In France, travelers have more to adjust to than just jet lag. During your trip, you'll discover dining, shopping, and sightseeing must bend to the French schedule, which sometimes means closing in the middle of the day. You might show up to a museum at lunchtime when it's closed or opt for a late lunch to find that most restaurants close at 2 p.m. Considering the typical opening hours in France will help you adjust to the rhythm of French life and get the most out of your trip.
French Shops and Museums
French shops 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 between 2 and 3 p.m. Things might be a little bit different if you are traveling in the South of France, where the warm weather plays a role in shop opening hours. You'll find food shops in particular opening early and staying open late when the day is at its coolest. However, at the main resorts, shops tend to stay open all day. Museum hours also vary in France and while some will stay open all day, others will close for lunch, particularly in small towns and villages.
Sunday is a day of rest, which the French take seriously. Almost every shop is closed on Sunday, so plan accordingly. You'll find shops selling food will remain open, but boutiques are very unlikely to. If you're visiting over a Sunday, take care to purchase anything you might need on Saturday.
French Restaurants and Cafés
When the shops and museums are closed, the restaurants and cafés come alive. It's best to do as the French do and plan to eat lunch between 12 and 2 p.m. After that, you might not be served at a cafe, even if it appears to be open.
If you skip lunch during these typical lunch hours, you might have to wait until dinnertime for the restaurants to reopen, which in France is typically around 8 p.m.
You could also run into similar issues while visiting in the off-season. During certain times of year, usually from Christmas through January or February, hotels, shops, attractions, and sometimes even the tourism offices in small villages have reduced hours or even shut down completely for the season. And in August, it's common for Parisians to leave the city for weeks on end, and smaller shops and cafes may be closed at that time. Be sure to check ahead if you are visiting during the off-season.
How to Cope With French Opening Times
In France, it's best to give in and plan your day around the opening and closing hours. You can get your café au lait and breakfast in the morning when the croissants are fresh and visit shops and attractions until lunchtime. Enjoy a long leisurely French lunch and resume your sightseeing afterward, followed by a late dinner.
If that doesn't suit your schedule, there are few loopholes for getting around the French customs:
- 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, but simply that it will not shut-down in the middle of the day. For instance, a restaurant will not close between lunch and dinner, or a shop will not close for lunch.
- Not in the mood for a big lunch? Count the lunch break as downtime. Grab some sandwiches from a takeaway cafe, maybe even a bottle of wine, and return to your accommodation to unwind for a couple of hours. That way, you'll be well rested when French life picks up again after lunchtime.
- Even if the shops are closed, that doesn't mean you can't window shop and if the museums are locked up, you can still enjoy them from the outside. Many museums are housed in historic properties, and the architecture alone is worth seeing.
Edited by Mary Anne Evans