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France: culture, history and gourmet food

Where is it?Visa RequirementsGetting thereWhere to stayMoving aroundFoodSafetyPricesWeatherBest time to visitMoney mattersWhat to see?Interesting facts

France, a country in Western Europe, has everything that traveler needs for exiting journey: medieval cities and castles, villages in Alps and, of course, Mediterranean Riviera, for relaxing summer holidays. Paris, France`s capital, is world known as a fashion center, filled with classical art museums including, of course, the Louvre and world`s most famous landmark – the Eiffel Tower. The country is also well known for its wines and exquisite cuisine.

Quick facts

  • Official name: French Republic
  • Capital: Paris
  • Population: 63.5 million
  • Area: 543,965 sq km (210,026 sq miles)
  • Major language: French
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 78 years (men), 85 years (women)
  • Currency: Euro

Where is it?

France is located in Europe (West) and it is neighboring with several very interesting countries you should also visit: Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra and Spain. It has access to Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.


France also has several overseas territories: French Guiana (South America), Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Atlantic Ocean), Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy (Antilles), French Polynesia, the special collectivity of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island (Pacific Ocean), Réunion island, Mayotte, Kerguelen Islands, Crozet Islands, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands, and the Scattered Islands (Indian Ocean) and Adélie Land in the Antarctic.

Visa requirements

Your passport must be valid for at least three months after you complete visit to France. France is part of Schengen agreement and visa for any of the countries from the Schengen group is also valid for France. List of countries requiring visa can be found here.

Getting there

France is located in Europe, so getting there is not a problem: there are hundreds of flights in and out of Paris airports – Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Orly (ORY), Beauvais (BVA) and other major cities (Nice – NCE, Lyon – LYS, Marseille – MRS and many more). You can also travel by car or a bus from neighbouring countries, take a train from London or arrive by cruise lines to any of famous French Riviera destinations.

Check flights and hotel offers for Paris:

Where to stay

Depending on your budget, staying in France can range from hostels, AirBnB, where you can rent a room or entire apartment or a house, to regular and high end hotels, it`s up to you. For latest offers on hotels from our providers use search form below:

Moving around

France has great public transport, including metro (subway) in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Toulouse and tramways in Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Reims, Rouen. For moving within Paris, you can also use taxi service, which is moderately cheap for quick transfer between points of interest.
Moving outside of Paris, there is an express commuter train service, RER, which covers any destination in the area (including Euro Disney).
For traveling throughout the France, you can use national railway, SNCF, which runs between any of major cities and you can also use local bus companies to reach even most remote rural sites.
You can rent a car to travel between cities, but it`s not recommended to drive within Paris or any major city due to very chaotic driving styles and traffic jams. Learn more about moving around in France.

Food

France has one of the best cuisines in the world and French people are very proud of that. They will be happy to recommend you their gourmet food in every restaurant and advise you about matching wines, side dishes, and desserts. Not to miss while in France are certainly these: baguette, croissant and macarons, which you probably already tried elsewhere (one of the good sides of globalization), but having them in France is something different.
From top dishes, we recommend: steak frites (classic steak and fries), Croque-monsieur (or Croque-madame, whichever of these staple sandwiches you prefer), Duck confit (deliciously cooked duck meat), crêpes (of many kinds, you can buy them from street stands as well, all great), and large selection of cheese, which will require another article for itself.


Wine and Cheese Tasting in Paris at Galeries Lafayette

And of course, having wine and cheese is a gourmet experience you should not miss while in France.
If you are home sick while in France (it can happen, especially if you stay longer, we are not judging), you can find any international food you like and if you are really desperate (besides all this lovely food listed above), any world food chain is available, especially in Paris (McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Tacobell).
For some tips on where to eat in Paris, click here.

Safety

How safe is France for tourists? France is quite safe, but tourists are generally advised to be vigilant, especially with pickpockets, so take care of your belongings when walking around for sightseeing. Tourist areas are generally safe, both for single tourists and groups/families, but extra caution is always advised. More details about safety in France you can find here.

Prices

France can be costly for tourists, but you can always find great deals on accommodation, meals and attraction tickets. For detailed pricing information for various items, click here.
It is also a huge difference between prices in Paris (most expensive city in France, but cheaper than London or San Francisco, for an example) and some other top cities in France, such as Lyon, Nice or Strasbourg, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.

