France Map & Guide For The Best Things To See & Do –
If you want to eat gourmet food, explore beautiful countryside, visit stunning Renaissance buildings, and see some of the most valuable art in the world…here is a France map and guide to help you plan a trip. Anyone who has any interest in art and culture should visit France at some point in their lives.
France is Amazing
I can’t possibly tell you about all the amazing things to see and do, in France, just in this brief France Map and Guide, but I can guarantee you a taste of all the wonderful things you can expect from a visit to the French Republic.
Whatever your own personal interests are, I promise you that you’ll enjoy your stay in this historic nation.
Airports & Entry
Because France has a central position within Europe, it is a major international transport hub. The three main international airports around Paris together form the world’s 5th busiest airport. And France’s high-speed train systems provide rapid ground transport to any major city in Europe.
If you choose to enter France from a neighboring European country, say the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland, I’d recommend you take a high-speed train, such as the Eurostar, TGV, or Thalys, all operated by SNCF.
Railway stations tend to be in city centers so, therefore, using a France map featuring these cities will help provide you with seamless transportation between places of interest.
As an example, according to the SNCF website, you can take the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris in 3 hours and 20 minutes for €135 ($149). The SAS flight takes 4 hours and 10 minutes with one change and costs €145 ($160).
When sitting on the train, you will have an opportunity to watch the French, Belgian and Dutch countryside pass by so much better than from an airplane.
Often rail transport is more economical and can be just as fast as air transport when the connections from the airport into cities are taken into account.
This is why over the past decade France has actually seen a decrease in the volume of air travel to neighboring countries. Passengers have swapped to new and improved high-speed trains to serve all the major cities on the France map.
You should research your journey before booking as some of the budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet offer cut-price flights that are even cheaper than train tickets. You may find that on the particular day you wish to travel, you can save money by flying.
When I checked on the UK based Omio website, I found out that a direct Transavia flight, leaving next Thursday from Amsterdam to Paris Orly is only 1 hour and 20 minutes and costs €92 ($101).
That is a significant saving on the current Thalys train price and so much faster, even taking into account transport from the airport into the city center of Paris.
If you are entering France from further afield, say, Africa, America, Asia, Australasia, Europe or more than one country away, you are so much better off flying directly to one of France’s international airports. You’ll probably get the most economical and direct flights to one of Paris’ three international airports: Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly, and Beauvais-Tillé.
Charles de Gaulle Paris
You are very likely to find budget flights to Charles de Gaulle airport as it is the busiest airport in France and one of the busiest in the world.
However, there are some exceptions.
Today Omio tells me I can buy a ticket from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Paris-Orly for $364 to fly next Thursday. This is a 7 hours 20 minutes flight operated by Open Skies. The next cheapest flight is $405 from JFK to Paris-Charles de Gaulle operated by Norwegian.
Both of these examples are much cheaper than the $1,000+ prices for most tickets from NYC to Paris. If you’re traveling on a budget, do your research and you can literally save thousands on a family vacation to France by being flexible on departure and landing airports and choosing the best available tickets for your chosen date.
A Brief History of France
France has a long and complex history, as a result, I can only really scratch the surface. The earliest traces of human life are dated to 1.8 million BCE with many of the most important Neanderthal discoveries made by French paleontologists.
In fact, much of the nomenclature involved in describing and recording stone age tools was created by French researchers.
The world’s most famous and beautiful cave art is found in Lascaux Cave in Dordogne, southwestern France. In that complex are found over 600 wall paintings of animals and cultural events from 17 thousand years ago. The first of many stone age “Venus” figurines uncovered in Europe was found in the same area of France, which is rich in prehistoric archaeological sites.
The first city on the France map, Massalia now called Marseille , was founded on the Mediterranean coast as a Greek colony in 600 BCE.
However, at the same time, Celtic tribes migrating from central Europe became the dominant culture in the area and founded a territory roughly corresponding to modern France and known as Gaul.
When the Romans invaded and occupied southern Gaul in 125 BCE, they named it Provincia Nostra (Our Province) from which is derived the modern region of Provence.
By 52 BCE, the whole of Gaul was under Roman control and many Celtic cities were expanded and new cities founded, such as Calais, Lyon, and Le Mans.
The Celtic population embraced Roman culture and language, and modern French is evolved from the dialect of Latin spoken in Gaul.
With the collapse of the classical Roman Empire in the 5th century CE, Roman Gaul was invaded by northern barbarians, including the Franks.
The Franks created a new empire, the Holy Roman Empire, which only lasted 43 years but controlled most of central Europe. When it split into three parts in 843 CE, the westernmost part was named West Francia which was eventually shortened to France.
