What you need to know before you travel to France

France is the most popular tourist destination on Earth, and for good reason. Whether it's food, history, art, culture, or some beautiful mad mixture of them all, France's many regions and wonders have something for everyone.
Of course, you should always do a little homework, first!
Here's what you Need to Know Before You Go to France, courtesy of OFX.
French crepes

What is Amazing About France?

France is the de facto gastronomic capital of planet Earth. Of course, certain Italian and Thai aficionados might like a word of argument, but when you think of old-world European cuisine – tumbling wheels of sublimely aged cheese, cascading spears of warm crusty bread, and wine so fine it's worth its weight in gold – the first place that comes to mind is France, and rightfully so. Between creating the Guide Michelin and making chef Jacques Pepin an international celebrity, French cuisine is the beating heart of France. That's why in 2010, UNESCO added french gastronomy to its list of world “intangible cultural heritage.”

France is also one of the great world meccas for lovers of all things artistic and beautiful. Visiting one of countless world-class museums housing Renaissance masterpieces from names like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, to more modern chef d'ouvres from greats like Picasso, Monet, and Cezanne, is as unavoidably French as saying “adieu” or enjoying a glass of Bordeaux. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the beloved classic children's book The Little Prince, famously said, “C'est véritablement utile puisque c'est joli,” which translates to, “It is truly useful since it is beautiful,” encapsulating the French view on art quite well.

Of course, if you're looking to study something new or delve into the many mysteries of the human mind, France has a long and celebrated history of academic excellence. From French philosophers like Voltaire, who advocated for free speech, to Rousseau, who pioneered the “social contract,” to Descartes, who famously penned “I think, therefore I am,” France has always been a hotbed for freethinkers from all over the world to gather and flesh out their revolutionary ideas. Le Sorbonne, located in Paris, is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and has always been extremely welcoming of international students seeking a taste of French education.

 

Where to Visit in France

France has so many wonderful, diverse regions that's it's hard to suggest just a few. Here are some of the most popular destinations in France.

Paris

Ah, the City of Lights! Romantic accordion refrains and the smell of freshly made crepes filling the air; what's not to love about the French capital city? Inhabited since around 300 B.C., Paris is the largest city in France and one of the most important cultural, economic, and financial capitals in the world.

Divided into eighteen different districts, or arrondissements, Paris is as diverse as the people who live there. The Latin Quarter, named for the section of the city founded by the Romans and their language of knowledge, features classical architecture and some of the city's most famous structures and institutions of higher learning, like Le Sorbonne and the Pantheon. Montmartre, on the other hand, is an artistic alcove located in the eighteenth district, and its quirky alleyways and hilly streets have seen artists like Renoir, Degas, Matisse, and Van Gogh call them home.

Whether you're seeking museums, fine dining, haute couture, or some charmed combination of the three, Paris is the ultimate destination for lovers of all things bon vivant.

And of course, there's always the Eiffel Tower.

Germany

Provence

When you hear the name Provence, do you envision rolling hills of vineyards, shelves plump with the finest cuisine in the world, cascading down to a gorgeous Mediterranean coastline? Good! You're pretty spot on.

Located in southeastern France and encompassing the cities of Marseille, Nice, Cannes, and Aix-en-Provence to name a few, Provence is one of the most celebrated regions of France. It is characterized by hot weather, lots of sunshine (Toulon gets the most annual sun of any French city), and the unsurpassed beauty of the French Riviera (known in French as Côte d'Azur). Whether you come for the world-famous Cannes film festival, to stroll the palm tree-lined boulevards of resort destination Nice, or simply indulge in some amateur gastronomy from the birthplace of many of the world's most famous dishes, Provence has something for everyone.

For proof of Provence's commitment to culinary excellence, look no further than the beloved tastes that have originated there: ratatouille, bouillabaisse, tapenade, and aioli are all creations of ancient Provencal kitchens that have found homes across the globe.

