See France Like Never Before with this Ultimate Travel Guide!

France is large and diverse – perhaps that’s why it has been the world’s most popular holiday destination for years. It offers varied and beautiful scenery, plenty of space, great food and drink, good weather (depending on where you travel), and an infectious passion among its people for art, culture, heritage, and tradition.

Speaking of contagious passion, there is something romantic about France and its language, and the people are so intense and emotional. The French think nothing of sweating onions for four hours to make the perfect pissaladière. They close their stores on Sundays (and often on Mondays). They settle for ugly fruits and vegetables because they taste better and buy fresh bread twice daily. They kiss each other in greeting, sometimes four times, and openly show affection in public.

France, then, is a heady mix of the familiar and the foreign, and its proximity is another big draw in an age when carbon footprints are a major consideration when booking a holiday.

Current travel restrictions and entry requirements

Finalement As of August 1, 2022, France no longer requires proof of vaccination, negative test results, or proof of recent recovery to enter the country. The country has also abolished its traveler residency form, which means you’ll simply have to follow the rules for Brits visiting EU countries post-Brexit.

Best time to travel

France is a popular destination for British families. Plan your trips outside British and French school vacations, especially for ski and summer vacations in the south if you can.

Summer is a great time to visit the north, especially the huge empty beaches, but you’re taking a risk with the British weather.

There are numerous fiestas and festivals throughout the country in the summer – the big national celebration is Bastille Day on July 14 – but there are also whimsical carnivals in the spring months. Visit the Dunkirk Carnival in March for a whirlwind of costumes and chaotic herring tossing!

Top regions and cities

Normandy

As famous for Norman icons like William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc as it’s for the D-Day landings, the region is a mecca for history and culture, with Monet’s house in Giverny and Unesco’s Mont St. Michel as landmarks. But it’s not all big names: Try the coast of La Manche, which sprawls toward Cherbourg in a series of sophisticated coastal towns, high tides, cliffs and scattered islands. Or visit the white cliffs of Etretat, where Normandy meets the Bay of the Somme, recently made famous by the Netflix movie Lupin. Or find out why the port of Honfleur or the upscale towns of Deauville and Trouville are still a magnet for Parisians looking for tranquility.

Paris

Everyone knows Paris, don’t they? The City of Light with its Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysées, the Louvre and the restful Notre Dame. But it’s only on the second or third time that you discover its true magic: the street performers on the Pont St. Louis, the sidewalk cafés, the dusty bookstores, the leafy cemeteries, the vintage stores, the catacombs, the absurdly chic pastry stores, the creamy squares, the lovers on benches, canal banks and art galleries. Go there and it gets better every time.

Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic coast packs a punch – more than 500 km – and includes bike-friendly, beach-surrounded islands like the Ile-de-Ré (and smaller Noirmoutier and rugged Ile d’Oléron), the wild surf beaches of Biscarosse, the chill bay of Arcachon, and then down to the Basque towns of St. Jean de Luz and Biarritz. With the city of Bordeaux and its wine-growing regions, there’s also a gorgeous hinterland to explore. There are gems like the Dune de Pyla, the highest dune in Europe; Cap Ferret, a chic seaside town nestled between the lapping of Arcachon Bay and the surf of the Atlantic; and La Rochelle, a lively fishing port and gateway to the Ile-de-Ré.

Alps

The French Alps are divided into two areas: the north, crowned by the 4,810-meter Mont Blanc and home to ski resorts such as Chamonix, Courchevel, and Val d’Isere; and the southern Alps, which extend to within sight of the Mediterranean and are lower in elevation and have drier vegetation than the north. The Alps are a huge adventure playground, and in addition to snow sports, they’re popular for walking, hiking, mountain biking, water sports and wellness activities in the spring and summer.

Provence and Côte d’Azur

This perhaps most famous region of France is a feast for the senses: villages, eucalyptus forests, paradisiacal calanques, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir. There are juicy tomatoes to taste, strong lavender to smell, sparkling sea to marvel at, beautiful sand to feel between your toes, and atmospheric chords to hear in the cafes. Yes, it’s touristy, the roads are congested, and the accommodations can be ruinous – but it’s worth it.