William The Conqueror
The growth of feudalism across Europe led to instability in France. When one of the vassals of the King of France became King of England in 1066 (William the Conqueror), three centuries of conflict began between England and France with the King of England controlling vast areas on the France map.
With a considerable amount of help from God and Joan of Arc, King Henry VII was finally able to turn back the tide against the English in 1453 when he won the Hundred Years War. This victory ushered in the French Renaissance when many fine buildings were constructed.
At its height under the Sun King Louis XIV, France became the most powerful nation in Europe and began building an empire that became the second largest in the world (just behind the British Empire). The France map included colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
Of course, the French revolution following the Storming of the Bastille in 1789 caused a few dips in that progress, but Napoleon did his best to maintain France as Europe’s cultural and political heart.
Because of his efforts, today most of the world uses the metrical system, with meters, grams, and liters to measure economic and scientific endeavors.
Today, the cities around France still boast the great monuments built during their age of empire, from the Sun King to the Belle Epoque.
France is also a treasure house of the arts possessing many of the most famous masterpieces in the world, from the Bayeux Tapestry embroidered around 1070 and Mona Lisa painted around 1506 to the great impressionist art of more modern painters like Renoir, Manet, Monet, and Degas.
A Fact File of France
- Official Name: The French Republic.
- Location: Western Europe.
- Population: 67 million.
- Ethnicity: 85% Celtic (the Gauls with Roman and Frankish blood), 10% Northwest African, 3% other black, and 2% Asian.
- Area: The France map takes in 247,368 square miles.
- Capital: Paris
- Seasonal Weather: Most of France has an oceanic climate with cool summers and mild winters with a small range in seasonal temperature. The far north and east areas experience a semi-continental climate with greater temperature extremes, i.e., hot summers and cold winters. The Mediterranean coast in the south has a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters. Technically, French Guiana in South America is a province of France, and there the citizens enjoy tropical weather.
- Official Language: French.
- Other Languages: There are regional ethnic languages in various areas of France including Alsatian (German), Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Flemish (Dutch), and Occitan.
- Religion: Officially, France is a secular country, but 51% identify as Christian (mainly Catholic), 40% atheist, 6% Muslim, 1% Jewish, and 2% other faiths.
- President: Emmanuel Macron.
- Prime Minister: Edouard Philippe.
- National Anthem: La Marseillaise.
- France news leaders (papers): Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération
- Time Zone: France adopts Daylight Saving Time in summer. The standard time zone is Coordinated Universal Time + 1, i.e. it is one hour in advance of International Standard Time/the UK.
- Currency: The Euro.
- Country Dialing Code Prefix: +33
- Emergency Numbers: 112 for any emergency. For specific emergencies, you can dial 15 for medical assistance, 17 for the police, 18 for the fire brigade, and 114 if you are a disabled person with an emergency.
Getting Around France
With its extensive railway network, the best way to get around France is generally by train. However, it depends on what you want to see and how long you’re staying.
If you only want to visit a few cities that are far apart and you have limited time, then sometimes you can pick up super cheap airfares from budget airlines like EasyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair, Transavia, and Vueling if you are able to book a month or more in advance.
SNCF operates not only high-speed trains, but also regular, slow services that allow you to coast through the countryside at a gentle pace and enjoy France’s landscape.
If you want to tour France on a budget, the best way is to decide which cities or sights on the France map you want to see – before you go, and then buy your tickets well in advance.
A ticket from Paris to Strasbourg would cost me €107 ($118) if I want to travel today and €47 ($52) tomorrow. If I go one month from today, it will only cost €22 ($24).
The cost is varied by day, but by juggling with the days you can work out your most cost-effective days to travel and arrange your tour of France around more affordable transport.
Under 28-year-olds can get especially cheap prices on regular trains in France using a young person’s railcard.
A rail pass that is available to anyone from outside of Europe is a single-country EuRail Pass. This provides you with a set number of train journeys within a month for a set price.
A EuRail Pass can work out much cheaper than paying for individual tickets. However, an extra charge will be applied to your journey if you opt to use a high-speed train with your EuRail Pass and you must book in advance.
An adult EuRail Pass that allows 8 days of unlimited travel within one month currently costs $390. An adult under 28 pays $312. There is an equivalent ticket for travelers from other European countries that costs the same called an Interrail ticket.
If you have lots of time but you’re traveling on a budget, there are several national bus companies you can use to tour France: Eurolines, Flixbus, Isilines, and Ouibus. Generally, you can travel cheaper by coach, but it will take much longer than by train.
