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France

Welcome to France

Explore Our Best Destinations France

France seduces travelers with its unfaltering familiar culture, woven around cafe terraces, village-square markets and lace-curtained bistros with their plat du jour chalked on the board. France is about world-class art and architecture. It seduces with iconic landmarks known the world over and rising stars yet to be discovered. This country’s cultural repertoire is staggering – in volume and diversity.

And this is where the beauty of la belle France lies: when superstars such as Mademoiselle Eiffel, royal Versailles and the celebrity-ridden French Riviera have been ticked off, there’s ample more to thrill. Food is of enormous importance to the French and the daily culinary agenda takes no prisoners: breakfasting on warm croissants from the boulangerie, stopping off at Parisian bistros, and market shopping are second nature to the French – and it would be rude to refuse.

But French gastronomy goes far deeper than just eating exceedingly well. The terroir (land) of France weaves a varied journey from northern France’s cliffs and sand dunes to the piercing blue sea of the French Riviera and Corsica’s green oak forests. Outdoor action is what France’s lyrical landscape demands – and there’s something for everybody.

Whether you end up walking barefoot across wave-rippled sand to Mont St-Michel, riding a cable car to glacial panoramas above Chamonix, or cartwheeling down Europe’s highest sand dune, France does not disappoint. Its great outdoors is thrilling, with endless opportunities and the next adventure begging to be had.

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Marseille(Discover more Marseille)

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Chamonix(Discover more Chamonix)

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Corsica(Discover more Corsica)

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Paris(Discover more Paris)

Capital of France: Paris
Official language: French
The currency: Euro, CFP franc
Climate: oceanic, continental and Mediterranean
Population: 66.81 million (2015 census)
The country is a Presidential French Republic
President of the Republic: Mr. Emmanuel Macron
Prime Minister: Mr. Édouard Philippe
Calling code: The international calling code is +33
The climate in France
Best time to visit

A popular year-round destination, France has an affable climate with long hot summers and cool winters, which bring snow to higher ground. Summer (June-August) is the peak season, when it is warm and sunny across much of the country. If you’re visiting at this time, prepare to face higher-than-usual demand at major sights, attractions and coastal resorts, particularly along the French Riviera.

Southern France remains balmy throughout spring (March-May) and autumn (September-October), which are decidedly quieter times to visit. Prices are also considerably cheaper. The crowds return during the ski season (December-March), packing out resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees, which offers excellent conditions for skiing.

Northeastern areas have warm summers and colder winters with rainfall distributed throughout the year and snowfall likely in winter. The Atlantic influences the climate of the western coastal areas from the Loire to the Basque region, where the weather is temperate and relatively mild with rainfall throughout the year. Summers here can be very hot and sunny – sunburn may be a risk if you’re unprepared.

One of the prettiest natural spectacles occurs in Provence between the last week of June and first week of August, when lavender fields in The Luberon are in full bloom.

Required clothing

Light breathable clothing for summer in all areas and waterproof winter gear for the mountains all year round. In winter even the Mediterranean resorts often require a sweater or jacket for the evenings.

Average temperatures

France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west.

The climate of France is generally cold in winter and mild in summer, but mild winters and hot summers are usual along the Mediterranean sea (French riviera) and in the South West of France. Along the Rhône Valley a occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind blows known as the mistral. Lots of the snow falls in winter in the Mountainous regions like the Alps, Pyrenees and Auvergne. In July and August it’s the peak of summer

National Holidays & Celebrations

The French enjoy 11 national jours feriés (holidays) annually. The civic calendar was first instituted in 1582; Bastille Day was incorporated in 1789, Armistice Day in 1918, Labor Day in 1935, and Victory Day in 1945. During the month of May, there is a holiday nearly every week, so be prepared for stores, banks and museums to shut their doors for days at a time. It is a good idea to call museums, restaurants and hotels in advance to make sure they will be open.

