France is a country of diverse climate conditions, resulting in various weather patterns. When traveling to France, it is useful to check the weather forecast in the given region.
The northern part of the country tends to have cold winters (areas especially around the Alps, Massif Central and the Pyrenees witness heavy snow falls) and warm summers. The southern part, particularly along the Mediterranean coast is characterized by very hot, dry summers and mild winters. Except for the coastal areas, heavy rainfalls are uncommon.
If you are flexible with your travel dates, it’s good to avoid the following French public holidays:
During these dates, many people in France are traveling to visit their families, friends, to spend a few days in a holiday resort or outside the city, especially when a public holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday. Most companies let their employees take the Friday/Monday as a “bridge” day, allowing for an extended four-day weekend. During this time, the traffic on motorways is busier and flight/train prices might be higher than usual.
Travelling by air is probably the most convenient way to get into France.
If you are flying from outside of Europe, your port of entry will most probably be:
- Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (Île-de-France region)
Other major French airports are:
- Paris Orly Airport (Île-de-France)
- Nice Côte d'Azur Airport (Provence)
- Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes)
- Marseille Provence Airport (Provence)
- Toulouse Blagnac Airport (Midi-Pyrénées)
Air France is the major French airline, with flights all around the world.
Traveling by car from neighboring countries is very comfortable, as thanks to the Schengen Agreement traffic flows smoothly with no border and passport controls. The only exception may be the border crossing with Switzerland and Andorra due possible passport and car checks, though usually it is not the case.
For travelers coming from the UK, the most convenient way is to take the Eurotunnel car shuttle train from Folkestone (UK) to Calais (in northern France). It only takes about 35 minutes and operates up to 4 times an hour.
Traveling by car from neighbouring countries is very comfortable, as thanks to the Schengen Agreement traffic flows smoothly with no border and passport controls. The only exception may be the border crossing with Switzerland and Andorra due possible passport and car checks, though usually it is not the case.
For travellers coming from the UK, the most convenient way is to take the Eurotunnel car shuttle train from Folkestone (UK) to Calais (in northern France). It only takes about 35 minutes and operates up to 4 times an hour.
Europe has an excellent fast-train network.
The SNCF, France’s national-owned railway company, provides direct service from many European countries. Travellers from the UK have two main options: the Eurostar high speed train from either London, Ashford or Ebbsfleet to Calais, Lille or Paris, or the Eurotunnel train from Folkstone to Calais.
Citizens of the EU, Island, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are not required a visa to enter France.
According to the Schengen Agreement, 26 European countries*, including France, make up a passport- and border-free travel zone.
Note: UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not part of the Schengen Area.
Nationals of countries such as Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States are not required a visa to enter France for stays under 90 days.
For more information on visas and a full list of countries required a visa to France, go to: http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/ (website of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development)
The 26 Schengen Area Member States are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein. The Schengen Agreement and the Schengen Area are named after the place in Luxembourg, where the treaty was signed in 1985.
France airports play a huge role in the country’s economy, and serve not only tourists but also business travelers. With about 200 airports in total, France has one of the most extensive network of regional airports in Europe, operated by airlines from various European and overseas countries, including some low-cost flight operators.
Carriers offering domestic flights within France:
Long distance bus services are a pretty new concept in France. But with its quick development in recent years, it is a good alternative to trains for travelling around the country, especially to places, which do not have a train station.
The following interregional bus services are available throughout the country:
France has the second largest European railway network, and it is mostly run by the state-owned SNCF.
There are different kinds of high speed and normal trains that run across the country and abroad:
- TER: stops at most train stations, but is therefore not the fastest one.
- TGV: connecting Paris with the most populated areas in the country. It also operates into Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and England.
- iDTGV: is a subsidiary of SNCF with tickets frequently offered at a reduced price. It serves nearly 30 destinations in France on journeys of minimum 3 hours from Paris. The trains are divided into 2 carriage zones: iDzen and iDzap. The first one is for travelers wishing a quiet trip, with mobile phones and loud conversations prohibited. iDzap suites families or holidaymakers, with more understanding for noise. The tickets can be only purchased online.
