France remains the world’s number one tourist destination, and it’s not hard to understand why. France has it all – or more or less. It has tourist sights for all tastes; it has some of the greatest beaches in Europe, as well as the highest mountains and the finest historic monuments, the most beautiful cities, the most idyllic countryside, the most magnificent castles, the finest rivers, and plenty more, not to mention some of the best restaurants and the finest wines and more hotels than any other country in Europe.
France has something for everyone, which is one of the reasons why it remains the world’s number one tourist destination. It has magnificent holiday opportunities for everything from a short weekend city break, in places such as Paris, Nice or Bordeaux, to a relaxed family holiday in a gite in the countryside, a week or two’s relaxation by the seaside, or an energetic break hiking, climbing, kayaking or cycling in France’s great outdoors.
France is the world’s fifth largest economic power but the economic and financial crisis threatens dramatically this position. The French are the leading producers and exporters of farm products in Europe. France is also the world’s fourth largest exporter of goods and is second when it comes to services and agriculture.
Getting Around France
France’s cities and larger towns have world-class public-transport systems. There are métros (underground subway systems) in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lille and Toulouse and ultramodern light-rail lines (tramways) in cities such as Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Reims, Rouen and Strasbourg, as well as parts of greater Paris.
In addition to a billet à l’unité (single ticket), you can purchase a carnet (booklet or bunch) of 10 tickets or a pass journée (all-day pass).
All medium and large train stations – and many small ones – have a taxi stand out front. In small cities and towns, where taxi drivers are unlikely to find another fare anywhere near where they let you off, one-way and return trips often cost the same. Tariffs are about 30% higher at night and on Sundays and holidays. A surcharge is usually charged to get picked up at a train station or airport, and there’s a small additional fee for a fourth passenger and/or for suitcases.
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Remember that it’s safer to travel in pairs and be sure to inform someone of your intended destination. Hitching is not really part of French culture.
Hitching from city centres is pretty much hopeless, so your best bet is to take public transport to the outskirts. It is illegal to hitch on autoroutes, but you can stand near an entrance ramp as long as you don’t block traffic. Hitching in remote rural areas is better, but once you get off the routes nationales traffic can be light and local. If your itinerary includes a ferry crossing, it’s worth trying to score a ride before the ferry since vehicle tickets usually include a number of passengers free of charge. At dusk, give up and think about finding somewhere to stay.
Travelling by train in France is a comfortable and environmentally sustainable way to see the country. Since many train stations have car-hire agencies, it’s easy to combine rail travel with rural exploration by car.
The jewel in the crown of France’s public-transport system – alongside the Paris métro – is its extensive rail network, almost all of it run by SNCF. Although it employs the most advanced rail technology, the network’s layout reflects the country’s centuries-old Paris-centric nature: most of the principal rail lines radiate out from Paris like the spokes of a wheel, the result being that services between provincial towns situated on different spokes can be infrequent and slow.