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Guide to Backpacking in France

May 13, 2023 | Europe, France | 0 comments

Welcome to your ultimate guide to backpacking in France! As you embark on this incredible adventure, you’ll experience the trip of a lifetime. From the picturesque northern region to the sun-soaked Mediterranean coast and the breathtaking French Alps, France offers countless opportunities for exploration and excitement. With rich history, delicious cuisine, and stunning landscapes, there’s no better time to start planning your journey to the enchanting land of France.

Why Choose France for Your Backpacking Adventure?

When it comes to backpacking destinations, France stands out as a top choice for several reasons. The country’s diverse landscapes, historical landmarks, and vibrant culture make it an ideal spot for travelers seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or a food enthusiast, France offers something for everyone. Plus, with its extensive and efficient transportation system, navigating the country is a breeze, even for first-time backpackers.

By choosing France for your backpacking adventure, you’re opening up a world of possibilities. You’ll be able to explore the charming cobblestone streets of Paris, hike the rugged terrain of the French Alps, and relax on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean Sea. So, why wait? Begin planning your France itinerary today!

Two-Week Backpacking Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Paris

  • Arrive in Paris, take the RER B train to the city center—it’s cheaper than a taxi, and you’ll feel like a local from day one.

  • Check into your accommodation and have a budget-friendly dinner at a local boulangerie (because who needs a three-course meal when you can have a croissant for dinner, right?).

Day 2: Exploring Paris

  • Start your day at the Eiffel Tower. Take the stairs instead of the elevator to save money and burn off those croissant calories.

  • Visit the Louvre Museum in the afternoon when it’s less crowded. Remember, it’s free on the first Sunday of every month, but it’s also the busiest then—so choose wisely.

  • Enjoy a picnic dinner at the Champ de Mars, because nothing beats a baguette with cheese and a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Day 3: More of Paris

  • Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral in the morning—it’s free to enter, and the line for the bell tower moves faster earlier in the day.

  • Spend the afternoon exploring the Latin Quarter. Check out the Pantheon and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

  • Enjoy dinner at a local creperie. Crepes are delicious, affordable, and quintessentially French.

Day 4: Champagne Region

  • Catch an early train to Reims. Remember, the early bird catches the…cheaper train tickets.

  • Take a self-guided tour of Champagne houses like Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin. You can save a few euros and still get bubbly.

  • Grab a baguette and some local cheese for dinner. Because, after all, champagne is best enjoyed with simple pleasures.

Day 5: Normandy

  • Take an early train to Caen. Pre-book your tickets to save.

  • Visit the Caen Memorial Museum and the D-Day Landing beaches. Pack a picnic lunch to save on food costs.

  • Have a modest dinner in a local brasserie.

Day 6: Mont Saint Michel

  • Take a bus to Mont Saint Michel. The journey might be long, but the views and the savings are worth it.

  • Explore the abbey and the village. The entrance fee is a few euros, but the memories are priceless.

  • Have a seafood dinner. It’s a bit of a splurge, but hey, you saved on the bus ride, right?

Day 7: Paris to Lille

  • Take a morning train to Lille—remember, the early bird deal.

  • Visit Palais des Beaux-Arts and Vieux Lille. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in a park.

  • Grab a quick dinner at a local friterie. Because nothing says “Welcome to Northern France” like a cone of fries.

Day 8: Loire Valley

  • Catch the early train to Tours in the Loire Valley.

  • Visit Château de Chenonceau in the morning. In the afternoon, visit Château de Chambord. Remember to bring your student card or ID for discounts.

  • Make your own dinner with local produce. It’s cheaper, fun, and you’ll feel like a French chef in no time.

Day 9: More Loire Valley

  • Visit Château de Villandry and its gardens in the morning. In the afternoon, rent a bike and explore the region—it’s cheaper and healthier.

  • Cook dinner in your accommodation. It’s like your own private French cooking show, minus the film crew.

Day 10: Bordeaux

  • Morning train to Bordeaux, because who doesn’t love a good sunrise viewed from a train window?

  • Visit the Place de la Bourse and the Cité du Vin (wine museum). Remember, sipping is free, swallowing costs extra!

  • Make dinner at your accommodation. After all, they say Bordeaux is the world’s wine capital, so why not pair your cooking skills with a local bottle?

Day 11: Biarritz

  • Catch a morning train to Biarritz. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch for a seaside feast.

  • Relax on the Grande Plage and visit the Rocher de la Vierge. Sunbathing is free and so is the natural beauty of the ocean!

