The first time I visited France was when I followed Tour de France. Although it was so much fun being with the crowd, staying in an RV, and following the tour, it also didn’t really give me time to explore unique places in France. My itinerary at that time included getting up early to ensure I could travel to the following finish line before they closed the roads.
So, I went back to spend about 21 days. Armed with an itinerary for 3 weeks in France, I was able to explore the country from top to bottom, ensuring I saw all the must-see places, ate so much food, and drank a lot of wine (I even brought some home).
I will share below some travel tips for France and how to write and plan your own itinerary when visiting. You don’t have to follow it day by day, it’s simply here to help you visualise and inspire you to create a vacation that is more suitable for you.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO FRANCE
Before we get to the knit and grit of day-to-day planning, let’s first talk about things that you should know about France, especially if it’s your first time visiting.
France is a very popular destination; it is stunning and has so much to offer. But it can also be confusing (not to mention lots of scammers prowling in Paris). The topics below should help you decide when to go and how to travel safely and comfortably.
When is the best time to go to France
This depends on what you plan to do. France is one of the places you can visit any time of the year because there are simply many things to do here, from going to the beach, visiting museums, hiking, and skiing.
The best time to visit France in summer is from May to September, for winter is between the end of November and early mid-February. I personally like May or September. During these months, the beach area crowd is not too thick yet. During winter, it’s best to come at the end of November or mid-march. The crowd is thinner but also lower prices.
Are 3 weeks enough for France
20 days is a great amount of time to explore France. Fortunately, the transportation system in France is pretty good and affordable. This makes travelling from one place to another more convenient and easier to organise.
For 3 weeks in France, you can visit 4-5 cities depending on your planning skills and mode of transportation. It will also be smart to choose a major city and then do a day trip from there. For example, plan to stay around Paris for 4 days. Travel around the city centre for the first 2 days, then use the remaining day to head to Dunkirk, Calais, and even all the way to Caen.
How to get around
French public transportation is pretty alright. It’s not the most reliable, but it’s available. There are trains, buses, and of course, planes. Taking domestic flights is quite affordable in France, and there’s always a flight going somewhere.
On the other hand, renting a car in France is a much better idea if you feel comfortable driving a manual or a stick. The country is not too big, the roads are fantastic, and the rental cost is also reasonable. You can rent an automatic, but it’s very rarely available.
Driving your own rented car is such a great and hassle-free way to spend 3 weeks in France. You don’t have to get up at such an annoying time to catch the bus, or you don’t have to waste 2 hours getting ready and getting to the airport to take a domestic flight. You have complete control of your day-to-day schedule.
Average travel cost for 20 days in France
France, in general, is not an affordable destination to go to for a holiday. Paris alone receives 80 million visitors every year. The demand is so high, so naturally, the prices go up too. Food, transportation, and also tours are often at a reasonable price, but accommodation can really skyrocket, especially during peak season.
On average, a single person should budget around $2,500 if you plan to stay in mid-range hotels and eat out most of the time. For backpackers who don’t mind sleeping in a shared dorm, you can bring your budget down to $1,600. Luxury travellers, on the other hand, must plan at least $3,500 to enjoy high-end hotels and premium tours.
Keep in mind that this estimation is for one person and doesn’t include the flights to and from France, travel insurance, and other travel items.
Visa and COVID-19 protocol
For people who wish to visit France, the travel visa policy is the same as any other country that is a member of the EU or the Schengen States. Travellers with passports from most countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand can enter France without needing a visa for 90 to 180 days.
The rest of the world has to apply for a Schengen visa which is valid for the entire Schengen State for 90 days.
The border of France has been open since February 2022. Everyone can travel to France regardless of their vaccination status. Fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to present negative test results. However, unvaccinated tourists must show one before boarding their flight. Read more about COVID-19 policies in France.
Other travel tips
When I plan my trip anywhere in the world, I use the following travel tools and websites to help me ensure that my holiday will have minimal hassle. Booking flights, hotels, finding great tours, and getting travel insurance are all part of my travel checklist.
PINNED MAP OF MUST-SEE PLACES IN FRANCE
Click the enlarge button on the top right corner. Credit: map data: Google
3 WEEKS IN FRANCE ITINERARY
Spending your vacation in France can be a little overwhelming. There are simply too many places to visit and food to try. Plus, the season is also a massive thing to consider. France is a great destination to head to regardless of the time of the year.
Summer? France’s beaches and hiking trails are the best. Winter? Well, there are plenty of slopes to ski on. Don’t get overwhelmed. You must first decide when you want to go before you start planning the things you want to see and do during your holiday in France.
Paris and the North for 7 days
If it’s your first time in Paris, make sure to visit these instagrammable spots in Paris. This city is undeniably one of the most popular places in the world. There are many reasons why Paris is popular.
