France Travel Guide
Paris is constantly rated as one of the most visited cities in the world. Its alluring attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, and the Louvre Museum easily mesmerize visitors, especially when they visit France for the first time.
But there is much more to see and do around this fabulous European country than just Paris. Whether you would like to explore the natural beauty of the French countryside, learn about France’s most famous wine regions, discover beautiful beaches, or just want to get out of Paris and explore the country’s other top destinations and tourist attractions, we got you covered with our ultimate France travel guide.
This travel guide of France will cover all the basics like what to do in France, travel advice, information about train services, country-specific expert advice, and travel safety. We’ll also recommend our favorite luxury and budget hotels in our favorite places so that you’ll be prepared when planning your next France visit.
So if you’re ready to explore the country of delicious fresh bread, medieval castles, and great wine, I’ll stop babbling, and we will get into this ultimate travel guide for France!
Best Things to Do in France
Visit The Eiffel Tower
There’s a good reason why the Eiffel Tower is the main attraction in Paris and the country. There’s just something so magical about seeing the tower light up at night and sparkle. If you want to take in this magical moment, remember that the Eiffel Tower is only lit up from sunset until 11:45 pm. The sparkling occurs every hour on the hour for just five minutes.
The Eiffel Tower stands over 600 feet tall, making it the tallest building in Paris. If you’d like to enjoy views from the massive tower, you’ll have to buy tickets for either the elevators or the stairs. Ticket prices vary based on whether you’re using the stairs or the elevators and which floor you’d like to go to. On each floor, visitors can enjoy various restaurants or the champagne bar at the top floor.
For the best views of the Eiffel Tower, head to Place du Trocadero. Like most main sights, you’ll have the least crowds to deal with if you go early in the morning. Two other great spots to take photos of the Eiffel Tower are in front of Le Recrutement Café (which also serves amazing Rossini burgers, btw) and Rue de l’Université.
Spend A Day At The Louvre Museum
The Louvre’s glass pyramid certainly stands out as a striking piece of art in its own right. Below the famous pyramid is the entrance to the famous Louvre Museum. Once downstairs, you’ll find several cafes, small restaurants, gift shops, and bookshops. Tickets can easily be purchased at ticket kiosks or online.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see every piece of art in the majestic museum. Experts estimate it would take around 200 days to see everything housed in the breathtaking palace. Before you go, make a plan of things you absolutely want to see, and check out the museum map to plan your visit. The most famous works of art housed in the Louvre are the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, The Coronation of Napoleon, and Liberty Leading the People.
I also highly recommend taking a guided tour of the lavish Napoleon III Apartments to see how French royalty lived. Other beautiful museums in Paris that you should add to your list include the Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Armée, the Petit Palais, and the Paris Museum of Modern Art.
Visit The Palace of Versailles
If you’re looking for the epitome of luxury and opulence, look no further than the Palace of Versailles. The palace is located less than 30 minutes from the center of Paris and was once the main royal seat of French kings. It makes for an awesome day trip from the City of Lights, as there’s so much to see and explore. The Palace of Versailles is open year-round to visitors and also includes a restaurant, cafe, and shops.
Start off at the palace, which has been transformed into a museum of the history of France. It is one of the largest palaces in Europe and contains over 2,300 rooms. Visitors can admire stunning works of art, sculptures, furniture, and other artifacts that depict important events and figures in French history. The most stunning (and most photographed) room in Versailles is The Hall of Mirrors, a large gallery depicting the successes of France in politics, economics, and the arts.
End your visit to Versailles with a relaxing stroll through the gardens and the park, which are located behind the Palace of Versailles. The gardens are filled with many beautiful sculptures and fountains surrounding the pebble paths. Don’t miss the orangery, which is home to several citrus trees that are over 200 years old.
See The Châteaus Of Loire Valley
Surrounding the Loire River, the Loire Valley is an absolutely stunning and underrated part of France. This scenic area is just a few hours away from Paris and stretches over 190 miles from Orléans to Nantes. Throughout the valley, you’ll find expansive vineyards, beautiful scenery, and the most breathtaking castles in all of France.
