Wine, cheese, the Eiffel Tower, castles, beautiful beaches, snooty waiters – France is famous for a lot of things.
It’s a beautiful country with stunning coastlines, picturesque valleys, world-class wine, and tons of history. And despite what you might hear, the French are a wonderful people who love to stop and smell the roses.
I love backpacking around France.
There’s nothing like a picnic along the Seine or a spending day in the French countryside to make life seem beautiful. France is everything that people make it out to be and then some. Its long history means there are plenty of beautiful ruins, castles, and cathedrals worth exploring. There’s something for every interest here.
Traveling France can be expensive and those on a super tight budget may find it hard to experience everything France has to offer.
However, having traveled around France multiple times, I’ve picked up a wide variety of money-saving tips and off-beat attractions to see. In short, it’s possible to travel France without breaking the bank — and without missing out on what the country has to offer.
This travel guide can help you plan a trip, save money, and ensure you make the most out of your time in my favorite European destination!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in France
1. Spend time in Paris
Paris has everything – the Louvre, impressionist museums, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, magnificent parks, jazz, and great food. It’s as magical as people say and while it would take a lifetime to see it all, four or five days can give you a good idea. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world.
2. Explore the Loire Valley
The Loire is lovely and picturesque, with tons of vineyards and chateaus. The region is home to some of the best wines in the world, beautiful small towns, and great food. It’s an area not to be missed. It’s my favorite part of France.
3. Tour Marseille
Marseille is a metropolitan city that also has a rich history filled with nightlife, great restaurants, theaters, museums, and even an international soccer stadium. While the city is a bit gritty and industrial, it’s worth a visit for its beautiful waterfront and exciting mix of cultures.
4. Hang out in Nice
Nice is nice (get it?). This seaside town in the south is a popular destination for budget travelers who want to soak up some sun but might not be able to afford Cannes or Monaco. I don’t think the beach here is that great, but the central location makes it easy to explore the rest of the coast (and its better beaches).
5. Drink wine in Bordeaux
Some of the best wine in the world is made in Bordeaux. While an expensive destination, it’s beautiful and worth every penny. Bordeaux has the longest shopping street in Europe, amazing seafood (eat at Le Petit Commerce), a historic center, and of course, wine. Next to Paris, it’s my favorite place in France.
Other Things to See and Do in France
1. See the D-Day beaches in Normandy
On June 6th, 1944, the allies launched Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history. Over 300,000 allied troops were involved in the operation, which took place in Normandy (some 20,000 troops died in this operation alone). Here you can learn about the D-Day landings along the beaches of northern France and see the memorials and museums detailing the history of the event. You can still see some of the old bunkers and fortifications too.
2. Wander the Palace of Versailles
Located very close to Paris, this royal palace was completed by Louis XIV in 1715 and was used by the French kings until the French Revolution in 1789. Constructed at the height of French power, the complex sought to show off the monarch’s tremendous wealth. It’s as awe-inspiring today as it was back then. Tickets to the entire complex cost 27 EUR. Plan to spend the entire day — you don’t want to miss any part of this opulent place.
3. Explore history in Lyon
The area around Lyon has wonderful castles and small villages. It’s great for those looking to explore the French countryside and take a trip back to medieval France. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and truly feels like you have stepped back into the past. Don’t miss the botanical garden, the basilica, and touring the city’s Old Quarter.
4. Hobnob with the rich in Monaco
Monaco is a sovereign city-state on the French Riviera. This tiny kingdom is home to winding streets, beautiful buildings, a world-famous casino, and gigantic modern yachts. Hang out with society’s well-heeled who flock to the Cote D’Azur from other parts of France during the summer. Spanning just a couple square kilometers and home to under 40,000 people, it’s one of the smallest countries in the world!
5. See Alsace
This northeast region along the border with Germany is a beautiful place to visit. The mixing of Germanic and French influences characterizes the region, and the old town of Colmar is the main attraction. Some of the buildings in the town date back to the 1300s, making it as picturesque a French town as one could ever want!
6. Wander through Parc de la Villette
This Parisian park is host to a science museum and some other odd attractions. There is a large collection of architectural follies, theme gardens, and open spaces for activity and exploration. It was designed for children as well as adults and is a neat place to check out.
7. Return to the trenches
France was ground zero during World War I (1914-1918) and there are still many indicators of the damage caused during those years around the country. For example, two important battles took place at Vimy Ridge (which marked a huge success for Canadian forces) and Verdun. Both sites have set up excellent tourist centers and visiting facilities. It’s a moving and educational experience.
