For the last two decades, fabulous France has been the world’s favorite tourism destination, seeing no less than 81 million visitors on average every year. Foodies, shopaholics, history buffs, culture vultures, beach bunnies, winter sports lovers, families, and eco-tourists all flock to France for their vacation, knowing they won’t be disappointed with something for everyone. The country is one of Europe’s most geographically diverse, with its cities home to unrivalled cultural treasures and superb architecture. The countryside is dotted with ancient castles and chateaux, set in stunning natural beauty, and the French wines and cuisine are among the finest in the world.

A lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to explore all France has to offer. Most visitors to this iconic land choose a region in which to spend their holiday, topped off with a mandatory few days in the alpha world city of Paris with its landmarks, monuments, museums, art galleries, sophisticated nightlife, and fine dining. The country is divided into six regions, each with its own unique charm, activities, and attractions, but Paris is undoubtedly at its heart in north-central surrounded by the historic Ile de France region. Other favorite destinations are the French Alps and the Pyrenees, the glorious Loire Valley, Provence and the Mediterranean coastline, and Brittany with its ancient Celtic heritage.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit France depends entirely on the style of the vacation, as there’s plenty to do and see year-round. Winter sports in the Alps and Pyrenees run from November through April, and for those into natural wonders, spring is a magic time both in the mountains and the valleys and plains. Soaking up the sun in the south is best from June through August, and sightseeing across the entire country is great any time of year. Hotel room rates rise in the high summer season, as well as at Easter and during the Christmas festive season.

Currency & Language

Currency: the Euro

Official language: French

History & Culture

Excavations have proved France’s continual occupation since human settlement began, and its recorded history dates way back to the Iron Age. The conquering Romans arrived to find Celtic and other tribes already in occupation of the land, with the Greeks already entrenched along the Mediterranean coastline. After the fall of Rome, Emperor Charlemagne ensured France’s domination by the Frankish powers for several hundred years, and France’s medieval kingdom had emerged by 1000 AD. In 1066, Duke William of Normandy, a vassal of the French king, conquered England and became its ruler.

France was one of the first European countries to move from a feudal state towards a nation state, although for most of the last 1,000 years it has seen wars with neighboring countries. Traditionally, its armies were disciplined and professional with capable leaders, which led to many victories although the financial and manpower costs were high. France’s famous ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV, ascended the throne during the 30 Years’ War from 1618 to 1648, at the same time spending huge amounts of money building up France’s art scene. Expanding Versailles from a simple hunting lodge to a magnificent palace was his most impressive venture.

The dynasty’s extravagance and wars, continued until matters came to a head with the French Revolution in 1789 during a time of extreme hardship for the peasant classes. The revolution began in Paris with looting and riots, and soon descended into anarchy, causing the royal court to abandon the city and the insurgents to storm the Bastille. Conflict ended after five years with Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, during which the royal family and many French aristocrats met their fate at the guillotine.

The culture of France has been influenced over the centuries by the country’s turbulent history, its varied topography, and its long-standing contacts with neighboring countries, as well as its colonies. In the 19th century, Paris became the cultural hub of the world for its decorative Art Nouveau style, and for several centuries before that its upscale furniture makers had dominated Europe’s elite customer base with extravaganzas of inland woods and gilded ormolu decoration.

Until the 18th century, ‘French culture’ as an all-embracing concept didn’t exist, as each region and baronial area had its own distinct local customs and traditions. Even nowadays, the nation is a mass of multiple ethnicities and regional diversities. Social class is still important, as are the regional aspects of cuisine, dialect and language, and tradition. However, the French as a whole are very proud of their national identity.

Weather and Climate

Central France’s weather is generally continental, but is modified by inland movements of the maritime climate along the Atlantic coastline. The Mediterranean coastal region enjoys dry, hot summers and mild winters, with its total amount of rainfall equaling that of central France, but falling in torrents over a few days in winter. The climate in Paris is equally variable, with May through October seeing the temperature vary between 68°F and 78°F. October sees the most rain, and January is the coldest month around 42°F

Visa Gide

France is part of the Schengen Agreement, which means there are no border controls for nationals of EU countries. EU citizens only require a valid national identity card or passport to enter France. Non-EU citizen require a valid passport and possibly a visa if you intend on a longer visit. 


