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What to expect if you’re travelling to France in December

From Covid rules to strikes, snow to festivals here's what you can expect if you are travelling to France in December or January.

What to expect if you're travelling to France in December
Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Covid rules

Travel over the previous two Christmases was heavily restricted because of Covid, but this year things are very different.

There are currently no travel restrictions in place, no requirement to show proof of a Covid vaccination to enter France and the vaccine pass is no longer in use.

Regarding masks, these are only compulsory in certain healthcare settings and are no longer required in other public places. However, the country is experiencing a surge in cases and French health authorities called on people to wear masks on public transport, especially at peak times.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Essential Covid information for tourists in France

Strikes

If you’re planning to use public transport you might need to keep an eye on strike announcements as several sectors have threatened strike action over the Christmas and New Year period.

On the railways, conductors and ticket collectors have filed a provisional strike notice that covers the weekends of December 23rd-26th and December 30th to January 2nd, while cabin crew at Air France also filed a provisional strike notice for the Christmas period. 

As for rail travel over Christmas weekend, a detailed strike timetable will be published 24 hours in advance, but as of December 21st, French national rail services expected two thirds of trains running with normal services on Friday, and similar levels of disruption over the weekend.

Meanwhile if you are intending to travel by Eurostar, security staff in the UK have called a strike on December 16th, 18th, 22nd and 23rd. Eurostar says it will notify passengers nearer the time if any services are cancelled or delayed on those days.

READ ALSO Should you travel to France if there is a strike on?

You can keep up to date with the latest at our strike section HERE

Weather

The long-term forecast for France, and indeed the rest of Europe, is a winter of above-average temperatures. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, France experienced a “cold blast,” according to forecasters, with chilly temperatures and flurries of snow, especially on higher ground.

For the week of Christmas itself, temperatures were expected to be more mild.

READ MORE: Will there be a white Christmas in France this year?

If you’re planning to ski then snow will be exactly what you want – many of France’s Alps ski resorts saw delayed opening dates because of a lack of snow but as of the start of December the higher resorts – like Tignes, Val d’Isère and Courchevel – were open.

Power cuts 

Countries across Europe are grappling with power issues this winter due to the shortage of Russian gas, and France is no exception.

Local authorities have been asked to put in place emergency plans in case scheduled power cuts are required – here are the details – although the government insists this eventuality is unlikely, particularly before the end of the year.

Trains, hospitals and schools: How will handle possible blackouts this winter

There is a website and app called Ecowatt which gives the latest information on whether power cuts are likely, and which areas will be affected. Here’s how it works

Holidays

France has only two public holidays over the festive period – December 25th and January 1st. This year, both of these fall on a Sunday, meaning no extra day off for workers. Most shops will be closed on those days although on December 25th many boulangeries and patisseries will open in the morning only, along with some florists.

Other than that, you can expect most shops, restaurants and cafés to be open as normal over the holiday period, although offices are often closed for longer. French schools are closed between December 17th and January 3rd.

Traffic 

You can expect traffic to be heavy on certain days as French people travel to spend time with their families. The traffic forecasting site Bison futé predicts that traffic will be heavy on Thursday, December 22nd and very heavy on Friday, December 23rd, especially in the greater Paris Île-de-France region. 

The roads will likely also be busy on Sunday, January 1st and Monday January 2nd. 

READ ALSO What to expect from road traffic in France over the Christmas holidays

Festivals and events

You can also expect lots of fun festivals and events at this time of year, especially Christmas markets and light festivals.

Here’s our pick of some of the best Christmas markets and festive events

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TRAVEL NEWS

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport. 

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