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France Travel Guide

Wandering in Cucuron, France

“Every man has two countries; his own and France.”

John F. Kennedy
Eiffel Tower, France

Top Five Destinations In France

  1. Paris The city of light Paris, is the world’s most popular tourist destination. France’s capital is known for its romantic ambiance, gastronomy, fashion art, and iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles Palace Sacre-Coeur Notre Dame Cathedral. Paris is also home to some of the world’s finest museums, including the Louvre Museum and Musee d’Orsay. Paris boasts magnificent gardens such as the Luxembourg Gardens and outdoor markets.
  2. Provence Extending into the French Riveria Located in the South of France is the Mediterranean sea’s shoreline (Cote d’Azur). The area is a lovely landscape of rolling hills, vineyards as far as the eye can see, gorgeous castles, quaint villages, expansive lavender fields, and simply pure wonder. The Provence markets are world-renowned, and there is no better way to spend the day.
  3. Loire Valley Is a region in France nicknames the “Garden of France.” It is regarded for its spectacular scenery, splendid chateaux, picturesque vineyards, wineries, and historic villages. A castle lover’s dream.
  4. Wine region, any of them Bordeaux, Burgundy, Reims/Champagne, Beaujolais, Rhone, and Alsace. France remains one of the top wine producers, with wines of every style and quality level from hundreds of unique appellations. Each of these regions has a unique beauty and lovely villages. There is nothing like miles and miles of spectacular vineyards to enjoy while wine tasting.
  5. Colmar and Strasbourg Along the German and Switzerland border of France. These cities are a photographer’s dream, with a labyrinth of cobbled lanes, flower-lined canals, and timber-framed houses painted in a rainbow of pastel hues. They are the quintessential Alsatian towns, brimming with traditional restaurants and surrounded by vineyards and medieval castles. Many travelers feel that Colmar is quainter. Both are known for their Christmas markets.

Did you know?

France stats

  • Population: 67.8 million
  • Capital City: Paris
  • Currency Euro: (EUR)
  • Language: French (official) 100%, declining regional dialects, and languages (Provencal, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican, Catalan, Basque, Flemish, Occitan, Picard)
  • Government type: semi-presidential republic
  • Religions: Christian (Overwhelmingly Roman Catholic) 63-66%, Muslim 7-9%, other 4.5-6.5%, none 23-28%
  • US State Department Risk Level: 3 due to Covid, Terrorism and Civil Unrest
  • Terrorist groups: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps/Qods Force; Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham; al-Qa’ida
  • Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity is the national motto of France.
  • France’s formal name is La République Française (French Republic)
  • France is the wealthiest country in Europe and the fourth wealthiest in the world.
  • GDP 2.954 trillion ranked tenth in the world.
  • France is the world’s most popular tourist destination, with about 84 million visitors a year.
  • It is the largest country in the European Union, with 22 different regions.
  • France’s Independence day is July 14th and is celebrated on a large scale nationwide.
  • 94% of French children have English as their second language
  • France won the most Nobel Prizes for literature than any country.
  • The French rail network is the second largest in Europe ninth biggest in the world.
  • The coastline of France is 2,142 miles.
  • Mont Blanc in the French Alps is the highest mountain in Europe.
  • France produces nearly a billion tons of cheese a year, of which there are 400 different types.
  • Once rated 4th most productive country in the world.
  • France is the world’s third-largest exporter of agricultural goods.
  • The French inventions include the metric system, tin cans, hairdryer, hot air balloon, sealed glass jars for preserving, champagne, braille, and the camera phone.
  • Life expectancy is 82.9 years old, which is a world ranking of 5.
  • France’s literacy rate of 99%.

