the 14 must-see walled cities and towns in france

Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Beautiful walled city of Saint-Malo – Photo by Annabel P.

Throughout the centuries, cities and towns in France have built fortified walls and ramparts to protect themselves against enemies.  Cities in France have managed to preserve their walls and ramparts to the delight of history fans and tourists who enjoy charming locations. You will find some of these French walled cities on hills (Carcassonne) or near the sea/ocean (Saint-Malo). 

Here are 14 beautiful walled cities to visit in France.

St Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine)

Saint Malo's fortified town.
Saint-Malo, beach side – Photo by SecretMoona

The beautiful seaside town of Saint-Malo is full of charm. The Old Town protected by ramparts against invaders and the sea is a nice getaway destination.  Walkthrough the ramparts and check out the views. On one side, you have the beaches, forts and islands and on the other side the narrow cobblestones streets of the Old Town. Once you are done walking, explore the souvenir shops and sample some of the fresh seafood on offer. A stop by the port is also a must as the town gave birth to famous people like Jacques Cartier who discovered Canada. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Don’t leave without sampling the famous sweet Kouign-Amann and Far Breton
  • Tour the ramparts
  • Take a day trip to neighbouring towns 
  • Islands of Grand Bé and Petit Bé only accessible when the tide is low

Location: Saint-Malo is located northeast within the Emerald Coast in Brittany

How to get there: Train from Paris Montparnasse to St-Malo

Where to stay: Saint Malo offers practically every type of accommodation no matter your budget. See some options here.

Laon (Aisne)

Laon is a little gem worth visiting. The town is divided in two-part: the Old Town located up the hill and the new town. The Old Town is attractive with its cobbled streets, pretty gothic cathedral, secret passages and cute gardens. The cathedral built in the 12th century was one of the first gothic cathedrals in France and was the inspiration behind Chartres and Reims cathedrals. The best way to enjoy the visit to Laon is to wander on foot. By doing so, you get to see all of the town’s little treasures. Don’t forget to walk the 7km long rampart and enjoy the 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. 

If you are a cheese lover, be sure to sample the Baguette Laonnaise, an orange coloured soft cheese shaped into a baguette or Maroilles, a similar cheese with a stronger taste. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Admire the gothic cathedral of Laon 

Location: Laon is located in North Picardy near Reims 

How to get there: Laon is only 1.5 hours from Paris Gare du Nord 

Where to stay: Choices of accommodation can be found here.

Guérande (Loire-Atlantique)

Guerande's salt marshes . Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Guerande’s salt marshes – J-L. Servais

Guérande is another medieval walled town located near the sea, widely known in France for its salt. The town is entirely surrounded by ramparts which have been preserved including the four gates. One of these gates (Porte Saint-Michel) is now a museum –  Musée et les Remparts de Guérande. Exploring this town means wandering along the narrow streets of the historic centre filled with arts and crafts shops. There are lots of little shops selling salt-related items. Be sure to purchase some “fleur de sel”, anything from salted-butter caramel to bath salts. Take a detour via the salt marshes to learn how the salt is harvested. There are several guided tours on offer. 

Don’t’ miss out:

  • If travelling with kids, visit the Musée de la Poupée et du Jouet Ancien, showcasing a good collection of antique toys and dolls 
  • Medieval Guerande – this medieval festival taking place in May takes back visitors to the Guerande of the 14th century. Expect costume parades and entertainment for kids and adults alike. 

Location: The medieval town is located in the department of Loire-Atlantique in Brittany, close to Saint-Nazaire, Nantes and Vannes.

How to get there: 3 hours by TGV from Paris Montparnasse: 

Where to stay: Accommodation options here.

La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime)

La Rochelle - Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
The White City – Photo by Vianney Dugrain

An important walled city in France to visit is La Rochelle. Often called “La Ville Blanche” (the white city), was an important port in France. The main attractions are centred around the old port, Vieux Port flanked with defensive towers. The old port is picturesque with old buildings and narrow streets. A rampart stretches to the towers, erected to protect against the English (mainly). Explore Port des Minimes, one of France’s biggest marinas, full of yachts.

