At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

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Many wonderful things come to mind when you think about France: romance, the Eiffel Tower, fashion, delightful sidewalk cafés, and fresh baguettes. But how much do you actually know about the country?

This popular tourist destination has history, art, culture, cuisine, and excitement around every corner. Just imagine yourself strolling through the Louvre Museum, visiting the Arc de Triomphe, and indulging in scrumptious French cuisine.

Then, hiking in the French Alps — there are hundreds of reasons to make France your next getaway destination.

It’s a good idea to learn a bit more about France before you start planning your European trip. That way, you’ll be able to live like a local during your visit. This list of fun facts about France will help you prepare for your adventure.

19 Interesting Facts About France

Daydreaming about the aroma of freshly baked croissants? If you’re not, these interesting France facts might just give you a craving that only a trip to Paris can satisfy. Let’s get into it.

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

1. France Is the World’s Most Popular Tourist Destination

Going to Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower is an experience you’ll find on most travelers’ bucket lists. So it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that France is the most visited country in the world. It’s estimated that over 90 million international visitors make the journey to the home of the baguette annually.

The Louvre in Paris, France

2. The Largest Art Museum in the World Is in France

The Louvre Museum in Paris, the country’s capital city, needs no introduction. After all, it’s home to some of the world’s most famous masterpieces, including the Venus de Milo and the mysterious Mona Lisa.

The museum has nearly 652,300 square feet (60,600 square meters) of exhibition space. Within, it houses around 38,000 paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts. Not only is it the largest art museum in the world, but it also holds the title of being the most-visited museum globally.

Visitors numbers show that the Louvre welcomes around 10 million guests every year. As you can imagine, the museum gets extremely busy, so it’s a good idea to book skip-the-line tickets in advance.

3. French Toast Is Actually an American Invention

Here’s one of the few facts that French people will probably want to keep quiet about: French toast isn’t actually from France. Some stories claim that this sweet treat was invented by an innkeeper named Joseph French, who lived in New York.

Legend has it that he left out the apostrophe when penning down the recipe, which he meant to call “French’s toast.” This mistake led to it being known as French toast, but there isn’t much evidence to back up this claim. Regardless of where it comes from, there’s no denying that French toast with some butter and syrup is one tasty treat.

Camouflage in the woods

4. The French Army Invented Camouflage

In 1915, when World War I had already been raging for a year, the French army came up with an ingenious idea. They hired artists to paint both their vehicles and their guns so that they would blend in with the environment, and camouflage was created.

Years later after the Second World War, surplus camouflage material made its way to civilian stores.

The print quickly became popular in the fashion world. Since then, it has become a recurring trend that surfaces every few decades. So, the next time camo print makes its inevitable comeback in the fashion scene, remember to thank the French for your new trendy outfits.

The Cheapest Place to Fly Into Europe

5. It Is the Largest Country in Western Europe

France is a much bigger country than most people might realize. By land area, the French Republic is the largest country in Western Europe. It covers more or less 213,011 mi² (551,696 km²) of the region.

The country’s large size means that it has fantastic geographical diversity. France has everything from stunning mountain ranges, like Mont Blanc and the French Alps, to the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea landscapes of the French Riviera.

6. Don’t Throw Food Away in France

To prevent food waste and help reduce hunger, the French government passed a new law in 2016. This law states that supermarkets aren’t allowed to throw away any food that’s near its “best by” date. Any unsold food that is considered edible must instead be donated to charities and food banks.

The law has proven to be a successful initiative, and supermarkets now donate around 45,000 pounds of food annually.

It is distributed to families in need, and the supermarkets also benefit because they have less trash to deal with. So, not only is this French law beneficial for businesses and the environment, but it also has a positive impact on society.

7. The Largest French-Speaking City in the World Is In Africa

If someone told you that the largest French-speaking city in the world isn’t Paris but rather in Africa, you might be skeptical. But it’s true — Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is the largest French-speaking city globally, with Paris in second place.

In the late 19th century, European colonies planted the French flag in the DRC’s soil, and French has been one of the country’s official languages ever since. Today, Kinshasa is one of the most heavily populated cities on the African continent, with an estimated 16 million inhabitants.

8. Medals Are Awarded to Good Parents

Here’s a wholesome and interesting fact — couples who raise four or more children with dignity, morality, and care receive recognition from the French government. The Médaille de la Famille Française (Medal of the French Family) was created in 1920 to motivate parents to raise their kids in a nurturing and healthy environment.

Although the award is a decorative medal, it’s a cool symbol that shows everyone appreciates and recognizes what you bring to the family table.

Stack of books

9. French Authors Hold the Most Nobel Prizes in Literature

Bibliophiles will know that some of the world’s most influential philosophers, poets, and authors come from France. As of 2022, 16 French authors have received the illustrious Nobel Prize in Literature, which is more than any other country.

The first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to French Poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme in 1901. The most recent winner is Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the prize in 2022 for her works in autobiographical fiction.

French Baguette

10. Don’t Turn Your Baguette Upside Down

Out of all the interesting France facts on the list, this one is probably the quirkiest. Turning a baguette, or any other bread for that matter, upside down is considered extremely bad luck.

French people are pretty superstitious, and this belief is rumored to come from medieval times. According to folklore, executioners could get free food from the markets after a long day of carrying out executions.

Bakers would turn some loaves upside down to show that those specific breads were reserved for the executioners. This is why putting a baguette upside down is associated with bad luck, misfortune, and even death.

