Budget travel France: Best cost cutting tips from a local

Visiting France on a tight budget is possible with a little research and planning. Here are my best cost-cutting tips based on personal experience living in France.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
visit France on a tight budget
visit France on a tight budget

Between food, hotels, activities and the cost of getting around, travel expenses can quickly spiral out of control, especially when considering a trip to France.

If you’re travelling to France on a budget and wondering how you can manage your expenses, I have some tips based on my personal experience living in France and travelling to other parts of France.

Some of these tips come straight from my two adult sons, who have become master budget travellers out of necessity. 

1) Save Money on Sightseeing and activities

Consider city passes:

A city pass is a bundled ticket or pass that gives you admission to multiple tourist attractions, museums, tours, activities, and landmarks within a specific city or area at discounted rates. It’s a great way to save money

These passes are typically valid for a set number of days, anywhere from 2 days to a week, and sometimes include perks such as skipping lines or discounted transportation options on buses, metro or trams. 

Free Self-guided walking tours

If you want to explore France at your own pace, self-guided walking tours are a great option.

These tours come in various forms, such as maps, brochures, or digital guides. You can also download self-guided tours as a phone app, many of which have audio that tells you interesting facts about each location. 

I recently found a new self-guided tour at GPSmyCity, with over 1000 cities in its database.

Simply download their app on the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store, which works offline, so you don’t have to worry about racking up roaming fees. Next, select a city and choose from a list of locations you want to visit to create your self-guided walk. The app’s navigation functions will then guide you from one attraction to the next based on your selection.

For example,  here is the GPS MY city guided tour for Montpellier, where I live. 

Skip The Paid Attractions

You don’t have to pay a lot of money to see what France has to offer. 

There are plenty of other places to visit for free, such as flower markets, parks, churches, and la Seine in Paris.

Even if you don’t want to pay the admission fee to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can still appreciate its beauty from a distance.

This way, you can enjoy the many attractions France has to offer without worrying about the cost of travel.

Free entry to museums and monuments once a month

Many museums, galleries and monuments such as the Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso, and Musée d’Orsay offer free admission on the first Sunday of each month.

Get there early because these days are popular and lines queue up fast. 

2) How to snag cheap flights

Jet figthers at Annual French military parade in Paris on 14th of July (Bastille Day-paris)

One of the easier ways to save a lot of money is on the price of your plane tickets. 

Scoring budget-friendly plane tickets isn’t rocket science. It comes down to timing and strategy. 

Book in Advance:

Start your hunt for tickets well ahead of your travel date. Generally, booking several months in advance gives you more time and a wider selection of cheaper offers. 

It pays to be flexible:

Be flexible with your travel dates. It’s amazing how much ticket prices vary from one day to the other, sometimes by hundreds of dollars.

Being open to alternative airports and nearby cities can also save you a lot of money.

And finally, consider flying on weekdays or off-peak hours to get more affordable fares.

Hunt for Package Deals and special offers:

Keep an eye out for package deals from travel companies that include flights and accommodations, which can often save you a bundle. 

Sign up for alerts or newsletters from airlines and travel websites to get notified of flash sales and promotions. Airlines frequently have special deals during certain periods, such as black Friday and Cyber Monday. Sometimes, those deals can pop up on their social media pages, too, so be sure to follow them there, too. 

3) Avoid hotels when possible.

hostels around the world

Accommodation in France can be expensive, especially in popular tourist destinations or major cities like Paris but hotels tend to be more expensive compared to alternative options.

While most people think of Airbnb, there are many cost-effective alternatives to hotels that tourists may not be aware of, including gîtes, youth hostels, camping sites, and extended stay hotels called “hôtels long séjour”.

4) Travel In The Off-Season

June is a lovely time to visit France, but it’s also the busiest and one of the most expensive, especially in Paris. 

 Consider visiting France during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall), typically from November through March. During this time, there are fewer tourists and lower prices for plane tickets, accommodations, and attractions. 

5) Dining on a budget in France

Paris bistrot interior at Le Bouillon Chartier

Eating out in France every day can get expensive.

Here are some tips to keep food costs down while traveling.  

Related: A guide to tipping in France: It’s not as much as you think!

Local Bakeries:

Bakeries called ‘les boulangeries‘ offer more than just fresh baguettes and bread.

They often have tasty food at affordable prices, such as sandwiches, quiches, mini pizzas on focaccia bread, delicious pastries and more. 

