Here is a new installment of my cheap travel series, the last one was about the UK, and today I will talk about my homeland, La France!
I am always shocked when I go back to see the high price of everything, a cheap travel to France is not really easy, and if you have a really small budget, you should look for other destinations, or limit your time in Paris and spend more in the countryside. Traveling slowly will also save you money as you can rent a place for a week and cook there.
Paris is really unique, but you can find the Southern feel in Italy or Spain for at least 30% off, the Celtic Western culture in the UK or Ireland and the Eastern traditions in Germany at a cheaper price. With that said, here is how to make the most of your hard earned cash when traveling in France.
When to visit France
January and February are grey and rainy, unless you go for a ski trip or the winter sales.
March is spring in the South, April is spring in the North, you can expect sunny days but still a bit of cold.
My favorite period is May-June because people are less grumpy, the days are long, you can have a picnic in a park at 8pm with lots of light, and there are like 5 long weekends so everyone relaxes. It is time for Rolland Garros, the Cannes Festival, the Fete de la Musique (Music day on June 21st) where everyone plays music in the streets on the longest day of the year, and other fun activities.
July is hot, schools are closed, the French are all packed like sardines on the beach, but there are lots of cool festivals of music, theater, art… in smaller towns like Avignon, Marciac… You can attend great concerts and July 14th is our National Day so expect fireworks. In Paris, the best ones are next to the Tour Eiffel.
August can be hot in Paris but the city is deserted by the Parisians. No queues, no traffic.
September is beautiful with autumn colors and a back to school feel, you can get low season prices on the coast.
October and November are a bit cold and sad, but great for art and fashion enthusiasts. There is a sleepless art night at the beginning of October that is quite cool with museums open until 6am.
December is a lovely month with all the Christmas lights.
Cheap accommodation in France
The bulk of your budget, as usual in European countries, will be spent on accommodation. If you are on a last minute weekend, expect to pay $120 and up for a basic room in Paris. With a little preparation, you can cut that down.
Cheap hotels in France
The cheapest hotel chains is F1, which is comparable to a motel6 except the bathroom is shared, and Ibis that would be a kind of Super 8, slightly above with private bath. You can book rooms in a F1 from 29 euros per night. I think they have occasional 19 euros sales. Book as soon in advance as you can. There are a few just outside Paris with access to public transportation, but most of the F1 are at a highway junction and you will need a car to get there. Ibis has more central location.
A good deal for families is Novotel that allows two kids under 12 to sleep for free in their parents’ room and enjoy a complimentary breakfast.
You can use booking.com to find smaller hotels and pensions, but won’t find the chain hotels there. Your best bet for chain hotels (except F1 that has its own web) is Expedia, and they have a price match guarantee.
Cheap rentals in France
The next thing you should try is Airbnb, as I said before I am a big fan of renting people’s house and you can find really great deals. It won’t be as cheap as a F1 but if you can’t book months in advance that is the way to go. Expect a private room in someone’s flat to be 30-60 euros a night and a private studio or 1 bed 60-100 euros or more. You can cook your own meals there and save on food too. Please use my tell a friend link to register .
Camping in France
Most campings charge around 20 euros for two people and a tent, which is not that cheap if you can get a 29 euros hotel room. If you aren’t too interested in extra amenities like a pool, check ‘’camping municipal’’, the council campground that is usually cheaper. You can also pitch your tent for free almost anywhere, but 500 meters from a national monument and on the beach. Some towns have some campgrounds for the ‘’gens du voyage’’, the gypsies and other traveling groups. Those sites are generally empty and you can camp there too. In National Parks, overnight camping is tolerated from sunset to sunrise but you can’t make a fire or stay several days unless you carry a permit.
Cheap transportation in France
Until recently, the bus lines were only for international travel, not to compete with the train’s monopoly, but Eurolines has started a few long distance buses that are quite cheap and allow you to check out cities in between. Eurolines also has a bus pass that covers several countries, check their site for more information.
The train timetable and fares are available here. You should book your train tickets 90 days in advance to get the best possible price, for 19 euros you can cross the whole country, instead of the regular 90+ price. BUT you have to book three months in advance. You get a code to print your ticket at the station with the credit card you used for the reservation. Sites like Troc des trains allow you to exchange or resell your tickets, and buy cheap last minute tickets people don’t need. FB also has a Eurostar resell ticket group, but you need to buy a ticket without a name. For insurance reason since you go under the sea and travel internationally you can’t travel if another name is on the ticket. You could be refused boarding, although they rarely check.
If you are flying, check out secondary airports in smaller towns. Ryanair, Easyjet, Germanwings, Wizzair, Air Europa, Vueling… Are a few of the low costs flying to France. For long distance flying is often the cheaper option, but you have to book 6 to 9 months in advance and make sure to check the airport transfer fees, they are sometimes higher than the flight.
Cheap transportation in Paris
The bus and metro system in Paris is pretty easy to understand, and $20 will get you unlimited travel for a week. Unless you plan on visiting tons of museum, don’t go for the tourist transport card that includes museum discounts, and just get a normal weekly metro pass.
The absolute cheapest way to get around is by bicycle. The Velib system allows you to get a bicycle for 1 euro a day, 30 minutes at a time. There are hundreds of bicycle stations, you pick up one, use it for 30 minutes, return it at another station. I know there has been problem with people trying to get a bike with a foreign credit card, since they ask for a $200 deposit, but it depends on your card.
Most other cities have a similar bus pass and shared bicycle system Paris do. And if you are in shape, you can walk about anywhere, the big cities are made for pedestrians.
Cheap attractions in France
I sound like a broken record, but Google the places you want to go and find out if they have a free day. In most public monuments, that is the first Sunday of the month. The Louvre, the castle of Versailles, are a few examples you can visit for free. The Louvre is free for under 25 on Friday nights too. The second weekend of September is national monuments day, and monuments are free, plus some that usually aren’t open to the public allow visitors to have a peek.
If you are a UE student you should get a discount so don’t forget your student ID, or passport if you are under 18.
The Eiffel Tower is about $20 and if you would like to see Paris from above you can try the Arc de Triomphe instead, for $10 you will see the Eiffel Tower and all Paris from the Champs Elysées. The hill of Montmartre and the Parc de Belleville are free to visit and offer cool panoramic views over the city. You can also climb the bell tower of Notre Dame under $10.
The Eiffel Tower sprinkles every hour for the first ten minutes of the hour, from sunset to midnight. Bring a bottle of wine, a baguette and some cheese, and watch it from the gardens of Trocadéro.
The national parks are free, and some offer free altitude accommodation for hikers. One of my favorite is the Calanques, next to Marseille, a chain of high cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean sea.
Cheap eats in France
The best way to eat cheap in France is to buy a baguette, and anything you fancy filling it with. Paté, dry sausage, cheese, cold cuts… with a tomato and a fruit you are all set.
In the morning you can buy croissants fresh from the oven at the bakery and eat on the go. Breakfasts are really overpriced, usually around 8 euros for bread, jam and coffee. The best deal is the lunch one if you want to eat in restaurant. Opt for the day menu, that should cost 8-15 euros, and include two or three dishes, coffee and a glass of wine. When on the road, look for the restaurants where the truckers stop for a huge hearty meal at a low price. In town you can go for pizza, Chinese or Indian if you are tired of the French food, you should find menus under 10 euros.
A few cool spots in France
Bordeaux Wine, anyone? Bordeaux was a pretty ugly city that underwent dramatic change over the past 10 years and is now featuring a vibrant food scene (oysters, duck dishes, more wine) and a renovated old town, a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Aix en Provence is an old medieval town with colorful markets, and beautiful surroundings that inspired many painters, including Cézanne. The narrow streets and many fountains are refreshing in summer when the dry landscape around is burning.
The Loire Valley has more castles that you can visit in a month, charming B&Bs, and more wine!
Vézelay is a hill town surrounded by sunflower fields, where Mary Magdalen is said to be buried. Beautiful for hikes, many people come in pilgrimage.
Lyon is the second city in France and has a lovely old town circled by two rivers, you can try all kinds of sausages and pork dishes, washed down with… the region’s delicious red wine.
Avignon, the city of the Popes, also hosts a really cool theater festival in July.
Orange, Nimes and Arles have beautiful remains of Roman theaters and arches of triumph.
Giverny and Auvers sur Oise. One hour from Paris, Monet’s house and Van Gogh’s tomb are the perfect destination for a day trip.
The Alps are a must if you like nature. In summer you can hike, mountain bike, swim in alpine lakes, and there are tons of other sports activities for all ages, like rafting or paragliding.
The Bretagne region, at the West of the country has a Celtic influence, an air of mystery, rugged coastlines and the best crepes of the country. No wine for a change, but a delicious apple cider.
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