Bridge over River Seine, Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guide)

How to Travel France – Best Tips and Guides

France, known for its rich culture and tasty treats like croissants and Champagne, might not always match the expectations of first-time visitors. Instead of always smelling like freshly baked baguettes, the streets might not have that aroma all the time. With these best tips and guides on how to travel France, you get to understand the unique things about France, and French culture so your trip can be much more enjoyable.

The way people think about France, from books and movies, can make them expect certain things that might not be true. Even though you might not always smell bread in the air, it’s a chance to explore beyond the usual ideas and discover the real France, which is diverse and authentic.

To really enjoy your time in France, it’s important to understand and respect their customs and traditions. If you love croissants and Champagne, you’ll find that there’s so much more to French food than just those. Different regions have their special dishes, showing the country’s variety and history.

France’s unique way of life goes beyond just food.

Enjoying art, and literature, and taking your time with meals helps you understand the country better. Talking to locals, joining in on festivals, and visiting historical places all add up to a richer experience.

Getting ready for your trip is key to discovering France’s hidden gems. Learning a few basic French phrases helps with communication, and knowing the customs makes your visit smoother. Researching different regions lets you plan a trip that suits your interests, making it a more personal and enjoyable adventure.

Here are a few tips and guides to note if you plan on travelling to France.

Tourists at the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Tourists at the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

How to Travel France – Best Tips and Guides

1. Explore Beyond Paris

France isn’t just about Paris. There are many cool places to discover in the thirteen regions of the country. Each region has its special things to see and do. In Alsace, there are charming villages that look like they’re from a fairy tale. The French Riviera is all about fancy beaches and fun nightlife. Lyon is a great city for amazing food, and Normandy has beautiful landscapes and important history.

Tourists on a Beach in Cannes, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Tourists on a Beach in Cannes, France

2. Address Stereotypes

Some people think all French folks are rude, but that’s not true. It’s just a cultural difference. Learning a bit of French and being polite can help you connect better with locals and have a better time.

3. Learn Basic French

Speaking a little bit of French can make your trip more fun. Just saying “Bonjour” (hello) and “Merci” (thank you) can go a long way. Learning a few more phrases shows you’re trying, and people appreciate that. It’s not just practical, it makes your experience richer.

Apps or a basic French course can help you get started such as Duolingo.

4. Understand French Etiquette

Knowing how to fit in with French manners is essential for a smooth experience. Being polite is important everywhere, but in France, there are specific things to keep in mind.

Start by saying “Bonjour” (good morning) when you enter a shop or a place. In more formal situations, use “vous” instead of “tu” when addressing someone you don’t know well or in professional settings.

Keep your voice at a moderate level. French people generally prefer a calm and quiet environment, especially in public places. Speaking loudly might come across as impolite, so it’s best to keep it down.

Watch out for local habits, like waiting for everyone at the table to be served before starting to eat. Little gestures, such as holding doors open and saying “excusez-moi” (excuse me) when moving through a crowded area, help you blend in and be considerate.

Cafe in Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Cafe in Paris, France

5. Acknowledge Regional Diversity

France is not all the same, each region has its special things.

Take time to explore local specialities, from seafood in Brittany to mountain dishes in the Alps. Trying local foods and exploring markets is not just tasty, it’s a way to get to know the culture of each area.

Understand that different regions have different paces of life. Cities in the north may be bustling, while places in the south might have a more relaxed vibe. Embracing these differences lets you connect better with local life.

Joining in regional festivals and events is a fun way to experience local pride and traditions. Whether it’s lavender festivals in Provence or cider celebrations in Normandy, being part of these events gives you a firsthand look at regional culture.

Here are a few restaurants you should consider trying out in the Alps.

Etretat Pebble Beach, Normandy, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Etretat Pebble Beach, Normandy, France

6. Be Prepared for Strikes

Strikes are a common thing in France and can affect your plans. Being ready for them is essential. Transportation services, like trains or buses, might have changes or cancellations during strikes. Stay updated by using travel apps and checking official websites for real-time information.

