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Are you thinking of planning a trip to France? This European country is one of my favorites, and because I’ve been there quite a few times people usually ask me questions about what to see and do there.
And although I haven’t been to France in way too long, I thought it was about time I wrote a post about how to plan a great trip to France. But since all the posts about France talk about the same things, I want to add a slightly different perspective.
Why You Should Go to France
Well, France is the most-visited country in the world so you probably don’t need a reason to travel to France. Or maybe that’s something that turns you off a trip to France? You may want something a little more different.
Well, you’re in luck. Because France is a lot more than what you read in books or see in movies.
Even if you haven’t been to France yet you probably have an idea of what to expect. Cobblestone alleys in picturesque villages, cute cafés with waitresses like Amélie Poulain, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
You’ve seen it all in some of your favorite movies. So why bother going there yourself?
Because there’s more to France than wine, fashion, and attractive people.
France is more than its pretty façade and well worth exploring more in-depth. To me, there are three major things you will get out of a trip to France. You will:
- experience France’s multiculturalism,
- visit one of the most geographically diverse countries in Europe, and
- learn about the country’s history.
The first point is what I loved about France from the first time I went there. As someone from a medium-sized town who went to a very privileged school, I have always belonged to a small minority of multi-ethnic people. France was the first really diverse place that I saw where I learned that there are better ways to deal with multiculturalism than what I was used to in Germany.
But even if that’s not important to you I think it’s an aspect that challenges traditional images of France.
Some Important Facts About France
Before you book your trip to France you should know a few things:
- You are probably thinking about visiting “Metropolitan France” which is the part of France that is in Europe. However, France still has some overseas regions and territories in South America, the Caribbean, and the Indian, Pacific, Southern, and Atlantic oceans.
- Along with Spain, Portugal, the Dutch Republic, and Britain, France was one of the major colonizer states since the 16th century. Most colonies became independent by the 1960s. Today’s overseas regions and territories have voted to remain part of France.
- The French Revolution was the beginning of one of the first republics in modern history.
- France is a leading member state of the European Union, and its currency is the Euro.
- France is famous for its cheese. But don’t worry, the big French cities also have options for vegan cheese. Oh, how I would love some vegan camembert right now!
- For decades, France has been the most popular tourist destination in the world. More than 80 million visitors make a trip to France every year. And there is something to see for all of them.
- One of the most famous French women of all time is Marie Curie. She was born in Poland as Maria Skłodowska and only moved to France at the age of 24. Even as a naturalized French citizen, she didn’t lose touch with her Polish identity.
- The French Revolution made it illegal for the French state to collect data on its citizens’ ethnicity. That’s why numbers on the ethnic makeup of France are mere estimates. The only thing the government has exact numbers on are the percentages of French-born and foreign-born people among the population. But according to estimates, at least 40% of the French population have some immigrant ancestry.
Organizing Your Trip to France
Flights to France
Paris has two major international airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly. If you are flying to France from outside of Europe you will probably land at CDG airport, but for European and domestic flights Orly is also quite popular.
But there are various other international airports in France. Make sure to check for direct flights from your nearest airport. There are quite a few different options, especially if you are flying in from Montreal.
Do You Need a Visa for Your Trip to France?
France is a member of the Schengen region. As such, if you have a valid visa for any Schengen country it’s also valid for France.
Citizens of most of the countries in the Americas do not need a visa to enter the Schengen region for 90 days.
Nationals of most African and Asian countries need a visa. To get your visa, your passport has to have a validity of at least three months after you plan to leave the Schengen area.
Please do the necessary research about the Schengen Visa before your trip. Note that France’s overseas territories and regions are not part of the Schengen region.
The Ultimate One-Week Itinerary for Your Trip to France
France has a lot to offer to visitors. Of course, one week can never be enough to see an entire country. But one week in France is going to give you a good introduction to this West European nation. In this itinerary, I suggest you visit the following places: Paris, Brittany, and the French Riviera. Here’s what I suggest you see and do in each region, but there’s a lot more you can add or stuff you can leave out.
What to See and Do in Paris – 3 Days
Paris is, of course, the capital of France and its largest city. There are tons of things to do, and you will not be able to do all of them. But my suggestion is to see and do the following things in Paris:
Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile
Napoleon commissioned this famous monument to honor his own achievements as Emperor of France. It features battle scenes and the famous Départ des volontaires de 1792, commonly known as La Marseillaise (also the name of the French national anthem).
Avenue des Champs-Elysées
I wouldn’t dream of sending you to Paris without walking one of the most famous avenues in the world. While I am personally not a fan of this elegant shopping boulevard, you’re already there as it ends at the Arc de Triomphe. This is also where the biggest military parade in Europe takes place every year on Bastille Day, the 14th of July.
Canal Saint-Martin is the most famous of Parisian canals and has become the perfect place for a weekend stroll when much of it becomes a pedestrian-only zone. You can also take a sunset cruise for a romantic evening typically associated with Paris. Despite its popularity, the Canal Saint-Martin is a lovely place to experience that has inspired many famous French artists.
