20 fun facts about France

written by
Kerry Higgins

updated 11.07.2023

France is one of the world's top tourist destinations. There's plenty to get your teeth stuck into, from great cities like Paris, Bordeaux and Marseille to the prehistoric sites of the Vézère valley and Brittany's beautiful coastline.

From visiting Provence's lavender fields, to exploring stunning chateaux, there are certainly plenty of reasons you voted France one of the most beautiful countries in the world. But how well do you really know the country? Embrace the French "joie de vivre" with these fun facts about France.

Cultural fun facts about France

1. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite is the national motto

The country’s national motto Liberte, Egalite, Franernite ("Liberty, Equality and Fratenity") has its roots in the French Revolution, but wasn’t popularized until the end of the 19th century. The famous trio of words were first vocalized in 1790 in a speech given by Maximilien Robespierre. Interestingly, the phrase is also the national motto of the Republic of Haiti (a former French colony). 

A stamp printed in Niger shows painting by Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, Louvre, Paris © irisphoto1/Shutterstock

Lady liberty leading the people of France © irisphoto1/Shutterstock 

2. The Tour de France cycle race has been running for over 100 years

The world’s most prestigious cycling race was first held in 1903. It has run every year since, save for the two world wars. In 2020, the race was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic – but it still went ahead! 

If you're into cycling, read up on cycling from London to Paris on the Avenue Verte route. Paris also features in our round-up of the best cycling holidays in the world.

Tour de France © Marc Pagani Photography/Shutterstock

Cyclists battle it out on the tour de France © Marc Pagani Photography/Shutterstock

3. The camera phone was invented in France

That’s right, the camera phone was invented in France in 1997 by an enterprising Parisian called Philippe Kahn - a very surprising France fact. The first photo he took was of his new-born daughter, Sophie, which he sent to his family and friends. 

Given that you voted Paris one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it's not short of superb photo opportunities, not least if you read up on alternative Paris — places in Paris to get off the beaten track.

Taking selfie with phone at Trocadero overlooking Eiffel tower in Paris, France © Alliance Images/Shutterstock

Paris, France — the city that spawned a million selfies © Alliance Images/Shutterstock

4. The Louvre in Paris is the most visited art museum in the world

In 2019, a record 10.2 million people visited Paris’ Louvre Museum – it’s been suggested that a Beyonce and Jay-Z video filmed in the museum helped boost visitor numbers. The accolade stands. All the more important it is, to book your ticket ahead of time. Stop wasting time standing in line and book your Louvre skip-the-lines ticket here. 

Into art and travelling on a budget? Discover free things to do in Paris, including when you can avoid museum entry fees, and where to hear music for free.

And in case you're planning to visit Paris, don't forget to read our list of the best areas to stay in Paris.

Louvre museum in Paris

Louvre Museum, Paris, France © Tijl De Meulemeester/Shutterstock

5. France has won the most Nobel prizes for literature

Since French writer Sully Prudhomme won the first ever Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903, the country has taken the accolade a further fourteen times (the USA and Great Britain come in second with twelve prizes apiece). The winning writers include Jean-Paul Sartre, who won the prize in 1967 but declined it. He described his reasons for declining the prize as being both “personal and objective”.  

Read our guide to where to stay in Paris to find out which areas have long attracted writers and artists.

Nobel Prize medal © Paramonov Alexander/Shutterstock

France has won the most Nobel Prizes for Literature - one of the top facts about France © Paramonov Alexander/Shutterstock

France welcomes some 89 million visitors annually; Spain comes in second place with some 82 million visitors, while the USA comes in third with 78 million.

If you can't wait to get back to French shores, chat with one of our local experts to start planning your next trip, and read our feature on when to go to France. If you're travelling with children, find out why Normandy is one of our best places to go with kids.

Long and narrow canal called calanque with many sail boats by the pier in Cassis, France © lnu/Shutterstock

Cassis, France © lnu/Shutterstock

7. France is known as L'Hexagone

The French affectionately refer to their country as “L’Hexagone” ("the hexagon"), due to its geometrical shape – check for yourself on the map of France. Of course, the hexagon only covers the mainland – let’s not forget Corsica and France’s overseas territories!

Magnifying glass over a map of France © Gts/Shutterstock

France in hexagonal form © Gts/Shutterstock

8. The French coastline adds up to 3427km

That’s quite a figure, roughly equating to the distance from Paris to Petra. From bustling ports to sandy bays and rocky coves, you’ll find beaches of every shape and size along the French coast - read up on the best beaches in France.

Nice, France © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

The coastline of France © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

9. France is the largest country in the EU

France has a land area of 547,000 square kilometres, making it the largest country in the EU. If you extend the parameters to include all European nations – rather than just those in the EU – then France follows up in third place, behind Ukraine and Russia, which dwarfs the rest. 

To see more of France, you could consider taking a camping trip or travelling by train, car, or bike. Here's our round-up of the best campsites in France.

Tulip field in Provence, France

A rainbow of tulips in Provence, France © MarinaVN/Shutterstock

10. Turning a baguette upside down is unlucky

There are a number of different origin stories linked to this French superstition, but the most likely dates back to medieval times. When an execution was scheduled in town, legend has it the executioner himself would not have time to pop to the bakery before work. The baker would therefore reserve his loaf by turning the bread upside down. Thus, turning a baguette on its head came to be associated with death and misfortune – and the superstition lives on.

