The Eiffel Tower, the Sandy beaches of Saint Tropez, amazing wine, and tasty cheese… These are just some of the things that put France on the top of the bucket list for a lot of travelers. However, there are also a lot of them that don’t visit thinking that France is too expensive. Of course, France isn’t Cambodia or Vietnam price-wise and is among other things, famous for the luxurious hotels and fancy restaurants. Especially the capital, Paris, has the reputation of one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, there are some tips and tricks that can certainly save you a lot of money and enjoy France on a budget. Let’s begin:
Cheap Accommodation in France
As I said, France has a lot of famous luxurious hotels but that’s not what we’ll talk about here today. Instead, we’ll discuss the myriad of different low-cost lodging options France has to offer. Some of them are:
Gîtes de France features listings of different types of low-cost accommodations in France. Most of these are how the French call them; Chambres d’hotes, which is an equivalent to bed and breakfast. Some of these allow visitors to rent an apartment or a house and this also allows you to save a few extra bucks cooking for yourself.
Logis is a network of 2,000+ hotel-restaurants in France. The places which are part of this network are mostly small inns and they are relatively cheap. However, most of these are located in small cities and villages. If you’re a food lover, this is a great way to experience the amazing French cuisine, as most of the facilities have meals included.
Bienvenue à la Ferme is a program supported by the French government that allows travelers to stay at farms. There are different accommodation options, ranging from no-electricity camping to bed and breakfast arrangements. This is also a great option for food lovers. You will be able to have a homemade meal with fresh ingredients from their own farms.
Finally, hostels and Couchsurfing is always a great option to save a few bucks and meet a lot of new friends.
Cheap Transportation in France
France has a superb infrastructure and a very well connected rail line. Therefore, there are a lot of ways for budget travelers to save money when traveling around the country.
Buses are also a cheap and convenient alternative. France’s bus system is very extensive and there’s practically no place that can’t be reached by bus, whether local or regional. If you’re visiting more places, buses are a good option as you can get tickets for short duration bus rides only for a few Euros. However, like it’s always the case: when something is so extensive, it can be a bit complicated to understand. So make sure you plan ahead and make sure you check the schedule for the local bus system.
Rail passes are, in my opinion, the way to go for longer trips. You can buy a month’s pass for $202 USD and travel wherever you want and if you’re 27 or younger you can get a 20% discount. This ticket also includes a discount on ferry crossings from Cherbourg to Rosslare (Ireland). You can also use the ticket to go to Mannheim, Nurnberg, and Prague. The rail pass is obviously a good choice if you want to thoroughly explore France and are planning to stay longer. But if you’re thinking about just covering a few cities and taking a couple of one-day trips around these big cities don’t go for it. However, if want to travel deeper, from the lavender fields, through the Alps, to the charming small villages, the rail pass is the way to go.
If you’re on a tight schedule and just want to visit the touristy places, the best way to go is by flight. For domestic flights, the best discount airlines are Ryanair and EasyJet. Surprisingly, oftentimes the fairs provided by these companies can be even cheaper than a train ticket.
Cheap Dining in France
The cuisine is certainly one of the main reasons to visit France, a country that’s known for being the gourmand’s paradise. France is home to some of the world’s finest chefs and French restaurants are famous throughout the world. However, the refined meals served in some of these restaurants are normally accompanied by an exorbitant check. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t experience the French cuisine if you’re on a budget.
Let’s start with breakfast. Boulangerie (bakery) and patisserie (pastry shop) are part not only of the typical French’s day but they’re also part of French culture. Get ready for displays that are a feast for the eyes and taste even better than they look. The typical breakfast of croissant/bakery and a coffee will cost you around 5-6 euros. Another option for cheap morning meals are the local markets, where you can find a variety of great locally-grown fresh fruits.
For the rest of the day, you can combine a large meal with a couple of snacks. If the locals can do it, so can you. If you want to eat in a fancy restaurant, I suggest you go there for lunch instead of dinner. The reason: to avoid the tourist rush. Also, consider a picnic. It’s a great way to have a decent meal with less than 10 Euros. It’s really cheap if you buy all of the ingredients from the market and there’s nothing like a picnic along the Seine…
Another tip is to always ask for a prix fixe menu. Prix Fixe provides a mix of starters, main dishes, and desserts for a fixed price. This is always much cheaper than ordering a la carte, or off the menu. And don’t miss on the house wine, which might be cheap but the quality is just as good as bottled wines in most countries. A glass of this type of wine will cost you even less than ordering a Coke. Needless to say, there’s a house wine for practically every meal you can imagine.
If you’re in one of the big cities, get a 2 or 3-day Pass which will allow you to use public transport for free. Another benefit of the pass is the free entry to the museums and tourist sights. You can buy the passes at the local tourist offices and even in some hotels. France also has a lot of stunning cathedrals and the best part is: most of them are entry-free.
You might still think that France is an expensive country but there are actually a lot of bargains you can get in France. The first thing that comes to my mind is the open-air daily markets. You can find these in every city and small town. Go out there, explore the markets, buy some fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, staples of bread and have a picnic. A lot of locals do that too.
Almost every city has a brocantes or a flea-market. These are vibrant, colorful places where you can find a lot of cheap souvenirs and authentic unusual gifts. The most famous brocante in the country are probably the ones at Lille and the island city: L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Just like every European country, France has a lot of free walking tours in most popular tourist destinations. Aix en Provence, Lille, Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux, Beziers, Nimes, Montpellier, Strasbourg, Paris. All of these places have free walking tours covering the most popular local sights. I know you might think that most of these cities are expensive, especially during the spring and summer but like I mentioned traveling on a budget is completely possible. One good example of that is this article with cheap things to do in Nice, which is, by the way, one of the most expensive cities in the country during the summer.
Related: How to visit Paris in a day
A few more money-saving tips
- Drink wine– In France, wine is literally cheaper than water. Don’t stop drinking water but choose wine over any other alcohol. You can get a decent bottle of wine at the market for as low as 3 EUR.
- Pre-drink before going out– French bars are ridiculously overpriced, especially in the metropolitan cities like Paris. You can save a lot of money on drinks by drinking some wine before going out.
- Use the benefits of being under 27 –France has an array of extensive discounts for young people under the age of 27. This is applicable to train tickets, museum passes and a lot of other things.
- Save in café bars – having a quick drink and a snack while standing at the counter/bar will also help decrease your bill.
- Search for group tours– you can find a lot of group tours where you will travel with strangers but it’s going to be much cheaper than traveling alone. One good example is the Best hop on hop off Paris tour.
France is everything that people say it is- and much more. The rich history, castles, the amazing architecture, the charming villages, the mesmerizing Alps, the culture in the metropolitan cities… All these make France one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And the French people aren’t at all arrogant as people normally assume they are.
However, keep in mind that it can be quite difficult to fully experience France on a super tight budget even if you’re applying all these tips. Make sure you have some extra Euros in your pocket when visiting so you can see the best France has to offer.