Travel Guide France

France Travel Guide

This travel guide for France features the top places to visit, how to get there, safety, scams, logistics and more to help you plan an amazing journey.

With its incredible ”City of Lights”, Paris, staggering history, famous French Riviera, rolling countryside, world-class food and wine, and amazing art, it’s one of the top most-visited countries in the world.

This travel guide and all posts on France are updated as of January 2022.

Top Attractions In France

Paris

Magnificent Paris, with its unforgettable ambiance, is one of Europe’s most romantic cities. Strolling its enchanting bridges, admiring its magnificent royal palaces and formal French gardens, stopping at one of its more than 130 museums, packed with spectacular art, and enjoying coffee or eating al-fresco at one of its historical cafes, is always a good idea.

The Eiffel Tower is what to do when in Paris
Eiffel Tower at Sunset

There’s also the amazing Norte-Dame Cathedral. It still can’t be missed even though it’s still under renovation from the 2019 fire. A scintillating show at the Moulin Rouge should also not be missed, as well as wandering in artistic Montemarte, and the charming Ile de La Cite. There’s a never ending source of history, beauty, and elegance to explore here.

Day Trips From Paris

When in Paris, you really can’t miss the Palace of Versailles, France’s second most visited monument, or the Palace of Fontainebleau. Either makes a perfect day trip as they’re each less than an hour train ride away. Versailles is more opulent and grand, being the residence of Kings Louis XIV to XVI, but Fontainebleau is the place to go for fewer crowds.

Another fantastic day trip option from Paris is to visit the house and gardens of French Impressionist Claude Monet in Giverney. Located in Normandy, it’s less than an hour to visit by train.

Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur

The Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur area, in southern France, runs south from the coast to the French Alps, and from coastal Cassis all the way to Italy. This incredible region includes Provence and Côte d’Azur, both packed with vacation-worthy destinations and day trips.

Provence

Provence, known for its charming, picturesque towns, medieval architecture, and famous lavender fields, includes Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Gordes, Lourmarin, Saint-Rémy, and Arles.

Avignon, the seat of Catholic Popes in the 14th century, has amazing historical architecture, like Gothic Palais des Papes and nearby gardens of Rocher des Doms. 7 Popes lived and reigned from Avignon in this Palace, one of the most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe.

Best things to see in Avignon
Palais des Papes

Aix-en-Provence, Provence’s cultural capital, is where famous Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne was born and lived, and other famous artists worked, like Pablo Picasso, as well as novelists like Ernest Hemingway. Today, this University town has a chic, unpretentious vibe with cafes and galleries, and is full of tributes to the creative icons of its past.

Aix-en-Provence

Saint-Rémy is where Vincent van Gogh admitted himself to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, doing some of his most famous work while institutionalized here, like Starry Night, the Irises, and more. It’s also home to the well-preserved Roman ruins of Glanum.

Picture-perfect Gordes, the prettiest hilltop village in Provence, makes a great day trip in Provence. Take a photo from View-Point Hill, meander its windy cobblestoned streets, and if it’s a Tuesday, visit its bustling Provençal market.

Visiting Lourmarin and its Castle
Lourmarin
Gordes view point is one of the top things to do in Gordes
Gordes

Lourmarin, another perfect day trip option, is full of charming traditional Provençal buildings, an old castle, and a host of fun art galleries. It’s also where Peter Mayle, author of the book, ’A Year In Provence’, lived in his later years.

Côte d’Azur

The Côte d’Azur, or Blue Coast, also known as the French Riviera, offers many laid-back seaside resorts, filled with yachts and sparkling azure waters. Top cities here include Cassis, Cannes, St. Tropez, Antibes, and Nice.

Cassis, an under the radar seaside town, full of sidewalk cafes and pastel-painted buildings overlooking the charming harbor, is also the gateway to the Massif de Calanques. This national park is known for its limestone cliffs and secluded beaches tucked within. Come here to hike, boat, and swim along the calanques, while exploring this charming Provençal town.

