France is well-known for its baguette-wielding stereotypes, along with its fantastic gastronomy, including a plethora of fine cheeses and wines. It’s one of the most popular countries to visit in Europe, with beautiful historical sights like Chambord, Lascaux Prehistoric Cave, Mont-Saint-Michel, and Carcassonne.
Beyond the boutique-lined streets of Paris, take time to travel to the forgotten corners, and you will find friendly locals and some of the most beautiful parts of Europe.
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity in English), is the national motto of France. Originating from the French Revolution, it underpins the fundamental values of democratic life that defines French society today.
There are some easy tips to get ahead before your trip to make the most of your time travelling in France. One of the best ways to prepare for a trip here is to learn a little of the language - helpful in Paris but almost vital if you are going it alone on the busy French roads.
In this guide, we cover some other basic information and advice to help you explore with ease.
France, like the rest of Europe, can get very busy during the summer months, so it’s easier to travel in the shoulder season or visit in winter for the Christmas markets.
France uses type C and E plugs, but the German/European type F plugs will also work with E sockets - like the rest of Europe, the voltage in France is 230 volts and the frequency is 50 Hz.
Interestingly, France uses and created the metric system - the official system of measurement for every country in the world except three (the United States, Liberia and Myanmar/Burma).
For cities and busy tourist areas, stick to train travel to avoid stress, traffic, and to save money on toll roads and fuel. France’s state-owned SNCF is one of the best rail networks in Europe. There are high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) trains or LGVs (Lignes à Grande Vitesse) from Paris and all other major cities.
In more rural areas, hiring a car can offer access to some off-the-beaten-path locations that are near impossible to get to via public transport.
Visas aren’t required for EU and 60 non-EU countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for stays of up to 90 days in Europe in a 180 day period. Other nationalities require a short-stay Schengen Visa,
The major entry point for international visitors is Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris (CDG). It's located 26 km northeast of the city centre and has good links with the rest of the country.
Paris Orly (ORY) is another major airport near the capital, while Nice Airport (NCE) and Marseille Airport (MRS) are the main entry points for travellers to the south of France.
France uses the Euro, making it easy to change money before you travel. Cash is widely accepted in France, but contactless payments are more common in cities following the pandemic.
It’s still best to carry some small change for public bathrooms and tipping. Digital payments are widely used in built-up areas but stick to cash in more rural areas.
While France is generally considered a safe place to visit, it does have issues with protests and terrorism. Violent crime rates remain low but Paris and other major cities are often hubs for pickpocketing, phone/bag snatching, and opportunistic theft around major sights and train stations.
Free emergency healthcare is provided in France for EU citizens carrying an EU Health Card, but it’s best to always have comprehensive travel insurance.
Accommodation options are plentiful in France with chambres d'hôte (B&B’s), auberge or résidence (hotels), and gîtes (holiday rentals) available in every town. Staying in a chateau or on a working vineyard is a great way to get to know the local residents and better understand the culture.
France is a surprisingly green destination, and not just because of its fantastic rail network. There are 11 national parks and 54 regional parks to visit, including the iconic French Alps - a great place to visit in winter or summer with new hiking routes and outdoor activities now making it a year round destination.
There's also Grenoble, the European Green Capital for 2022, or the sustainable city of Nantes.
Tourist passes are an easy way to save money if you’re planning on visiting several attractions in one city. Many museums and municipal sights in Europe also offer free admission on the first Sunday of the month.
Driving can be stressful in major cities in France, and police can issue on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros. Note that it’s illegal to wear headphones when driving, it’s also required to have several safety items in the car.
French law also prohibits drivers from using devices capable of detecting speed cameras - punishable with very large fines.
Wine is cheap in France and available almost everywhere. Good French varieties can be found just as easily in local supermarkets as when buying direct from vignerons (vineyards).
Public bathrooms are usually charged, expect to pay between 50 cents and 2 euros. Many won’t have toilet seats, it is expected to squat or use your own sanitising wipes (it’s also best to carry your own tissues). Bidets are more common in hotels and private buildings.
France has set meal times and due to a lack of takeaway culture it can be hard to find food outside of these times. Picnics are a great way to embrace the culture, save money on eating out, and try delicacies from the local market.
The tap water in France is safe to drink, the quality of food is usually good, and hygiene standards are high. Cafes and restaurants in France (including Paris) include a 15 percent service charge so you don’t need to tip. It’s required by French law and you will see it on the bill written as service comprise.
Wi-Fi is generally available at cafes/restaurants, hotels, and major public spaces in France. Always use a VPN when connecting to public networks for security.
Buying a SIM card at a Parisian airport is more expensive than in the city centre. Make sure to check if the SIM allows free EU data roaming if you are travelling to multiple countries.
It’s polite to always greet people with the phrase “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame'' or, if it’s evening, “Bonsoir”.
For informal greetings la bise (kissing on alternate cheeks) is the norm, it can be repeated once or twice - or sometimes more depending on the region.
Politeness is a sign of respect in France and not using simple phrases like s’il vous plait (please), merci (thank you) and je vous en prie or de rien (you’re welcome) can easily land you in the bad books of locals.
Food is a source of pride and eating on the go isn’t common - it’s best to sit and enjoy meals. Queuing isn’t too popular either and cutting the line is common.
At markets and even in some shops it’s best not to touch the produce, instead ask the stallholder to select it for you.
Locally imposed noise restrictions are also taken seriously throughout France, with the exception of the annual la Fête de la Musique (festival of music).
Although the Paris metro is a good means to get around, travellers will often still find themselves clocking up many steps on a full day of sightseeing in the ‘City of Love’. Skip the fashion pumps and pack comfy walking shoes to save your feet.
Another handy item to pack is a French phrasebook, even in Paris a few French phrases will become very useful. In more rural regions translation apps can help out with more complicated conversations.
You may be surprised by just how much of the French language is already in your everyday life, but there are plenty of other words and phrases to learn.
On the roads you will often see rappel which simply means speed restrictions are still in place, peage means tolls, sortie is exit, ouvert means open while fermé means closed - and it's worth familiarising yourself with the road signs in France before you go.
Phrases to listen out for include fais gaffe (be careful), un mec (like “dude” or “mate” in English), and une arnaque (a rip-off or a scam). Another handy phrase to help you avoid a bad purchase is pinard, referring to a really cheap and awful-tasting wine.
An odd thing you may encounter amongst younger people is the phrase ‘Ça envoie du pâté’, which literally translates as ‘to send meat paste’, but in slang terms means ‘it’s awesome’!
G7 - A French taxi app that makes finding and booking simple (it also has accessible transport).
BlaBlaCar - A carpool app for free rides across Europe (best for making rough plans as drivers don’t always come through).
SNCF - E-tickets and timetables for the national train network in France.
Lime - A Europe wide scooter hire app for exploring cities.
Omio - A European travel planning app where you can book train and bus tickets in advance.
Airalo - Download an eSIM to instantly connect to data services in France.
Last Updated 28 November 2023