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Things to do in France

  • Vacations

    Many of the French take their vacations in August. As a result, outside of touristic areas, many of the smaller stores (butcher shops, bakeries...) will be closed in parts of August. This also applies to many corporations as well as physicians. Obviously, in touristy areas, stores will tend to be open when the tourists come, especially July and August. In contrast, many attractions will be awfully crowded during those months, and during Easter week-end.

    Some attractions, especially in rural areas, close or have reduced opening hours outside the touristic season.

    Mountain areas tend to have two touristic seasons: in the winter, for skiing, snowshoeing and other snow-related activities, and in the summer for sightseeing and hiking.


    France is part of the Eurozone, so as in many other European Union countries the currency used is the euro (symbol: ). Some foreign currencies such as the US dollar and the British Pound are occasionally accepted, especially in touristic areas and in higher-end places, but one should not count on it; furthermore, the merchant may apply some unfavourable rate. In general, shops will refuse transactions in foreign currency.

    It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside (note, however, that many hotels propose lower prices than the posted ones if they feel they will have a hard time filling up their rooms; the posted price is only a maximum).

    Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and Mastercard. American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. Check with your bank for applicable fees (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee).


    Inside city centers, you will find smaller stores, chain grocery stores ( Casino ) as well as, occasionally, department stores and small shopping malls. Residential areas will often have small supermarkets ( Champion , Intermarche ). Large supermarkets ( hypermarches such as Geant Casino or Carrefour ) are mostly located on the outskirts of towns and are probably not useful unless you have a car.

    Things to buy home

    • a puzzle-like map of France, with magnet pieces each representing a province of the country and showing its key feature for a traveler (cheese, frogs, truffles, cayaking, wine, calvados etc)


    With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs. Finding the right restaurant is therefore very important - try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair.

    There are many places to try French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French "brasseries" or "bistros" that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardised menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine. To obtain a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary. In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides. There are also specific local restaurants, like "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons, "creperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris), etc.

    Chinese, Vietnamese, even Thai eateries are readily available in Paris, either as regular restaurants or "traiteurs" (fast-food). They are not so common, and are more expensive, in smaller French cities. Many places have "Italian" restaurants though these are often little more than unimaginative pizza and pasta parlors. You will also find North African (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) as well as Greek and Lebanese food. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries (US original or their French copies) are also available; note that McDonalds is more upmarket in France than in the US.

    In France, taxes (19.6 per cent of the total) and service (usually 15 per cent) are always included in the bill ; so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an "extra-tip". French people usually leave one or two coins if they were happy with the service.

    Menu fixed price seldom include beverages. If you want water, waiters will often try to sell you mineral water (Evian, Thonon) or fizzy water (Badoit, Perrier), at a premium; ask for a carafe d'eau for tap water, which is free and safe to drink. Water never comes with ice in it unless so requested (and water with ice may not be available).

    As in other countries, restaurants tend to make a large profit off beverages. Expect wine to cost much more than it would in a supermarket.

    Ordering is made either from fixed price menus ( prix fixe ) or a la carte . A typical fixed price menu will comprise:

    • appetizer, called entrees or hors d'?uvres
    • main dish, called plat
    • dessert ( dessert ) or cheese ( fromage )

    Sometimes, restaurants offer the option to take only two of three steps, at a reduced price.

    Coffee is always served as a final step (though it may be followed by liquors). A request for coffee during the meal will be considered strange.

    Not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner, nor are they open all year around. It is therefore advisable to check carefully the opening times and days. A restaurant open for lunch will usually start service at noon and accept patrons until 13:30. Dinner begins at around 19:30 and patrons are accepted until 21:30. Restaurants with longer service hours are usually found only in the larger cities and in the downtown area. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and especially Sunday can be a challenge unless you stay close to the tourist areas.

    In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if the restaurant is clearly not filled to capacity. For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations in order to avoid disappointment, especially if the restaurant you're considering is specially advised in guide books.

    A lunch or dinner for two on the "menu" including wine and coffee will cost you (as of 2004) 70 to 100 in a listed restaurant in Paris. The same with beer in a local "bistro" or a "creperie" around 50. A lunch or dinner for one person in a decent Chinese restaurant in Paris can cost as little as 6 if one looks carefully.