  • Grab a casual dinner at the Les Halles market. Eating like a local is the best (and most delicious) way to save money.

Day 12: Nice and French Riviera

  • Take an early flight to Nice – it’s faster than the train and sometimes cheaper if booked in advance.

  • Visit the Promenade des Anglais and the old town, Vieille Ville, where window-shopping is an art form!

  • Dine al fresco with take-away Niçoise salad from a local market stall. It’s cheap, healthy, and delicious!

Day 13: Provence

  • Rent a car or take a tour to Provence. It might be more expensive, but the lavender fields are worth it. Besides, you can’t put a price tag on perfect Instagram shots, right?

  • Visit the town of Gordes and the Sénanque Abbey. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy amidst the beautiful Provencal scenery.

  • Cook dinner at your accommodation. You can even try your hand at making ratatouille—it’s Provence in a dish!

Day 14: Return to Paris

  • Take a morning flight back to Paris.

  • Spend the day at leisure. Visit the Musée d’Orsay—it’s cheaper than the Louvre and houses an impressive collection of Impressionist art.

  • For your final dinner in France, splurge a little at a local brasserie—you’ve earned it after all this budgeting!

Day 15: Departure

  • Depending on your flight time, enjoy a morning walk along the Seine River—it’s a free activity and a perfect Parisian farewell.

  • Make your way to the airport using public transportation to save a few final euros. After all, every penny counts!

Remember, this itinerary is flexible, and you can adjust it based on your preferences. Enjoy your trip and remember: in France, the best things in life are free (or at least, reasonably priced)!

Creating your own Itinerary

a. The Enchanting City of Paris

Nobody looking to visit France does so without visiting Paris. Known as the “City of Light”, Paris is a dream destination for travelers worldwide. This vibrant city is the perfect blend of historic grandeur, artistic excellence, culinary brilliance, and contemporary chic.

Start your exploration at the heart of the city, the Ile de la Cité, home to the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. While the cathedral suffered significant damage from a fire in 2019, the structure still stands as a testament to Gothic architecture. Nearby, you’ll find Sainte-Chapelle, an awe-inspiring chapel known for its stunning stained-glass windows.

No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to the Eiffel Tower. Take the elevator up to the observation decks for panoramic views of the city. For a truly magical experience, visit at night to see the tower beautifully illuminated.

Art enthusiasts will find paradise in Paris. The Louvre Museum houses an extensive collection of artworks and historical artifacts, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Meanwhile, the Musée d’Orsay features an impressive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. For modern and contemporary art, the Centre Pompidou and the Palais de Tokyo are must-visit destinations.

Take a leisurely stroll along the Seine River, where you’ll see picturesque bridges and historic buildings. Visit the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, then relax in the charming Tuileries Garden. For shopping, head to the stylish Le Marais district or the grandiose Champs-Elysées.

Don’t forget to indulge in Paris’s culinary delights. From flaky croissants and crusty baguettes to sumptuous escargot and delicate macarons, the city is a food lover’s dream. Try classic French dishes in a traditional bistro, or visit a local market to sample fresh cheeses, pastries, and wines.

Paris is not just a city; it’s an experience. With its romantic ambiance, cultural treasures, and exquisite cuisine, Paris offers endless opportunities for exploration and enjoyment. So whether you’re wandering through historic streets, visiting world-class museums, or savoring a café au lait at a sidewalk café, you’re sure to fall in love with the charm and elegance of Paris.

b. Amazing Nature Destinations in France

For backpackers seeking a more nature-focused adventure, France offers an array of stunning landscapes to explore. From the rugged beauty of the French Alps to the verdant forests of the Loire Valley, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. Some must-visit nature destinations include the dramatic cliffs of Étretat, the enchanting Gorges du Verdon, and the idyllic Mont Saint Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

c. The French Riviera and Mediterranean Coast

As you continue south, you’ll reach the sun-soaked French Riviera and the mesmerizing Mediterranean coast. This region is famous for its glamorous beach resorts, such as Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez, which attract visitors from around the world. While exploring the Mediterranean coast, don’t forget to visit the enchanting towns of Provence, where you’ll find fragrant lavender fields, ancient Roman ruins, and charming hilltop villages.

d. The Atlantic Coast and the Loire Valley

Your France itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Atlantic coast and the Loire Valley. The Atlantic coast offers a mix of bustling cities, like Bordeaux and Nantes, and picturesque seaside towns, such as La Rochelle and Biarritz. Meanwhile, the Loire Valley is home to an impressive collection of Renaissance châteaux and stunning gardens, making it a must-visit destination for history and architecture enthusiasts.

