France has a fairly temperate climate. The northeast has hot summers and cold winters while the northwest has lots of rain, high humidity, westerly winds and cool summers. There are harsh winters and hot summers in the Alps, Pyrenees and Massif Central mountains. The Mediterranean climate in southern France is very pleasant with mild winters and very hot summers. For 100 days out of the year, la Mistral, a cold, dry wind, blows in this area, especially in the spring. From mid-July through August, the cities empty out as the French take their vacations. If you can stand the heat, this can be a great time to visit the cities.
When to fly to France
Spring is a very popular time to visit France (especially Paris) when the weather is usually warm and prices for hotels and flights to France are affordable. Summer is peak season in the South – the beaches warm up from May onwards and tourists flock to the Cote d’Azur.
Wintertime is (obviously) peak season for skiing, both in the Alps and the Pyrenees. You can ski in the Alps from approximately December to March or April. Peak prices are around the Christmas holidays and the February half term. Winter holiday periods such as Christmas are often popular in the major cities as well, especially Paris.
Autumn time generally is off season throughout France. Temperatures can still be warm though the days are quite short. Prices for skiing are lowest before Christmas – though snow is not guaranteed at this time and the temperatures can be excruciatingly cold – and at the end of the season (late March to early April).
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Getting around France
Trains are run by SNCF.They are excellent and speedy throughout the country and cover an extremely extensive network. Small towns without train stations are normally linked to the local station by bus.
The TGV is the high-speed intercity train service. There are also many night trains which travel more slowly than their counterparts in the day so you can go to sleep in one town and wake up in another.
Driving is easy. Wide, well-maintained roads with little traffic run throughout most of rural France. Remember to keep some spare change to hand to pay for the tolls.
Buses are cheaper than trains, but generally a lot slower and less comfortable. It is best to save bus travel for shorter trips.
Domestic French flights are available between major cities. Air France has many domestic flights.
France insider information
- There's little you can't find in gay Paris - home to some of the finest art galleries, most beautiful parks and stunning architecture in the world. Parisians are (rightfully) proud of their city, and have something of a reputation for being a bit “spiky”. If you want to immerse yourself in the Parisian lifestyle, rather than just enjoy it as a tourist, it's essential to speak some French. At least appearing to make the effort will open many doors that will remain closed if you just speak in English.
- The summer destination of choice in the south is often Nice and the Cote d'Azur region. Less brash, however, (and less expensive) is Biarritz and the surrounding area of the Basque region on the southwest coast. The beach in Biarritz is popular with the elite (Queen Victoria of England vacationed here many times over the space of 30 years, and there is still a certain hauteur to many of the women who take walks along the beach front promenade) but also with surfers. The annual surf championships are held here every July.
- The Ville Rose, or pink city, Toulouse is a vibrant metropolis with a huge student population. A beautiful, old and historical city, Toulouse is also the hub of the French aerospace industry. Visit the Aerospatiale to see where the Airbus A330 is assembled or the Cite de L'Espace to find out all about space travel.
- Lyon is France's second city and its situation near to the Alps, the Rhone and the south coast makes it the perfect base from which to explore the country. For something a little more unusual in the city itself, visit the Festival of Ancient Music. The festival takes place in the run-up to Christmas every year in the Chapelle de la Trinite.
- If you're looking for accommodation in France, take a look at a site such as Trivago which includes user reviews and recommendations on hotels in all the main cities. Have a look at the page on hotels in Paris, Toulouse or Lyon.
- Thinking of buying a holiday home in France? Read our Buying Homes Abroad guide before making your big decision.