Frenchman caricature

Trains and roads near major cities tend to get busy around the national holidays. Not coincidentally, this also happens to be the time when service unions (such as transporters, railroad workers, etc.) like to go on strike – something of a tradition, in fact. Travelers would do well to check ahead, particularly when planning a trip for the last week of June or first week of July!

There are also many regional festivals throughout France which are not included in our calendar. Via France hosts an excellent site which lists fairs and festivals, traditional ceremonies, as well as sporting events, concerts, and trade shows for all regions throughout France. Use the interactive search form below to choose a region and range of dates for a listing of special events, to help plan your itinerary.

Under the law, every French citizen is entitled to 5 weeks of vacation. Most of the natives take their summer vacations in July or August, and many major businesses are then closed. All of France takes to the roads, railroads, boats, and airways. Consequently, traveling in France during August is generally not recommended for foreigners.

Public Holidays

1 January New Year’s Day (Jour de l’an)

1 May Labor Day (Fête du Travail; Fête du premier mai)

8 May WWII Victory Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945; Fête du huitième mai)

14 July Bastille Day (Fête nationale)

15 August Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Assomption)

1 November All Saints Day (La Toussaint)

11 November Armistice Day (Jour d’armistice)

25 December Christmas Day (Noël)

26 December 2nd Day of Christmas (in Alsace and Lorraine only)

Moveable Feasts

Feast 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Good Friday* 3 April 25 March 14 April 30 March 19 April 10 April
Easter (Pâques) 5 April 27 March 16 April 1 April 21 April 12 April
Easter Monday 6 April 28 March 17 April 2 April 22 April 13 April
Ascension (l’Ascencion) 14 May 5 May 25 May 10 May 30 May 21 May
Pentecost (la Pentecôte) 24 May 15 May 4 June 20 May 9 June 31 May
Whit Monday 25 May 16 May 5 June 21 May 10 June 1 June

 

Exchange Currencies

You can exchange your home currency cash (dollars, pounds, yen, yuan, rubles, etc.) for euros at a bureau de change (currency exchange office) in France. Exchange rate spreads, commissions and service fees in France can take as much as 10% to 20% of your money for each exchange, so currency exchange offices may not be the thrifty option, and these days offices are few and far between.

Here’s what you need to know about currency exchange to avoid rip-offs. More…

Banks do not exchange foreign cash. In fact, many banks handle no cash at all except through ATMs.

In general, it is better to exchange money after arrival in France rather than at your home airport before flying. Also, airport currency exchange offices in France may offer poorer rates of exchange than currency exchange offices in the city center you get exchanging traveler’s checks or using a commercial exchange office rather than a bank).

How to change money in France

April 2012 – At last rates are getting better for U.K. shoppers. Today (27th April) they are higher than they have been for three years. With ever cheaper fares, there is now every reason to travel frequently across the channel.

May 2010 – Here is what we got or could have got had we ordered cash in advance for a day-trip on the 26th. Pre-ordered travelex 1.1308, Travelex on board PO Ferries 1.11, HSBC debit card 1.1416, Mastercard (John Lewis) 1.1407, Bureau de Change Calais 1.1013. The debit or credit cards win.

Changing money in France is often confusing and expensive – here is our advice. Strict money laundering laws, make the experience of exchanging cash a challenging experience. Large amounts of money?

There is still a need for cash though, especially when shopping where many of the Calais wine and beer and Adinkerke tobacco shops accept Sterling and at very good exchange rates. With the pound yo-yoing up and down (mostly down) shoppers need to be extra careful. Credit cards are often the best way of paying for goods in Euroland offering a marginally better rate, but remember cash withdrawals incur charges.

When travelling abroad it is essential to consider beforehand how much you will need for cash, credit card and travel card purchases. Most people rely on a combination of the three. It is no longer necessary to carry wads of cash, as travel currency cards are safe and cheap to use, and easily stopped if stolen, your money safe in your account.

The exchange rate we quote on the right of our pages is from Travelex In general the rates are not the best available if you just exchange at the ports, but if you pre-order the rates are very good. Indeed Travelex aim to be the best value online supplier of currency. Buying currency at the point of departure is not sensible. For example in early December 2008 you would have got 1.14 euro to the pound if you pre-ordered which was also commission free (which you could then pick up at the port). At the port (Dover) you got just 1.06 and that did not include a £3 commission charge for values up to £250.

In other words you get about 5% more if you pre-order online. In terms of convenience Travelex are a great help, with shops at most ports and airports.

Remember to consider two things when buying currency – the rate offered and the commission charged.

Although convenience is an important factor, with a bit of preparation your pounds can stretch that bit further. Avoid changing money back to Sterling, this usually offers poor value. Use your cash up first, and if you need more, rely on your credit or debit card. Bear in mind that Bank’s impose a usage fee if you use their cards abroad, usually up to 2.75%. Some even charge a “cash withdrawal fee” as well. Try and get into the habit of buying and then using a travel card. Although you must load it with cash up front, there are no fees thereafter, and you can top it up, online or over the phone.

GEOGRAPHY

France, the largest country in Western Europe, has long been a gateway between the continent’s northern and southern regions. Its lengthy borders touch Germany and Belgium in the north; the Atlantic Ocean in the west; the Pyrenees Mountains and Spain in the south.

It also borders the Mediterranean Sea in the southeast; and the Alps, Switzerland, and Italy in the east. France has a very diverse landscape. There are beaches on the southeast coast, home to the French Riviera, and towering mountains in the south and east, including Europe’s tallest peak, Mont Blanc, which rises to 15,781 feet (4,810 meters) within the French Alps.

Wide fertile plains dominate most of the north and west, making France the agricultural epicenter of Europe. The sprawling, forested plateau of the Massif Central, a range of ancient mountains and extinct volcanoes, occupies France’s southern interior.

POPULATION

The population of France in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 60,742,000, which placed it at number 21 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 16% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 19% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 95 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.4%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The projected population for the year 2025 was 63,377,000. The population density was 110 per sq km (285 per sq mi), with much of the population concentrated in the north and southeast areas of the country. The UN estimated that 76% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.67%. The capital city, Paris, had a population of 9,794,000 in that year. The next largest cities and their estimated populations include Lyon, 1,408,000; Marseille, 1,384,000; and Lille, 1,031,000. Other major urban centers include Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Nantes, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Rennes, Saint-Étienne, and Le Havre.

LANGUAGES

Not only is French the national language of France, but it also has official status (often with other languages) throughout much of the former French colonial empire, including about two dozen nations in Africa. In all, it is estimated that more than 300 million people have French as their official language or mother tongue. Moreover, French is the sole official language at the ICJ and UPU, and shares official status in most international organizations. Other languages spoken within France itself include Breton (akin to Welsh) in Brittany; a German dialect in Alsace and Lorraine; Flemish in northeastern France; Spanish, Catalan, and Basque in the southwest; Provençal in the southeast, and an Italian dialect on the island of Corsica.

RELIGIONS

According to 2005 estimates, about 83–88% of the population are nominally Roman Catholic, but church officials claim that only about 8% are practicing members of the church. About 2% are Protestant, mostly Calvinist or Lutheran. Muslims (mostly North African workers) make up about 7–8%. Jews and Bahais each made up about 1%. There are about 250,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and between 80,000 and 100,000 Orthodox Christians. Christian Scientists, Mormons, and Scientologists are also represented. About 6% of the population have no religious affiliation.

The French Jewish community is one of the largest in the world, along with those in the United States, Israel, and the successor states of the former USSR; more than half are immigrants from North Africa. The 600,000 members are divided between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox groups. Jews have enjoyed full rights of citizenship in France since 1791, and the emancipation of Central European Jewry was accomplished, to a large extent, by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte.