France travel guide

Our travel guide will put Mona Lisa's smile on your face too.

France travel guide

The French are open-minded, sociable, and take every opportunity to enjoy life. In the countryside, a leisurely and relaxed way of life is the preferred way of living. In the cities, such as the capital Paris, you will encounter a variety of cultures. The largest cities in France include Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Nice and Nantes.

The French way of life has long become an integral part of the culture. Gastronomy, fashion, sports, festivals and traditions contribute to the relaxed lifestyle of the French. A very good infrastructure and infinite shopping possibilities are the recipe to a great French vacation.

From a cultural point of view, France has it all: beautiful architecture and exciting museums with world-famous works of art, like the Mona Lisa, are waiting for you with a longing smile.

The French are very proud of their language, which is why we recommend that you bring at least a basic knowledge of French with you when you travel to the country. You may find that your counterpart does not speak English, which is why we have created an English-French dictionary with the most useful sentences for you.


Geography

France covers an area of about 643,801 square kilometers, making it the largest country in the European Union. In terms of population, it is the second largest country after Germany. The capital, Paris, is also the largest city in the country. Seen from above, its shape resembles a hexagon. Due to its size, France has a very diverse landscape mainly characterized by plains and hills.

France borders with Spain, Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Monaco in the southeast.

Time zone

Metropolitan France uses Central European Time (Central European Time, CET UTC +01:00) and Central European Summer Time (UTC +02:00).  

Climate and travel seasons

The country is divided into different climate zones because of its size. In general,the climate is rather mild, with a more Mediterranean one that can be found in the southeast. Here and on Corsica you will find the highest average temperatures.

On the western side of the mountains (Alps, Cavennes, Jura and Vosges) is where the most rains falls. In the north of France the climate is moderate.

If you are planning a beach vacation, the best time to travel to the Mediterranean is from May to October, while for the Atlantic coast you should plan the period between June and September. A nice winter vacation can usually be experienced between December and April. In the mountains you can ski all year round.

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Maximum temperature Maximum temperature

8

8

10

14

16

19

22

20

18

16

12

11

Minimum temperature Minimum temperature

-1

1

2

5

9

12

14

14

12

8

3

-1

Hours of sunshine Hours of sunshine

3

1

3

4

3

3

2

3

4

3

2

2

Rainy days Rainy days

5

5

7

7

18

22

20

11

5

3

10

5


Entry requirements

Citizens of EU member states only need a valid passport or identity card to enter France. For the overseas territories, a visa is also not required for entry. For stays over three months, a long-term visa must be applied for at the French Embassy.

For more information and visa requirements, please contact the French Embassy or Consulate. We recommend an early application, as the processing time can be long and documents with French translation may be required.

Currency

The French Euro has 3 motifs: the portrait of Marianne, the national figure of the French Republic, depicted on the 1, 2 and 5 cent coins. The depiction of Marianne has become famous mainly due to Eugène Delacroix's painting of the July Revolution of 1830, where she is depicted as a symbol of freedom. The 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins feature the sowing woman, a motif of the former French franc. The 1- and 2-euro pieces feature a stylized tree in a hexagon with the motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité. The hexagon alludes to France's geographical shape.

Health care

France has an excellent and fair health system and offers sufficient medical facilities and trained specialists.

The costs incurred in case of illness are usually covered by the statutory health insurance. For this purpose, the E111 or E128 form should be taken to France. These forms can be obtained directly from your home health insurance company.

In any case, ask your health insurance company whether and which costs will be covered in case of emergency. In case of doubt, it is advisable to take out an international health insurance policy that allows you to make use of more extensive services, such as a possible return transport, free of charge.

Packing checklist

Be completely prepared for your journey by checking that you have everything you need on our packing checklist.


Religion

Since France is officially a secular state, meaning that the state and religious communities are completely separate, there is no accurate data on the religious affiliation of the French. According to a survey held in 2016, 51.1% of the total population identified as Christian, 31% did not belong to any organised religion, 9% were Muslims, and 3% identified as Protestants. However, these figures are more likely to be an estimate.

Politics

France is a strong democratic republic with solid democratic traditions. The executive branch itself has two leaders: the President of the Republic, currently Emmanuel Macron, the head of the state who is elected directly by universal adult suffrage for a 5-year term (formerly 7 years), and the Government, led by the president-appointed Prime Minister.

