will have a “King Of Animals” theme, which I assume means the floats and giant “puppet heads” (grosses têtes) will be fashioned after animals. Like Menton’s Fête du Citron, there are daytime and nighttime parades.

It will be party time in Nice with street performances, music performances, street art, flower and light parades. 

Other places to consider in February:

March: Marathon du Golfe de Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez, France
  • Location: Saint-Tropez, Var department (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)
  • Takes place: end of March

[Update: On February 6, 2021 the organization announced that they were cancelling the March 28, 2021 race due to the extended health emergency in France. Runners can get a full refund and details of what will take place instead will be announced shortly.]

The weather in France can be unpredictable in the month of March. I have been in Paris a couple of times when the temperature was 20° Celsius.  But, during one visit it was cold, damp, rainy and about 7°C. Why do I remember this? I ran the Paris half marathon in the rain for 2 hours!

Nice, in early March 2020; however, was beautiful. Sunny and around 17° C. If I were to return to France in this month of weather-uncertainty, I’d likely choose the south of France and I would spend time near Saint Tropez and take part in the Marathon du Golfe de Saint-Tropez, either doing the marathon or the 10km race that follows the coastline. The route is flat and from the videos I’ve seen, the weather was sunny and warm (t-shirt weather). In addition to the marathon there are also relay races.

March is certainly a much nicer time than to visit Saint-Tropez than August. I was there at the height of the tourist season-hot, crowded and the traffic from Nice was awful. 

One of the treats at the end of the race? A bottle of rosé wine and the famous tropézienne tart! [Nothing like rewarding yourself with wine after a race, like at the Marathon du Medoc!]

Other experiences to consider in March:

April: Grand Parc Puy du Fou

Location: Les Epesses, Vendée department (Pays de la Loire)

Open: early April to the end of September

Being a kid at heart, if I were to return to France in April, I would head to Puy du Fou, in the Pays de la Loire region. This is a giant theme park or amusement park located in Les Epesses, just 86 km southeast of Nantes. It has recreated villages and shows with a historical twist—-different time periods in French history such as the Roman times and medieval times. Here’s your opportunity to travel back in time.

Puy du Fou is the second most popular amusement park in France after Disneyland Paris. There are reconstructed fortresses and numerous shows such as birds of prey shows, musketeers engaged in fights, and gladiators in battle.  The hotels and restaurants in the village are also themed (ie. Renaissance, middle ages, and Gallo-Romaine time periods). The main show, The Cinéscénie, is in French but headsets are provided to provide translation into other languages. I’m not sure about the other shows, however. 

Seeing that I like French history and like to be entertained, I’d like to add this to my list. Visitors highly rate this experience, often commenting that it is a history lesson before your eyes. 

Other places or experiences to consider in April:

May: Millau Viaduct 

Millau Viaduct, France
  • Location: Millau, Aveyron department (Occitanie)
  • Open: all year

In 2007 I was travelling from Provence to the Dordogne and got really close, but not close enough to the Millau Viaduct (which is near the town of Millau). This multi-lane bridge took three years to build and it cost 394 € million. It opened in 2004 and provided a much better route between Paris and Beziers connecting with the A75 and A71 autoroutes. 

Up until that time there was enormous traffic congestion. This viaduct was a “cable-stayed road bridge” spanning the Tarn river and valley. (Cable-stayed means the platform of the bridge is suspended by cables which are attached to towers). It has the distinction of being the tallest bridge in the world (1104 feet high). 

Before I cross the Millau bridge, I’ll stop at the ‘Aire du Viaduc de Millau’ where there is an exhibition showing how the bridge was constructed. 

Other experiences to consider in May:

June: Château de Guédelon 

  • Location: Treigny, Yonne department (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté)
  • Open: June to November and there are English-speaking tours. Expected completion date is in 2023.

