Who doesn’t love France? Everything about France is amazing, and that is what has helped it climb on to the most exotic travel location in the world. People want to visit France, people want to see Paris. France is amazing, from the beautiful picturesque locations to the yummy food it brings us. After all, who can resist their wine and cheese?
France is essentially the world’s most popular tourist destination since over two decades. The number of people visiting France every year is astounding, and they skyrocket in each year that comes.
France is a sovereign country that holds territory in Europe, as well as claims many overseas regions. It has been a major power in the world since the colonial times. France borders Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, and Spain.
Each of these countries is an ideal choice from a tourist’s perspective, which creates a densely interconnected travel network between them. Though when you are in France, you would hardly get to experience every awesome thing it has to offer to want to go anywhere else.
Places to See in France
When thinking about France, you probably imagine the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, majestic lavender fields, small cozy chateaux, miles of vineyards, and luxurious resorts of Cote d’Azur. However, that’s just the tip of an iceberg.
France has been a major center for art, science, and philosophy since historical times. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and also, it contains the world’s third largest number of UNESCO sites.
Paris has the finest and the most famous museums in the world. For example, who doesn’t know Louvre? The museum, where famous Mona Lisa lives, smiling to no one knows who? The Musée d’Orsay with a great collection of impressionists’ works and Beaubourg, a place dedicated to the Contemporary art, also attract thousands of visitors annually.
Other popular tourist destinations in France include the French Riviera in the south, Disneyland Paris, Europe’s most visited theme park, Provence and the Loire Valley, famous for its towns and, most particularly, for its castles (châteaux). They are the Châteaux d’Amboise, de Chambord, d’Ussé, de Villandry, and Chenonceau.
The world capital of fashion and romance, Paris is the one destination you shouldn’t miss for the world. As the capital of France, it also happens to be its largest city. Other than that, Paris is also the fashion capital of the whole world.
The city of Paris hosts the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacre-Coeur cathedral, and the Notre Dame de Paris, is not just another city.
You can spend days wandering through the medieval streets, admiring the sights and masterpieces of art, having promenades in green parks, or picnicking under the bridges. With over 3800 national monuments in and around the city, history really waits for you around every corner. If you visit this city once, you are sure to come again.
Discovered by famous Brigitte Bardot in the 1950’s, St. Tropez has been a synonym of glamour, glitz and good vacation ever since. During the summer season, the city, located on the beautiful Cote d’Azur, is packed with visitors and yachts. So, it is better to come off season, when you can get all the pleasant sunshine and warm sea, without tourist crowds and overpriced services.
The city is famous for its wine, as much as for its historic sites. The UNESCO listed Bordeaux on the World Heritage Sites list as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble”. Do we have to say more?
The second largest city in France, Lyon offers numerous opportunities to relax and enjoy life, without overwhelming tourist crowds, which can’t be avoided in Paris. Great restaurants, vivid clubs, rich art collections, fascinating riverside walks, and a wonderful old town with a number of Roman ruins, all add to the city’s magical appeal.
The synonym of luxurious life, this Cote d’Azur resort attracts thousands of visitors every spring when its famous film festival comes to the city. Even if you can’t get tickets for the events, the festival itself is a spectacular and worth seeing event.
This city on the Mediterranean coast is a fascinating mixture of romantic Provence and rhythmic North Africa. The vibrant fish market, excited football crowds, and city’s vivid nightlife are the features, which makes the city so appealing and of its own character.
Other popular cities:
This region in the southeast of France combines magical countryside with the high sense of romance, which makes Provence one of the most visited destinations in the country. Explore the medieval villages on top of the hills, drink famous rose wine, or admire the marvelous fields of lavender. In any case, you’ll never be disappointed in Provence.
The area boasts a typical Mediterranean atmosphere. It’s home to one of Europe’s most beautiful gorges, Verdon Gorge. And beautiful Calanques, situated nearby Marseille, has a number of marvelous fjords, which it shares with Cassis.
