Unusual things to do and places to visit in France
France is a European country that boasts a vast number of different environments and places to visit. You can’t get enough of travelling there, there are so many things to do!
But I’d like to propose something a little more offbeat: unusual places to discover. Here’s my extravagant and wacky version of France, and I can vouch for it, as I’ve seen most of the cities and activities covered here! Let’s visit some weird and strange places of in my country!
Insure your trip in France
- Exploring the catacombs of Paris
- Carnac stones
- Elaboratoire, one of the most underground and alternative art centre
- The universe of the scrap metal poet
- Bugarach, the most mystical place in France
- Aurillac Street Arts Festival
- Hallucinating at the Futoroscope
- Defying the gravity of Lauriole's curiosity
- Skiing on pine needles
- See the construction of a medieval castle
- Shaking the rock of Huelgoat
- The sculpted rocks of Rothéneuf
- The Robert-Tatin Museum
- The cathedral of erotic sculptures
- The old Vernon mill
- The artists' village of La Poèterie
- Oradour-sur-Glane, the open-air museum of desolation
- The perched castle festival (Chateau Perché)
- Wat Thammapathip International pagoda
- Playing square pétanque
- An unbridled holiday in Cap d'Agde
- The palaeontological site of Plagne
- The Mahalon Unusual Festival
- Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval
- The Machines de l'île in Nantes
- The Rustrel quarries: the "Colorado of Provence
- The Abode of Chaos
- The mystical forest of Broceliande
- The most unusual places in France
Exploring the catacombs of Paris
What a strange place! If you didn’t know, the 14th arrondissement of Paris is full of underground cellars that were used as ossuaries in the 19th century (not to be confused with necropolises). The catacombs of Paris are veritable labyrinths that can put visitors’ lives at risk. It is advisable to discover them with a connoisseur or an official organisation. In the latter case, you will have access to a tiny part of the site, as less than 1% is open to the public.
Carnac, not to be confused with Karnak in Egypt, is a mysterious megalithic site in Morbihan, home to almost 3,000 menhirs. Its many Neolithic alignments and dolmens remain an enigma to this day, as nothing is known about their builders or their use. The archaeological sites of Carnac are a unique and important part of France’s heritage.
Elaboratoire, one of the most underground and alternative art centre
L’Elaboratoire is a completely offbeat, fringe venue that’s a must-see. I was invited there on a drunken night by some people I met in Rennes while hitchhiking in Brittany (Bretagne). Elabo is a place where underground and alternative culture take centre stage. It’s located on a large plot of land with old industrial-looking buildings where a large community of semi-autonomous artists live. Believe me, you won’t find such a special and unique atmosphere anywhere else. It’s an unsuspected facet of France, and you can see some really crazy things. For me, this kind of place is what you can really call unusual and off the beaten track.
📍 Location (moving in progress)
Update: the area of this legendary venue has come to an end. The Elaboratoire is in the process of being relocated…
The universe of the scrap metal poet
L’Univers du Poète Ferrailleur (The universe of the scrap metal poet) is an unusual place born of Robert Coudray’s boundless imagination and creativity. This man of recycled materials assembles, creates and brings to life whatever comes to mind. It’s a whimsical, surrealistic place that might just make you lose yours!
Bugarach, the most mystical place in France
Situated in the Aude department, the town of Bugarach is often talked about for its quirks, legends and esotericism. It was once rumoured the world over that the town’s Pech (peak) was the only place where people could escape the supposed end of the world when the Mayan calendar came to an end on 21 December 2012. The Pyrenean peak is also associated with ufology, where numerous reports of UFO sightings have been filed. But that’s not all: many fervent supporters also claim that this place is home to the body of Christ.
Bugarach is the place most associated with ‘supernatural and paranormal’ phenomena in France! Even if it’s all fantasy and utopia, I personally believe that there’s always some truth in a legend, no matter how small. Whatever the case, something strange has been going on in this town for a very long time.
Aurillac Street Arts Festival
One of the craziest and most unusual things I’ve ever seen in France! Held every year in August, the Aurillac festival is a a free event where artists from all over Europe come to offer street art and theatre in all its forms. Anyone is free to put on a performance, no matter how twisted. It’s an eccentric and borderline event, very much in the spirit of Elabo as we saw earlier. Unfortunately, Aurillac’s free festival has tended to be repressed over the years. In fact, since 2017 a perimeter device delimited by barriers has been put in place as well as numerous restrictions. The spirit of this libertarian festival is starting to escape, so don’t delay in seeing it. You’ll see some crazy stuff [see a video]. Trust me!