However, be warned. You can often find cheaper train tickets than bus tickets if you book a month in advance and shop around. I’d recommend you take the train if possible because you’ll have a much more comfortable ride and get to places quicker. Plus, I’ve always found the view from trains more panoramic than from inside a coach.
Hire a Vehicle
You can rent cars in France for a reasonable daily fee. For example, Budget will rent you a small Renault Twingo for $38 a day in Paris. However, I have a couple of reservations.
Whether deserved or not, French drivers have a reputation for careless driving. And the long, long freeways through France go on for long, long monotonous miles with little change in scenery which does tend towards inattentive and sleepy drivers and potential accidents.
Similarly, while driving, it’s difficult for you to admire the scenery and easy to get lost even using a good France map. And once you’ve added the price of gas to the rental charge, your journey will cost more than a budget train ticket if you’re traveling on your own, or there’s only two of you.
But, on the positive side, driving your own vehicle provides you with the flexibility to go exactly where you want, when you want, during your vacation in France.
An unusual option in France for budget travelers is ridesharing arranged on the internet. Through BlaBlaCar, you can arrange to share a car with a French person traveling from one place to another. You’ll get to meet local people and learn about the culture. You’ll also pay much less than renting a car or taking a train.
If, for example, you share a car from Paris to Lyon, a verified driver who is a member of the site is offering to take you for €24 ($26). The train costs around €45 ($50).
Within French cities, you’ll find extensive public transport systems with trains, trams (streetcars or trolleys), and buses. They’re usually user-friendly and affordable. Taxis, however, can be expensive and are best avoided unless you’re in a hurry and have money to burn.
A France map of the Paris Metro including all transit modes may be found here.
Accommodation in France
There are a wide variety of places to stay across France that meet every requirement and pocket. The kind of accommodation you choose and where you stay depends entirely on your itinerary, tastes, and budget.
The official Tourist Development Agency in France is so fussy about its top “palace” hotel rating that only 31 hotels across the whole nation have met the criteria. Around half of these are found in Paris, including the Park Hyatt Vendome and the Shangri-La. The others are spread out over the rest of the country, including Le Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat in Nice and Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel—an exclusive ski resort.
Needless to say, any hotel that achieves this elusive “palace” rating will be incredibly plush, with a Michelin-starred chef and price tag to match. If you’re related to the Queen or have a billionaire sugar daddy, you’ll definitely want to stay in one of these.
For a more informal atmosphere and affordable prices, boutique hotels are small and often family-run hotels with only between 15 and 50 rooms. They’re often found in unique, historic properties close to major attractions and around tourist hotspots.
For example, take the Hotel Le Seize in central Nice. It is close to the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, and the interior décor of this 34-room hotel is a celebration of street art and pop culture while the exterior is a historic structure from the Belle Epoque found in the heart of the Old Town.
Or consider the Hotel St Claire in Toulouse. This intimate, 16-room hotel stands half-a-mile from the city center and within easy walking distance of the Jeanne d’Arc Underground Station. You get most of the amenities of a larger hotel but with friendlier staff and a cozier setting.
Many larger hotels around France are owned by multinational corporations, like Best Western, Ibis, Novotel, and Premiere Classe (Group de Louvre, 1-star budget hotels owned by Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels).
The majority of these chain hotels are owned by Accor Hotels, which is the biggest hotel company in Europe. For example, it owns the Novotel Marne-la-Vallée Collégien Hotel near Disneyland Paris, but it doesn’t own the Best Western Premier Hotel Bayonne Etche Ona that occupies two historic, 17th-century houses in the center of Bordeaux.
Bed and Breakfasts are a traditional accommodation in France that enable you to interact with French people in an intimate environment and gain a deeper understanding of French culture and customs.
These are an especially good choice if you want to get out into the countryside and enjoy an authentic French experience. Imagine staying with a French family in the Maison Jean Alain et Betty in a historic village in Provence or les 3 Coccinelles (the 3 ladybugs) in the Champagne Region. These quaint family homes are miles away from the sterile environment of multinational clone hotels that could be anywhere from Chicago to New Delhi.
When staying in Paris, self-catering apartments are a popular option. However, they’re only cost-effective if you plan to stay for a week or more and you’re coming with a large family group or two families sharing one apartment. Otherwise, you can often find cheaper hotel accommodation for small numbers of guests and short periods of stay.
These are vacation rentals out in the countryside. Like Parisian apartments, these provide you with independence and freedom, but you won’t get the same interaction with French families that you would in a chamber d’hotes. If you want a relaxing holiday in one rural location, these are great. But if you want to get out and explore the whole of France, they’re restrictive because they are usually booked for a whole week.