e. The Culture-Rich City of Lyon

Situated in the Rhône-Alpes region, Lyon, France’s third largest city,

is often overlooked by tourists but is a true gem in terms of culture and gastronomy. Known as the culinary capital of France, the city offers an impressive array of bouchons—traditional Lyonnaise restaurants—where you can try local dishes like coq au vin and quenelles. Don’t miss out on exploring the charming Old Town (Vieux Lyon), with its Renaissance architecture and the stunning Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière offering panoramic views over the city.

f. The Historic City of Strasbourg

Located in the Alsace region near the German border, Strasbourg offers a unique blend of French and German cultures. Its picturesque Old Town, the Grande Île, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with half-timbered houses and winding canals. Visit the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral and explore La Petite France, a historic quarter known for its quaint charm. And of course, if you’re there in December, the Strasbourg Christmas Market is not to be missed!

g. Marseille: A Melting Pot of Cultures

As France’s oldest city and a major Mediterranean seaport, Marseille boasts a rich cultural heritage. It’s a vibrant, multicultural city with a bustling port area and a historic district, Le Panier. Marseille is also the gateway to the Calanques National Park, a haven for outdoor lovers. Don’t forget to try a bowl of bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew that originated in Marseille.

h. Toulouse: The Pink City

Nicknamed ‘La Ville Rose’ (The Pink City) due to the distinctive pink stone used in many of its buildings, Toulouse is another must-visit French city. Located near the Spanish border, it a port city that’s known for its vibrant music scene and strong student population. Be sure to visit the Capitole de Toulouse, a grand city hall with a dramatic square, and the Saint-Sernin Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

i. Dijon: The Mustard Capital

Last but not least, Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy region, is a paradise for food lovers. Known worldwide for its namesake mustard, Dijon is also famous for its wine and traditional French cuisine. Explore the city’s charming old town, visit the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, and, of course, take a trip to a local mustard shop for some souvenirs!

By incorporating these cities into your travel itinerary, you can get a comprehensive experience of the rich cultural diversity, historical depth, and culinary excellence that France has to offer. Remember, each city has its own unique character and charm, so take the time to soak it all in. Happy travels!

j. The French Alps: A Natural Paradise

The French Alps stretch across the southeastern part of the country, offering an unparalleled playground for outdoor enthusiasts. This breathtaking region is known for its towering peaks, idyllic alpine meadows, sparkling lakes, and charming mountain villages.

In the winter, the French Alps transform into a world-class skiing and snowboarding destination, with renowned resorts such as Chamonix, Courchevel, and Val d’Isère. Here, you can enjoy a range of winter sports, from downhill skiing and snowboarding to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

In the summer, the snow-capped peaks give way to lush greenery, making it perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. The region is crisscrossed with hiking trails, that offer spectacular views over the mountain ranges.

Beyond outdoor pursuits, popular destinations in the French Alps are also rich in cultural experiences. Visit Annecy, often called the “Venice of the Alps,” known for its beautiful old town and crystal-clear lake. Or explore Grenoble, a vibrant city nestled in the mountains, home to several excellent museums and a lively arts scene.

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie seeking thrills, a nature lover in search of tranquility, or a culture vulture looking for rich history, the French Alps offer something for everyone.

Must-Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France

France boasts an impressive 45 UNESCO World Heritage sites, making it a treasure trove for history and culture enthusiasts. Some must-visit sites include the historic center of Avignon, the Roman ruins in Arles, and the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans. Additionally, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Palace and Park of Versailles, the medieval city of Carcassonne, and the prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux.

Top Attractions in France

a. Eiffel Tower

No trip to France would be complete without a visit to the iconic Eiffel Tower. Standing at 1,083 feet tall, this architectural masterpiece offers breathtaking views of Paris and the surrounding area. Be sure to make time to ascend the tower, either by stairs or elevator, to fully appreciate this landmark’s beauty. When you leave, you will fully understand why this is such a popular destination.

b. Mont Saint Michel

Located off the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint Michel is a stunning island commune that dates back to the 8th century. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its Gothic-style abbey, which sits atop a rocky outcrop, creating a dramatic and unforgettable sight.

c. Notre Dame Cathedral

This world-renowned Gothic cathedral is an essential stop on your France itinerary. Located in the heart of Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral boasts stunning architecture, intricate stained glass windows, and a fascinating history that will captivate visitors.

d. Place de la Bourse

Situated in the city of Bordeaux, the Place de la Bourse is a stunning square that showcases the beauty of 18th-century French architecture. Be sure to visit at night to witness the mesmerizing Miroir d’Eau, a large reflecting pool that creates a magical atmosphere.

e. French Revolution Landmarks

For history enthusiasts, a visit to the landmarks associated with the French Revolution is a must. Key sites include the Bastille, the former prison that was stormed in 1789, and the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her execution.