Hallucinating at the Futoroscope
Futuroscope is an unusual and completely mad theme park. As its name suggests, it’s a place where you can experience the future through a range of amazing activities that you won’t see anywhere else, with a focus on virtual reality. It’s a place to lose your head and test your senses. A great place to discover with friends and family alike. I’ve tried it and I approve! Even more when you on the influence of something…
Defying the gravity of Lauriole’s curiosity
Also known as the magic road, the curiosity of Lauriole in the Hérault is an unusual tourist attraction. A strange gravitational phenomenon causes objects to move in the opposite direction to the slope! At least, if they are round. So even a stationary car will go the wrong way if it’s in neutral! Crazy, isn’t it? Do the test with a bottle of water if you’re not in a car.
Skiing on pine needles
Who would have thought skiing on pine needles? But it’s a sport that was born in 1938 in the Aquitaine region. One man had the idea of creating a 200-metre piste in this way. Since then, the activity has been perpetuated and it is now possible to ski not in the mountains but on the coast, particularly in the Arcachon basin, which is the most popular place and perhaps even one of the last places to practise this sport of a different kind.
See the construction of a medieval castle
Guédelon is one of the best cultural and unusual sites not to be missed on this list. Hundreds of craftsmen and labourers have been working on the construction of a castle since 1997, using techniques from medieval times, without any modern touches. It’s a unique experience to step back in time in your own country. The work will be completed around 2029. And don’t miss a visit to the nearby old Guédelon mill!
Shaking the rock of Huelgoat
France’s intangible cultural heritage
Brittany is full of so many mystical and strange sites… Here we take a look at the famous trembling rock! This is another place I discovered on a hitchhiking trip when I had the immense good fortune to be invited to stay with a family for 2 weeks following an unexpected encounter (my heart goes out to you Bretons). It was the forest of Huelgoat that we set off to visit on a misty autumn afternoon. It’s a magical, druidic place with a special activity: shaking a 137-tonne rock! In fact, you have to position yourself at a precise spot to make it move. You’re unlikely to find the exact location on your own. I tried, but I couldn’t find it until someone told me!
The sculpted rocks of Rothéneuf
An extraordinary artistic site can be found in the Rothéneuf district of Saint-Malo in Brittany: the rocks sculpted by Abbé Fouéré over a century ago! A unique place to visit in France, in a beautiful setting on the English Channel.
The Robert-Tatin Museum
Region: Pays de la Loire
The Robert-Tatin museum is an incredible exhibition of art that parallels the Western and Eastern worlds. It’s a place full of charm, confusing and disorientating, making it a much-visited spot in the Mayenne department.
The cathedral of erotic sculptures
French cathedrals and churches are renowned for their architecture and the strange sculptures on their façades, such as the many gargoyles that protect these religious buildings from dark forces. But the cathedral of Saint-Étienne in Cahors has a curiosity of a different kind: erotic sculptures that are, to say the least, dubious. Sacred art, representation of the deadly sins? The mystery remains!
The old Vernon mill
This astonishing building, suspended on an old bridge over the Seine in the Eure département, was originally a water mill. A curiosity to be discovered in the Île-de-France region, halfway between Rouen and the capital. Discover other unusual buildings and houses in France in this article.
The artists’ village of La Poèterie
La Poèterie (The Poetry) is an unusual, little-known and well-kept place in France. It’s an artists’ village and a timeless alternative venue based on a former industrial wasteland. Here you can experience offbeat art and poetry in an absolutely crazy setting. It’s a place renowned for its borderline edge and special atmosphere. You’ll generally meet people with an open mind that knows no bounds… I know this place because it’s near where I live! Another discovery with a truly unusual universe.
Oradour-sur-Glane, the open-air museum of desolation
Oradour-sur-Glane is a village in the Haute-Vienne region of France that witnessed a tragic event during the Second World War: the largest massacre committed by the German Reich in France. The unusual thing here is not the massacre, of course, but the fact that you can visit the destroyed part of the village, which has never been touched since. In a way, it’s an open museum where even the vehicles of the time are still present. Also called the “martyr village”.
The perched castle festival (Chateau Perché)
Taking part in the Château Perché festival is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in France. I was surfing on Facebook when I saw the trailer for this event, which struck me as out of the ordinary. At the time, I was living with a large group of proud friends who didn’t hesitate for a second to go along. We went to the very first edition at the Château de Chazeron in Auvergne and what a slap in the face it was… Let’s be clear and unfiltered. It’s a Dysneyland for adults, with a backdrop of deep house / techno music, experimental and even bizarre – lot of psychedelic drug – and unbridled libido. But you don’t need any of those things to hallucinate in this castle, where psychedelic, wacky art transforms the space into the world of Alice in Wonderland. It’s a completely mad experience that make you feel in another dimension. Every year, the festival takes place in a different castle in France, with a few European tours.
