France is the most popular country to visit in the world. Its rich culture, incredible food, iconic landmarks, and stunning scenery make any trip there unforgettable.
If you’re visiting France for the first time there are a number of important things to be aware of. To make sure you hit the ground running when you arrive, you should try to familiarize yourself with the most important things to know before traveling to France.
So, what to know about France? This guide will give you 15 insightful France travel tips which will help you fit in and start making friends the moment you get there.
1) Learn some basic French
This is one of the most important tips for visiting France. The French are very proud of their language and learning a few basic phrases is essential. Speaking a little French goes a long way, it shows respect for the culture and makes it easier to break the ice. Here are some of the most important words to know…
Bonjour – Hello
Merci – Thank you!
Oui – Yes
Pardon – Excuse Me
S’il vous plait – Please
Au Revoir – Goodbye
Parlez vous Anglais? – Do you speak English?
Je ne parle pas francais – I don’t speak French.
En anglais, s’il vous plait – In English, please?
2) Know how to greet people
The most common ways to greet someone in French are:
Salut – Hi
Bonjour – Hello/Good morning
Bonsoir – Good evening
What can be more complicated is the rules around cheek kissing, which is the common way friends greet each other. The number of kisses can vary between regions. A double kiss is typical in Paris though is some places it can be 3 or 4 kisses. Handshakes are more common among strangers.
3) Travel in spring or fall
France is the most-visited country in the world and can be expensive during peak season. If you want to see France on a budget consider going in the spring or fall as the prices are lower and the weather is pleasant. It’s also the best way of avoiding large crowds at popular attractions.
4) Know your meal times
This is an essential travel tip for France as many restaurants won’t budge on meal times. Make sure you go at the right times or you might not be able to find anywhere open! Breakfast is fairly early (around 8), lunch is 12 until 2, and dinner starts between 7 and 8. Many places close between lunch and dinner, at least for a couple of hours.
5) Tip waiters in cafes and restaurants
When eating out, a 15% service charge is automatically included in the check as it’s required by French law. However, giving a little extra to waiters is appreciated but it’s not an obligation like it is in the US. Tipping taxi drivers and porters is also standard.
6) Try the Prix Fixe Menu
If you’re not sure what to order in a French restaurant, try the prix fixe (fixed price) menu. It includes several dishes selected by the chef for a reasonable price. It normally includes at least an entrée (appetizer), a plat principal (main dish), a dessert, and often an extra course or two.
7) Expect slower service
France is undoubtedly one of the greatest countries in the world for food. When you’re there you should savor every meal. The quality is amazing but the service isn’t as fast as many other countries. Expect service to be slower, take your time, and don’t complain.
8) Compliment the French
The French are a very proud nation and compliments go a long way. Saying nice things about the food, the wine, people’s clothes, and French culture is a great way of bonding with people.
9) Check and prepare for the weather
The French weather varies greatly depending on the region and the time of year. If you’re going to Paris the weather’s changeable, so prepare for all conditions! If you’re going to the south during the summer you can be sure of warm weather. Check before you go!
10) Research exchange rates
Check where you can find the best exchange rates before you go. You’ll probably find it’s better to withdraw cash from an ATM in France. Make sure you inform your bank before you leave and take a couple of cards in case one gets swallowed!
11) Book train tickets in advance
Traveling by train is a fantastic way of getting around France and it allows you to enjoy the stunning scenery. You can get some fantastic deals if you book your train tickets a few months in advance (obviously this isn’t always possible). If you’re under 25 and are studying in France, or doing an internship, you can get a ‘Carte Jeune’ and save even more!
12) Consider smaller hotels and B&Bs
International chain hotels are convenient, easy-to-book, but also tend to be expensive and impersonal. You can find great deals at smaller places and enjoy a more genuine experience. The food and wine are also much better!
13) Make sure you have health insurance
If you’re from an EU country, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, you can get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) free of charge. It entitles you to the same level of healthcare as a French citizen. Other nationalities should take out a comprehensive health insurance policy to avoid high medical costs. The phone number for emergencies is 112.
14) Expect tightened security
Security has been tightened in France as a response to the increased threat in Europe. Bags are often checked in public places and everyone must carry a form of picture ID with them at all times. Be patient and cooperate with the authorities. Remember that the security measures are there to protect you as well.
15) Beware ‘Les pickpockets’
When you’re in any city you have to watch your things as they are magnets for opportunists. This is an essential Paris travel tip as the capital is notorious for its professional pickpockets. Keep your things in a safe place.
For more France travel tips and advice and to discover what to see and do, read our handy country guide for France.