France holidays

Experience France

Best Places to Visit

Paris is one of the main attractions of France, and it's not difficult to see why the capital continues to appeal to tourists from all over the world. The city has no end of museums, including the Louvre, along with architectural wonders such as the cathedral of Notre Dame, plenty of restaurants and fantastic nightlife. However, there are many other great places to see in France, all with their own unique charm.

Bayeux, northwest of Paris, is on the Normandy Coast. Steeped in history, it is home to the Bayeux Tapestry, which documents the invasion of Normandy in 1066. In the north, there are also the D-Day invasion beaches, stunning stretches of sand which were the sites of the Normandy Landings in 1944.

Heading south from Paris, tourists will find Rocamadour, through which the River Dordogne flows, creating stunning gorges and cliffs. It's an extremely religious place as it is said to be the resting place of the Virgin Mary.

Another well-known religious city is Lourdes, in the Pyrenees. The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared here to a miller's daughter, and it has long been a destination for those seeking miracles. The Stations of the Cross, arranged at intervals along a steep path, are a point of interest and the candle-lit parade through the town at night is a wonderful sight.

For glamour, it has to be the French Riviera. Here, tourists can find some of the most luxurious resorts and no end of stunning beaches. Cannes Film Festival, held in the city of Cannes every May, sees all the Hollywood stars turn out in their numbers for the red carpet. St Tropez, just along the coast, is another amazing place for celebrity spotting. Vanoise National Park is one of the largest parks in France. Here, tourists will find the Vanoise Mountains, with the highest peak being the Grand Casse, at over 3,000m high.

France is renowned for its cuisine, and it's impossible to miss amazing food wherever you go. However, Lyon, in the northeast, is the number one place for French haute cuisine. The restaurants in Lyon are renowned as some of the best in the world, so this city is well worth a visit. Anywhere in the country, it's worth stopping off at a roadside cafe to try croque-monsieur - a grilled cheese and ham sandwich smothered in rich sauce - or a selection of savoury and sweet pastries.

Top Landmarks

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is an internationally recognised monument. Despite being originally scorned by many French citizens at its time of erection, it is today one of the most iconic images of France. The views from the top of the tower are stunning and at night, the tower is spectacularly lit up bright blue.

Notre Dame Cathedral, as made famous in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, is an amazing example of Gothic architecture and a must-see for those visiting Paris. Another popular tourist attraction in Paris is the Louvre museum. Although Paris has many museums, this is easily the most popular as it is home to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, along with 35,000 other works of art.

Outside of Paris is the Palace of Versailles in Versailles. The palace was the home of French royalty from the late 17th to the late 18th century. The stunning architecture and beautiful gardens make it a great place for a day trip from Paris, with visitors allowed to tour the royal apartments and Hall of Mirrors, among other locations.

Pyrenees National Park sits on the southern border with Spain. Parts of the park make up a UNESCO World Heritage site which encompasses the glacial cirques of Gavarnie and the wall of Barroud.

Not yet listed as a heritage site, but still a hugely popular attraction is Mont Blanc. This is the highest peak in Europe and a great place for both hiking and skiing. Many tourists stay in the town of Chamonix, at the foot of the mountains.

Entertainment

Paris has some of the best nightlife in the country and no end of shows and performances. One of its most famous places to visit for a show is the Moulin Rouge. Founded in 1889, this cabaret show is still going strong under its trademark red windmill, with shows on almost every night.

St Tropez has long been associated with the rich and famous, and so it's not surprising that the nightlife here is amazing. The coastal town boasts many cocktail and champagne bars, with DJs often headlining the bigger clubs during the summer months.

For those travelling with kids, or even those without, there is Disneyland Paris. This theme park offers a vast number of rides, shows and entertainment for all ages. Universal Studios, also be found here, features similar rides and roller coasters to its American counterpart.

France has around 130 casinos and the French Riviera is one of the most popular destinations for those wanting to gamble. Both Nice and Cannes are known for their superb casinos, but punters should expect strictly enforced dress codes.

There are cinemas across France that show the latest Hollywood blockbusters, although some films are dubbed so it's best to check before purchasing a ticket. The Hangar du Premier Film in Lyon screens films of all eras in their original languages and from June to September, the films are screened outside. It is located next door to the Musée Lumiére, which is housed in a former factory, and is credited as the birthplace of cinema.

Dining Out

The French cuisine is known globally as the best in the world, particularly for pastries, cheese and wine. The style of eating venue can vary from Michelin star restaurants to the French bistro, found on pretty much every corner. In the bistros, tourists can try crepes, thin pancakes with either a savoury or sweet topping, or any number of the mouth-watering French pastries, such as croissants and pain au chocolat.

Eating in France, particularly in the evening, is a long, drawn out social affair. Some restaurants open only for dinner, while others open only for lunch, and many three-course meals require advance booking.

Each region in France has a regional dish based on the food resources traditionally found in the area, so trying something new when moving around is a very good idea. Burgundy boasts boeuf bourguignon, slow cooked beef with gravy while the Rhone-Alps is known for gratin dauphinois, an oven roasted dish with sliced potatoes.

The French Riviera is known for its bouillabaisse, a fresh fish and saffron dish that can be expensive, but is well worth it. For those tourists wanting to try something a little more out there, frogs' legs and snails are served in many high-quality restaurants.

