Top events in France

May
16

In 1939 the French government chose Cannes as the suitably sunny location for its inaugural Film Festival. From what was originally an opportunity...

June
21

Throughout France on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the whole country is given over to music from morning till night. In...

July
07

Alongside the famous Avignon Festival, the 'Off' festival enlivens city streets and courtyards with a carnival atmosphere. Small troupes and...

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
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Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

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France Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

551,500 sq km (212,935 sq miles) (not including overseas territories).

Population

62.8 million (2013, metropolitan France only).

Population density

113.9 per sq km.

Capital

Paris.

Government

Republic since 1792.

Head of state

President François Hollande since 2012.

Head of government

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault since 2012.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Two-pin plugs are widely used.

You could spend a lifetime’s worth of holidays in France and still not feel as though you’d done the country justice. It remains the planet’s most visited tourist destination, meriting this lofty standing with an almost overwhelming mass of historical treasures, storybook landscapes and cultural idiosyncrasies.

The teeming glam of Paris makes for one hell of a centrepiece, matching any city on the planet for ambiance, individuality and set-piece sights. But the real beauty of France, in many ways, lies in the seemingly endless list of travel treats elsewhere. The country’s natural gifts are striking, with white sands, hulking mountains and fecund swathes of rolling countryside. It’s a land that has inspired dreamers and drinkers, revolutionaries and artists, gastronomes and geniuses. Little wonder that Francophiles (and it’s telling that even the country’s devotees have a given word to describe them) are found the world over.

In terms of where to go and what to see, it's all about the dramatic juxtapositions. You can soak up the A-list beaches of the Cote d’Azur, drowse in the timeless greenery of the Loire Valley or gaze up at the monumental peaks of the Alps. Wander the lavender fields of Provence, eat your way round the legendary bistros of Lyon or sample the rugged charm of Corsica. Lose yourself in megaliths, linger in ancient walled cities and hike dizzying cliff tops. France’s cities, coastline and countryside all have their own ooh-la-la rewards, and when taken as a whole, they present a near-perfect visitor package.

But naturally, there’s more to the destination than its guidebook hits. Today’s France is a nation defined by a whole host of other characteristics, among them politics, language, multiculturalism and a still-fierce sense of identity. And when seen in the context of the country’s dramatic, romping history – a timeline stretching from Joan of Arc to the Eurozone crisis via Louis XIV, Napoleon and De Gaulle – it makes any visit a fascinating one.

That’s not to say, of course, that it’s somewhere which can be easily bracketed. The wider territory of France is far-reaching, incorporating parts of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, but even seeing Metropolitan France itself as one distinct nation can often be a stretch of the imagination. When you’re walking the moody portside backstreets of Marseille or delving among the sprawling flea markets of Paris, it can be a job to remember that they’re a part of the same country as the vineyards of Alsace or the sand dunes of the Atlantic coast.

This diversity, in many ways, is the magic of France. It’s why it has endless magazines, books and texts dedicated to the joys of its lifestyle. It’s why the national spirit remains such a bold, many-hued thing. And it’s one reason why, in a continent full of historical wonder and natural beauty, France still draws more tourist attention than anywhere else.      

"How can one describe a country which has 365 kinds of cheese?" once asked former French president Charles De Gaulle. Even today, it's a very good question.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 23 April 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Around 17,100,000 British nationals visit France every year. Most visits are trouble-free.

There is a general threat from terrorism. The French authorities announced in January 2013 increased security around public buildings and on transport.

You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired. Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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