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How to save money while travelling around France

How to save money while travelling around France
Seeing the sights in France doesn't have to break the bank. Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP
There are thousands of reasons why France is the world’s most popular tourist destination - but getting to experience even a fraction of them can quickly get expensive, if you aren't watching your money closely.

But if you’re careful, it’s possible to see the sights without damaging your relationship with your bank manager too much – even in the notoriously expensive capital, Paris. And the same is true across the whole of the country. 

Here’s how to save money while travelling in France.

Accommodation

Unsurprisingly, hotels can be expensive in France, notably in the major cities and resorts, and especially at peak periods – though you can save if you book well in advance. Alternatively, check out last-minute offers on price comparison sites. You could spot a bargain.

Airbnb has thousands of listings across the country, or you could stay in a hostel in larger cities – some of them have private rooms, but in many cases you would be sharing a dormitory. If you’re okay with that, there’s money to be saved. 

France, like most of Europe, is also very good at camping, so if you’re heading away from the maddening city crowds, you could perhaps consider staying at campsites. Many offer chalets, so you don’t necessarily have to pitch up with your own tent. Be aware, rocking up without a booking isn’t advisable – and you’ll probably need a Covid-19 health pass.

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Travel

Rail and long-distance bus services are generally very good in France, and you should not really worry about the cost of travel. There are ways to get around relatively cheaply.

Ouigo, the low-cost national TGV rail service, offers tickets from as little as €10, while a number of budget bus services travel the length and breadth of the country. It is worth checking availability and prices early, as low-price seats do get booked quickly. 

Alternatively, consider hiring a car for travelling beyond major rail and bus routes. A car makes it easier to access many other isolated nature spots or start points for hiking trails.

If you don’t want to hire a car, another option is a car-share service, such as BlaBlaCar, in which drivers offer seats in their vehicles for a small fee to cover fuel costs. 

Alternatively, if you’re reasonably fit and are in no particular rush, perhaps consider cycling. France is increasingly cycle friendly, with many safe routes for riders of all abilities.

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Food and drink

French gastronomy. What can we say? It’s on Unesco’s ‘intangible heritage’ list. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s beyond the reach of travellers on a budget.

Sure, expect to have to sell a kidney if you want to dine à la carte at a grand palais in Paris – but eating well in France does not mean having to break the bank.

And, yes, there are the ubiquitous fast food multinationals – France is McDonald’s second-biggest market. But, the good news is, you don’t have to choose between the high-end and the arches.

Watch out for the flurry of activity inside and outside restaurants in French towns every weekday lunchtime. Then, check out the menus on the boards that suddenly appear. 

You’ll see two and three-course set lunch meals priced to attract office workers and other staff with subsidised meal vouchers burning a hole in their pockets. Most of the meals won’t trouble the Michelin Guide inspectors, but they’ll fill your stomach for a few euros and offer a change from burgers and pizzas. You’ll even see a vegetable.

Meanwhile, boulangers and food stores also offer sandwiches and snacks.

If you’re on the road, look out for the blue-and-red Les Routiers’ signs. They mean good, hearty, if simple, reasonably-priced meals inside.

Then there is the famous café culture – one of the most French things you can do is sit outside on an establishment’s terrasse with an espresso, watching the world go by. Avoid the tourist traps, and prices aren’t that bad.

If your budget is tighter still, and you’re in self-catering accommodation, the cheapest way to eat is to buy ingredients at a store and prepare your own meals and packed lunches.

Tourist attractions

Thousands of tourist attractions in France, such as museums or historical buildings, do charge an entry fee. And it can get expensive to see everything.

Major towns and cities across the country offer ‘tourism passports’, such as this one in Bordeaux, offering reduced price or free travel on public transport and entry to several venues. It is always worth checking the deals on offer at local tourism offices.

Even better, some venues offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month – which may involve an unseemly dash on that day to take in as much as possible. In many cases, this offer is only available during the off-season – but some venues are currently doing it all year round. It’s worth looking out for, as it could save several euros.

After a pause in 2020 because of Covid-19, many towns and cities are again hosting festivals and events – many of which are free to explore and enjoy, though because of the health situation they will require a health pass. Most take place during the summer, but there are some at other times of year, too.

Remember, too, it’s free to enjoy the varied and breathtakingly beautiful countryside of France. In the summer, hiking or spending an afternoon at a lake is an inexpensive way to relax and unwind.

Travel in the off-season

Finally, a top tip for saving money while travelling in France is to plan your visit for the off-season.

This means booking a holiday in May for early spring weather, or in September to avoid the high-summer crowds and peak prices.

Not only is there the possibility to save money by travelling in the off-season, but it can be more enjoyable without crowds of people all doing the same thing at the same time.

Be aware, however, some places do close out of season.


Member comments

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  1. Get a discount card for TGV and / or TER in your region – this can save you around 30% on the train fares (and often even more).

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