Planning a trip to France can be very exciting. You want to visit the art museums, admire the beautiful Renaissance buildings and, of course, eat as many croissants as possible. But before you arrive, there are specific France travel tips to be aware of.
Whether you’re exploring the streets of Paris or wine tasting in the rolling hills of the Rhone Valley, these tips will help you make the most out of your trip!
1. Understand the French Schedule
Unless you’re in a big city like Paris, you should pay extra attention to the opening hours of shops, restaurants and cafes. Most places open early in the morning but close during the afternoon for a two-hour lunch break. Then, they reopen around 2 or 3 p.m. until closing time.
Likewise, most shops and supermarkets are also closed all day on Sunday. Of course, you can still find restaurants and cafes that are open, especially in large tourist areas. But if you plan to do any souvenir shopping, you’ll need to go from Monday to Saturday.
2. Pack Comfortable Shoes
France is, undoubtedly, a country meant for walking. And if you don’t pack a comfortable pair of shoes, you’ll be left with painful blisters and sore feet for the rest of your trip. As a France travel tip, we recommend bringing breathable sneakers, sturdy sandals or a pair of flats with you.
Although it may be tempting to pack your stiletto heels or leather oxfords to keep up with French fashion, you’re better off leaving them at home. Between the cobblestone alleys and rolling hills of the countryside, you (and your feet) will be thankful to have a reliable pair of shoes.
We’re big fans of Vessi Footwear who make some of the most stylish, travel-friendly shoes we’ve ever seen.
3. Use a SIM Card with a Data Plan
Whether you’re looking up directions to the nearest boulangerie or uploading a photo to Instagram, a SIM card is essential when traveling through France. And with a travel SIM from Bouygues Telecom, you’ll be connected no matter where you go.
Not only do you have unlimited calls to France and the rest of Europe, but you’ll also have a ton of data. The SIM includes 20GB of data in France, of which 15 can be used in the rest of Europe. And if you need to call home, you can use the pre-paid €25 of international credit that’s included with the plan. Plus, if you ever come back to Europe, your number remains valid for an entire year!
So if you get lost and need to find the nearest bus station back to your hotel, you can. Or if you need to call your mom to tell her that you landed safely at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, you can do that, too. Having an affordable and, most importantly, a reliable data plan is vital when traveling to France.
Bouygues is the primary provider in France with the largest network. Currently, they cover 64 million people in France, which is pretty crazy considering France has 67 million people in the entire country! So if you want to make sure you’re always covered, Bouygues is the company to choose.
4. Brush up on Your French
No matter where you travel in the world, it’s always a good idea to learn a few words of the local language. This is especially true if you go to France, where English is not commonly spoken in smaller villages and towns.
A simple “bonjour” or “merci” will go a long way with the French. There are also a few extra phrases to take your speaking skills to the next level. You can use “s’il vous plait” which translates to thank you, and “comment allez-vous?” when asking how someone is. We recommend using language-learning apps like Rosetta Stone or DuoLingo to practice your French.
While English is widely spoken in most hotels and tourist spots in big cities like Paris or Marseille, most locals appreciate the effort and gesture to speak their language.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Try the Local Cuisine
French food is arguably one of the best cuisines in the world, and for a good reason. The French take their cooking very seriously, which means you can find mouth-watering meals no matter where in France you plan to visit.
Indulge on coq au vin in Burgundy, a braised chicken dish soaked with red wine and mushrooms. Or sample Bouillabaisse in Provence, a simmered fish stew known for its aromatic herb broth. And when in Paris, you can’t miss the freshly baked croissants and baguettes.
When it comes to France travel tips, we also recommend trying escargot! Cooked in garlic butter and herbs, these little snails are a delicious delicacy in France. And don’t shy away from the smelly cheeses that are served in the Fromagerie or cheese shops. France is home to some of the best cheeses in the world like Camembert, Roquefort and Comté. As we like to say, the stinkier the cheese, the better!
6. Secure Your Electronic Devices
During your trip to France, you’ll inevitably be on the internet. Whether you’re booking train tickets to Lyon or merely browsing local Facebook events on your phone, you’re opening yourself up to potential security threats.
We are all at risk of cyber hacking and identity theft. Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can protect your electronics (and yourself) when traveling abroad.
Only use secure connections. If you do any shopping online, be careful when entering personal information into the website. Make sure the website is secure before entering bank details or credit card numbers. That means only using sites with an “s” after http in the URL. You can also look for the green padlock in the browser bar.
Use a VPN. Connecting to a public WiFi network in your hostel or a cafe can be dangerous, especially if the system is hacked. For this reason, you should use a VPN service that masks your IP address and encrypts your data.
Turn off Bluetooth. If you keep Bluetooth enabled on your phone, you’re giving hackers another way to steal your data. Anyone can interrupt that wireless signal and pair to your device. If you don’t need Bluetooth when traveling, turn it off!
7. Keep Emergency Numbers at Hand
While most trips to France go unscathed, it’s best to be prepared in case you encounter any incident or emergencies. So if someone snatches your wallet in the subway, or you get into a car accident while taking a taxi, you’ll know what to do.
For general help, you can call 112 from any landline, payphone or GSM cell phone to reach the European emergency hotline. However, you can also contact specific emergency services by dialing the following numbers: 15 for a medical emergency, 17 for the police and 18 for the fire brigade.
8. Purchase Travel Insurance
To protect you against any travel mishaps, it’s crucial to invest in a good travel insurance policy. Because travel insurance can quite literally save your life, it’s one of the most critical France travel tips to keep in mind.
For example, if you break your leg skiing down the French alps, your expensive medical bills will be covered. And if you get sick before you travel to France, then travel insurance will reimburse the non-refundable flights and hotel stays.
Other travel insurance benefits include coverage for trip interruption, lost or damaged property, and even medical evacuation or repatriation back home. No matter what travel insurance company you choose, don’t forget to leave home without it!
9. Understand French Tipping Culture
We’ve all been in that confusing situation abroad when dining in a cafe or restaurant. Once the bill comes, we’re not exactly sure how much tip to leave—or if we need to leave anything at all!
Well in France, the bill automatically includes a 15 percent service charge. In fact, French law requires it! And while no one expects additional gratuity for excellent service, they always appreciate it.
That’s because the 15 percent service charge isn’t usually distributed to the waitstaff. So if you have a pleasant experience with your barista or waiter, leave them a few extra euros. All the money you give them goes straight into their pocket.
Generally speaking, you can round up to the nearest dollar for drinks or coffee in a cafe. And if you’re dining in a restaurant, you can leave anything from three to five percent. They consider anything above five percent extremely generous.
10. Venture Outside the Tourist Spots
Sure, there’s nothing more jaw-dropping than visiting the Eiffel Tower or spending a few hours in the Louvre. But to really sink your teeth into French culture, don’t be afraid to step away from the popular tourist destinations. Not only will you see a more authentic side of France, but you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for your surroundings and French culture.
Spend the day trekking through the mountains in rural Auvergne in central France. Or, explore medieval castles and fortresses in the charming region of Tarn. And if you’re looking for a bit of relaxation, you can always head to the Mediterranean beaches of the French Rivera.
There are plenty of hidden gems and backstreets to discover in Paris, too! You’re never more than a few blocks away from a family-run cafe, a boutique store or even a tranquil garden. By traveling off the beaten path, you’ll see a side to France that you won’t find outlined in any travel guidebook.
As you will soon see, France is full of beauty. And, while there’s no wrong way to travel to France, it’s sometimes worth the effort to escape the big cities.
11. Take the Train (and Public Transportation in General)
If you are interested in exploring the outskirts of France, then consider traveling around the country by train. The French transportation network is highly developed, which makes traveling to and around France a breeze.
Not only are the trains clean and efficient, but they also get you to most cities and villages around the country in just a few hours. With such a well-connected system, there’s no need to rent a car or fly between different cities in France.
As a France travel tip, we recommend taking the ultra-fast TGV train, which goes up to 199 miles per hour! If you book early in advance, you can score some great deals on train tickets.
The same goes for traveling within a city. Buses and inter-city trains are reliable and far cheaper than taking a taxi.
12. Watch out for Pickpockets
As with any major city around the world, petty theft and pickpocketing can be a significant issue. When you’re wandering the city, or visiting a popular tourist attraction, pay extra attention to your surroundings. And don’t carry valuables like expensive jewelry or tons of cash with you during the day.
That’s another reason why it’s crucial to travel to France with travel insurance. So, if you lose your iPhone on the train or someone snags your laptop from the hotel room, the insurance company will reimburse you.
But in the rare instance that something does go missing, you should immediately report it to the police or local authorities. You will also need as much documentation as possible, such as a police report, when filing a claim with your insurance company.
13. Be Open to New Cultures
If you’re visiting Europe or France for the first time, you might notice a few cultural differences. Everything from social etiquette and fashion to greetings and small talk can be quite different compared to your home country.
Unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb, an important France travel tip is to learn what is socially appropriate and acceptable before you arrive in the country. After all, you don’t want to forget your manners or offend someone by using the wrong greeting.
But in our opinion, it’s these cultural differences that make traveling so exciting! And, with an open mind, you can immerse yourself into French culture and make the most of your trip.
France has that certain je ne sais quoi. Filled with natural beauty, diverse landscapes, historic landmarks and mouth-watering cuisine, you’ll want to return to it time and time again.
France has something for every type of traveler. And now that you know what to expect, you’re prepared for your unforgettable trip!