Château de Guédelon has been on my list for years! I have tried to tie in a trip to this château for years; however, to be honest, it’s in the middle of France and has not been “along the way” to one of my destinations. I would say the nearest big city is Bourges, which is known for its UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral of St Etienne with stained glass windows.

So why Château de Guédelon? This is a 13th century castle has been under renovation since 1997. What makes this restoration different is that the workers are only using the techniques, tools, and instruments from medieval times. No modern equipment. No 20th century techniques. Chief architect, Jacques Moulin, designed the castle makeover based on the model by King Philip II of France.

It’s a fascinating place for children and adults where you can learn first hand what it was like to work and live in medieval times. The stonemasons, carpenters, woodcutters and other workers give explanations of what they are doing and they are in costumes/clothing of that period. Check out this video from a few years ago to see what it’s like.

Other experiences to consider in June:

July: Bastille Day Fireworks 

Carcassonne, France at night.
  • Location: Carcassonne,  Aude department (Occitanie)
  • When: July 14 (however, check the schedule as some towns do the fireworks the night before)

I have a “thing” for fireworks. I’ve seen the July 14 La Fete Nationale (Bastille Day) fireworks in Paris and they should certainly be on your Paris bucket list. Also amazing are the fireworks in Etretat which often take place on July 13.  I have heard that Carcassonne also has spectacular fireworks and while the crowds can be enormous, fortunately, so is the fortress. Take a look at the château at night and just imagine. 

So, to celebrate the day (and my birthday) maybe I should be in Carcassonne.

Some other experiences to consider in July:

August: Spend The Night On The Summit Of Pic du Midi de Bigorre

Heading to Pic du Midi, France.
  • Location: La Mongie, Midi-Pyrénées department (Occitanie)
  • Open: all year, but due to maintenance, be sure to check their website for closures.

In 2013 I spent time in the southwest region of France, running the Marathon du Medoc, staying in Biarritz for a week, and visiting Pau and Lourdes before heading to the Dordogne. The one place I wish I had had time to visit was Pic du Midi, “Grand Site” of the Hautes-Pyrénées. It’s the highest museum in Europe. 

But you can’t “squeeze” in a trip to the peak of the mountain. I admit I tried, but as you can see from the clouds and fog, it was incredibly dangerous to drive up to the parking lot. The fog was truly as thick as pea soup and I had to turn around. I could barely see a few feet in front of my car.

Why is Pic du Midi so intriguing to me? It’s the 360° panoramic views of the Pyrenees, the observatory, and the opportunity to sleep under the stars. I had read that you can actually spend the night in the observatory. The package includes the cable car ride up,  planetarium show, a visit and tour of the observatory’s telescope, dinner and sunrise breakfast. The stars are there for you to view, and you stay in double or single rooms. Only 19 people can be accommodated. 

Is that not a cool experience? But of course you need at least 2 days to do this. I don’t know what I was thinking trying to drive the base in La Mongie, take a cable car up and check out the views. Spending the night would be much more interesting. So this place is definitely on my bucket list for France. 

Other experiences to consider:

September: St. Jean de Luz

St. Jean-de-Luz, France
  • Location: St. Jean de Luz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques department (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

In 2013 I drove through St. Jean de Luz but didn’t have time to really explore this Basque town, just 18 km south of Biarritz. It is located on the coast and while the beach (Grand Place) is beautiful, the town seemed to have more of a small-town vibe to it, more so than Biarritz even though it has the impressive Church of Saint Jean Baptiste. This church is famous because this is where the Sun King, King Louis XIV married Marie-Thérèse in 1660.

I’d likely use St. Jean de Luz to explore more of the Pyrenees and possibly do a day trip over to San Sebastian (Spain).

Other places and experiences to consider:

October: Château de Montségur 

  • Location: Montségur, Ariège department (Occitanie)
  • Open: February 1-December 31 (excluding December 25)

When I was doing a road trip in southern France from Tarascon-sur-Ariège to Carcassonne during my 33rd trip I tried to visit Château de Montségur, another fortress in the Ariège and sometimes considered “the” Holy Grail castle.