8. Explore Roman ruins
France has some of the best Roman ruins outside of Italy. Orange, Nimes, and Arles all have beautiful Roman theaters, and Nimes also contains a well-preserved temple (I loved Nimes a lot). It’s certainly a surprise to see so many indicators of Roman rule in the south of France, and these sites are definitely worth a visit.
9. Visit the Medieval town of Carcassonne
Carcassonne is a medieval walled city. Legend has it that the town survived a siege when one of the townswomen had the bright idea of feeding the remaining food to a pig. Once they fattened it up, they threw it over the fortifications so that it appeared that they were so well-fed that they were being wasteful and gluttonous. The attacking troops gave up and went home. That’s probably not true, but this town still retains a lot of medieval character and offers plenty of interesting shops and alleys to explore.
10. Go skiing
The French Alps offer some of the best ski slopes in Europe. If you’re in Europe in the winter months and at a loss for what to do, consider getting a group together and renting a ski chalet, or staying at one of the slope-side hotels or hostels. Bring plenty of beer and wine to warm you up after a long day on the hills. Note that skiing in France is not cheap (life passes usually cost upwards of 75 EUR per day).
11. See Dune de pyla
This sand dune is located an hour outside Bordeaux in Pyla Sur Mer, a resort town where many of France’s well-to-do spend the summer. It’s the largest sand dune in Europe and the result of winds eroding one shore of the bay and blowing sand over. The dune is nearly 3 kilometers (2 miles) long and up to 110 meters (360 feet) high in some places.
12. Wander the Louvre
The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world, with thousands of square feet of space and millions of artifacts and works of art(including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo). To see it all, you need at least two full days, but you can do the highlights in a full afternoon. It costs 17 EUR.
13. Go diving
Diving may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of France, but Marseille is making a name for itself as the country’s diving capital. Take a trip out into the Mediterranean, where you can explore tunnels, caves, and admire colorful sea sponges, anemones, and sea fans. You can also spot moray eels and octopus as well as numerous of shipwrecks, such as Le Liban (1882) and Le Chaouen (1961). June to October, when the water is a bit warmer, are the best months for diving here. Prices start at 100 EUR.
For more information on specific cities in France, check out these guides:
France Travel Costs
Accommodation – Dorm rooms in hostels with 8-10 beds range from 20-40 EUR per night, with Paris being on the higher end. Private rooms in hostels cost around 75 EUR or more. Free Wi-Fi is standard and some hostels include self-catering facilities.
Budget hotels begin around 60 EUR per night for a double room with free WiFi and air-conditioning. Accommodations are cheaper outside Paris, Bordeaux, and the French Riviera.
Airbnb is available around the country. Private rooms start around 35 EUR while entire homes/apartments start at 65 EUR (but usually cost at least double that — especially in Paris).
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available around the country. A basic plot for two people without electricity costs around 22 EUR per night. Wild camping is illegal in France.
Food – Food in France has a long history and is intricately intertwined with the culture. Fresh bread (especially baguettes), tasty local cheeses, and plentiful wine may be stereotypical staples of the cuisine, but they really are some of the must-eat foods in the country. Be sure to also try croque monsieur (a hot ham and cheese sandwich), pot-au-feu (beef stew), steak frites (steak and fries), and if you’re really adventurous you can sample traditional delicacies like frog legs, escargot (snails) or foie gras (a fattened duck or goose liver).
Buying your own food in France can be very cheap and the best way to experience the country’s cuisine. There are many breads, cheese, and meat shops around – and it’s how the French eat. They go to their local markets, buy food, and cook. You can make your own lunch for around 10 EUR for two people (including wine if you’re savvy enough). Pre-made sandwiches at cheap local shops cost about 4-7 EUR.
Conversely, eating at a restaurant costs between 20-35 EUR for a meal including a glass of wine.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 9 EUR for a combo meal. A cheap meal at a casual take-out place costs around 10-15 EUR.
Beer costs 6-7 EUR while a cappuccino/latte is around 3 EUR. Bottled water is 1 EUR.
If you plan on cooking your own meals, expect to spend between 45-65 EUR for a week’s worth of groceries. This gets you basic staples like bread, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat.