Language and communication

The French language is spoken in France, but there are also some regional languages which have been French cultural heritage since 2008 and are spoken occasionally. These include: Alsatian and Lorraine, Catalan, Basque, Breton, Corsican and Flemish. However, these are not official languages. French is the first mother tongue of 87.2% of the total population, or roughly 55.81 million people, followed by Arabic (3.6%, 2.50 million), Portuguese (1.5%, 0.96 million), Spanish (1.2%, 0.77 million) and Italian (1.0%, 0.64 million). People who have other languages as their mother tongue make up the 5.2% of the population.

Public transport

The Paris Métro is one of the most famous subway systems in the world. It was inaugurated in 1900 and the first to be put into service was line 1 between Vincennes and Maillot. Today there are 14 lines running over 200 km of underground and overground railroads. The first métros leave at 05:30 in the morning, and the last ones arrive at the terminal stations around 01:15.

In addition to Paris, the cities of Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse have an equally good metro system, although not as crowded. Cities such as Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Nantes have modern and reliable tram systems. Most French cities have regular and night buses. Nationwide, you can travel inland using the TER (Transport Express Régional) that connects many cities and towns. The RER connects you to most areas outside of Paris but within the department of Île-de-France.


History

The first inhabitants of France already left their traces in the Paleolithic area through rock painting. About 700 BC Celts migrated from northwest to France. After clashes between Gauls and Romans Julius Caesar finally conquered Gaul about 52 BC. The Romans occupied France until the immigration of the Franks and other Germanic tribes in the 5th century. From 768 to 814 Emperor Charlemagne ruled the country and expanded the Holy Roman Empire. In the 15th century, France won the Hundred Years War against England. A 17-year-old girl named Jeanne d'Arc led the French troops in Orléans to victory over England. Then followed in the 16th century, more religious wars tormented France.

In the 17th century, the monarchy returned to France. The extravagant Sun King Louis XIV reigned until 1715 and built numerous magnificent buildings, which are still tourist highlights today. In 1789, the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille. The citizens of France resisted the royal family and had the nobility imprisoned and executed. One major reason was the poor living conditions of the people. The monarchy was dissolved again and human and civil rights were decided for the first time. The slogans of the French Revolution were the words Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (freedom, equality, fraternity), which still have a high status in the French constitution. The French Revolution influenced the fate of all of Europe and also contributed significantly to the secularization of France. Napoleon Bonaparte took power in 1799 in France, where he crowned himself emperor. During his reign many wars on mainland Europe took place during the following years. Consequently, many parts from Europe to Russia were in his possession. In 1815, Napoleon finally lost the Battle of Waterloo and the British banished him to the island of St. Helena. In the 19th century the age of emperors came to the end.

In the 1870’s there was the third republic, which lasted until 1940. After the arrival of the Allies in 1944, a fourth republic was drafted with Charles De Gaulle as head of state. As a result of a state crisis, the fifth republic was finally founded in 1958. 

Festival

Paris

  • Festival Saint-Denis: (May) Every year international conductors and soloists meet during the Festival Saint-and play pieces from Mahler, Mozart or Schubert as well as more contemporary pieces. If you don’t get tickets don’t worry: you can always see some of the concerts on a screen outside of the basilica.
  • Paris Jazz Festival: (June - July): Summer, nature, music and the enchanting Paris atmosphere - what more could you want? Jazz, Soul, Funk, Latin & Dance will be played for 8 straight weeks in the city's Botanical Garden. This festival hosts music workshops and aims to appeal to all generations.
  • European Night of Museums (May): The long night of museums should not be missed in cities like Paris and Nice! Many museums are open until late at night and are accompanied by readings, concerts, workshops and performances. Admission is completely free, so dont miss the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the incredible French art and culture.
  • Nuit Blanche: If you are in Paris, you simply cannot miss the Nuit Blanche! On the first Sunday of October many of the city’s museums keep their doors open until late at night. The program includes readings, concerts, workshops and performances. But the entertainment doesn’t stop inside! In fact, many artists show their work on the magical streets of Paris. 
  • Salon du Chocolat: (October) If you love chocolate the Salon du Chocolat in Paris will make your mouth water! During the 5 days the festival takes place, chocolatiers, craftspeople and cocoa producers from more than 15 countries showcase chocolate treats from all over the world!

Nice

  • Fete du Citron: (February) The spectacular fair in Menton is a must-see! The city of Nizza was historically one of the the biggest citrus providers in the world, which is why the town is painted yellow every year. For two whole weeks you will see festival wagons decorated with lemons driving down the seaside and night parades ending with a big firework show.
  • Foire Internationale de Nice: (March) This festival has been taking place in the Palais des Expositions de Nice since 1936. 400 national and international exhibitors present different consumer goods like photo equipment, gardening items, arts and crafts, wine and food, furniture, and even sport items. The fair is absolutely massive, with almost 100.000 people attending every year.
  • Fete des Roses: (April) At this elegant event the eternal beauty of the rose is celebrated in the gorgeous villa Cap Ephrussi de Rothschild. During your visit, you will not only admire different roses but also enjoy delicious wine and go for a walk in one of the prettiest Gardens of the Riviera. 
  • Nice Jazz Festival: (July): Did you know that the first jazz festival in the world was not held in the USA, but in Nice! The Nice Jazz Festival has been happening since 1948, a 5 day festival that attracts thousands of jazz aficionados. Jazz concerts are given on different stages at the same time. Musicians like Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock are just some of the legendary names that have taken part in this amazing event.

Holidays

In addition to the Christian holidays of the Assumption, Pentecost and All Saints' Day, the following holidays are also celebrated in France:

  • May 1: Fête du travail (Labor Day)
  • May 8: Victory Day (Fête de la Victoire), is celebrated to commemorate the victory over the German Reich in World War II (Victoire 1945)
  • July 14: Fête Nationale de la France, the most famous French national holiday. This day is celebrated with military parades all over the country to commemorate French victories of the past.
  • November 11: The Armistice of Compiègne commemorates the 1918 armistice between Great Britain, France and the German Empire that ended World War I.

Food

If you think all the French eat are frog legs and baguette, think again! French cuisine is one of the most influential and recognized ones in the world! Most of the famous sauces, such as béchamel sauce, béarnaise sauce, hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise and remoulade, originate from France.

There are also numerous stews, such as pot-au-feu, coq au vin, poule au pot or cassoulet. Every meal usually comes with a bread basket or baguette.

Each region in France has its own cuisine, for example, the famous Bouillabaisse, a fish stew, comes from Marseille. Paris is known for the typical French onion soup, Brittany is well known for his delicious "Crêpes Bretonnes", Alsace for the sauerkraut (choucroute garnie), and tarte flambée.

And of course we have to mention French desserts! Who doesn't know the crème brûlée, the crêpe or the mousse au chocolat? Even the popular breakfast pastry, croissant, comes from France.


Common tourist mistakes

Politeness is very important to the French. You should always greet strangers by addressing them as Monsieur or Madame. During the day you should say "Bonjour Madame" or "Bonjour Monsieur". Under no circumstances should you greet strangers with "Salut".

French people also put a lot of importance on table etiquette: remember to keep your hands on the table at all times and never cut your baguette with a knife - bread is always broken by hand.

Even if the front passenger seat is free, you should always get in the back of a French cab: it is not customary to sit next to the cab driver.

Tips and advice

In France it is customary to tip the cab drive around 10% of the fare. It is also customary to leave a tip to chambermaid or the suitcase carrier in a hotel. In restaurants, the tip (pourboire) is usually already included in the bill with 15%. If this is the case, it is noted at the bottom of the bill. Of course, you can leave a few additional euros on the table if you were very satisfied.

Small dictionary

English

Français

Hello!

Salut!

Good morning!

Bonjour!

Good day!

Bonsoir!

Welcome!

Bienvenue!

How are you?

Comment vas-tu?

Good, thank you!

Bien, merci!

And you?

Et toi?

Thank you (so much)!

Merci (beaucoup)!

You're welcome!

De rien!

Good night!

Bonne nuit!

See you later!

À plus tard!

Bye!

Au revoir!

I am lost

Je suis perdu

Can I help you?

Puis-vous aider?

Can you help me?

Pouvez-vous m’aider?

Where is the bathroom/pharmacy?

Où se trouvent les toilettes? Où se trouve la pharmacie?

Do you speak (English)?

Parlez-vous (anglais)?

My name is…

Je m’appelle...


Do you have a question or need some advice?

We are always ready to solve any doubts you might have!

Contact us