Caddle Recommends: Travelling in France

Travelling in France

Picture sunning on the beaches of Nice, peering up at the infamous Arc de Triomphe, or enjoying a brilliant glass of vino over brunch with your special someone.

It’s all within reach when you book a few days in France. The world’s most popular international tourism destination drew 86.9 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, according to UNWTO, the World Tourism Organization. While its capital city, Paris, is the third most visited in the world, there’s much to discover beyond the well-known centre, from charming French villages and the Chateaux (castles) of the Loire Valley to the stunning mountain ranges of the French Alps.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d need to save for half a lifetime or win the lottery to truly enjoy France’s decadence and historical beauty, but it is possible to travel here affordably. We’ve compiled our best tips based on our personal experiences visiting this country famous for its history, culture and romance.

Plan ahead, travel with friends and pack picnic lunches

Pre-planning your transport and destinations for the day is one way to save.

“Purchase your Eurorail pass and pre-book all train trips – France has limited seating for Eurorail pass holders, and you don’t want to be stuck in a city not able to move to your next destination!” cautions Whitney.

Tip: With its plethora of seaside spots, beaches and ski resorts, France is a fantastic year-round destination, but travel website Wandershare advises avoiding the summer mid-July to August rush. It also attracts hordes of skiers, so you’ll want to miss the mid-February to mid-March window.

Jaime encourages would-be visitors to go with friends. “Book an Airbnb to save a bit extra, then you get to live like a local.”

Her group would often grab lunches and drinks (including wine) at the corner store to enjoy on a leisurely outing. Unlike in Canada, in France the legal age for buying alcohol is 18, and  you can legally drink in public. Just don’t forget to bring your ID.

“You can sit anywhere – parks or gardens – and enjoy whatever snacks you have, and you can drink wine anywhere!”

“You can sit anywhere – parks or gardens – and enjoy whatever snacks you have, and you can drink wine anywhere!”

Passionate about horticulture? You’re in luck – the French Ministry of Culture has classified more than 300 Jardins remarquables, or Remarkable Gardens of France, that can be found across the country. From a small, private English “secret” garden in the village of Plobsheim to a romantic landscape park with views of the ruined castle of Ottrott, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to stop and smell the roses and countless other types of flowers.

Costs to travel in France

Here’s what you should budget for major expenses while in travelling in France:

Accommodations: $100 to $300 (CDN)/night depending on location and amenities (Airbnb)

Meals: Budget $80 daily (CDN) and shop around markets and small stores for better value on food.

Attractions: Prices will start from $50 upwards as the euro is stronger than the Canadian dollar.  Budget this separately for anything you think you may want to visit.

Learn tips to save money while exchanging currency in France

Social norms

  • Friends and family kiss both cheeks when greeting; acquaintances shake hands
  • Much like in Canada, manners are important. Avoid yawning or chewing gum in public
  • The French appreciate attempts to speak even basic French
  • When dining in a home, finish your plate and do not ask for seconds
  • Being loud in public spaces is considered to be very rude; talk softly
  • Use your pronouns correctly. Use “vous” until invited to say “tu” or until you’re addressed by your first name. It will signal your respect.
Travelling in France Infographic

Enjoy France’s intricate transit system

Take advantage of France’s exceptional transport and travel network, which offers a number of options for different time and budget constraints. If you rent a car, be prepared for toll booths on major expressways, drive defensively, and avoid driving in major cities. Car traffic is even banned altogether in many Italian city centers, such as Rome, Naples, Florence, and more. See Rick Steves’ Europe blog for more driving tips and road rules.

As another option, trains are a fantastic way to get around. France’s state-owned rail company operates four main rail services, including High-Speed (TGV), Intercité, Regional/Local and International. The Savvy Backpacker has an excellent train guide to answer all your questions.

Discover world-renowned history and architecture

There is no shortage of stunningly beautiful museums, villages, parks and other attractions to explore throughout France. In fact, the largest country in the European Union has more than 40 sites on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

After you’ve had a chance to settle in, travel website Wandershare recommends getting back to nature and exploring the architecture France is renowned for. Hike through the forest of Fontainebleau or see how our ancestors used to communicate at the Grotte de Lascaux Cave Paintings. There’s also the world famous Arc de Triomphe in western Paris (which honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars), the Louvre Museum and the awe-inspiring Notre Dame Cathedral.

Hoping to indulge your senses and learn some cooking tips in a land acclaimed for its mouthwatering dishes? Sign up for a cooking class.

Another option if you’re craving a romantic meal for two or a night out with friends while travelling in France: venture out to one of the restaurants in town.

Tip: Paris’ Latin Quarter boasts an array of cafes, restaurants and bars to spend your evenings.

Shauna still raves about the beef bourguignon she had for dinner.

“The dish is a stew made of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, pearl onions, fresh herbs and mushrooms. It was really good.”

“The dish is a stew made of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, pearl onions, fresh herbs and mushrooms. It was really good.”

Looking to indulge in a guilty pleasure? Try a familiar favourite with a delightful twist.

“Everyone has heard about how the French love French fries and mayonnaise, but you may not have heard of French fries and samurai sauce – ridiculously delicious, but sooo bad for you,” laughs Mick.

Travelling in France

Shop ‘til you drop and relax on the beach

Beyond the capital, the cities of Toulouse, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Nantes and others attract curious visitors indulging their lust for culture.

If you’re hoping to go hat shopping, you’re in luck, says Mick. “France is a great country to buy a hat. They love a good chapeau, and you should be able to find a hat store on any high street.”

For entertainment and tech lovers, there are also large retail electronics stores such as FNAC.

After all that shopping, you’ll probably be ready for a day of sun and fun. The must-see French Riviera, a stretch of coastline along the France-Italy border that’s “a slice of sweet, Mediterranean heaven” (according to travel website Happy to Wander), welcomes millions of tourists to the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region every year.

France is doable on a tight budget – if you plan ahead, visit at the right time of year, and are open to creative ideas for fun and entertainment. The country’s world-renowned arts, history and culture, not to mention its breathtaking landscapes, all factor in to why it’s the world’s most popular destination for tourists.

Are you traveling to France for the first time? Returning to a favorite destination? What are your best tips when it comes to saving for vacations? Share your story in the comments!

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Travelling in France