There’s something magical about France. Home to gourmet food, haute couture, opulent landmarks, and beautiful countryside, it’s not hard to why it’s one of the most visited countries in the world.
While France is the size of Texas, it has something to offer every kind of traveler. But before you book your flights and start brushing up on your French, there are a few things you need to know.
Here are 10 tips for your first trip to France!
*European Travel Alert*
Starting sometime around November 2023, US travelers between 18-70 years old will need to fill out an ETIAS visa-waiver form prior to their trip, and pay a €7 ($7.25) entry fee, to travel to European countries within the Schengen Area. It’s a quick form, and you will most likely receive instant approval—but it’s important to plan and submit ahead. Your ETIAS travel authorization is valid for three years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
The French Aren’t Rude
There is a stereotype that the French are extremely rude and dislike tourists. I even found myself bracing for this before I visited for the first time.
I’m happy to report that I found the French to be very kind!
I don’t speak any French beyond the basics, but a smile went a long way with the locals. Having something like a picture of a landmark also helped me get my point across and overcome the language barrier.
Lavender Fields in Provence
English is Not as Widely Spoken
Unlike some other travel destinations in Europe, English is not as widely spoken in France. They are very proud to speak French, which is completely understandable.
Before you arrive in France, come prepared with a few French phrases under your belt!
Learn About French Wine and Food
You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the French food and wine culture before you arrive. It will make ordering food easier, and it will give you an idea of what you want to eat.
Some things don’t translate too literally, and it might leave you wondering what the heck is on the menu.
If you have any allergies, knowing what menu items are will make your life much easier as well. You should learn to explain what your allergies are in French, so there’s no miscommunication with your waiter.
Take the Train
France has an incredible transportation system, especially trains. I traveled solo through France by train in the summer of 2018 and had an incredible experience!
France is Huge
When most people think of France, they think of only Paris. But the country has so much more to offer beyond its capital city!
I highly recommend visiting the French countryside and exploring the Provence and Cote d’Azur regions! You’ll experience a different side of the country and get an authentic taste of French culture.
The French Schedule
The French work on a different schedule than what you’re probably used to back home. For example, in small towns and villages all shops, banks, and businesses close for 2 hours for lunch.
In remote areas, the break can last from 1 PM to 4 PM, and it’s similar to the Italian siesta! Keep the schedule in mind when planning your itinerary, so you don’t accidentally visit a shop or restaurant at the wrong time.
If you have room in your budget, I recommend renting a car while you’re in France. It’s a great way to explore France’s lesser-known destinations and to give yourself more control over your itinerary.
Here are some things to keep in mind when driving in France:
- Manual transmission cars are cheaper and will give you better mileage
- There are speed cameras everywhere, and fines are expensive
- When filling up with gas, remember that “essence” is gasoline and “gasoil” is diesel
Read More: Essential Tips for Driving in Provence
How to Save on Activities
With so much to see in French, sightseeing can quickly become expensive. To save money, you can use the Paris Museum Pass.
It will let you skip the long lines at most of the top attractions, and it includes admission to the Louvre and Orsay Museums, Sainte-Chapelle Church, and the Palace of Versailles. If you don’t want to use the pass, you’ll definitely want to book your tickets in advance for the Eiffel Tower and Versailles to save time!
Read More: Tips for Traveling Paris on a Budget
Pay Less for Coffee
If you’re a caffeine addict like me, you’ll want to take advantage of the cheap coffee in France to save money. If you order your cup of joe inside a cafe at the counter, it will cost you less.
For orders outside at a table that require a waiter, you’ll end up paying more. So head up to counter, choose from a selection of pastries (if you’re feeling peckish) and find a spot on a nearby public bench or park to enjoy your coffee.
Tipping in France
Tipping isn’t necessary in France because a service charge is already included in your bill. At some restaurants, there are separate prices for a “sur place” and “emporter.”
A “sur place” means you will eat the food at the restaurant and it’s more expensive than the “emporter” (take away). At bars and cafes, a small tip is welcomed (think 10% for good service) and for cab drivers, I like to round up within a euro or two.
If you’re into planning all your trips down to the last detail, it can always feel overwhelming visiting a country for the first time. Hopefully, these tips will help you feel less stressed and have made organizing your itinerary for France that much easier!
Do you have tips for first-time travelers to France? Let me know in the comments!