French Travel Tips: 16 Things to Know Before Traveling to France

Steve Cummings

Christmas Lights in Paris

Traveling to France offers you the chance to visit a country rich with history, culture, and stunning landscapes. 

There are many different sides to this country. From the busy capital city of Paris to the serene vineyards of Bordeaux, each region presents a distinct flavor of French life that begs to be explored. Before you pack your bags and set off on your French adventure, you should know a few key things to make your trip as smooth as possible.

Now, let's begin looking through 16 things you need to know before you travel to France.

1. Do You Need a Visa?

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Many people search for answers to the question, “Do I need a visa to travel to France?” It depends on how long you intend to stay in France and why you are going there. You do not need a visa if you travel there for tourism reasons or business and stay for fewer than 90 days within six months. 

2. What Travel Adapter Plugs Do You Need?

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Given how tied to our devices we all are and how likely it is that you will be going on vacation with at least one or two pieces of tech, another thing you may be interested in is the type of travel adapter plugs for France you will need. In France, there are two commonly used plug types, E and C. Plug type E is the plug with two round pins and a hole that houses the socket's male earthing pine, while plug type C is one with two round pins. French mains sockets operate on an electrical supply voltage of 230 volts and 50 hertz. 

3. What About Traveling to France with a Dog?

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If you are looking into the possibility of traveling to France with a dog, there are a few things you need to have in mind. You must ensure your dog is microchipped with a 15-digit pet identification number, ISO 11784/11785. You should also ensure your dog has had its rabies vaccination at least 21 days before you travel to France and have a copy of the vaccination record with you. 

4. Is It Safe?

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Unless you've been hiding under a rock without an internet connection or access to any form of international news, it's likely you know that France and its capital, Paris, have been the site of several high-profile terrorist incidents that have had fatal results. You may wonder if it is safe to travel to France right now. There is no strict warning against Americans or anyone else traveling to France. 

It is essential, though, that you take the advice of the local authorities seriously and remain vigilant when you are in the busier public places. You should still be safe to go and have a wonderful time in France, even in Paris. 

On the other hand, it's also important to remember that French people love using their right to strike. In terms of France's travel requirements, this could mean disruptions to your trip or places you want to visit. Fortunately, as it is very much part of French culture, there is a website dedicated to keeping everyone aware of when and where strikes are happening. So make sure you visit the C'est la Greve website, which translates literally as “It's the strike!”

5. Manners Matter

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Despite a common idea about the French people, they are not rude unless you cause them to be disrespectful. That is why one of the best and most essential pieces of advice for travel to France is Remember Your Manners. Always start and end conversations you strike up with locals by using either “bonjour” or “bonsoir” and “au revoir.”  If you try to engage any locals or walk into any store, market, or restaurant without offering a friendly “bonjour/bonsoir,” you will likely receive terrible service or begrudging subpar service if people even acknowledge you. 

Some people may be a little more lenient with travelers or visitors. But they expect you to have the essential Ps and Qs. So, as well as learning a few other key phrases and trying your hand at speaking like the locals, make sure hello and goodbye are practiced until perfect, and then always use them. 

6. Mealtimes Are Set in Stone

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Something that you will notice when traveling to France that is very different from how things are in the States is that mealtimes are strictly followed throughout the country. While this may not seem like something you need to worry about on paper, it could mean you are waiting hours for food if you don't plan your days properly. For example, lunchtime is traditionally between 12 pm and 2 pm, and this is not just lunchtime for certain people; this is lunchtime for most people, meaning many shops and even eateries will close for lunchtime so the staff can take this most important meal of the day.

This means you will not be able to have a “late lunch” unless you are in self-catering accommodation and have bought your own food earlier. You also need to be aware that dinner is usually served from 7 pm onwards…so there is no such thing as an “early dinner” time at restaurants, cafes, and other eateries. 

7. Most Shops Close on Sundays

French Cafes
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Another important thing you must remember when traveling to France is that most shops close on Sundays. Since 1906, France has held Sunday as a collective day of rest for the country. While most department stores and larger supermarkets will remain open in larger cities like Paris, most solo traders and small businesses will be closed. It is essential to be mindful of this, especially if you are visiting another city or town that isn't the capital, as most rural locations follow this rule. 

To avoid problems, stock up on food and drink the Saturday before so you don't struggle to find somewhere to eat and drink. 

8. Kid's Menus Are Virtually Non-Existent

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We are familiar with the “kid's menu” concept in the United States and in some other countries. However, when traveling to France, you need to know that, with the exception of a few tourist-friendly places, most eateries in the country do not offer kid's menus. 

Most French people believe that children should eat the same as their parents or at least similar. And they are expected to finish it without complaint or fuss. This can be quite a surprise to some children who may have dietary issues or just overly permissive parents. So, it's something to be aware of if you have had problems with your children eating out at places. You may need to make plans in advance for them. 

9. Not All Roads Are Quite as Equal as Other Roads

For the most part, the roads in France are very well-maintained and marked, and the average GPS will pick them up if you are in the larger, more tourist-friendly areas or the heart of Paris. However, you will find when traveling in France that many GPS systems do not know a narrow country alleyway or even some paved double-lane road. So our advice for traveling to France, if you take an off-the-beaten-path approach to your time in France and stay away from the usual haunts of the larger crowds of tourists, use common sense and follow the street signs in addition to a map or GPS to avoid getting stuck.

10. Motorways Have Tolls

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What about if you intend to drive while visiting the country? Hiring a car or bringing your own is a great way to save money on public transport and gives you more freedom to explore the country. However, you should consider this advice when traveling to France in a car—all the motorways have toll charges. 

While not all of them are very expensive, it is important to consider these costs when planning your trip so you know what you will need to pay and where. You can use a site like ViaMichelin to get a better idea. Alternatively, you can avoid the toll roads by using the National roads. While they may be slower, they are less expensive and great for exploring the wilds of the country at your own pace. 

11. There is More to France Than Paris

Annecy, France
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We are not going to argue that as far as capital cities go, the City of Lights is one of the world's most romantic, culturally intriguing, and beautiful cities. However, many people visit Paris and proclaim that they can tick France off the list like Paris offers the quintessential French experience.

Paris is great, but you need to visit beyond the capital to get more of a flavor of the sheer diversity in geography, architecture, culture, food, people, and history this country offers. Paris is a crucial component, but just that, a component. Of course, if there is only one place you can visit when traveling to France, we recommend choosing Paris. But, if you have more time for a more explorative French adventure, we recommend visiting Paris and other places, too.

12. Interesting Geography

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Okay, so we hinted at this point a little above, but one thing that many people miss when looking into France is how geographically unique and diverse it is. Considering it is hugged by the Channel and Mediterranean Sea, you would think it would be one type of place, but that couldn't be further from the truth. There are so many unique and beautiful things to discover 

when traveling to France. 

This is why it is essential to look beyond Paris when planning your itinerary. There are the wild and rough mountains of the Pyrenees, the Volcano region of the Auvergne, the pine-laden plains of the Landes, and the ochre canyons of places like Rustrel and Roussillon. If that wasn't enough, there are the fantastic Calanques that overlook the Med. All that without even mentioning the quaint little villages here and there and the more modern and stylish cities like Marseilles and Paris. 

13. Travel During the Off-Season for the Best Experience

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This may be a given, but for anyone traveling to France who wants to avoid huge crowds, you should aim to visit during the off-peak season. This means avoiding July and August, arguably the country's busiest months for tourists and locals in the country. Like the rest of continental Europe, most of the country is on summer holidays during that time, so many locals as well as tourists are taking their holidays. Therefore, visiting before June or waiting until after September is best. 

14. Make Sure You Have Cash with You

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While France is, for the most part, a very modern and progressive country, you will still find issues trying to buy things in smaller towns and villages where the shops do not accept card payments. Some small shops accept card payments, but due to the vendors' billed charges, they expect you to spend a minimum of around 10 euros. 

Therefore, when traveling to France, we advise you to have at least some money in euros so you are never caught short, get in trouble, or have to buy more than you need or want. 

15. Cheaper to Get Cash from an ATM

ATM Fees
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Speaking of cash, unlike some places around Europe, in France it is considerably cheaper to withdraw money from ATMs than any other method in the country. Before traveling to France, you should ensure that your bank card will work in French bank ATMs. It is also a good idea to take at least two bank cards along, just in case one gets swallowed by the machine. 

16. Always Carry ID With You at All Times

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It is the law when traveling to France to have an ID on you at all times in case you need to show it to local authorities. Unlike other countries, though, your driver's license doesn't count as the type of ID they typically seek – a national identity card or passport. So, while you will want to keep it safe, you should always carry it in your belongings when you go anywhere in the country.

Final Thoughts

There you go, frugal travelers. Here is some excellent and essential advice for traveling to France that you may have yet to realize. It may seem like a lot to take in, but the guidelines, tips, and advice above will ensure your holiday in France is as good as possible without any hassle, faux pas, or trouble. 

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