Best undiscovered destinations

Hauts de France

You’ve never heard of it, have you? No, and let’s keep it that way. The north of France is a hidden gem whose history, culture, and geography are signposted in brown signs on the side of the freeway but goes unseen by Brits stepping on the gas pedal and heading south. This region includes the white sand beaches of the Opal Coast, towns like Le Touquet that embody the golden age of the sea, gastronomic hotspots like Montreuil-Sur-Mer, not to mention vibrant cities like Lille and Amiens, and cultural gems like the Louver-Lens.

Why you should swap the south of France for the north

Jura

Probably the quietest corner of France, Jura is a mountainous region east of Burgundy and west of the Swiss border. It’s not so mountainous as to rival the Alps for skiers (though it has plenty to offer in cross-country skiing), but what can you expect from the Jura? Aside from peace and quiet, the region offers rolling vineyards, foothills, and more than its fair share of lakes, waterfalls, and caves.

Pays de la Loire

The Pays de la Loire may not grab headlines with its castles and moats, but it’s beautiful. The capital, Nantes, has a large student population, progressive forces, a taste for public art, green spaces, good food, history and joie de vivre. Proof of this is Les Machines de l’Ile, a ‘museum’ dedicated to creating mechanical animals, where you can ride a giant elephant that squirts water from its trunk. And there’s a medieval castle where a silver slide runs along the outer walls of the fortifications. The rest of the region is a mix of coastal lowlands, salt flats, beautiful beaches like La Baule and Les Sables d’Olonne, old towns, and a historical theme park called Puy du Fou that’s even more fun.

The best things to do

Visit castles

Suppose you only have time for a few of the 42 castles that make up the Unesco-Loire Valley. In that case, these four are what the French would call ” Les Incontournables” (the Unvisitable): Chambord, Chenonceau, Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau. As one of France’s most visited destinations outside of Paris, you should manage your time well. Some castles are lit at night, which can be a good way to avoid the crowds.

Gurgle and spit

Whether it’s Burgundy or Bordeaux, Languedoc or Loire, Rhône, Alsace or Champagne, wine is an important part of French culture, and along with cheese, cars, rugby and cuisine, the French are very proud of it. Taste it, talk about it, learn about its heritage and history, walk through the vineyards, and have a picnic along the way.

Food

France has a great gastronomic heritage. Food quality is very high thanks to excellent ingredients, centuries-old skills and traditions, and respect for the culinary arts. It’s easy to immerse yourself in France’s culinary traditions by visiting local markets or culinary festivals, eating at small, independent restaurants, or buying food at big-box stores.

Cruising the waterways

Stretching 240 km from Toulouse to the coast at Sète, the Canal du Midi is a popular waterway for vacationers, mainly because of the tranquility of the canal sheltered from the hot sun by deciduous trees, but also because of the great sights such as Carcassonne, Castelnaudry, Beziers and Narbonne that you see along the way.

Locomotion

France’s train network is modern and inexpensive. The TGV provides high-speed service between cities, and regional trains serve the remaining routes. You can also fly between a number of major cities, including Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, and Nice.

The highways are very well maintained and easy to navigate, although tolls can add up on longer routes.

For shorter trips, there are numerous buses and, in many cities, streetcars. The availability of bike paths varies, but most smaller roads and side streets are generally very safe for cyclists.

How to get there

France is so close that the best transport option depends on where you live in the UK and where you’re traveling to in France.

The cheapest option is usually the Eurotunnel unless you’re traveling too far in either direction – otherwise, air travel is the least expensive choice.

The fastest way to get to your destination is usually by plane, but again, if you live in the southeast and are near northern France, the Eurotunnel or Eurostar can be just as fast.

The Eurostar passenger train is the most sustainable choice, ideally combined with public transportation in France itself.

Money saving tip

The French are delightfully biassed when it comes to their annual holiday in the south, with a mix of modern juilletistes (who prefer to holiday in July) and aoûtiens (traditionalists who go in August). So travel before July or later in August to avoid high season accommodation prices.