Activities – Most attractions and museum entrance fees cost between 10-20 EUR. Wine tours cost around 70-90 EUR for a half-day tour. Going up the Eiffel Tower costs between 16-26 EUR. Visiting the Versailles Palace and Gardens costs 27 EUR. The Louvre is 17 EUR while diving costs around 100 EUR.
France Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget, prepare to spend 70 EUR per day. On this suggested budget, you’ll be staying in hostel dorms, cooking all of your meals, using public transportation to get around, limiting your drinking, and sticking to mostly free and cheap activities like free walking tours, parks and gardens, and free museums.
On a mid-range budget of 155 EUR per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for most meals, enjoy a few drinks, take the train between cities, and do more paid activities like wine tours and a visit to Versailles.
On a “luxury” budget of 300 EUR or more a day, you can stay in hotels, eat out for all your meals, rent a car to get around, drink more, and tour whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
France Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
France can destroy your budget if you aren’t careful. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save here too. Here are some money-saving tips to help you reduce your costs:
- Have a picnic – Eating out in France, especially in Paris, is an expensive affair. Restaurants can break a day’s budget quickly. Thankfully, there’s nothing more French than a picnic. Head to the local market; buy some wonderful cheese, bread, fruits, and meats, and have a picnic and watch the day go by. You can have a great meal for less than 10 EUR.
- Take the (slow) train – Train travel in Europe is cheap and it’s the easiest way to get around France. The TGV line can be expensive, but if you get the slow train or have a Eurail pass, you’ll save money.
- Drink wine – In France, the wine is cheaper than water (well, almost!). While you shouldn’t skip drinking water, drink wine over other forms of alcohol to save big. A nice bottle can cost as little as 3 EUR!
- Shop at the markets – Want great French cuisine? Do what the locals do and head to the outdoor markets. Visit the cheese guy, the fish guy, the bread guy, and everyone else to get the best local ingredients to make yourself a perfect French meal. It saves a lot of money compared to eating out.
- Pre-game your night out – Drinking in bars is incredibly overpriced, especially in Paris. Drink cheap wine before you go out and save on drinks at the bars.
- Skip the clubs – Clubs in France are expensive and charge an entrance fee (it can be over 20 EUR!). Drinks cost 12 EUR or more. If you don’t want to spend 90 EUR in one night, skip the clubs.
- Rideshare – If you’re flexible in your schedule, use the ridesharing service BlaBlaCar and catch rides with locals between cities (or countries). Drivers are verified and it’s perfectly safe (though sometimes rides don’t show up, which is why you need to be flexible).
- Eat a prix-fixe meal – This is a set lunch menu where a 2-3 course meal costs about 15-20 EUR. This is a far more affordable option than just ordering off the menu. I always eat out for lunch and then cook for myself for dinners.
- Stay with a local – If you want to save money and get some local insight into the country, use Couchsurfing. There are a lot of hosts in this country. I highly recommend using the site at least once to lower your accommodation costs, make a friend, learn local tips, and have a kitchen to cook in!
- Take advantage of being under 26 – France has EXTENSIVE discounts for people who are under 26 if they have the ISIC card – be sure to get one!
- Bring a water bottle – Since the tap water here is safe to drink you should bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in France
Looking for the best hostel in France? There are tons of options in every major city. Here are some of my favorite hostels in France:
- St. Christopher’s Canal (Paris)
- Les Piaules (Paris)
- Generator Hostel (Paris)
- St. Christopher’s Gare du Nord (Paris)
- Central Hostel (Bordeaux)
- Hostel 20 (Bordeaux)
- Villa Saint Exupery Beach (Nice)
- Vertigo Vieux-Port (Marseille)
How to Get Around France
Public transportation – Local transit systems are reliable and cost between 1-3 EUR per trip. Most cities and towns have extensive train, bus, and tram systems. Transportation to and from the airport into the city center is generally affordable and user-friendly.
Paris has a “carnet” of 10 single-use tickets that costs 14.50 EUR. You can get a one-day to five-day pass (a ParisVisite) for all modes of public transportation (bus, metro, trams, and suburban trains called the RER) for between 13.20-42.20 EUR. It also gives you discounts on some major Parisian landmarks. You can buy tickets at any metro station.
Expect to pay around 12 EUR to get to Paris from Charles de Gaulle.
Budget Airlines – France has several major airports, and budget airlines are popular. It’s an affordable and easy way to get around the country if you’re not big on time.
Paris to Nice averages 50 EUR one way, and Paris to Marseille is also about 50 EUR one way. Book at least a month early to scoop up great deals. In the off and shoulder seasons, you can get these flights for as low as 15-25 EUR.
