If you arrive in France, you might be coping with more than jet lag when it comes to timing. You will also discover that dining, shopping and sightseeing must bend to the French schedule. Instead of fighting it, surrender to the typical hours in France. Use this guide to ease the adjustment.
The first time I visited France, it took me a few days to get into the rhythm. It seemed like I was constantly trying to shop or visit a museum when it was closed. Then, by the time I gave up and decided to eat a late lunch instead, all the restaurants were closed. Quite frustrating.
French shops and attractions tend to be open in the mornings until noon, and many (if not most) close for up to three hours for lunch. They typically reopen at 2:30 or 3 p.m. If you time it wrong, you could arrive at a museum just in time to wait for three grueling hours.
In those hours, the restaurants and cafes come alive. If you don't catch lunch at lunchtime, you could go hungry for several hours (especially in smaller towns or even medium-sized cities). The French dinnertime is typically late, around 8 p.m.
The best way to cope is to just give in. Get your breakfast in the morning, when the wonderful bakeries (boulangeries) are open and the croissants are fresh. Shop or visit attractions until lunchtime, and then do take a nice, long, leisurely French lunch. Afterwards, you can resume your sightseeing, followed by dinner.
There are a few loopholes to the rules, though, if you don't feel like bending to the French scheduling will. Here are some tips for getting around the French way:
- Look for shops and restaurants that have the phrase "non-stop" in the window. This does not mean this is a place that is always open. Indeed, even the ones that say 24h/24 7j/7, which is supposed to mean 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can close unpredictably. What "non-stop" DOES mean is that it will not shut-down in the middle of a day's opening. For instance, a restaurant will not close between lunch and dinner, or a shop will not close for lunch.
- One way my husband and I found to deal is to count the lunch break as down time. We would grab quick sandwiches from a brasserie, maybe a bottle of wine, and return to our hotel and unwind for a couple hours. That way, we would always be energized when things are really happening in France: after lunch.
- Even if the shops are closed, that doesn't mean you can't window shop. Even if the museums are locked up, you can still visit them. No, you can't go inside, but you can see the outside. Most cathedrals are stunning, outside and in. Many museums are housed in historic properties, and the architecture alone is worth seeing.
Almost every shop is closed in Sundays as well, so don't plan a visit to a city you've always dreamed of seeing on the day of rest, because they do rest. It's the law. Only shops that sell food are legally allowed to remain open in France, although countless boutiques do flaunt the regulations. I wouldn't count on it, though. If you are visiting during a Sunday, and will need anything at all from a store, I highly recommend buying it Saturday.
You may also run into similar problems while visiting in the off-season. Hotels, shops, attractions, sometimes even tourism offices in tiny villages, shut down completely or have reduced hours. This is usually from Christmas through January or February. Be sure to check ahead.