France Travel Guide
“France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older - intelligence and good manners.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Before You Go
Places to Visit
Cities to See
Fashion in France
There is nowhere else that has inspired as much art as France. Writers go there to write, painters go there to paint, chefs go to cook and people go to explore. It is the most popular tourist destination in the world, with millions going annually to experience the picturesque countryside and the metropolitan cities. It is a country right in the heart of Europe, and you can feel the beat of an entire continent.
France is the food capital of the world, with gastronomical creations that will make you forget every other meal you’ve ever had. France is the fashion capital of the world, with boutique shops and legendary designer stores. France is the art capital of the world, with the Louvre housing some of the most incredible artistic creations of mankind. And if you ask the French, France is simply the capital of the world.
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5 Things to Know Before You Visit France
The french speak french, and they love it. Language is, like everything in their country, art to them. So when you travel to France, try some of it out. Just knowing simple phrases like “Bonjour” and “Merci” will ingratiate you with a lot of the locals, and make an awkward language interaction in line at a coffee shop into a chance to make a friend. The people of France just appreciate that you try to speak their language, so don’t worry about being perfect.
France runs on the euro, like most of Europe does. As we write this travel guide, the Euro sits at €1.00 for $1.09 USD, but that is subject to change. We always suggest going to your own personal bank before you leave, and ordering some euros to take with you. That way, you step off the plane with some cash you can use. France is credit card friendly, so don’t be afraid to use plastic while there. Just let your credit card company know you’re off on a french adventure after you book your cheap flight.
Look, we have limited room here. It’s a crime to try and fit any advice about eating in France in this tiny space we have here. People have written books about eating in France, so we’re keeping it brief. Our big piece of advice; try absolutely everything. You have to go to a boulangerie-patisserie and get fresh breads and cakes. Try the wines and the coffee and the ice cream. Eat often, eat adventurously, and make it a point to truly try to experience the cuisine of France.
Tech Tips for France
There are a lot of Wifi options in France, especially in the big cities like Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles and Nice. You can find them everywhere, from parks to museums, and they’re completely free. Other cities, like the ski towns in the French Alps, have something called HIPPOCKETWIFI where you get Wifi access for a fee. As always, when you’re traveling the world, remember to bring along an outlet converter so you can plug in your cell phone charger, hair dryer, or whatever.
There are some things to keep in mind when you visit France. Smoking cigarettes is still a big part of the culture there, so don’t be offended if someone lights up next to you. Kissing friends on the cheeks seems like a cartoonish cliche, but it happens all the time so be prepared for a few cheek-smooches. It’s also worth repeating that the French love it when Americans try and speak a little french, even if they fail spectacularly at it; it shows respect for the culture.
Tourism in France
Best time to visit
Your trip to France should be planned around the spring and autumn months if you want the best temperatures combined with the least tourists. Summer has every tourist from around the globe flocking towards France, and it’s almost become ritual for Parisians to take their own vacations away from the city and hide while the tourists come and clog up the metro and the museums. The weather is beautiful during the summer, but you’ll also run into a slight price hike for that high-traffic tourist season. If you’re really looking to see France on the cheap and don’t mind packing a warm rain jacket, consider going on the winter off-season when places are empty and cheap.
Is it safe?
France is an incredibly safe country to visit. 83 million people visited there in 2016 alone, and that was a low year for tourism, with very low instances of violent crime against travelers. Like any high-traffic touristy European country, there’s a little bit of risk involving pick-pockets and scammers trying to sell you something you don’t want, but you can avoid these by simply staying alert and aware. Also in the rise are RFID credit card scanners that can steal your info right from your wallet. You may want to invest in an RFID-blocking wallet, just to have peace of mind. Here are a few emergency phone numbers for you to have on hand:
- Phone Numbers
- all emergencies: 112
- United States Embassy of Beijing: 10-8531-4000
- Embassy of the United States in France: 01.43.12.22.2
Places to Visit in France
You need to do a little of everything if you want to feel like you’ve experienced France. You need to see art and architecture and culture, but you also need to sit down and stuff yourself full of pastries and wine. Here are some places that can fulfil both travel desires. For more, check out our travel tips for France.
World famous for housing almost every classic art masterpiece, the Louvre is THE art museum. It’s home to probably the world’s most famous painting, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Spoiler alert: it is way smaller than you think, and under four inches of bulletproof glass.
Mont Saint Michel Abbey
Rising up from the flat coast like something out of a King Arthur legend, the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel is an incredible piece of medieval history. Walk the halls of a structure more than 500 years old and get a glimpse into the magic of the past.
The French Riviera
The mediterranean coastline of France has been synonymous with luxurious vacations for a hundred years. Miles of vivid coastline run all the way to Italy, dotted with picturesque French cities. If you go, visit Monaco and see where they race the Formula One Grand Prix.
The “Garden of france” is a wine-soaked wonderland that harkens back to an older, more elegant France of the Enlightenment age. Wineries and bike tours are the main attractions among the rolling green hills, but we don’t recommend combining the two.
The French Alps
If you’re a fan of skiing some incredible mountains, or just a fan of drinking in a cozy ski lodge, the French Alps are going to be your jam. Incredible snow-capped mountain views, warm ski towns nestled in the peaks, and great hiking and swimming in the summer off-season.
The Eiffel Tower
You can’t make a list about places to visit in France without one of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Eiffel Tower. If you want to venture to the top of the tower, make sure you book your ticket online and avoid the very long lines.
Cities to See in France
The cities of France are alive with art, architecture, culture, food and fashion. Your France trip should include as much of all of it as possible. That might sound exhausting, but part of the experience is relaxing and absorbing it all, so don’t run yourself too ragged in the boutiques and bakeries. French cities are easy to navigate, full of surprises, and each has it’s own unique twist on the French culture.
Paris - The heart of France has a thousand things to do, and we’ve already mentioned a few like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. There are so many more; the Arc de Triomphe with its grand arches, the Catacombs with their real, actual human skulls, the Notre Dame cathedral with its grand Gothic architecture, the Picasso museum which is dedicated to a true master of his craft.
The seaside port of Marseille is the second largest city in France. Marseille is all about spectacular old-world views combined with new-world convenience, so go there if you want a great combination of charm and contemporary. While there, check out the island-prison of Château d'If, made famous by The Count of Monte Cristo, and time your ferry ride back during the sunset.
The capital of the Rhone-Alpes is known for food and culture. It’s also known for it’s lighting, which gives the architecture incredible new life as the sun goes down. If you’re visiting in winter, try to time your visit around the Festival of Lights, where around December 8th the city’s buildings are lit up with a wild rainbow of colors and 3D projections.
This beautiful seaside city is the gem of the French Riviera, and for good reason. Climb up to the old castle ruins of Colline du Chateau to catch an incredible view of the city and the ocean. If you love the beach, Nice has some great but unusual ones. They’re pebble beaches, so remember to bring some footwear and thick towels if you want to spend your day lounging.
An hour and a half north of Paris, the city of Rouen straddles the river Seine. Known historically for being the spot where the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake during the middle ages, it’s now a quiet place to admire the Cathedral and rent bikes for a wooded trail ride. Make sure to climb up the Big Clock to see all of Rouen spread out around you.
France Blog Posts
Not-So Disney Castles
While many people may have visited Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World, there are four breathtaking castles in central and southern France that are a must-see for any true castle connoisseur or traveler on the hunt for historic perspective and incredible views.
Study Abroad in France
France is well known for its culture, history, great food, and being home to many world renowned museums. But did you know that it is also a really great place for studying abroad with great programs for a multitude of majors? Let’s take a look at reasons why France is a great country for studying abroad.
Foodie's Guide to Paris
We all think of Paris as a bustling and romantic city of twinkling lights, magnificent historical architecture, and baked goods to die for. And it is. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles, and walks along the Seine are all wonders to behold, but what about the Paris food spots that no one talks about?
Fashion in France
France is the fashion capital of the world. Paris, Marseille, and Lyon each have their own fashion districts and even their own fashion weeks each year. Paris doesn’t just hold the biggest fashion week in France, it holds the biggest fashion week in the world; it’s bigger than New York, London and Milan. Marseille and Lyon might be smaller, but that doesn’t mean that any of the designers slack off.
Lyon is the world capital for silk. And it has been since the renaissance. La Croix-Rousse is the neighborhood that was built around the fashion and the silk trade of Lyon. The Presqu'île is the district in Lyon with all the upscale boutiques perfect for an afternoon of window shopping in the malls and broad avenues. Lyon might be third in population, but it strives to be first in fashion.
Marseilles has fashion boutiques everywhere you turn. But to be truly surrounded by fashion, to really be overwhelmed by the sheer genius at work, you need to go to the Rue de la Tours. It’s nickname is La Rue de la Mode, or “the Street of Fashion” because this is where every up-and-coming designer opens up shop. Go shopping, and then find a cafe that overlooks the mediterranean and relax.
Paris is the fashion city that eclipses them all. Their fashion week is bigger, better, and badder than anyone else's. Their streets house the headquarters for big names like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dior. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is the focal point for much of Paris’ fashion world, packed with boutiques and often compared to New York City’s 5th Avenue shopping scene.