Just keep in mind that most budget airlines charge extra for checked baggage and often require you to print your ticket out in advance.
Buses – France has several bus operators, including:
My recommended bus company is Flixbus.
A 10-hour bus trip from Paris to Marseille costs around 15-30 EUR while a trip from Paris to Strasbourg costs 17-25 EUR. A 7.5-hour journey from Paris to Bordeaux starts around 13 EUR, while the 3-hour journey from Paris to Tours (in the Loire Valley) is around 12 EUR. A longer ride like 15 hours from Paris to Nice starts around 35 EUR.
While the bus is great, I generally prefer to travel by train in France as it’s a nicer, more comfortable experience.
Trains – France has regular trains as well as the world-famous high-speed TGV. SNCF is France’s national railway, and you can buy tickets on their website. But even the regular train is much quicker than taking the bus!
If bought last-minute, a train trip from Paris to Nice costs 55-105 EUR. But if you buy in advance, Paris to Nice can cost as little as 25 EUR in 2nd class. A last-minute train trip from Paris to Strasbourg costs 70-80 EUR, but advance tickets in second class start around 19 EUR. Shorter trips like Marseille to Nice start around 36 EUR, while you can get from Paris to Tours for 19 EUR. Good discounts on train travel exist for travelers under 26-years-old!
You may also want to consider getting a Eurail Pass, which allows travelers to explore Europe by providing a set number of stops in a specific time period. These passes are continent-wide, country-specific, or regional.
Ridesharing – If your schedule is flexible, use a ridesharing service and catch rides with locals between cities. Drivers are verified and it’s perfectly safe. It’s usually cheaper than the bus too. BlaBlaCar is the most popular. There’s sometimes a language barrier but, for the most part, it’s easy to use and much more interesting than the bus or train!
Car rental – France is a great destination to rent a car and road trip (just avoid driving in cities like Paris; they can be a nightmare). Rentals start at around 30 EUR per day for a multi-day rental. Drivers need to be at least 21 years of age and usually need to have a credit card in their name.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in France is very safe, but it’s not for everyone. Make sure you have a sign and that you dress presentably. Be flexible too as wait times can be long outside major urban areas. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
Group tour – If you’d rather explore the country as part of a tour, check out The Nomadic Network. TNN is a tour company I founded for travel enthusiasts that want to get off the beaten path and really get to experience a destination. We offer affordable small-group tours to incredible destinations, bringing travelers together from all around the world!
When to Go to France
Peak season in France is the summer, when France gets incredibly crowded. Prices skyrocket during this time but the overall atmosphere and weather is great so it’s still worth visiting during peak season. Temperatures average between 16-24°C (61-75°F).
The shoulder season is spring and fall (April-May and September-October, respectively). It’s still warm during this time but there aren’t as many crowds and prices are cheaper. This is my favorite time to visit France. The weather is good, the crowds fewer, and the prices are lower.
Winter is from November to February. It gets cold, even in the south. Average winter temperatures range from 0-8°C (32-46°F). On the other hand, the Christmas season is fantastic — you’ll find Christmas markets and festivals galore!
How to Stay Safe in France
France is very safe for backpacking and solo traveling. Violent crime is rare so travelers should feel safe here, both day and night.
That said, scams and petty theft can occur (especially pickpocketing in Paris) so be on the lookout. Always keep your valuable secure and out of sight when on busy public transportation and in crowded tourist areas.
Solo female travelers should feel safe here, though the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.).
One common scam in Paris is to get tourists to sign a petition against some common cause. Once you sign, they’ll pester you for a donation. To avoid getting ripped off, simply decline anyone approaching you with a petition.
To avoid other potential scams, you can read about common travel scams to avoid here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
France Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- HostelPass – This new card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and glad it finallt exists.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, a free checked bag.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train!
- Take Walks – This walking tour company provides inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock and they have some of the best and most insightful tours in all of France.
- Fat Tire Tours – For bike tours, use this company! They have fun, interactive tours led by expert local guides. You’ll get to see all the main sights without breaking the bank!
GO DEEPER: Nomadic Matt’s In-Depth Budget Guide to Paris!
For more in-depth information, check out my guidebook to Paris written for budget travelers like yourself! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money in one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on- and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, and non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, plus much more! Click here to learn more and get started.
France Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more tips for your trip? Check out all the articles I’ve written on France travel and continue planning your trip: