School holidays and public holidays in France

Planning a cycling holiday in France? You need to mark these dates in your diary so you don't get caught out by closed shops and fully booked accommodation.

Public holidays in France

You want to avoid this happening to you ... Photo: Sylvain Naudin

Days off are something of a regular occurence throughout spring and into summer in France, often turning regular weekends magically into long weekends and creating a holiday atmosphere where there really shouldn't be any.

Despite the country's secular separation of church and state, many public holidays are linked to religious holidays, which can be something of a mystery to non-christians and athiests. 

More importantly, they can make planning a cycle tour tricky, with full hotels and closed shops wreaking havoc with tired legs and empty stomachs.

NOTE: If you are arriving into a new town on a public holiday or on a Sunday in France, it can be a good idea to check ahead with your B&B or hotel to make sure there is somewhere to eat locally, or if it's better to pick something up en route.  

Here are the dates you need to know to help you stay on the straight and narrow. 

School holidays

These are important if you’re cycling in France because they mean accommodation and trains will be more heavily booked (and more expensive) and roads may be busier.

School holiday (vacances scolaires) dates vary across the regions. The official school holiday calendar can be checked on the Ministry of Education’s website – simply cross-check the region with the dates or do a search on the town you’ll be visiting.

Public holidays

Arriving unawares into a small village or even a larger town on a public holiday can result in a very hungry cyclist. Shops, boulangeries, restaurants, schools and all commerce (banks, post offices etc) usually close on official public holidays.

Some supermarkets may (if you’re lucky) be open, but often operating Sunday hours. Larger shops and supermarkets will usually have a sign up over the week and days before letting you know if they will be open, but – in general – expect everything to be closed and then be pleasantly surprised if it’s not.

Note that if a public holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, many schools, restaurants and institutions will take the Friday/Monday off as well as a ‘pont’ – they ’faire le pont’, or make a bridge to the weekend, and creating a long weekend.

Here are the dates you need to know: 

January 1, New Year’s Day
A national holiday but it’s worth noting that many businesses will also close early on December 31 – don’t get caught out arriving late to a supermarket or boulangerie on New Year’s Eve to find it closed.  

Easter Monday
2017: April 17
2018: April 2
This is marked with a public holiday across the country, but Good Friday is generally not a public holiday anywhere other than in Alsace, which remains aligned to the German system following World War 2.

May 1, Fête du Travail (Labour Day)
You’ll see Lily of the valley flowers been sold all over France, and these are given to friends and family as tokens of appreciation and kindness. Always a public holiday (no school and shops are generally shut).

Ascension Day
2017: May 25
2018: May 10
A public holiday marking when christians believe Jesus rose to Heaven after his crucifixion and resurrection. It changes every year and depends on the dates for Easter. Ascension Day is 40 days after Easter Sunday. 

May 8, VE Day (Victory in Europe Day)
This marks the end of World War 2 in Europe. Commemorative services are held in most towns and villages across the country, along with parades in larger towns and cities. Always a public holiday (no school and shops are generally shut).

Pentecost Sunday
2017: June 4
2018: May 20
A public holiday marking when christians believe the Holy spirit descended onto Jesus’ disciples. It’s held 50 days after Easter Sunday. The Sunday is called Whit Sunday and the following day is Whit Monday.

Bastille Day, July 14
La Fête Nationale marks the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the Fête de la Fédération one year later. Expect fireworks and parades all over France, and one super party for the Tour de France stage that day. Always a public holiday (no school and shops are generally shut).

Assumption Day, August 15
A public holiday marking the day christians believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to Heaven. No school and shops are generally shut.

November 1, All Saints’ Day
‘La Toussaint’ remembers christian martyrs and saints who don’t have their own saint’s day. Family and friends often visit the graves of loved ones on All Saints’ Day. Always a public holiday (no school and shops are generally shut).

November 11, Armistice Day
Marks the end of World War 1. It’s a more sombre day than VE Day. Always a public holiday (no school and shops are generally shut).

December 25, Christmas Day

December 26, St Stephen’s Day
Only marked as an official pubic holiday in Alsace, which still follows the German Christian holiday tradition. Check ahead – shop opening hours will vary. 

See here for more on planning your cycling holiday in France

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