Its romanticised idea of the place makes it one of the top locations people visit during their first international trip. The food is also incredibly interesting, its riveting history and the fashion industry made this city even more famous.
Disneyland even has a location in Paris, a great spot to go if you travel with young children. But if you are in Paris with teenagers, the places you want to visit together might be slightly different. But make no mistake, Eiffel Tower will always be on the top list of sights to see here.
Spending a week in Paris sounds like an awful lot because it is. You are actually not going to spend 7 days just in Paris. During this time you can take day trips around the north of France.
This is when you can head to places with lots of historical memories, such as Calais, Dunkirk, and Normandy. Both places can be reached by bus, train, or car. Depending on your mode of travelling, it could take between 2 hours to 4 hours trip.
You can also get to the beautiful coastal town of Caen, northwest of Paris and about a 2.5 to 3-hour trip. But if you want a little more around nature, head to Normandie-Maine National Park or Parc Naturel Régional des Boucles de la Seine Normande.
The best way to travel around Paris if you don’t want to rent a car is to get a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket for a day or two days. This will help you move around freely without paying for multiple bus tickets.
What to see in Paris
- Eiffel Tower – you can skip the line and hike up the stairs or take the elevator
- Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Louvre Museum – get a skip-the-line ticket without a guide or with a live guide
- Arc de Triomphe – scale the rooftop
- Pompidou Centre
- Seine River Cruise – you can book a 1-hour cruise or a cruise with a yummy gourmet dinner
- Musee de Montmartre
- Moulin Rouge Cabaret Show – enjoy with champagne or a dinner
- Musee d’Orsay
- Luxembourg Gardens
- Catacombs of Paris – explore with an audio guide
- Grand Palais
- Versailles – join a guided tour
- Tuileries Garden
- Shakespeare and Company
Accommodations in Paris City
- Affordable: Hotel des Belges or City Inn Paris
- Mid-range: B&B Hotel Paris or Au Pacific Hotel
- Luxury: Pullman Paris or citizenM Paris
What to see in Calais and Dunkirk
- Calais Beach
- Dragon’s Company
- Second World War Museum
- Citadel of Calais
- Parc Saint-Pierre
- Battery Oldenburg
- Tour de L’Horloge
- Batterie Waldam
- City of Lace and Fashion
- Les Bourgeois de Calais
- Dunkirk Lighthouse
- FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France
- Fort of Petite-Synthe
- Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo
- Coquelle Castle Park
- Dunkirk Kursaal
- Fort des Dunes
- Plage de Leffrinkoucke
- Batterie de Leffrinckoucke
- Belfry Bergues
What to see in Caen
- Pointe du Hoc
- Normandy Beach – book a Normandy D-Day tour, pick-up from Paris
- Caen Castle
- Le Grand Bunker – Museum of the Atlantic Wall
- Site fortifié Hillman
- Memorial Free French Soldiers
- Radar Museum 1944
- Château de Fontaine-Henry
- D-Day Museum
- Liberators Museum Normandy 1944
- British Normandy Memorial
Lyon and around for 7 days
Lyon is sitting in an area very near the French Alps. You reach Lyon in many ways. By train, it will take about 2 to 3 hours, driving is about 5 hours, and flying takes only an hour.
The city’s history spans 2,000 years and is also a gateway to Switzerland if you want to take a quick look. You can reach Geneva in under 2 hours of driving or a train ride. Spending an entire week here is just perfect.
If you are coming to France during winter, visiting Lyon can be turned into the skiing part of your vacation since the best slopes are in this region. To make it easier to get around if you don’t have a rented car, you can buy a hop-on hop-off bus ticket or a Lyon city pass (public transport with an entrance ticket to more than 40 attractions).
What to see in Lyon and around
- Parc de la Tete d’Or
- La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere
- Cathedrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste
- Rhone Valley – book a wine tasting tour
- Place Bellecour
- Musee des Confluences – get your ticket in advance
- Teatro Galo-Romano
- Vieux Lyon – join a food tour or an Old Town walking food tour
- Lake Geneva, Switzerland – 2 hours from Lyon
- Musee Cinema et Miniature
- Saone River – get on a cruise and visit UNESCO sites or a cruise with a dinner
- Musee de l’imprimerir et de la
- Musée des Arts de la Marionnette
- Fresqye des Lyonnais
- Bartholdi Fountain
- Lyon Botanical Garden
Accommodations in Lyon
- Affordable: Alter’hostel or Away Hostel & Coffee Shop
- Mid-range: Bayard Bellecour or Hotel Edmon W Lyong Part-Dieu
- Luxury: Hotel Le Roosevelt or Cour des Loges Lyon
Cannes and Nice for 3 days
If you have 3 weeks in France, you must see the southern region of the country. Some people might only be familiar with Cannes due to its most-awaited and prestigious annual film festival. However, this coastal city is more than that. There are many things to see and do while you are in Cannes for three days.
