It can be difficult to take in the entire country of France, but it is possible to travel to France and enjoy the best of its culture. Few other nations of its size pack such sheer variety of sights, scenery, and culture from the Loire Valley, the snow-capped peaks of the Alps to the east, the south-central Massif Central with rocks and plateaux, and of course the luscious south-east Mediterranean coastline. We only managed around a month in France during our 2018 Europe camper-van trip but we'll be back soon to explore more of this beautiful country. France is Europe's most diverse, tasty, and, in many ways, the most exciting European country to explore. Romantic hill towns and castles, meandering river valleys, and oceans of vineyards carpet this country's landscape. And, despite what you might hear, the French are wonderful people who love to stop and smell the roses.
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FRANCE QUICK FACTS
Currency: France has the Euro (€) as its sole currency along with the 24 other eurozone countries. One Euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official Euro member issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. All coins are legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Electricity: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are round two-prong sockets (type F which also accepts type C and type E). Be sure to carry a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
Visa: France is a member state of the European Union and Schengen Agreement. Citizens of any EU country can enter France freely on a valid passport or national identity card, while those from many non-EU countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, among others, do not need a visa for a stay of up to ninety days. All non-EU citizens who wish to remain longer than ninety days must apply for a long-stay visa, for which you’ll have to show proof of a regular income or sufficient funds to support yourself and medical insurance. Be sure to check online for the latest entry requirements. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry and that you have an available completely blank page in your passport.
Safety: While violent crime involving tourists is rare in France, petty theft is not uncommon in all the big cities, on beaches, and at major tourist sights. In Paris, be especially wary of pickpockets at train stations and on the Metro. Your main defence against petty theft is to exercise common sense and refrain from flaunting any luxury items. Take care to not leave any valuables in view inside vehicles; and park your car overnight in a monitored parking garage or, at the very least, on a busy and well-lit street. Be wary of unmanned aires (rest areas) along highways at night.
Visitors to France have little to worry about as far as health is concerned. No vaccinations are required, there are no nasty diseases, and tap water is safe to drink. Your main health risk is likely to be getting sunburnt or suffer from a hangover after too much French wine! It's a good idea to review your insurance coverage before you leave to make sure it's adequate. We would suggest checking out either SafetyWing or World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
Language: English is widely spoken in major cities and tourist sites but this should not be relied on. French is, of course, the country's official language and as such is known by everybody. The French are proud of their language and will appreciate your effort to use it but are willing to help out if they speak English.
Transportation: Public transportation in France is a breeze as most places are connected via high-speed trains. Car rental in France is also really accessible and might be cheaper than expected. If you want the freedom to be able to travel and explore on your own, this is also a great option. We found it easy enough to drive our rather unwieldy camper-van around France for a month although we did avoid major cities and for the most part any toll-roads.
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FRANCE PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- May, Labour Day
- 8 May, Fête de la Victoire 1945 (WWII Victory Day)
- 14 July, Bastille Day
- 15 August, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- 1 November, All Saints Day
- 11 November, Armistice Day
FESTIVALS IN FRANCE
France certainly has no shortage of festivals celebrating all aspects of its life and history, from religion to food and art. Here is but a small selection of the most important events.
- Nice Carnival: The Nice Carnival, held annually during February, is one of the world's major carnival events and stand alongside the Brazilian Carnival n Rio, the Venetian Carnival, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This is the French Riviera's first major winter event, and the Carnival alone justifies a stay in Nice. It is deservingly a world-famous event and attracts nearly a million visitors of all nationalities every year.
- Paris Beer Festival: the first 100% independent craft beer festival in Paris bringing together lovers of beer together to discover and taste all the best beers made in France. Starting end of April and held over 10 days, the event takes place across the city's bars, pubs, breweries, specialist beer shops, and other venues.
- Cannes Film Festival: This invitation-only festival is held annually (usually in May) at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès to showcase and preview new films of all genres, including documentaries from all around the world. Sadly, the general public cannot buy tickets to the Cannes Film Festival and attendance is exclusive to film professionals.
- Tour de France: Described as "the world’s most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race" the Tour de France is an annual multiple stage bicycle race held over the course of 23 days during July. The Tour is an important cultural event for fans in Europe and millions line the route, some having camped for a week to get the best view. Most stages are in mainland France, although since the mid-1950s it has become common to visit nearby countries.