The most famous castle in the Loire Valley is the Château de Chambord, which was built in 1519. It attracts over 700,000 tourists annually due to its stunning architecture and absolute grandeur. Plan to spend around one or two hours perusing the inside of the castle and its stunning gardens.
Other incredible castles to visit in the Loire Valley include the Château de Chaumont, Château d’Ussé, Château de Chenonceau, and Château de Cheverny. I recommend spending at least three or four days in Loire Valley to spend time at each of the best castles. The castles are quite spread out throughout the region, so be sure to rent a car and expect to spend at least one to two hours driving between each château.
Experience The Gorges du Verdon
One of the greatest displays of France’s natural beauty is at the Gorges du Verdon, an breathtaking canyon located in southern France. This beautiful natural wonder is about two hours away from the French Riviera, making it a great day trip whether you’re staying in Nice, Saint-Tropez, or Marseille.
The incredible turquoise water is some of the brightest water you’ll see in your life. Electric boats, peddle boats, kayaks, and paddle boards are available for rent from little stands on the shores of the canyon. Make sure to have some euros on you as most of these stands only accept cash.
After your time on the lake, you can take a short drive around Lake Saint Croix to the town of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon for a lakeside lunch. If you can hold your appetite for just a little bit, drive instead to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a nearby cliffside town and (officially) one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Hike Through Calanques National Park
Another beautiful spot in the South of France is the Calanques National Park, located just outside of the port city of Marseille. If you love hiking, being out in nature, and the beach, this is a wonderful place for you to explore. The park is home to over 140 species of protected plants and animals.
Visitors can enjoy this special national park from the sea and on land. If you are choosing to hike to the calanques, be prepared with comfortable hiking shoes, lots of water, snacks, and sunscreen. For a unique experience, try going on a guided kayaking tour of the calanques.
Calanques National Park has exponentially grown in popularity in the past few years, so during the summer months, some calanques are only possible to visit with a reservation. Reservations are free but must be made online through the Calanques National Park website.
Surf In Biarritz
Basque Country is a unique part of France located on the Atlantic Coast. This region features half-timbered houses, unique food dishes, and even its own language (though it’s not too widely spoken today). It’s also known as the best place to surf in France.
While the WSL hosts its annual professional surf competition in Soorts-Hossegor, the most popular place for tourists to see and enjoy surfing is in Biarritz. It’s a little bit of city life mixed with a sleepy little beach town. It’s also very reminiscent of Southern California, with its good vibes, juice bars, and cute surf boutiques.
The best place to hang out in Biarritz is at the grand plage, which sits between the Biarritz lighthouse and the Biarritz Aquarium. Take a break from the surf and walk out to the Rocher de la Vierge, which is a beautiful rock formation connected to the mainland by a short bridge and features a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Stop To See Provence Lavender Fields
If your trip to France happens to land between mid-June and mid-July, you’ll certainly want to take a trip out to the French countryside to see the purple sea of the Provence lavender fields. The area is easily accessible by car from Nice, Marseille, Saint-Tropez, and Aix-en-Provence.
There are a ton of beautiful lavender fields in the area, so I recommend putting “Plateau de Valensole” into your GPS and stopping along the side of the road whenever you see a beautiful field with a view. Pretty much anywhere surrounding the towns of Valensole, Manosque, and Puimoisson will be filled with lovely-smelling lavender. Or you can take the stress out of going on a scavenger hunt for the best lavender fields by going on this half-day lavender morning tour.
Visiting Provence in spring? The weather will be amazing, but unfortunately, you’ll be missing lavender season. However, you can head over to La Brillanne to enjoy the town’s colorful tulip fields! It’s basically the same experience as driving around looking for lavender fields but with bright multi-colored tulips instead.
