Insider's Guide to France: Explore Beyond Paris

5 Insider's tips to help you see the other side of France.


Eat the Street Food

France is world-renowned for its haute cuisine. However, some of the best food is what you’ll be able to take away and enjoy in a sunny courtyard or perfectly-regimented garden.

The most iconic French street food must be 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 your evening with a succulent gelato.

Fresh croissants for sale. Photo credit: iStock

Soak Up the Sunshine

Sure, Paris is the capital of fashion, culture, sophistication. But what do you do when you just want some sunshine and a laidback attitude? 

Head south to the French Riveria. While Cannes and Monaco attract the jet-set and star-studded crowd, Nice is a fabulous place to experience the true flavors of the Cote d’Azur without breaking the bank.

If you can avoid it, don’t go in August: that’s when Paris shuts down and overcrowds the south. 

French Riviera. Photo credit: iStock

Paris is Not France

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Paris. But there is so much more to 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 continue on to explore the castles that dot the Loire Valley.

Enjoy the scenic Normandy countryside, dotted with idyllic black-and-white cows—and resulting melt-in-your-mouth butter. 

Go wine tasting in Bordeaux and sip some bubbly in the only authentic Champagne region, sample the African-influenced dishes in Marseilles, and try cliff jumping in Cassis for a bit of an adrenaline rush.

Grab a Table and Take a Seat

In France, restaurants aren’t trying to turn tables – good food is 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 sop up delicious sauces. At the end of your dining experience—and don’t feel rushed—ask for l’addition (the bill) and don’t feel obligated to tip.

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

They’re Not Being Rude, They’re Just Being French

One of the most common refrains of disappointed first-time tourists 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 that certainly doesn’t need to ruin your trip.

A few cross-cultural tips: smiling and eye contact with complete strangers is taken as a come-on, thus is generally avoided. They appreciate exact change and a bit of politesse—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 it personally!

Panoramic view of Nice, France. Photo credit: iStock

About the Author

Christine’s first trip to France was at age 11, where she fell in love with pains aux chocolat, modern art and Galeries Lafayette.  She spent summers in Provence and Paris in high school and university, and moved to Nice after graduation. Even though Christine is currently living in Melbourne, Australia, she’s still a Francophile at heart. Follow her adventures at C’est Christine or on Twitter.

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  • Colin Borgonon said

    Be aware, if you're travelling with red Tourist Plates on your car, that whilst you may receive more tolerance from police, parking attendants, et al - it will likely be targetted by the local scumbags when you leave it to visit historic fortresses, etc. So keep valuables with you at all times. Loche (in the Loire) is notorious...

  • Sharalee Devereux said

    "They’re not being rude, they’re just being French"<br><br>What a load of complete and utter bullshit! The only rude and arrogant person here is the one who wrote this stupid article, never in my life have I heard such a blatant lie! If you are rude to them, yes they will be rude to you, but if you treat them with respect as the writer of this article obviously did not then they will respect you. Get off your high horse and stop feeding the "French are arrogant" trolls!<br>

  • Christine said

    Hi Sharalee--I think my point was more that the French aren't as openly friendly and "smiley" as we often expect in our customer service oriented culture in America and Australia. I absolutely love the French (and as I speak French, I'm often treated quite well), but I often hear from others, particularly English-speakers, who visit France and are put off by the French brusqueness. My intent was just to relay that the French aren't being offensive or rude if they're a bit more direct than you're used to--and I absolutely agree that if you treat them with respect, they will be respectful to you right back.

  • 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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