Planning a trip to France? The country is wildly popular with tourists, and for good reason — it abounds with experiences for every kind of tourist: high culture, iconic sightseeing, famous shopping, and some of the world’s most popular culinary and drinking establishments.
What’s not to love? Well, the bill, for one thing. All those world-class attractions can get pricey. However, there are a number of common sense ways to save, while still allowing for a fabulous adventure in France. Listed below are 50 of our best budget tips for visiting France.
This is a “Cheapo Checklist”. We’ve included links through to more in-depth articles, where possible. Be sure to check out the comments at the end for additional tips, and please add your own in the comments at the end!
Related: 50 ways to save in Paris
• OFF SEASON SAVINGS: If at all possible, save big by visiting France during the off-season (late October – March, except holidays) or during the shoulder season (late September-October and late March-early May), when the savings are still significant and the weather usually quite comfortable.
• AVOID SLEEPING NEAR THE BEACH: Traveling during the high season (June-August)? If possible, limit your exposure to the most expensive destinations (all beaches and coasts). Paris is also at its pricey peak from late May through the end of July. Consider smaller cities and villages. During June and July, for example, a week traveling through Provence or the Gard region will still be cheaper than hitting Nice, the Cote d’Azur, or sticking only to Paris. Still want to hit the beach? Sleep inland in a small village or B&B, and take day trips to the beach.
• PARIS CAN BE CHEAPER IN AUGUST: Paris empties out in August when locals go on vacation. This can be an interesting time to visit: Many smaller stores and some restaurants close, but hotel rooms tend to be easier to book and a bit cheaper than during June and July. (Here are some thoughts about visiting Paris in August.)
• AVOID FASHION WEEK IN PARIS. Are your Paris hotel searches turning up absurdly high rates? You might be planning to visit during one of the city’s fashion weeks. Although it sounds glamorous, the sky-high rates and crowds are soooooo last season. Upcoming dates: September 23 – October 1, 2019; February 24 – March 3, 2020.
Flying to France
• PARIS ISN’T THE ONLY AIRPORT: Flying from North America? Paris is not your only airport option (although you can find cheap flights). If much of your trip consists of travel in the south, for example, check prices on flights to Marseilles and Montpelier (which may include a transfer in Paris or a connection in another country). Even if it’s a bit more expensive, you can end up saving time and money on train tickets and rental cars by flying into an airport closer to your destination.
• OPEN JAW TICKETS SAVE TIME AND MONEY: Consider flying into one city and home through another. (For example, into Paris and back home from Marseilles.) These “open jaw” tickets can help you save money and time, as you won’t have to circle all the way back to your point of arrival in order to fly home. Best of all, the flight tickets are often about the same price as simple round-trip tickets.
• TRY A LOW-COST AIRLINE: Consider low-cost airline options from the US to France, including Norwegian Airlines which flies to Paris from several US cities.
• CONSIDER XL AIRWAYS: With all the excitement over the low-cost carriers serving the US-France market, we feel that XL Airways sometimes gets overlooked. The carrier offers some of the cheapest fares to France from the US, and, unlike the low-cost airlines, includes a piece of checked luggage in its fare. (We just found a $353 Newark-Paris round-trip flight in September. Good deal!)
• “HUB IT” FOR SAVINGS: Not finding cheap airfare to France? Try “hubbing it”, by flying first to any cheap European destination (for example, finding a cheap flight to Dublin on Aer Lingus) and then catching a budget flight from there to France (for example, on Ryanair). If your schedule is a bit flexible, you could find some savings.
• AVOID TAXIS INTO PARIS: Flying into Charles De Gaulle? We’d recommend avoiding taxis into the city, unless you’ve got a big family or lots of luggage. Some of us prefer the RER, while others always take the bus into town. Here are our favorite cheapo options into Paris.
Building an itinerary
• SLOW DOWN FOR SAVINGS (AND SANITY): Resist the urge to over-pack your French itinerary with too many destinations. This is hard, especially if it’s your first time visiting the country. However, driving off to a new town or city every day is both exhausting and costly. (Some tips on planning a trip that won’t leave you exhausted.)