Beach

France has a great variety of beaches. La Paloma on the French Riviera, France's most popular beach region, is a fairly calm, sheltered beach. It's a favourite spot for celebrities so there's often one of two impressive yachts parked here. Porto-Pollo in southern Corsica, a French island, is also worth a visit as its long arch of white sand and crystal clear waters are ideal for snorkelling. Biarritz is one of the most poplar beaches on the Atlantic coast.

Romance

For romance, it has to be Paris, which is often considered the most romantic city in the world, and it's not hard to see why. Taking a cruise along the Seine, past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, is a beautiful way to spend an evening. Or head to Sacre Coeur for unbeatable views. The city also offers remarkable fine dining.

Family

For families, there is Disneyland Paris. Families can spend their entire holiday here as Disneyland has themed accommodation, including an entire resort kitted out like the Wild West. The park provides shows, restaurants and souvenirs, and of course, an amazing array of rides to keep both kids and adults entertained. It's easy to get here from the centre of Paris, so it's a good daytrip activity, too.

Adventure

Cycling, snorkelling and mountain climbing: France really has a lot to offer in the way of adventure holidays. However, France is renowned for its skiing. Chamonix, in the Alps, is one of the most popular ski resort towns in the world and there is a great array of slopes around here. It's great for beginners and professionals alike, and has plenty of nightlife, so tourists can relax after a day on the slopes with a beer or a glass of the local wine.

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Need to know

Language

The official language of France is French. However, English is spoken in the tourist industry and by the majority of citizens in the big cities, so it is easy for UK visitors to get by. German and Spanish are also commonly spoken in border areas. For those visitors heading into rural France, a phrasebook is a good idea. While almost all French citizens have at least a basic grasp of English, you may offend someone if you don't know at least basic greetings and phrases like 'thank you'.

Currency

The official French currency is the euro. Most shops, hotels and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard. ATMs are easy to find in the cities and towns, and at post offices, and typically accept foreign cards. Money can be exchanged at any bank or exchange point, as well as at any airport and in some hotels. It's advisable not to take travellers' cheques as it can be difficult to find a bank that accepts them. It's best to stick to a mixture of cards and cash.

Visas

France is a member of the Schengen Agreement, meaning nationals of Schengen countries do not require a visa and can move across the border of France into other Schengen countries without having to clear immigration again. EU and EFTA citizens, including British nationals, are also allowed visa-free entry for a stay of unlimited length. You will need a valid passport however, so make sure this will not expire during your stay, even if your return trip is delayed.

Climate

France has a variety of weather, but cool winters and mild summers are the norm across most of the country. However, mild winter temperatures of around 8ºC and hot summers with highs of 22ºC can be experienced on the Mediterranean coast. The ideal holiday time depends on what kind of holiday a visitor has in mind, with France a year-round destination. Avoiding the peak summer season (July and August) guarantees fewer crowds, while the main ski season in the Alps runs December to February.

Main Airports

The main international airport of France is Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, which receives regular flights from the UK. EasyJet and British Airways both offer flights here, although some other low-cost airlines, such as Ryanair, fly to Beauvais-Tille Airport, northwest of Paris. All of the main cities including Nice, Toulouse, Lyon and Marseilles have international airports with links to the UK.

Flight Options

British Airways and Air France both fly from London-Heathrow to most regions of France. EasyJet offers flights to Paris from London-Luton, Belfast-International and Glasgow-International, while Ryanair serves Beauvais-Tille from Edinburgh, Manchester and Glasgow-Prestwick. Flight times from London range between 1 hour to Paris and 1 hour, 45 minutes to Nice in the south of France.

Travel Advice

Flights to France from the UK can be picked up at low prices with budget airlines. It is cheapest to fly outside of school holiday periods. It's also cheaper to fly on a weekday, but there's often little difference in price between UK airports. Many tourists fly into Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, from where there is free transport into the city.

Other Transport Options

The Eurostar is a great way of getting to France from the UK. The high-speed trains run from St Pancras International Station in London to Paris Gare du Nord, taking 2 hours, 15 minutes. The ride to Calais takes just 1 hour, 30 minutes. Passengers' passports are checked in the UK before leaving as appose to on arrival. Tickets can be expensive during peak season but return deals are available.

Getting Around

Domestic flights in France are readily available and can significantly cut down on travel time, but hopping on the train is a more scenic experience. The highway network is extensive and in good condition, on some toll roads.

Bus

Although getting buses within French cities and towns is easy, inter-regional bus services are limited due to the country's extensive rail network. There are surprisingly few services to the main tourist areas, yet ski resorts which are off the rail tracks are often well served.

Car

A combination of a comprehensive network of highways within the state and car rental rates that are among the most competitive in the US, probably because Florida is the country's most-visited state, makes driving the best way to get around Florida.

Train

France has an extensive rail network. The TGV trains are the best ones for long distances, as they are high-speed (travelling at around 186mph) and link Paris with big cities like Nantes and Bordeaux.

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FACTS

  1. France is unique in spanning Europe from the English Channel all the way to the Mediterranean coastline.
  2. 'Metropolitan France', the main mass of the country's territory, includes several surrounding islands including Corsica in the Mediterranean.
  3. French overseas territories are typically considered to be part of the country itself too, meaning there are Caribbean islands that use the euro as their currency and are regarded as being fundamentally French.

FACTS

  1. France is unique in spanning Europe from the English Channel all the way to the Mediterranean coastline.
  2. 'Metropolitan France', the main mass of the country's territory, includes several surrounding islands including Corsica in the Mediterranean.
  3. French overseas territories are typically considered to be part of the country itself too, meaning there are Caribbean islands that use the euro as their currency and are regarded as being fundamentally French.

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