France is one of those countries that I find most people fall in love with. It is a big country, for European standards at least (France is about the size of Texas), and is one of the most well-traveled countries in the world. What is not to love! France is home to some of the greatest food in the world i.e. cheese, wine, baguette, seafood, etc…, some of the most beautiful scenery from Paris to the Alps, and a world-class culture. France is an expensive country to visit but in general so is most of Europe. You don’t come to France looking for a bargain but instead to enjoy high-class culture. But that is the allure and dream of France, especially in the cities of Paris. France is a place where people come to fill out some sort of fantasy… whether that is coming on a romantic getaway or where young students come to learn the “most beautiful” language in the world. Regardless of your budget, France is a must do country for anybody passing through Europe. Here are some essential France travel tips.
(click on a topic to skip to that section)
Getting to/around France
Breakdown of Costs
Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Other France Travel Tips
Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To
Paris – This city is a must if you visit France. More likely than not you will enter France through Paris. Climb the Eiffel Tower and see the famous Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Versailles is something that many people leave off the list since it is a little further out but it is definitely worth a visit. Stroll along the Champs-Élysées (and make sure you bring your wallet with you) or drink café at the thousands of Brasseries. Enjoy the antiques and nightlife of the Gay neighbor Le Marais or take a peak in the sex shop world of Pigalle. Paris will certainly have you falling in love.
Grenoble and the surrounding areas – The capital of the Alps, Grenoble is a decent sized Alpine city that is famous for its skiing, mountains, and having some of the cleanest water in all of France.
Annecy – A cute mountain city located halfway from Grenoble and Geneva. This city has a river that runs through Old Annecy and includes a medieval architecture. A nice day trip from Geneva or Grenoble.
Èze – Located between Monaco and Nice this city is charming and unique. Enjoy the warmth of Provence, pick up some perfume/cologne from Fragonard and enjoy the beautiful views of the oceans and mountains.
Dijon – Old wooden houses still exists from the 12th to 15th century and while you’re there you should pick up some of its famous mustard!
Lyon – Frances third largest city, Lyon feels like a mini-Paris. Come to Lyon for the history, Festival of Lights and the food!
Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez – This is a relaxed France with warm temperatures year round. Come see stars in Cannes and St. Tropez or live up the rich beachfront feel in Nice.
Montélimar – Famous nougat factory that I visited in this city. The surrounding region is famous for making nougat!
Getting to/around France
By Plane – For most people reading this you will probably need to fly to France. If you’re from Europe then obviously there are trains that connect to the rest of Europe. Paris is the most distinguished airport in France and is a good place to start your journey in France. Just about every single major airline flies into Paris so it is possible to get a great deal. To get a ticket I would try Kayak, Travelocity, Skyscanner, Farecompare and Momondo. These are all great websites to find great deals for plane tickets and essential France travel tips. Of course sometimes going directly to the airlines website is the cheapest option.
By Bus – Sure you could ride a bus from any major European city but why would you? Trains or flights are going to be your best option and going to get you to your destination faster.
By Train – Train is a great way to enter into France if you’re already in Europe. Say you are in Geneva or London and wanted to go to France… well just hop on an express French train. It’s very easy to get a ticket but the longer you wait to book the price goes up. Remember that this is France so nothing will be cheap here including a train ticket.
By Car – Getting into France with a car is very easy. Since France is part of the Schengen Zone, you do not need to show your passport at the borders. Lets say if you rent a car in the Belgium and enter you will not need to show any of your documentation since your documentation was already checked once you entered in Belgium. The only exception is entering from United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel or the ferry. United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Zone so you will have to show your passport, etc..
By Cruise – It is possible to come by cruise and there are many French port cities like Villefranche, Cannes, Marseille and Cherbourg.
Getting around France is so simple yet it will cost you. Train tickets do run high in France but they are comfortable and efficient. Once you’re in a give city usually there will be a bus system, trams or a metro. If you’re in a specific city than walking might be your best option and actually better than riding a bus, tram or metro! The highways are very well maintained so if you would like to rent a car and explore and see France for yourself… it is totally possible. I personally feel that the public transportation is very easy and inexpensive but if your looking for a more intimate experience than driving might be the way to go (just advisable to avoid driving in cities like Paris… that actually could be more of a waste of time than helpful).
Breakdown of Costs
Hotels – Expect to pay a minimum of 100 euro’s for any type of decent hotel. I stayed at a 3 star hotel in Paris (Hotel Minerve, located in the Latin Quarter, a great area to find a decent hotel) and the rooms were quite small for American standards. But that is the deal when you come to Europe. Everything will be smaller. Other parts of Europe I stated in 3 – 4 star hotels for around 100 euros to 200 euros a night but that was off-season. Summer months you can expect to pay a tad more. Now if you’re into hostels or roughing it then you can find a hostel for around 20-50 euros but they will be basic at best and you will be sharing with other people. Personally I hate staying in hostels and will avoid it if I can but people have their own comfort levels. If you have money and are ready to spend, France has plenty of hotels to choose from. Throughout France rooms are generally cheaper than Paris but still expect to pay around 1o0 euros a night for anything decent.
Food – Cheap means going to Monoprix, Carrefour or some other grocery store and eating food like bread and cheese. Yeah that’s French and all but eating like this does get old. Street food like sandwiches and crêpes are generally around €3 to €7 or around 10 to 15 dollars. Eating out in France is expensive since the Euro is stronger than the Dollar so in general you will spend around a minimum of €15 or $20 dollars. You could obvisioyly splurge and spend well over a 100 dollars for a real nice French meal. The great part is that meals in France last for hours! It is a must to try crêpes, boeuf bourguignon, french meat, french cheese, foie gras, bisque, baguette, crème brûlée, etc..
