Art. Fashion. History. Culture. Nature. France has it all. France is a country located in Western Europe that shares lands borders with eight different countries including Germany, Spain, and Italy.
The country is often placed on travelers’ bucket lists because it’s a unique blend of natural and man-made beauties with modernity at the forefront and a medieval past. France has a population of 66.99 million people and 5% of that population are ranked as ethnically diverse.
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Bonjour – Bienvenue en France!
Paris is the capital of the country and rests along the Seine River. The capital is often considered to have its own unique culture that balances between fashion, cuisine, art, and architecture, which makes it a global destination for tourists. The capital is famously photographed with its landmarks like The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe that tower over the perfect Parisian streets. An almost endless list of tourist attractions provides visitors with entertainment and makes The City of Light an icon in the eyes of the world.
Culture and Language
France is steeped in history. So much so that it is almost impossible to give an overview without writing an entire chapter. Numerous cultures have shaped the country into what it is today, and you will find that the timeline spans from pre-human ancestors to when it was ruled as a monarchy. The most famous pre-human evidence are the Lascaux cave paintings, which are estimated to be up to 20,000 years old. If you take a large leap forward in history, you will find that France has cultural influences from the Greek colonies, Gaul, and Frankish tribes before developing its own monarchy.
The famous French monarch, Louis XIV, was commonly known as The Sun King and had the longest reign of any sovereign country in European history with 72 years and 110 days on the throne. Louis XIV was also famous for having resided at the Palace of Versailles. Not too many years after the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the French Revolution began in 1789 and ended with Napoleon Bonaparte in power by 1799. While Napoleon is a controversial figure in history with people both supporting and opposing him, he did live at the Tuileries Palaces, which are now connected to the Louvre Museum by the gardens. No matter where in the timeline of French history you jump, tourists should know that the French are proud of their country, history, and culture.
A large part of their culture includes their language. French is the official language and is spoken throughout the country. French is a romance language and frequently called the “Language of Love” because of its smooth flowing and elegant pronunciation. Although, tourists should be aware that the French take pronunciation seriously and are known to be picky with how their language is spoken. But tourists who try in earnest to say a few words in French are likely to get a warm welcome.
For travelers from the United States who have a valid US Passport, it is easy to enter France if you are staying for less than 90 days and are a tourist. Tourists who are on short trips will receive a visa upon arrival and be stamped entry into the country. However, you do also need to pre-register and ask for an ETIAS visa waiver before you travel to France. This visa is quick and easy because it can be accessed online by searching for the ETIAS visa waiver for France. The passport requirements are the same as listed below and you’ll need a credit or debit card to pay the $7.66 fee.
For a headache-free entry process, you need to have a valid US passport. The passport must be valid for 3 months past the date of your return to the United States or your planned departure from the Schengen area. A US emergency 12-page passport is not valid for visa free entry. Your passport must also have one full blank page for your stamps. Immigration officers may also request additional information like proof of funds or a return airline ticket.
While many are eager to get started exploring the beauty of France, it is important that you consider your spending budget before your arrival in the country. With France consisting of various regions, the diverse landscape of the country draws in about 90 million tourists each year. The country makes a solid earning in money from tourism and you will find that some destinations are more expensive than others. The most expensive areas of France are along the Mediterranean, Loire Valley, and Dordogne. However, the most expensive cities are Paris, Nice, Lyon, and Bordeaux.
To be honest, many aspects of traveling in France are expensive like food and drink. But some of the most expensive portions of your budget that you’ll have to pay for up front are the price of a plane ticket and accommodation. Many major airports within the US now offer direct flights to France, which makes the tickets more expensive but saves you time and additional plane tickets. The average cost of a planet ticket is about $1,305 US dollars per person. However, that price can change depending on when you travel to France, how far in advance you book your tickets, and whether you can find any airlines offering discounted prices.
The cost of accommodation can be very expensive or made affordable. There are plenty of options, but it will be up to your personal preference whether you choose basic accommodations or want luxury services. A hostel is the most affordable accommodation and most adult prices are about $20-$30 US dollars per night. If you are looking at hotels, the average price is about $110 US dollars per night in the Paris area and $76 US dollars per night in the rest of the country. Luxury accommodations are also available but can drastically increase your budget by thousands of dollars.
Airbnb is also available in France and has plenty of affordable housing options. The average for an Airbnb is about $88 US dollars per night for an apartment. If you are traveling in a large group, there may be larger Airbnb options with a higher price per night.