This former royal palace played an important role in French history as the place where Camille Desmoulins called on the crowds to take up arms. Two days later these riots would lead to the storming of the Bastille.
The reason that Paris is my favorite city in the world is that it’s so multicultural. And Barbès with its popular market frequented by West and North African residents is a prime example of that.
The neighborhood where legendary singer Édith Piaf grew up is another one of my favorites in Paris. As a working-class neighborhood, Belleville played an important role in the Paris Commune which had some of its most fervent supporters here. Large-scale immigration turned Belleville into one of the city’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. If you’re a street art enthusiast you can’t miss this part of the city.
What to See and Do in Brittany – 2 Days
Brittany is France’s only Celtic region and home to some of the world’s oldest architecture. If you want to get to know a completely different side of France I highly recommend spending a few days in this region.
Menhirs and Dolmens
Menhirs (what the cartoon character Obélix carries) and dolmens are ancient standing stones and table stones that were used as funeral and worship sites. The gulf of Morbihan is an excellent place to see them, and the cities of Carnac and Vannes even have museums that explain more about these stone structures.
I absolutely loved the rough Atlantic coast in Brittany! Sure, I’m from the north of Germany, and stormy, rainy weather somehow makes me feel at home. But the gorgeous coastline made it so much more impressive here. With the changing weather, you never know what you’re going to see here. And I’m sure if you’re a surfer you’d have the most amazing time in the region. Brittany is one of France’s major surfing destinations.
La Jument Lighthouse
Now, this is a little more particular but could well be worth a trip if you want to see something absolutely spectacular. The lighthouse of La Jument stands on a rock 2km from Ouessant island which is itself located 20km off the coast of Brittany. You will need to take a boat to the island, but the fact that there are five lighthouses surrounding the island is pretty impressive.
What to See and Do on the French Riviera – 2 Days
I really want this one-week itinerary for France to be as interesting as possible so let’s head to the French Riviera next. And as you can imagine from the rest of the post, I’m not talking about the flashy parties and yachts.
Nice and Cannes
As a port city, Nice has always been quite diverse, and many street signs are bilingual (French and Occitan). And Cannes is not only glitz and glamor; you don’t have to be rich to enjoy a stroll through the Old Town.
Take a walk through the narrow alleys of the old town of Vence. There’s a reason creatives such as Chagall, Matisse, and D. H. Lawrence all loved Vence. This small town in the hills is absolutely gorgeous and well worth a day trip from Nice. And although the town is popular with tourists it has kept its unspoiled and untouched character.
Travel guides often separate Èze into the village and the seaside resort. The hike up to the village is extremely rewarding because you get incredible views of the coast. Once you’re there you must walk through the medieval village. But there’s also a gorgeous garden, the Jardin Exotique.
Suggestions for Where to Stay in France
- Paris has plenty of hotels, but finding one that is decently priced, well-located, and clean can be difficult. Even before the days of Airbnb, I was a big proponent of renting an apartment when visiting Paris. It also makes you feel more like you experience the real Parisian life.
- I would suggest you do the same in Brittany. Keep in mind that an apartment with a kitchen gives you the advantage of self-catering. And with France not being a cheap country, cooking your own meals from time to time can save you quite a bit of money. Money that you can spend on things like transportation.
- I think Nice is the perfect city to splurge on a hotel. Since you’re going to do a few day trips from here you want to be staying close enough to the train station or a bus stop.
Suggestions for Vegans Traveling to France
In Paris, Nice, Cannes, Antibes, and even Menton you will find vegan eateries. While you may be better off self-catering in Brittany, the town of Concarneau has a vegan restaurant you can visit as part of a day trip. For day trips to Èze and Vence on the French Riviera, pack your own lunch.
Moving Between Destinations
I suggest taking the high-speed train from Paris to Brittany and then flying from Rennes to Nice which can be as cheap as €32. To get around in Brittany, the regional trains are an easy and fast option. Public transport on the French Riviera is surprisingly cheap (€2 for a bus ticket, €6 for the train) and can take you to many of the surrounding villages and towns.
Time for a Trip to France to See a Different Side of the Country
Of course, with this itinerary, we can only scratch the surface of France. But I wanted to mention some parts of France (or things to see in Paris) that are not on every France itinerary online.
France may be the most popular tourist destination in the world. But that doesn’t mean that you only have to do the super touristy things everyone does.
I love combining some of the main attractions and some lesser-known gems that give a place its unique character.
So while there are tons of things you could potentially see in a week in France, I think this itinerary provides an interesting introduction. You get to see the capital Paris (with its popular landmarks but also more off-the-beaten-path spots), the rough beauty of Brittany, as well as the French Riviera beyond the glitz and glamor.
Have you been to France yet? What are some lesser-known areas in France that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!