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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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!
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.
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. Champagne, Burgundy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.