What you need to know before traveling to France

More people visit France each year than any other country in the world. The largest of the countries in the European Economic Community, France extends from the English Channel to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rhine River and the Alps. There's so much to see in France, it's impossible to see it all in one visit. There's the glitter, romance and history of Paris; the relaxed glitz of the Riviera; the wine countries of Burgundy and Bordeaux and the solemn beaches and war memorials in Normandy, just to name a few highlights. There's something for practically every interest in this diverse country.

  • Key facts
    Paris, the capital of France, is the most visited city in the country. It's easy to see why. The "City of Lights" is the French fashion and economic capital as well as its seat of government and cultural center. There you'll find the Louvre and Orsay art museums as well as a score of smaller art enclaves; some of the most famous fashion houses in the world; grand boulevards that were just made for an afternoon stroll; romantic river boats along the Seine; sidewalk cafes; the iconic Eiffel Tower and so much more. As appealing as Paris can be, it is far from the only interesting place to visit in France. In fact, no single visit can possibly encompass all that this fascinating country has to offer. Other popular French tourist destinations include:

    • Nice and the French Riviera -- The French Riviera, which extends from St. Tropez to the Italian border, boasts palm trees, elegant casinos, sand and small stone beaches, charming harbors and fresh seafood.

    • Versailles -- Located just outside of Paris, Versailles is best known for the palace of the same name, once home to the French court. Today, you can tour the Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette's bedroom as well as stroll through the manicured gardens.

    • Tours -- Located along the Loire River, Tours is the center of France's Chateaux district. More than a dozen grand palaces and historic country mansions dot the landscape.

    • Normandy -- This province, located on the English Channel, is best known for the beaches that were the launching site of the Allied invasion during World War II. Memorials to the men who died there can be found along the seaside. However, there is more to see in Normandy. The area is known for its apple cider, quaint villages and Gothic cathedrals. This is also the home of Monet's home at Giverny and the medieval tapestry at Bayeux.

    • Grenoble and the French Alps -- Many also travel to France for the skiing. The more than two dozen French ski resorts in the Alps and surrounding mountains include Chamonix, Courcheval, Megeve and Val d'Isere.

    French is the official language of France. Although English and many other European languages are often spoken and/or understood, you shouldn't assume everyone you meet speaks your language. Learning at least a few words of French before you travel can go a long way towards making a good first impression with the French men and women you meet.
    The official currency in France is the euro.
    When calling France from outside of the country, dial 011, then 33, then the city code followed by the local number.
  • Weather & when to go
    There's really no bad time to visit France. However, the peak season for France tourism is during the summer, from June through September. Climate varies in this large country. High temperatures along the Riviera rarely fall belong 50 F (10 C), even in the winter. However, January in Paris can be damp and chilly, with an average high temperature of 45 F (7 C). April in Paris, as the song goes, is lovely, with an average high temperature of 60 F (16 C).
  • Getting around
    French Rail makes getting around France easy. Their TGV (high-speed) trains cut the travel time from Paris to Nice to just under six hours.
    Paris has two international airports--Charles de Gaulle Airport on the north side of the city and Orly Airport on the southwest side of the city. The Paris Metro (subway) system is one of the most extensive and efficient in the world.
    Driving in Paris is not recommended, as one-way streets, heavy traffic and frequent travel circles can make driving hazardous if you're not familiar with the patterns. However, for traveling outside of Paris, renting a car is a great way to experience the countryside at a leisurely pace.
  • Know before you go
    One helpful thing to know before you make your plans to visit France is when the public holidays occur, since all government buildings and offices as well as most retailers and attractions are closed on these days. French public holidays include:

    • January 1 -- New Year's Day

    • The Friday before Easter (March/April) -- Good Friday

    • March/April -- Easter Sunday

    • The day after Easter -- Easter Monday

    • May 1 -- May Day/Labor Day

    • May 8 -- Victory in Europe Day

    • Thirty-nine days after Easter -- Ascension Day

    • Seven weeks after Easter -- Pentecost

    • The day after Pentecost -- Whit Monday

    • July 14 -- Bastille Day

    • August 15 -- Assumption Day

    • November 1 -- All Saints Day

    • November 11 -- Armistice Day

    • December 25 -- Christmas Day

    • December 26 -- St. Stephen's Day (Alsace and Moselle regions only)

    • December 31 -- New Year's Eve

    To reach emergency services in France, such as the fire department or an emergency medical team, dial 112.
    You must have a valid passport to enter France by plane, rail, sea or highway. Citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and most EEC countries are not required to obtain a visa. Citizens of most other countries need to apply to a French consulate or embassy in advance of their trip for a tourist visa.
  • Travel tips & recommendations

    • French retail hours vary, but most open around 10AM, close from around noon to 3PM and open again until 7PM or so. Most French stores are closed on Sunday.

    • French food and wine is, arguably, some of the best in the world. Restaurants generally serve lunch from noon to 2PM and dinner from 8PM to 10PM.

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