France draws more tourists and visitors than almost any other country. It is easy to see why this is the case, given France’s reputation for fine wines, good food, high fashion and relaxed lifestyle.
Some of the highlights include the café culture found in most big cities, the celebrated Cannes Film Festival and the formidable fortress-monastery of Mont Saint Michel. Indeed, there is nothing quite like sitting in a Paris café with a bottle of wine or two and watching the bustle of Paris pass you by. The allure of such experiences, as well as sights like the Eiffel Tower, the finest in high fashion and arguably the best food in the world continually draw millions of visitors every year.
- Currency: Euro (€) 1 euro = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 1
- Language: French
- Telephone Services: County code +33, International access code 19
- Emergency Numbers: 112 for all services
The climate in France is for the most part temperate. Winters are generally mild except for the northeast, which tends to be colder. The northwest of the country is prone to high humidity and frequent, often violent rain storms. Conversely, around mid-summer, particularly August, it can get very hot, and should be considered a bad time to travel anyway since most of the French are on holiday.
Things to see and do
Whether you’re travelling to France, through Europe or across the world, Paris is a worthwhile stop, and it would be easy to spend weeks exploring all that Paris has to offer. There is, of course, the obligatory trip to the Eiffel Tower but there is plenty more to see and do.
Famous landmarks include the Arc de Triomphe, which spans over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the forbidding gothic architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the picturesque Sacre Coeur. Other highlights are the Louvre, one of Europe’s finest art galleries, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Moulin Rouge, and boat tours along the Seine.
The Ardeche province is an excellent location to visit if you have the chance and offers some spectacular white water canoe expeditions. Some of these are long enough to last up to a few days and are really well worth the effort. Also in this area are some very spectacular caves which offer reasonably priced guided tours.
St Malo is one of Brittany’s most renowned locations. Built on the site of an old piratical port, you will find plenty to do here including the Fort de la Cite, an ex-WWII German stronghold, and the Cathedrale Saint Vincent. St Malo is also particularly noted for its beaches, which are popular even with the French themselves. If that’s not enough, Mont Saint Michel, a fortified Abbey, is just a short bus trip away and could easily be seen as a day trip from a few days spent based in St Malo.
If you are more adventurous and want to get away from the tourist crowds, you could try visiting Vezelay. This tiny walled town is surrounded by vineyards and farmland and was used as a muster point during the Crusades. The main attraction here is the Basilique Sainte Madeleine, which was believed to have housed the relics of Mary Magdelene during the Middle Ages. Every year there is a traditional celebration where the relics are paraded around the town by the devout priests of the abbey.
Alternatively, there is the mysterious Rennes-le-Châ teau. The church of this tiny town was heavily restored during the late 19th century by parish priest Sauniere. The source of Sauniere’s money was, however, a mystery to all including his closest confidants. Sauniere died in 1917, leaving the secret of his wealth to his housekeeper, who promised to reveal it only on her death bed. Unfortunately, the housekeeper died of a stroke before being able to impart her secret. In a more sinister turn, Sauniere had made a confession to his priest on his death bed that was so shocking that Sauniere was refused the last rites. Now, theories range from buried Visigoth gold to ancient treasures of the Knights Templar to explain the source of Sauniere’s mysterious income.
The French rail network is run by SNCF and the network is extensive and very efficient. You will find connections not just in France but also to major cities in other European countries. SNCF operates normal trains as well as TGVs, high-speed trains which reach 300km/h. These trains are also extremely comfortable and, for French domestic travel, are on a par with flying for convenience and speed, as you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of collecting baggage and checking in.
When travelling on a TGV, you will be allocated a particular seat but, on normal trains, you can just sit anywhere. However, regardless of which train you are on, you will need to validate your ticket. If you bought your ticket from the cashier at a station, they will have validated it for you. If you have used any other method of getting your ticket though – for instance, the self service machines – you will have to use the red validation machines before boarding the train. Your ticket needs to be validated at each connecting station you use and at the station of departure on your return journey.
You can purchase a Carte 12-25 from the ticket counter in any station which entitles the bearer to a discount of up to 50% on rail ticket prices. You will need identification proving that you are under 25 and a passport photo when purchasing this card. The card costs about £30 so, if you are doing a reasonable amount of travel, this is a good option.
You can also purchase a France Rail Pass, which allows you between 4 and 10 days travel within a 1 month period and is also available at a discount rate for those under 25. These passes can be purchased online at Railkey and are very good value if you intend on travelling around a lot. If your time in France is only one leg of your journey, however, you might want to consider buying a pass that is valid Europe-wide. See our European rail travel section for more details.
Bus travel is generally expensive and inconvenient in France and should only be used to reach areas not covered by the rail network. Eurolines offers some international services connecting the Paris Gare Routiere to major European cities. Busabout offers backpacker based tours which are generally hop-on, hop-off style services that drop you at hostels in the destination town.
Buses, on the other hand, are perfect for local travel within a town. These are normally cheap and you can buy passes which last between 1 hour and a week on the bus. When in larger cities, particularly Paris, the metro is the easiest way to get around but you will often find that the bus tickets and metro tickets can be used more or less interchangeably.
There are hundreds of hotels and youth hostels throughout France and you should have no problem finding inexpensive accommodation whatever region of France you are in. For low cost youth hostels visit the French Youth Hostels Federation. There are also state regulated bed and breakfasts called gites-de-france, which are generally inexpensive and are regulated by the Fédération Nationale des Gî tes de France, a non-profit independent organisation focused on ensuring correct standards of accommodation for visitors.
With the proper travel insurance and a valid EHIC card (available from your post office), you will have no trouble getting high quality medical care in France.
There are no specific health warnings given and tap water in urban areas is considered drinkable. When staying on French campsites, be sure to use water from the drinking water tap. Holiday makers drinking from taps designed to be used for washing clothes and the like have inadvertently given French water a bad name.
France Guide – The official website of the French Government Tourist Office, packed with information for visitors.
Campsites France – A very useful searchable directory of campsites all over France.
Ze Bus – A hop on, hop off bus service allowing backpackers to visit the real France. Ze Bus offers a full service with departures from London travelling all the way down to San Sebastien.
Chamonix Ski Apartment – A 3 bedroom apartment within walking distance of ski-lifts in Les Houches, Chamonix, France.
Bergerac Airport – An unofficial guide to Bergerac Airport, from Jeff Steiner.
Go Camp France – All the information you need for a camping holiday in France.
Travel France Online – A Free Online Travel Resource that helps you discover and enjoy French History and Culture.