Fun facts

  • France is famous for having many castles, palaces, and manors. It’s said to have around 40,000 castles. The most visited castles in France are Versailles, Chenonceau, and Chambord.
  • France is also referred to as L’Hexagone, which means the hexagon due to its geometrical shape.
  • The French army was the first to use camouflage in 1915.
  • The French drink 11.2 billion glasses of wine each year.
  • France has more Nobel prize winners in literature than any other country, 15.
  • In France, in exceptional cases, you can marry a dead person posthumously.
  • Half of the world’s roundabouts are in France.
  • The Louvre in Paris is the most visited museum in the world.
  • French was the official language of England from 1066-1362.
  • France in 2016 banned supermarkets from throwing away food, the first in the world to do so.
  • The first movie screening occurred in France in 1895.
  • April Fool’s day originated in France.
  • The world’s first artificial heart transplant and face transplant both took place in France.
  • French cuisine or more known as Gastronomy, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010.
  • The French eat around 30,000 tons of snails a year or about 6.5 snails per person.
  • France produces around 1.7 million tons of cheese a year in around 1,600 varieties.
  • The tradition of wearing a white dress at weddings originated in France in 1499.
  • Denim clothing originated in Nimes, France.
  • The Statue of Liberty in NYC was a gift from France to the US.
  • The Tour de France cycle race has been running for over 100 years (1903).
  •  France is where gothic art and the Baroque style of architecture were born.
  • The most popular sport in France is soccer.
  • France has the most extensive railway system in Western Europe. Commercial rail companies use high-speed trains traveling at up to 200mph.

France Map

Good to know before you go

  • Tipping is not required in France as it is included in the bill. Though not customary or expected, rounding up or a few extra euros for great service will be appreciated. This includes not only restaurants but cab drivers, porters, bartenders, and other service workers.
  • Credits cards are readily accepted everywhere except for small vendors or in some markets. For small items like coffee or a pastry, cash is ideal.
  • Overall, clothing is stylish, sleek, and well kept. The French tend to fashion savvy. If going to higher-end restaurants or the theater, there is a dress code, so dress appropriately. You will see both casual and haute couture on the same street while wandering Paris. Though jeans have become more popular, it is still not as common as other European nations. Sneakers are common, but they tend to be more stylish and darker colors. In the smaller villages in France, the dress is often more casual except among the older locals.
  • France roadways are diverse, from modern high-speed motorways to rural one-way dirt roads. There are three kinds of routes, and you should become familiar with them; 1) Autoroutes, 2) National Roads, 3) Department Roads. The majority are A for autoroute and are toll roads. Tolls (péage) can get quite expensive in France, so be cognizant if you are on a budget. Toll roads do take credit cards, and there many large service areas (every 9 miles) along the autoroute. If you want to take a more scenic route and are not rushing, then D for department roads is the way to go. You will discover new towns and have a much better view of France’s landscape. N for National routes is the shortest distance between two major centers and the preferred method for freight traffic, which is huge in France. Keep in mind in small villages, the streets are very narrow and at times difficult to negotiate.
  • In France, they have a low tolerance for driving under the influence. As a matter of fact, Since July of 2012, all drivers must have a breathalyzer (L’éthylotest) on hand. You can buy a single-use breathalyzer in a pharmacy, Tabac shop, or some supermarkets. The tolerated blood alcohol level in France is very low, 0.5 mg. per ml, which means one drink can put you over the alcohol limit.
  • Your vehicle in France is required to have three items at all times: 1. A warning triangle 2. A yellow reflective security vest 3. French Breathalyzer
  • This is the home of roundabouts. They are magnificent once you learn to navigate them. Take to time to learn roundabout etiquette, and you fall in love with them too!
  • Speed cameras are common in France, best to watch your speed closely.
  • The French public transportation system is exceptional. The metro in Paris is simple to navigate, and no place in Paris is any greater than 1/3 mile a metro station. Trains within Paris and all over France are incredible and very timely. The train stations are huge!! The TGV, hi-speed trains, are always worth it. If you buy tickets in the months before the trip, you will find the train much less expensive and first-class only for a few euros more. First-class is wonderful and much more enjoyable if you can catch it when prices are low. Don’t miss your train; Joelle did that once from Lyon to Paris, and she paid an exorbitant price for a coach seat on the next train.
  • The French love American music, and you will hear it everywhere, but by law, at least 35% of all music played on private radio stations must be French.
  • The French love almost everything American, especially the people. They still hold an appreciation for the US role in liberating France from Hitler. Joelle has observed this when her American family and friends are directly thanked while visiting Normandy for their role in rescuing France; they weren’t even born yet.
  • The French don’t appreciate rude Americans, but we can guarantee you they despise even more rude fellow Frenchpersons. In France, they take the mindset of good etiquette, manners, and politeness seriously.
  • France is not a place for impatient people. Speedy service is not their thing. Anything worth doing is done thoughtfully and well.
  • The only beverage you should have during a meal is wine or water: no coffee, soft drink, tea, or beer. Oh, and coffee to go is still not the norm in France.
  • When speaking English, speak slower. They understand English, but we tend to speak fast and use much slang they did not learn in school.
  • The French do have their superstitions! According to folklore, placing a baguette or a loaf of bread on the table upside down puts the people around you at risk of misfortune, or worse – death. As a guest in someone’s home, takes care of your baguette placement.
  • The French have a great fear of drafts. “Le Courant d’air” is no laughing matter to the French. Midsummer in stifling heat in a crowded dining room Joelle and her family were enjoying a meal with her lovely French family; she went to open just one of many closed windows. The reaction was swift and firm. Close that window, or you will get sick from the Courant d’air.
  • The French eat late. Of the finer restaurants or non-touristy ones, you will find opening hours between 7-8 pm. With many more exceptional places or tiny establishments, there are two seatings: 8:00 and 10:30. You will be there the whole time, and yes, the 10:30 finished around 1:00 am.
  • In most of Europe but especially France, most restaurants won’t clear your plate until everyone at the table is done. This is good etiquette, and we wished it was practiced everywhere. If one plate is cleared while the other customers were still eating, it sends the message that they are being rushed to leave or that the others are taking too long to eat. No plates should be cleared until all the customers are finished eating. Finer dining establishments call this the book rule.
  • The French greet predominantly with kissing on cheeks, even in the business setting. This is usually a light kiss cheek to cheek, mostly in the air. Usually two, but in some regions, it can be four. Suppose you are unsure what to do; just let them lead. If they reach out their hand, then shake it. The French are not huggers; even with close family, this is a romantic gesture between couples. It maybe even offensive to some frenc people.
  • Most French metro shuts down at 2:00; keep that in mind when out and about. Taxis and rideshare services can be called during the later hours.
  • The French are proud people; they will self criticize their own country and politics but don’t like it much when you do. Keep your opinions to yourself. If you need to critique, speak about your views on US politics. They watch us closely.
  • Never leave a bathroom door open. Always fully close the door.
  • The French as a particular sense of humor, often dry and sometimes offensive. Not meant to offend; they try not to take themselves too seriously!
  • Raucous dinner debates and arguing in common in French culture. This will include dramatic gestures and raised voices. This is ingrained in the french, don’t take it personally if directed at you.
  • As Joelle is French and has all her extended family in France, she will address some cultural tips in the next section to enhance your French experience.

Joelle’s Do’s and Don’ts when visiting France

The French have a reputation for being rude, intolerant, and hating Americans. That is so far from the truth. The French are some of the kindest and gracious people I have come across in my travels. That is not my native bias but from close observations outside of my own interactions. I have taken many American friends of all ages and watched closely (it is the behavioral scientist in me). Or simply watching strangers with the locals.

When I travel to accompany friends and family for the first time, I always share a basic set of rules (#1 below), and they have rarely had negative experiences anywhere in France.

The French follow established manners, rules, and cultural customs or, more to say, etiquette. These are very important to the French, and by acting on these, you will find a much warmer and kinder welcome. The French are proud people; being aware and showing respect goes a long way. You are a guest in their country, be a good one.

Know the ins and outs of the French

France Do’s and Don’ts

1. Imagine someone walking into your home, walks right by you without a word or greeting, and starts wandering around your home. Would you be irritated? That is the crux of why many people will complain they were treated rudely in shops and markets.

The French are a bit more formal and polite. As you walk in and out of a boulangerie, patisserie, small boutique, pharmacy, or shop, you should always acknowledge the salespeople with eye contact and a clearly spoken Bonjour Madame (women) or Bonjour Monsieur (men). You could follow with Comment talle vous? (How are you?) This how French people do it. Watch, and you will see that is the case. Just a simple effort can bring a much more helpful and gracious salesperson. Observing many interactions over the years reveals how much better the person’s English gets when treated politely.

As you depart, you can also throw in one or all of the following: Aurevoir, Merci Beaucoup, Bonne Journee. (Goodbye, Thank you, and Have a good day.)