Other Activities – You will want to explore France so make sure to book online to go to Versailles or see the Louvre or get metro passes for different cities, etc…. Obviously these will add up but you can buy passes for a certain amount of days like a 7 days visit that will save on cost. You can also buy passes for local public station that will last for say a week or 3 days. Trains are expensive but they are the quickest way to hop to other cities in France.
Well I was always told that French People are just snooty and mean and yeah I guess some people are. Living there for 6 months though I never met very many rude people. Usually the French were very helpful if I needed help with anything and everybody was welcoming towards me. French can seem distant and cold at first but then you get to talk to them and they start opening a little more. Even in Paris I found people would stop and helpful if you asked (If you ask in French you have a way more likely chance they will help you out than if you don’t).
In general the French are not loud people. So if you’re exhibiting loud behavior you will get glances. Most French people are fashionable although dress code is changing in the younger generation. If you’re speaking in French then it’s necessary to know that there are two types of how to say you. “Vous” is more polite and formal while “Tu” is less formal and used only when you know someone personally.
French by many is considered to be one of the most beautiful languages in the world but is one of the tougher Romance languages to learn. French is a language that has so many irregularities that it can be mind numbing to learn. It is one of the harder romance languages but even if you learn a little bit it will be very helpful for your time there. You see the French love their language just as much as we love ours and so they do appreciate if you try to speak French. French are direct and they wear their passion on their sleeves so if they look irritated or pissed with you it’s because you they aren’t very good at hiding their emotions. Learn a bit of French before you leave. You will need to know some French in smaller cities like Grenoble and Dijon to get by.
France also has some different dialects but these are rare to hear. You’ll hear the most differences from northern France compared to the south.
Do’s and Don’ts, France Travel Tips
Do appreciate the history and art of France. It is one of the people greatest achievements and majority of your time on vacation there will be about learning.
Don’t be that American who is loud and obnoxious everywhere you go. We already have a stereotype over there about this so please don’t perpetuate it more.
Do try their food. It’s France… so part of being there is trying the food. It is known world-wide as being one of the best and I promise you, you will not be disappointed in spending your euros on a world-class dining experience.
Don’t go to McDonalds. Kind of goes along with above. There is plenty of time for McDonalds back in the states. This is your chance to try something new and if you hate it you hate. At least you tried it. You’re only in France for a limited time so make the most of it (also they do like McDonalds but only occasionally).
Do enjoy the romance that is France. The French are very laid back when it comes to working and that should be apparent to you when you’re in France. They like to take things a little slower and hate to rush. So while your on vacation enjoy that bottle of wine by the ocean or in the café. Become disconnected from your life back home… You’re in France.
Don’t come to France with a preconceived notion of “France is this way and I heard it’s this way.” Experience France for yourself and see how you feel about it. Don’t let another person get into your head about how much they hated it or loved it.
Do dress up while you’re there. Please don’t be that American slob who is wearing an over sized t-shirt or gym shorts. You’re in a country where fashion is important to both men and women.
From Splurging to Saving
It’s easy to spend a lot of money in France. Come with a budget and stick to it!! Get the sites you want to see in because they are worth it even if they are touristy. Venture out to the country sides of France if you have the chance. This is on the splurging end of a budget but the countrysides are beautiful. If you’re bring money with you to Paris then there are ample amount of ways to have fun in this country. From high-end shopping to incredible once in a lifetime excursions.
If you’re coming with a tight budget don’t get overwhelmed with the high-end costs of being in Paris or the rest of France. I would budget to spend around 200 dollars a day to be in major cities (including the hotel). This amount is comfortable where you could enjoy some nice meals and do some touristy things. Unfortunately this is the reality of being in France when you start adding up all of the costs and the souvenirs and the tickets and the hotels, etc… When you budget correctly you will feel more comfortable about your time in France and won’t be always thinking about your money. Have both euros and a credit card with you at all time in-case something happens to you (make sure they are not in the same bag, etc… in case your bag is stolen). Money is important when you’re traveling and you want to plan accordingly. Some things are simply not worth the money so be wise and plan what you absolutely want to see and do… everything else can be spontaneous.
If you have a high budget while coming to France you can expect to have a good time in France. France has a great nightlight, hundreds of high end restaurants, premium entertainment. In cities like Paris you can easily spend thousands of dollars a day in high ends stores, etc… France really caters to all sorts of budget types but if you really want to do something (even though it’s expensive) splurge a little and spend (sometimes we just need to forget about saving and just do something that you absolutely want to do).
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Uh hello it’s France. A very forward thinking country that has accepted the gay society. Nobody cares if you’re gay there and you will see thousands of gays everywhere you go (now they haven’t fully accepted gay marriage yet but most youth think it’s acceptable while the really really older crowd does not).
If I could call another country my home it would probably be in France because I know I would be perfectly accepted there. Even straight males are friends with gay guys and think nothing of it. It’s a very metro-sexual type of society (which most gay men love). The men and women always dress up very smartly and fashionably.
And there are thousands of clubs and bars and gay areas to be in France. It’s a great country to come and enjoy a unique gay scene compared to the ones in the United States.
Other France Travel Tips
Before traveling to Europe call your bank and make sure you tell them you’re traveling to France, etc… so you don’t get your account blocked.
Get Euros from your local bank before you leave. Credit Cards work in France and are great but you could be subject to an international usage fee and ATM’s eating up your cards.
Always ask for a carafe d’eau (water from the tap) when at a restaurant. It’s free but the French won’t tell you about it.
Accept that you’re not in the US anymore. Everything will be more expensive and probably smaller.
Use public transportation. It’s clean, easy and efficient.
See the sparkle of the Eiffel Tower at night. It’s simply amazing!
images by: francois, shawnvoyage