France is a country with which almost every traveller has a relationship. Many dream of its joie de vivre shown by the countless restaurants, picturesque villages and world-famous gastronomy. Some come to follow the trail of France’s great philosophers, writers and artists, or to immerse in the beautiful language it gave the world. And others still are drawn to the country’s geographical diversity with its long coastlines, massive mountain ranges and breathtaking farmland vistas. Explore France to fall in love with it too.
France has been the world’s most popular tourist destination for quite some time. It received 83.7 million visitors in 2014. France is one of the most geographically diverse countries in Europe, containing areas as different from each other as urban chic Paris, the sunny French Riviera, long Atlantic beaches, the winter sports resorts of the French Alps, the castles of the Loire Valley, rugged Celtic Brittany and the historian’s dream that is Normandy.
France is a country of rich emotions but also a place of rational thinking and Enlightenment treasures. Above all, it is renowned for its cuisine, culture and history.
France has a lot of variety, but temperate winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris. Mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the southwest (the latter has lots of rain in winter). You may likely even see a few palm trees on the Mediterranean coast. Mild winters (with lots of rain) and cool summers in the northwest (Brittany). Cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border (Alsace). Along the Rhône Valley, there is an occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral. Cold winters with lots of the snow in the Mountainous regions: Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne.
It has mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south west, Vosges, Jura and Alps in east, Massif Central in the mid-south.
If possible, try to avoid French school holidays and Easter, because hotels are very likely to be overbooked and traffic on the roads is simply awful.
Hotels are very likely to be overbooked during the 1 May, 8 May, 11 Nov, Easter Weekend, Ascension weekend too.
France has been populated since the Neolithic period. The Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation; others are temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux, while others are simply incredible geological formations, like the gondola-navigable Gouffre de Padirac.
Written History began in France with the invasion of the territory by the Romans, between 118 and 50 BC. Starting then, the territory which is today called France was part of the Roman Empire, and the Gauls (name given to local Celts by the Romans), who lived there before Roman invasions, became acculturated “Gallo-Romans”.
The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible, particularly in the southern part of the country where Roman circuses are still used for bullfights and rock and roll shows. Some of the main roads still follow the routes originally traced 2,000 years ago, and the urban organization of many old town centers still transcript the cardo and the decumanus of the former Roman camp (especially Paris). The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time.
France has numerous cities of interest to travellers, the most notable:
- Paris — the “City of Light”, romance and the Eiffel Tower
- Bordeaux — city of wine, traditional stone mansions and smart terraces
- Bourges — gardens, canals and a cathedral listed as a UNESCO heritage site
- Lille— a dynamic northern city known for its handsome centre and active cultural life
- Lyon — France’s second city with a history from Roman times to the Resistance
- Marseille — Third largest French city with a harbour as big as its place as the heart of Provence
- Nantes — the “Greenest City” and, according to some, the best place to live in Europe
- Strasbourg — famous for its historical centre, and home to many European institutions
- Toulouse — the “Pink City”, for its distinctive brick architecture, main city of Occitania
- Camargue — one of Europe’s largest river deltas and wetlands
- Corsica — the birthplace of Napoleon, a unique island with a distinct culture and language
- Disneyland Paris — the most visited attraction in Europe
- French Alps — home to the highest mountain in Western Europe, the Mont Blanc
- French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) — Mediterranean coastline of France with plenty of upper class seaside resorts, yachts and golf courses
- Loire Valley — the world-famous Loire Valley, best known for its wines and chateaux
- Luberon — the stereotypical Provence of picturesque villages, joie de vivreand wine
- Mont Saint Michel — second most-visited sight in France, a monastery and town built on a tiny outcrop of rock in the sand, which is cut off from the mainland at high tide
- Verdon Gorge — beautiful river canyon in a turquoise-green, great for kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing or just driving around the limestone cliffs
Minimum validity of travel documents
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens need only have a national identity card or passport which is valid for the entirety of their stay in France.
Other nationals (regardless of whether they are visa-exempt or are required to have a visa) must have a passport which has at least 3 months’ validity beyond their period of stay in France. In addition, the passport must have been issued in the previous 10 years.
France is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
Flights to/from Paris
The main international airport, Roissy – Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France from outside Europe. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for most intercontinental flights.
Some airlines, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80km northwest of Paris.
Flights to/from regional airports
Other airports outside Paris have flights to/from international destinations: Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse have flights to cities in western Europe and North Africa; these airports are hubs to smaller airports in France and may be useful to avoid the transfer between the two Paris airports. Two airports, Bâle-Mulhouse and Geneva, are shared by France and Switzerland and can allow entry into either country.
Thinking of France, you might imagine the iconic Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe or the famous smile of Mona Lisa. You might think of drinking coffee in the lively Paris cafés where great intellectuals lingered in past times, or of eating croissants in a local bistro of a sleepy but gorgeous village in the countryside. Probably, images of splendid châteaux will spring to your mind, of lavender fields or perhaps of vineyards as far as the eye can see. Or perhaps, you’d envisage the chic resorts of the Cote D’Azur. And you wouldn’t be wrong. However, they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to France’s many sights and attractions.
France is much more than Cities.
Many of the French take their vacations in August. As a result, outside of touristic areas, many of the smaller stores (butcher shops, bakeries…) will be closed in parts of August. This also applies to many corporations as well as physicians. Obviously, in touristy areas, stores will tend to be open when the tourists come, especially July and August. In contrast, many attractions will be awfully crowded during those months, and during Easter week-end.
Some attractions, especially in rural areas, close or have reduced opening hours outside the touristic season.
Mountain areas tend to have two touristic seasons: in the winter, for skiing, snowshoeing and other snow-related activities, and in the summer for sightseeing and hiking.
Smoking is prohibited by law in all enclosed spaces accessible to the public (this includes train and subway cars, train and subway station enclosures, workplaces, restaurants and cafés) unless in areas specifically designated for smoking, and there are few of these. Smoking is banned in metro and trains, as well as enclosed stations. Subway and train conductors do enforce the law and will fine you for smoking in non-designated places; if you encounter problems with a smoker in train, you may go find the conductor.
As hotels are not considered as public places, some offer smoking vs. non-smoking rooms.
Only people over the age 18 may purchase tobacco products. Shopkeepers may request a photo ID.
Never leave your phone on the table. It’s considered very rude manners.
Never be impatient with waiters at restaurants. It’s important to bear in mind that waiting is a revered profession in France, and people have to go through lots of training to become one. You’re not obligated to tip waiters, but you can if you wish.
Never ask your food to be separated into individual parts. In France, people strive to deliver the best experience wherever possible, and asking your food to be separated may offend or upset some.
Never discuss business when eating out. The French dislike talking about work and business when eating out, and it’s more of a time to enjoy good food, wine and discussion.
Never eat unless everyone has been asked to. Eating immediately is seen as impolite.
Explore France and fall in love with it.
Unesco World Heritage List
- Chartres Cathedral
- Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay
- Palace and Park of Versailles
- Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley
- Vézelay, Church and Hill
- Amiens Cathedral
- Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments
- Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
- Palace and Park of Fontainebleau
- Roman Theatre and its Surroundings and the “Triumphal Arch” of Orange
- From the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains to the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, the Production of Open-pan Salt
- Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe
- Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance in Nancy
- Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct)
- Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt
- Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau, Reims
- Paris, Banks of the Seine
- Bourges Cathedral
- Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge
- Canal du Midi
- Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne
- Historic Site of Lyon
- Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France
- Belfries of Belgium and France
- Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion
- The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes
- Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs
- Le Havre, the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret
- Bordeaux, Port of the Moon
- Fortifications of Vauban
- Episcopal City of Albi
- Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps
- The Causses and the Cévennes, Mediterranean agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape
- Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin
- Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardèche
- Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars
- The Climats, terroirs of Burgundy
- The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement