Last Updated on February 29, 2024 by April Verge
There are many reasons why tourists choose to visit France, including its wonderful châteaux, delicious foodie experiences, and of course, its gorgeous cities. Here are the very best tips for traveling in France if you decide to visit the country on your next trip to Western Europe, including everything you need to know before you visit the Hexagone.
From the North to the South and East to West, I have travelled extensively through France. From the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower to the crashing waves of Brittany, I have experienced it all.
The underrated city of Nantes offers a glimpse of what Brittany would have been like, while Besançon is rated one of the greenest cities in France.
Psst! This blog post contains affiliate links in it which sends me a bit of extra money if you use them… at no extra cost to you. Merci!
If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of tips for traveling in France:
#1 Knowing a little French will go a long way!
French people have a reputation for being rude, particularly in Paris, a myth that is often told. However, much of this stems from simple misunderstandings. Even though many people, especially those in the tourism industry, have a high level of English, knowing just a few words is polite and will prove very useful.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants in Paris with only French menus, and in some rural towns you will have a hard time getting by if you don’t speak the language.
#2 Make the most of outdoor markets
There is a real outdoor market culture in France, unlike in many other countries where supermarkets are your go-to place for food, with even the smallest towns hosting a weekly produce market. Besides the freshest vegetables, fruit and cheese, you can also pick up a variety of mouth wateringly good cheeses there.
#3 There’s more to France outside of Paris
Often, tourists make the mistake of visiting just Paris and declaring that they have seen the country. I would advise you, however, to leave the city at least once, even just to take a quick side trip to a nearby town or into the countryside, if I could give you only one France travel tip. For more Wanderlust inspiration, check out this complete guide to day trips from Paris.
#4 Make use of the public transport
In larger cities, you’ll soon discover that you certainly don’t need to rent a car to get around. In larger settlements like Paris, Nice, Montpellier, or Lyon, public transportation is excellent, and navigating narrow streets (let alone finding an ample parking spot) can be a real challenge!
You can save much more money by opting for the local bus, train, or tram in the larger cities instead of hailing a taxi (or cab). Also worth noting is that ride sharing and booking apps like Uber and Kapten are becoming increasingly popular.
#5 France is perfect for wine tourism
Aside from cheese (that’s ‘cheese’ in French) and bread (that’s ‘bread’ in French), France is most famous for its wine. Oenophiles will soon be amazed at how many different kinds of wine are available.
Bordeaux, for example, is known for its rich reds, Provence for its rosé wines, and Champagne, of course, is known for its sparkling white wines. Alsace is another French region famous for its sweet white wine and is well worth visiting for its world-famous wine.
#6 Bank holidays are on set days each year
In contrast to the USA, where bank holidays fall on the first Monday of May or the first Monday after Easter, French bank holidays are taken on their respective dates.
In this case, 1st May (Labor Day in France) will be celebrated on Wednesday if it falls on a Wednesday. To make up for the days between the weekend and the bank holiday, French workers will ‘faire le pont’ (build the bridge).
#7 Say ‘Bonjour’ when entering a shop/ restaurant/ professional establishment
I’m happy to report that the French are not rude at all! Despite their reputation for being rude, I have spent plenty of time in the country. Visitors to the city of Paris, however, often make the mistake of not saying ‘bonjour’ (i.e. hello) when entering a store.
If you make sure to do this every time you enter a professional establishment, you will soon be rewarded with better customer service.
#8 It can be cheaper to drink your coffee at the bar/ counter
The top coffee travel tip I have for France is that sitting outside/inside at a café table is usually more expensive than drinking your drink at the bar/counter. It is usually cheaper to consume your drink at the bar (up to €1 off) in French, since the bar is called the ‘zinc’.
#9 Keep an eye on your belongings (at all times!)
As in every other capital city in Europe (and around the world), Paris and many other large cities in France are no strangers to pickpockets who will take your wallet or phone from your open handbag.
Use a crossbody bag rather than a rucksack and make sure everything zips properly. I personally use a crossbody bag by this brand and love the shape, size, and versatility it offers. For more scams to avoid in France, check out this guide to common Paris tourist scams to avoid.
#10 Know that France has toll roads
If you’re planning to take a road trip through France (check out our best road trip tips), then you need to be aware of the fact that the country is full of toll roads. A toll is known as ‘péage’ in French. Tolls can range from just a few euros to tens of euros, such as the Bordeaux to Paris route which costs a staggering €55,60.
Last but not least, Brittany is the only motorway-free region of France, meaning it has no motorway toll roads. If you’re planning a road trip through l’Hexagone, be sure to factor in the extra expense.
#11 Book your accommodation well in advance
Booking well in advance (i.e. as soon as you know the dates you’ll be visiting) will ensure you’ll find the best accommodation during your trip to France. This is especially true for those looking to visit during peak season (i.e. during the summer months and during school holidays) and especially true for destinations like Paris, Bordeaux, and Nice that are ever-popular.
#12 You can get water for free at mealtimes
Drinking tap water is free and safe. If you’re eating out at a restaurant, order a ‘carafe’ to save money (and avoid using plastic or glass bottles). The travel mistake many tourists make is to not do this and end up wasting precious euros.
#13 Pack your camera!
In France, there’s no shortage of beautiful places to visit, from the snow-capped Alps to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. What better way to create souvenirs from your trip than to take photos?
#14 Many businesses close for August
In France, many businesses close during the month of August. This is the time when most French residents take their summer vacations and many of the larger French cities are empty at this time. For most, if not all of August, clothing shops, specialized food shops, garages, and bakeries close their doors.
