France Travel Guide: From French greetings to the best cities in France!

Visit France and see The Eiffel Tower

France is a favourite of travellers the world over, with more than 80 million visitors arriving every year. With medieval villages, the wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire, Michelin-starred restaurants, historic monuments and high-fashion, it’s simply a matter of crafting the right holiday for your interests.

While most of us know of France as a renowned travel destination, you might not have realised that the country holds these unusual world records:

  • Alain Dorotte, hailing from France, is the world’s fastest wine-bottle opener, who opened 13 bottles of wine in 60 seconds with a T-handled corkscrew.
  • The Moulin Rouge can-can dancers hold the record for the most simultaneous high kicks in 30 seconds.

Practical travel tips

Visas in France
Australian citizens can travel in EU countries, including France, for up to 90 days without a visa.

Best time to visit?
While you can visit France at any time of year, the months of July and August see a lot of local and international tourists, so expect to see big queues at popular tourist spots if you do visit during these months.

Travelling around France
France has a fantastic public transport system, with high-speed train services around the country and connections to the entire continent. In major cities there are also buses, trams and metros, and you can rent a car for driving around the countryside.

French currency
France uses the Euro. On average, one Australian dollar converts to 70 euro cents.

France tourist attractions include lavender fields

Culture and customs

The French are renowned for being a proud people – they love their culture and their customs, and can look down their nose at those who don’t follow suit. However, if you make an effort to follow their customs, the locals will warmly welcome you.

A big one is the language – while many French people speak good English these days (particularly younger generations), they will appreciate you making the effort. Here’s some useful vocabulary to get you started:

  • Bonjour: Hello
  • Merci: Thank you
  • De rien: You’re welcome
  • S’il vous plait: Please
  • Au revoir: Goodbye
  • Excusez-moi:  Excuse me

When you walk into a shop or restaurant, remember to say a simple bonjour madame/monsieur, as this is considered polite.

Grapevines in the Champagne region

Top experiences

 

Best cities in France

  • Paris: Home to famous sites like the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Sacre Coeur and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, Paris is one of those cities that should be on every traveller’s bucket list.
  • Nice: Nice is an eclectic mix of styles – beachside resort town, Parisian opulence and Mediterranean terracotta. Not to mention its fantastic markets, hilly old town, superb restaurants, and the blue expanse of the sea, making it one of the best places to visit in the south of France.
  • Bordeaux: While famous for its wines, Bordeaux truly is a hidden gem of France with its pedestrian boulevards, UNESCO-listed neoclassical architecture, and exciting night life.
  • Toulouse: Known as the ‘Pink City,' much of the ancient buildings in this city are built with coral-coloured stone. Home to one of the largest universities in France outside Paris, this city is home to students with all the cafes, jazz and techno spots to prove it.
  • Lyon: Colonised by the Romans in 43 BC, Lyon is a commercial, industrial and banking powerhouse and France’s third largest city. But it isn’t just business – enjoy museums, culture, shopping and clubbing while indulging in the rich food.
  • Dijon: Dijon is home to more than just the mustard. Filled with medieval and Renaissance buildings, and right in the centre of the Burgundy wine region, there is plenty to see if you love food, wine and shopping.

The Eiffel Tower

A trip to France would be incomplete without visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The 320m spire was erected as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 World’s Fair, and its popularity ensured that it became a permanent fixture of the city and the world’s most-visited landmark.

You can take the lift up through the tower’s three floors where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city, or dine at the restaurants 58 Tour Eiffel or Le Jules Verne. If you’d prefer to climb, be prepared for the 704 steps via the south pillar.

Lose yourself in the Louvre

Housing more than 35,000 exhibits, it’s easy to get lost in this cavernous museum. With paintings and tapestries, sculptures and archaeological finds, even jewellery and sarcophaguses, there’s enough to keep you occupied for a month if you try to see it all.

Insider’s tip: The first Sunday of the month is free (though expect to fight the crowds), and travellers under 26 can visit for free on Friday’s from 6pm.

And if you want more, the Musee D’Orsay is right across the river.

Tour the Loire Valley Chateaux

In the 1500s, the royal families of France lived in the Loire Valley. However, they didn’t restrict themselves to a single dwelling – no, every couple of months they would move from chateau to chateau down the river, bringing their servants and all of their belongings with them – even their furnishings!

