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Visiting France: What activities and places do I need to reserve in advance?

The Local France
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Visiting France: What activities and places do I need to reserve in advance?
Hikers walk past a placard reading "reservation required" on their way to the calanque de Sugiton in the Parc national des calanques in Marseille (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

An increasing number of France's most popular tourist attractions are bringing in maximum quotas for visitors, while others are only available with advance reservation. Here is what you need to know ahead of your trip.

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If you are planning a trip to France in the coming weeks or months, and you are looking to visit tourist hotspots, then you may want to start planning ahead of time.

Several attractions - including natural parks and islands - have imposed limits on the number of people who can visit per day, in order to limit environmental damage from visits.

Other popular tourist sites have a limited number of tickets available per day, which means that reserving in advance is highly recommended to avoid disappointment.

And with the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, it is also worth noting that France is expected to welcome at least 15 million people between late July and early September. Most visitors will be concentrated in the Paris area, although Marseille is also hosting several events.

If you plan to visit France during this time, it is highly recommended that you book any cultural activities well in advance. It may also be wise to make restaurant reservations ahead of time too. 

READ MORE: Hotels, tickets and scams: What to know about visiting Paris for the 2024 Olympics

Here are some of the popular places to visit that require some advanced planning:

Visitor quotas

An increasing number of places are introducing quotas for visitors, mostly in an effort to avoid environmental damage to natural habitats from over-tourism - these are now only accessible to visitors with an advanced reservation.

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The Calanques - Many visitors to France look forward to heading to the Mediterranean, near Marseille, and getting to enjoy crystal blue water and the unique limestone formations along the coast, otherwise known as calanques.

As for the summer of 2024, people looking to visit the Calanques of Sugiton and Pierres Tombées will need to make a reservation in advance for certain dates, but entrance will remain free. 

They will be required; June 15-16, June 22-23, June 29 to September 1st, September 7-8, and September 14-15.

You can reserve using this LINK.

READ MORE: The one place you absolutely have to visit in each department of France

The Calanques National Park instituted this scheme in order to help protect the natural areas from erosion, which results from overcrowding. This scheme, which caps the total number of visitors per day.

There are also several other Calanques in the Marseille area that do not require reservations for access. You can find more information on the national park's website (also available in English) here

Porquerolles - The île de Porquerolles - off the coast of the Var département, in the Mediterranean - put in place a quota for the number of people who can visit the island per day in 2021 due to issues of overcrowding.

As such, the TLV-TVM ferry company carries a maximum of 4,000 passengers per day to Porquerolles, and only by reservation. Other ferry and boat operators can bring a maximum of 2,000 visitors in total - meaning only 6,000 people can visit the island per day. This will apply in 2024 as well, according to the local port's website.

These limits are especially respected during high tourist periods (July-August). You can purchase your tickets to visit the Porquerolles online HERE. Keep in mind you may have to pay extra to transport a bicycle.

Bréhat - the island off the coast of Brittany introduced a visitor quota during the summer of 2023. In 2024, it will be in place again from July 14th and August 25th, a maximum of 4,700 people per day can visit the island, which is accessed by boat. The mayor said the quota was introduced because local services can no longer cope with the volume of visitors and the garbage that they leave - although he added that visitor satisfaction rates had also dropped because of over-crowing on the island. 

Tourist sites in Corsica - In Corsica, three emblematic tourist sites (the Lavezzi islands, the Aiguilles de Bavella and the Restonica valley) also adopted quotas on the number of visitors allowed. However, these quotas are on an annual basis - for example, the Lavezzi islands will only allow 200,000 visitors per year from 2022 to 2026. In the effort of being sustainable, daily visitors will be limited on certain days - sometimes to about 2,000, according to Les Echos.

READ MORE: Reader question: Do I really need to reserve before going to a restaurant in France?

There are several different shuttle boats that can take you to the Lavezzi islands, and the cost is typically around €30 or more per adult.