A highly independent region, Brittany combines ancient Celtic heritage with modern tourist attractions. Prehistoric stone monuments, vibrant port cities, dense green forests, and dramatic coastline all add to the region’s magnetic appeal.
Once the destination for the rich and famous, the region now attracts very mixed crowds of visitors. Sandy beaches, fabulous bays, rocky cliffs and lovely small towns, all add to the region’s reputation of world’s primary yachting and cruising destination. Nice draws over 4 million visitors every year. Saint-Tropez and Cannes are very popular. Much smaller in size, but still attractive, are the villages of Gourdon and Èze, both offering great panoramic views of the area. Also, from Èze, there is a very short trip to the glamorous Monaco.
If you think you will only find beaches at the Mediterranean, you are wrong. Normandy has a great Atlantic coast and is now a pleasant and popular destination. The region was popular with numerous French artists, who painted its fabulous coastlines and limestone cliffs.
If you visit the island of Corsica once, you won’t forget it for the rest of your life. The hiking trails of the island are among the best in Europe, the mountain ranges are breathtaking, and the cultural heritage is just fascinating.
One of the best mountain resorts in France, Chamonix is perfect for winter sports enthusiasts, as well as hikers and climbers. Or, if you are not in the mood for action, go to the Mont Blanc Massif and enjoy some wonderful views.
Explore the medieval castles and wine cellars of the Loire Valley, one of the most popular tourist spots in France. Its gentle pace of life and fascinating sceneries has attracted numerous artists, writers, and poets to the region. You can take a guided tour from Paris, go by car, or choose two wheels. Bike hire is easy here and a ride along the marvelous fields, streams and chateaus is sure to wind all your troubles away.
The French Alps are home for some of the most famous European ski resorts, including Courchevel, Val-d-Isere, Meribel, and L’Alpe d’Huez. The choice of trails is extremely wide, suitable for all levels of experience. And the facilities vary broadly too, depending on your taste, target, and wallet size.
The Alsace Wine Route
There is no shortage of wine trails in France. However, the Alsace Wine Route is unique. A 170km ride through the hilly countryside, with wine cellars all along the route, is about to make your journey really atmospheric! Keep in mind, though, that the wines of Alsace are predominantly white, with Rieslings being the tastiest and known all over the world.
Top National Parks:
- Vanoise National Park
- Parc National des Pyrénées
- Cévennes National Park
The most famous sight of Normandy region, Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky island, situated 1 km off the coast. The Bishop of Avranches found it in 708. He built a chapel, which he saw in a dream, and dedicated it to the Archangel Michael.
The world’s best examples of cave art, accidentally discovered in 1940 by the group of teenagers, these 15-thousand-years-old paintings are definitely worth seeing. Looking at the walls of the cave, Pablo Picasso proclaimed: “We have invented nothing!”
The Palace of Versailles is a marvelous royal residence, which had been playing an important part in the French political life for centuries. The French delicately preserve this royal treasure, as well as the fascinating garden around it, with fountains, sculptures, and priceless artworks. And the most pleasant thing, Versailles can be reached from the center of Paris by subway.
Musée du Louvre is not like any other museum in the world. It boasts a stunning collection of art, from antiquity to the 19th century. The legend says, if you spend one minute near every artifact in Louvre, it will take you the whole year to see them all.
Musée d’Orsay is another world class museum in Paris, which can be considered as the continuation of the Louvre museum. The place represents art works of the period between 1848 and 1914 years. The collection includes some of the best French Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and Art Nouveau works.
Musée National d’Art Moderne in Centre Pompidou in Paris is one of the largest modern art museums in Europe.
Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon boasts an excellent collection of artifacts, from antique Egypt to modern art.
Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille retains the country’s largest collection of art, after Louvre, and offers everything, from antiques to modern art.
Musée Cantini in Marseille has a great collection of modern art, including several works by Picasso.
When to Go
France is a popular all-year-round destination. Summer is great for a vacation at a seaside resort of the French Riviera. On the other hand, prices are lower during May and September, while the weather is still great for sunbathing.
For sightseeing, choose late spring or early autumn: it is not so hot, and the tourist crowds are not so overwhelming, as during the summer months. December through March is skiing season in the Alps and Pyrenees. And if you visit Provence between late June and early August, you’ll have a chance to witness one of the most spectacular natural wonders – blooming lavender fields.
It is wise to avoid traveling to France near very famous holidays because the hotels are all booked out. Therefore, unless you are filthy rich, or so poor that you don’t mind sleeping on the park bench, avoid the holiday season.
What to Wear
French climate is no different from any average European continental country. The clothes you need will depend on your purpose and the time of your trip. During the summer, lightweight clothes made of natural fabrics will do. Seaside wear will be perfect for a beach vacation at the French Riviera. For sightseeing, choose casual city clothing, depending on the season. And mounting wear should be your choice for winter activities.
French (no surprise eh?) is the main language spoken in France. However, many of the population is taught English in high school. It is not commonly spoken as people generally get out of practice. It would be helpful for a tourist to learn basic French phrases before setting out to France. These may come handy now and then.
In the past, due to the difficult historical relations with Great Britain, the French weren’t willing to answer if asked in English. Nowadays, the situation has improved. However, it is still better to learn a couple of French phrases and use them. After that, people change to English easily. It doesn’t relate to people working in the tourist industry, though, as they all speak English freely.
Euro is the national currency of France, shared by 24 other countries. Each Euro contains 100 cents. In some places, the USD and the British pound are accepted too, but a tourist should still get it exchanged for Euros as any other currency can turn out to be unreliable.
Currency exchange is available in most banks and post offices, as well as in some large stores, train stations, airports and exchange offices near major tourist sites. All major international credit cards are widely accepted. Also, ATMs are multiple in urban areas.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
The most convenient way to stay in touch, when traveling to France, is getting a local SIM card. European and Australian phones work without any problems. However, if you have a US phone, you should check with your provider before leaving.
The main mobile providers in France are Orange, SFR, Bouygues, and Free Mobile. A SIM card usually costs around 4-5 Euro, and you can charge it with a pre-paid card later. Recharge cards can be purchased at tabacs (kiosks with cigarettes and newspapers), supermarkets, or online.
Wi-Fi is available throughout the country: at airports, hotels, cafes, restaurants, museums, and tourist offices. Also, free Wi-Fi hot spots are widely available in cities and towns. For example, Paris only has around 400 hot spots in parks, public libraries, municipal buildings, and near popular tourist attractions. Visit www.hotspot-locations.com to find the nearest.
Internet cafes are not popular nowadays. However, you can still find a few of those in cities and big towns. Prices vary from 2 to 6 Euro per hour.
The predominant religion of the country is Roman Catholicism.
Shaking hands is a common form of greeting between strangers. However, close friends usually kiss on both cheeks. The French don’t hurry to get to the first-name basis. In the formal relations, Monsieur or Madame addressing is fine, without a surname.
In France, a meal or even a meeting for coffee is usually a long, leisure event. The French can drink a cup of coffee or a glass of wine for hours, talking to friends and relaxing. Casual wear is common in everyday life. However, some clubs, casinos, and restaurants require more formal style.
Smoking is forbidden in all public spaces. Topless sunbathing is tolerated at most beaches, while naturism should be limited to particular seaside areas.
French food has acquired a lot of fame throughout the world, therefore, when you are in France, food would be an absolute delicacy (in France French food is just food). There are many chains of restaurants that run across France, and even small stores and confectioneries can provide you with the most amazing experience your tongue would have ever had.
Also, as a general rule, when in France, REMEMBER THE CHEESE! France has over 400 varieties of cheese. If it were up to me, I would spend an extra year in France just trying a new flavor of cheese each day.