Weather

France is medium to large sized country and it is spread over different geographical areas, such as Mediterranean coast in the south with nice climate with warm summers and mild winters, central France with four distinguished seasons or Alps region with snowy periods and cold winters. Average temperatures for Paris are ranging from 4 C (40 F) in winter (December-February) to up to 20 C (69 F) in summer (June-August). Keep in mind that high temperatures in Paris can go over 31 C (87 F) during July. For more info on temperatures and weather in France click here.

Best time to visit

You can go to France anytime of the year, really, but you might want to avoid hot summer at the end of July or winter in January/February. If you are going to Paris to visit famous attractions, any time of the year is fine and in the winter you might have less tourists, but recommended time with both less crowds and nice weather would be April-June and September-October. More info on best times for France visit here.

Money matters

France is part of the European Union and Euro zone, so official currency is Euro. You should pay attention when paying bills if you are coming from non-Euro countries and mind the exchange rate. (Xe.com). You can pay almost everywhere with credit cards, but check card charges from your bank in foreign countries before the trip. It is always good to have some cash on you, especially when leaving the tip in the restaurant. There are ATMs and banks on every corner and cash withdrawals are in Euros with a small fee. More info here.

What to see?

There are so many things to see in France, we will list only most famous:

Eiffel Tower, landmark 324 m (1,063 ft) 19th-century tower. Built in 1889, (Engineered by Gustave Eiffel) this iconic tower, with steps and elevators to observation decks, has become a synonym with Paris and France and worldwide recognisable attraction.

The Louvre Museum, world`s largest art museum is also a historic monument itself. Located in Paris, France, on the Right Bank of the Seine River. It is world known for famous painting of Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci`s masterpiece.

Notre-Dame de Paris, also known as Notre-Dame Cathedral or simply Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral, famous for Victor Hugo`s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Palace of Versailles, 17th-century palace with gilded apartments, chandeliered Hall of Mirrors & fountain show, used by French kings, starting with Louis XIV.


Eiffel Tower Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

French Riviera, (or Côte d`Azur) is the Mediterranean coast of south eastern France. Famous (and glamorous) beach resorts such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes are located there, together with Monaco, the independent microstate.

Champs-Élysées. Famous central site full of landmarks, dining and high end shops. Louvre, Tuileries and Arc de Triomphe are all located in this area.

Arc de Triomphe, is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle.

Disneyland Paris. World known theme park with family-friendly rides, shows and costumed characters, also includes hotels and restaurants.

Sacré-Cœur, Paris. Iconic hilltop white basilica, is a Roman Catholic, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, built in 1914, with interior mosaics, stained-glass windows and a crypt.


2-Day Paris City Break: Arc de Triomphe – Versailles – The Louvre

Mont Saint-Michel. An island commune in Normandy, France. It is located about one kilometre off the country`s north-western coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches.

Montmartre. A large hill in Paris`s 18th arrondissement; it is 130 m high and shares its name with the surrounding district.  It`s known for its artistic history, the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur, and as a nightclub district.

Place de la Concorde. One of the major public squares in Paris, this 18th-century promenade is decorated with fountains, statues and a genuine Egyptian obelisk.

Musée d`Orsay. Masterpieces of 19th and 20th century art, mostly from French authors. It is housed in a former railway station.

Le Marais. A historic district in Paris, consist of many important buildings from France`s pre-revolutionary period.


Disneyland Paris: One Day, One Park with Return Transfers from Paris

Jardin du Luxembourg. Park with manicured lawns and statues, created in 1612 by Marie de` Medici.

Moulin Rouge. Famous 19th century cabaret featuring Belle Epoque decor, dinner and dancers in elaborate costumes. Immortalized in paintings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and famous movie starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

Centre Georges Pompidou. Architecturally avant-garde complex housing National Museum of Modern Art (the largest one in France), library and music centre.

Les Invalides. Series of army museums and monuments including a church and the tombs of many famed officers, including Napoleon. Everything related to military history of France can be found there.

Château de Chambord. Expansive, 16th century, former royal palace with multiple towers and cupolas, surrounded by a moat. Recognisable by its specific French Renaissance architecture design.

Sainte-Chapelle. A 13th century, Gothic chapel with relics and notable stained-glass windows of biblical scenes. It was intended to keep precious Christian relics, including Christ`s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis.

Île de la Cité. One of two remaining natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris. An urban island with historic landmarks. It is a home to the Notre Dame cathedral.

Canal du Midi. Canal du Midi is a 240 km long canal in South of France. Originally named the Canal royal en Languedoc and renamed by French revolutionaries to Canal du Midi in 1789, it was considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century.

Champ de Mars. Landscaped park with extensive lawns, paths and trees, bird life, a children`s play area. And not to forget – the Eiffel Tower!

Pont du Gard. Landmark Roman aqueduct with 3 tiers. Mighty aqueduct bridge rising over 3 well-preserved arched tiers, built by 1st-century Romans. It was added to the world heritage monument of UNESCO.

Château de Chenonceau. A French château spanning the River Cher, near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Indre-et-Loire département of the Loire Valley in France. It is one of the best-known châteaux of the Loire valley, housing tapestry and Old Master paintings collection.

Catacombs of Paris. The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris, France, which hold the remains of more than six million people in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris` ancient stone mines. Illuminated labyrinth in former limestone mine with millions of ghoulishly arranged skeletons. Creepy? You bet.

Panthéon. A building in the Latin Quarter in Paris, France. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve and to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics but, after many changes, now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens.


Paris Pantheon Admission Ticket, Priority Access

Aiguille du Midi. A mountain in the Mont Blanc massif within the French Alps. Very popular tourist destination and accessible by cable car from Chamonix.

Tour Montparnasse. Tour Maine-Montparnasse, or simply, Tour Montparnasse, is a 210 metre office skyscraper in Paris. It has with panoramic views and great for taking photos of Paris from roof terrace and 56th floor observation deck.

Place de la Bastille. A famous square in Paris where the Bastille prison stood until destroyed during French Revolution in (1789-1790).

La Défense. Paris business district (largest in Europe). Located at the westernmost side of the 10 km (6.2 mi) long Historical Axis of Paris, which starts at the Louvre in Central Paris and continues along the Champs-Élysées, beyond the Arc de Triomphe and along the Avenue de la Grande Armée. If you are into long walks, you can walk all the way from Louvre to La Défense and come back with metro or a bus.

Palais Garnier. A massive (almost 2000 seats) opera house, built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It`s an Italian style opera with Library Museum, with ceiling painted by Chagal.


Opera Garnier Day Tour with Official Opera de Paris Guide

The Promenade des Anglais. Also called locally, in Nice: Camin dei Anglés, a promenade along the Mediterranean Sea at Nice, France. It extends from the airport on the west to the Quai des États-Unis on the east, a distance of approximately 7 km (4.4 mi). Administratively speaking, it forms part of Route nationale 98, which runs between Toulon and Menton.

Lake Annecy. Scenic swimming and water-sports locale. Picturesque lake for nice sightseeing adventures, including 13th century Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard and village of Menthon-Saint-Bernard. Also good for biking around the lake.

Old Port of Marseille. The Old Port (“Vieux Port”) of Marseille engulfs a lively yacht marina and is famous for stylish hotels, cafes, and seafood restaurants serving fresh sea food from quayside fish market. Dominant in port is centuries old Fort Saint-Jean, standing near the Romanesque-style Saint-Laurent Church.

Musée de l`Orangerie. An art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, mostly from 20th century. In the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens, next to the Place de la Concorde.

Place des Vosges. Originally named Place Royale, Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris. It is located in the Marais district, and it divides 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris. Lined with trees and red brick houses and built by Henri IV in 17th century.


Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, and Cassis Small Group Tour

Palais des Papes. A historical palace located in Avignon, in the south of France. It is regarded as one of the most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. It even rivalled Vatican in 14th century.

Mont Ventoux. A mountain in the Provence region of France, with an iconic bike trail, made famous in the Tour de France.

Musée Rodin. A museum opened in 1919, dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Most famous work is world known The Thinker.


Avignon and Pont du Gard Day Trip from Paris by High Speed Rail

Luberon. A massif in central Provence in the south of France. Spectacular countryside of vineyards and orchards, fascinating hill-top villages, offering natural produce.

Pont Neuf. The oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris. Built in 17th century, this stone bridge hosts statue of King Henri IV.

Interesting facts about France

There are around 40,000 châteaux (castles, palaces, manor houses, etc) in France. And many of them are for rent, so why don`t you try and have French holiday in style? You can rent your stay here.

Famous croissants were invented in Austria. That`s right, Austria, in 19th century, in Viennese bakery “Boulangerie Viennoise”. But we don`t think croissant lovers will be taken away from this delicious pastry. Find your best croissant.

French was official language in England for almost 300 years (1066-1362). After the Norman Conquest in 1066, French language replaced English in the royal court, among clergy and aristocracy, although common people still used English. Find out more interesting facts about France.

We hope you enjoyed reading about France! Safe travels!

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