If you also decide Cannes is not for you, heading to Nice is also an option. It’s only about a 30-minute train ride or a 45-minute drive. You definitely have to add at least one beach destination to your 3 weeks in France itinerary.
What to see and do
You can do a day trip to Monaco, Eze, and Monte Carlo from Cannes or Nice. This is a great way to see three amazing places in just one day.
- Palace of Festivals and Congresses of Cannes
- Musee des explorations du monde
- Ste. Marguerite Island – get a round-trip ferry
- Lerins Islands
- St Tropez – get a round-trip boat trip
- Marche Forville
- Catamaran – book a cruise from Cannes
- Eglise Notre-Dame d’Esperance
- Monasterio de Lerins
- Vieux Port de Cannes
- Calanques of the Estrel – join a boat tour
- Port Pierre Canto
- Don’t forget to do snorkelling at Cannes
- Promenade des Anglais
- Marc Chagall National Museum
- Musee Matisse
- Villefranche Bay – enjoy a 1-hour cruise or have fun snorkelling
- Castle of Nice
- Modern and Contemporary Art
- Foundation Maeght
- Field of Lavender and Gorges of Verdon – best if visiting from spring to summer, then you must book a tour of the Lavender fields
- Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice
- Parc Phoenix
- Cimiez Monastery
- Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
- Opera de Nice
Accommodations in Cannes
- Affordable: Azurene Royal Hotel or L’Estrel
- Mid-range: Sun Riviera Hotel or Hotel America
- Luxury: Hotel Barriere Le Gray d’Albion or Hotel Splendid
Marseille or Bayonne or Bordeaux for 4 days
Marseille is a popular harbour city and also rich in history. It’s only a 2-hour drive from Cannes or a 2.5-hour train ride. I recommend you choose between Marseille or Bayonne and Bordeaux. This is because Bayonne and Bordeaux can be combined together as they are both on the west coast of France. Get yourself a hop-on hop-off bus ticket to save money if you don’t plan to rent a car.
To help you decide, Bayonne and Bordeaux are great spots for surfing. The waves can be big depending on the season, but there are surf schools to help you start if you are only a beginner. Bordeaux is also a popular vineyard region, a great area to join some vineyard tours and wine tasting. It’s also the spot where you can buy wines to bring home.
Bayonne and Bordeaux are about a 2-hour drive or train ride from each other.
What to do and see
- Mucem – Museum of Civilizations of Europe, you can skip the line and save some time
- Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
- Old Port of Marseille
- Chateau d’lf
- Cathedrale La Major
- Massif des Calanques – have fun on a 5-hour cruise or explore with an e-bike
- Palais Longchamp
- Parc National des Calanques – sign up for a kayak tour
- Calanque de la creme
- Do a day trip to Provence – best if you have max of 7 people in your group or book a wine tour to Provence
Explore Bayonne by joining a walking tour that highlights the most significant and beautiful spots in Bayonne. You can also sign up for a Bayonne and Biarritz private tour.
- Cathedrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne
- Musee Basque
- Cerreau des Halles
- Bayonne Botanical Garden
- L’Atelier du Chocolat-Musee du Chocolat – book a chocolate tasting
- Plaine d’Ansot de Bayonne
- Miramar Beach
- Milady Beach
- Marinella Beach
- Plage d’Ilbarritz
Get yourself a Bordeaux Metropole city pass to get free entrance to many popular locations in this city.
- La Cité du Vin – learn everything about the wine of Bordeaux by joining this tour
- Place de la Bourse
- Bordeaux Cathedral
- Saint Emilion – book a day trip sightseeing with wine tasting
- Musee d’Aquitaine
- Gran Teatro de Burdeos
- Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts
- River Garonne – enjoy a cruise with a glass of wine
- El Espejo de Agua
- Jardin Public
Accommodations for Marseille
- Affordable: Toyoko INN or Montempo Marseille Centre Dome
- Mid-range: Best Western Hotel or Maison Juste
- Luxury: La Residence Du Vieux Port or Hotel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port
SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN FRANCE ITINERARY
France is a perfect place to spend 3 weeks. The country is not too big and not too small; at the same time, it offers so much. From visiting historical places, going to the beach, spending time admiring arts, and of course the food!
The one thing I really recommend (which I already mentioned before) is to get your own rental car. It will make moving a lot easier, and you will have 100% control of your time and itinerary. If you are worried about driving a stick, the train, buses, and domestic flights are also an option and affordable.
I hope that this itinerary of 2 weeks in France has been helpful. You, of course, don’t have to follow it. My goal is to simply help you create and plan your own travel itinerary for France.