And if you are a wine lover, that might be a sole reason to visit France. France is the home of wine, the mother of wine, and the father of wine. Be it Bordeaux wine or wine from the Loire Valley, each has its own taste and smell that is just mesmerizing.
The French cuisine is not all about Michelin-starred restaurants. Many of the regional specialties are simple, reasonably priced, but still delicious.
Top Dishes to Try
- Bouillabaisse – fish stew, Marseille specialty
- Cassoulet – rich bean casserole with various types of meat, Southwestern specialty
- Confit de Canard – duck confit, Southwestern specialty
- Foie Gras – duck or goose liver, Southwestern specialty
- Moules Marinière – mussels steamed in wine or cider, with additional ingredients, depending on the region, found all over the coast
- Choucroute – stripped fermented cabbage and pork, Alsace specialty
- Quenelles de Brochet – pounded pike in the form of a sausage, served with crayfish sauce, Lyon specialty
- Boeuf Bourguignon – beef stewed in red wine, Burgundy specialty
- Fondue Bourguignon – pieces of beef, served with a selection of various sauces, Burgundy specialty
- Ratatouille – a vegetable stew
- Raclette – melted cheese, served with potatoes and meat, Alpine areas specialty
- Salade Niçoise – salad with tuna and black olives, Nice specialty
- Crepes – savory, Brittany specialty
- Fondue Savoyarde – melted hot cheese with white wine, Central Alpine specialty
- Raclette – melted cheese with potatoes or meat, Central Alpine specialty
- Gratin Dauphinois – slices of potatoes, oven-roasted with sour cream and cheese, Rhone-Alpine specialty
- Aligot – melted cheese with a puree of potatoes, Aveyron specialty
- Tartiflette – melted Reblochon cheese with potatoes and pork (bacon), Savoie specialty
- Pot-au-feu – boiled beef with vegetables, found all over France
- Soufflés au Grand Marnier – light fluffy dessert with orange liqueur flavor, found all over France
- Frogs’ legs – very similar to chicken meat, served with garlic dressing
- Escargots de Bourgogne – Burgundy snails, cooked with butter, garlic and parsley
- Ris de Veau – veal sweetbread, very good and expensive delicacy, often served with morels
- Langue de bœuf (beef tongue), Museau (beef nose), Tête de veau (veal head) – appetizers, usually eaten cold, although thoroughly cooked
- Cervelle (pronounced “ser-vell”) – lamb brain
- Huîtres – oysters, served raw in a half-shell
- Oursins – sea urchins
- Wine – the selection of both whites and reds is exquisite
- Calvados – an apple brandy, produced in Normandy
- Champagne – sparkling wine for special occasions
- Pastis – anise-based, licorice-flavored spirit, similar in taste to Sambuca or Ouzo
- Panaché – a mix of beer and lemonade
- Monaco – Panaché with grenadine syrup
- Kir – an aperitif, made of white wine or champagne, by adding cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), peche (peach), or mûre (blackberry)
The minimal drinking age is 18. A 12% – 15% service fee is usually added to a hotel or restaurant bill. However, it is still common to leave a small change as a tip.
Domestic flights within France are operated by Air France, HOP!, EasyJet, Ryanair, Volotea, Air Corsica, Twin Jet, Hex’Air, Easter Airways, Chalair Aviation, and Heli Securite. The prices vary, as well as the service. France is a large country, so getting around by plane is often justified, especially if you manage to find reasonably-priced tickets, which can often be cheaper, than the train.
Trains are also a great way to get around France. The French railway system is operated by SNCF. The schedules can be found on ter.sncf.com website. You can choose the first or the second class. The first is more comfortable and less crowded, but more expensive.
For long distances, it is best to take TGV (a high-speed train). However, if you are not in a hurry, you can as well take a slow train and enjoy the scenery outside the window. French landscapes are one of the country’s major attractions.
There are also other kinds of trains: TER (regional trains, which are slow but serve most stations), Intercités, and Night train services (they offer couchettes in the second class, first class, and reclining seats).
