Six things to know about tap water in France

Six things to know about tap water in France
Photo: AFP
While France's most famous product is the ideal accompaniment to a nice dinner it's also good to stay hydrated - so here's what you need to know about tap water in France.

1. Safe – The first thing to point out is that tap water is perfectly safe to drink in France. In some areas of the county that have particularly hard water people often buy filters to save their kettles but the water itself is clean and safe.

2. Free – Free drinking water is also readily available – most cities have water fountains and some of them even contain sparkling water. If you see a tap that says eau non potable that means the water is not for drinking – such as the hydrants that the Paris street cleaners use. But most tap water is potable – drinkable.

From January 1st 2022, French bars, cafés and restaurants will be legally required to offer free tap water to customers. “Food and beverage establishments are required to visibly indicate on their menu or on a display space the possibility for consumers to request free drinking water,” reads the text of the new law.

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During heatwaves, French authorities encourage people to fill their bottle at the free water fountains and stay hydrated. Photo: AFP

3. Socially acceptable – Unlike in some countries, Germany for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink water with your meal if you don’t want wine and to order it in cafés or restaurants.

In fact ordering just water with your meal is probably more acceptable than having soda or coffee with food, which tend to be thought of as ‘Anglo Saxon’ habits. If you’re sitting down to eat, most French restaurants will bring you a carafe of tap water and a basket of bread as a free addition to the meal.

READ ALSO From frogs to foie gras – the French dining faux pas to avoid

4. Not mineral – If you’re ordering water, however, be careful what you ask for. If you just ask for l’eau or d’eau you are likely to get mineral water, which can be more expensive than wine, especially in tourist areas.

Unless you specifically want mineral water ask for une carafe d’eau or un pichet d’eau which will ensure that you get tap water. 

5. Not iced – If you want ice in your water you will need to ask specifically for it. Unlike in the USA water – and other soft drinks like Coca-Cola – are not routinely served with ice so you will need to specify that you want your water avec glaçon – with ice.

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6. It can change depending on where you are – There is also some regional variation in how people usually ask for their water, pichet or carafe are pretty well understood everywhere, but depending where you are you might also hear pot d’eau or cruche. The below map by French linguistics expert Mathieu Avanzi shows which is most common in each part of France.


Member comments

  1. Here in the Ardennes the hardness of the tapwater is different in each village. Apparently it depends from which layer or aquifer the water is pumped. In our village it is very hard and we installed a water softener that removes the calcium that causes limescale. Later I was told, as Katy says, that those minerals calcium and magnesium are actually good for you. That is why people visited spa cities, because of their mineral waters. Now I am using supplements for calcium and magnesium because I don’t tolerate milk which contains the necessary calcium. So indeed, bad for appliances but good for humans.

  2. Montpellier tap water gave me the shits for several days each time I visited if I ended up drinking any, this included eating salad washed in it. Now I’m living here full time I’ve acclimatised but I’d still rather not drink it because of the taste.
    The tap water in Clermont Ferrand never gave me any trouble and tasted fine.

  3. Water in the Pays de Fayence (83) is extremely hard and given the limescale which which still solidifies, even after filtering, I’m not sure I would want to routinely drink it straight from the tap.

    1. HELLO – here in the Bouches du Rhone we have insanely hard water, appliances try to run for their life when installed. So – I did research !! Apparently, the calcaire in the water is, in fact, a reasonable source of calcium.

      So – the water (at least here) is better for the humans than for the machines!

  4. Here in Pays de Gex (Ain) the water is full of limescale. I use a Brita water filter jug and use the water for drinking, in my kettle and when I’m cooking. Unfiltered, the water looks disgusting and I’m not sure it’s good to be putting limescale into your body.

  5. Here in Pays de Gex (Ain) the water is full of limescale. I use a Brita water filter jug and use the water for drinking, in my kettle and when I’m cooking. Unfiltered, the water looks disgusting and I’m not sure it’s good to be putting limescale into your body.

  6. It’s pretty chlorinated here in Tarn, so I too have bought a filter. There’s no way I could buy all those plastic bottles with a green conscience!

  7. When we bought our house in the Southwest the water was terrible and drank only bottled water. We renovated the house and replaced the plumbing. Tap water is now wonderful.

  8. If the water is SAFE, then why are MILLIONS of litres of BOTTLED water get sold every minute? I prefer eau gazeuze. Sparkling water. I bought a beautiful sparkling water maker (at considerable expense) and no not that useless Sodastream rubbish and save at least a hundred bottles yearly.
    Research either: https://www.amazon.com/Baskiss-Siphon-Carbonated-Sparking-Cocktail/dp/B085KW5DX1/ref=zg_bs_7956268011_55?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=26RV0A6TMZYYM4CH5MN3
    or
    the real deal:
    http://www.sodadispenserdepot.com/barguns.html

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