Flexibility is crucial when strikes happen. Having backup plans, like considering different ways to get around or exploring local areas on foot, can turn unexpected disruptions into opportunities for new discoveries. Strikes are also a chance to see how the French express their opinions and stand up for what they believe in.

Protest in France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Protest in France

7.  Consider Off-Season Travel

Think about visiting France when fewer people are around – during the off-season. This has many perks, like avoiding big crowds and saving money.

One great thing about off-season travel is you get to see famous places without too many tourists. It’s a more relaxed experience where you can enjoy the beauty and history of cool spots without too much hustle.

Also, off-season travel can be cheaper. Hotels, flights, and things to do are often more budget-friendly during these times. Whether you’re checking out the nice streets of Montmartre or walking through vineyards in Bordeaux, off-season travel lets you have fun without spending a ton.

The weather might be different during the off-season, but with some planning, you can still have a great trip. Exploring France when it’s quieter also lets you chat with locals and discover hidden gems without big lines. Whether you’re enjoying a croissant in a cosy café or finding cool places with fewer people, off-season travel makes your trip more personal.

A Beach Resort in Cannes, Cote d'Azur, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
A Beach Resort in Cannes, Cote d’Azur, France

8. Explore Christmas Markets in Alsace

For a wonderful experience, plan your visit to Alsace in late November to see the awesome Christmas markets. Alsace is like a winter fairytale with its cute villages and a mix of French and German influences.

The Christmas markets in Alsace are famous for their special festive feel. Imagine walking through streets with twinkling lights, drinking warm spiced wine, and trying local treats. The markets have handmade decorations, cool festive stuff, and unique gifts.

Going in late November means you enjoy the festive vibe without too many people.

From the old charm of Strasbourg to the pretty setting of Colmar, every town in Alsace adds something special to Christmas. The mix of old-style Alsatian buildings and festive decorations makes it a memorable experience. Going to these markets not only puts you in the holiday mood but also shows you Alsace’s traditions during this special time.

Alsace, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Alsace, France

9. Expect Scaffolding and Restoration

When you explore old buildings in France, you might see some construction stuff like scaffolding. This happens because these cool places need regular fixing to stay awesome.

Seeing scaffolding might seem a bit disappointing at first, but it shows how much they care about keeping France’s history alive. Fixing up these landmarks helps them last a long time so future generations can enjoy them too.

Knowing that you might see scaffolding helps you not feel let down during your visit. Instead of being a problem, it’s a chance to see how much they work to keep France’s history alive.

Also, many old places have things set up so you can still enjoy your visit even with the construction. They might have cool displays, guided tours, or other ways to let you see the beauty even if some parts are being fixed.

10. Watch Out for Theft and Scams

When you’re in France, keep an eye out for petty theft and scams. Pickpocketing can happen, especially in crowded places. To stay safe, use things like money belts and be aware of your surroundings.

Knowing common theft tricks helps you stay ahead. For example, using a money belt or an anti-theft backpack can discourage pickpockets. Be careful if someone bumps into you – it might be a way to distract you while someone else takes advantage.

Learn about common scams too, like fake petitions or people pretending to be lost tourists. Be cautious about accepting help from strangers on the street.

Stay safe by using anti-theft gear, staying alert in crowded areas, and understanding common scams. By being informed and taking simple precautions, you can reduce the chances of falling victim to theft and scams, making your time in France safer.

A Street Scene in Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
A Street Scene in Paris, France

11.  Use Public Transport

Getting around in France is easy with public transport. When travelling between cities, consider using trains. They’re comfortable and let you enjoy the beautiful French countryside. Trains are more convenient than dealing with airports far from the city centres.

Tram in Nice, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Tram in Nice, France

12. Book Train Tickets Early

To make the most of France’s train system, plan ahead and book your tickets early using the SNCF website. This not only saves you money but also gives you more options for departure times and seat choices. High-speed trains like the TGV are popular, so booking in advance ensures you get a spot.

13. Pack Wisely

When you go to France, pack wisely because things there are a bit different. Wear comfy shoes for walking on their stone streets, and bring clothes you can easily add or remove since the weather can change a lot. Don’t forget a power adapter for your gadgets, and keep photocopies of important papers in case you lose them.

