Getting ready for your first trip to France? This article will tell you everything you need to know before visiting France!
France has something for absolutely everyone to love. Amazing food. Incredible history. Beautiful scenery.
To help prepare you for your first trip to France, the list below outlines things that are helpful to know in advance of your visit.
I know you’ll have a wonderful time.
So, without further ado, here are the things you need to know before visiting France!
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1. Be respectful you’ll be treated with respect
In my opinion, the French get an undeserved reputation for being rude.
When I’ve visited France, all the French people I’ve interacted with have been perfectly respectful and nice to me.
But I have seen French people be rude to others – who were rude to them first.
Some people believe that it’s okay to treat people in the service industry in a rude manner because the “customer is always right”. The French don’t buy into that.
If you’re rude to a French person, they will respond in kind.
Treat the French with respect and they will also respond in kind.
2. Avoid visiting France during transit strikes
If you learn that France will have a transit strike during your visit, you need to strongly consider rescheduling your trip.
The French rely heavily on trains and subways to get around. When these modes of transportation aren’t running, an unsupportable number of cars clog the roadways.
My friends and I had the misfortunate of visiting France during a transit strike.
In Paris, there was no Metro rail service, putting more drivers on the road. The resulting traffic *greatly* increased the amount of time it took to get anywhere. Ubers were nearly impossible to find.
Travel outside Paris required a rental car because no public transportation was running. And rental cars were hard to come by since the French now needed rental cars to get around, too.
The strike made travel extremely difficult and time-consuming. If possible, avoid traveling to France during transit strikes.
3. Dress in comfortable but polished clothes
The French are known for their fashion sense. But there’s no need to buy a whole new wardrobe for your trip.
Just stick to clothes that have clean, neat lines (like straight-leg pants and a fitted sweater) and you’ll fit right in.
For more ideas on what to pack for your trip to France, check out this article.
4. Get ready to walk and climb stairs
When you’re in France, expect to do lots of walking. And lots and lots of stair-climbing.
If you want to see the spectacular bird’s eye view at places like the Sacré-Cœur or Arc de Triomphe, don’t expect an elevator. You’ll need to take the stairs to reach the top of these buildings.
But it’s absolutely worth it. And all the more reason to wear comfortable clothes.
5. Watch out for scammers
Like many tourist destinations, you’re going to find your fair share of scam artists in France.
My friends and I ran into some particularly aggressive scammers at the base of the stairs to the Sacré-Cœur in Paris.
These scammers are known as the “String Men of Sacré-Cœur“. These men will wait at the base of the stairs for someone to pass by. When someone passes by, the men will grab that individual’s arm and restrain that person by wrapping a string around his/her wrist. The men will then demand payment in exchange for the person to be released.
When we walked by these men, one man aggressively grabbed my arm. I was in a group of four people and we were walking assertively, and yet this man still grabbed me. I was able to forcibly shake him off because I knew about the risk in advance.
Do *not* try to be polite to individuals such as this. If they approach you, you need to be just as aggressive in avoiding them as they are in pursuing you.
6. Make use of public transportation
When there’s not a transit strike, public transportation in France is wonderful.
In Paris, the Metro is extensive and easy to navigate. You can study Metro maps here.
Outside of France, rail service is also comprehensive and straightforward to understand. Check out rail maps and buy tickets here.
Using public transportation is a great way to experience a country’s culture firsthand. I highly recommend using public transportation as you travel around France.
7. Many items are written only in French
You may be used to seeing English translations on menus or public transportation when you travel to other countries.
This isn’t always the case in France. Many items are only written in French (and justifiably so).
Download a translation app like Google Translate in advance of your trip so that you can easily translate on the go.
8. English is generally spoken in tourist areas
I’ve found most French people in tourist areas generally speak English.
However, you may find some situations where a store clerk only speaks French and will need to fetch a colleague to help with English translation.
While the French will generally start a conversation in French with you, I haven’t experienced any disdain when I’ve asked if it’s possible to converse in English.
As with all international experiences, it’s good to learn some general phrases in the local language to demonstrate respect for the local culture.
Spoken language is also an area where Google Translate can help. You can instruct the app to audibly translate a phrase for you to assist in conversations.
9. France is more than Paris
When visiting France for the first time, I recommend venturing outside of Paris to see more of the country.
There are many interesting and unique regions. Each of these regions has different landscapes, scenery, and food.
Lounge on the Mediterranean in the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). Visit vineyards in Champagne. Explore the Christmas markets in Alsace.
There are so many amazing areas in France to explore. Don’t just stick to Paris!
10. But remember that France is quite large
While I encourage you to explore France outside of Paris, don’t try to visit all of France in one trip.
Every region in France is jammed-packed with things to do. To fully enjoy that region, you’ll need to spend some time exploring it.
You don’t want to turn your trip into a sprint where you spend most of your time commuting to your next location.
I recommend visiting Paris and 1-2 other regions during your first visit to France.
11. Ask for the check when you’re ready to leave
At many restaurants in France, it’s expected that people will linger in conversation after their meal.
In the United States, the waiter will often drop-off the check at the end of the meal. In France, this doesn’t happen because it would be viewed as trying to rush people out the door.
When you’re done with your meal and ready to go, kindly signal the waiter for the check.
12. Tipping is appreciated but not required
Tipping culture is a helpful item that you need to know before visiting France. In France, tipping is considered more of a show of appreciation rather than a requirement.
If you enjoyed your experience, you can round up to the nearest Euro or leave 5-10% as a way of saying “thank you”.
If you did not have a good experience, tipping is not expected.
13. Request automatic steering for your rental car
Another important item that you need to know before visiting France is that many rental cars in France have manual steering.
If you’re not comfortable driving manual steering, then you’ll need to specifically request a rental car with automatic steering.
Don’t try to be a hero and get manual steering if you aren’t 100% comfortable driving it. You’re already driving around an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar road signs. You need to be comfortable with the type of car you’re driving.
14. Book tickets to tourist attractions in advance
If you’d like to go to tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, you need to book your tickets well in advance.
Tickets may sell out weeks in advance and you might not be able to visit an attraction if you don’t plan ahead.
If tickets are sold out, you may still be able to visit the attraction via a group tour. Group tour companies will purchase advance tickets to attractions to have available for their tours.
If you can’t purchase a ticket to an attraction directly, see if you can find a group tour that includes admission to the attraction.
15. Check operating hours in advance
Tourist attractions, restaurants, and grocery stores aren’t 24/7 or even every day in France.
If there’s a particular place you want to visit, make sure to check the operating hours in advance.
You may find that the location is closed on a particular day of the week or has unique hours. For example, an attraction may be closed for lunch for a couple of hours during the middle of the day or may close early on particular days.
You don’t want to miss out on a great experience because the location is closed when you arrive.
I hope these tips of things you need to know before visiting France have prepared you for your trip. Happy travels!
Comments or Questions?
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