Six reasons why France is so popular with tourists

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Six reasons why France is so popular with tourists
A tourist takes a picture of Azay-le-Rideau's chateau in Centre-Val-de-Loire. Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP

France has, once again, been named the most-visited tourist destination in the world - so just what is it that makes the country so popular with visitors?


France has been named most-visited tourist destination in the world in 2023, a title it has held (if we discount the pandemic years) since 2016.

So why exactly do people come here?

1. The City of Light

It almost goes without saying, but Paris is a huge draw for foreign visitors – over 30 million of them a year, more than any other city in the world. In fact, many visitors to France never leave the capital.

In a separate ranking, it was named Best Tourist Destination for 2023 and 22, based on factors such as economic and commercial performance, tourist infrastructure, policies aimed at developing the tourism sector, health and security, as well as sustainability.

What makes it so popular? Where to start. There’s the city’s romantic image, the stunning architecture, the Louvre museum, the iconic Eiffel Tower as well as the simple pleasure of sitting at a café terrace and watching the world go by.

European and US visitors have flocked here for many years, and more recently the appeal of Paris has gripped east Asia, with more and more Chinese nationals coming to get a glimpse of the Champs Elysées and its array of boutiques.


And don't forget Disneyland, which is a destination in itself for foreign visitors. With around 15 million visitors each year, the theme park, just to the east of the French capital, is Europe's top tourist destination.

2. A variety of sun, sea and mountains

As well the international visitors, France is a nation of staycationers - in fact only 30 percent of total tourist revenue in France comes from foreigners - the rest is from French people holidaying in their own country.

Why? Well, as they’ll be keen to tell you, it’s because France has everything, from sandy beaches, to snow-covered mountains and vast expanses of countryside.

Simon Dawson, from UK tour operator French Cycling Holidays, agrees. “Different regions have completely different appearances,” he says. “There’s the rolling countryside, great cities like Paris, Lyon, Marseille."

Basically France offers something for everyone. While the Germans may come for the beaches, the Brits love the countryside and the Americans come for the chateaux and the culture.


The weather is a big factor too.

“France tends to have really good weather in the summer, it’s hot, but not baking hot like in Spain or Italy for example,” says Dawson.

That being said, in recent years, France has seen increasingly warmer temperatures due to the climate crisis. This includes northern cities, like Paris.

Nevertheless - France does benefit from being multi-seasonal - offering ski breaks in the winter, sun-soaked beach holidays in summer and city breaks in spring and autumn. 

3. Strategic location

Part of France’s appeal, however, could just be a sheer coincidence of geography.

For example, for UK holidaymakers looking to escape their homeland's unreliable summers, France is just a short hop across the Channel, a journey made by well over 10 million people per year.

France’s neighbours Germany and Belgium provide the highest visitor numbers - but not all these visitors are coming to see France itself.

“Because of France’s position many tourists are forced to pass through the country on their way to other destinations,” explains Didier Arino, president of tourism industry specialists Protourisme.

“Between 15 and 20 million of the visitors who come to France are just passing through on their way to Italy or Spain.”


4. Escape to the countryside

Around 80 percent of France is countryside - and most of it stunning and tranquil. Besides Paris, this is the part of France most tourists want to see, says Dawson. “The most popular areas for our customers are the Loire Valley and Provence, the famous beautiful regions of France,” he says.

The countryside is particularly popular with those from the UK, who have a romantacised vision of rural life in France, according to Protourisme's Arino.

“The British are in love with rural France. They idealise the countryside,” he says.

The Brits enjoy the contrast of the peaceful France profonde compared to the hustle and bustle of the towns and cities many of them live in.

READ MORE: Which part of south-west France is the top 'dream destination' to move to?

5. Food and wine

France is, of course, inseparable from its famed gastronomical traditions and the chance to dine on French specialities - even snails - is no doubt a major part of what attracts visitors to the country.

France knows this and is keen to protect its status as the world’s food capital, as evidenced by its "homemade" food label scheme designed to discourage chefs from using frozen or ready-prepared ingredients and its numerous products with protected AOP geographical protection labels.

READ MORE: Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

No proper French meal is complete without a few verres du vin and the country’s vast array of home-produced wines is another draw for tourists. On average, around 24 million foreign tourists visit Bordeaux, Burgundy and France’s other wine regions every year.


6. Art, history and culture

France is extremely proud of its long and often tumultuous history, from the French revolution to Napoleon and the two world wars, and historical sites are often on the itinerary for visitors. There’s the famous battle sites of the Somme and the D-Day landings, as well as the stunning chateaux, churches and cathedrals that decorate the landscape.

In fact, France has more than 50 sites on Unesco's World Heritage list. Museums and art galleries are also a major pull for tourists. The Louvre alone, home to the Mona Lisa among around 35,000 other artifacts and artworks, attracts 9.7 million visitors a year, more than any other museum in the world.

The Lonely Planet's destination editor Kate Morgan sums it all up like this: "As a destination for travellers, France virtually has it all.

"France entices people of all ages with some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, world-class art and architecture, sensational food, stunning beaches, glitzy ski resorts, beautiful countryside and a staggering amount of history."

Will France stay on top?

The years 2020 and 2021 saw very few international tourists, for obvious pandemic-related reasons, although French people continued to holiday within France, while 2022 saw a rebound in visitors numbers but with fewer long-haul travellers, especially those from Asian countries where pandemic restrictions remained.

At this stage it doesn't seem that the pandemic has produced any lasting change in tourism trends, but it may have reinforced a couple of trends that were already emerging.

The desire for greener travel and flygskam (flight shame) has seen people cut back on long-haul destinations and choose trips closer to home.

This could benefit France with more Europeans choosing to travel there instead of jetting off to the Caribbean or Canaries, and France's excellent high-speed train network and emerging night train links are a nice alternative for people who prefer not to fly.

French rail operator SNCF had a record-breaking year in 2023, with 122 million passengers.

The other side of this coin, however, is tourist operators turning away from mass tourism and focusing instead on smaller numbers of high-spending visitors - often from the Middle or Far East. This trend was already quite pronounced among the luxury establishments in Paris, which have for many years focused on long-haul travellers.

One group who probably won't be visiting for a while, however, are wealthy Russians - a small number of whom had been regulars at luxury establishments in Paris and the Riviera for many years. Several Russian-owned super-yachts have been seized in French ports under EU sanctions rules. 

Meanwhile in the Alps, climate change means that ski seasons are increasingly disrupted by shortages of snow, leading operators to change their business model and try to tap into new markets, including summer Alpine tourism. 

READ MORE: Vineyards, mountains and islands - how to plan a car-free trip to France



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