France's 6 most historic cities and towns

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by Hertz - 01 April 2020

France is a country with a captivating past. From Roman invasions and revolutions to Empire and civil wars, each act of French history has left its mark on the country.

Some places, however, hold on to their history better than others, proudly displaying their stories and scars in ancient walls, classical churches and medieval centres.

Discover our picks of France’s most historic cities and towns and start planning your journey with Hertz car rental in France.  


Situated in France’s celebrated wine region, Bordeaux has more to explore than vast vineyards and wine tasting. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this port city boasts the highest number of historic buildings in France outside of Paris.

Bordeaux’s crown jewel is its imposing cathedral, located in the city centre. Originally constructed in the 11th century and restored in an impressive Gothic style, the Cathedral is Bordeaux’s beating heart. The cathedral’s freestanding tower, Tour Pey Berland, is the best place to explore the city from above, with its summit providing sweeping panoramas of Bordeaux’s skyline and beyond.

Wander the compact cobbled streets to find more architectural highlights, such as the Big Bell of Bordeaux, which once acted as the gateway into the city during medieval times. The 18th century bell is suspended over a former juvenile prison and city dungeon.

Nestled on the Garonne River, Place de la Bourse is also an excellent representation of the city’s history and Bordeaux’s most recognisable icon. The square comprises of a row of identical Neoclassical buildings, commissioned by King Louis XV in the 18th century as a symbol of the city’s wealth.


Another city known mainly for its wine – this time, Champagne – Reims has a fascinating history hidden among the vineyards. A major city in Roman times, Reims’ cathedral was the site of French royal coronations for much of the nation’s monarchic history.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is an inspiring example of French Gothic architecture. The cathedral itself has held 33 royal coronations and boasts more than 2,000 statues.

Reims is also home to one of the few remaining Roman structures in France, Porte de Mars. This triumphal arch was the widest of its kind in the former Roman Empire and now proudly guards the entrance to the city train station.  

For those who want to delve into the artistic side of France’s past, the Musée Le Vergeur collection occupies a beautiful 13th-century building and includes artwork and furniture spanning three centuries.


Situated in France’s southern Provence region, where glorious sunshine, good food and charming landscapes beckon, the walled historic city of Avignon is a wonder to behold.

The city played an important role in European history, once harbouring the line of Papacy who fled the corruption of 14th-century Rome. Because of Catholic connection, the city is dotted with impressive religious monuments.

The highlight is the Palais des Papes, an astounding Gothic palace that played host to the Avignon Papacy. A symbol of Catholicism’s influence across Europe, the palace has 20 rooms in which to uncover the story of Europe’s colourful history with religion.

Pont d'Avignon is perhaps the city’s most treasured icon. Once a bridge connecting the two banks of Rhone River, all that remains of the structure is four of the original 22 arches, the rest lost to flooding during the 17th century. The structure is shrouded in legends, as it is said a shepherd was ordered to build the bridge from God and was granted superhuman strength to complete the task.


Lyon is home to one of the largest historic quarters in Europe, so there’s plenty of notable sights and attractions to explore. This includes the Traboules of Lyon, a series of secret passageways dating back as far as the 4th century.

Once a trading powerhouse, the city has been influenced by many different styles including Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière towers over the city from its hilltop vantage point. Head to the top for impressive views and marvel at the striking stained-glass artwork and religious statues.

A different way to soak up Lyon’s history is to seek out the hundred murals that dot the city. These amazing frescos cover the walls of public buildings and homes and tell the story of Lyon’s captivating past, depicting famous tales, people and events.  


Positioned in the heart of France, Bourges is known for its vast number of half-timbered houses. Wander through the centre of the city and you’re sure to spot them, with over 400 still standing today.  

While the townspeople would have once lived in these half-timbered houses, Bourges’ wealthy dwelled in Palais Jacques Coeur, an opulent 15th-century Gothic estate. This private residence is now open to the public to explore the grand architecture and hosts a collection of artwork and exhibits.

As with many French cities, Bourges’ centre is built around its cathedral. Created in the 17th century, the pretty cathedral gardens give the perfect opportunity to take in the building’s impressive exterior in a tranquil setting.


The medieval town of Cahors can be found tucked inside the curve of the River Lot. Despite being the smallest of our pick of historic places, Cahors is overflowing with remarkable monuments from the past.

Those driving into Cahors can scarcely miss Pont Valentré, a grand stone arch bridge and UNESCO World Heritage site. Legend has it that the original architect made a deal with the devil to speed up the construction of the bridge.

However, when the bridge was completed, the architect supposedly tricked the devil and so Satan retaliated by sending an imp to damage the northwest corner of the main tower. Later when the bridge was restored, a carving of the imp was added to embrace the bridge’s fabled origins.

Another attraction cloaked in myths is the Fontaine des Chartreux. This limestone gorge is said to be a place of worship for the goddess of the sacred springs, Divona.


Experience France’s thrilling past with a road trip to each of these historic and captivating locations. Reserve car rental in France with Hertz.

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