Vive la France! From the rugged Atlantic shores of Brittany to the glittering coastline of the French Riviera; from the majestic Alps to the little-explored Pyrenees; from the elegant avenues of Paris to the lavender fields of Provence, there is literally something for everyone who wishes to visit France.
France travel resources
France shares its borders with Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Andorra, Monaco, and Italy. It packs a lot of geographic and cultural diversity into an area roughly the size of Texas, with impressive Roman ruins, Celtic roots in Brittany, Italian dialects in Nice, North African cuisine in Marseille and a Basque influence along the Bay of Biscay.
Its geography is equally diverse, and all of the country’s natural beauty is well maintained and proudly accessible to all.
No other country on earth reveres its culinary history and culture as much as France. And each region has its prized dish; locals will tell you where to find the best oysters, bouillabaisse, cassoulet and more. And don’t get them started on the wine!
City focus: Paris
What more can be said about Paris, a city that hasn been written, sung and painted about for centuries? It’s a must-visit destination for any first-time traveler to France, and the most-visited destination in the world.Read more about Paris
City focus: Lyon
But visitors shouldn’t miss out on France’s second-largest city: Lyon, a foodie mecca with a wonderful Old Town and lots to see and do. Pay homage to the Lumière brothers, who brought cinema to the masses; visit the unique Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière; and have your mind blown by the trompe-l’oeil work scattered about the city.
Getting to and from France
The Schengen agreement’s relaxed border policy has made it easy to cross into France by land, with no border controls between member countries (roughly the same as those in the EU). However, your passport will be checked on the Swiss border and there will often be spot checks on the eastern Spanish border, particularly if you are traveling by train or bus.
Another popular way to arrive in France is via the Eurostar train that goes through the Chunnel (English Channel tunnel), or by ferry from Dover in the UK, the preferred choice for those with cars. Because the UK is not a part of the Schengen agreement, there are strict border controls.
When crossing the Italian border into the French Riviera by train, it should be noted that there is no “direct” route; you must take the train that goes between Nice, France and Ventimiglia, Italy, and then connect in either one of those towns to further proceed with your trip.
The Société Nationale Maritime Corse-Méditerranée, or put more succinctly, ferries, link Marseille to Corsica, Sardinia, Tunisia and Algeria.
Getting around France
For getting around France nothing beats the SNCF, the efficient national network of trains.
TGV trains travel at high speeds to major (and some minor) French cities, and regional trains are well connected to almost everywhere you want to go.
It should be noted that France does not have a national bus system.
However, local bus lines can take you from city centres to the more remote sites like Mont St-Michel, small beach towns along the coasts, or lesser-known villages throughout.
Car and camper rental
If you’re looking to rent a car, every major rental agency has desks at airports and in the train stations of medium to large cities. If you’re nervous about city driving, you may want to take the train to a smaller city and pick up your car there, as opposed to heading into Parisian traffic patterns your first time out.
Cycling and hiking
France could not be friendlier to hikers. Every region has well-marked randonnées, or hiking trails, that take hikers of every ability through some truly stunning terrain. Local tourist offices can provide maps and advice.
And the country that hosts the Tour de France naturally has some of the best cycling in Europe. Follow your favorite Tour routes, or simply rent bikes for the day in most major cities for a unique way to see the sights. Again, tourist offices are an invaluable resource for routes and rental information.
Top 10 things to do in France
- Châteaux of the Loire Valley. A unique way to learn French history in beautiful surroundings.
- French Riviera. Stunning beaches, and deals can be had. This is your chance to feel like a movie star.
- Normandy’s WWII sites. This region is a must for any history buff – haunting and humbling.
- Paris! Paris! Paris!
- The Dordogne. Nature lovers will become addicted to the hiking, canoeing and other outdoor pastimes of this region.
- Bordeaux vineyards. There are over 900 of them – go crazy.
- Mont St-Michel. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it must be seen to be believed.
- Tour de France. If you’re in the country during the first two weeks in July, make a point to see the riders whiz by.
- Fete de la Musique. Every June 21, the entire country becomes one huge block party. Major acts play Paris; bands of every genre play on street corners. Amazing!
- Beaujolais Day. The third Thursday in November is when the new wine is unveiled; attend a tasting of different labels, or pick up a glass at the stalls set up outside bars and restaurants.
This page by Christine Cantera