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Insider’s tips for visiting France

PUBLISHED: 10:45 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 17:35 18 May 2016

A rooftop bar overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris ©anyaberkut/Thinkstock

A rooftop bar overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris ©anyaberkut/Thinkstock

(c) Mariafeklistova | Dreamstime.com

France is one of the most visited countries in the world, and for good reason! But do you know everything there is to know about travelling to France? Read these insider’s tips before you visit France

1. Try to speak the language

Even if you’re a beginner in French, the effort of trying to speak a little of the language in shops and restaurants will not go unnoticed by locals who tend to get annoyed with tourists who assume everyone speaks English. Remember that in smaller towns and villages, the older inhabitants may not know much English at all. So brush up your bonjours and s’il vous plaits and they might just remember their thank yous!

Driving in France ©nfrPictures/FotoliaDriving in France ©nfrPictures/Fotolia

2. Be aware of driving rules and regulations

France is perfect for road trips with great scenic country roads and motorways that are far from boring. Just make sure you are aware of the rules that differ from the UK. Speed limits are not always indicated so remember they are 130km/h on motorways (110km/h in the rain), 90km/h on national roads and 50km/h in villages. Don’t forget the French rule of giving way to cars coming on the right in the absence of any other signalisation. Oh and drive on the right hand side…

A TER train commuting on a viaduct at Ensuès la Redonne in Bouches du Rhônes ©Enzojz/istockphotosA TER train commuting on a viaduct at Ensuès la Redonne in Bouches du Rhônes ©Enzojz/istockphotos

3. Travel by train

Don’t neglect other means of transportation on your holiday in France: you don’t always have to hire a car. In fact, journeying by train can be a great way to see the area’s landscape and small, regional trains (TER) between towns and villages can be really cheap. You can also get an Interrail pass that last several days. You don’t need to go through a barrier when you board a French train so don’t forget to stamp your ticket beforehand (‘composter’ in French).

One of the markets in Lille ©Meiqianbao/shutterstockOne of the markets in Lille ©Meiqianbao/shutterstock

4. Eat and drink local products

This may seem obvious but if you want to experience France in an authentic way, avoid chains and go for local shops and restaurants. Markets are the best way to sample a region’s produce, but you will also find local products in small shops near the tourist offices (look out for the word ‘terroir’ which means ‘local’). Step into independent cafés and bistros and keep your eyes out for locals sitting at the bar – it probably means that that’s where the best coffee is served. Buy wine from independent winemakers directly at the winery - you might even get a chance to taste before you buy!

A hidden café in a secret courtyard in Colmar ©phdpsx/thinkstockA hidden café in a secret courtyard in Colmar ©phdpsx/thinkstock

5. Stray away from the touristic sites

By all means, take in all the major sites, they are famous for a good reason. But once you’ve seen them, head for the little side streets that are behind major monuments or hidden in the shade. Also buy small insider’s guidebooks or look up travel blogs for original things to see in France. Not only will you find cheaper bars, restaurants and shops, but you might find hidden gems that only locals know such as an amazing ice-cream shop that serves flower-shaped ice creams or a secret tea salon!

Canoeing up close to the Pont d'Arche in Ardèche ©tomy2/thinkstockCanoeing up close to the Pont d'Arche in Ardèche ©tomy2/thinkstock

6. See sites from a different angle

There are many ways to experience France apart from the obvious walking, bus or car tours. If you like being active, cycle along one of France’s many cycle routes to get your dose of exercise and fresh air. Canoe right up close to some of France natural beauties, hire a boat and cruise along the quiet canals, or ride on horseback to iconic sites. Take to the skies and go on a hot air balloon ride over the Loire castles or the Auvergne volcanoes.

See the Louvre without queueing thanks to the Paris Pass ©Maria Feklistova/DreamstimeSee the Louvre without queueing thanks to the Paris Pass ©Maria Feklistova/Dreamstime

7. Avoid the queues by buying tickets in advance

You can purchase tickets to museums, exhibitions and bus passes online before your trip to avoid queueing sometimes for over an hour at the ticket office. You might also save cash as some tickets are cheaper when you buy them as a bundle online. The Paris Pass is a good example as it includes travel around Paris as well as entry tickets to museums such as the Louvre, but you can do the same for Lyon and many other cities.

Do you have tips on visiting France? Contribute to this article by sending us your best insider’s tips by email at editorial@francemag.com or on Facebook and Twitter

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