- Fête Nationale: Known as Bastille Day, this is the national day of France, celebrated on 14 July each year as an anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a decided turning point of the French Revolution. Bastille Day celebrations are held throughout France during this time and if you find yourself in Paris you can witness the oldest and largest military parade in Europe held on the Champs-Élysées.
Technoparade: Created in 1998 the Techno Parade in Paris seeks to promote electronic music culture. This one-day festive event held during September attracts an audience of more than 350 000 who come to take part in the parade through the streets of Paris. Floats, from around the world, represent a label, an organizer, or a collective dedicated to electronic music.
Berck Sur Mer Kite Festival: Each April, the skies of Berck-sur-Mer explode with colour, as kites line up in choreographed displays to perform for the crowds. The delightful seaside town is a great place to visit but really comes alive when hundreds of thousands of people gather together to witness incredible displays of dexterity combined with an enthusiasm for nature. The event lasts for nine days, and you'll be joining over half a million people - an impressive turnout!
BEST TIME TO VISIT FRANCE
While you can definitely visit France all year round, it’s worth understanding what to expect from each season, especially if you prefer a particular climate for certain activities or if you’re planning on visiting all the top tourist attractions but still want to avoid some of the peak season crowds. Contributing to the coastal madness over peak seasons is the fact that a lot of French people holiday in their own country during the main holiday period of mid-July through to the end of August. During this time most of the country shuts down, except for tourism-related industries.
Generally speaking, climate need not be the biggest factor in planning when to visit France. In the north of the country, you can expect wet and unpredictable weather - much like in nearby Britain. South of the Loire the weather becomes significantly warmer. Coast weather along the western region, even in the southern parts, is tempered by the proximity of the Atlantic and can be subject to thunderstorms and rainy days even in summer. Towards the center of the country and the eastern regions, you will generally experience a more continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers. The most predictable weather is found along the Mediterranean coastline and on the island of Corsica, where winter is relatively short and summer is long and hot.
- December to March - Christmas markets in Alsace, snow in the Alps, and truffles in the south.
- April to June - France is at its springtime best, with good weather and far fewer crowds.
- September - Cooling temperatures, abundant local produce, and the vendange (grape harvest).
Winter travel is fine for Paris, Nice, and Lyon, but you'll find smaller cities and villages all but closed for business. Winter weather can be a grey affair but it's noticeably milder in the south (unless the wind is blowing!), and colder and wetter in the north. During winter snow is generally not an issue except in the mountains. Sights and tourist information offices will keep shorter hours, and some activities (such as English-language tours) vanish altogether. That said, winter travel allows for a calmer experience of cities and sights and you have the opportunity to see France more through a local lens.
The shoulder season is during spring (March to May) and fall (September to October), when it’s reasonably warm but with far fewer crowds and cheaper prices. This is by far the time to visit France.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN FRANCE
The snow sports season in France can start late November and last until April at higher altitudes. The busiest times are the holidays at the end of the year and again in February, while March and April can be really great.
HIKING & CYCLING IN FRANCE
The best time for outdoor activities in France is from May to October. At higher altitudes, even the hottest months of July and August are pleasant.
BEACH OPTIONS IN FRANCE
Beaches along the French Riviera officially open in June, with the months of July and August being by far the hottest and busiest. Don't forget that the north of France also has some stunning beaches!
SURFING IN FRANCE
With both the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean, France is an all year round surfing destination. Summer is better for beginners while winter brings bigger swells. The best months for surfing in southern France are September, October and November.
KITESURF IN FRANCE
The best winds in France can be found from March till June and again in September and October. While there are a few good days over summer, these are much fewer.
For more details on kite surfing in France expand this section!
FRANCE TRAVEL COSTS
As in most countries, you can travel for as cheap or as expensive as you want. France can definitely be one of the more expensive European countries to visit, but how much you spend will depend on where in the country you want to go and at what time of the year. Much of France you will find to be little or no more expensive than its immediate Eurozone neighbours, with reasonably priced accommodation and restaurant food especially outside of peak tourist season.