Avoid Touristy Hotspots:

Restaurants located near popular tourist attractions are often more expensive with subpar food. Venture farther away from these areas to find more budget-friendly dining options where locals eat. 

Menu du Jour or Prix Fixe:

Look for restaurants that have a “Menu du Jour” (special of the day) or “Prix Fixe” (fixed-price menu), which are usually more affordable than ordering à la carte.

Cafés and Bistros:

Bistros and cafés are some of the more affordable sit-down restaurants where you can get classic French dishes without the high-end prices. 

Takeaway or Street Food:

France isn’t all about fine dining. Consider takeaway options like crepes, sandwiches, or kebabs from street vendors or small eateries.

These can be quick, affordable, and delicious meals on the go, but they often have seating for customers who want to dine in. 

Grocery stores:

Explore local markets and grocery stores to buy fresh produce, bread, cheese, and fruits for picnics or self-prepared meals. 

Many grocery stores in France also have prepared food such as sushi, sandwiches and other prepared dishes. Some grocery stores even have a small sit-down area with microwaves for people to warm up their food and eat. 

6) Save money on Transportation

4 week trip around Europe by Train.

Buses, trains, trams and metros are much more cost-effective than taxis or rental cars.

Consider purchasing multi-day or multi-ride passes when possible for additional savings.

Uber:

If you must use a taxi, consider using Uber which tend to be more affordable then taxis.

Trainline:

For train tickets, I always suggest “Trainline,” my favourite place to buy train tickets online or using their phone app. 

Blah Blah car:

BlaBlaCar is a popular online ridesharing and carpooling platform and mobile app that connects drivers heading to a particular destination who offer available seats in their cars to people looking to travel to the same destination.

You can find people in your area heading to the next city, and even cross country. You just need to be flexible with times and dates. 

Flixbus:

FlixBus is a well-known long-distance bus service that operates a fleet of green-coloured buses equipped with power outlets, wi-fi, comfortable settings and onboard restrooms.

They have a vast network of routes that connect cities and towns across France for a fraction of the cost of travelling by train.

Avoid toll roads:

Péage sign in France that reads Péage 1000 meters ahead

If you end up renting a car and plan on taking road trips, you should know that there are three primary types of roads in France: Autoroutes (motorways), National roads, and Department roads.

To save money on tolls, you should avoid the autoroutes, which almost always have tolls (péages) that can add up to hundreds of euros if you are not careful. 

Instead, opt for the National and Department roads, which might take longer to reach your destination compared to autoroutes but often take you through more scenic routes.

We’ve discovered many cities this way that we would have never considered visiting. 

  • National roads have signs that start with N’ followed by a number, e.g., N7.
  • Department roads have signs that start with ‘D’ followed by a number, e.g., D102.

7) Go for Budget Shopping

you can find all sorts of unique gifts, souvenirs and other things to buy in France at a French flea market

It’s almost impossible not to resist the irresistible urge to shop in a foreign country. Here are some money-saving tips for shopping in France.

Summer and winter sales

There are two major sales periods in France known as “Les Soldes” – the winter sales and the summer sales.

During these sales, stores and boutiques across France offer discounts of 30%, 50% or more off the original price on a wide range of products, including clothing, accessories, electronics, home goods, and more.

Because locals await these two annual sales, you can expect bustling crowds. 

  1. Winter Sales (Soldes d’Hiver): This sale begins in January and lasts about six weeks. 
  2. Summer Sales (Soldes d’Été): The summer sales usually begin in the last week of June or the first week of July and last around five weeks. 

Flea markets (Brocantes and “Marché aux Puces)

France has many options for buying used and secondhand goods, which will not only save you money but is also a fun activity to do. 

  • Brocantes: These junk shops of joy typically sell antiques, vintage goods, and unique or collectible items, including furniture, art, jewelry, and other objects.
  • Marché aux Puces: These are Flea markets that sell various goods, including antiques, vintage items, collectibles, furniture, clothing, and sometimes newer merchandise.
  • Vide Greniers: Garage sales don’t exist in France. Instead, people have something called ‘vide greniers’ (attic emptier or attic sales). They are community-based, smaller and more informal than flea markets and typically take place in open areas where locals go to sell the items they no longer need or want. 
  • Les Fripperies: “These are brick-and-mortar thrift shops or secondhand stores selling pre-owned or used clothing, accessories, and household items at affordable prices.

Wrapping up visiting France on a tight budget

Budget travelling, no matter what country, is possible if you do your research and plan carefully, even in France. 

Good luck.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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