Don’t miss out:

  • A tour to the beautiful resort island, Île de Ré 
  • Seafood, especially mussels, is La Rochelle’s speciality so try the “Charantais” in a creamy white wine and onion sauce. 

Location: La Rochelle is located in southwestern France near Bordeaux and Rochefort.

How to get there: TGV from Paris Montparnasse and La Rochelle takes about 3 hours.

Where to stay: Choices of accommodation can be found here.

Dinan (Côtes-d’Armor)

View of Dinan from the fortified ramparts
View of Dinan from the fortified ramparts – Photo by SecretMoona

Dinan is a charming medieval town with equally charming streets. The former walled town and its castle are surrounded by 3km ramparts dating back to the 13th century. It’s preferable to start your exploration of the town by the port. Enjoy a nice walk along the estuary admitting the boats then up the Old Town. Walking on the paved steep streets is like travelling in the Middle Ages. The town has managed to retain its medieval architecture and many of the houses are listed as Historical Monuments. The Old Town is full of preserved half-timbered houses, most of them occupied by craft shops, art galleries, cafes etc…Walking up the ramparts is a must as you get to see the breathtaking view over the Rance Valley, the port and viaduct. Climb to the top of la Tour de l’Horloge (clock tower) for a panoramic view of Dinan. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Rue Jerzual, the most charming street in Dinan packed with artisan shops
  • View from the ramparts over the valley
  • Dinan’s castle, now a museum 

Location: Located northwest between St Malo and Rennes.

How to get there: TGV Train from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes then Illenoo bus to Dinan.

Where to stay: Best of Dinan accommodations can be found here

Provins (Seine-et-Marne)

Streets of Provins. Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Streets of Provins by Christel Sagniez

Provins is a medieval town famous for trading champagne. Its imposing ramparts were built in the 13th century to ensure protection to the people. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since December 2001, Provins managed to preserve its architecture, ramparts, fortified gates (including the Cesar Tower) and half-timbered houses. Cesar Tower is the main attraction of the town as it offers the most beautiful view of the city. Visiting medieval Provins is a great day out from Paris, perfect for culture and architecture lovers. The town is known as an “open-air museum” thanks to its 58 listed historic monuments. Anyone looking to see something different from busy Paris will enjoy strolling through the 5km fortified walls and streets of Provins.

Don’t miss out:

  • The ramparts and fortified gates
  • Wander along the undergrounds tunnels, there’s about 10km worth of passageways
  • Join guided tours 
  • Taste the Brie de Provins (cheese) and Niflettes (a puff pastry cake with crème  patissière

Location: Provins is located in in the region Ile-de-France making it a perfect day trip from Paris

How to get there:  Train runs from Paris Gare de l’Est to Provins in less than an hour and 20 minutes

Where to stay: Best of Provins’ accommodation here.

Aigues-Mortes (Guard)

Ramparts of Aigues-Mortes
Ramparts of Aigues-Mortes by Marc Benedetti

Aigues-Mortes is a nice fortified medieval small town dating back to the 13th century. The former mediterranean port is now a quiet town with a preserved architecture. People can enjoy walking the 1,600 metres ramparts and though the village. Place Saint-Louis is where you will see most of the shops and restaurants. To see the village from above, climb the Constance Tower which used to be a prison, to see the stunning view of the lanscape. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Join a guided tour to learn about the history of the village
  • Discover beautiful Camargue on horseback or boat

Location: Situated in the Occitanie region in the southwest near Montpellier and Nimes.

How to get there: From Paris, take the TGV to either Montpellier or Nimes and then a regional train or bus to Aigues-Mortes

Where to stay: Checkout Montpellier’s accommodation options here.

Carcassonne (Aude)

Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.

Carcassonne is one of the most famous and visited walled cities in France. This hilltop city is surrounded by fortifications dating back between the 5th to 17th centuries. Walking along the city walls and through the winding narrow lanes of Carcassonne, Old Town is like taking a trip down memory lane. Although the ramparts have been renovated during the mid-19th century, they still give visitors an idea of how the city was during Medieval times. There are lots of things to do in the UNESCO World Heritage Site town including the Musee de la torture (museum of torture), admiring amazing views. You also have lots of restaurants and boutiques to explore whilst there. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Check out the Roman/Gothic cathedral Basilique St.Nazaire
  • Enjoy a walk by The Lac de la Cavayer
  • Take a boat trip on the Canal du Midi, a UNESCO Heritage Site

Location: Languedoc region between Toulouse and Narbonne, southwest. 

How to get there: Trains from Paris Gare Montparnasse with a change

Where to stay: Carcassonne offers a wide range of accommodation here.

Langres (Haute-Marne)

View of Langres' landscape from the fortified ramparts .
View of Langres’ landscape from the fortified ramparts by Gerard Feron

Langres is a peaceful town in Haute-Marne and also the largest fortified wall in Europe. The town is surrounded by 12 towers and 7 gates. The ramparts offer visitors a 3.5km walkway free access to panoramic views of the region. In addition, the four surrounding lakes add to the beauty of the landscape. By visiting Langres, you will be able to admire a number of historical buildings and monuments. You can get lost in the covered passages hidden between the narrow alleys and admire the city from atop the Romanesque cathedral of Saint-Mammès. Langres is also famous for being the birthplace of Denis Diderot, an important figure during the Age of Enlightenment and creator of the Encyclopedia. You can visit the House of Enlightenment, Denis Diderot or La Maison des Lumières Denis Diderot (MLDD) to see some pages of the first encyclopedia. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Langes, a soft and creamy cheese, usually available during the summer months
  • Explore the four lakes

Location: Langres is located in northeast near Dijon and Besançon 

How to get there: Trains from Paris Gare de l’Est to Langres is less than 3 hours

Where to stay: Options can be found here.

Brouage (Charente-Maritime)

Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Photo from Brouage Tourist Office

The fortified city of Brouage was a naval port and an important salt trading town in France and Europe. Throughout the war of religions, Catholics and Protestant fought for the town, so fortifications were needed to guard it. Now, artisans have replaced salt merchants but the walled town has remained the same. The ramparts and the surrounding salt marsh have earned the town the official label “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful village of France). While there, join a guided tour by the Brouage Tourist Office to learn about the people who have shaped the town or walk on the ramparts to enjoy the breathtaking view of the salt marsh and the island of Oleron. Be sure to also walk around the town, visit some of the artisans’ shops and cafes. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Visit La Halle aux Vivres – an exhibition hall, a former attic used to store supplies
  • Check out the Musée du Vélo – a cute bike museum 
  • Brouage marshes – a paradise for bird lovers. You will be able to see swans, egrets, herons, seagulls and storks
  • Take a trip to Ile d’Oleron  

Location: Located in Charente-Maritime near Rochefort and Ile d’Oléron 

How to get there: Take a train to Rochefort or La Rochelle and then buses 6, 6E, 7 or 8.

Where to stay: Choices of accommodations can be found here.

Vannes (Morbihan

Remparts Garden - Vannes Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.

The picture-perfect walled town of Vannes is one of the most charming sights in France’s Gulf of Morbihan. With its port, cobblestone streets, colourful half-timbered houses and fortified square, the medieval city allows visitors to discover architectural remains dating back to centuries. The main attraction is Vannes is the historic centre filled with medieval styled colourful half-timbered houses. The town’s ramparts offer a unique perspective of the town, castle and its garden. 

Don’t miss out:

  • A tour of the ramparts  
  • St Pierre cathedral 
  • Walk along Place des Lices to see the charming harbour

Location: Located in the Golfe du Morbihan in Brittany 

How to get there: TGV from Paris Montparnasse to Vannes in less than 3 hours. 

Where to stay: Best of Vannes’ accommodations here.

La Couvertoirade (Aveyron)

Aerial view of La Couvertoirade. Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Aerial view of La Couvertoirade by Eric Teissedre

The medieval village of La Courertoirade is the picture perfect example of an unspoilt countryside town. The village was built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar then fortified by the Knights Hospitaller in the 15th century. The ramparts, towers and Templar castle have all retained their original appearance. Walking around the top of the ramparts gives a breaktaking views of the town and landscape. The village with its stones houses and paved streets give La Couvertoirade a unique charming feel. So much that La Couvertoirade is listed among the most beautiful villages in France. Scrolling through the streets, you will see lots of craftsmen shops including potters and sculptors. 

Don’t miss out:

  • The village is near the Regional Natural Park des Grands Causses which offers amazing hiking opportunities 
  • During the summer months, the village offers lots of festivals and culticul activities

Location: Located in southern France near Montpellier 

How to get there: From Montpellier, you can take a bus or regional train to La Couvertoirade

Where to stay: Accommodation options here.

Neuf-Brisach (Haut-Rhin)

Neuf-Brisach - Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Spectacular view of Neuf-Brisach. photo from Visit Alsace.

The beauty of this walled city is viewed and appreciated from above. The star-shaped design of the village will make you want to get on a helicopter to see it for yourself! Like several other cities and towns, Neuf-Brisach is one of Vauban’s creations. As well as admiring the stunning architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors can also visit a museum dedicated to Vauban or explore the surrounding areas including the Hardy forest and the banks of the Rhine River. 

Don’t miss out:

  • Vauban museum
  • Guided tour of the Neuf-Brisach Tower and the fortifications 

Location: Located in near Colmar in Alsace and the German border 

How to get there: Train to Colmar then bus 76 to Neuf-Brisach

Where to stay: Best to stay in Colmar, options here.

Besançon (Franche Comté)

Citadel of Besancon - Guide to the most picturesque and most impressive walled cities and towns in France.
Photo of Besançon’s citadel by Guillaume Bonzoms

Besançon is one of the biggest walled cities on this list, yet it is overlooked by tourists, which is probably not a bad thing. The ancient city is one of the best preserved historic cities in France. Located at the foot of the Doubs River, it has a well preserved historic centre called “la Boucle”. Teh old town is charming with its winding streets, beautiful architectures and squares. 

Out of the many things to do in the city, the main attraction is the Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, designed by Vauban, Louis XIV’s military advisor and architect. The architecure masterpiece offers stunning views over the town and river below.

Don’t miss out:

  • Besançon is the birthplace of writer Victor Hugo, so be sure to visit the Maison Natale de Victor Hugo which takes visitors through the author’s life and his works
  • Wander through the streets down from the citadel to the river 

Location: Besançon is located in eastern france near Dijon, Belfort and Lausanne

How to get there:  Direct TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon station to Besançon Viotte.

Where to stay: Besançon offers practically every type of accommodation no matter your budget. See some options here.

Have you visited any of the walled towns and cities? If so, what did you like about them. Please leave a comment.

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

17 thoughts on “the 14 must-see walled cities and towns in france

  1. Aaaah Mayi you make me want to go back and explore more of France. These fortified towns are all incredible. I have visited a few of them with my French bestie…but you keep reminding me just how more amazing spots there are too see.

    I can’t help thinking after you walk for hours exploring, you know the food will be fab too…

  2. Wow! History and architecture in one post! To be honest, I didn’t know that France has a place like this. This is an interesting location that I must add in my itinerary when I visit France someday so I’m saving this for later.

  3. Wow, what a cool list! I fell in love with walled cities when I lived in Chester England – now I wanna visit all of these in France. I can’t believe how different each of them is! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I only visited one of your mentioned walled cities (Carcassonne). I spent more time travelling through the small villages and towns. There are some places on your list that I would like to go back and see.

  5. I can’t believe I’ve never thought about France having walled cities – it seems so obvious after this post. Makes me want to go back to France and explore more! I really prefer to travel with a French-speaker there so it might be a few years, though!

  6. Oh my gosh, could these towns get any dreamier? They look like they are straight out of a fairytale! Thank you for adding so many more places to my must-visit list!

  7. I’ve been very often to France but from your list I know only La Rochelle. We had a great time there. However, Guérande looks absolutely mesmerizing – I try to visit there next time I’m going to France. By the way – and for your next trip: Pau is a great place,too. It was home to Henri IV and still his this majestic feel to it. Anyway: Vive la France!

  8. Such a fascinating list. I wonder about the amount of history and heritage these cities seem to hold within themselves. Never been to any of them, but feel like visiting all of them. 😛 Loved the aerial shots of some of the towns.

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