Affectionately referred to as “la France” (the country), the nation of 67 million people is among Western Europe’s most populous and has an Atlantic coastline as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Known for its cuisine, wine, art, culture, and history—from the rioting of the French Revolution to Marie Antoinette’s reign as queen—the nation also boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites, majestic castles, unique landscapes, and vibrant cities.
A long history of conflict has shaped France’s identity and values. The country rose to power during the Enlightenment era, a time when philosophers and royalty influenced intellectual and cultural development across the globe. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 marked a major turning point that launched the French Revolution and helped create many of the values that are considered typically French today.
France is home to some of the world’s most renowned artists and thinkers. Some of the most famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, are held in the Louvre. The country is also renowned for its architecture, with many of its most distinctive buildings—like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral—become symbols of its unique culture.
While it’s not possible to see the entire country in one trip, France is home to a wealth of museums and other cultural institutions that can help make it easy to learn about its many different histories and traditions. The country is a global leader in scientific research and in fields such as aerospace and automotive engineering.
Paris is a European hub for business, fashion, design, and nightlife. The capital city’s extensive transportation system includes buses, subways, and commuter rails that have a safety record that rivals those of U.S. cities. Its museums, theaters, restaurants, and other cultural offerings are a delight for visitors.
Outside of the capital, towns and cities vary greatly, offering something for every traveler. Lyon, located along the Rhone River and historically a trade centre, is now a booming metropolitan area with an industrial base; Marseille, a multiethnic port on the Mediterranean coast, is the gateway to southern Italy; and Bordeaux, in southwestern France, is a major commercial, transportation, and university centre.
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse or mobile phone snatching, is common in most large cities and some coastal areas. Violent crime is rarer, but still occurs. Home and holiday rental break-ins are also a concern. It’s important to carry a photo ID when visiting, and to report accidents or any suspicious activity. Helping someone who’s injured or in need is the right thing to do, but it’s also advisable to avoid carrying out any acts of kindness in public places where you could be perceived as a nuisance. It’s illegal to cover your face in public, and you should never photograph police or other security forces. In addition, it’s against the law to take photographs of military installations, prisons, and government facilities. Be sure to read up on these and other French travel tips before your visit.