Unfortunately, it was so foggy, you couldn’t even see the castle. I figured it also would have been dangerous to even try to visit it as it is so high up on a mountain, much like the other two ruined Cathar fortresses I saw, Château de Peyrepertuse (first photo in this post) and Château de Queribus.  

Along with Château d’Aguilar, Château de Puilaurens, and Château de Termes, together they are called the “Cinq Fils de Carcassonne”  (”Five Sons of Carcassonne”) and each sit up high on mountain peaks or pogs (meaning hilltop-an Occitan dialect). The King of France named these Royal Citadels and they were strategically situated on the border between France and Aragon  (now Spain). Their job was to protect Carcassonne from the King of Aragon and his forces.

The original Château de Montségur was torn down in 1244 and the rebuilt one is from a slightly later period and not from the Cathar period. It is said to have outstanding views. Take a look at this video and I think you’ll agree.

Other places and experiences to consider in October, especially cool things to do in Paris:

November: Bassins de Lumières

  • Location: Bordeaux, Gironde department (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)
  • Open: all year; however due to Coronavirus, it is closed until the end of 2020

Culturespaces, the organization that has created Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux and Ateliers des Lumières in Paris, has created another impressive sound and light show, this time in Bordeaux. The light show and images are projected on the walls, floors, and in the water within the 4 areas (basins) of a submarine base.

There are four shows: the artwork of Gustav Klimt and Paul Lee; “Anitya” which tells the history of the submarine base; and “Ocean Data” which takes you on an ocean journey using digital images of data. The shows opened in June 2020 and was to run until January 3, 2021 but it is closed for now. No news yet on what’s to come.

December: Christmas Markets 

Christmas market by the Eiffel Tower in Paris (J. Chung)
  • Locations:  Colmar (Haut-Rhin department), Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin department) (Alsace/Grand Est region)
  • Takes place: end of November until the end of December

Everyone talks about the Christmas markets, whether they be in Germany or France. I’m sure the ones I’ve visited in Paris are tame compared to the most famous ones in the Alsace region, also known as Grand Est. I will head to Strasbourg, Colmar, and Mulhouse see what is considered to be the best Christmas markets in France. 

I’m sure the copious amounts of vin chaud (spiced mulled wine) and gingerbread will keep me warm during the cold winter outdoor visit to the markets. I’ll have to leave it to a warmer season to sample the famous wines on the Alsace Wine Route.

Other events and experiences to consider:

  • Lyon: Fête des Lumières
  • Paris: New Year’s Eve-watching the light show at the Eiffel Tower

More Ideas For Your France Bucket List

If you still need ideas about where to go in France, check out these posts:

Map Of France: Locations Of Unique Sites And Experiences

Click on the map below or this link: Locations Of Unique Experiences And Sites In France.

Posts on a map-France Travel Tips. Location of unique experiences and sites in France

Where can I get advice about entering France as a foreign national?

Check out the French government website:
https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/coronavirus-advice-for-foreign-nationals-in-france/

Where can I find out if it’s safe to travel to France? I live in Canada.

Check out the Canadian government website for advisories:
https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/france

Where can I find out if it’s safe to travel to France? I live in the United States.

Check out the American government website for advisories:
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/france-travel-advisory.html

Pin to your favourite board on Pinterest

France Bucket List

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.

You Might Also Like

3 Comments

  • Reply
    Frances Folsom
    December 17, 2020 at 11:07 am

    I want to go to all the places you mentioned.

    • Reply
      Jan
      December 17, 2020 at 2:51 pm

      Yes…a “need” (vs. want) for sure!

  • Reply
    Sue
    December 17, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration Jan! My New Year’s Day plan is to start thinking about where we’ll go when we can go. France is a given, but so many options and now you’ve provided more! Meanwhile I’ll get back to that plan of studying French during lockdown… went off the rails a bit :). Here’s to travel in 2021!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.