• THINK “DAY TRIPS”: Rather than driving to a new destination every day, consider spending two or three nights in each spot and taking day trips. For example, if visiting the Dordogne, consider basing yourself in a charming village, like Bergerac, and taking day trips to other nearby towns and wineries. Here are our 7 favorite day trips from Paris.
• HANG WITH THE LOCALS: Already visited France’s big highlights? Consider less expensive destinations that have loads of local flavor, like the Dordogne, or small villages in the southwest rather than pricier Provence. Take time to research — grab a guidebook (we’re partial to Rick Steves), learn about the regions, and have fun planning something a bit off the beaten path. Don’t overlook cities beyond Paris like Marseille or Lille or enchanting villages like Saint Emilion.
• BOOK TGV TICKETS IN ADVANCE: If you plan to take the TGV, France’s high-speed train, book those tickets as far in advance as possible for the best rates and to take advantage of sale fares. The closer you get to the travel date, the more expensive the seats.
• RAIL PASSES ARE PROBABLY NOT A GOOD DEAL: Considering a Eurail Pass or other rail pass? While it’s possible that they could help you save if you plan to travel extensively by train, for many travelers it’s cheaper to purchase point-to-point tickets directly through the SNCF website (see next tip). Once you have your itinerary, price out the tickets to see if a rail pass can help you save (and don’t forget that even with a rail pass, you’ll still need to make seat reservations on the TGV).
• BOOK TICKETS THROUGH THE RAILWAY: Important: Book your TGV tickets like the locals, through the SNCF’s website, the railway’s official website. There’s no need to go through a third-party retailer or agency back in the United States. Book tickets directly for the lowest prices, and print off your tickets at home before leaving for France. Plus: Don’t forget that sometimes First Class seats are actually cheaper than Second Class seats!
• TRY THE LOW-COST TGV: Don’t forget about the TGV’s low-cost option Ouigo (which offers high-speed train tickets from €10 — although points of departure and destinations differ).
• BUY REGIONAL TRAIN TICKETS AT THE STATION: Taking slower, regional trains? Unlike the TGV, there’s no need to book those tickets in advance online. Just buy them at the train station.
• KEEP AN EYE OUT POTENTIAL TRAIN STRIKES: Part of traveling in Europe is keeping on top of strike updates that could affect your travel plans. 2018 is seeing a fresh batch of strikes on the French rail system. If you already booked a ticket, don’t panic. Here’s how to know if you’re affected and how to change your ticket.
• BUSES CAN BE CHEAPER THAN TRAINS: Take a look at Ouibus for super cheap fares for travel around France — and to Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Perk: Ouibus coaches are equipped with free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets. Sample fare: €5 for Paris-Lille; €35 for Paris-Barcelona.
Rental cars and driving
The following tips are excerpted from our larger article, 10 tips for saving on car rentals in France.
• BOOK CARS EARLY FOR DEALS: As with train tickets, booking early is a safe bet for finding the best car rental prices. (Search for your dates and compare car rental agencies.)
• CANCEL IF YOU FIND A BETTER DEAL: Nearly all car rentals are modifiable and able to be canceled. Thus, find something cheaper after you booked it? Cancel and re-book!
• WATCH THE START DATE: Your car reservation shouldn’t necessarily start on the first day of your trip. It should start on the first day you’re leaving the city you fly into! Pick up your car when you’re ready to drive off from Paris, not when you arrive.
• BE SMART ABOUT AUTO INSURANCE: Does your car insurance or credit company cover overseas car insurance? Call before taking off to double-check. You’ll be getting the hard sell from the rental car agency, so know in advance.
• WATCH YOUR SPEED: When driving around France, pay attention to the posted speed limits, as well as to the “speed camera” signs. Yes, you have to pay speeding tickets on rental cars!
• CAREFUL AT THE ROUNDABOUT: While roundabouts keep traffic moving, they can also be a bit dangerous for foreign drivers not accustomed to them. Avoid tickets and accidents: When approaching, you do not have priority — wait until the coast is clear before entering.
• AVOID DRIVING IN CENTER CITY: Most tourist-friendly towns in France have popular pedestrian-only center cities (“centre ville”). Only locals and delivery trucks can drive here. Don’t be the car that wanders off course and winds up trapped on a pedestrian-only cafe-lined street. It could cost (or really embarrass) you.
• PARKING IS EXPENSIVE IN THE CENTER: As you won’t be able to drive in the center city, you’ll spot underground parking garages all over the place. Center city garages, of course, will be the most expensive. If possible, we’d recommend parking farther outside the center at a cheaper garage, and walking or taking transit into the center.
Want more tips? Check out our 10 tips for saving on car rentals in France.
Hotels and accommodation
• BOOK EARLY FOR POPULAR HOTELS: The good (and well-priced) accommodation options tend to go first. When it comes to Paris hotels, for example, the one-star Hotel Tiquetonne is the best deal in town — and it completely fills up. Book it, and other popular hotels, well in advance. (See all hotels in Paris or search all hotels.)
• ROLL THE DICE WITH LAST-MINUTE BOOKINGS: Flexible with your hotel options? If you’re willing to gamble a bit, you can often find great deals at the very last minute. This is especially true if traveling during the low season or to less touristy destinations. Here are some thoughts about when to book for the best deal.
• RENT A FLAT: Hotels are not your only option, of course. Renting an apartment or staying with locals (through homestays) can offer much more room, kitchens, laundry facilities — and even save cash. Search for apartments in Paris.
• SLEEP ON THE FARM: You’ll find additional accommodation options in France, especially in smaller towns, villages, and in the countryside where “chambres d’hotes” (guestrooms) and gites (guest houses) abound. Our favorite is the “farm stay”, a sort of rural bed-and-breakfast option (although many offer delicious dinner options, often with locally sourced food). Check out the Gites de France website for more info.
More tips: Check out our tutorial to 10 ways to save on your hotel in France.
• BE CAREFUL WITH PRE-BOOKING ACTIVITIES: It’s tempting, when planning your trip back home, to pre-book those tickets to the Louvre, Seine river cruise, Latin Quarter walking tour, and late-night crepe eating course. Be careful, however, as plans change once you’re on the ground. People are tired or have a blister (or are grumpy and need some downtime). All that pre-booking leaves you with less flexibility and non-refundable expenses. It’s okay to book a few things, but give yourself flexibility!
• SPEAK WITH PROFESSIONALS: Get guidance from the source! Stop by the tourist information center first thing when you arrive in a city, pick up maps, and find out about museums, events, walking tours, day trips and more. You’ll find them in the heart of every city on the tourist radar: For example, in Paris there are five in the center, Marseille (next to the old port), Nice (at the airport, train station, and center city), and Bordeaux (at the train station or center city).
• SOME OF THE BEST STUFF IS FREE: There’s no ticket necessary to explore city streets or hang out in a café, of course. However, don’t forget that some attractions are free, too. Ask at the tourist information center for free activities, free (or discounted) museum admission, and free walking tours. (In the City of Light, for example, these Paris museums are free.)
• CULTURE JUNKIE? CONSIDER A PASS: If you’re staying for a few days in a city and are serious about museums and attractions, research whether or not the city offers a tourist sightseeing card or pass. These passes often include free (or highly discounted) admission to popular museums, and cover public transit, and could save you a lot of cash. Some popular passes include the Paris Passlib’ Card, Bordeaux City Pass, Marseille City Pass, and Nice “Riviera Pass”.
• AVOID YOUR MINIBAR: That stocked minibar in your hotel room will cost you. Instead, head straight to the nearest grocery store for basics, like water, fruit, picnic supplies, and toiletries. In France, look for the following chains: Ed, Franprix, and Monoprix. (Here’s a guide to French supermarkets.)