- OUIGO: is a newly created, low-cost train service based near Paris with routes to the north, northwest and southeast of France. Tickets can only be bought on-line through their dedicated website.
Six cities in France have a metro system. It operates in Paris (16 lines), Lyon (4 lines), Marseille (2 lines), Lille (2 lines), Toulouse (2 lines) and Rennes (1 line). The subway operates usually from early in the morning (ca. 5:00 a.m.) and finishes its service past midnight (ca. 1:00 a.m.). Tickets can be bought at the station, either at a counter or ticket vending machines.
Trams are even more common and operate in 22 cities and towns across France, including Paris, Lyon, Nancy, Nice, Marseille, Strasbourg and Toulouse. Services run approximately between 5:00 a.m. and midnight. Tickets can be purchased at ticket vending machines and should be validated once onboard the tram.
Taxis are a common way of transport in Paris and other big cities across the country. Most of the times, they can be found outside of railway stations, airports or on main streets.
All taxis are licensed by local prefectures, which impose certain obligations in relation to passenger capacity, drivers’ working hours etc. The taxi driver can refuse to take you onboard if you are drunk, your clothes are dirty or you wish to travel with an animal.
Illegal and not metered taxis are common in main cities and may try to „catch” foreigners for a ride. If you do decide to take an unlicensed taxi, be cautious and always agree on a fixed fare in advance.
It is recommended to consult with a doctor what vaccines are needed based on the target destination, period of travel and the activities planned.
An International Certificate of Vaccination (known as the ‘Yellow Card’), verifying that proper procedures were followed in administering vaccinations for foreign travel, is used to demonstrate receipt of required vaccinations for entry into foreign countries.
No vaccinations are required for entering France.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends to be up-to-date with following vaccinations:
- Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
- varicella (chickenpox)
The health service in France consists of public and private hospitals. Citizens of the EU, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein can get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for any necessary medical treatment while in France. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for travel insurance, but any treatment provided would be on the same conditions as for French residents.
When treated in France, you will need to pay for any medical services provided. To be able to claim any refunds back in your country, you need to fill in a treatment form (feuille de soins).
Treatment in private hospitals or clinics is usually not covered by health insurance companies.
Before coming to France, check if there are any complementary arrangements for medical care between your country and France.
Usually involves some gypsies, a woman or young girls which often pretend to be deaf. They approach you with a clip board with a petition already signed by other foreigners and ask you for some small donation. When you are distracted by trying to communicate with them or signing it, their accomplices will pickpocket you.
When withdrawing money, someone approaches you asking an innocent question in a language you don’t understand. As you are distracted, the scammer will walk closer to you and grab the money when it comes out from the ATM and run off. The scammers can also be children or a man faking his sickness, who will simply grab your money as it comes out of the machine and run away.
In France, service is included in the prices by law, therefore tipping is not obligatory. But a small tip is always appreciated, in most situations rounding the check up is sufficient. For example, if the check is 2,30€ for a coffee, you can leave 2,50€; if you pay 32€ for a meal, you can leave additional 3€.
ATMs are widely available. ATM withdrawal fee with bank-issued debit cards come with various fees depending on the bank.
The word “ATM” in French can be called the following: le distributeur automatique de billets, GAB or guichet automatique.
There are no ATM cash withdrawal limits. The amount you can withdraw depends on your bank and your account settings.
Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas and the Société Générale are major banks in France.
Bargaining is not a custom in France. The price on a price tag is the one you should be paying for an item.
Since around 1000 B.C. the Celtic tribes inhabited Gaul, a region of Western Europe including present day France. In year 52 B.C, as a result of the Gallic Wars, the Celts found themselves under the control of the Roman Republic. Gaul remained under Roman rule until the 5th century when the Germanic Franks, led by King Clovis, conquered the land in 486 A.D. and established the Kingdom of France. The Kingdom extended terrestrially and achieved major administrative reforms during the rule of the House of Capet since 987. The stabilization period lasted until the beginning of the 14th century when the last direct Capetian monarch passed away.
An inheritance dispute over the French throne between the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet led to the Hundred Years' War which devastated the country, causing thousands of deaths and unscrupulous destruction. Joan of Arc was one of the remarkable figures of the war, who led the French army to several important victories and became a heroine of France. The conflict ended in 1453 and the Valois dynasty ruled the country until the end of the sixteenth century. After the victory in the Hundred Years' War, the main competitors of the monarchy, the great feudal lords, lost their previous importance and France soon transformed into a centralized absolute monarchy.
Between 1562-1598 religious war took place where the Catholics fought for influence with the Protestants (also known as Huguenots). The conflict ended in 1598 with an Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious freedom to the Protestants.
After the death of the last Valois king, Henry III, the power was taken over by the House of Bourbon. Their government led to strengthening of the monarchy, blooming of the economy and begun the era of French colonial empire claiming lands in the Americas. Under the rule of Louis XIII, the actual power was in hands of Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful chief minister of France, who suppressed the influence of the feudal nobility and abolished political rights for the Protestants.
The development of absolute monarchy reached its zenith under the rule of Louis XIV when France constituted overseas colonies and conquered neighboring territories and trading. Culture as well as literature were flourishing.
In 1792 the monarchy was overthrown by the French Revolution and the First French Republic was founded. The Republic lasted until the French Empire was declared by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804 and he became head of government as a First Consul. He persuaded a policy of conquest and annexation, but soon after his defeat during the French invasion of Russia, Prussia and other hostile countries invaded France and captured Paris. Napoleon was forced to exile to the island of Elba.
After that, the country underwent various regime changes, from monarchy, to the Second Republic, and then between 1852 and 1870 converted into Second Empire, to finally become the French Third Republic which lasted until 1940.
France has been actively involved in the World War I, and thanks to the peace terms settled in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, France regained Alsace-Lorraine. During World War II, Paris quickly fell to the Germans in June 1940 and Germany soon occupied three-fifths of France's territory. The Third Republic fell and the Regime de Vichy led by Philippe Pétain was established, to govern the unoccupied areas of the country and overseas colonies. In the same time General Charles de Gaulle declared himself the head of French government in exile, governing from London. Within the French territory, French Resistance was formed to fight against the Vichy Regime which sought to collaborate with Germany.
After the war, in 1946, the French Forth Republic was restored. In 1958 France moved to the Fifth French Republic with a strong presidential system. Most French overseas colonies were granted independence in the 1960ties following local referendums, but a few of them decided to remain part of France as overseas departments.
Creation of the European Union
In 1992, French President François Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl formed the European Union under the Treaty of Maastricht which later led to to the creation of the single European currency, the euro. In 1999, the Euro was introduced in France to replace the French franc.
France is located in Western Europe, bordering 8 countries: Andorra, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain and Switzerland. It has also some overseas territories located in the Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana) and in the Indian Ocean (La Réunion, Saint-Pierre & Miquelon and Mayotte).
With an area of 673,801km2 (418,680 sq. mi), France is the second largest country in Europe, after Russia.
Two thirds of France territory consists of mountains and hills. Five mountain ranges dominate eastern, south central and southern France: the Alps on the border with Italy, the Pyrenees on the border with Spain and Andorra, the Massif Central in central France, Jura along the Swiss border and the Vosages near the border with Germany. Europe's highest mountain Mont Blanc at 4,808 m (15,770 ft.) is located in the French Alps.
The river system in France is mainly organized around 5 main rivers: Loire (1020 km/630 mi) being the longest one, Seine (777 km/483 mi), Garonne (602 km/374 mi), Rhône (813 km/505 mi) and Rhine (1230 km/760 mi) with only 188 km/116 mi flowing through France.
At 500 m wide, almost 3 km long and 107 m high, this rare geological phenomenon is the largest and tallest sand dune in Europe. It is located on the west coast of France, in the Arcachon Bay area, only an hour drive from Bordeaux.
Gorges Du Verdon, in southeastern France is considered to be the most beautiful canyon in Europe. It is 25 kilometers (15.5 mi) long and its depth varies from 250 to 700 meters (about 2 297 feet maximum). It was formed by the Verdon River, which incredible turquoise water and the limestone cliffs with 1500 routes attract many kayak enthusiasts and rock climbers from all over the world.
With almost 300 million French speakers around the globe, French is ranked the sixth most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic.
In France it is the only official language according to the second article of the French Constitution. But there are some regional languages and dialects spoken in different parts of the country, such as Alsatian (deriving from German language), Breton (deriving from Celtic language), Langues d'Oïl and Occitan (deriving from Gallo-Romance languages).
Some most challenging phrases to articulate properly in French are:
|How are you? (formal)||Comment ça va?|
|How are you? (informal)||Ça va?|
|How much?||C'est combien?|
|Too expensive||C'est trop cher|
|I want...||Je voudrais…|
|Where is...?||Où est...?|
|Go straight||Allez tout droit|
|Turn left||Tournez à gauche|
|Turn right||Tournez à droite|
|bill / check||l'addition|
|menu||le menu / la carte|
|delicious||délicieux (m.), délicieuse (f.)|
|appetizer / starter||l'entrée|
|main course||le plat principal|
The French are globally known for their sophisticated way of cooking, innovative flavors and elegant presentation. In 2010, UNESCO inscribed the French cuisine on the list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity". According to the organization, the gastronomic meal in France helps to emphasize the pleasure of togetherness, taste and balance between human beings and the products of nature.
The characteristics of French cuisine has evolved over time, influenced not only by centuries of French monarchs, but also by the surrounding countries and faraway cultures.
The country can be divided into several regions, all with their distinct style of cooking.
Representing Normandy and Brittany regions, which provide good pasture for dairy cows. Therefore, local food is heavily enriched with cream and butter. Normandy is well known for its apples used in cider and Calvados apple brandy. It is also well known for seafood, especially oysters and mussels. In the nearby region of Brittany, you will find crepes on every street corner, which can be eaten both savory (with ham, eggs and cheese) or sweet (with butter and sugar, or butter and lemon).
Dominated by the Burgundy region, with centers on Dijon and Lyon. It is on many people's culinary radar nowadays, as the region holds the most Michelin-starred restaurants outside of Paris. The area is best known for their wines, famous Dijon mustard and Bresse chickens, which are used in the famous coq au vin (chicken braised with wine, lardons, mushrooms). Another “ambassador” of the region is beef bourguignon - beef stewed in red wine. The Burgundians are also proud of snails (Escargots à la Bourgogne), a French delicacy - a must-try while in the area.
Best known for its dozens, if not hundreds, of local cheeses made from the local cows, sheep and goats milk. The fromageries in the area produce not only Emmentaler, Reblochon, Beaufort but also Comte, which with its nutty flavor is the most famous Alpine cheese. The cheeses are to be found in famous fondue and raclette, which are cheese based dishes served with ham, potatoes and a variety of other ingredients.
Specialties from this area come with a strong German-influenced cuisine, with dishes containing pickled cabbage and pork-related products. This region is also home to heavy savory pastries and tarts, such as Quiche Lorraine (which normally includes a mature cheese and freshly-cooked bacon) and Tarte Flambée - a north European version of pizza with cream, onions, smoked ham, cheese and mushrooms.
Representing mainly Provence region that shows affinity with neighboring Italy. The area is well known for lavender honey, olives, olive oil, herbs and tomatoes. The most famous dish is a fish soup called bouillabaisse, ideally made with a whole selection of different sea-foods. Ratatouille (vegetable stew) and Salad Nicoise (with lettuce, vegetables, anchovies or tuna) also originate from here.
The cooking of this region is strongly influenced by the Spanish Basque cuisine, which is regarded as one of the best in the world. It is the traditional homeland of cassoulet - a slow-cooked casserole, containing white beans, duck or goose confit, sausages, and additional meat. Delicious Bayonne ham, being 9 or 10 months old before offered for sale, is another well-known region's specialty.
Since 1996 French law requires that minimum 40% of the music played on private radio stations must be of French origin.
The French consume around 30,000 tonnes of snails each year.
Marcel Proust’s "In Search of Lost Time" with more than 3000 pages, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest novel.
The distress call 'Mayday' was invented in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford, a radio officer at London Airport. The term derived from the French "m'aider", a shortened version of “venez m’aider” (meaning "come and help me").
Beauty pageants for children under 16 are banned in France. Parents and organizers who sponsor or encourage access to such competitions may face jail time up to 2 years and a fine of 30,000 euros.