Six things to know about tap water in France

Can you drink the tap water in France? Here's the answer and some other useful tips.

Six things to know about tap water in France
Photo: AFP

1. Safe – The first thing to point out is that tap water is perfectly safe to drink in France. In some areas of the county that have particularly hard water people often buy filters to save their kettles but the water itself is clean and safe.

2. Free – Free drinking water is also readily available – most cities have water fountains and some of them even contain sparkling water. If you see a tap that says eau non potable that means the water is not for drinking – such as the hydrants that the Paris street cleaners use. But most tap water is potable – drinkable.

From January 1st 2022, French bars, cafés and restaurants will be legally required to offer free tap water to customers. “Food and beverage establishments are required to visibly indicate on their menu or on a display space the possibility for consumers to request free drinking water,” reads the text of the new law.

During heatwaves, French authorities encourage people to fill their bottle at the free water fountains and stay hydrated. Photo: AFP

3. Socially acceptable – Unlike in some countries, Germany for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink water with your meal if you don’t want wine and to order it in cafés or restaurants.

In fact ordering just water with your meal is probably more acceptable than having soda or coffee with food, which tend to be thought of as ‘Anglo Saxon’ habits. If you’re sitting down to eat, most French restaurants will bring you a carafe of tap water and a basket of bread as a free addition to the meal.

READ ALSO From frogs to foie gras – the French dining faux pas to avoid

4. Not mineral – If you’re ordering water, however, be careful what you ask for. If you just ask for l’eau or d’eau you are likely to get mineral water, which can be more expensive than wine, especially in tourist areas.

Unless you specifically want mineral water ask for une carafe d’eau or un pichet d’eau which will ensure that you get tap water. 

5. Not iced – If you want ice in your water you will need to ask specifically for it. Unlike in the USA water – and other soft drinks like Coca-Cola – are not routinely served with ice so you will need to specify that you want your water avec glaçon – with ice.

6. It can change depending on where you are – There is also some regional variation in how people usually ask for their water, pichet or carafe are pretty well understood everywhere, but depending where you are you might also hear pot d’eau or cruche. The below map by French linguistics expert Mathieu Avanzi shows which is most common in each part of France.

Member comments

  1. had to laugh at the receipt. I remember being charged thirty pounds for Perrier in 72′ in Blinkers Manchester.

  2. If the water is SAFE, then why are MILLIONS of litres of BOTTLED water get sold every minute? I prefer eau gazeuze. Sparkling water. I bought a beautiful sparkling water maker (at considerable expense) and no not that useless Sodastream rubbish and save at least a hundred bottles yearly.
    Research either:
    the real deal:

  3. When we bought our house in the Southwest the water was terrible and drank only bottled water. We renovated the house and replaced the plumbing. Tap water is now wonderful.

  4. It’s pretty chlorinated here in Tarn, so I too have bought a filter. There’s no way I could buy all those plastic bottles with a green conscience!

  5. Here in Pays de Gex (Ain) the water is full of limescale. I use a Brita water filter jug and use the water for drinking, in my kettle and when I’m cooking. Unfiltered, the water looks disgusting and I’m not sure it’s good to be putting limescale into your body.

  6. Here in Pays de Gex (Ain) the water is full of limescale. I use a Brita water filter jug and use the water for drinking, in my kettle and when I’m cooking. Unfiltered, the water looks disgusting and I’m not sure it’s good to be putting limescale into your body.

  7. Water in the Pays de Fayence (83) is extremely hard and given the limescale which which still solidifies, even after filtering, I’m not sure I would want to routinely drink it straight from the tap.

    1. HELLO – here in the Bouches du Rhone we have insanely hard water, appliances try to run for their life when installed. So – I did research !! Apparently, the calcaire in the water is, in fact, a reasonable source of calcium.

      So – the water (at least here) is better for the humans than for the machines!

  8. Montpellier tap water gave me the shits for several days each time I visited if I ended up drinking any, this included eating salad washed in it. Now I’m living here full time I’ve acclimatised but I’d still rather not drink it because of the taste.
    The tap water in Clermont Ferrand never gave me any trouble and tasted fine.

  9. Here in the Ardennes the hardness of the tapwater is different in each village. Apparently it depends from which layer or aquifer the water is pumped. In our village it is very hard and we installed a water softener that removes the calcium that causes limescale. Later I was told, as Katy says, that those minerals calcium and magnesium are actually good for you. That is why people visited spa cities, because of their mineral waters. Now I am using supplements for calcium and magnesium because I don’t tolerate milk which contains the necessary calcium. So indeed, bad for appliances but good for humans.

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Reader question: What time do the French eat dinner? 

If you're looking to book a restaurant or want to invite your French friends or neighbours round for dinner, here's a look at what time the evening meal is normally eaten in France.

Reader question: What time do the French eat dinner? 

They might be neighbours, but the French certainly don’t follow Spanish dining habits of having the evening meal at 10pm, but having said that dinner in France is usually eaten later than in the US or Scandinavian countries.

Of course, dinner time in France varies between families and regions, but here are some guidelines.

Lunchtime tends to run between 12 noon and 2pm – that’s when restaurants operate their lunchtime service, so that’s when it’s time to eat. Remember, the French simply do not eat at their desks – al desko is not a thing here and, frankly, France is better for it – so you can also expect many offices to be closed during this time.

Following the restaurant opening rule, the evening meal period starts from around 7pm. That’s when the tables are ready and a lot of restaurants won’t accept a booking before 7pm.

If you want to eat after 2pm but before 7pm you need to look out for a restaurant that advertises ‘service non-stop‘, these are quite common in tourist areas and big cities, but are generally not the best restaurants. 

Eating out

A lot depends on where you are. If they’re eating out, Parisians tend not to book a table before 8pm to 8.30pm – and plenty of restaurants (not just fast food joints) remain open until midnight.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that means Parisians don’t eat until late every evening. Most don’t go out for a meal every night, and may dine a little earlier when they’re at home.

In most towns, cities or villages, restaurants and bistros open for evening service between 7pm and 7.30pm, although tourist resorts often have places that are open all day.

In smaller towns, you may find that restaurants don’t open every night – shutting on Monday is common – or shut their doors earlier, perhaps, than you’d expect, so your window of opportunity for a meal may be slim – especially in the colder months.

Eating in

Again, there’s no hard and fast rule here, families have different habits and of course there’s nothing to stop you eating in front of the TV as soon as you get in.

But you could take your cue from the TV schedules. 

The traditional evening meal in France is considered a family affair – around a table, lots of chatter, more good food, and an all-round convivial experience that rolls along merrily for an hour or so. They usually run from roughly 7.30pm until 8.45pm.

READ ALSO Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

It is considered poor form, in this traditional French familial round-table scenario, to have the TV on during meals – and it’s true that broadcasters schedule their primetime material to start just after 9pm. So, if you want to be done and dusted in time for Top Chef, plan your meal to end a little earlier, and make sure someone else has to load the dishwasher (or do the washing up, if you’re in a lower-tech household).

Younger children, however, may eat earlier, so that the evening meal doesn’t run into bedtime. 

Celebratory meals / Sunday lunches

These can be very special. Sunday is family day in France. In some – less touristy – parts of the country, most shops don’t open at all (with the exception of the boulangerie/pâtisserie where you can buy a lovely big dessert for your family meal). This type of meal can easily last two hours, sometimes longer if the French weather’s feeling generous.

Basically, they’re a longer, chattier, open-ended version of the traditional family meal mentioned above. Wine may be involved. Salad almost definitely will be – as it’s considered something of a palate cleanser. 

Restaurants are open, from around 12 noon to 2pm, if you prefer to eat out. But there’ll be no midweek plat du jour to take advantage of. 

The real meal deal

The truth is, there are no real rules on evening meals beyond having to wait for the restaurants to open if you want to eat out, so the above map should be taken as a suggestion only.

Your French neighbours may be a little surprised if you tell them you eat at 6pm, but it’s a personal thing. And if you live here you may find that your mealtimes shift to fit in with your, increasingly French, daily life.