• FEAST AT LUNCH: France has a wonderful lunch culture, kept alive by many employers who still grant proper lunch breaks and offer restaurant “tickets” to subsidize dining out. Because of this, a “corner bistro” scene still thrives, with small restaurants competing for lunch business with reasonably-priced “plats du jour”. Dinner is almost always more expensive, even if the menu has hardly changed, so take advantage of these “plats” and feast at lunch. (Five tasty lunch deals in Paris and how to eat your way through Paris on €20 per day.)
• WATER AND BREAD ARE FREE: French restaurants are required by law to offer a carafe of water and basket of bread to customers. Unless you’re really picky about your water (or prefer bubbles), there’s no need to order bottled water. Stick with “une carafe d’eau”.
• HOUSE WINE IS GREAT: Unless you’re a serious oenophile, ordering “un pichet de vin” (a small pitcher of house wine) is going to be fine at restaurants throughout France. You’re in France. (Read more on tips for buying wine in France.)
• TO MARKET, TO MARKET: Outdoor food markets are another French ritual that tourists shouldn’t miss out on. From Brittany to the Cote d’Azur, towns hold weekly, bi-weekly, or even more regularly (in Paris outdoor markets can be found every day). Explore, sample, and pick up the perfect ingredients for a budget-friendly lunch or dinner.
• GO EASY ON THE TIP: Know when to tip in France. For small stuff (coffee and croissant, beer at the bar, etc.) no tip is necessary. Table service usually merits a small tip (not 15%!), and taxi drivers and tour guides deserve tips. (Read more on tipping.)
• “SOLDES” ARE YOUR FRIEND: Take advantage of the city-wide annual sales (“Soldes”) that are held throughout France in January and July. These events stretch for weeks in the winter and heat of summer, and nearly every retailer gets in on the action. Here are some tips for “soldes” success and advice for saving on shopping in Paris.
• TAX REBATE, PLEASE: Planning to do lots of shopping? If purchasing more than €175 in the same store on the same day, you qualify for a 12% tax refund. That can add up. Here’s how it works.
• MARCHÉS AUX PUCES: Some of the best shopping deals can be found in flea markets throughout the country. In Paris, there are a number of “marché aux puces” to check out. No matter where you’re visiting, ask at your hotel for information about second-hand markets and vintage shops.
Staying in touch
• SIM SAVINGS: Planning to use your smartphone? We recommend buying a SIM card if you have an unlocked smartphone handy. Calls, emails, and the Web will be much, much cheaper. Even if you don’t own an unlocked phone, you can purchase one cheaply in France or before you leave. Here’s how it works and tips for finding the best SIM Cards in France.
• CALL YOUR CARRIER: Not planning to make a lot of calls with your phone? At least call your carrier before leaving home to know how much calls, text and emails will cost you. Consider getting a special international package to avoid surprises (like AT&T’s “Passport” package). Plus, be sure to set up your phone to avoid data drains.
• GET ONLINE FOR FREE: Use free Wi-Fi whenever possible. Many cafes and international chains (like McDonald’s and Starbucks) in France offer free Wi-Fi, as well as municipal buildings, libraries, parks, and some museums. Ask at the tourist information center about free Wi-Fi hotspots in town.
Banks and money
• USE ATMS: To get the best deal on getting money in France, avoid all currency exchange counters and sketchy looking ATMs. Instead, use official bank ATMs to get the best exchange rates.
• CALL YOUR BANK BEFORE LEAVING: First, tell your bank and credit card company that you’ll be traveling (to ensure that your card will work abroad). Then, ask how much you’ll be charged for ATM withdrawals and for purchases. You may find that one of your cards has no foreign surcharge. Here are some questions to ask.
• STICK TO EUROS: When making a purchase with an American credit card in France, you may be asked if you’d like it to be processed in euros or US dollars. This is just a ploy to insert another middleman into the transaction. Always stick to the local currency — in this case, euros.
Have additional ways to save money on your trip to France? Share with us in the comments section below!
Source: Euro Cheapo