How to Visit France on a Budget
France currently ranks as the #1 tourist destination in the world after welcoming an impressive 86.9 million international visitors in 2017 alone. This is not all that surprising when you consider its varied and beautiful landscape, abundance of history and famed gastronomy.
Yet la belle France is also renowned for being an expensive affair – but only if you’re not aware of these super nifty hacks for a low-cost trip to the charming nation.
1. Choose a cheap time to visit
Indeed, this may sound obvious, but being savvy when choosing dates to visit France will help keep costs down. As with many European countries, the summer is the most expensive time to travel. From Bastille Day (14th July) until mid-August, the French themselves often head to the Riviera which significantly pushes up the price of accommodation.
Mid-winter isn’t inexpensive either; Christmas markets are more popular than ever, prompting cities such as Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg to be a pricey, festive getaway option. If you’re calendar allows it, or if you’re on a gap year, avoid visits to France over these periods. With temperate weather, fewer crowds and affordable rates, your best bet is to enjoy France in spring or autumn.
There are several ways to travel to France including international flights or via land and sea from other countries in Europe. Booking transport in advance is one of the best cost-cutting tips for cheap travel in France. Save money on getting there, and you will have more money free for sightseeing and entertainment.
These are some of the cheapest ways to get to France:
There are some great deals to be had with low cost airlines from countries in Europe. To get the best deals we recommend searching flights on Skyscanner which is the best flight comparison website.
These airlines fly direct to locations in France from the United Kingdom: Air France, Ryanair, Germania flights, British Airways, Air Corsica, Skytaxi, Flybe, Jet2, Lydd Air, easyJet, bmi, Vueling Airlines and Transavia France.
Other airlines which fly to France from international destinations include: KLM, Austrian Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, Finnair, Aer Lingus, Norwegian Air International, Aegean Airlines, Iberia, Alitalia, Brussels Airlines, HOP!, Czech Airlines, SWISS, Luxair, Smart Wings, TAP Air Portugal, Blue Air, Aurigny, eurowings, Air Malta, Norwegian and Tunisair.
The Eurostar is a popular option for people short on time as you can get between London and Paris in two hours and fifteen minutes. Ticket prices vary but the earlier you book the cheaper the fare.
If you have a few weeks or months free to explore, you might want to consider buying an interrail pass which offers a cost effective way to see more of the country.
From the UK and other countries in Europe the cheapest way to get to France is by bus.
You can travel from most major cities, for example from London to Paris you can book buses with Flixbus, National Express, Eurolines and Ouibus. Most buses depart from London's Victoria bus station and arrive at either Paris' Porte Maillot or Quai de Bercy bus station. Journeys can be taken in the day or overnight and take around 7 - 8 hours.
Journeys can be long, and slightly uncomfortable but the price of tickets are very cheap!
3. Visit lesser known destinations
The sad truth is that many of France’s most famous cities – Paris, Nice, Cannes and Saint-Tropez – are tremendously pricey. Of course, this does not bode well for the frugal sightseer. A more budget-friendly option is to pay a visit to some of the lesser known cities.
Marseille offers the same coastline as its costly Côte d’Azur counterparts, Lyon boasts the title of France’s gastronomical capital whilst being much cheaper than Paris, and Brittany in the north is rich with historical culture. As well as being more forgiving on the wallet, spending time in these cities will provide you with a taste of authentic French life away from the masses of tourists.
5. Book Accommodation in advance
Finding somewhere to stay will be one of your biggest expenses when travelling in France.
There are thousands of hotels, hostels, apartments and AirBnB throughout the country but prices can be high especially during tourist peak times like summer. If you are looking for somewhere cheap to stay, we recommend using Hostelbookers or Booking.com to search for budget accommodation.
There are also lots of highly rated hotels in Paris and other cities which don't require you to spend a fortune. Book well in advance to get the best prices.
5. Eat (and drink) well for less
French cuisine is world-famous. Luckily for those on a budget, it’s very easy to eat great French food for just a few Euros. First, look out for ‘prix fixe’ menus at restaurants as these encompass three, or sometimes four, courses for as little as 10€.
Second, a trip to a local boulangerie or patisserie can be a very cheap option for breakfast or lunch.
Third, since France is home to so many vineyards and grape varieties, wine is often very affordable; at some restaurants a glass of house wine can be as cheap as 2,50€ (i.e. cheaper than a soft drink!).
6. Look out for cheap train fares
Owing to its extensive SNCF network - where trains regularly speed through the countryside at 200mph - train travel in France is comfortable and rapid. It’s easily possible to travel across the entire country in one day. Unfortunately, train fares can be high-priced if you’re not aware of some of these price-lowering tactics.
Ouigo is a low-cost trainline whereby you can travel for a fraction of the usual price, but be aware that you can only book online and only from three weeks in advance. Intercités 100% Éco offers cheap train travel between Paris and four of France’s biggest cities (Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Strasbourg).
For those who are in France for a while, purchasing a discount card (e.g. a 50€ ‘Carte Jeune’ for those ages 12-27) may be worthwhile to enjoy a 25% discount. Although, remain vigilant at all train stations as pick-pocketing is the most commonly-reported problem by Brits abroad in France.
7. Check out the tourist attractions for free
Fortunately for those on a tighter budget, many of France’s famous tourist attractions can be enjoyed for free, if you’re in the know.
There are lots of free things to do in Paris, for example, on the first Sunday of every month, the Louvre, the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay are free for people of all ages. Moreover, many galleries, museums and chateaux across the country will give you free entry if you hold a valid student card, or EU identity card showing that you’re under 26.
With any luck, these euro-saving travel hacks will allow you to still enjoy all that France has to offer! For more useful travel advice, and to sign up for updates about your destination, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Aware campaign.
By Charlotte Day
Have you got any tips or recommends for travelling in France on the cheap? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.