Quick Guide to France: Vive la wanderlust

2018-07-30 13:58 - Saara Mowlana
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 paris france

Plan your trip to France with this quick guide. (Photo: iStock)

France - the home of crispy croissants and strong cheeses as well as iconic monuments from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe.

Weave your way through the Baroque and Gothic architecture that lines the streets alongside quaint cafes dotted in between.

Absorb the pastry scented air as you hop from the grand artworks housed in the Louvre to the movie-famous cathedral - Notre-Dame.

What are you waiting for? Plan your France visit now.

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Here's what you need to know if you go:

  • Visa requirements: A Schengen visa is required for SA travellers. A short stay Schengen visa is valid for 90 days and costs roughly R1 000 at present (about €60 - euros - SA cost dependent on exchange rate) and takes up to 15 days to process.
  • Population: About 65 251 542 +/- presently
  • Airport HubParis Charles de Gaulle Airport
  • Capital CityParis
  • Flight time: About 11 hours at best for a non-stop flight

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  • Currency: Euro (€) Current Exchange Rate: €1 = R16.69
  • Medical and health: To avoid illness and dampening your trip experience, be sure to heed the warnings and get the appropriate vaccinations beforehand. All Travellers: Routine Vaccinations. Some Travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Rabies.
  • Country code: +33
  • Emergencies: Dial 112 (overall), 17 (police) and 18 (fire) - for more emergency numbers: click here.
  • Public Transport: A network of métros (underground subway services), tramways, buses and taxis are available for transport and travel around France. Read more here.
  • Useful app to download: Uber Paris for getting around.
  • Climate: France has a Mediterranean Climate. The Mediterranean climate is widespread throughout the south of France (except in the mountainous southwest) - it is characterised by cool winters, hot summers, and limited rainfall. The mean temperature is about 11° C at Paris and 15° C at Nice.
  • Popular Cuisine: Must try dishes include: Baguettes, croissants, or the iconic dessert treat: macarons. Check out more here.

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Useful phrases to know: 

French is the official language of France. Learn a few key phrases in French to make your stay more enjoyable.

Useful app to download - Duolingo and Google Translate makes learning a new language easy and fun. 

  • Hello - Bonjour
  • What is your name? - Comment t'appelles-tu? (informal)
  • My name is... - Mon nom est...
  • Goodbye - Au revoir
  • Please -  S'il vous plaît
  • How are you? - Comment vas-tu? (informal)
  • I am well - Je vais bien
  • Excuse me / pardon me - Excusez-moi
  • Sorry - pardon
  • Thanks - Merci
  • You are welcome - Ça ñ'est pas grave
  • Where are you from? - D'où êtes-vous?
  • I am from... - Je viens de...
  • What? - Qu'elle?
  • Where? - Où?
  • Who? - Qui?
  • When? - Quand?
  • Why? - Pourquoi?
  • How much is it? - Ç'est combien?
  • Where's the toilet? - Où sont les toilettes?
  • Do you speak English? - Parlez-vous anglais?

Practical Tips

When travelling to France, make sure you have the following on your packing list:

  • A valid passport, arrival ticket, return ticket, adequate funds;
  • a camera;
  • basic essentials;
  • comfortable, lightweight, and casual clothes and underclothing layers to keep warm;
  • comfortable walking shoes if you decide to trek the French sites on foot;
  • a warm jersey or jacket - preferable with fleece;
  • gloves, a beanie and neck scarf;
  • formal / occasional wear (depending on your reason for travel);
  • basic toiletries;
  • hand sanitiser;
  • prescription medication;
  • sunglasses (for sunnier seasons);
  • umbrella (for the possible downpour);
  • travel adapter;
  • a medical or first aid kit;
  • a flashlight (for exploration);
  • video camera and accessories;
  • vaccination certificates;
  • insurance documents;
  • your credit / debit cards;
  • France maps - city / town maps and travel guides;
  • a notebook, tablet or smartphone or laptop and its charging equipment.


  • Get a waterproof cover / pack for your phone or tablet - to keep them protected from rain in France
  • Get a French sim card quickly and easily at the airport when you arrive - it will save you a lot of data-roaming charges.
  • Always carry a lightweight and powerful powerbank to ensure you've always got juice on the move - snapping pics and navigating Google maps tend to chow up battery life rather fast. Make sure you have your charger and a universal adapter too while you're at it.
  • As much as the urge to take as many pictures of the beautiful country as possible is strong, be sure to ask permission before you begin to snap pictures of houses or people. In some cases, you may be required to offer a tip for those pictures.
  • Watch your money - Make sure that, when changing currency you do so in a reputable hotel, foreign exchange bureau or bank.
  • Drinking water - it is generally safe to drink the tap water, however, best to drink bottled or water from purified sources to be safe, read more here.
  • Tipping is okay in France and ranges between 5% - 15% depending on the service provided. 

Top attractions in France

  • French Cheese - Say cheese! The French are known for their cheese or fromage. From brie to Gaperon cheese enthusiasts are sure to have their palate preference appealed to. Its temperate climate, ample rainfall, availability of farmland and the commitment of farmers make France a sustainable dairy-producing country. 
  • Eiffel Tower - It is not a truly French experience without mentioning its icon. Standing a whopping 324m high, this 19th century creation was built as part of preparations for the World's Fair of 1889. The tower was selected from among 107 projects and was the brainchild of Gustave Eiffel, an entrepreneur, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, both engineers, and Stephen Sauvestre, an architect.
  • Arc de Triomphe - Be sure to swing by this triumphant historic monument. From the top of the panoramic terrace, your eyes sweep over the whole of Paris. The Arc, built from architect Jean-François Chalgrin's concept, was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus in a single arch. However, it went beyond it by exceptional dimensions (about 50 m high, 45 m long and 22 m wide) and abandoned columns altogether.
  • The Louvre - Visit this iconic museum that's home to the Mona Lisa. Take a trip through the 17th and 18th century society and keep your eyes peeled for the other iconic treasures you can find. Some top works include: Michelangelo's Dying Slave, Venus de Milo and the Great Sphinx of Tanis.
  • Notre-Dame de Paris - This movie-famous cathedral is one to behold. Featured in the beloved children class: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, we've all come to know its name, but not what it really looks like. The cathedral runs thick with Gothic Medieval architecture styling and looks like something that is rightly fit for a Disney fairytale. With tall towers that point up from intricately designed building faces and an interior to match with beautiful ceiling-high arches.