France Travel Guide

France Travel Guide

France is one of the top destinations in Europe and usually a must-see country on any bucket list. And while French people are doing their best to make the country even more comfortable for travelers, it has a lot of historical sites, stunning coastlines, and picturesque chateaus to check out right away.

France is home to Montmartre hill, the Cannes Film Festival, the Eiffel Tower and of course a magnificent city of Paris. Seniors may grumble that the wine was far better when it was produced by small rural vineyards, you shouldn’t believe it. French wines are still among the best in the world. With the French croissants are appetizing, the cheese is delicious, the Eiffel Tower is a very popular rendezvous spot for lovers.

The cultural and culinary splendor of France is flanked by a wonderful variety of landscapes and architectural masterpieces like Chartres Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, Mont Saint-Michel Abbey and historic spots of Strasbourg and Lyon. With the streets full of stylish and charming girls, France is a leading country in the fashion design industry. Entertainment in France is as diverse and vibrant as its cities are. Cote d’Azur attracts travelers with excellent beaches, the Alps are famous for great skiing and hiking trails.

While each province has its unique cuisine with lots of cozy restaurants, the food in France, as well as any other thing, is quite expensive. With so many things to see and to do in France, it would be really hard to get it all on a tight budget. If you’re going to backpack in France it would be wise to save some extra money before you go and get the most out of your France trip.

Accommodation

There is no problem with finding a decent accommodation in France. With lots of options available, the period from July to August is the time for a summer holiday in France so book your accommodation in advance.

There are hundreds of youth hostels (auberges de jeunesse) in all major cities and at many resorts. Dormitory rooms cost between 19-35 EUR per night, depending on hostel location. Private rooms in hostels will range from 63-80 EUR per night. Expect to pay around 43-85 EUR per night for a room in a budget hotel. They usually provide TV set, heating, and free WiFi. Some rooms have shared bathroom facilities while others include a shower. Airbnb is great in France allowing you to keep a little bit more money in your pocket. With the lowest rates at 25 EUR for shared room, and 50 EUR for a studio apartment.

Campsites run between 10-17 EUR per person depending on the region and camping level. In remote areas like Alps and Pyrenees, there are mountain huts or refuges (gites d’etape), accommodating mostly cyclists, skiers, and hikers. These come for around 20-45 EUR per night. Most of the mountain huts are only available through the summer months, from June to September.

Food

While eating out in France is quite expensive in general, there are several ways to cut your food expenses. Restaurants usually display their menus outside, so it’s quite easy to control your budget. Most eateries offer a cheaper lunchtime menu. In tourist areas there is always a chance to grab some snacks. Since boulangeries (local bakeries) offer pre-made sandwiches, croissants, and pastry, snacks here will set you back 5-8 EUR.

Stick to local open air market to get cheap and fresh food. Do as the locals do! There is no better way (for a backpacker) to experience the French cuisine than to shop in the market. On the other hand, restaurant meals will cost about 25-50 EUR average. Fast food will be much cheaper with prices around 10 EUR for a combo meal.

Getting Around France

France has an extensive railway network. The fares depend on distance, travel time and passenger age. There are a lot of long-distance bus routes in France. Buses are generally cheaper means of transportation. France is quite a friendly country for hitchhikers if you stay away from highways.  The language barrier is the most common difficulty in France, so make sure to learn some basic phrases or get a sign saying where you’re going.

