France, the country of love, light, and food, has long been attracting tourists. There’s something for everyone in the Western European nation: beaches, countryside, chateaux, culture, wine, and gastronomy. While Paris often comes to mind, the country has varied landscapes, from the sunny south to the four different seas to the majestic mountains. The weather is also welcoming, with warm temperatures throughout the summer that aren’t as scorching as Italy and Spain. And while France might be a popular destination for international visitors, most tourism revenue comes from French people vacationing in their own country.
Best Time To visit
The best time to visit France is when the weather is comfortable, from April to October. Winter means shorter opening hours or closings, cool weather, and dark skies, but there are no crowds to contend with. During the summer months of July and August, be prepared for many tourists and small towns boarded up because their owners are on holiday. We recommend June for good weather, fewer crowds, and long hours at tourist sights.
What to expect
Depending on where you go, your France experience might be in the bustling city, lazy French Riveria, or towering Alps. The French aren’t fans of rushing, so take it all in at your own pace.
Of course, you’ll want to visit the landmarks that made France famous. The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum are must-sees in Paris, and the Palace of Versailles is a short day trip away. Other landmarks outside of Paris include Mont St Michel (a Medieval tidal island), the ancient Roman Amphitheater of Nîmes, the fortress Carcassone, and many more historical and cultural sites.
Like any foreign country, the French have their own set of cultural norms. Avoid audibly complaining about cultural differences — even if someone doesn’t speak English, they likely can understand what you’re saying. Keep in mind that the French generally dislike small talk and expect politeness. You’ll receive better service if you include a “Bonjour” before speaking to someone and include a “merci” or “s’il vous plait” when requesting something. No one will expect you to speak French, but knowing how to look polite to the French will go a long way.
The French have a distinctly French way of doing things, but you can still find accommodating restaurants and lodging for dietary restrictions. You’ll find many organic, vegan, and vegetarian options in big cities like Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. In small towns, it can be more difficult.
If you want an authentic French experience, go to local farmer’s markets to find local, organic food and grab a baguette, cheese, and wine for lunch. Tear off pieces of bread, top with cheese, and sip your wine in a historical park, an ancient church, or another pretty place. Then, you may understand why the French value leisure so much.
Things to know
There are a few important things to keep in mind when traveling to France. While the country is generally safe for tourists, you’ll want to know these things to ensure your trip is as pleasant as possible.
- Language. Finding English-speaking people in the cities and tourist attractions will be easy. If you venture to the countryside, you might need help with the language difference. Most French people study English in school but may not want to be fluent or wish to speak it. If you’re concerned, stay within cities and places tourists usually frequent.
- Time Zone. The French use Central European standard time, so Paris is 1 hour ahead of London, 6 hours ahead of New York, and 9 hours ahead of Los Angeles.
- Getting Euros. Before visiting, have your bank exchange your money for Euros or go into a French bank or ATM. You can also exchange your money at the airport, but it’s usually more expensive.
- Credit Cards. You can use credit cards in the big cities in France, but you should also have some cash on hand. Visa and Mastercard are the most accepted and are recommended. You’ll find some places that take American Express and virtually none that take the Discover card.
- Outlets. You’ll need a different type of plug if you’re traveling to France from North America or the UK. The French use type C (two round pins) plugs with higher voltage. Most electronics are rated for the higher voltage in Europe (230 volts vs. US 120 volts) but double-check. You can get voltage converters to be safe.
- Airports. If you’re flying from North America, you’ll likely fly into Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and take trains or local flights to your final destination. Other popular airports to fly into is Paris Orly, Nice Cote d’Azur, or Lyon-Saint Exupery.
- Organic Groceries. Gastronomy is the highlight of most trips to France. Farmer’s markets and specialty shops are excellent ways to find local and organic ingredients. Other grocery stores like Bio c’Bon, Naturalia, or Carrefour BIO are organic options in France. Look for the bio or Biologique label when you shop for organic food.
- Vegetarian/Vegan. There are many vegetarian choices in France. Veganism is less prevalent in France than in the US, but there are still options. Local cuisine is often vegetable-heavy, and world-famous vegan cheeses and pastry shops are available in Paris. Paris has the most vegan restaurants, but you can find a few in other cities like Lyon and Bordeaux. Vegan in French is vegetalien or vegan. Vegetarian in French is végétarien.
- Safety. Pickpockets are common around major tourist attractions. Don’t be distracted by someone asking you to sign a petition or put a bracelet on a wrist. Leaving your phone on the table can be too tempting for some master thieves. Being aware and investing in anti-theft backpacks and purses helps you stay safe.
- Opening hours. Small-town shops and many stores in bigger cities often close down earlier and might not open on Sunday. During August, most of the country goes on vacation, and it’s not unusual for strikes to happen. Keep track of the news and stay in good hotels to ensure you know what’s happening.
how to get around
It’s relatively easy to get around France with or without a car. Cities have excellent public transit, and the train systems that connect cities are extensive. In addition, many towns have bus, bike, or boat tours for sightseeing. However, if you rent a car, be prepared for expensive tolls on the highway.
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