France was the first country that we ventured into with our Campervan from Italy and it even during July it is possible to do it affordably if you use a camping car. We spent a total of 23 nights with our Campervan in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Regions of France during July and August of 2018. Our most expensive campsite cost €26.50 per night, 6 nights were spent at free campsites, bringing our average cost over the 23 nights to only €12.74 per night. You could easily save by seeking out more free camping spots or you could choose to spend a whole lot more at the many luxurious campsites across the country.
For a reasonably comfortable trip – staying in hotels, eating lunch and dinner in restaurants, plus moving around, café stops, and museum visits – you will need to allow a budget of around $150 a day per person, assuming two people sharing a mid-range room. By counting pennies – staying at hostels or camping and being strong-willed about those extra cups of coffee and doses of culture – you could probably manage on $80 a day.
FRANCE TRAVEL TIPS
An option to save on both accommodation and food costs is to consider renting rooms or apartments, through services like Airbnb. In an expensive city like Paris, you might find it to be the best value - especially if you travel in a larger group.
Buying your own food in France can be very cheap and a fantastic way to experience some of the country’s phenomenal ingredients and its local foodie culture. The market is your friend and you will find plenty of bread, cheese, and meat shops around – this is exactly how the French eat! They go to their local markets, buy food, and cook it themselves. By visiting a discount grocer like Aldi or Lidl, you will get away for even less. If you want an idea of what groceries cost in Lidl have a look at the video walkthrough we did in Italy. Keep an eye out for “workers’ lunches” across Europe, these are generally also good value for money and will usually consist of a small set menu and drink for the day.
If you're staying in Paris for more than three or four days, the cheapest and easiest way to use public transport is to get a rechargeable Navigo pass. A weekly pass costs €22.80 (2020) and is valid Monday to Sunday. If you want the physical card you'll also need to pay €5 for the Navigo card and provide a passport photo. If you have a smart-phone with service the pass can be accessed from the App.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF FRANCE
Paris the cultural centre, is unmissable with its impressive buildings, unparalleled art, nightlife and ethnic diversity. However, few travellers stay long in the largely flat, industrial north of France as there is so much to see and experience further south. That said, the northern Atlantic coast, Normandy has a rich heritage of cathedrals, castles, battlefields and beaches whereas, and to the west, Brittany is renowned for its Celtic links, incredible coastline, prehistoric sites and seafood. Further east, the valleys of Burgundy shelter a rich selection of Romanesque churches, and the wines and food of this region are among the finest in France.
More churches follow the pilgrim routes through rural Poitou-Charentes and down the Atlantic coast to Bordeaux, where the wines rival those of Burgundy. To the south, the great mountain chain of the Pyrenees rears up along the Spanish border where you will find world-class hiking and skiing, as well as beaches at either end. Stretching down from the Alps (prime skiing territory) to the Mediterranean is Provence, which, as generations of travellers have discovered, seems to have everything: ancient Roman ruins, charming villages, vineyards and lavender fields. Along the popular Mediterranean coast, the beaches, towns as well as the chic resorts of the Côte d’Azur form a giant bay - extending from the vibrant city of Marseille to the playgrounds of the super-rich, Nice and Monaco. For truly incredible beaches, however, head for the rugged island of Corsica.
- Paris - Gorge on the iconic sights and sophistication of Europe's most hopelessly romantic city.
- Loire Valley - Relive the French Renaissance with extraordinary châteaux built by kings and queens.
- Chamonix - Do a Bond and swoosh down slopes in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
- Mont St-Michel - Dodge tides, stroll moonlit sand and immerse yourself in the legend at this island abbey.
- Provence - Savour ancient ruins, modern art, markets, lavender and hilltop villages.
- Épernay - Taste bubbly in ancient caves (cellars) in the heart of Champagne.
- Lyon - Tuck into France's piggy-driven cuisine in a traditional bouchon.
- Casino de Monte Carlo - Hit the big time in Monaco's sumptuous gaming house.
Start out exploring Paris for a couple of days, taking in the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Montmartre and a boat trip along the Seine. Day trip to magnificent Versailles and spend the rest of the week in Normandy to visit WWII's D-Day beaches and the glorious Mont St-Michel. Or head east to Champagne to sample the famous bubbly and visit Reims' magnificent cathedral.
With Paris and surrounds having taken up much of the first week, hop on a high-speed TGV to Avignon or Marseille and take in the delights of Provence's Roman heritage, its beautiful hilltop villages and its famous artistic legacy. Finish your stay with a few days in Nice, enjoying its glittering Mediterranean landscapes and sunny cuisine. Alternatively, head southwest to elegant Bordeaux and its world-famous vineyards before pushing inland to the Dordogne with its hearty gastronomy and unique prehistoric-art heritage.
Paris - the most glamorous city in Europe
Paris has been a beacon of European culture for many centuries. The most tangible and immediate delight of Paris is found in its bustling street life and along the banks and bridges of the River Seine. Cafés, bars and restaurants line every side street and boulevard, and the city’s compactness makes it easy to experience the feel of the individual areas. Paris is jam-packed full of iconic landmarks, charismatic architecture, and designer boutiques, not to mention the vibrant cafe culture and fine dining options that will make you fall in love with Paris every time you visit.
As independent travellers, we usually prefer to have a go at activities ourselves but like most big cities, Paris can be a little bit overwhelming initially. To help you make the most of your visit, have a look at these recommended tours.
- Louvre Skip the Line Guided Tour – No trip to Paris would be complete if you don’t visit the Louvre. You can easily spend hours just walking around this museum and to make the most of your visit we recommend making use of a guide to take you around the highlights.
- Skip the Line Palace of Versailles – If you want a taste of the lavish castles and opulence that France was known for, a trip to the Palace of Versailles is a must! Skip the long lines and book your tickets in advance.
- Moulin Rouge Cabaret Show – Allow yourself to be transported back in time during the glory days of old Paris with this cabaret show in the Montmartre district.
Apart from Paris, Lyon is France's most historic and culturally important city filled with old-world cobbled alleys, pastel Renaissance mansions, the colourful shops of Vieux Lyon; the more sedate, but still classy, Paris-like buildings and the shopping streets of the Presqu'île. Once you're settled, this big city feels relaxed, welcoming, and surprisingly untouristy. Soak up some of its historic cultures, visit medieval castles and explore the countryside around Lyon, and you can be sure you will leave Lyon in wonderment.
For more than a thousand years, the distant silhouette of this island abbey has sent pilgrims' spirits soaring. Today, it does the same for tourists. As one of Europe’s most unforgettable sights, take some time to visit the mesmerizing Mont St-Michel (click the link to book tickets in advance) while in France. Set atop an island commune in Normandy, the whole experience of this visit is majestic. It is entirely possible to reach this iconic destination on a day trip from Paris but you to make the most of your visit to Normandy, it's best to stay over and so pay a visit to the D-Day Beaches.
Bordeaux Wine Region
Touring the local vineyards and sampling a few home-grown wines is one of the great pleasures of Bordeaux however you will quickly see that there’s more to the region than wine. Although an expensive destination in the French context, it is definitely worth a trip to this exquisite region, even if you just travel here for the magnificent views, or to have your fill of some of the best seafood and wine in France.
- La Cité du Vin and Wine Tasting – A visit to this wine museum is a MUST for wine lovers. Featuring an expansive display of memorabilia and samples, skip the line for this museum and make the most of your trip with this tour.
- St. Emilion Village Vinyard Tour – This tour takes you a fantastic tour to this UNESCO heritage site and the vineyards around it.
- Bordeaux Bike Tour – For a different take on the highlights of Bordeaux consider a bike tour! The guide will walk you through the historical highlights of the city whilst giving local recommendations on the best things to see and do.
- Bordeaux Dinner Cruise – Make the most of your time in this romantic city by going on this dinner cruise with optional wine tasting available.
Officially separating the north from the south of France, the Loire River plots a green valley surrounded with fertile fields, rolling hills and an array of enchanting French châteaux. Worthy of all the praise that it receives, this region begs to be explored. The region’s biggest draw might be the striking landscapes, but it’s also famed for its rich gastronomy, the laidback pace of life and hugely popular Loire à Vélo cycling trail. The heartland of the valley, Touraine, known as “the garden of France”, is home to some of the best wines, the tastiest cheese, and the most regal history in all of France, including one of the finest château, in Chenonceau. Take some time and try the wine, eat the food, explore the small towns and go chateau-hopping to explore the valley in its entirety.