Booking online can be rather confusing. SNCF doesn’t sell tickets online, but you can buy one through numerous travel agencies. The most popular are Voyages-sncf.com, Trainline, and RailEurope. Ticket machines are also available at the platform entrances. Keep in mind, that TGV tickets should be reserved in advance.
There is no national bus service in France. However, coach operators are multiple, and some offer fares as little as 1 Euro per ride, if you book in advance. On the other hand, the length of journey and the comfort tend to be worse, than on the train.
France is a great destination for hitchhiking. However, you should be patient and prepared for a long wait. Drivers, who stop, are usually friendly and safe, not expecting any money for the ride. They will also like you more if you know some phrases in French.
Remember, it is illegal to hitchhike on motorways and péages, and the French police are not always tolerant to hitchhikers. The best place to hitchhike would be a toll station, as all the cars are required to stop there. You can even get a free map in the toll office, along with the best places for stopping cars list. Keep in mind, though, that getting out of Paris by hitchhiking can be quite difficult.
Just a few decades ago, France was not a very bicycle-friendly country. Nowadays, the situation has improved greatly. Cycle paths are being built throughout the country, and around 40 cities already have a bicycle rental system. A bike would be a great way to move around large cities, such as Paris, but beware of bike thefts. Instead of using the cable-locks, which can be easily cut, use the U-Rack locks. And lock the frame, not only wheels.
Traveling by car in France is not difficult. The country has an extensive network of roads. Also, car-sharing services, such as BlaBlaCar and Carpooling, are extremely popular here.
Most highways are made of toll roads and are usually paid. Some have a single toll station, while others have both entrance and exit toll stations. You collect a ticket while entering and need to keep it until the exit, so you are only charged for the distance really traveled. The toll stations accept all major credit cards, although there might be problems with foreign cards sometimes.
French motorways and main roads are in excellent condition. Smaller roads are also fine, although some really remote routes can be in a poor state. France also has a major parking and traffic problem. Most cities and towns of the country were built before the invention of cars. Thus, the streets are rather narrow, not providing enough space for traffic.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
Taxis are plentiful in all towns and cities. But if you want to hire a car, it is also easy to do. You need to be over 21 years old and have driver’s license for over a year. In some cases, you will have to pay an additional charge, if you are under 25.
Keep in mind, when you pick a car at the French airport, they can offer you a similar one, and not the one you’ve booked. Look carefully, and if the car is completely different, demand the one you wanted.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
France Trip Cost
France is not the cheapest destination. In fact, Paris is one of the world’s most expensive cities for travelers. Museum tickets are 10-15 Euro. Concerts and shows admission fee starts from 30-50 Euro.
A price for a double room usually starts from 90 Euro per night and goes up to 350 Euro. Outside of the capital, the fares are lower. However, in popular tourist areas, hotel prices might not be that different. If you are on a low budget, search for hostel options. A bed in a dormitory will cost you between 18 and 30 Euro.
Eating is also expensive in France. A standard lunch starts from 20 Euro (although, can be cheaper outside of the city center). Much better option is to buy food in a supermarket and cook in an apartment or a hostel. You will save, at least, half of the simple lunch cost. And in a fancy restaurant, be prepared to pay a minimum of 100 Euro per dinner.
Electricity & Plug Type
France uses types C and F sockets, like most countries in Europe. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 230V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
The main international airport and Air France hub is Roissy – Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Some European airlines use Orly Airport (ORY). And low-cost companies, such as Ryanair and Volare, fly to Beauvais airport, situated 80 km away from Paris. Getting from Beauvais can be quite long and pricey. On the other hand, fares on these flights can be as low as 10 Euro. So, it’s your choice.
Many other cities in France have airports, which serve international flights. These include Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, and Toulouse. Also, you can use Basel and Geneva airports, situated right next to the French-Swiss border. It usually takes 7 hours to fly to Paris from New York and around 1-2 hours to get from any other European capital.
If you find yourself in the UK, you can easily access France by water, across the English Channel. Numerous ferry services operate routes from Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Plymouth, and Weymouth. Main French ports are Calais, Dunkirk, Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St. Malo, and Roscoff. In Ireland, you can take a ferry from Cork or Rosslare.
Most European countries have regular high-speed rail connections with France. These include the United Kingdom (via the Channel Tunnel), Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Russia (with stops in Belarus, Poland, and Austria). It is not the cheapest way of traveling, so you might consider using the plane instead. On the other hand, you can enjoy beautiful European sceneries and cities on the way.
Many coach companies operate routes between France and other European countries. The most popular are Eurolines, Ouibus, Megabus, and Flixbus. If you are on a low budget, try taking a complex route, using several national low-cost bus companies and changing several buses.
You can come by car from any European country, including Great Britain (use the underwater Channel Tunnel, also known as Chunnel). France being the part of Schengen Area, there are no border crossing points (except for the UK/France border). However, the police can still stop a car with a foreign number and do the checking, keep that in mind.
Where to Stay
It is very easy to find a hotel room in France. It is essential for hotel owners to post prices in the windows, so you don’t even need to go in to find one that suits your budget. As a general hotel tip, the price for a room can be bargained for quite lower than what was posted in the window. So it is a good idea to bargain.
There are hundreds of hostels available throughout France. These accommodations are simpler in facilities but lower in price. The quality varies greatly, so you should choose carefully.
Bed and Breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts, called “chambres d’hôte” in France, are cozy, reasonably priced and also widely popular. They are mostly run by families and are more common in small towns, than in big cities. In some accommodations, you can even be offered to have dinner with the family. Chambres d’hôte will be a great way to find out more about local life, customs, traditions, and even learn some French.
There are plenty of campsites throughout France. They all provide shower, toilet, and other basic facilities. Some even offer tents and caravans for rent. Fares depend on location, season, and amenities available.
There are numerous apartments, houses, and villas for rent in the country. These accommodations are usually more comfortable, than hotels, and tend to be cheaper, if you travel with a group of friends or family. Plus, you will have the whole place to your own. You can even cook for yourself if you want.
How Safe is France
In general, France is a safe country. However, you should still take the necessary precautions against street crimes. Don’t keep all your valuables in one place and don’t flash them in public. In crowded tourist areas wear your bag across your body and be aware if you wear a backpack.
Thieves and pickpocketers work in popular tourist places, on public transport, at railway stations, and airports. Frauds, targeted at tourists, are also widely popular. New ones are regularly invented, so just stick to basic rules: don’t accept anything from strangers, don’t pick up any wallets or “jewelry” from the ground, don’t communicate with people, who look dangerous.
Don’t hesitate to contact the police if you are in a doubt about something. When leaving a car, make sure, that all doors and windows are closed. Don’t leave any valuable items in the car. In case of an emergency, call 112.
For visitors from the EU and dependent territories, free or reduced-cost necessary medical treatment is provided in France. For other travelers, full travel insurance is highly recommended. If you need to take some medicines regularly, better bring them with you, as many medications in France are sold only with a doctor’s receipt and might even have different names. In case of a health emergency, call 112 too.
There are no widespread diseases in France, so you just need to have a vaccination against tetanus. However, visitors coming from Africa and South America will be required to show a certificate of the yellow fever vaccination.
Food and water are safe to consume. Tap water is possible to drink, although bottled water is also widely available. It is advised to avoid unpasteurized dairy products, though.
If you are visiting forests, beware of ticks, which transfer tick-borne encephalitis. Wear long trousers, sleeves, a hat, and use a special anti-tick aerosol on your clothes. During the summer, be careful, not to get sunburn or dehydrated. Take sunbaths wisely, use sunscreen creams, wear hats, and drink a lot of water.
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July 23, 2016 12:00 am 2 Comments
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