Cassis Old Town

More on the glamorous side, the coasta gems

Swimming at Calanque d’En Vau is one of the best things to do in Cassis
Calanque d’En Vau Beach

More of the glamorous ide is the coast gem of Cannes, world-renowned for its film festival, St. Tropex, out on the map by starlet Brigitte Bardot, Antibes, with its Jazz Festival, and Monaco with its Grand Prix. Sometimes dubbed the millionaires playground, these cities offer super-yacht filled harbors, luxury shopping, a vibrant nightlife, and casinos, as well as being home to brilliant beaches.

Views of Port Olympia from Castle Hill is one of the best things to do in Nice France
Lympia Port, Nice

Nice, the capital of Côte d’Azur, also known as the Bay of Angels, is France’s second most visited city. Once a playground for royalty, it offers an historic Old Town and museums dedicated to both Matisse and Marc Chagall, in addition to its stunning azure waters.

The Beaches of Nice are one of the best things to do in the Cote d’Azure France.
Bay of Angels, Nice

Wine Regions In France

France also offers amazing wine regions to explore, like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and the Rhone Valley. Each with their own grape varietal and unique terroir.

Near France’s west coast is Bordeaux, one of the world’s largest wine-producing regions. Known for its medium- to full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends, there are over 6,000 chateau here, producing over 900 million bottles of wine annually.

Palais de la Bourse, Bordeaux

It’s also a city of majestic spaces, beautiful architecture, a Sunday riverside market, excellent museums, and a lively cafe culture.

Burgundy, another popular stop, is about 1/4 of the size of Bordeaux, but a more well rounded, offering reds and whites. It’s most famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Champagne is the most prestigious sparkling wine in the world, and the region it’s produced in, Champagne province, in northeastern France is definitely worth a visit by any champagne lover. Only sparkling wines produced here and made méthode champenoise can be labeled as Champagne.

Loire Valley

The Loire Valley encompasses a 600-mile stretch along the Loire Valley river, from Nantes to Sancerre, with over 1,000 vineyards open to the public. This amazing area is also full of châteaux, gardens, and royal abbeys. I spent an unforgettable week here riding from châteaux to châteaux via horseback, trying the variety of wines made in the different regions of this valley.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg, near the border of Germany, stands at the crossroads between the two cultures, changing nationality 4 times! Today it’s the seat of European Parliament.

Grande Île, its enchanting historic core, is an island encircled by Ill River. It’s ideal to wander its narrow streets and admire its half-timbered houses, magnificent Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, and Place Kléber, its grand square.

Strasbourg | Roletschek

Lyon

Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, has more restaurants per capita than any other French city. It also offers many remarkable ancient churches, like the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, a grand square, Place Bellecour, and Roman ruins (as this was once the capital of Gaul).

Normandy

Normandy, famous for its role in WWII with the Battle of Normandy and D-Day, offers more than history to its scenic coast. This is where striking Mont Saint-Michel sits, and where famous impressionist Claude Monet lived and worked.

It’s also a top-notch food region with many Michelin-starred chefs.

Mont Saint-Michel | Ibex73

Brittany

Brittany, with its quaint fishing village on the dramatic sea coast, white sand beaches with clear blue waters, captivating castles, and fascinating megalithic structures, the Carnac Stones, also makes a fascinating destination in France.

Best Time To Visit France

Temperature wise, the best time to visit is May through September. Summers here are mild, with temperatures in the 70’s, but also when it’s the most crowded and most expensive.

Languages in France

French is the official language, with several other regional languages being spoken, like Alsatian, Basque, and Breton. English is spoken by many, especially in touristy areas, but not always very well. I’ve read that the French are very proud, so unless they can speak it proficiently, they may pretend instead that they don’t speak English at all.