Budget Travel Tips for Backpacking France

a. Saving Money on Transportation

One of the best ways to save money while backpacking France is to take advantage of the country’s extensive train and bus networks. Consider purchasing a Eurail Pass, which allows you to travel between big cities, at a discounted rate. Additionally, budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet offer affordable flights between major cities.

b. Backpacker Hostels

Accommodation can be a significant expense while traveling, so consider staying in backpacker hostels to save money. These hostels often offer dormitory-style rooms and communal facilities, allowing you to meet fellow travelers while keeping costs low.

c. Dining on a Budget

Eating out in France can be pricey, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy delicious French cuisine on a budget. Opt for local bakeries and markets to purchase fresh bread, cheese, and produce for a fraction of the price of a restaurant meal. Alternatively, try local street food or visit small, family-run bistros for more affordable dining options.

d. Wild Camping

If you’re seeking a more adventurous and cost-effective accommodation option, consider wild camping. France has a relatively relaxed attitude towards wild camping, especially in more rural areas. Be sure to research local regulations and remember to leave no trace behind.

e. Frugal Sightseeing

France is laden with an abundance of historical landmarks and cultural sites. To save money, plan your visit around the first Sunday of the month when many museums and attractions in France offer free admission. Or invest in city tourism cards that often provide free entry or discounts to major attractions and public transport. Remember, wandering around charming French towns, small villages and cities, people-watching in a beautiful park or exploring local markets can be equally rewarding and absolutely free!

f. Economizing on Alcohol

Though sampling local wine and champagne is a quintessential part of the French experience, it can also add up pretty quickly. Opt for house wine in restaurants or better yet, buy bottles from local supermarkets to enjoy a picnic in one of France’s many picturesque parks. And if you’re feeling particularly frugal, remember, tap water is free in all French restaurants!

g. Save on Connectivity

Avoid expensive roaming charges by getting a local SIM card for internet and calls. Free Wi-Fi is quite common in cafes, restaurants, and public spaces, but having your own data can be handy while navigating or looking up information.

h. Travel Off-Peak

Consider traveling during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) when the weather is still pleasant, tourist crowds are fewer, and prices for flights and accommodation are generally lower. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Paris in the fall, with its gorgeous foliage and fewer photobombers obstructing your view of the Eiffel Tower? By avoiding the busy summer season you are sure to save.

i. Walking or Cycling

Many French cities, especially Paris, are incredibly walkable, and you can save a significant amount by exploring on foot or renting a bike. Plus, it’s a great way to burn off all those croissants and baguettes!

Remember, the key to budget travel is flexibility and a willingness to compromise. With a bit of planning and these cost-saving strategies, you can enjoy the best of France without breaking the bank!

Essential Travel Phrases

  1. Bonjour (Good day): This is a universal greeting that can be used at any time of the day.
  2. Merci (Thank you): An essential word to show appreciation.
  3. Où est…? (Where is…?): This phrase is useful when asking for directions.
  4. Je voudrais… (I would like…): Use this phrase when ordering food, drinks, or anything else.
  5. Combien ça coûte? (How much does it cost?): Essential when shopping or negotiating prices.
  6. Excusez-moi (Excuse me): Use this to get someone’s attention or to apologize.
  7. Pouvez-vous m’aider? (Can you help me?): This is a polite way to ask for help.
  8. Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?): Useful if you’re struggling with French and need to switch to English.
  9. Je ne comprends pas (I don’t understand): Don’t be afraid to admit if you’re having trouble understanding.
  10. Oui (Yes) / Non (No): The two most basic and important responses!

Remember, even if your French is not fluent, locals will appreciate your effort to communicate in their language. So don’t be shy and give these phrases a try!

Navigating the French Countryside

Exploring the French countryside can be a magical experience, as you’ll encounter charming villages, picturesque vineyards, and rolling hills. To make the most of your time in rural France, consider renting a bike or car to get around. This will allow you to explore at your own pace and venture off the beaten path.