If you'd like to learn more kitchen secrets, read our overview of what to eat and drink in France, and take a "behind-the-scenes" bakery tour in Paris,

Empty coffee and restaurant terrace with tables and chairs in French style. Freshly baked pastries and bread in bakery showcase © stock_studio/Shutterstock

A superstitious fact about France — never turn a baguette on its head © stock_studio/Shutterstock

11. The croissant was actually invented in Austria

France might be the spiritual home of the croissant, but the pastry actually began its days in Austria. The kipferl – ancestor of the croissant, born in the coffee shops of Vienna in the 13th century – was the original crescent-shaped morning sweet.

Made of a denser and less flaky dough, the kipferl later crossed the border to France and became the famous croissant. Surely that's one a few facts about France the French will want to keep quiet.

Parisian cafe © Anna Tryhub/Shutterstock

Shh! That croissants were born in Austria is a fact about France the French might not want you to know © Anna Tryhub/Shutterstock

12. Some claim French toast isn't French at all

Yep, some stories suggest that French toast doesn’t actually come from France – instead, it was invented a world away by a man called Joseph French. A humble inn keeper in New York, Joseph French forgot the apostrophe when penning his creation, and “French’s toast” became simply “French toast”. And the seeds of uncertainty were sown…

Stack of French Toast with Two Fried Eggs © Suzanne Pratt/Shutterstock

Whisper it — French toast was invented in New York © Suzanne Pratt/Shutterstock

13. Each new day sees two new cooking books

Another interesting fact about France: two new cookbooks are published here every day. France is known for its mouthwatering cuisine, held as a standard the world over. Some of the most famous dishes to originate in France – and that are still cooked to perfection today – range from coq au vin to chocolate soufflé and French onion soup.

Why not try recreating them in your kitchen, or plan a trip to France with our local experts and check off all the foodie highlights on your bucket list? 

Woman reading recipe for simple summer salad in cookbook © KucherAV/Shutterstock

France sure isn't short of cookbooks © KucherAV/Shutterstock

14. It is illegal to throw out food in France

It's time to dazzle your recycling-loving friends with this fun fact about France! It seems fitting that a country that loves food as much as France should be the first to pass a law making throwing away good food illegal. As of 2016, any unsold but edible food must be donated rather than thrown away, or you could come up against the long arm of the law. 

French Village shop in the South of France selling fresh food, wine, groceries and regional products © John James/Shutterstock

Waste not want not — it's illegal to throw our food in France © John James/Shutterstock

15. The average French citizen eats 500 snails each year

Snails – or escargots – are a popular French delicacy, traditionally served as an hors-d’oeuvre with garlic butter. If you’ve mastered snails, move on to frog’s legs! 

sea snails bulot with garlic sauce © AS Food Studio/Shutterstock

Escargots © AS Food Studio/Shutterstock

16. There are over 400 kinds of cheese made in France

Move over, snails. The French are the highest consumers of cheese on the planet, with almost half the population eating the stuff on a daily basis. And that means hundreds of different types of cheese produced on home soil, with some seriously good produce. Tuck in and discover it yourself, like on this wine and cheese tasting tour from Bordeaux

French cheese selection © Premier Photo/Shutterstock

Another of many fascinating food facts about France - the country produces 400+ kinds of cheese © Premier Photo/Shutterstock

17. The French consume 11.2 billion glasses of wine per year

Wine is the tipple of choice in France, accounting for almost sixty percent of the country’s total alcohol consumption. The population’s penchant for a glass (or two) of wine might have something to do with the fact that France is one of the world’s biggest wine producers, creating some of the best varieties on Earth. ChampagneBurgundy and Chablis, for instance, are all home-grown. If you want to visit one of the most famous champagne houses, take a look at this tour from Reims, visiting the Taittinger Champagne House with a small group

Glass of french wine © Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock

A well-know fact: France is a nation of wine-lovers © Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock

18. French was once the official language of England

Following the Norman Conquest, French was the language of the King and Court from 1066 to 1362 (that's about three hundred years). Though English regained prominence in the 14th century, the English language today is still peppered with French-derived words and phrases. 

Fancy brushing up on your language skills? Get hold of a Rough Guides French phrasebook.

vintage entrance sign on wooden door (in French language) © eriyalim/Shutterstock

Learning a little lingo will open doors when travelling in France © eriyalim/Shutterstock

19. Kilts originated in France, not Scotland

While kilts are synonymous with Scotland, similar garments were in fact worn in a number of different countries across the globe, including in early France. Most were worn below the knee, stretching to the ground. However, tartan kilts as we know them today do indeed herald from Gaelic lands, originating in the first quarter of the 18th century. 

Scottish kilts © Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

An assortment of Scottish kilts © Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

20. A 1910 law forbids couples kissing on train platforms

It’s true: in 1910, a French law confined couples kissing on train platforms to romantic scenes on the silver screen. The ban was intended to avoid overcrowded stations and service delays – how much difference it made is anyone’s guess. Today there’s no penalty for a cheeky train-station smooch, which is good news for lovers heading for Paris, the unchallenged romance capital of the world. 

Kissing goodbye train platform ©  Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Weird fact about France: No Kissing on train platform Bon voyage by train © Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Now that you've learned the facts about France, find plenty of ideas for your French trip in our in-depth guide to the best things to do in France.

Have our fun facts about France got you dreaming about your next trip? Speak to one of our local experts to create your perfect France itinerary today. They know everything about the current coronavirus guidelines, and can schedule your trip for when it is safe to go.

Kerry Higgins

written by
Kerry Higgins

updated 11.07.2023

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