Oftentimes, it is not possible to book in advance, but you can consult the schedules and prices for journeys with the Tourist Office of Bonifacio. 

Chartreuse Natural Park in the Alps - Some national parks in France, such as the Chartreuse National Park during the summer of 2022, have had to put in place limits on overnight stays for hikers looking to camp in the forest. 

Be sure to check the national park's website prior to visiting to ensure that camping is allowed, although there is no quota for day trips.

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Limiting visitors

There are several other sites which have not introduced formal quotas, but where over-tourism is becoming an increasing problem. In these areas visitors are asking to consider planning a trip in off-peak times, while booking ahead is definitely recommended.

Mont Saint-Michel - Impressive during both low and high tide, hundreds of thousands of people manage to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mont Saint-Michel, off the coast of Normandy, each year. 

While there is no quota for visitors, local authorities partnered with the Waze navigation app to help suggest to users when the site is busiest and offer alternative activities until the crowds die down. 

You can also book your ticket to enter the Abbey online up to one month in advance for €13 HERE. Your ticket will either be valid for the morning or the afternoon. It is not possible to cross Saint Mont Michel Bay at high tide by foot or shuttle bus. You can, however, watch the tide rush in from the island, mainland, or the bridge.

The cliffs of Étretat - Quickly becoming one of France's most popular places to visit, the cliffs of Étretat, on the Normandy coast, are experiencing coastal erosion both due to climate change and a large influx of visitors.

This is why Étretat was listed on Fodor's 2023 No List, which encourages people to avoid places experiencing the impacts of climate change or overcrowding.

Étretat is especially popular during the summer months - you do not need to make a reservation to visit, but due to the aforementioned reasons, you might consider planning your trip for another time of year when crowds are smaller. 

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Mont Blanc - Europe's tallest mountain is popular both during the winter and summer months. It is possible to book a ride on one of the mountain's cable cars in advance (HERE).

Those looking to stay the night in a refuge on Mont Blanc should book well in advance, as they fill up quickly. You can learn more information here and here, but keep in mind that not all overnight shelters accept credit cards so you may need to pay in cash.

Generally, hiking Mont Blanc takes significant preparation, and in recent years routes have been hindered due to climate change. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about staying in a French mountain refuge

Booking strongly recommended

France is a pretty popular place to visit (it's the world's most visited tourist destination in fact) so some of its biggest attractions do get pretty busy.

It's therefore highly recommended to book in advance if you are visiting these, especially in peak tourist season, to avoid disappointment.

READ MORE: Ten of the best day trips out of Paris

Versailles - Versailles is also a short journey from Paris, and a very popular visitor destination.

While it's possible to buy tickets are the entrance of the palace, the queue to do so is usually very long, and there are only a limited number available (depending on how many people have booked in advance). You can book your tickets online and in advance HERE

There are several different types of tickets - the Passport ticket, which costs €32, gives access to both the palace and the full Estate. You can also buy a simply "Palace" ticket which costs €21. Both offer access to the gardens, and you can opt for timed entry to help avoid (or at least shorten) the wait on arrival.

During the low season (from November to late March), admission to the gardens is free for all visitors every day.

You can find out if you qualify for free admission here.

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The Louvre - 7.8 million people visited France's famed museum, the Louvre, in 2022 (and 10 million in 2019) and the museum advises visitors to book their time slot a few weeks in advance. It is possible to buy tickets at the museum, but numbers are limited and again it depends how many people have already booked online.

If you're going during peak season, it's highly likely that tickets will all be sold out. Tickets purchased online cost €22. You can do so HERE.

There is often still a queue for people who booked their tickets online, arriving early, or choosing to come when the museum stays open late (Fridays), may help you to avoid crowds and long lines.

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During the Olympic Games, the Louvre will remain open to visitors, except for July 25th and 26th. However, all visitors from July 1st to September 8th must book a ticket ahead of time. As for the Tuileries Garden, it will be closed on August 28th and throughout the Games it will be in a security zone, meaning vehicular traffic will be severely limited - although pedestrians can still access it.

You can find more info about Olympics related disruption/changes for the Louvre HERE.

The Eiffel Tower - Going to the top floor of the Eiffel Tower is on the bucket lists of many. 

Before heading to the tower, check online to be sure that maintenance will not get in the way of your plans. The website also estimates wait times as well. For example, the Eiffel Tower's website explains that outside of peak season, school vacations or public holidays, attendance is usually lowest on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This might be the best time to visit - You can find more information here.

Like many other monuments in the city of Paris, you can purchase your tickets online and you would be advised to do so to help decrease the amount of time spent waiting in queues. You can purchase tickets to go to the top floor HERE.

As for pricing, Paris city hall voted to increase the adult admission price (starting late June 2024). As a result, visitors will pay €35.30 instead of €29.40 to go to the top of the tower.

If you are visiting during the summer of 2024, be aware that the Tower is close to a Games venue. It will remain open during the Olympics period apart from the day of the Opening Ceremony (July 26th). However between July 18th and July 25th the Tower is in a security zone so you will require a QR code to enter - more info here. From July 27th onwards no QR code will be required for visitors - the Tower will be in a red zone, which has restrictions on vehicles, but which pedestrians can enter freely.

Other Paris museums - If you want to visit as many Paris museums as possible, then you can purchase a Paris museum pass. You can find the list of museums covered with the pass HERE.

Under certain circumstances, you will still need to reserve a time slot before visiting the museum of your choice, however. The two-day pass costs €55, and it increases in price based on the number of days allotted. You can book online HERE.

Giverny - The location of Claude Monet's gardens and house, Giverny is one of the most popular day-trips from Paris. As such, reservations, particularly during peak times, fill up quickly.

To visit the house and garden, you will need to book a ticket. Typically it is best to book a few days to a week in advance, and you can do so here. You can also purchase a ticket on-site, but you may have to wait in a long queue or tickets may be all sold out, depending on the time of year.

If you wish to travel by train, you can also book your ticket online in advance, using Trainline, for example, or directly at the train station.

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Islands along the Brittany coast - Bréhat's neighbouring island of d'Arz, and the islands in the Glénan archipelago, are hot spots for tourists each year, namely during the spring and summer months. 

While they have not introduced formal quotas for a maximum number of visitors, these popular islands off the coast of Brittany often see ferry services fill up quickly, with long lines to purchase boat tickets.

As such, you would be advised to check online before planning a trip to a Breton island to see if you can buy your ferry tickets in advance. For example, you can do so for the Glénan archipelago HERE.

Smaller islands may not allow online or advanced reservations for ferry services, which can be challenging for those looking to enjoy a simple day trip - it is easily find yourself arriving at the port with the intention of purchasing a ticket on site and finding yourself waiting in a long line.

Be advised to arrive early in the morning, this will allow you to make the most out of your day, and plan ahead for the fact that the final ferry taking passengers back to the mainland might be around 5pm.

Dune du pilat - Located near Bordeaux and the tallest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du pilat has become more popular for tourists over the years. 

Visiting is free and does not require a reservation. You will have to keep in mind that if you plan to drive, the amount of parking that is available on site, as well as the cost of parking in the low versus high seasons. Parking cannot be reserved in advance.

The Dune's website (HERE) gives estimates of how busy parking lots are, so you can check before making your trip.

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Comments (2)

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William Clark 2023/03/15 18:30
Thanks for making this list. I realize you can't address every site but do you have any information about the caves in the Les Eyzies-de-Tayac area? Thanks again!
William Clark 2023/03/15 18:30
Thanks for making this list. I realize you can't address every site but do you have any information about the caves in the Les Eyzies-de-Tayac area? Thanks again!

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