Travel Insurance for Backpacking France

a. Importance of Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a crucial element of planning any trip, and backpacking in France is no different. It’s not the most glamorous part of your pre-trip preparations, but it is arguably the most important. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel.”

b. Medical Coverage

While France has excellent healthcare, it can be expensive, especially if you require hospitalization or specialized treatment. Travel insurance can cover these costs, as well as emergency evacuation if necessary. When selecting a policy, make sure it includes comprehensive medical coverage and look for a minimum coverage of $100,000.

c. Trip Cancellation or Interruption

Sometimes, the unexpected occurs — a family emergency back home, sudden illness, or even a global pandemic. Trip cancellation or interruption coverage can reimburse you for pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, like flights or hotel bookings, if you need to cancel or cut your trip short for a covered reason.

d. Lost or Stolen Belongings

Backpacking often involves moving between various accommodations, and there’s always a risk that your belongings could be lost, damaged, or stolen. Travel insurance can provide coverage for your luggage and personal items. Some policies also offer coverage for passport and credit card replacement.

e. Adventure Activities

If you plan on partaking in adventure activities like skiing in the Alps, make sure your policy covers it. Some insurers exclude certain activities deemed high risk, so always check the fine print.

f. Choosing a Policy

There are many travel insurance providers out there, offering a range of coverage options. It’s essential to read the policy details thoroughly to understand what is and isn’t covered. Websites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip allow you to compare policies from different providers.

g. The Lighter Side of Insurance

Remember, while travel insurance might seem like just another expense, it’s worth every penny if it saves you from selling your beloved pet to cover an unexpected medical bill. And if you don’t make any claims, you can always consider it an investment in your peace of mind. After all, you can’t put a price tag on that!

While we all hope for trips to go smoothly, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So don’t skimp on the travel insurance — consider it a non-negotiable part of your backpacking budget.

Eating in France for Budget Travelers

One concern of all travelers coming to backpack France is food costs. This can be a very large expense for travelers.

a. The Delights of French Bakeries

French bakeries, or boulangeries, are a feast for the senses. The intoxicating aroma of fresh bread and pastries can often be enjoyed from a block away. Start your day with a croissant or pain au chocolat, paired with a café au lait. For lunch, grab a baguette sandwich – simple, delicious, and portable. And don’t forget to try a tarte aux pommes or éclair for dessert. All of these can be enjoyed without putting a dent in your wallet, keeping your budget in check and your stomach content.

b. Marchés: Your Local Grocery Store

Marchés, or open-air markets, are a common sight in France. Here, you can buy fresh, local produce, cheese, and meats at a fraction of the cost of dining out. There is no shortage of delicious food to try. Try some ripe tomatoes, a chunk of creamy Camembert, and a fresh baguette for a simple yet delicious picnic. Remember, the French don’t say “cheap”; they say “bon marché” (good market)!

c. Supermarket Snacks

Don’t overlook supermarkets for affordable meals. Many supermarkets in France have deli sections offering ready-to-eat meals like quiche, salads, and rotisserie chicken. You can also find a wide variety of cheeses, pâtés, and cured meats to make your own charcuterie board. And who could resist the wine aisle, with quality bottles starting at just a few euros?

d. Street Food and Fast Food

While France is famous for its high-end cuisine, it also has its share of budget-friendly street food. Try a crêpe from a street vendor, filled with Nutella or ham and cheese for a quick, cheap, and undeniably French snack. And don’t miss out on “kebab” shops, where you can get a hearty sandwich filled with roasted meat, fresh veggies, and sauce for just a few euros.

e. Happy Hour and Prix Fixe Menus

Many bars and bistros in France offer happy hour specials, known as “l’heure joyeuse”, where you can enjoy discounted drinks and small bites. Also, look out for prix fixe menus, a set menu with a few courses often available at a reduced price. It’s like getting a sneak peek of a high-end dining experience without the high-end price tag!

f. The Lighter Side of Budget Dining

Remember, dining in France is not just about the food; it’s about the experience. So even if you’re nibbling on a baguette sandwich on a park bench, do it with style. Pretend you’re in a French film, gaze pensively into the distance, and remember to say “oh là là” every now and then. Because in France, even budget dining can feel gourmet!

Conclusion: Embrace the Adventure of Backpacking France

Backpacking France is a journey filled with unforgettable experiences, from exploring historic landmarks to immersing yourself in the country’s vibrant culture. With careful planning and a sense of adventure, you’ll be well on your way to discovering the backpacking trip of a lifetime. So, pack your bags, brush up on your French, and get ready to embrace the adventure of backpacking France!