Therefore, it’s really helpful to learn at least a few phrases in French before your trip. It will not only make your trip easier, you will gain respect, and find it easier to get help. As a last resort, download French on Google translate before you travel and it will be available on your phone for offline use if you need it.

France Travel Guide: Money Matters

Currency: The currency is the Euro. The following conversation rates are from of January 1, 2024.

  • 1 USD=.91 Euro
  • 1 CNY=.13 Euro

Credit Cards: Credit and Debit Cards are widely accepted, especially MasterCard and Visa. American Express may only be accepted by larger establishments. Ask first. Smaller cities and open-air markets may only accept cash, so have Euros on hand.

ATM’s: ATMs, called distributeur automatique de billets here, are prevalent and easy to find in larger cities. They may be harder to find in the countryside. Most large private banks do not charge fees, but the screen will alert you to fees in above and beyond fees charged by your bank. Try to use ATMs at banks, as private ATMs, like Maestro and Sirrus charge fees. ATMs at airports, hotels, and near tourist areas likely charge higher fees (convenience). Some ATMs will allow you to view the transaction in your home currency, but it also triggers a higher conversion fee. Always use/view local currency and do the math yourself for the best rate. French ATMs use 4 digit pins, so if yours is longer, change it before you travel. Also, most do not have letters, so it’s best to know your pin numerically.

Tipping: To ask for the bill in French, say, ‘l’addition s’il vous plait’. Cafes and restaurants in France add a 15% service fee to the bill. Tipping on top of this is not expected, but you can leave 5-10% if you’re really happy with the service. If the bill says service compris, that means the tip has already been added. For bellhops, leave 2-3 Euros per bag and for housekeeping, 1-2 Euros a day at the end of your stay. For taxis, round up to the nearest Euro.

Travel Guide France
Chateaux Villandry

France Travel Guide: Safety

France is relatively safe, but pick-pocketing and petty theft do occur. Especially in touristy areas. Take normal precautions, always being vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Don’t carry too much cash and keep a close eye on your purse or wallet.

Terrorism has occurred here in the past, and therefore, is likely to happen again. Always keep an eye out for anything unusual and trust your instincts.

Avoid public demonstrations, protests, and civil unrest, which occur from time to time.

Always check the latest situation on your government website. It’s also a good idea to sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), or similar with your country to be updated if an issue does arise.

France Travel Guide: Scams

Generally France is safe, but there are always a few people trying to take advantage of tourists. Especially in Paris and Marseilles. Always be especially alert if an overly friendly person approaches or bumps into you. Common scams in France are:

Found Ring

Someone near you may offer you a ring they “find” on the street suggesting you may have dropped it. If you accept, they will beg for money.

Friendship Bracelets

If someone tries to place a friendship bracelet on your wrist, tell them no thank you. They will then ask for money for the bracelet.

Fake Charity Collector

Fake charity workers may try to take money in touristy areas. Official charities do not take money in the street.

Unofficial Taxis

Always make sure to hail rides from official taxis. Unofficial ones will charge outrageous fees or taken to remote areas and rob you.

Official taxis will have an official roof sign with red and green neon lights and can be found in official taxi queues. If using a ride hailing app, check the license number of the car before getting in.

Outrageous Bar Bills

This is more common in seedier areas like the Pigalle region near Moulin Rouge. Make sure you “see” the price of a drink on a menu before ordering, as shady places may serve drinks costing several hundred Euros. Be especially cautious if a stranger invites you for a drink or an “adult show”.

Shady Games

Avoid games or tricks in the street. Even ones that look easy to win and they are stacked against you.

Tampered ATM Machines

Always try to use ATMs inside, or connected to banks, as they are less likely to be tampered with. Check for hidden cameras over pin keypads, scanners that have been tampered with, and fake key pad covers. Really look at the ATM to make sure it does not appear altered. There have been reports of fake card scanners ‘keeping’ your card. If this happens, don’t leave your card in the machine. Attempt to get official help to come to you.