Wat Thammapathip International pagoda
Region : Île-de-France
Is it possible to get a taste of Thailand while staying in France? Yes, since the Château de Lugny has been transformed into a large Pagoda by the International Thai Association of Buddhists in France. I use the verb “to taste” because you can also sample the Thai food for which the place is famous! The Grande Pagode in Paris is also a similar place to visit, but not as touristy as Wat Thammapathip International in Moissy Cramayel. It houses the largest Buddha statue in Europe.
Playing square pétanque
Regions: South of France
Petanque is a well-known national sport that involves throwing balls as close as possible to a target called a “cochonnet”. It’s a game that’s part of French culture. A resident of Cagnes sur Mer has revisited traditional pétanque by replacing the round balls with square ones! The sport is now played more widely in the south of France and even in Belgium. Ok but why?
An unbridled holiday in Cap d’Agde
Cap d’Agde is a naturist seaside resort with a sultry reputation, located in Agde in the south of France. It’s an unusual place in that it’s a world of its own. Known for its comfort and good holiday atmosphere, it’s also a place whose name comes from its red light district and its activities, such as libertarianism and its beach, nicknamed the ‘Bay of Pigs’, where holidaymakers have sex in the open air. I spent an unplanned, drunken evening in Le Cap during a tour of France. It’s definitely not the place for me, but I had to mention it here because it’s quite unusual by French standards!
The palaeontological site of Plagne
The Dinoplagne palaeontological site is renowned the world over for its enormous dinosaur footprints, estimated to be over 150 million years old. An absolutely unique place to discover in France!
The Mahalon Unusual Festival
Region : Brittany
It’s all in the name! The Festival de l’Insolite is an unusual event packed with unusual and burlesque activities and records to be broken in Finistère. Ah those Bretons, always those Bretons! It’s best known for its roller-bed race and its many entertaining events, which take place every 14 July.
Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval
The Facteur Cheval’s ideal palace is a century-old monument built entirely by one man: Ferdinand Cheval. The postman spent 33 years of his life creating this unusual building, which drew its inspiration from Indian (Hindu) architecture, the Bible and Egyptian mythology. You can visit it at Hauterives in the Drôme. By the way, see our article about the most unusual places in India, it is a next level.
The Machines de l’île in Nantes
Region: Pays de la Loire
Les machines de l’île is now a household name in France. It’s a grandiose and eccentric project featuring giant mythological animals/creatures on the site of the former Nantes shipyard. I quote: “It lies at the crossroads of the “invented worlds” of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes”.
The Rustrel quarries: the “Colorado of Provence
Region : French Riviera
The town of Rustrel has seen an exponential rise in tourism thanks to the popularity of its ochre quarries. A place with a change of scene, often dubbed the “Colorado of Provence”, it attracts many curious visitors and hikers in search of new landscapes in France.
The Abode of Chaos
La Demeure du Chaos ne peut pas être plus explicite dans le choix de son appellation… En effet, ce lieu complètement désordonné et extravagant semble sortir tout droit d’un évènement apocalyptique! Une exposition permanente d’art contemporain à ciel ouvert située à quelques pas de la ville de Lyon.
The mystical forest of Broceliande
The forest of Brocéliande is one of the most mysterious, bewitching and magical in France. It’s a place that has been associated with legends and divine and supernatural phenomena for ages. A walk through this enchanted and magical area promises to be a breath of fresh air. The reputation of this unique forest is well established. You should visit it at least once in your life, as it is one of the most magical and beautiful in France.
The most unusual places in France
Brittany (Bretagne) wins! As you can see in this list of the unusual places to discover in France, most of them are located in Brittany region, in the North-West. I have to admit that it is not a surprise for me, as I know well this part of France and its kind of inhabitant. I’ve always said that Brittany is almost a distinct country, like Corsica as well, with a distinct culture. An other unusual thing from there is that all the town name signs are in duplicate: one for the French name and one in Breton (Brittany language).
Brittany has many different influences from the past, mainly from Britain migrants in the 5th century, then the arrival of the Celts. As a traveller that visit almost every region of France for years by hitchhiking, I also note that Brittain is one of the most friendly region of France, where it is super easy to make good friends and even get invited into their homes. I’m always amazed by this.
Welcolme to France guys! 🇫🇷