14. Plan Your Itinerary

Explore Paris by visiting famous spots like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. Don’t forget to enjoy shopping at places like The Galleries Lafayette and Champs-Elysées. Plan your travel within the city using trains, buses, and the metro. Book your stay in advance, choosing from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels.

Pick a place to stay that suits your style, whether it’s a fancy hotel or a more budget-friendly hostel. Make sure to book your accommodation ahead of time.

Magasin de Lafayette, Shopping Centre in Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Magasin de Lafayette, Shopping Centre in Paris, France

15. Save Money on Visits

When exploring France’s history and culture, find ways to spend less on attractions for a better travel experience. Book ahead for discounts, check age and residency discounts, and consider attraction passes to save.

Booking early not only guarantees your spot but often comes with lower prices. Many attractions offer online reservations, letting you save compared to buying tickets on-site. This not only saves money but also lets you skip long lines.

Look into discounts based on age or residency. Many places offer reduced prices for kids, students, and locals. Check eligibility before buying to take advantage of these savings.

Think about getting attraction passes that bundle access to multiple sites at a lower price. City passes or museum passes can be a better deal, especially if you plan to visit many places. Research available passes and calculate potential savings to decide.

16. Explore Free Museums and Sights

France has many museums and sights with free admission on certain days or hours. Choosing these free options not only saves money but also lets you explore the country’s culture without spending too much.

Renowned museums like the Louvre in Paris have specific days with free entry. Plan your visits around these times to enjoy art and history without any entrance fees.

Discover lesser-known free sights that are equally captivating. From charming neighbourhoods to beautiful viewpoints, France has many cost-free attractions showcasing its diverse landscapes and cultural heritage.

Louvre Museum, Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Louvre Museum, Paris, France

17. Avoid Expensive Tourist Restaurants

Tasting French food is a highlight, but be smart to avoid expensive tourist trap restaurants. To enjoy an authentic culinary journey without overspending, follow these tips:

  • Dine Away from Tourist Spots: Choose restaurants away from famous tourist places. They often have higher prices and lower quality. Explore nearby neighbourhoods for more authentic dining.
  • Check Reviews: Before picking a restaurant, check online reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor. Reviews from other travellers and locals help you make better choices.
  • Beware of Multilingual Menus: Be careful with restaurants having overly multilingual menus, especially in tourist areas. Authentic places usually have menus mostly in French, offering a more genuine experience.
  • Spend Less on Eating Out: While enjoying French food is a must, you can save money without sacrificing taste. Follow these strategies:
    • Lunchtime Splurge – many restaurants in France have more affordable lunch menus. Enjoy your main meal during lunch to experience great cuisine at a reasonable price.
    • Try the Daily Special – opt for the plat du jour (dish of the day), a common practice in France. It often provides good value, featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients for a delicious and budget-friendly meal.
Restaurant in Paris, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Restaurant in Paris, France

18. Understand French Restaurant Manners

Knowing and following French restaurant etiquette enhances your experience. Here are simple tips:

  • Make Reservations: It’s common to reserve a table, especially for dinner and in popular places. This ensures you have a table and avoids disappointment during busy times.
  • Wait to Be Seated: In French restaurants, wait to be seated by the host or hostess. Avoid choosing your table, following traditional etiquette.
  • Signal Your Server When Needed: In France, servers respect your privacy during meals. If you need help or want to order, make eye contact with your server instead of raising your hand or calling out.
  • Avoid Customizing Orders: French cuisine has specific techniques and flavours. Avoid extensive changes to your order, as this may be seen as a deviation from the chef’s expertise. Ask about options if you have dietary restrictions.

19.  Tipping in France

When eating out in France, know that a 15% service charge is usually included in your bill. This is called “service compris.” While tipping on top of this is not mandatory, it’s a nice gesture if you’ve received excellent service. You can round up the bill or leave some extra change as a sign of appreciation. Remember, tipping in France is more about acknowledging good service than following strict rules.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France (How to travel France - Tips and Guides)
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

20.  Explore Local Flavors

Enjoying food in France is not just about croissants and baguettes, it’s a journey through regional specialities. Each area has its unique dishes, so try local favourites wherever you go. Whether it’s cassoulet in the southwest or fresh seafood in Brittany, regional specialities offer a taste of the local culture. Don’t miss out on hidden gems – ask locals for recommendations and explore markets for an authentic culinary experience.

21.  Keep Some Cash Handy

While credit cards are widely accepted, having cash is essential, especially for small purchases and places where cards might not work. Even though France is modern, some smaller shops, street vendors, or cafes prefer cash. It’s also useful for tipping or handling unexpected situations. Remember to withdraw some local currency from ATMs when you arrive to ensure you’re ready for any payment scenario.

22. Understanding VAT Refunds in France

For those exploring France from outside the EU, unlocking the potential savings through Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds can be a game-changer. If your single-day purchases in a store exceed 175 euros, you qualify for a VAT refund upon leaving the country. The process is straightforward, and here’s how it works.

Qualifying for a VAT Refund:

To be eligible, you must be a non-EU resident, having spent over 175 euros in one store on a single day, including VAT. Additionally, you may be asked to provide proof of residency, typically in the form of your passport.

Easy Steps for VAT Refunds:

1. Ask for a Refund Form: Inform the staff when making a qualifying purchase, and they will provide you with a VAT refund form.

2. Fill Out the Form: Complete the form with your details, present proof of residency, and list the items you purchased.

3. Stamp from Customs: Before departing France, visit customs at the airport or designated offices to get a stamp on your form.

4. Show Your Purchases: Customs may inspect your bought items, so keep them accessible and unused in your luggage.

5. Submit the Form: After obtaining the customs stamp, submit the filled form to the VAT refund service at the airport or via mail. Check for any additional documents required by the service.

6. Get Your Money: Your VAT refund will be processed, and you’ll receive it – either in cash at the airport, as a credit card refund, or through a bank transfer.

Highway in Lyon, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Highway in Lyon, France

23. Understanding the French Floor Numbering System

Navigating French buildings becomes simpler when you know how they number floors. Instead of starting with the first floor as the ground floor, in France, it’s called Floor 0.

This is handy for finding your way around, like using elevators or figuring out where things are in buildings. It helps avoid confusion and makes communication with locals or building staff easier.

Here are some easy tips to get it right: Check signs in buildings—they often say if the ground floor is Floor 0. When in doubt, just ask locals or building staff for help; they’re used to it. And remember, even though the numbers are different, common sense works—stuff like entrances and main areas are usually on Floor 0.

Understanding this French floor numbering system might seem small, but it makes your experience smoother and more enjoyable as you explore different places in France.

Covered Market at South Station, Nice, France - (How to travel France - Best Tips and Guides)
Covered Market at South Station, Nice, France

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is a visa required for a trip to France?

Verify visa prerequisites based on your nationality, some countries allow short stays without a visa.

2. When is the best time to explore France?

Consider spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) for favourable weather and fewer crowds.

3. Which French cities are recommended for a visit?

Noteworthy destinations include Paris, Nice, Lyon, and Bordeaux, each offering distinctive cultural experiences.

4. What are the transportation options within France?

Utilize efficient public transport like trains and buses. Renting a car is also practical for rural exploration.

5. What’s the local currency, and how should I manage finances?

The Euro (€) is official; credit cards are widely accepted, yet having some cash is advisable for smaller establishments.

6. Is French proficiency necessary?

While English is common, learning basic French phrases enhances the experience, particularly in rural regions.

7. Which French dishes should I try?

You should definitely try out classic cuisine such as croissants, baguettes, escargot, coq au vin, and the diverse array of cheeses and wines.

8. Any cultural etiquette tips to be mindful of?

Prioritize politeness, greet with “Bonjour” and familiarize yourself with social norms to respect local customs.

9.  What iconic landmarks should I include in my itinerary?

Explore the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Mont Saint-Michel, and the Palace of Versailles to immerse yourself in France’s rich history and architecture.

Related Posts:

  1. The 15 Top Luxury Hotels in France
  2. Best Things to Do and Places to Visit in France
  3. The Top 10 Best Luxury Destinations in Europe
  4. The 10 Best Luxury Hotels in Europe

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