In major French cities, taxis can be picked up at stands, ordered by phone, or hailed on the street if the roof-mounted ‘Taxi’ sign is lit, indicating availability. Fares are set by the government and depend on location, time of day, distance and waiting times with Paris having the most expensive rates. Taxis are government-regulated here, and drivers must pass a training course before being licensed. Taxi travel is generally safe and few rip-offs are reported. For Paris taxi travel, try Taxis75 (+33-1-78-416-505) or Alpha Taxis (+33-1-47-394-739)

Train travel is a great way to see the sights in France, with long-distance journeys between the major cities in all six regions served by the reservation-only TGV high-speed express. If time allows, the glorious French scenery is best appreciated on a slow train, of which there’s also an extensive network. Eurail and InterRail passes save money, but can only be used on the slower TER trains. Night train couchette services are a practical way to go if sightseeing time is short.

Unlike many other European countries and the US, France doesn’t have a network of long-distance bus services linking its regions and cities. The services that do exist are run at regional level, with the exception of Eurolines, which links several European cities. Coach and bus service tends to cover destinations which are not served by rail lines, with an exception being in Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, which has good intercity coach connections throughout. Although coach fares are cheap, rail travel is far more convenient and comparatively inexpensive.

Pre-Trip Preparation

Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.

Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.

Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.

Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

Do & Don'ts


  • Do say hello (“Bonjour”) upon entering an establishment (ie. store, restaurant, etc) before you begin browsing or asking questions. Say good-bye (“Au revoir”) upon leaving.
  • Do learn some French phrases. It will show you are making the effort to speak the language and shows respect. 
  • Do realize that to use the washroom in places such as a train station or department store, you will have to pay a nominal fee (ie. 0.35 Euros).
  • Do take the metro (subway) and hang onto your ticket until you leave your station.  You could be checked by the police and fined if you don’t have your ticket stub.
  • Do remember to validate your ticket before you board a train. Validating machines are located at the entrance to the “quai” or platform.
  • Do dress appropriately. Jeans are OK, but shorts, flip flops, and running shoes are not. They are for the beach and exercising.
  • Do shake hands with acquaintances or “air kiss” those who are close to you when you are greeting the person. Air kissing involves bringing your cheek close to the other’s cheek as if you are going to kiss the cheek. It is a ritual, called “Faire la bise” and indicates friendship. The number of kisses depends on the region. In most of France, one kisses each cheek once; however, in other areas, it could range from 3-5. What side to start on? I have read one starts on the right; however, opinions differ.
  • Do consider a “Prix Fixe” menu, which will include a starter, main course, and dessert at a fixed price. Some restaurants have prix fixe menus with many choices for each course. Some offer menus which include some wine.
  • Do consider ordering a “pichet” of wine. Technically, it is a “jug” of wine, but really it is a carafe of wine and comes in different sizes: 25 cl or 50 cl.  (250 ml or 500ml). It is the restaurant’s house wine and is very often very good and a good deal.
  • Do expect to find the sale of wine and liquor in grocery stores and the store, Monoprix.


  • Do not use “Tu” (you) to address another person unless that person is quite familiar to you. Use “Vous”, as it is more formal.
  • Do not take out coffee and drink it while walking down the street. Drink it at a cafe, either standing at a bar or sitting at a table.
  • Do not touch the produce at an outdoor market. Simply indicate to the seller what you want.
  • Do not order a cafe au lait to end your meal. This drink is taken at breakfast.
  • Do not rush your meal.  The French enjoy their time to relax over a coffee or meal. You should too and take at least 2 hours to savor the flavors.
  • Do not assume all stores will be open between 12-2 pm as this is when most people have lunch.
  • Do not assume everyone speaks and understands English.
  • Do not (have to) tip as the 15% service charge is included in the bill most of the time. The bill will say, “Service Compris”.  However, it is a custom to leave an additional few Euros at dinner if the service was exceptional.
  • Do not expect to get ice in your drink. It is just rare to find drinks with ice in France as compared to North America.

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