Underground transit systems are great throughout France and cost between 1-3 EUR per trip. Monthly pass is around 30-80 EUR. Apart from Paris, Lille, Marseille, and Lyon have rapid transit systems. If you’re under 27 or older 60 you can get extra discount by purchasing a card. Check the discount here. A train ride from Paris to Marseille, for example, will cost around 40 EUR and will take a little more than 3 hours. A train trip from Paris to Rouen costs around 12 EUR. To get the best deals, book in advance. In addition to intercity trains, there are tourist trains in France. The most popular is Le Train Jaune or The Little yellow train, which runs across the Pyrenees region of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Bus companies have their fares generally lower and especially useful in regions not covered by the railway network. Each region has its own local carriers (gare routière). A bus trip from Paris to Marseille will cost around 25 EUR, while from Paris to Rouen for just 5 EUR. Megabus, Ouibus and FlixBus are major bus companies. With lots of cycling routes and trails, France has lovely cities to be explored on bike. Velib rental service can be found in all major cities and is of great help here with quite affordable prices.

How to do Paris on a budget

Attend a Free Guided Tours in Paris

Nothing’s cheaper than exploring Paris for free with a local. Guided tours allow you to see the hidden gems of Paris, a great opportunity to know more about great places in Paris and see it from another perspective. With a lot of tour guides available in France, I highly recommend using their service at least once. The tours are held for groups and individuals.

Stick To a Lunchtime Menu

The lunchtime menu is much cheaper than a conventional dinner. Most restaurants offer two- or three-course menu set for 10-20 EUR, which is a great deal allowing to save money for a sip of wine in the evening. The Latin Quarter in Paris is the home to numerous bistros and cafes that offer cheap lunchtime menu.

Go For a Picnic

With so many open air markets across Paris, there is no better way to save on food and enjoy the city than going for a picnic. There are lots of great picnic spots in Paris where you can unroll a blanket and get a nice time pass with Parisians. Such groceries like fruits, cheese and bread are really cheap and perfect for picnics.

Get Your Water For Free

Tap water is always free in restaurants. While most Parisians do just that, travelers are not usually aware of that. Just before you place an order for drinks and food, make sure the waiter brings you tap water. But you should say the magic word – une carafe d’eau. This phrase will ensure you get exactly what you need instead of expensive bottled water, which can be provided by ‘not understanding’ your request. The quality of tap water in Paris is excellent.

Top Things To See And Do in France

The Loire Valley is one of the most amazing and beautiful places in France. The limestone rich river banks are the reason why The Loire Valley has so many medieval castles, palaces and cathedrals. The Valley is usually called the garden of France because of the tradition of gardens in the Loire Valley was established during the Renaissance. With a number of cultural heritage objects in The Valley it attracts many travelers from all over the world.

Eiffel Tower

With about 7 million annual visitors, the Eiffel Tower is a site that can’t be missed. The Eiffel tower leaves nobody indifferent since the half of the locals believe the Iron Lady is an architectural masterpiece, the opponents say it is just spoiling the view. The Tower isn’t just a symbol of Paris, but the entire country. Around 5000 people The Eiffel Tower can hold at once. You can get your tickets in a booth or book in advance. The great thing about the Tower that you enjoy it for free from almost any point in Paris. Be sure to see the Eiffel Tower Light Show, which can be enjoyed in the evenings.

Mont-Saint-Michel

The medieval island abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is known for marvelous architecture and the extreme tides, which first almost turn the mountain into an island but when goes out reveal a large sand covered area. Once an iconic pilgrimage site in western Europe, the city now boasts its Gothic architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and a gorgeous view from the abbey. Today, more than a millennium after its founding, Mont-Saint-Michel retains a lot of medieval character and offers plenty of halls and alleys to explore.

The Palace of Versailles

Once a tiny hunting lodge, then one of the most exquisite palaces in the world, The Palace of Versailles served as a residence of the last three kings of France. The well-preserved palace and its manicured gardens show off how luxurious and serene was the life of the royal family during the 17th and 18th centuries before The French Revolution. Be sure to spend the whole day here admiring the marvelous Hall of Mirrors, Museum of the History of France and Versailles Gardens. This is a must-visit attraction in France.

Champagne and Ardennes

The Champagne-Ardenne region isn’t a busy backpacker destination. However, it has so many sites to visit. Champagne is known worldwide as the birthplace of sparkling wine to which the region has given its name. With so many cellars and famous champagne producers all around, Epernay is the best spot for champagne tasting. Reims is home to a gorgeous Gothic cathedral where coronations of almost all French monarchs took place. Visit the Maginot Line, a system of concrete fortifications that were erected to hold off Germans during the WW2. Ouvrage La Ferte has everything you need to feel the spirit of that time. You will find some of the amazing mix of Renaissance and medieval architecture in Troyes.

Visit Strasbourg

Usually associated with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, Strasbourg is a cultural and financial center of northeastern France and the capital of Alsace. Located 3 km from the Rhine, Strasbourg lies very close to Germany. The city has always been a cultural bridge between France and Germany, so you can easily get a beer with pretzels in a traditional French brasserie. Having so many sites to visit, the Strasbourg Pass is something worth buying to see it all on a budget. You can also rent a bike for free with this Pass. Be sure to visit Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, Maison Kammerzell and take a stroll through the Old Town.

Bordeaux

One of the most captivating cities in France’s southwest, Bordeaux is, of course, a wine destination. But luckily it has something else in store. With almost 350 historic buildings around the city, Bordeaux is very accessible. It can be cheap too. Get your City Pass for free public transportation and free entry to museums. Many buildings in Old Town have retained their charm and appearance over time. To feel the spirit of Bordeaux, you can walk through the Quartier Saint-Eloi. The shopping center is defined by three boulevards: Cours Georges Clemenceau, Cours de l’Intendance  and Allées de Tourny.

Verdon Gorge

Verdon Gorge is like a Grand Canyon, but in France. Located in Provence and not really far from the French Riviera, the gorge is a popular tourist destination. There is a number of hiking trails across the gorge, varying from the gentle and easy to the difficult. Bright turquoise water, outstanding scenery and an abundance of wildlife are the main reasons to come here. While the gorge is not quite easily accessible, with just a few buses through this place a day, the car is more reliable option.

The Dune du Pilat

Claimed to be the tallest dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat is just one hour drive away from Bordeaux. This spot attracts paragliding lovers, sandboarders, and even skiers, as sometimes the dune is actually covered with snow. With this eight thousand year old dune, lovely pine-tree forest and amazingly beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, this place is totally worth visiting. Mind to take your shoes off before stepping onto the dune as you may spend the rest of the day shaking out the sand from our shoes.

Roussillon

If you find yourself near Avignon, make sure to visit a tiny village of Roussillon. Being listed among the most beautiful villages in France, the true reason to visit this place is the Ochre Trail. Once an open-pit quarry, now a trail with red, yellow and orange ochre sands and signs of explanation on how the colors were extracted. Make sure to have appropriate shoes. Early morning and the time before closing are the best for taking photos. Admission fee is less than 5 EUR.

Explore the Valensole Plateau

The local lavender fields are the symbolic treasure of Haute-Provence. The lavender fields are in bloom from mid June to mid July meaning lavender roads, the varied shades of blue and violet, rolling over the hills as far as you can see. The town of Valensole is the right spot to start your journey here. It also accommodates shops selling lavender flowers and many other products made from lavender. While lavender grows in virtually every garden in Provence, the Valensole Plateau offers this very special view of immense lavender fields.

Pont du Gard

Provence has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy. My favorite antique monument is the Pont du Gard aqueduct. Once a part of an extended supply network built to carry water to Nimes, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 30 km (19 mi) away from Nimes, this three-storey bridge is a masterpiece of engineering that was dedicated to revealing the advancement of Roman technology. Make sure to cross the bridge and get down to the river with a cozy beach. There is also a museum, which explains the technology of how Roman aqueduct supplied Nimes with water more than 2000 years ago.

French nature reserves and national parks

FRENCH NATURE RESERVES AND NATIONAL PARKS

Natural parks and reserves in France occupy about 9% of its total area and form one of the largest environmental zone in Europe.

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