Provence is the ultimate destination for lovers of French cuisine and culture who also want to work on their tan and soak up the Mediterranean sun.

Bordeaux

Perhaps no other single location on Earth is more closely associated with the history of wine than the French city of Bordeaux. Located in southwestern France near the Atlantic ocean, Bordeaux is the ninth-largest city in France, and after Paris, has the highest number of preserved historical buildings of any city in France.

UNESCO has named Bordeaux to its World Heritage List as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of 18th century Europe, and a visit will immediately confirm this. Founded around the same time as Paris, Bordeaux has been controlled at different times by the Celts, Gauls, Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, and finally, the Franks. In fact, today the city enjoys a burgeoning cinema industry, attracted by the possibility of shooting in so many breathtaking historical locations.

But let's cut to the grapes. Er, chase. As in, the finest wine grapes in the entire world. You see, Bordeaux's climate is classified as “oceanic,” with strong Atlantic breezes, hot summers, mild winters, and excellent rainfall. The result is that the region is utterly parfait for producing wine. Vintners have been growing wine grapes in the region since the 8th century, and Bordeaux is today the world's industry capital. The largest wine expo on Earth, Vinexpo, is held every year in Bordeaux, and the local economy takes in over €14.5 billion from the wine industry annually.

Old-world history with all-world wine? That's Bordeaux for you.

France

Where Not to Go in France

France is the most popular tourist destination on Earth, attracting 83 million visitors in 2016. It is also continental Europe's largest cultural melting pot, and that fact has made it home to growing tensions in recent years, and the target of several terrorist attacks.

The U.S. Department of State does not currently have any travel warnings posted for France, but it has issued a broader European Travel Alert, warning visitors to Europe to prepare for longer security lines and to be aware of their surrounds and of any potential threats. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns that British tourists may face “a high threat from terrorism in the country.

Beyond the dangers of terrorism, certain areas of France are less advisable for visitors who don't speak French. In the more rural regions of the country, like Bourgogne, Auvergne, and Aquitaine, many residents will have little to no knowledge of English, and securing accommodations, transportation, and even restaurant reservations will pose a challenge without intimate knowledge of how to use a French-English dictionary quickly. 

When is the Best Time to Visit France?

Well, that depends! France is a big country with lots to do.

If you're visiting Paris, try to avoid the peak holiday season: summer. From mid-July to late August, most French citizens take a summer holiday to recharge, and many, many businesses around the country temporarily close up shop as a result.

If you've got your heart set on an Alpine ski vacation along the eastern border of the country, avoid the middle of February, which coincides with the winter school break for French schoolchildren. The slopes will be packed, so try to go earlier in the season.

When it comes to climate, France is so varied that trying to plan around it is a bit of a fool's errand. The Mediterranean coast has extremely hot summers; the northern coast has wet, dreary winters; the spring and fall in the Loire valley are beautiful.

Be sure to coordinate the map to the calendar when traveling to France.

French beach

Which French Beach is Best?

“Best” is always subjective, but certain French beaches are more universally popular than others. As a general rule, though, many of the best beaches are on the Mediterranean coast and the French Riviera.

Nice, with its palm trees and white sand beaches, is the most populous beach city in France. But venture just outside the city, and you'll find some incredible beaches. In the seaside town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, you'll find Plage des Marinieres, a wildly popular and astoundingly beautiful public beach. Similarly, between Cannes and Nice lies the beach town of Antibes, and the Juan-les-Pins beach. It's a popular destination for Parisian vacationers, but the seaside shopping, beautiful restaurants, and warm water more than make up for any possible crowding.

If you're looking for something a little more off the beaten path, the tiny seaside town of Perpignan, just miles from the Spanish border, offers a handful of small, quiet, picturesque Catalonian-Mediterranean beaches. With smooth stone beaches and warm, blue water, the only thing more perfect than these charming beaches is the scenery: ancient castles and great walled forts that loom high and majestic about.

France, Euro

What is the Currency in France?

Since January 1, 2002, France's official currency has been the euro (€), along with the other nations of the European Union. Prior to that, France used the franc for all transactions. 

In especially tourist areas and at tourist-centric businesses – for example, at large hotels and in famous shops on the Champs Elysées in Paris – visitors may be able to use dollars and pounds. However, almost everywhere else, you will need to have euros in order to pay cash for things.

Most businesses accept credit and debit cards. Try to choose a credit card with no international transaction fees, or a debit card from a bank with partnerships with French banks so you can use their ATMs with no additional fees.

Currency exchange providers like OFX offer currency converter tools to show you just how far your money will go in France.

How Much Spending Money Do You Need in France?

Western Europe is not cheap, and France, as the world's most popular tourist destination, is no exception.

Business Insider ranks France as the third most expensive country to visit, after only the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Prices vary from region to region – Paris is exorbitantly costly no matter what, whereas destinations in southern Languedoc-Roussillon area are more affordable – but certain sources place the average cost of dinner for two at roughly €47 per day, and the average cost of a week-long holiday for two at around €1,900.

 
France

What to Pack in France?

First and foremost, to our non-European friends: don't forget those electrical adapters! France uses Type E power sockets, which can also fit standard European Type C and Type F plugs. The standard electric voltage from these sockets is 230 volts. For American appliances like hair dryers and phone chargers, you will need to secure adapters.

As far as what to pack, just about anything goes in fashion-centric France! Let your individual flag fly! Just don't pack berets, striped marinière shirts, and think you're going to fit in. Those are just stereotypes, and you're better than stereotypes!


France, vaccination

Do You Need Vaccinations to Go to France?

The American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not recommend anything beyond standard, routine domestic vaccinations for most travelers visiting France. Included in this are Hepatitis A & B, and rabies vaccinations.

The CDC does note that a measles outbreak was observed in France in July 2017, but deemed it to be the lowest possible “Watch Level 1” threat to travelers, advising visitors only to “practice usual precautions.”


France, visa

Do You Need a Visa to Visit France?

If you are visiting France as an American passport holder:

  • Fewer than 90 days as a tourist, you do not need a visa.
  • Fewer than 90 days as a worker, you do not need a visa, unless a missionary or journalist. You do need a work authorization form signed by your employer.
  • Longer than 90 days for any reason, you need to obtain a visa.

If you are visiting France as an Australian passport holder:

  • Fewer than 90 days as a tourist, you do not need a visa.
  • Fewer than 90 days as a worker, you do not need a visa, unless a missionary or journalist. You do need a work authorization form signed by your employer.
  • Longer than 90 days for any reason, you need to obtain a visa.

If you are visiting France as a British passport holder:

  • Fewer than 90 days for any reason, you do not need a visa.
  • Longer than 90 days for any reason, contact the French embassy for specific information.
France attractions

What are the Biggest Tourist Attractions in France?

You've probably heard of them all or seen them on postcards! But in case you haven't, here are some of the most popular attractions in France:

  1. Eiffel Tower – Paris
  2. The Louvre Museum – Paris
  3. Palace of Versailles – Versailles (20 minutes outside Paris)
  4. Arc de Triomphe – Paris
  5. Chateau de Chantilly – Chantilly
  6. Chateau de Fontainebleau – Fontainebleau
  7. Omaha Beach – Normandie

France offers a dazzling collection of castles, museums, and historically significant locations to charm any traveler or history buff.

French History You Must Know

France was one of the largest colonial forces in the 18th and 19th centuries, occupying lands from the Americas to Africa to Asia. By the same token, France has always welcomed immigrants from all over the world, and while less of a melting pot and more of a naturalization and assimilation process, is today a rich tapestry of different races and creeds.

It is prudent to remember that some scars of the injustices of colonization remain, and it may be wise to steer clear of these topics of conversation in polite company.