When you consider that each family had multiple residences, and then consider the various nobles along with the royalty themselves, and you have over 80 chateaux in the region, many of which have beautiful gardens to explore, exhibitions about the region’s history, or are surrounded by picturesque towns where you can stop for lunch.

Ancient Cave Art

If you’re curious to see hundreds of Paleolithic cave paintings, where would you look? Egypt? Jordan? Cambodia?

Believe it or not, you can see these cave paintings in the Lascaux Caves in Southwestern France. Discovered by four boys back in 1940 who were looking for their dog, what they ended up discovering was a complex underground system full of cave paintings. Although the original cave is no longer open to the public, you can see a replica of the original version just a short distance away.

Indulge in French food

The home of the Micheline guides, France is renowned for its food. Indulge in delicious pastries, crêpes, and hearty soups to taste the local cuisine, which differs from one region to the next.

Here are some dishes to try:

  • Tarte flambée: From the Alsace region, this is a rectangular or circular flat bread topped with fresh cream, cheese, onions, and bacon.
  • Boeuf bourguignon: Beef burgundy is a traditional French stew from the Burgundy wine region, featuring beef braised in red wine.  
  • Frog’s legs: Found in the Dombes region, this a dish that the locals savour. The meat tastes quite like chicken and flavoured heavily with garlic.
  • Escargot: French for snails, and that isn’t a euphemism! Snails are cooked with butter, garlic, and parsley and served in their shells with small tongs and forks you can use to extract the meat.
  • Bouillabaisse:  Bouillabaisse is a fish stew fit for a king, and is popular along the coast.

Enjoy champagne in Champagne

Taste champagne in its birthplace – the Route du Champagne. Here in the Champagne region you can visit premium champagne chateaus dotted across the region, enjoying incredible views and excellent champagne.

The Champagne Route is divided into three main drives – the Montagne de Reims and Côte de Blanc are home to chateaus offering high-end fizz while Vallée de la Marne offers better value and fruitier beverages.

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Staying safe in France

France is a safe destination for travellers, even in the big cities. However, it’s always important to be prepared and to protect yourself by organising appropriate travel insurance up front.

Crime

Aside from the 2015 terror attacks, France hasn’t faced major crime problems. Having said that, petty crimes like pickpocketing do happen, particularly in tourist areas, so be aware of your belongings and keep your valuables safe, as you would in any other public place.

Terrorism

Some areas in France, like Paris, have been the target of terrorist attacks, which means the authorities have improved security in these areas. With this in mind, don’t feel alarmed if you come across heavily-armed police officers and military units in popular tourist spots and transport hubs.

Stay up to date with the latest terrorist threat alerts at www.smartraveller.gov.au

Street scams

Along with pick pockets, there are many street hustlers in France who are waiting to con tourists. These might include street vendors who try to sell you items from their duffel bags or suitcases – they usually sell fake items for a good price. Another common one is someone asking you if you’ve dropped a gold ring – keep walking. If you tell them the ring doesn’t belong to you, they might try to sell it to you for a discounted price.

Natural disasters

Remember to look at the weather before going skiing or hiking in the country. Avalanches, mudslides, forest fires, and flash floods have affected tourists in the past, so be sure to stay on top of weather warnings. Note that all RACV travel insurance policies provide natural disaster coverage if purchased before the natural disaster occurs.

Local rules

France also has a handful of rules that may catch first-time visitors off guard. These are:

  • Don’t photograph security guards or law enforcement officers.
  • Don’t hide your face in public – not even for religious reasons.
  • Don’t hesitate to assist someone who’s crying out for help, unless it would risk your safety.
  • Always carry some form of photo ID when you go out in public.

Medical care

Hospitals and clinics in France offer a very high quality of healthcare, treatments can be costly. The cost of hospitalisation, for example, ranges between $1,450 and $3,500 per day. You may also have to pay out-of-pocket or produce a guarantee from your insurance provider if you require medical treatment. Treatments can be costly, so, always make sure your check whether any pre-existing conditions are covered by your travel insurance policiy.

If you get injured while hiking or exploring remote areas in France, you might have to pay to be medevacked to a health care centre.

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