I always knew that France was a popular tourist destination, but I had no idea it was #1 and I was even more surprised to learn that the majority of tourists to France (83%) are from Europe. That means that many of the reasons why I thought France was popular may not be true and made me wonder, why exactly is France so very popular? France had more visitors than any other country in 2014 ensuring it holds on to its proud title as the most visited nation in the world. So how did a nation – not always renowned for the warmth of its welcome, and where English, the world language, is far from guaranteed to be spoken – perch on so high a pedestal? Here, we delve into a few of the reasons why.
- The Brits love it. We have had our share of historic quibbles with our neighbours. A quote attributed to the 19th century British writer Douglas William Jerrold goes: “The best thing I know between France and England is the sea.” But from the early 20th century – before the onset of mass tourism – the entente has largely been cordial, give or take the odd blip, and our holidaymakers have poured into France like no other overseas nation.
- The number of borders France shares borders with eight different nations, which means it’s even easier for all those Francophiles to pop over. It’s hardly arduous for British visitors either, with Eurostar, Eurotunnel, and a relentless procession of ferries linking us to mainland Europe. France is not, however, the country with the most borders in Europe. Germany actually has nine (Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) – but has suffered from something of an image problem among British visitors for many years (a perception, incidentally, that at last seems to be shifting). And Russia and China have a whopping 14 borders each – both welcome a notable number of tourists, but nowhere near as many as France.
- A variety of sun, sea and mountains Many French people shun international destinations for their summer holidays and instead choose to travel within their own country. Why? Well, as they’ll be keen to tell you, it’s because France has everything, from sandy beaches, to snow covered mountains and vast expanses of countryside.
- They’ll always have Paris “Paris is always a good idea”, says Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 movie, Sabrina. As her character intimated, Paris has been the most romantic destination in the world in the popular imagination for time immemorial, a perception reinforced by films such as Amelie in more recent years. But recently it’s had stiff competition from its outre-manche rival, London, when it comes to visitor numbers – backed up by some fighting talk from the London mayor, Boris Johnson.
- Art , history and culture France is extremely proud of its long and often tumultuous history, from the French revolution to Napoleon and the two world wars, and historical sites are often on the itinerary for visitors. There’s the famous battle sites of the Somme and the D-Day landings, as well as the stunning chateaux, churches and cathedrals that decorate the landscape. In fact, France has some 39 sites on Unesco’s World Heritage list, putting it fourth in the global rankings. Museums and art galleries are also a major pull for tourists. The Louvre alone, home to the Mona Lisa among around 35,000 other artifacts and artworks, attracts 9.7 million visitors a year, more than any other museum in the world.