5 Ways to Explore France Like a Local

Get tips on etiquette, French street food to try, and places to visit beyond the French capital, such as Normandy, Corsica, or Bordeaux.


Photo © iStock

Eat French street food

France is world-renowned for its haute cuisine (high-quality cooking). But you don't have to blow your budget in an expensive restaurant. Some of the tastiest French treats can be bought in small takeaway, to enjoy elsewhere in a sunny courtyard or picturesque garden.

The most iconic item of French street food is the crepe: delicious, cheap and filling as a main or a dessert. Start your mornings with un pain au chocolat or un escargot from a bakery, try a baguette sandwich or a falafel for lunch, and end the evening with a refreshing gelato.

Fresh croissants for sale. Photo credit: iStock

Soak up the sunshine

Sure, Paris is the capital of fashion, culture, and art. But where can you go for sunshine and a relaxed atmosphere?

Head south to the French Riviera. While Cannes and Monaco attract a star-studded crowd, Nice is a great place to experience the true flavors of the Cote d’Azur without breaking the bank. However, avoid the French Riviera in August, which is when many restaurants and shops in Paris shut for the season, and everyone goes south for the summer.

French Riviera. Photo credit: iStock

Venture beyond Paris

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Paris. But there is so much more to see in the world’s most-visited country.

Hop a ferry to Corsica for unspoiled beaches, rugged mountains and spirited residents. Be awed by legendary Versailles and explore the castles that dot the Loire Valley.

Enjoy the scenic countryside in Normandy, dotted with black-and-white cows — who we can thank for melt-in-your-mouth butter.

Go wine tasting in Bordeaux and sip some bubbly in the only authentic Champagne region, sample African-influenced dishes in Marseilles, and try cliff jumping in Cassis for a bit of an adrenaline rush (read your travel insurance policy carefully to know what activities are covered).

Don't feel rushed in restaurants

In France, restaurants aren’t trying to turn tables – good food is a much more serious business than that.

Settle in by ordering un carafe d’eau (tap water) and a glass of house wine before choosing un entrée, un plat principal, un dessert, a cheese plate and un espresso.

Keep your bread on the table, not your plate: it’s simply another utensil used to push meat onto your fork or mop up delicious sauces. At the end of your dining experience — don’t feel rushed — ask for l’addition (the bill) and don’t feel obliged to leave a tip.

Dining out in France. Photo credit: C’est Christine

A guide to French culture and etiquette

One of the most common complaints from disappointed first-time travelers in France: the French are rude.

Let me break it to you now: they’re not just being rude to you because you’re English-speaking, or American, or loud. Pessimism is practically a national sport in France, but don't let it ruin your trip.

A few cross-cultural tips:

  • Smiling and making eye contact with complete strangers is taken as a come-on, so is generally avoided.
  • The French appreciate being given the exact change and a bit of politesse (politeness) — always start a transaction with bonjour.
  • Take your conversation volume down a notch, particularly when in restaurants or on public transportation.
  • Most of all — don’t take perceived rudeness personally.
Panoramic view of Nice, France. Photo credit: iStock

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  • Leigh said

    I too disagree with you about the French. My husband and I have now been here for over 6 weeks. The people couldn't be more kind, patient and encouraging of my basic French.
    Last night we met a couple who bought us drinks.

    There are rude people everywhere. I have found even if there is a problem the French usually say it with a smile on their face and kindness in their voice.

    Maybe France has changed since you've been here last. Give it another try you might be pleasantly surprised.

  • Mary E. Gallagher said

    Why are you even running an article that is 5+ years old? In Paris and in most cities of the world, you need to be alert to terrorist activity or signs of as well as petty crime. Leaving valuables openly exposed in your rental car in Omaha Nebraska isn't any smarter than in Paris or NYC. Comparing a visit to Corsica instead of Paris? This article was written for small children, not adult travelers.

  • David H. said

    In my travels worldwide I find that personality on OUR part has the most paramount affect/effect on the adventure and treatment by others. The French have long been portrayed as intolerant and dis-pleasured by foreigners. This simply isn't true. From Nice to Sorbonne and beyond, way beyond, I have been welcomed and educated beyond my expectations. Every time. Relax, sup the culture and friendliness and
    relish your first or frequent visit to an epic destination.

  • David Hedgcock said

    And to amend: Now is a great time to visit the country!!

  • Kendal said

    I've never seen escarcot sold at a bakery, must be different in Nice. lol.

    I clicked on this article hoping it would give me some interesting ideas of where to live in France, but Nice, or Cannes isn't exactly off the map. Are you sure you've lived in France....? There's nothing new here...

    The crêpes sold on the street aren't nearly as good as the ones you can find in some restaurants. Not all. No way. But Yelp hasn't steered me wrong when it comes to finding really good crêpes.

    And the French aren't being rude. There's a good book called Cultural Misunderstandings, The French-American Experience, that I think should be required reading for any American coming to France, or French coming to America....

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