In some towns, it’s not uncommon to discover that every bakery in the area has closed up shop for August at the same time, so you may need to go another town over to buy baked goods! It is known as la rentrée when people return from their summer vacations at the end of August and into September.
#15 Many coffee shops and cafés don’t open early
When it comes to finding a coffee shop early in the morning in France, it can often be very difficult. As a result, if you’re an early riser, you won’t be able to get your caffeine fix before 10 a.m. In smaller towns and villages, cafés and bistros typically don’t open until at least 10 a.m.
#16 In Europe, the first floor is the ground floor (ground level)
It may surprise you to learn that the ground floor is actually the first floor. This means that instead of having 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., the floor levels are ground (sometimes known as 0), 1, 2, 3.
#17 How French meals work
There are usually three courses in a meal. The entrée is usually a small savoury dish followed by the main course (le plat principal), and then dessert. People usually end their meals with cheese or dessert.
There is the option of eating both at the end of the meal (the cheese with a small glass of wine at the end), but most people stick to one or the other. French food is often rich, so more than three courses would be too much.
#18 The train is one of the best ways to experience France
A train is a fast and efficient way to see all the best of France. If you book well in advance, you’ll get some pretty good deals. There are high speed trains available throughout France, so you can travel from Paris to Aix-en-Provence in just a few hours.
Often, the views outside the window are picture perfect, such as when traveling through Burgundy (or Bourgogne, as it is called in French).
#19 Service might be slower than you’re used to
In North America, service might seem extremely fast if you’re from the States. This is simply not the case in Europe, where people are used to taking their time to enjoy a meal and to wait between dishes and even for the bill (l’addition in French) is taken at a slower pace.
#20 Be sure to head off the beaten path in France
A number of tourists take advantage of the sunshine of the French Riviera, the highlights of Paris, and the culinary delights of Bordeaux, but few go off the beaten path to visit smaller French towns which, though lesser known, remain hidden gems. Nantes, Narbonne, and Metz are some of my favorite underrated French cities.
#21 France has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe
As a matter of fact, some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, and indeed the world, can be found in France. The Alsace is the region where you will find the very best festive cheer l’Hexagone has to offer.
As it turns out, while Colmar is decorated for the season, Strasbourg (the largest city in the Eastern French region) is self-proclaimed as the ‘capital of Christmas’. Check out the best Christmas markets in France here to discover a couple dozen smaller Christmas markets in Eastern France that are also well worth exploring.
#22 Pharmacies can be found everywhere (and are easy to spot)
As a result of a specific French law, pharmacies are required to be located fairly frequently within most towns and cities. As a result, finding a pharmacy is not too difficult, with some even open on bank holidays and Sundays. French pharmacies stock a wide range of luxury beauty and healthcare products. If you have a minor ailment, pharmacists can often be of assistance.
#23 Sample the local cuisine in whichever region you visit!
I would recommend sampling the local food in whatever French region you choose to visit as one of my top France travel tips! While pastries are available throughout l’Hexagone, Normandy is best known for its cider, and seaside towns are renowned for their seafood-inspired menus. The sweet canelé at Bordeaux is a big hit, and quiche is a crowd favorite as well!
#24 Be sure to visit some French Châteaux
A visit to a French Château or two would definitely be on my list of France travel tips. Throughout France, you can find a variety of castles, Renaissance palaces, and regal abodes well worth exploring.
The Palace of Versailles and Château de Chambord are among the most famous, but there are many more hidden gems worth discovering in Normandy, Brittany, the Loire Valley, and Alsace.
#25 Buy a universal travel adapter
You’ll need a travel adaptor if you’re visiting France from the USA, UK, Canada, or anywhere else.
Plugs in France are C and E. To save money, purchase this all-in-one travel adaptor that allows you to use your electronics in over 150 countries.
#26 Free bathrooms are rare in France
Most public bathroom facilities must be paid for, so you should always have some change in case you need to use one. Even though I personally recommend going to a café and getting an espresso since this will work out around the same price, public restrooms in Paris can cost as little as 30 cents and as much as €1.50 (such as those in the Jardin des Tuileries).
#27 Save money by ordering from the ‘prix fixe’ menu
Most visitors to France make the mistake of not taking advantage of saving a little money at mealtimes as one of their number one France travel mistakes! If, for example, you order from a prix fixe menu, you can often get several courses for a much lower price than if you ordered the dishes separately.
#28 The best time to visit France is in the shoulder season (Spring or Autumn)
Visiting France in Spring or Fall means the best weather, fewer crowds, and the best prices on flights and accommodations.
#29 Pack comfortable (and easy to walk in) shoes
In France, most of the largest cities (Paris, Bordeaux, Nantes, Montpellier, etc.) can best be explored on foot, so comfortable shoes are a must.
It’s my personal favorite to wear keds in the summer months because they look great with dresses and then transition into cute boots in the fall when the temperature drops and it’s time to wrap up warm.
#30 Dress for the seasons!
Since we’re on the subject of fashion, dress to blend in with the local style, which generally means monochrome and classic style with few bold prints or colors.
While France is filled with cobblestone lanes, they can be difficult to navigate! Also be sure to wrap up warm in the winter as snow is common in the North of the country (including Paris).
#31 Learn La Bise Etiquette
It’s common to greet people with a handshake when you meet them for the first time, and with ‘la bise’ when you’re close to them. Despite the fact that many Anglophone countries greet one another with a hug, you’ll find in France that people are more comfortable with ‘la bise,’ which means kissing cheek to cheek.