Everyone knows that French cuisine has the reputation for being the best in the world. Most of the top chefs from around the world spent some time training in the culinary schools in Paris. But what is French food?
Basically, France absorbed the finest traditional food from all the countries surrounding the France map and then developed its own unique style of preparing them, with copious use of its many famous wines and cheeses. There are many famous dishes from France, and here are a few of the most famous.
Around breakfast time, you’ll see people walking out of small bakeries with long baguettes, just tucking into the light, freshly baked bread. French bread is amazing. But I particularly love to eat croissants, a popular buttery pastry, straight out of the oven. I add lashings of butter and strawberry jelly then eat them while drinking my morning coffee. Check out one of the many Parisian cafés, like Holly Belly Café.
Beef bourguignon is a beef stew cooked with red wine, mushrooms, pearl onions, fresh herbs, and garlic. This dish was originally developed by peasants, and the slow simmering of the stew was aimed at tenderizing the tough cuts of cheap meat.
Coq au vin once again reminds us of the importance of wine in French cooking. Typically, chicken is braised with a red Burgundy wine and cooked along with bacon, mushrooms, onions, and garlic. La Jacobine has a great reputation for its coq au vin.
Vegetarians will be thankful that not all dishes are meat-based. Ratatouille is probably the most famous vegetarian dish from France and originated in Provence. A selection of fresh vegetables—eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, and green herbs—are fried in a shallow frying pan on high heat then transferred into a dish to be oven-baked.
For dessert, French gateaux are magnificent. And there are many other wonderful sweets, such as meringues, profiteroles, and chocolate souffle. If you’re in Paris, check out the amazing little bakeries on side streets that produce mouth-watering cakes that look as good as they taste. Check out the Pâtisserie Emma Duvéré or Dupain.
The Top 7 Places To Visit On The France Map
France contains a wealth of historic, cultural, artistic, and sporting attractions. Whether you want to hike through beautiful countryside, explore ancient towns, get involved in sports, or simply have fun, there’s something for everyone in the French Republic.
The most visited attraction in France is Disneyland Paris. You can find it 20 miles east of central Paris. Today it incorporates two theme parks: the original 1992 Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios Park opened in 2002. Disneyland Paris is visited by 15 million people every year, making it the most popular theme park in Europe.
The parks are filled with Disney related rides, like Big Thunder Mountain and It’s a Small World, that are suitable for a wide range of children and youthful adults. You can also get up close and personal with Mickey and his friends or learn about the magic of animation and film production. The rides and attractions are constantly evolving in response to new films and a changing audience.
If you want to experience the grandeur of France from the peak of the Sun King’s reign, then visit the Palace of Versailles 12 miles southwest of central Paris. This Baroque masterpiece is one of the most luxurious palaces in Europe and a tangible reminder of Louis XIV’s absolute power. The one room that all visitors never forget is the Hall of Mirrors where once loyal subjects awaited an audience with their king.
The formal gardens surrounding the palace feature ornate fountains and manicured shrubbery. The highlight of the grounds is Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet, which is a romanticized version of a French village. Originally created so the queen could play dress up and pretend to be a rural peasant in a perfect world.
The French Alps are an excellent area to visit for scenic hikes and winter sports. Scenic Mont Blanc is 15,774 feet high. It is the tallest mountain in Europe and the site of the first Winter Olympics. Avoriaz and La Rosiere feature gentle pistes ideal for introductory skiing lessons and novice skiers. Skiing resorts like La Tania and Flaine were purpose-built as family skiing destinations. And Val Thorens boasts great snow every year for serious and professional skiers.
One of the things France is justifiably renowned for is wine production. Whenever you’re celebrating a major event, Champagne is the first drink that comes to mind. And if you want a fine wine with your meal, look no further than Bordeaux. So, if you want to explore the French landscape, a great way to do this is by touring some vineyards.
The port city of Bordeaux on the southwest coast of France makes a great base for exploring romantic valleys with gothic chateaux and fields filled with neat rows of vines. There are thousands of wineries in the countryside surrounding Bordeaux that welcome you to tour their estates, observe their traditional wine-making processes, and sample some of the finest wines on Earth.
A little east of Bordeaux is the Dordogne region. This is where you can find many important prehistoric archaeological sites, like Lascaux Cave in the Vezere Valley. Although you can no longer enter the original cave due to preservation problems, an accurate reproduction of the cave’s interior is found inside Lascaux II.
Inside Lascaux II, you can see all the famous Lascaux paintings in vivid ochre hues, including the cows and horses in the Diverticule Axial and the bears and unicorns in the Hall of the Bulls. Visit the International Center for Cave Art to experience an interactive 3-D show teaching you all about the prehistoric cave art and life in the Dordogne during the Paleolithic.