Attend Cannes Film Festival
One of the biggest premier events in the film industry is the Cannes Film Festival, which is hosted on the French Riviera every year at the end of May. The glamorous event attracts movie stars, producers, celebrities, and even everyday tourists hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor or actress.
While you do have to be invited (or win a ticket lottery if you’re a local) in order to view screenings of movies and walk the red carpet, there are events at the festival that everyone can participate in, movie star or otherwise. Each country has its own booth near the Palais des Festivals that highlights any movies that they’ll have premiering. There’s also an awesome gift shop that sells exclusive merch for the festival as well as a small portion of the red carpet that is visible to the public.
In recent years, the film festival puts up big screens in front of the Palais des Festival, showing a live feed of the red carpet, so you can see your favorite stars being interviewed in real-time. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of your favorite celeb getting gelato or shopping out around Cannes.
Visit Mont Saint-Michel & Normandy
The crown jewel of northern France has to be Mont Saint-Michel, an abbey and tidal island in Normandy, France. For hundreds of years, it was an important pilgrimage site in Europe and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is currently home to less than 50 residents, most of whom are monks and nuns.
Besides the abbey, the small island features several restaurants, museums, and even a few hotels. To get there, you’ll have to park about 1.5 miles away and take a shuttle bus or horse-drawn carriage to the island. It’s an amazing place to photograph, so make sure to take a stroll along the abbey’s ramparts to take in the views from all angles.
Throughout Normandy, you can find many medieval fortresses and remnants from World War II. Many American visitors to Paris choose to take a day trip up to Normandy for a full-day tour of the D-Day Beaches and other important sites.
Spend Some Time In Nice
Nice is the largest city on the French Riviera and the fifth largest city in France. It’s known for its amazing beaches, colorful old town, and unique cuisine. It’s home to the pan bagnat (similar to a Niçoise salad), voted one of the best sandwiches in the world.
It’s a great place to visit in France if you want to be based on the Mediterranean Coast during your trip. There are several beach clubs where you can rent sun loungers for the day and simply bask in the sun. The water is amazingly clear and warm in the summer months.
If you’re looking to explore more than just Nice, it’s easy to get around using the local bus or train. In just a few minutes, you could be in Menton, Antibes, Cannes, or even the country of Monaco. The next town over from Nice is Villefranche-sur-Mer, an amazing seaside village with a stunning beach and amazing seafood restaurants.
Celebrate At The Strasbourg Christmas Market
One of the most magical times to visit France is in the winter months, around Christmastime. Even the smallest cities decorate for the holidays and host their own Christmas Markets. Christmas Markets have been around for hundreds of years in Europe and are where tourists and locals gather to eat good hearty food, warm up with hot drinks, and peruse artisan crafts.
The best Christmas market in France and all of Europe is in Strasbourg. This large city is basically one giant Christmas market during the month of December. Streets and shops are heavily decorated with lights, fake snow, and adorable stuffed animals. The most popular items at French Christmas markets include raclette, sausage, tartiflette, and hot wine.
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is held from the last week of November until the last week of December. Other amazing nearby towns to visit at this time of year include Colmar and Eguisheim. The entire Alsace region shows up and shows out when it comes to Christmas markets. There are no tickets or entrance fees for these Christmas markets, and most events surrounding the holiday are free to enjoy.
Step Back In Time In Annecy
The underrated city of Annecy is one of France’s best-kept secrets. It’s located on the shore of lac d’Annecy, one of the largest lakes in France, and is nicknamed “the Venice of the Alps.” The extraordinary medieval city is made up of tiny cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and architecture dating back to the 12th century. It is the perfect stop between Paris and the Cote d’Azur if you’re going on a cross-country road trip.
Start your day in Annecy off in the old town. Surprisingly, there are a ton of brunch spots in and around the old town, which is a rarity in most of France. After breakfast, stroll through the old town, taking in the canals of clear water, small open-air markets, and beautiful old buildings. Take note of the best-looking raclette and fondue restaurants, which is what the region is known for, for dinner later.
