How to Plan a Trip to France
France has been the world's most popular tourist destination for decades, and geographically it is one of the most diverse countries in Europe. Its cities are holiday hot spots and contain some of the greatest treasures in Europe, its countryside is prosperous and well tended, and it boasts dozens of major tourist attractions, like Paris, the French Riviera, the Atlantic beaches, the winter sports resorts of the French Alps, as well as the castles of the Loire Valley, Brittany, and Normandy. The country is renowned for its gastronomy, particularly wines and cheeses, as well as its history, culture, and fashion industry.
You'll find that the French people are very polite and may react coldly to you if you forget this. You might be surprised as you're greeted by other customers and the proprietor when you walk into a restaurant or a shop. Be sure to take your sightseeing off the beaten path in France. Besides the famous Eiffel Tower and the chic resorts of the Côte d'Azur (French Riviera), you'll find many places to visit in the form of museums filled with fine art, crafts, and archaeological relics, wonderful medieval villages and castles, diverse national parks, and local shopping direct from artisans themselves.
Whether you're touring the Christmas Markets or going skiing during winter, viewing the springtime influx of color in Provence, sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast in the summer, or watching the fall foliage against the backdrop of the châteaux in the Loire Valley, you're sure to find just the right place to be. Spring is a time when the tourist attractions are just starting to expand their hours, but it may still be cold in the mountainous regions and the north. Summer is the busiest time in France, with the longest hours for many museums and attractions, but it's often when you will experience the most crowds. Winter in France is filled with winter carnivals, Christmas Markets, and of course, skiing. Fall is a time to celebrate the release of Beaujolais nouveau wine in November, as well as experience Nuit Blanche, a day in October when major attractions, museums, galleries, parks, and swimming pools remain open all night.
Places to Visit in France
Regions of FranceIle-de-France
: Small in size, Ile-de-France surrounds Paris, one of the most-visited cities in the world. The French capital offers no shortage of things to do in France, with world-renowned art galleries, Michelin-starred restaurants, classic architecture, and high-end shopping all wrapped exquisitely in French charm. Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes
: Each winter, thousands jet off to the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, home to France’s second biggest city (Lyon) and the snow-capped peaks of the French Alps, in search of snow, skiing, and après-ski drinks in the swanky resorts of the Three Valleys or the smaller family-friendly resorts.Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur
: Sitting on the French Riviera and boasting popular coastal cities like Marseille, Nice, and Cannes, Provence is massively popular as a summer holiday destination.Occitanie
: Occitanie mixes the best of both worlds, with a Mediterranean coastline offering up relaxing beach holidays, and a rich agricultural interior churning out world-class wines. Culture and history run deep here, with preserved Roman ruins amid the chattering in thriving regional languages. Normandy
: Forming the northern coast of France, Normandy is best known for its scenic coastline of steep, chalk-colored cliffs, known as the Alabaster Coast, and as the site of the 1944 D-Day Invasion by Allied troops during World War II. The region is rich in the history of the war, with monuments and museums dedicated to its role in the world war. Nouvelle-Aquitaine
: Capital city Bordeaux gives Nouvelle-Aquitaine a good name for the well-crafted wines enjoyed around the world, but that’s not all the region offers. A long Atlantic coastline, fantastic surf spots, the Pyrenees, and ancient Paleolithic caves all make this region worth adding to your France itinerary.
Top Cities in France
- Paris: The Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa, and the Seine all spring to mind when thinking of the French capital, but it is the intangible ambiance of romance in the City of Light that puts Paris on the France itinerary for millions of visitors and makes the capital of fashion one of the most-visited destinations in the world.
- Lyon: Lyon enjoys a scenic location as the gateway to the French Alps and attracts travellers in its own right with a thriving social scene, happening nightlife, and inventive gastronomy.
- Marseille: Marseille effortlessly mixes fantastic natural scenery with a rich French culture infused with African influences. The port city boasts a coastline of miniature fjords and limestone cliffs, busy international markets, and a historic district known for top-notch restaurants and bars, satiating visitors’ appetites for French cuisine.
- Strasbourg: Home to the European Parliament and only two-and-a-half hours from the capital by train, this Alsacian city is worth including in your France holiday for the unique mixing of French and German cultures. Also famed as the birthplace of foie gras, Strasbourg offers visitors dishes particular to this region and hosts the oldest Christmas market in France.
- Nice: With 300 days of sunshine per year and affordable prices for this region, Nice makes for the perfect summer trip in France, and serves as a great base for exploring more destinations along the French Riviera.
- Caen: This city on the northern coast suffered damage during the invasion of Normandy and draws visitors wanting to see where soldiers were stationed during World War II. Close by you’ll find the landing beaches and many memorials to the fallen.
- Aix-en-Provence: An ideal destination for laid-back travellers, Aix-en-Provence’s main street boasts the title of one of Europe’s most beautiful boulevards, with cafes, museums, and churches bursting with culture.
Things to Do in France
Popular France Tourist AttractionsEiffel Tower
: One of the most iconic landmarks in the world, this architectural triumph designed by Gustave Eiffel is even more impressive in person than the countless depictions you’ll have seen in films. You’ll have amazing views over the French capital at any level, and can even have a meal or indulge in some shopping while savoring this special look-out spot. Louvre Museum
: Best known as the home of the world-famous Mona Lisa, Musee du Louvre holds a collection of roughly 30,000 pieces across over 30 themes, such as bronzes or religious artifacts. For art-lovers, this is probably the main reason for a France vacation. Musée d'Orsay
: Housed in a former Beaux Arts railway station, Musee d’Orsay showcases the most extensive collection of impressionist masterpieces in the world, including pieces by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Edgar Degas. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
: This impressive example of French Gothic architecture is allegedly home to some of the most important relics of Catholicism, including the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.Disneyland Park
: A massive American-style amusement park featuring Disney characters come to life and Disney-themed rides, Disneyland Park often tops the France itinerary for families traveling with children. Luxembourg Gardens
: Designed in 1612 by Queen Marie de Medici with inspiration from the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Luxembourg Gardens offer tranquility away from the activity of Paris’s bustling streets and it offers a quiet reprieve from busy sightseeing in France.Arc de Triomphe
: Located at the center of where avenues spread out of Place de l’etoile, this enormous monument is another iconic symbol of Paris, commemorating the men who lost their lives in the battle for French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. River Seine
: Following the banks of the River Seine as it cuts through the core of the Parisian capital is a relaxing way to feel the heartbeat of the city and enjoy the sights of historic monuments, buildings, and bridges along the way. Sainte-Chapelle
: Built in the style of Rayonnant-period Gothic architecture, this church’s windows feature one of the largest collections of 13th-century stained glass in the world, creating impressive displays of colored light cast onto the church’s tile mosaic floors.Musee de l'Orangerie
: Featuring a large collection of pieces by Impressionist and post-Impressionist painters, this museum is perhaps best known for the eight Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet. Other artists on display here include Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Rousseau, Derain, and Soutine.
Planning a France Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in France with Kids
France has such a wide variety of impressive qualities to offer, making it easy to tailor a France vacation to children. Spending time down south on the French Riviera is well-suited to a family holiday in France. Many of these Riverian destinations will entice children, with the chance to play on the beach, build sandcastles, and splash in the sea. Try the relaxed pace of Aix-en-Provence
, or sunny Nice
is also a great bet for adventurous kids who want to experience the beauty of the city’s fjords and cliffs. Winter holidays to the Rhone-Alpes region are ideal for families who love to ski and snowboard. Consider a trip to Chamonix
or family-oriented Avoriaz
Things to Do in France with Kids
Without a doubt Disneyland Park
will make it onto most families’ France itinerary. Only a short way from Paris, the amusement park makes for a great family day trip from busy sightseeing in the capital. Try Parc Asterix
for an amusement park with a much more French feel. The attractions here are themed for the Gaul hero from the French tales of Asterix. If the weather is nice, take the kids to Aquaboulevard de Paris
, the biggest urban water park in Europe. The kids will love playing in the two wave pools, or zipping down the 11 adrenaline-inducing waterslides. The water park also contains a sandy beach to give you the feel of being on the Mediterranean coast just a stone’s throw from all that Paris has to offer. To infuse a bit of culture into your France sightseeing with kids, visit Mont-Saint-Michel
, where both the town and the monastery look as if they came straight out of a fairytale. Aquarium La Rochelle
, the largest aquarium in the country, keeps kids entertained with 75 distinct tanks featuring fish, marine creatures, and ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Take a trip to the Haribo Museum
, where your children will no doubt enjoy learning about how some of their favorite candies are made (and tasting along the way). Such a diverse country, France offers endless activities to interest children.
Tips for a Family Vacation in France
France has some of the best weather around, but it’s important to be mindful of the powerful sun if you’re enjoying a beach holiday or the low temperatures if you’re up high in the mountains. Pack sunscreen to protect your kids from sunburns and skin damage while enjoying the warm, sandy beaches of the French Riviera. Don’t forget water toys, like snorkeling masks or flippers, if your little ones want to go exploring.
If heading to France in the winter, remember to pack warm clothing and lots of layers to keep your kids toasty for a day on the slopes. Bring your own ski equipment if you have it, or save yourself the hassle of lugging all that heavy stuff around by renting equipment when you arrive in the resort. You’ll also save on airline baggage fees.
If you want to keep your trip simple, consider booking into a holiday complex, where meals are provided and activities are planned to keep kids busy and entertained. You’ll find these dotted along the southern coast.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in France
Cuisine of France
The cuisine in France is widely regarded as some of the best in the world. In fact, many people probably plan a trip to France dreaming of the warm bread, creamy cheeses, and creative pastries with the iconic landmarks, rich history, and charming culture as bonuses. Throughout the country you’ll find small boulangeries on every corner churning out fresh baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolates to meet the demands of locals and tourists alike. The country is well known for its sweet concoctions like macaroons or chocolate mousses, found in patisseries nearly as abundant as boulangeries. Many of the world’s finest cheeses come from here, like Camembert, Brie, and Roquefort. The food in France is varied from region to region, but it’s always inventive and prepared with pride.Paris
, of course, is home to many world-class restaurants and is worth including in your France itinerary for the food alone. Surprisingly, Lyon
is more often referred to as the country’s culinary capital. Here you’ll find hearty regional specialities like tartiflette and raclette, best enjoyed on a cold winter day. Check out Strasbourg
for the best that Alsace has to offer, like Tarte Flambee. Seafood lovers should include Normandy
in their France holiday, as this is where you’ll find freshly caught oysters and mussels. Visit Bordeaux
for rich dishes of duck, foie gras, prunes, mushrooms, and truffles paired with a red Bordeaux.
Shopping in France
For the best shopping on your trip to France, look no further than the capital of fashion. The wide boulevards of Paris
are lined with domestic designer names like Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel. If glitz strikes your fancy and budget is no issue, browse along the Champs-Elysees. For funky souvenirs and home décor, try St-Germain des Pres, where you’ll find Paris’s original department store designed by Gustave Eiffel himself, Haribo Museum
. Bookworms should stick to the Latin quarter, and those in search of a good bargain should check out Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
, a large flea market in the city’s northern end.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to France
History of France
The history of France has been traced back to 1.8 million years ago, as early stone tools indicate the presence of early humans. Some 40,000 years ago, the first modern humans arrived, with the first written records for the country’s history appearing in the Iron Age. In the first millennium, what is now known as modern day France was inhabited by a mix of peoples, including ancient Greek, Roman, and Celtic colonies. During the Middle Ages, France had a decentralized monarchy, in which the king had more religious power than anything else. At this point in time the concept of a national identity was still fairly uncommon, with most people identifying with a regional identity.
The monarchy gained in power over the following centuries, gaining absolute power in the 16th century. About this time people began to support a national French identity. The 16th century saw a return to peace and prosperity following the French wars on religion, and the country enjoyed a place as one of the biggest powers in Europe.
France began to establish colonies in North America in the 16th and 17th centuries, the largest of which was New France, known today as Quebec, with the towns Quebec City and Montreal. The country became the leading colonial power. However, wars broke out in North America and Britain usurped France in this position, spurring France to plan revenge by joining forces with the Americans. Their attempt to regain colonial power was unsuccessful, and Britain retained much of the power of the colonies.
The 18th century brought the French Enlightenment, a period characterized by philosophers advocating rational thought and the importance of human progress. Thinkers such as Voltaire, Rene Descartes, and Denis Diderot were major players in the French Enlightenment.
The French Revolution began in 1789 with the storming of the Place de la Bastille
fortress on July 14. Fed up with the monarchy, a group of roughly 1,000 Frenchmen stormed the medieval fortress, bringing about a state of anarchy in the French capital. The country was in economic crisis, and King Louis XVI was forced to hold a meeting of Estates General to bring in a new tax. The Estates were composed of three bodies, and one body quickly established itself as a National Assembly, representative of the people. The king attempted to shut them down, but the group was determined to draft a new constitution for the people of France. Over the course of the revolution, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were both executed, as well as over 16,000 others who opposed the revolution.
In 1799, army General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French directory and replaced it with the French Consulate. A few years later in 1804, Napoleon was declared the Emperor of France, marking the end of the French Consulate and the beginning of the first French Empire.
Finally, following years of war led by Napoleon and continued attempts by the countries of Europe to contain the French leader, Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Louis XVIII became King of France shortly after, marking a return to the monarchy.
The country sustained considerable damage and loss of life during both world wars. Major battles took place on French soil, and three-fifths of the country fell to German occupation during World War II, leaving lasting effects on the country and its people.
In the later part of the 20th century and early 21st century, France rebuilt and prospered in a united Europe, becoming a powerful founding member of the European Union in 1993.
Customs of France
The French greet one another by kissing both cheeks, whether close friends or just meeting for the first time. On your holiday to France, it is polite to do the same. Often men who don’t know each other well will shake hands instead. If you don’t know what’s appropriate, let the person you’re greeting take the lead.
It is customary to greet salespeople in a shop when you enter with a simple “bonjour” or a nod. Not doing so can be considered quite rude.
Try to make an effort to speak French, even if you only know the basics. Your attempts will be appreciated. Learn the essentials like “bonjour,” “s’il vous plait,” and “merci.” When addressing someone formally, for example someone older than you, use the polite “vous” instead of the informal “tu.”
Holidays & Festivals in France
The French observe the main Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, as well as several holidays unique to the country. To mark significant days related to the world wars, the country celebrates Victory Day on May 8 to mark the official end to World War II and Armistice Day on Nov. 11 to mark Germany’s surrender and the end of World War I.
Bastille day on July 14th commemorates the start of the French Revolution, with a re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille fortress. The country also celebrates with parades, fireworks, and all-day parties.
France Travel Tips
Climate of France
France enjoys a temperate climate with seasonal variation from winter to summer, and regional variations as well. The north and west regions tend to be slightly cooler, while the Mediterranean is warmer and drier. Snow falls during winter in the mountains for winter sports, but rarely in the rest of the country.
Transportation in France
at the center, France has a dense transportation network of roads and railways to link the country. To cross longer distances, it’s possible to fly on the country’s main airline, Air France, or from a selection of budget airlines that service the country.
Languages of France
The main language of France is French, with many regional languages spoken throughout the country. Along the border with Spain, you’ll hear Catalan spoken; in Brittany, Breton has maintained some strength as a living language; and in the east toward Belgium and Germany, you’ll overhear French Flemish and Alsatian.
Tipping in France
Don’t forget to round up your bills on your trip to France! In restaurants, add about 5 percent on top of your bill, and in casual cafes just throw in a couple of euro. Taxi drivers expect about a 10 percent tip. In your hotel, anyone who carries your bag deserves a small tip of €1 or €2, as well as a couple euro for housekeeping and for room service.