But you will also have to consider the cost of food, drink, and entertainment as part of your budget. France is internationally known for their cuisine, so there are a variety of dishes for you to try. The most famous dishes include soupe à l’oignon which is French onion soup. This dish is traditionally served with croutons or a crusty bread and topped with melted cheese. Coq au vin was popularized by Julia Child and it cooks chicken with a variety of flavors and a Burgundy red wine. Soufflé is an egg-based dish that dates back to 18th century France and is traditionally a chocolate dessert. Tarte tatin is another famous dessert that is France’s own twist on a traditional apple pie. However, there are other dishes available for you to taste and many can be found at a traditional French café.
After you’ve satisfied your appetite, you may want to have some fun and go out for drinks or explore the nightlife. There are numerous bars all over the country that provide a thriving party scene for nighttime adventurers. Paris has an almost endless list of bars with one of the most popular being Le Syndicat, which offers world class mixology in a contemporary setting. Le Truc de Nice is a cozy and casual bar located in Nice, France that provides an excellent selection of wine.
All of these foods and bars may sound amazing, but you might be curious to know the cost. For a budget friendly tourist, you should expect to spend about $36 US dollars per day on food and drink. But your individual budget can always flex, and you may spend much more per day exploring the rich cuisine and drinks. If you want to reduce your budget, you may consider purchasing food at a local grocery store and cooking for yourself. If you have accommodations with a kitchen, this would be an excellent way to reduce your overall budget.
How to Get Around
Transportation is another part of your budget that needs to be considered before you begin traveling to the country. Most cities in France are easy to navigate and there may be a reliable public transportation system. The Paris Métro is famous and fast with connections all over the city. The Métro uses small cards and they can be purchased in a bundle of ten. The ten cards will get you ten rides and costs about $17 US dollars. But other ways of traveling include rending a car, taking a train, plane, taxi, shuttle, or walking.
If you are staying in a specific city, like Paris, the best ways to get around would be to walk and use the Métro system. The Métro is extremely affordable and has stations all around the city that can get you within walking distance of your destination. However, if you are tired you can always hail a cab or take an Uber. Uber is a great way to get around the city if you need a break from walking, but you will need access to the internet to use the app. Other cities may have their own public transportation systems like trains or buses.
For exploring further or traveling between cities, you may want to consider renting a car, flying, or going by train. Car rentals are widely available in France and has an average cost of about $56 US dollars per day. However, if you do rent a car and drive, you should be aware that most French highways use a toll system. The toll system can quickly push your budget higher and you may want to consider a different transportation method. Flying is an option if you want to get from one end of the country to the other, but so are trains. Trains are massive popular in Europe and France offers affordable tickets at about $45 US dollars in Standard Premier class.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
France is a sizeable country and there are plenty of cities that you can visit. Here, we will give a brief overview to some of the most popular city destinations throughout the country.
Often called “The City of Light”, Paris is the capital of the country and is located in the north. The sprawling urban landscape is home to gorgeous architecture, charming cafés, and a long list of tourist attractions. The city is known for resting alongside the Seine River and many of the tourist attractions are right beside the river itself, on both sides. Some of the most famous landmarks within the city include Notre Dame, Sacré-Coeur, and the Louvre Museum. If you are looking for extravagance just outside the city, the Palace of Versailles is away from the bustle but still within the Paris area.
Bordeaux is a city that rests in the center of the infamous wine-growing region. It is located on the Garonne River, which makes it a port city too. Gothic architecture is presented in the Cathédrale Saint-André and along the city streets. However, surrounding the city are 250,000 acres of vines for wine producers, which makes Bordeaux a hit with the sommeliers. The city is easy to walk so that you can explore everything it has to offer on a budget.
Nice is part of the French Riviera and was originally founded by the Greeks as a posh retreat for the European elite. The port city has a blend of cultures from Italian architecture and medieval streets. You can take a stroll along the infamous Promenade de Anglais or simply enjoy the turquoise waters at the beach. The Colline du Chateau offers an excellent view of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. The close proximity to the principality of Monaco also makes it a popular starting location for further travel.
Saint-Malo is a stunning French port located in the Brittany region. The cobbled streets make you feel like you’re stepping into history and connects you to the city’s seafaring past. Saint-Malo was once a stronghold for privateers but is now home to various seaside resorts. The granite stone walls that surround the city provide a stunning landscape with the clear turquoise water behind. Inside the granite walls you can explore history, shops, dining, and accommodations for a great adventure.
