France is one of the most popular destinations for traveling and studying abroad - who doesn’t want to see the magnificent Eiffel Tower, or taste an authentic bouillabaisse in the South of France? From Paris to Marseille, there is a plethora of sites to see, art to enjoy, and food to indulge in.
With all the possibilities in France, planning the perfect travel itinerary can be a challenge. There are a few insider tips which will ensure you have the best trip possible! For starters, make sure you know the weather, which attractions are must-sees, and the best dishes to order at restaurants.
Brushing up on basic French skills is always a good idea, too. Remember to plan ahead, but also enjoy the spontaneous moments so you’ll have memories that last forever! Check out the tips below from our friends at TakeLessons for more recommendations to make your visit to France one for the books.
1. Keep French Fashion in Mind
Pack clothes that are both chic and versatile, bearing in mind the French are simple and effortless when it comes to their style. The saying “less is more” works well for the French.
One of your goals should be to blend in with the locals – not stand out as a tourist. For the ladies, bring a scarf! In the summertime, light scarves can add a touch of class, or be used as an extra layer at nighttime without the bulk of a jacket.
2. Pack Comfy Shoes
Bring a pair, or two, of comfortable shoes to France. When traveling, you should always expect to be walking quite a bit, whether it’s through the cobbled streets of Le Vieux Carré (the Old Quarter) or through the vineyards in the South.
So leave the stiletto heels at home and opt for a pair of comfortable sandals or sturdy boots. Your feet will thank you later!
3. Learn the Language
Locals love when visitors attempt to speak the native language. Even if your French is a little rusty and you can only muster up a polite “Je voudrais un café, s’il vous plait” (“I would like a coffee please”), the French will greatly appreciate the effort.
The best way to learn French before your trip is with the help of an experienced tutor. If you’re interested in building up your French vocabulary quickly, try out the online French classes at TakeLessons Live. Classes are completely free for your first month!
4. Check the Weather
Regions along the three coasts of France have a more temperate climate, unlike areas in central France, where you’ll experience more variation between seasons. Paris can also become fairly hot in the summer, so be prepared by packing light-colored clothing made of loose material.
The summer months in the south along the Mediterranean have very little rainfall, but the rest of the country experiences rainy months throughout the year. Paris has quite a bit of rainfall from April through August. Whatever the season, it’s always a good idea to check the forecast prior to your visit to France!
5. Travel in Spring or Fall
If you’re on a budget, the most cost-effective times to travel to France are during the spring and fall months. Keep in mind that if plane tickets are purchased at least three months in advance, you will be able to find some better deals!
6. Try a Bed & Breakfast
Relax in the many charming bed and breakfasts that France has to offer! While there are many options for lodging available to visitors, the more intimate bed and breakfasts in France are superb. Many of them offer home-cooked meals of the region, and the locals’ take on must-see sites.
7. Eat Like a Local
The French are known for, and proud, of their cuisine. Wherever you are in the country, be sure to try the local delicacies. If you’re traveling to Bordeaux, try the cannelé – a small pastry made of vanilla and rum.
Take in the view of the Mediterranean while dining on a traditional seafood dish of the region. You won’t regret trying the bouillabaisse (seafood stew) in Marseille, or the delicious quenelle in Lyon!
8. Enjoy an Apéritif or Digestif
In France, sometimes the best drinks come just before or after a delicious meal. An apéritif (pre-meal drink) is usually enjoyed among friends before a plat de fromage (cheese plate) is served.
One common apéritif is the kir, which is a mix of white wine and blackcurrant. A common digestif (post-meal drink) is an espresso. Or you can try the “eau de vie,” literally translated “water of life,” which is a popular fruit brandy.
9. Check the Prix Fixe Menu
When you’re unsure about what to order, the prix fixe (fixed price) menu will be your best friend. Selected by the chef, it includes several dishes from the entrée (appetizer) to the plat principal (main dish) to the dessert.
10. Shop at Outdoor Markets
One way to save money without sacrificing the French experience is to shop at the outdoor markets. Most towns have an outdoor market or “marché en plein air.” Here, you can find vendors selling the region’s best at a more affordable price. Just be sure to check the local schedule, as some markets are only open on specific days of the week.
11. Enjoy Local Wines
As with the food in France, it’s usually best to go with the regional wine. While there are many options for wine, opting for the local wine is the best choice if you want to fully experience and appreciate the specialties of the area.
12. Travel by Train
Another way to save money on travel expenses while visiting France is to take the train. For the best deals, book three months in advance if you already have an itinerary set. If you’re under 25 and visiting France for a study abroad program or internship, signing up for a “Carte Jeune” offers reduced train fares!
13. Follow the Tour de France
Are you a fan of cycling? If not, would you like to follow a route that takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of France? Follow the cyclists at the Tour de France! This annual event takes place in July with a route through several notable cities and sites.
14. Celebrate La Fête Nationale
Also known as Bastille Day, the French independence day is well-celebrated in this country. If you’ll be in France on July 14th, you’ll get to witness fireworks shows and join in on the festivities. In Paris, go to a ball after the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower! The music and dancing begins around 9 PM.
15. Check out the Museums
The Louvre is one of the most popular museums in France, but there are so many other inspiring sites to add to your travel list! In Paris alone, there is the lesser-known Musée d’Orsay that boasts of numerous Impressionist paintings by Monet, and the Centre Pompidou that features contemporary and more interactive art. Both have slightly shorter admission lines!
16. Visit Luberon
Don’t forget to bring your camera to the picturesque lavender fields in France. The lavender that blooms in the South of France is a scent that is truly unforgettable. In Luberon these fragrant flowers bloom anytime between late June to early August, with the peak of the season being in early July.
17. Learn About History in Normandy
If you’re interested in historical events, head north for Normandy. Along the coast you’ll find the infamous Normandy and Omaha beaches where you can see remnants of WWII bunkers and memorials to those who fought during the war.
18. Stop by the Castles
France is home to many beautiful and unique châteaux (castles) in the center of the country. Relive the grandeur of the châteaux in the Loire Valley. Villandry is famous for its gardens that are exact replicas of the medieval gardens, while Chambord includes a grand central staircase in the main entrance.
This area of the country is less crowded than Paris or the beaches in the South, so it would make an excellent addition to your itinerary if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle.
19. Make Your Way to Île de Ré
At the mention of French beaches, most people think about the beaches along the Mediterranean Coast. Bask in the sunshine on Île de Ré instead. Located just off the western coast of France, Île de Ré is a unique and lesser-known beach that is connected to the mainland by a bridge.
20. Enjoy the Moment
While planning a trip to France often includes many preparations, it’s important to remember to savor the moment and not get too caught up in your itinerary. Enjoy the food, enjoy the wine, and enjoy the sites. But most importantly – enjoy the journey from one destination to another! Check out the infographic below for a visual reminder of each of these insider tips!
Want to get the chance to learn about a new culture and live in the heart of a thriving European city? Study Abroad Apartments offers some great options for students planning to live abroad. Just get in touch with us if you need any help finding somewhere to stay and we’ll make sure you have one of the best options out there!