Closed, open or restricted shopping: What’s the deal with Sunday opening in France?

Different parts of France have a very different Sunday experience, but there are still plenty of places where everything closes on a Sunday.

Closed, open or restricted shopping: What's the deal with Sunday opening in France?
Sunday opening is becoming more common in France. Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP

Readers of a certain age will probably remember long, boring Sundays when everything closed down and you had to make your own entertainment – and in some parts of France that is still the case.

But your Sunday experience in France will differ quite markedly depending on where you are.

In big cities you will have no problem finding shops that are open on a Sunday.

You will, however, notice that many small and independent businesses are closed on a Sunday while others – particularly boulangeries and florists – are only open in the morning. This is to allow French families to pick up bread and a delicious pâtisserie tart for lunch en famille, as well as a gift of flowers or a plant for the hostess if they are lunching out.

Offices, including government offices and post offices, will close on a Sunday, while many public spaces such as leisure centres, museums and parks will have different opening times on Sundays. 

It’s also worth noting that many cities hold public events on a Sunday which means that access to some areas may be restricted.

In Paris the central arrondissements go car free once a month on a Sunday (and the city also holds a monthly ‘free museum Sunday’ when all state-owned museums have free entry).

In smaller towns its a mixed picture – usually the supermarket will be open at least on Sunday morning, and you’re likely to find a boulangerie and maybe a florist open on a Sunday morning.

Some supermarkets that open on a Sunday offer automatic checkouts only – meaning that you have to pay by card and you cannot buy alcohol.

It’s likely that most other shops will be closed, although it varies from town to town – and places that depend on the tourist trade are much more likely to have shops open on a Sunday.

In both towns and cities pharmacies usually operate a formal or informal rota system, so that in any reasonably-sized town or – in the cities – neighbourhood at least one pharmacy is open on a Sunday. 

Once you get into the countryside and small towns, expect to find most things closed on a Sunday.

It’s also not unusual for small and independent businesses to also close on a Monday – this is to give staff who worked on Saturday a proper two-day break.


Sunday opening is definitely changing in France, driven by a mixture of new laws and social attitudes.

In 2015 François Hollande’s government introduced a relaxation in the strict Sunday closing rules that allowed local authorities to authorise Sunday opening for shops and also created ‘international tourist zones’ where places that a lot of tourists could also open their shops on a Sunday.

Since then, Sunday opening has become more and more common.

This change has been a controversial one though – in 2019 the decision by the retail chain Casino to open its hypermarché stores on a Sunday morning prompted demonstrations.

While traditionally it was Christian groups who opposed Sunday opening, these days it’s just as likely to be trade unions – who are concerned about the effect on employees’ work-life balance and right to time off if Sunday opening becomes the norm.

Some supermarkets have attempted to circumvent this by opening on Sundays with automated checkouts only, in order to reduce staffing levels. 

Increasingly, green groups are also opposing Sunday opening as they focus on reducing consumption in order to save the planet.

While many shoppers welcome the convenience of Sunday opening, there is still plenty of support for making Sunday a more relaxing day where shopping is off the menu.

When we ran a poll of readers of The Local in 2019, 58 percent were against increasing Sunday opening.

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‘Section internationales’: How do France’s bilingual secondary schools work?

For foreign parents in France looking at secondary school options for their children one option to consider is the bilingual 'international sections' in certain state schools. But how do they work?

'Section internationales': How do France's bilingual secondary schools work?

What is an ‘international section’

Essentially international sections in French secondary schools allow students to learn a modern foreign language, such as English or German in much more depth than a standard state secondary. These sections also facilitate the integration of foreign students into the French school system.

There are about 200 ‘International’ establishments (primary schools, colleges and high schools) around France offering international sections in 16 languages.

Most are state run, so for many foreign families they are a much cheaper alternative to private schools, though it should be noted that some of the international sections are fee-paying.


Even state establishments can charge for enrolment into their international sections. Fees are usually in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 per year (although that’s still cheap compared to somewhere like the American school of Paris which charges between €20,000 and €35,000 a year)

American and British sections are particularly popular – and, as a result are usually the most expensive, while less-popular German sections are less costly. 

Why do they exist?

These sections are ideal for the children of immigrant families, as well as those where one parent is of foreign origin. Syllabuses are set up and developed by French educational authorities and those of the partner country.

In addition to lessons dedicated to modern languages, students benefit from lessons in another subject given in a foreign language. The international sections promote the discovery of the culture and civilisation of the countries associated with the section.

Top tips for raising a bilingual child in France

What languages are available?

According to the government website, 19 languages are available. But that’s not strictly accurate as it then lists American, British and Australian as separate ‘languages’, along with Portuguese and Brazilian. It’s more accurate to say these establishments offer education in 16 languages.

It’s more accurate to say that there are 19 “sections”, dedicated to learning with a linguistic and cultural education slant in favour of the following nations/languages:

American, Arabic, Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Franco-Moroccan, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian.

In total, there are two Australian schools, 20 American ones, over 50 British schools – most in Paris and the Ile-de-France (Versailles is very popular)

So, what’s studied – and what qualifications do you get?

As well as usual collège-level classes in core subjects, such as maths, history and the sciences, students have four hours of classes in the language, including literary studies, of their choice.

From troisième (age 14), an additional two hours of classes per week cover that country’s history and geography and moral and civic education – the latter is replaced by maths for those studying in Chinese sections.

They can obtain the diplôme national du brevet with the mention “série collège, option internationale”. The dedicated brevet includes two specific tests: history-geography and foreign language.

At lycée, students study four hours of foreign literature per week, as well as two hours of history-geography in the language of the section (maths for the Chinese section) as well as two hours of French as they study towards an OIB (option internationale du bac), often at the same time as a standard French bac.

How to enrol

The first step is to contact the collège you wish your child to attend. This should take place no later than January before the September rentree you want your child to go to the collège.

If you live in France, and your child is attending an école primaire or élémentaire, you should do this in the January of the year they would move up to collège.

Be aware, that some schools require potential students to pass a language test – written and oral – before they can enter an international section. A child wishing to enter sixth grade must be able to read books of the level of Harry Potter in English, to enter the international school of Sèvres’ British section, while another has said that only 20 percent of candidates achieve the grade that would allow them entry into an international section.

Find a school

You will find sections internationales de collège at educational academies across the country. For a full list, with contact details, click here.