    Outside of Paris and the main cities, prices are not always lower but the menu will include a fourth course, usually cheese. As everywhere beware of the tourist traps which are numerous around the heavy travelled spots and may offer a nice view but not much to remember in your plate.


    All white bread variants keep for only a short time - must be eaten the same day. Hence bakers bake at least twice a day!

    • The famous baguette : a long, thin loaf
    • Variants of the baguette : la ficelle (even thinner), la flute
    • Pain de campagne or Pain complet : made from whole grain which keeps relatively well.


    Pastries are a large part of French cooking. Hotel breakfasts tend to be light, consisting of tartines (pieces of bread with butter or jam) or the famous croissants and pains au chocolat , not dissimilar to a chocolate filled croissant (but square rather than crescent shaped).

    Pastries can be found in a patisserie but also in most boulangeries.

    Regional dishes

    Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources (game, fish, agriculture, etc) of the region, the vegetables (cabbage, turnip, endives, etc) which they grow there. Here is a small list of regional dishes which you can find easily in France. Generally each region has a unique and widespread dish (usually because it was poor people's food):

    • Cassoulet (in south west) : Beans, duck, pork & sausages
    • Choucroute , or sauerkraut (in Alsace) : stripped fermented cabbage + pork
    • Fondue Savoyarde (central Alps) : Melted/hot cheese with alcohol
    • Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy) : Pieces of beef (in boiled oil), usually served with a selection of various sauces.
    • Raclette (central Alps) : melted cheese & potatoes/meat
    • Pot-au-feu boiled beef with vegetables
    • Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy) : slow cooked beef with gravy
    • Gratin dauphinois (Rhone-Alpes) : oven roasted slices of potatoes
    • Aligot (Auvergne) : melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes
    • Bouillabaisse (fish + saffron) (Marseille and French Riviera). Don't be fooled. A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires. Be prepared to pay at least 30/persons. If you find restaurants claiming serving bouillabaisse for something like 15/persons, you'll get a very poor quality.
    • Tartiflette (Savoie) Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon.
    • Confit de Canard (Landes) : Duck Confit, consists of legs and wings bathing in grease. That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called "French Paradox" (eat richly, live long).
    • Foie Gras (Landes) : The liver of a duck or goose. Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price (because of their purchasing power) around the holiday season. It is the time of year when most of foie gras is consumed in France. It goes very well with Champagne.

    Cooking and drinking is a notable part of the French culture, take time to eat and discover new dishes...

    Unusual foods

    Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead.

    • Frogs' legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken. They are often served in a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab.
    • Most of the taste of Bourgogne snails (escargots de bourgogne) comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic and parsley in which they are cooked. They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture that is what is liked by people who like snails. Catalan style snails ("cargols") are made a completely different way, and taste much weirder.

    Let us also cite:

    • Rillettes sarthoise . A sort of potted meat, made from finely shredded and spiced pork. A delicious speciality of the Sarthe area in the north of the Pays de la Loire and not to be confused with rillettes from other areas, which are more like a rough pate.
    • Beef bone marrow (os a moelle). Generally served in small quantities, with a large side. So go ahead: If you don't like it, you'll have something else to eat in your plate.
    • Veal sweetbread (ris de Veau), is a very fine (and generally expensive) delicacy, often served with morels, or in more elaborates dishes like "bouchees a la reine".
    • Beef stomach ( tripes ) is served either "A la mode de caen" (with a white wine sauce) or "A la catalane" (with a slightly spiced tomato sauce)
    • Andouillettes are sausages made from tripe, a specialty of Lyon
    • Beef tongue ( langue de b?uf ) and beef nose (museau) and Veal head (tete de veau) are generally eaten cold (but thoroughly cooked!) as an appetizer.
    • Oysters are most commonly served raw in a half shell.
    • Oursins (sea urchins) For those who like concentrated iodine.
    • Steak tartare a big patty of ground beef cured in acid as opposed to cooked, frequently served with a raw egg.
    • Cervelle , pronounced (ser-VAYL) lamb brain.


    France is certainly THE country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds. Indeed, former president General Charles De Gaulle was quoted as saying "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?".

France Places to Visit