Traveling Europe is not cheap, and France is, from far, one of the most expensive European countries to travel to. You might have been saving for months for this dream trip and might be wondering how to stretch your budget once in France. Whether you are still planning your French trip or are about to go, we have listed the best money-saving tips for a trip to France so you can save your hard-earned money while still having a blast, enjoying all of what the country has to offer.
Must-know budget tips for traveling in France on a budget
#1 – Enjoy free activities
What if I told you I could give you a day tour of Paris, seeing all the highlights, for only the price of the daily metro pass (12 euros)? It is totally doable to visit a city without spending much. For instance, in Paris, you can see almost everything for free, you don’t actually need to climb up the Eiffel Tower, you don’t need to pay 17 euros for the Louvre if you only want to see the Joconde, because trust me, the only thing you’ll see is a horde of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks.
You don’t have to go inside every building and pay an entrance fee each time. In most French cities, just walking around, you’ll see everything you need.
Take advantage of free stuff too. There are tons of places you can visit for free in France, like gardens, most churches, festivals, public museums on the first Sunday of each month… Always check the tourism office’s website for the city you’re going to visit. They often offer free guided walking tours or have a self-paced itinerary set up. They also list all the city’s attractions and events. Visiting Paris and France on a budget is easier than you might think.
#2 – Check out the City Pass
Most city’s tourism offices offer a sort of City Pass, which includes museums and main landmarks. It’s usually a good deal if you’re planning to visit a lot of museums, if not, I’ll advise comparing the individual prices for the places you want to visit to the overall cost of the pass.
#3 – Be careful with the transportation passes
Figuring public transportation in a new city can be tricky. Should you get a pass or just go with one-time tickets? You’ll have to do the math. It’s not always cheaper to get the pass. In Paris there are 5 zones, if you’re not planning to go to Disney World, you won’t need a pass for the 5 zones. Be careful with the people working at the metro station, who are there to help tourists, they get bonuses when they sell the most expensive passes.
#4 – Order the “Menu du jour” at the restaurant
French gastronomy is a whole part of a trip to France and one of the top experiences to have while there. Unfortunately, restaurants in France are not super budget-friendly. To still enjoy a good meal at the restaurant without breaking the bank, check out restaurants that offer a “Menu du jour” (menu of the day). It will usually include 2 to 3 courses, maybe a drink, and will cost around 10 to 15 euros. You can usually choose between a couple of dishes, but sometimes it’s a set menu.
Related article – Top French dishes you need to try during your trip to France
#5 – Avoid eating in touristy areas
Restaurants in touristy areas are often overpriced and sometimes not even that good. Try to find restaurants locals go to, outside of super touristy areas, especially in Paris.
#6 – You don’t always have to tip
It’s not common in France to tip, most French people don’t. The waiting staff is paid a full salary, so tipping is not mandatory, but it’s always nice to leave something if you’re satisfied with the service. Apart from restaurants, tipping is really not customary in France.
#7 – Water is free and house wine is cheap
While eating at restaurants, order the free water (“Une carafe d’eau s’il-vous-plaît”), you don’t really need to pay for mineral water. Drinks are usually a huge chunk of your food budget and can quickly add up.
Another cheap option is ordering the house wine, it’s pretty good and almost as cheap as getting it at the supermarket. You can order by the glass or by the “pichet” (pitcher).
#8 – Eat at the bakery
When out and about, you can always stop by a bakery for breakfast or lunch. Most bakeries will have good deals and are a cheaper, more budget-friendly, option to eat at. They almost always have sandwiches or quiche, with deals including a drink and a tasty French dessert, for around 5 to 7 euros. It’s also a great option for breakfast if you’re feeling like having pastries, they often sell coffee and juices as well. Some bakeries you can eat at, others you’ll have to eat outside, you can find a park and have a little picnic.
#9 – Shop at local markets and supermarkets
If you’re able to cook where you’re staying, shopping at markets and supermarkets is a cheaper alternative to restaurants. Supermarkets would be cheaper than markets, but the food quality would usually be better at the market, especially for things such as cheese or deli. At the market, you can buy directly to the producer (not always though), and find gourmet food you wouldn’t find at the super.
Buy some cheese at the market, bread at the bakery, and some wine at the grocery store, and have a great budget meal, for half of what you would pay at the restaurant. You can also check out the “traiteurs”, where they sell already prepared food, you can choose the quantity you want. It will be pricer than cooking yourself, but it will still be cheaper than the restaurants.
Markets are usually held on Sunday mornings. In big cities, you should be able to find one nearby during the week. The tourism office will list the most popular ones, just ask at your hotel, for a more local market in the neighborhood.
#10 – Buy your train tickets in advance
Traveling by train in France can be cheap if you can plan ahead. Last-minute tickets are usually super expensive and can be 5 times more expensive than they were at first. You can book a train ticket 3 months before, and it’s not cheaper to book a round trip ticket, so you can book one way first, when the tickets are available, and the return ticket later.
#11 – Carpool
Carpooling is really popular in France, it’s safe, fast, cheap, and the perfect option when you’re on a budget. The most popular service is BlaBlaCar, it’s free to sign up and you can look for trips and book them online. Prices are usually the same as a bus ticket, but you’ll go much faster, as buses are mandated to take a 30-minute break every 2 hours. Carpooling is also a great opportunity to meet locals and learn a bit more about French culture.
#12 – Avoid taxis
Taxis are expensive, and public transportation in France is excellent. You can easily go to point A to point B without taking a cab. The only exception is at night, in smaller cities where there’s no public transportation after a certain time, then you’ll be forced to take a cab. Uber is usually cheaper but not always.
From the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, you can easily take the RER train, it will get you right to the heart of Paris. You can then take the subway with the same ticket to reach your destination within Paris.
#13 – You don’t need to rent a car
While traveling in France on a budget, renting a car is really not necessary. You can go anywhere with public transportation and having a car in big cities is such a pain, it’s hard to find a parking spot near the city center and it’s never free.
#14 – But if you do, follow these tips
If you do decide to rent a car and go on a road trip, try avoiding toll roads, it will take you a bit more time to reach your destination, but country roads are so much prettier than toll roads, where you don’t get to see any landscape.
Also, get your gas at the supermarkets’ pumps, it’s way cheaper than in a regular gas station.
#15 – Use the Velib’
Velibs are bikes you can rent pretty much everywhere in Paris (each big city has a version of this, the name is just different). Daily bike rental is cheaper than a daily public transportation pass in most cities and it’s a great way to discover the city! If the weather is nice, do rent a bike to get to the city’s attractions, you’ll get to see more of the city and maybe spot a place you like you wouldn’t have otherwise.
#16 – Avoid nightclubs
Nightclubs in France usually charge a hefty entrance fee (especially in Paris), look for “Bars dansants”, bars with a Deejay, there’s no cover, and you can have drinks and dance. These bars are just smaller than nightclubs and most of them will close at 2 AM, but you can find a couple that will stay open later.
If you do decide to go clubbing in France, just take note that people never go to a club before 1 AM, usually more around 2 AM. Night clubs stay open until 5 to 7 AM.
Also, take advantage of Happy Hours, as drinks can be costly in bars. The cheapest options would be tap beers and wine.
#17 – Couchsurf
When traveling France on a budget, Couchsurfing is a great option. You get to stay for free with locals. See it as a cultural exchange. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture, learn more about France, and hang out in cool places with locals. I highly recommend staying with a Couchsurfer for a couple of nights to lower your accommodation cost, and you’ll also get a kitchen to cook in.
#18 – Travel during low season
Traveling during low-season can be a game-changer budget-wise and also a perfect way to visit places without hordes of tourists. In general, avoid public holidays or big events. High and low season can vary depending on where you go in France.
#19 – Skip the most popular destinations
There are tons of beautiful cities and places in France that are often overlooked by international tourists. They are just as beautiful as the most popular French destinations, and they’re usually way more budget-friendly. Everything in Paris is way more expensive than in the rest of France, the more tourists there are, the pricier the food, transportation, and attractions.
If you want more tips on traveling abroad on a budget, check out my full “International travel budget tips” guide.
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