ten tips for your next trip to France

by Sharon Santoni

colourful walls in the streets of nice

So you’re planning a trip to France?  the date is in your diary, the air tickets are bought, hotels are soon booked and itineraries being put together.  You are very excited about the trip  but you are a worried about seeing little more than the well beaten tourist trail.

Here are ten tips to get you behind the scenes and give you a real taste for french living that the guide books won’t tell you about.

1.   Instead of a hotel, book a rental apartment.   There is just no comparison if you want to get a feel for a city or for the local culture.   It doesn’t mean you have to cook and clean, many rentals offer a cleaning service and you can simply go out for all your meals which will give you even more opportunities to see how the french live.  Haven in Paris have some fantastic rentals.

view over the rooftops of menton

2.  Get up early.  Get out of bed and get out early to see the city wake up.  Grab a coffee on a small café terrace and watch the locals hurry off to start their working day.   And if you are staying in the country, then get up early and take a walk to admire the view and the morning light.  Chances are you’ll come back with a story to tell.

market stalls on a street in Paris

3.  Buy food at a street market.  The stalls at the open air farmers markets are always beautifully displayed, shopping becomes a sensual experience.  You don’t need to buy a ton of stuff, especially if you’re eating out each day, but you can get a few pieces of fresh fruit, some local charcuterie or cheese, fresh bread a bunch of flowers for your apartment.  As you walk back to your rental with your basket full of fresh strawberries, a baguette  and a bunch of daisies, I promise you’ll be smiling.

4.  If you are in town then walk as much as possible, you see so much more on foot than from the back of a cab.   And if you feel adventurous, use the Velib, the bicycles that you can rent by the hour or ten minutes or the day.  You can find out how they work in Paris here and here for Nice

5.  Take your time.  Don’t plan each day so full that they become frantic.  Take your time over your meals, take a moment in the morning for a coffee and watch the world go by, don’t forget to enjoy an aperitif in a cute little bar before dinner.

stairs inside the opera at the palais garnier paris

6.  Plan a special outing.   If you are going to be in Paris or in a big enough town, then find out before hand if there will be a concert or a show that you would enjoy.   If you don’t speak French, then the theatre would be difficult, but a concert or the opera will give you an opportunity to see a great show and to mix in with the locals on their night out.

You can check out the official site for Paris here  and for Provence here.  The Chatelet theatre in Paris often put on musical shows, and the decor is wonderful.

7.  Visit the smaller museums rather than queue for hours to shuffle your way around the most well known ones.

8.   If you love to hunt for antique and brocante treasure, then keep your eyes open for signs saying ‘Foire à tout’, or ‘Vide grenier’.  These are the little street markets where the bargains are to be found and slipped into your suitcase as your piece of french treasure.

9.   If you really want to go up the Eiffel Tower, then don’t queue for hours just to go up and down again, book your self in for lunch or dinner!    There are two restaurants to choose from, you can reserve by phone and jump the queue for the lift.

the eiffel tower seen across the river

10.  And finally just try to blend in.   If you want to get a feel for the real France then you need to be as inconspicuous as possible.     Try to avoid moving around in large groups, and for your clothing take the lead from the French and go for casual chic, preferably without sneakers!

oh yes, and number 11 …. enjoy!



Colleen Taylor February 21, 2015 - 7:14 pm

Great tips Sharon & yes, those sneakers do give it away! X

Karena February 21, 2015 - 7:45 pm

Sharon wonderful tips for my much anticipated first trip to France. Can you believe in all of my travels over the years I have not made it, soon though!

The Arts by Karena
Wildlife Photographer David Gulden

Betty February 21, 2015 - 8:15 pm

Hi Sharon,
I’m planning a trip and your post was just what I needed to get started on journey. Thank you so much for your inspiration and beautiful post.
Betty @ My Cozy Corner

Botanic Bleu February 21, 2015 - 9:23 pm

For years I enjoyed a meal on the 1st floor Eiffel Tower Restaurant and used your tip about booking a reservation to avoid the long lines. To my dismay, I discovered last night on the official Eiffel Tower website, that the 1st floor restaurant now only accepts reservations for parties of 9 or more, plus the price of the lunch menu ‘pick-nick’ is no longer in my budget, especially for the food offered. The price of the evening meal is double the price of the lunch. Since the recent renovation of the Tower and a change in overall management, it seems prices had to be increased to finance the renovation. I will be missing this old favorite way of enjoying Paris.


Susan Umberger February 21, 2015 - 10:20 pm

Or go up the tower at night, the lines are shorter and the lights are spectacular! Book tix ahead of time if possible and lines are even shorter. We loved the tower at night!

Lorraine Wafer February 21, 2015 - 10:56 pm

Great tips, we have ahd 2 wonderful visits to France and each time stayed in simple apartments with shops and markets nearby. It was wonderful, shopping fresh daily and cooking at times in our little kitchen. Our favourites were in I’sle sur de la Sourge and in Paris near Pont Neuf. In the evening before dinner we would sit at the local bar to relax after our day and enjoy the ambience and people passing by. On our last night in Paris the owner of the bar gave us free drinks…we always ordered une rose et une pression bier….he knew it was our last night and gave us our drinks free to say thank you for coming to his bar each event. The French are so friendly and we met so many more people. Will always remember Didier and Caroline who ran the boulangerie in I’sle Sur de la ..they loved to chat to us each morning as we bought our supples. They lovingly explained foods, gave us tastings and were so happy and always smiling. Wonderful tips. We are heading t o Spain and Portugal for our next adventure in a few weeks and will tip our toes in my beloved France from San Sebastion over to Biarritz area.
Have saved the Paris apartment site for next Paris visit….hopefully not too far away.
Lorraine from Australia

Sherry Hawkins February 21, 2015 - 11:11 pm

Your blog remains my favorite,…only wish I had access to this prior to several earlier
trips to France…..think they would apply to other European countries as well.
Thank you, Sharon, for your ongoing gifts to us!