11. A Frenchman Invented the Camera Phone

Here’s a fact you can share with other tourists when you’re snapping your obligatory selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower. In 1997, Philippe Khan, a Parisian entrepreneur and inventor, came up with the idea of integrating a camera into a cell phone.

He created a prototype that was quickly picked up and manufactured by cellular companies. The first photo he took was of his newborn daughter, Sophie, and he could instantly share it with family and friends.

12. There Are No Stop Signs in Paris

This interesting fact may be a bit surprising: Paris has around 6,100 streets, yet there are no stop signs anywhere in the capital city. All the stop signs were removed in 2016 and replaced with traffic lights and other road signs that regulate traffic.

In France, you drive on the right side of the road, and vehicles on this side always have the right of way. So if you’re driving in Paris, remember to look right twice — Parisians aren’t known to be the most considerate drivers.

Hot Air Balloons in the air

13. French Brothers Invented the Hot Air Balloon

French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier worked as paper manufacturers in the 1700s, but their shared dream was to invent a flying machine. The brothers created the world’s first hot air balloon and laid the foundation for the development of aviation technology.

In 1783, people in the small town of Annonay in Southern France were invited to the first public demonstration of their invention. The brothers filled their balloon, made from paper and silk, with hot air from a fire underneath. The test ride was a success, and a few months later, the first human flight soared over Paris.

Tour de France Bikers

14. France Is Home to the World’s Greatest Cycling Race

The Tour de France needs no introduction — even people who aren’t sports fans are familiar with the name. This prestigious cycling race was first held in 1903 and became an annual event that was only skipped during the two world wars.

The multiple-stage race generally lasts between 21 and 23 days and stretches over 2116 miles (3405 kilometers). In 2023, 176 riders took on the challenge, starting in Bilbao, Spain. The Tour de France route covered flat, hilly, and mountainous areas, ending in Champs-Élysées, Paris. How’s that for a thigh workout?

15. The French Railway Network Is the Second Largest in Europe

There are many great places to visit in France by train, and luckily, the country’s railroad can take you wherever you want to go. The French Railway Network, or the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, is the second largest in Europe, after Germany’s Deutsche Bahn AG.

It covers over 18,641 miles (30,000 kilometers), connecting neighboring countries, cities, and French regions.

France was one of the first countries to use high-speed technology and opened the TGV high-speed rail in 1981. These passenger service trains reach dizzying speeds of up to 186 miles per hour (300 km/h). The expansive railway network makes travel around the country comfortable and more affordable.

Gare du Nord, Paris

16. Paris Gare Du Nord Is Europe’s Busiest Train Station

Staying on the topic of train travel, it’s worth mentioning that the French railway might be second in size, but its stations are the busiest out of all the European nations.

Paris Gare du Nord takes first prize — the station receives more than 214 million passengers annually. To break it down, that means the station deals with an average of 70,000 passengers every day.

Delicious French Cuisine

17. French Gastronomy Has UNESCO Cultural Heritage Status

Some jokingly say that the official language of France is food. In fact, French cuisine is such a big part of the country’s fabric that UNESCO awarded it the intangible cultural heritage status in 2010.

France produces many delicious dishes, pastries, and breads, but the French absolutely love escargot (snails) in garlic butter. Most restaurants and cafés carry live snails, so you’ll always be sure to get it fresh.

Another nationwide favorite is the dish coq au vin, which literally translates to “rooster in wine.”

Needless to say, the dish is made of pieces of chicken with wine and rich chicken stock.

18. The National Motto Dates Back to 1790

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) is the centuries-old, powerful national motto of France. Its origins can be traced back to the French Revolution, when Maximilien Robespierre, an influential statesman, vocalized the phrase in a speech in 1970.

The motto quickly spread, became a widely-used slogan during the revolution, and is still used today. And here’s a quick bonus fact: Haiti, a Caribbean country, is a former French colony, and it’s the only other country that uses the phrase as its national motto.

Paris Arc de Triomphe, France

19. No Building in Paris can be Taller than the Eiffel Tower

You might be spending a weekend in Paris, walking around the city, and suddenly notice, “hum, there are no tall buildings in this city… why?” Despite being home to the Eiffel Tower, one of the world’s most iconic tall buildings, Paris has long fought to remain a low-rise city.

Back in 1977, certain parts of the city of Paris imposed a height limit of 37 meters (121 feet) for new buildings. For reference, the Eiffel Tower is 330 meters tall (1,083 feet)

This happened after the construction of the controversial 209 meters tall Montparnasse Tower, which was completed in 1973. That dark monolithic building has long been criticized by some Parisians for looking out of place – an un-welcomed scar on the iconic landscape.

In 2010, the height limit was increased to 180 meters (590 feet) for offices towers and 50 meters (165 feet) for housing blocks, but it was reverted to the 1977 height limit soon after to reduce Paris’ carbon emissions – otherwise known as the Local Bioclimatic Urban Plan.

While Paris’ La Défense business district does, in fact, have several skyscrapers, the centre of the city is mostly a tall building-free zone.

Bridge in Paris, France

Fun Facts About France | Wrapped Up

From trains to superstitions, architecture to history, hopefully you have learned some new interesting France facts and maybe even got bit by the travel bug. After all, Paris is one of the most visited cities in Europe for good reason.

Every adventurer should tick France off their travel bucket list at least once. So, are you ready to pack your bags and say “Bonjour!” to Paris?

19 Fun Facts About France | Culture, Cuisine, History, And More
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  1. Absolutely loved discovering these 19 fun facts about France! From its rich history to the culinary delights, this blog post provided an entertaining and insightful journey through the heart of French culture. Vive la France…