If you’re part of the younger crowd, you’ll love the university city of Aix-en-Provence. The once medieval city has been turned into a college town that is booming with tourism. The Cours Mirabeau has a double row of planted trees and is bordered by luxurious houses and fountains for a picture-perfect view. The irregular streets extend to Gothic architecture and history at the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour. Tourists will also find that the city is full of fountains, including a natural hot water fountain that dates back to the Romans.
Marseille is a port city in southern France, which is famous for being the crossroads of immigration and trade. The Vieux-Port is the heart of the city where you can find fresh fish or walk the boat lined quay. The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde rises above the skyline and includes a golden statue topped watchtower. For the nature enthusiasts, Calanques National Park is located nearby and boasts limestone cliffs descending to the sea.
Lyon sits where the famous Rhône and Saône Rivers meet but boasts an impressive span of cuisine, gastronomy, historical and architectural locations for tourists to explore. The city is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and was once important in the history of producing and weaving silk. Once a year in December, the city has a light festival that draws many tourists and lasts for four days.
Points of Interest
While cities gather the most attention, you may also find that there is a specific attraction or point of interest that you want to see in France. Here are some of the most popular points of interests.
Engineered by Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1899 World’s Fair. Today, the Eiffel Tower is widely recognized and considered a cultural icon of France. You can see the Eiffel Tower on the Champs de Mars, which also has public garden spaces for a leisurely stroll. If you are curious to see the view from the Eiffel Tower, you can purchase tickets to take one of the elevators up to the viewing platforms. You should try to purchase tickets in advance because they are time reservation based.
The Louvre Museum is the world’s largest art museum with numerous galleries that span half a mile long and take up 72,735 square meters of space. The Louvre is also a historic monument that was originally used as a royal palace. Today, the Louvre is popular for tourists who would like to see famous art pieces like The Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and The Coronation of Napoleon painting. With three different wings, you could spend weeks here, but most guests spend one day or a half day.
Mont-Saint Michel is one of the most famous icons of the Normandy region and boasts a rich history. The abbey is located on a rocky island and has a medieval history. Today, tourists can take a free bus or walk the pathways to the island and abbey. There is a small town that rests at the base of the abbey on the island and has food, dining, shops, and hotels. Visitors should be wary of the tides because during certain times of the year, Mont-Saint Michel will be inaccessible while the tides are high.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
For Americans and many others affected or familiar with World War II history, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the place to go to honor those who lost their lives in the war. Whether you have family or friends buried in the cemetery or are interested in the history, visitors are welcome, and it is open daily. The cemetery is located in Colleville-sur-Mer and overlooks Omaha Beach. For tourists interested in D-Day history, you can tour the Normandy area and visit the close by beaches of Omaha and Utah.
The Côte d’Azur, or French Riviera, spans the length of France’s Mediterranean coastline. The area is famous for its glamourous, pristine, and turquoise beaches. There are many famous locations along the Côte d’Azur including Cannes, Saint-Tropez, and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Nice is the largest city in the area and has a large airport that is the third busiest in the country. With plenty to explore, the Côte d’Azur can easily become your next travel destination.
Loire Valley Châteaux
For the architecture lovers, exploring the Loire Valley will unlock numerous historic towns that boast gorgeous châteaux. The châteaux are Renaissance style and rest in small towns like Amboise, Blois, Nantes, and Tours. Each château will have their own name and opening hours. But visiting the different châteaux is also a great way to tour the region.
Provence is a region of France located in the southeast. The area is close to the border of Italy and is famous for its diverse landscapes. The Southern Alps touch the region and the Camargue plains are home to vineyards, olive groves, pine forests, and the infamous lavender fields. Marseille is the region’s largest city, but the former capital was Aix-en-Provence which is also a popular tourist destination.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc is a world-famous resort that rests near the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy. It was once the site of the first Winter Olympics, which took place in 1924. Today, as one of the oldest ski resorts in France, Chamonix Mont-Blanc is popular with ski enthusiasts. The impressive mountains boast a variety of ski runs for you to explore and you can take a cable car lift to the Aiguille du Midi to access Vallée Blanche which is an off-piste run.
Get Out and Go
France is a country that has something for everyone. Whether you want to refine your palate with food and drink or explore medieval architecture, the diversity of the country is sure to draw you in. Any traveler can step foot into history by touring the country’s fascinating cities. France has plenty to offer and is sure to have you booking a return trip.