Brasserie

France Travel Guide: Getting Around

Between Cities

Fly

Flying can be reasonable between larger cities, but sometimes similar to train fares. Cities in France with airports in this travel guide include Paris, Nice, Bordeaux, Lyon, Strasbourg, Brittany, and Normandy.

Train

France has an extensive rail network, making train a great option for travel between cities. Most lines radiate out from Paris, so ideal if you originate, or end, in Paris. Rides between smaller cities can be less frequent or have connections a little out of the way. If you can’t find a train to your designated city, take it to the nearest city, then taxi the rest of the way. The high speed train is more expensive than regional ones, so compare if price is important.

Bus

Flixbus is a great option between medium and large cities in France. They offer comfortable, safe rides with wifi, making them very convenient. The one negative is that sometimes the pick up and drop off locations are difficult to find, or require other transportation to get to your destination.

BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar is a carpooling app used in Europe and great between cities in France. It’s most effective on more popular driving routes, as there are more options. Drivers (and passengers) get rated, so relatively safe, but as when dealing with strangers, you can never be 100% certain. Do your diligence and read reviews. If things don’t feel right when you meet the driver, walk away.

Self-Drive

Driving in France is on the right side if the road and infrastructure is great, making self-driving a convenient way to get between cities. This issue is the heavy traffic and lack of parking in larger cities, and the fact that many smaller, Provençal towns have either very narrow, or pedestrian only streets. Petrol and tolls can add up too. If you do decide to drive, make sure to brush up on French laws, like not to use of smartphones while driving, even with headphones, no eating while driving, and no loud music. If stopped for these, you can get a hefty fine.

Within Cities

Paris is a lovely city for walking, but some areas require additional transportation.

Metro

In Paris and Lyon, the two biggest cities in France (by population), the fastest and cheapest way to get around is by metro. Paris also has the Regional Light Rail system, or Réseau Express Régional (RER), which shares stations with the metro.

The metro lines are designated by numbers (1, 2, 3) and run within city limits. The RER is designated by letters (A, B, C), and run from city center to the suburbs and airports. The RER run less frequently, but since there are fewer stops, you can often get across town faster.

Tram

The medium sized cities tend to use trams, instead of a metro system, including Bordeaux, Brittany, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Nice. Paris also has a tram, but it runs mainly on the perimeter of the city.

Taxi

Uber is available in France, using the same app you already have on your phone. Uber pricing is usually comparative to honest taxi rates, at least in most situations. If there’s an official taxi sitting at the airport, or on the street, it’s probably better to use that option. If you need to call, or arrange one, taxis have a “meeting fee“. It’s not clear if Uber charges this too, and it likely varies, but the full price will be shown on the app letting you decide. Beware of unofficial taxis, see scams above.

Bus

In Paris, the metro is generally considered the best method of transport, but sometimes the bus is better (although never during rush hour!). The bus offers a sure seat and a view. The best bus line to take in Paris is called the Balabus, from the Arc de Triomphe, past the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or Louvre along the Seine.

Getting From Paris Airports to the City

A taxi from Charles de Gaulle airport is the most convenient way to get to the city, but can be expensive. It will cost from 50€ to 60€ depending on your final destination. Public transportation will be much less, but a little more complicated.

Visa Information For France

France is in the Schengen, so operates on the Schengen Visa policy. US citizens can enter visa free for up to 90 days, then can only re-enter after an additional 90 days.

Chinese citizens need to apply for a Schengen Visa. See the Schengen Visa Policy to learn more.

France Travel Guide: Top Destination Blogs & Stories

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If my travel guide has been useful in planning, or just dreaming about visiting France, please drop me a note below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Note: All efforts have been made to provide accurate information in the Travel Guide for France, but from time to time things change. If you see something that is not right, please contact me below.

To read more about me and my personal perspectives on travel, see my about me page.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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