Arguably the most irresistible region in France, Provence ranges from the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps to the delta plains of the Camargue, and boasts Europe’s greatest canyon, the Gorges du Verdon. During our last camper-van trip to France, we fell in love with the beautiful Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes countryside and ended up spending almost an entire month in only these two regions. It's hard to convey just how captivating the lavender fields and tranquil azure lakes can be. Although the Côte d’Azur forms part of the Mediterranean shoreline of Provence, this busy area is a world removed from the inland section.
The wild and rugged landscape of the French Alps contains some of Europe’s most stunning mountain landscapes. Europe’s highest peak is Mont Blanc, sitting triumphant over the Chamonix valley below, itself the region’s premier sporting playground. On offer are some of the most thrilling outdoor activities on the continent, from world-class skiing and mountain climbing to superb road cycling and the most incredible of valley walks.
Tours Around France
If you prefer travelling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world offering loads of different tour types that cater to all travellers such as well as wellness tours, tours for 18-30-year-olds. If you like the idea of travelling in a group and make new friends, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip.
WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE
French cuisine is nothing short of exquisite. With a diverse range of culinary traditions and some of the freshest local ingredients, you can be sure that you’ll have some truly gourmet meals wherever you go in France. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for their recommendations; this will usually elicit strong views and sound advice.
There are multiple foods unique or indigenous to France, and for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the culture, these are some of the foods you just have to try. They contain their own unique twist of flavours and colours, all mixing into one singular dish that will send your senses to heaven and back.
- Bouillabaisse - A fragrant stew from the city of Marseille, this dish is, in essence, a fish chowder. The creation of this dish may vary from chef to chef, but they all agree that it is amazing no matter how it's made. The most memorable ones are made with fresh fish straight from the Mediterranean.
- Croque Monsieur - a French version of a grilled cheese sandwich, the croque-monsieur features jambon (ham) and melted gruyère cheese on the inside, with a rich béchamel sauce to finish it off.
- Steak Tartare - You won't be disappointed by the sweet taste and the elegance of this dish. The beef is finely chopped, mixed with onions, seasoned well, and served with egg yolk and rye bread. It might not be for the faint of heart, but it is well worth it for those daring enough to try it.
- Escargots A La Bourguignonne - Known in English as herb buttered snails or garlic snails no one can visit France without trying these! Apart from frogs legs (!) snails are what we associate with French cuisine, and these truly are a staple food of French families. The garlicky goodness will set your taste buds on fire, as you wonder how many boxes of these you can sneak back home!
- Cassoulet - Cassoulet is one of those warm, comforting foods to cheer you up after an exhausting day was the food of the peasants in the south of France. The ingredients include duck confit, pork shoulder, sausage, and a lot of beans. This is as authentic as it gets and will give you the French experience you were looking for as every bite takes you back to the time of the Hundred Years War.
- Boeuf Bourguignon - Originally nothing more than a simple peasant dish, this dish is now a staple in French restaurants around the world. Food doesn't get much more typical French than boeuf bourguignon! The dish hails from the same region as coq au vin – Burgundy in eastern France – and there are indeed similarities between the two dishes. Boeuf bourguignon is essentially a stew made from beef which is braised in red wine, beef broth, and seasoned vegetables including pearl onions and mushrooms.
LGBTQ IN FRANCE
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in France have been seen as traditionally liberal. Same-sex marriage in France has been legal since 18 May 2013, when France became the thirteenth country worldwide to allow same-sex couples to marry.
France has frequently been named one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. Paris has been named by many publications as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, with Le Marais, Quartier Pigalle and Bois de Boulogne being said to have a thriving LGBT community and nightlife. Paris is also host to the annual Gay Pride Parade known as The Marche des Fiertés LGBT.
WHERE TO STAY IN FRANCE
Accommodation in France can be mightily expensive (especially during peak summer season), so the cheapest options would be dorm rooms in hostels while in the cities and camping in rural areas. Private rooms in hostels and hotels can range greatly, so it may be worth taking a look at Airbnb for better value options, especially in Paris. If budget is not a problem for you, the countryside is full of large houses and villas that you can find on The Big Domain, so treat yourself to an unforgettable stay.
If you’re travelling during peak season or holidays, it is best to arrange and your accommodations well in advance. We recommend checking availability on sites like Booking.com, Agoda, or Hostel World.
Airbnb Travel Tip: If you prefer to stay in your own apartment or house, we recommend using Airbnb. Check out our full article on how to get $65 coupon code for your booking or simply click here to get our coupon code to apply on your next booking.