Those interested in history often visit the coastline of Normandy on the France map near the ancient city of Bayeux. This is where the Allied forces landed to liberate France from German occupation during WWII.
Bayeux is a fascinating town to visit because it holds the famous Bayeux Tapestry made around 1070, which tells the story of the successful Norman invasion of England in 1066.
Bayeux was also the first town captured by Allied forces during Operation Overlord in June 1944, and consequently, General Charles de Gaulle made two of his famous speeches there.
From Bayeux, you can visit the D-Day landing beaches of Juno and Omaha beaches as well as the site of Pegasus Bridge and the original bridge in the Pegasus Museum near Caen to the east.
Not too far away to the south is one of the most famous medieval structures in France, the Abbey of Mont-Sant-Michel on an island off the coast spanning the border between Brittany and Normandy. Local legend claims that the Archangel Michael came down to Earth and ordered the building of a church on this rocky island. The abbey appears on the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Garden of France
The Loire Valley in central France is where you can find some of the most romantic buildings in France. Stunning Renaissance chateaux are scattered all around the beautiful river valleys and woodlands. The Chateau de Chambord is an especially sumptuous fairytale castle built for King Francis I between 1519 and 1547. This large and ornate late-medieval structure makes the Disney Castle look like a shantytown shed. It’s a must-see attraction for any history or architecture buff.
Visiting France Safely – Use a France Map
Because France is a relatively wealthy and stable nation, traveling here is considered safe.
However, things happen everywhere, and the November 2015 Paris Terrorist Attacks and the 2017 Tignes Avalanche serve to remind us that bad things can happen anywhere.
In the tourist hotspots and major cities, pickpockets and muggers do prey on naïve tourists as often reported by France News. In Paris, you should always be on the watch for purse snatchers, sometimes on motorbikes.
A common scam is for someone to approach acting helpful, for example offering to provide local information. In reality, they are distracting you so their accomplice can whisk away your luggage.
Keep a France map with you
Have a France map (paper or electronic) and study it away from high-risk areas to avoid looking too much like a tourist.
Don’t wear flashy jewelry in crowded places, keep your money inside a money belt or front pocket of your jeans, and avoid making eye contact with strangers. Be especially careful when using a credit card. Hide your hand while entering your PIN number. On trains, keep your luggage as close as possible, physically attached to you or an immovable object if possible.
When staying in a hotel, store your passport and any other valuables inside a room safe. Carry photocopies of your travel documents around with you so that if you do lose your passport and tickets you can still prove your identity and more easily acquire replacements. Inside hotel rooms, make use of the door bolt at night. And when leaving the room during the day, secure all the windows. Don’t forget how Kim Kardashian was robbed inside a luxury Paris hotel room in 2016!
Be observant crossing the road. French drivers do have a reputation for aggressive driving, and pedestrians often do not have right of way. If cycling, wear a helmet even though it isn’t mandatory. If you witness or are involved in any kind of accident, do not hesitate to call 112 and ask for help.
What I love about Paris & France
France is such an amazing place for soaking up culture. There’s a refined atmosphere on Parisian streets, inside the many art museums, and outside the cafés where Bohemian folks hang out. Generally, the people seem to dress in more fashionable clothes and act in such civilized ways…except when they’re driving.
One thing I have certainly found out is that you get so much more of a welcome if you attempt one or two words of French…even just a bonjour, s’il vous plait, and merci.
Although I don’t speak more than about ten words of the language, I recall saying hello to a farmer, who was standing in a field in the Champagne valley. This led to a personal tour of his wine cellar and purchase of 5 dusty bottles of Champagne for just €10 each! Be friendly to the French, and they’ll reciprocate disproportionately.
More Country & City Guides
If you enjoyed this article, France Map & Guide For The Best Things To See & Do, see our other guides featuring the UK including The United Kingdom – Your Guide & the Best Things To See & Do and London – Your Guide & The Best Things To See & Do.
If you plan to travel further afield to Asia, see the guides Hong Kong – Your Guide to & the Best Things to See & Do and Pakistan – Your Guide & The Best Things to See and Do.
Robert loves nature and history. As a child, he drove his parents crazy on vacation begging to visit museums and castles instead of beaches and theme parks. Now his children send him insane by demanding to visit beaches and theme parks.
He became interested in travel while studying archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University. He volunteered on archaeological excavations all around the British Isles then enjoyed a year exploring and learning about China.
Today, he loves writing about the places he’s visited and still spends time exploring museums and castles.