The other great part of Annecy is its lake. The giant lake is the perfect spot for swimming, boating, and sailing. You’ll find a lot of affordable boat rentals around the lake, so make sure you have some euros on you to rent one. I recommend renting a boat for one hour to sightsee or more if you’d like to swim. The lake has a sandy bottom, so it’s almost like being at the beach.
Enjoy Views Of Mont Blanc
Not far from Annecy, you’ll find Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. It sits on the border of France and Italy, and you can visit it through the town of Chamonix. This iconic French landmark can be admired year-round, but if you’re planning to hike to the mountain, it’s better to avoid the winter months due to the heightened risk of avalanches.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most famous long-distance hikes in the world, but if you don’t want to do a huge hike, you can still see the peak through a series of cable cars. Take the cable cars up the Aiguille du Midi. The ride will take about 25 minutes to get to the very top, but on the way there, you can take in the most amazing panoramic views of the Haute-Savoie region.
Once at the top, you might feel a bit sick. Don’t worry – it usually takes most people just a few minutes to acclimate to the altitude change. Pick up a snack at the cafe and relax for a little bit before continuing on your adventure. There are several observation decks as well as the iconic glass box where you can experience the views with no barriers. Feeling adventurous? Go for a once-in-a-lifetime tandem paragliding flight over Chamonix.
Relax In Saint-Tropez
One of the most glamorous towns on the Mediterranean Coast is sunny Saint-Tropez. It’s been the ultimate jet-setting destination for the rich and famous since the 1960s and still remains a favorite for the most wealthy and normies alike. On any given day, you can walk down Quai Jean Jaurès and spot countless superyachts.
The things to do in Saint-Tropez are to see and be seen. Get a spot on the outdoor terrace of one of the restaurants facing the port (Senequier is a popular pick) and get your people-watching on. After your meal, take a stroll through the small city and stop at Rondini, the oldest sandal maker in Saint-Tropez, and get a pair of custom leather sandals made.
You’ll notice a ton of vineyards surrounding Saint-Tropez. Make sure to rent a car while visiting and drive over to Pampelonne Beach, a gorgeous golden sand beach with bright blue water that looks like Tahiti. There are several beach clubs that line the shore, but there’s also ample room to lay out a beach blanket if you don’t want to pay for beach chairs.
Enjoy History In Avignon
The best and most historical medieval town to visit in France has to be Avignon. The town was founded by Greek Phocaeans all the way back in 539 BC. Control of the city has changed hands many times, and it was even the seat of the Pope from 1309 to 1377. There are still a lot of Roman ruins to be explored in this amazing city, and so much more to see and do.
Many visitors make a stop in Avignon to visit the Palais des Papes, the former home to the Pope and the largest medieval gothic palace in the world. Another ancient landmark to admire in Avignon is the Pont Saint-Bénézet, which was built between 1177 and 1185.
Despite the old-world surroundings, Avignon today has a very fun and youthful atmosphere and is filled with hip cafes, Michelin-starred restaurants, and cool local boutiques. Other places to visit within Avignon include the Jardin des Doms, Musée du Petit Palais, and Museo Calvet. It’s also a great place to stay to explore the rest of Provence.
Sip Your Way Through Bordeaux
Wine lovers taking a trip to Paris need to visit Bordeaux, home to some of the best wines produced in France. Bordeaux is a few miles inland from the Atlantic Coast and sits where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet and eventually flow into the Atlantic Ocean. This gorgeous town is a perfect addition to an extended Paris trip or even as an entirely separate trip if you’d like to explore more of the wine region.
If you came here for the wine, start your trip off at the Cité du Vin, an interactive museum that takes visitors through the world of wine. You can pair this visit with a day trip to Saint Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the best wine in the Bordeaux region.
Take a stroll through Bordeaux and discover some of its most incredible sites and landmarks, like the Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux Cathedral, and the National Opera of Bordeaux. One of the most photogenic spots in the city is the Grosse Cloche, a large bell tower that sits above an old jail.
Explore Roussillon and Gordes
If you’re looking for somewhere a little more off the beaten path, Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, or the most beautiful villages in France, is a good place to start. This collection of over 150 tiny villages is an official French association that aims to bring tourism to the lesser-known parts of France. Two gorgeous towns on this list are Roussillon and Gordes, both located in southern France.
Roussillon is known for its distinctive red rocks and the Sentier des Ocres, a short loop trail just outside of the old town that transports visitors to the red rocks of the western United States. The town is a mix of restaurants and art galleries, with many local painters utilizing the natural pigments of their surroundings.
Gordes is just a 15-minute drive from Roussillon and offers a completely different vibe. The tranquil hilltop village features a stunning panoramic view of Provence and is a great place to relax. Its fine dining restaurant, La Bastide de Pierres, was even featured in season three of Emily in Paris.
Dine In Lyon
Lyon is known for many things, but mostly as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital of French gastronomy. The large city sits about halfway between Paris and the South of France, with the Rhone River flowing right through its center.
When visiting Lyon, you’ll certainly want to sample some of the most unique dishes in French cuisine. If you’d like to try something local to Lyon, we recommend quenelles, which are minced meat dumplings usually made with fish but also sometimes made with chicken or beef. Out of any city in France, Lyon is the best one for a walking food tour.
Lyon is also home to some amazing architecture as well. Gothic-style buildings like the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste have visitors mesmerized, as does the cutting-edge architecture of the Musée des Confluences, a science and anthropology museum.
Sunbathe In Corsica
Yep, France has islands, too! Corisca is a tiny island located off the coast of the French Riviera. This Mediterranean island is known for its beautiful beaches, impressive mountains, and rugged natural beauty. It’s a short flight or ferry ride from France’s Mediterranean port towns.
The island’s stunning scenery can be appreciated by long hikes through the mountains or by the sea. It boasts some of the clearest waters and is great for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. One of France’s most famous beaches is Palombaggia Beach. This dazzling beach features bright white sand, clear blue water, and a tranquil place that’s unlike anywhere else in the country.
If you want to visit a part of France that many foreign tourists don’t venture to, Corsica is it. Corsica is also known for its amazing rosé wine, which is often made from Italian grapes to celebrate the Corsican people’s Italian heritage.
Where to stay in France
Where you stay in France certainly depends on what kind of vacation you’d like to have. If you’ve visited France’s top destinations like Paris and the French Riviera, consider exploring further into the French countryside, such as Northern France or the Atlantic Coast. If you have the time, plan extended travel to France by incorporating train travel or renting a car in order to explore more of the country. Here are some great accommodations to get you started:
- The Westin Paris Vendôme – Paris
- Moxy Paris Bastille – Paris
- Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat – French Riviera
- Hotel La Romarine – French Riviera
- Le Moulin with Terrace – Loire Valley
- Petit Biscuit Coté Vieille Ville – Annecy
- Hôtel du Palais Biarritz – Biarritz
- Villa Castellane – Provence
- Hotel des Quinconces Bordeaux Centre – Bordeaux
- Hôtel Barrière Le Normandy – Normandy
How to Get Around in France
France is amazing when it comes to train travel and public transport. It is so easy to hop on a train or bus to get where you need to go, and many of France’s major cities are connected to Paris through France’s high-speed TGV train system.
To travel like a local, download the SNCF Connect App so you can search train routes, view timetables, and even buy your tickets. Flights between cities are also possible, but France plans to ban short-haul domestic flights in order to decrease carbon emissions.
If all this seems a bit daunting, don’t worry. It’s also extremely easy to get around by car. The best thing about renting a car in France is that you don’t have to stick to a schedule and can change your plans as you go. It also helps to avoid transportation strikes, which can affect trains and flights.
