Welcoming well over 70 million tourists in the most recent year for which arrival figures are available, France sits atop the world as its most popular destination for travelers.
With world class architecture, culture, history, nature and cuisine, France is a nation that is the complete package (except for being tropical, although the French Riviera can come close at times) for tourists.
Though this popularity has meant escalating prices and increasingly jaded locals over the years, there is no denying that France is an essential destination for those looking to discover Europe on their travels.
What To Do
No structure in France is as emblematic of Paris, and France as a whole as the Eiffel Tower. This hugely popular tourist attraction is famed for its unique shape that served as an entrance arch for those attending the 1889 World’s Fair.
Seven million visitors ascend the tallest structure in the entirety of Paris (it’s as tall as an 81 storey building) every year, so be sure to (a) book early and (b) visit the tower as early in the day as you can.
The former will help you avoid being disappointed if you are on a tight travel schedule, and the latter will enable you to enjoy this lofty viewpoint when fewer people are around, and when light conditions are more favorable for taking spectacular photographs.
There are two lower levels well below the observation deck, each of which contain restaurants. The one on the second tier is Le Jules Verne, which is a well-regarded fine dining restaurant that has earned a Michelin star for its interpretation of French cuisine.
Another attraction that you should see in Paris if you are pressed for time is The Louvre, which is one of the world’s largest museums, as well as its most visited (9.7 million poured through its gates in 2012).
Named for the 12th century palace in which it sits, The Louvre is an expansive vault containing artifacts and antiquities from the history of human art, dating from the days before written communication (prehistory) to modern times.
From ancient Greek sculptures to Assyrian reliefs, as well as numerous priceless works of art from across Renaissance-era Europe, a trip through The Louvre will take all day, so plan your travel itineraries accordingly.
One of the most significant historical and cultural attractions (among many) outside of Paris is Mont Saint-Michel, which can be found just off the coast of Normandy. This religious commune was founded in the 8th century AD, and with the protection of massive fortifications and the ocean, it fended off attacks throughout its history, including during the laborious Hundred Year War with England.
This curious medieval mainstay also served as a prison onward from the time of Louis XI, as the same natural defence characteristics that made it easy to guard also served to keep dangerous people within its confines.
After taking in some history, turn your attention southward towards the French Riviera, which defines France’s frontage on the Mediterranean Sea. This coastline is easily the warmest place in the country during winter, and is a favored holiday destination, especially among the celebrities and jetset multimillionaires/billionaires of the world, in the summer months.
From the fine beaches and superyachts of St. Tropez, to the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the artisans and perfumer makers of Vallauris, Biot and Grasse, there is much to see and do in the French Riviera.
After lazing for a while on the shores of the French Mediterranean, climb into the foothills of the French Alps, where no shortage of mountain adventures await you and your family/travel mates.
Home to Mont Blanc, which is the highest mountain in Western Europe, this region is renowned for having some of the best alpine skiing terrain in the world, and during the summer months, it is a playground for mountaineers, trekkers, white-water rafters, mountain bikers and other other extreme sports athletes.
Of course, there is plenty for those that are less athletically inclined, as relaxing spa resorts, charming towns and stunning photo opps can be found throughout the region.
What To Eat
French cuisine is considered to be one of the world’s best cuisines, alongside other well-balanced and refined styles from places like Italy, Japan, and Thailand. While the number of regional specialities in French cooking is truly mind-boggling, Pot au feu is the one meal that is considered to be its national dish.
Loved throughout French history by the rich and poor alike, this beef stew is slow cooked with root vegetables like carrots, turnips, leeks and onions along with spices like cloves, pepper, and nutmeg to bring out a flavor that could only be described as heavenly.
Another well loved stew is Coq au vin, which takes chicken and braises it with wine, garlic and mushrooms. The way that this dish is prepared will vary by region, as different parts of France will use their favorite wine to grant the dish its own unique flavor profile.
One of France’s most famous sweet treats is the crêpe, which is a thin pancake created from buckwheat or wheat flour. Filled with either sweet (whipped cream, chocolate, butter, strawberries, etc) or savoury (ham, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, etc) ingredients, it is an easy and delicious way to either have a quick lunch, or a decadent dessert on the go.