2. The above rule works well in restaurants too. Always greet the Host/Hostess upon entering. Once seated, greet your server and anyone else that comes to your table. Speak softly and slowly as many Americans tend to speak very loudly as if it somehow helps them understand English better, which often disturbs other guests and the staff.

3. The French center their lives around food and drink. These meals are meant to be slow and relaxed. The average meal lasts hours. Here are a few tips for eating out.

Menus in nontouristy restaurants will not arrive immediately. It is considered rude. You are given the time to settle, relax, and get acquainted. You may be offered an aperitif first. When the menu comes, you may find you may wait for the server to take your order. They don’t want you to feel rushed. Also, as long as the menu is open, they will not come as it signals you are still undecided. Again keep in mind the atmosphere is to be slow. If you are in a hurry for any reason, like to catch a train, explain that to the server. Their first instinct is to give you space.

Meals once ordered come with long breaks between courses. Most French cuisine is made fresh and to be served hot. It is rarely a rushed process.

If you wait for the check to be brought at the end of the meal, you are in for a long wait. It is considering rushing the guest to bring it without their asking for it. This your table usually for as long as you want it. When you are ready, say
“L’ addition S’il Vous Plait” followed by “Merci” once they acknowledge it.

One last thought doesn’t ask for a doggie bag; it is considered disrespectful. The servings are rarely big, and it prepared fresh at their peak. The Chef may take personal afront as much effort was made to prepare and present the meal for you.

4. The majority of French people speak excellent English except for older populations. It always is respectful to know some basic words and greetings. By making an effort, you will find they are much freer with their English. You are in their home, so knowing the basics will serve you well.

5. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a home in France, you must always come bearing a gift. Please DO NOT make it wine. Your host pairs the wine based on the menu. To suggest you could know better is not well received even though it was not your intent. Bring flowers, a box of Macaroons, or Chocolate or Champagne.


6. The markets all over France but especially in Provence are some of the world’s best. It is a sight for the eyes. You might be tempted to touch the produce but DO NOT. That is the vendor’s job. You can leave it up to them or point, but don’t touch yourself. This is a good rule for shops are well. Touching merchandise will bring you nasty looks and, at times, being snapped at.

7. Most shops and services are not open overnight or on Sundays. Life and work balance is taken seriously. Many shops still close for a long lunch from 12-2:00 pm. In the summers, many restaurants and shops close for weeks for their vacation. Check hours and don’t count on anything being open into the evening, especially in small towns.

8. The French are dog people, and they are everywhere. But so is their doggy do-do, even in the streets of Paris. Though there are attempts to have owners pick up after their dogs, it is not happening as hoped. It doesn’t bother them. Do not make faces or try to advise them to do so, or you will get some very nasty looks. They love their pets, and nobody messes with that. So watch your steps both with your feet and words!

9. It is not considered polite to keep your hands in your lap during a meal. Hands should be visible with both hands on the table.


France Essential Info

US Consular Emergency
The 24-hour number from a US Phone 1-888-407-4747
Outside of US 011-202-501-4444

US Embassy in Paris
2 Avenue Gabriel
75008 Paris
France
Telephone: +(33) (1) 43-12-22-22
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(33) (1) 43-12-22-22, enter zero “0” after the automated greeting
citizeninfo@state.gov

US Consulate General in Marseilles
Place Varian Fry
13286 Marseille Cedex 6
France
Telephone: +(33)(1) 43-12-47-54
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(33)(1) 43-12-22-22

US Consulate General in Strasbourg

15, Avenue d’Alsace
67082 Strasbourg Cedex
France
Telephone: +(33) (1) 43-12-48-80
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(33) (1) 43-12-22-22

Emergency Numbers
GENERAL 112
Police 17
Medical 15
Fire/Accident 18

Country Code
+33

Time Zone
UTC+1

Driving
Right side

Adaptors
“Standard” Euro plug
Type C or F

Tourism Office
us.france.fr/en
en.parisinfo.com

When to go to France

Thanks to the five mountain ranges (Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura, and the Vosges) and the three oceans (Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, and the Mediterranean), France is a veritable year-round playground.

The best time to visit France is Spring’s shoulder seasons (April to May) or fall (September to November) when the weather is warm, and the crowds are less crazy. The winter months (December to February) are great for ski holidays and wide open attractions, while the summer with nice weather (June to August) is the most crowded and priciest time of year.

The temps below are for Paris. Obviously, the French Alps would have harsher winter temps and the Mediterranean warmer overall all seasons.

  • Summer 56-78 °F (13-26 °C)
  • Spring 41-69 °F ( 5-21 °C)
  • Fall 42-71°F ( 6-22°C)
  • Winter 36-48 °F (2-17 °C)

Our Favorite Resources

This resource section contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Travel Books/Guides

France is the place Joelle had been to more than any other country in the world. Her parents were born and raised in France, and French was her first language. That said, when all your extended family is in France, all those trips were not about seeing the country but going from one table to another. It wasn’t until she was an adult she saw France beyond that. Using guides for those trips was what started her travel guide collection. Learning what there was to see was not easy and emphasized early on the importance of research.

Rick Steves France 2020 (Rick Steves Travel Guide) by Rick Steves

This was the first Rick Steves guidebook Joelle bought and has since relied on them for all destinations he offers. Full disclosure, we are huge Rick Steve’s fans; it will be rare not to recommend one of his wonderful guides. We love his travel style and perspective. His off-the-beaten-path approach, together with his independent travel philosophy, matches well with how we travel. The guides never disappoint and are a wonderful resource. Find this must-have guide here

Lonely Planet’s France 2019 (Country Guide) by Lonely Planet

A passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on the highlights France has to offer and what hidden discoveries await you. Grab a café crème at a Parisian sidewalk cafe, take in glacial panoramas above Chamonix and explore the Champagne-soaked city of Reims. Great photography and lots of details to aid in planning. Discover this travel guide here

Michelin Green Guide France Travel Guide by Michelin

This is the quintessential guide to France. Michelin is based in France and knows their home base better than anyone. It used a rating system as well that helps pick what is best for your trip. The updated version presents star-rated attractions, accompanied by regional introductions, cultural background, detailed maps, and recommendations for many great hotels and restaurants. Looking for medieval castles, a guide to visiting Normandy beaches, info on world-renowned wine regions, finding the lavender fields in Provence, or detailed guides to cities. Michelin ensures you see the best of France. Find this guide here

Our favorite websites

1. France tourism site

2. US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs France Country Info

We cannot encourage you enough to visit this website as you plan and prepare for your trip. This is the US Federal Government addressing the safety, security, travel risk, entry, exit, visa documents mandates, emergency US and Embassy contacts, health, local laws, special circumstances, threats, traveler vulnerabilities, government warnings, and transportation in France. This is your best and most reliable resource for all this important info. Check back often before you go, as things can change quickly. Being prepared is essential in all travel, but especially internationally.

France International Travel Information (state.gov)

3. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers Health Resource

This CDC travel resource provides essential health info for your specific destination. Using their tool, you can determine which vaccines, medications, and health advice recommendations are needed for France.

CDC’s Travelers Health Page for France

Our favorite maps

Michelin France Map 721

Renowned for over 100 years for their clear, accurate, and easy-to-read mapping, Michelin gives travelers an overall picture of their route, with practical road and travel information; and city maps containing extensive street indexes. Major sites and landmarks are well marked. Though we default to Google maps, this came in handy when service was poor or during construction detours. Find this essential map here

Our favorite apps

Rome2rio: Trip Planner Trip and Holiday Organizer Enter any address, landmark, or city in the app will instantly display all your travel options, booking info, along with accommodation providers and things to do. Find on your local app store.

Rick Steve’s Audio Europe This app includes a vast library of Rick Steve’s audio content. Get cultural and travel info. Includes self-guided tours of top attractions and historic walks. A must-have. Find on your local app store.

iTranslate One of the most popular Translation apps, iTranslate can translate words, phrases, and text into French. You can listen to translations both in male and female voices. Find in your app store.

Google Translate We used this often to practice proper pronunciations of French words. As we always encourage, it is essential to learn the basics to greet and thank people in the local language. Google translate was an easy app to use. If needed, you can enter text in English, and it will speak back in French to aid in communicating with locals. Furthermore, it came in very handy to translate text into images instantly.

Do you have a favorite France travel resource? Share your favorites in the comments section at the bottom of this page or

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