If you don’t want to rent a car or plan long train trips but still want to take a few day trips from where you’re staying, you’ll have plenty to choose from! Here are just a few of our favorites:
- Mont Saint Michel Day Trip from Paris
- Loire Valley Castles Day Trip from Paris
- Champagne & Reims Tasting Day Trip from Paris
- Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches Full-Day Tour from Paris
- French Riviera in One Day from Nice
- Gorges of Verdon and Fields of Lavender Tour from Nice
- Saint Emilion Day Trip from Bordeaux
Travel Tips France
Now that you’re an expert in things to do in France and how to get around, it’s time to go over a bit of country-specific travel advice. Here are some helpful tips to ensure that you have a fun and stress-free time during your French vacation.
Learn a Bit of the Language
Respect is an important aspect of French culture. If you don’t say “bonjour” or “bonsoir” when entering a business, you may be looked at as rude or without manners. You don’t have to be fluent in the language to visit France, but learning a few simple phrases can help you out a lot.
If you’re asking someone for help or directions, greet them with a “bonjour” and then say “parlez-vous anglais?” before you speak English. French people are a lot more willing to help when you show that you’re trying and don’t just assume they speak English (though a lot of French people do). So try to remember to say hello when getting on a bus/taxi, buying something, and entering a business.
Visit During the Shoulder Seasons
France is somewhere that can be visited year-round, though the most popular time of year to visit is the height of summer. While you can look forward to amazing weather in July and August, you’ll also have to deal with a lot of crowded spaces and long wait times. Also, if you’re not staying in a hotel, your accommodation might not be equipped with air conditioning.
Instead, opt for the shoulder seasons, which are May to June and September to November. You’ll enjoy great weather and just a small fraction of the crowds. If you plan to swim, the Atlantic and Mediterranean are usually swimmable in May, June, and September.
Always Have Cash On You
While credit and debit cards are widely accepted all over France, you still may run into certain occasions where paying with euros is necessary. Occasions like this can include paying for equipment rentals or even parking. Additionally, many places still do have a minimum in place to pay with a card, so it’s always good to have cash on you.
Be Prepared For Transportation Strikes
The French like to joke that going on strike is their national sport, but honestly, it’s kinda true. Strikes can happen at any time and can last anywhere from one day to several weeks. They’re usually announced in advance, but there have also been instances of impromptu strikes.
When strikes happen, it usually affects public transport, including train travel, buses, and flights. Make sure to check French news outlets as it gets closer to your trip and make contingency plans if necessary. Canceled flights and trains will be refunded, but always follow up just in case.
Have Your International Driver’s Permit Handy
Whenever traveling internationally, it’s always a good idea to get an international driver’s permit before your trip. In the U.S., you can get an IDP through AAA. You can apply in person at any AAA office or by mail by submitting an application, a valid U.S. driver’s license, two passport-sized photos, and an application fee.
Adapt to French Culture
Now I’m not saying that you need to fully evolve into a French person, but there are a couple of cultural differences that may affect your trip to France. The thing that most people notice when visiting is the dining hours. Most restaurants close for a few hours between lunch and dinner and don’t reopen until 7:00 pm. Along with this, big breakfasts aren’t really a thing unless you’re staying at a hotel with a buffet. Most places offer a pastry with coffee, tea, or orange juice.
Likewise, many stores close for a mid-day break and are closed on Sundays, including the pharmacy.
Get Out of Paris
Don’t get me wrong, I do love Paris. It’s one of the world’s most visited destinations for a reason. But there is so much more to France beyond Paris! I think you can see from the above “things to do in France” section that there is no shortage of beautiful locations and historical landmarks all around the country. Even if you are planning to just visit Paris, if you have the time, you can take a day trip to Mont-Saint-Michel or Loire Valley.
Save Money on Food, Splurge on Experiences
While there’s no shortage of incredible food to indulge in while in France, if you’re looking for a place to save money, I would say it’s food. You can find delicious sandwiches and other to-go items at bakeries and cafes for just a few euros. Go cheap on breakfast and lunch, and throw in a few amazing dinners. With the money saved, you can go on interesting tours and enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences.