Six things to know about tap water in France

Can you drink the tap water in France? Here's the answer and some other useful tips.

Six things to know about tap water in France
Photo: AFP

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.

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.

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. had to laugh at the receipt. I remember being charged thirty pounds for Perrier in 72′ in Blinkers Manchester.

  2. 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:
    the real deal:

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  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. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!