Leslie February 21, 2015 - 11:46 pm

So great and helpful! I will save for the future!

Cheryl February 22, 2015 - 2:23 am

Our trip is a year and a half away (25th wedding anniversary!) and I appreciate the advice. I know my husband will insist on the sneakers, but what do the French women wear who are nearly 60 and have broken-down feet?

Gayle de Bruyckere February 22, 2015 - 10:27 pm

Hi Cheryl, I have just come back from nearly 8 weeks in Europe. I am in my late 50’s and shoes were my biggest issue closely followed by lack of fitness. Throw fashion out the window and go for comfort, you can always take a special pair of shoes to wear out to dinner. Buy your shoes well before you go and wear them in, I can’t stress enough how important comfortable shoes are because you will walk all day long, sore feet can ruin your holiday. I also noticed that there is no right or wrong, the fashion variety is endless from very casual to high end, so you will be fine whatever you take. Comfort is the key!

splendid market February 22, 2015 - 3:51 am

Your tips are great! I’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit to France, and everything you say is right on, I am goign to share this with my friends who are coming over.

Sandra T. February 22, 2015 - 4:21 am

I’d like to take my 2 cocker spaniels with me. I always hear that the French love dogs. Is it hard to travel with dogs in tow? They are clean, groomed, and very well behaved!

Ana María February 22, 2015 - 5:47 am

During my last trip to Paris, I was stopped five times by tourists asking for directions! I was so proud of myself for having learned to blend in!

Erica February 22, 2015 - 12:29 pm

Thanks for the shout out Sharon and the, very helpful, article. Renting an apartment is such a great way to truly experience living in another country.
Don’t miss the markets, early morning walks, cooking at home, and just wandering about. Don’t plan too much. Let things happen! Enjoy.

Shawna February 22, 2015 - 6:21 pm

As our first trip to France happening in mid- April, I feel so lucky to have found your blog this morning! Great tips, which we will be using! Thank you! But now I wish we were going to Normandy, in order to stay at your cottage!
Merci beau coup!

Gayle de Bruyckere February 22, 2015 - 9:25 pm

Pre purchase your Eiffel Tower tickets on line with a noninated time and you won’t have to queue. I always advise friends to go up late in the afternoon while it is still light and stay there until it is dark, watch the tower come alive. To take he best photos of the Eiffel Tower, go to the Trocadero station, particularly at night…it is just beautiful.
Cheryl, I have just come back from nearly 8 weeks in Europe, as for shoes, throw fashion out the window and go for comfort, you can always take a special pair to wear out to dinner. Buy your shoes well before you go and wear them in, I can’t stress enough how important comfortable shoes are because you will walk all day long, sore feet can ruin your holiday.

Jennifer February 23, 2015 - 12:18 am

We did most of the things on your list: rented an apartment, had aperitif in “our” cafe daily (Le Comite, in the Marais), wandered about in the mornings. I tell you, it was such a thrill, after 5 years of studying French in school, to be addressed as a local, given French menus in restaurants, and asked for directions by tourists in the streets! I cannot wait to go back….

Annie Maurer February 23, 2015 - 2:36 am

Great tips I will be paying attention to before our trip. I can’t wait to stay in your guest cottage!
Annie from Australia

Param February 23, 2015 - 4:17 am

You are so right about experiencing a city like the locals. I always prefer rentals or home stays over hotels. Would love to experience France through your tips.

jeri brain February 23, 2015 - 4:36 am

bravo!!! when i was going to college in kopenhaven, a girlfriend and i hitched to switzerland… i realized that was the only way to go… we saw small villages, ate in small cafes, saw life as locals… it’s those moments that i remember the most… we had two weeks and only traveled to a few places… that’s the way to really experience the country you go to… thank you for bringing back those precious moments to me… hugs2u

niluka February 23, 2015 - 6:38 am

I hope to visit france.

Josephine February 25, 2015 - 4:53 pm

Here in the states we here the news and the awful attacks in Paris and other places. What advice have you for travellers to France?

d morgan March 27, 2015 - 11:54 am

Terrible attacks do happen in Europe from time to time, but they happen elsewhere as well (e.g., 9-11). And they are very rare. On the whole, there is much less violent crime in Europe than in major American cities, because of enhanced gun control laws.

In my years of travelling in Europe, my only encounter with crime has been theft. In the late 80s, our luggage was stolen from our (marked) rental car close to a Provencal market. And someone lay down on the road in a remote area trying to get us to stop and steal our stuff – their trick did not work. Before travelling, I would advise you to read tips in guidebooks and on the internet as to how to avoid property crime in the area in which you are staying. The vast majority of tourists have wonderful and safe holidays here.

Jessica Conick March 1, 2015 - 2:25 am

These are great Sharon! I will get to use them some day!

d morgan March 3, 2015 - 8:02 am

Having traveled in France for many years (I now live in Nice), I agree entirely with renting a holiday property. You get so much more space and value for your money. You also can control what and when you eat. Although, obviously, you can have all your meals out, if you don’t want to get dressed before breakfast, or want to eat your dinner before 7:30 PM, you can do so. You can take advantage of the wonderful food markets and traiteurs, and bring home provisions for a great home cooked meal or a take-out spread.


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