Five Things First Time Travellers To France Should Know
- France practices the siesta like some other European countries. While it's not common in the cities, small towns and villages close for at least two to three hours for lunch.
- Don't exchange your money before you arrive in France. The exchange services at the airports have terrible exchange rates. You'll get a better rate of exchange by withdrawing cash from ATMs.
- Save money by drinking your coffee at the bar. In France, you'll pay more for your drink if you choose to sit down and have it at a table. It's also not uncommon for restaurants to charge more if you don't greet the staff and say please and thank you.
- Take the train. It's one of the safest, cheapest and fastest ways to get around France. Plus the train runs late, making it easy to explore the nightlife without having to order an expensive taxi ride back to your hotel.
- The tip is included in your bill. According to French law, a 15% service charge is added to all checks at restaurants. However, if you give your waiter a little bit more, it's much appreciated.
Best Time To Visit France
The best time to visit France is during its two shoulder seasons. From April to June and September to November, the crowds are thinner, prices are lower, and there's more space on the metro.
The busiest time of year for France is during the summer months. From July to August, the country's most popular museums and national monuments are congested, and the locals abandon their cities to the tourists.
It's also the most expensive time to visit with hotels, flights and car rental rates at their highest. Book your accommodation at least three months in advance to avoid disappointment.
If you're visiting France on a tight budget, book your trip around November to February. While the weather isn't at its greatest, you'll have more luck finding cheap flights and deals at hotels.
One thing to keep in mind when planning your trip to France is the school holidays. During Easter, Paris is full to the brim with families, and the same thing happens at the ski resorts in February. Either work your visit around the school holidays or book your hotel room well in advance.
Paris is the capital city of France and attracts 45 million visitors each year. Fondly called the City of Love, it's known around the world for its romantic ambience, designer brands, gastronomy and iconic landmarks.
Highlights of the city include visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre museum and of course, the famous Eiffel Tower.
Located in the Aquitaine region, Bordeaux is the wine capital of France. Its most popular street for wine tasting is on the Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre, where you can treat yourself to endless varieties of the national beverage.
The city is also home to more than 350 historic structures. Visit the medieval churches, old bridges and the beautiful Place de la Bourse plaza.
Marseille is the second largest city in France and one of the oldest in Europe. Located on the southeast coast of France, it attracts beach lovers and history buffs from all over.
Marseille's top attractions are the Calanques, a series of small inlets surrounded by azure waters and beautiful limestone cliffs.
Make sure you visit its bustling harbour as well. It's famous for its two historic forts and waterfront cafes, shops and bars.
Top Attractions in France
The Eiffel Tower is one of the world's most iconic landmarks.
Built in 1889 as part of an exhibit for the World Fair, critics originally hated the "Iron Lady".
Luckily, sentiments have changed, and it's now an irreplaceable fixture of the Paris skyline. Standing at 276m, it was once the tallest building in the world.
Depending on how energetic you're feeling, you can either take the elevator or walk up 1,710 steps to the top of the tower. Once there, you'll have a beautiful panoramic view of Paris below.
Foodies can also enjoy a gourmet meal on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. Visit the Michelin Star rated Restaurant le Jules Verne for uninterrupted views and contemporary French cuisine.
Once the former palace of French Kings, the Louvre is now one of the world's top fine art museums. Inside you'll find an impressive collection of 30,000 artworks.
It's most famous piece is Leonardo Da Vinci's, Mona Lisa. Other notable masterpieces include a 1st century Venus de Milo sculpture, Veronese's Wedding Feast at Cana and Botticelli's frescoes.
The museum is impossible to see in one day. It's best to focus on a particular gallery or take a tour of the museum's highlights.
The Louvre is also surrounded by one of the largest parks in Paris, the elegant Jardin des Tuileries. After touring the artworks, wander through the manicured trees, and stop for a cup of coffee at the nearby cafe.
Palace of Versailles
Designed to show off the glory of the French monarchy, the Palace of Versailles is opulence at its grandest. Once a small hunting lodge, King Louis XIV transformed it into a symbol of absolute power.
The palace contains 2,300 rooms and is considered one of the greatest achievements in French 17th century art.
Visit the famous Hall of Mirrors; its massive formal French gardens, the King's Grand Apartments and Marie-Antoinette's hamlet. This is where the queen created her own pastoral village to dress up as a peasant and escape the pressures of court life.
Tickets to the palace cost EUR 18 and include a free audio guide.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture. Located on an island in the Seine River, its construction took more than 150 years.
Entrance to the church is free, but if you want to go up to the bell towers, you'll have to cough up EUR 8.50. Try to get to the cathedral as early as possible to avoid crowds as only a certain amount of people are allowed in the towers at a time.
It's also a good idea to give Notre Dame a miss on major Catholic holidays if you want its interiors all to yourself.
For winter sports enthusiasts, a trip to France wouldn't be complete without a visit to the French Alps.
Standing at 4,810 metres, Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the country and is always covered in a thick blanket of snow. Spend your trip tackling its slopes, hiking the challenging trails and rock climbing its limestone cliffs.
Whatever you decide to do, bring enough water and descend the mountain as soon as you start to feel any symptoms of altitude sickness.
The best place to base yourself as you explore Mont Blanc is in the village of Chamonix. It's full of history, cosy restaurants and charming accommodation options.
Major International Airports in France
- Charles de Gaulle Airport
- Orly Airport
- Nice Côte d'Azur Airport
- Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport
- Marseille Provence Airport