France is an absolute gem of a country that can keep even the most restless backpacker entertained for months. Think picturesque medieval towns, bucketlist-worthy surf spots, sunny Mediterranean coastline, giant fleamarkets and more wine and cheese than you can shake a baguette at. When it comes to variety, France is hard to beat: the south is completely different to the north, the cities all have their unique identity and the beaches are, well, just too amazing to miss.
The best bit is that backpacking around France doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Even in the more expensive cities such as Paris, there are loads of ways to save money and make your budget go further. So what are you waiting for? Here’s our pick of the best places to visit in France for an epic summer trip.
The view from the Castle of Rocamadour ?@daniel.edward.brown
Perched on a hillside in Southwest France, Rocamadour is one of the most iconic towns in the Dordogne. This stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site will instantly steal your heart, and blow up your Instagram feed. Explore the Castle of Rocamadour (THOSE VIEWS) and wander the town’s pretty cobbled streets; you’ll leave feeling like you’ve just been on a two-week Buddhist retreat. If you’re staying in nearby Toulouse, then Rocamadour makes for a great daytrip. Rent a car with some new friends at your hostel to bring the cost down and it’ll take just under 2 hours. In case you needed more convincing, Rocamadour is also famous for its creamy goat’s cheese!
The Natural History Museum in Lille is pretty epic ?@champchampp
The annual Braderie de Lille is believed to be the biggest fleamarket in Europe ?@anotherstorystudio
Close to the border with Belgium, Lille is effortlessly cool and one of the best cities in France for a chilled-out city break on a budget. You’ll be spoilt for choice for cheap things to do in Lille: we love the gorgeous Natural History Museum, which has one of the world’s best Insectariums; the striking 17th century Citadel of Lille; and if you’re visiting Lille in September, then you’ll get to experience the joys of the biggest fleamarket in Europe at the annual Braderie de Lille. After all that exploring, refuel at Il Piccolino, which serves the delicious pizza for hungry backpackers on a budget.
What makes Lille one of the best places to visit in France is that it’s so easy and cheap to get to from the UK: under an hour and a half from central London via the Eurostar, and from just €30 each way.
3. Dune of Pilat
Did you know France is home to the tallest sand dune in Europe? ?@xexesdl
You won’t actually believe this place is in Europe until you see it with your own eyes. Picture an enormous white sandy dune that stretches for miles, with the sea on one side and lush forest on the other. If this is your idea of heaven, then you need to add the Dune of Pilat in the Southwest of France to your bucketlist. It’s the tallest sand dune in Europe, and a beautifully tranquil place despite its increasing Instagram-fame. It’s just an hour’s drive from Bordeaux, and a skip and a jump along the coast from amazing surf spots such as Hossegor and Biarritz, so it’s an excellent daytrip spot.
The prettiest red village you’ll ever see ?@lostpeony
Posing up a storm at Collonges-La-Rouge ?@handluggageonly
Located in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France, Collonges-La-Rouge certainly lives up to the ‘red’ in its name. This gorgeous little commune is well over a 1,000 years old. Keep your eyes peeled for the Castel de Vassinhac, the picture-perfect Maison de la Sirène and the envy-inducing houses that line every street. This tiny village is one of the best places to visit in France, but a word of warning: it may make you want to move here, buy a beret and eat pain au chocolat all day.
Promenade des Anglais in Nice ?@lisaxworld
Epic views from the Castle of Nice ?@galinavolkovaa
Nice is one of the most popular cities to visit in France amongst our travel community, second only to Paris. Which is surprising really, since most of us have a perception of the Côte d’Azur aka French Riviera as being crazily expensive. But it is possible to see this beautiful French city on a budget: with hostels from €12/night, plenty of free things to do, stunning beaches and delicious street food, you’ll be in backpacker heaven. Be sure to try the famous local snack ‘socca’, which is basically a healthy crepe made from chickpea flour and olive oil available in Nice’s Old Town for a few euros.
Pucker up! ?@_zyroliv_
With its white cliffs, dramatic rock formations, turquoise waters and sandy beaches, Étretat is one of Normandy’s prettiest towns. Not only that, it’s also home to an absolute stunner of a sculpture park: the Jardins D’Etretat are one of the weirdest and most beautiful places in France. So it’s surprising that even many French people have never heard of them. Perched on the clifftop overlooking the bay, the gardens are full of giant gurning heads and eerie straw figures. Sounds like our idea of a fun day out!
Hossegor is one of the best places to surf in Europe ?@lilytoutsourire
As well as surfing, Hossegor is great for skating ?@wesley_wilquin_photo
Surf nerds will recognise the name of this tiny seaside town in Southwest France. But for the uninitiated, Hossegor is one of the best places to surf in the world, thanks to its warm waters, incredible year-round waves and friendly surf community. Whilst surf is the main attraction, other outdoorsy things to do in Hossegor include stand-up paddleboarding, windsurfing, skateboarding, cycling and hiking. So you certainly won’t be bored, even on a flat day. It’s now also home to Jo&Joe Hossegor, one of the most gorgeous hostels in France, so there’s even more reason to visit.
Is this the prettiest Salon de Thé in France? Yes. Yes, it is. ?@eatreadlover
Issigeac is SO pretty! ?@mathilde_alrd
Located in Périgord, Issigeac is a tiny medieval village that’s full to the brim with history. With less than 1,000 residents, expect a chilled-out and authentic off-the-beaten-track experience. Wander the cobbled streets, go inside the beautiful Saint-Felicien d’Issigeac Church and enjoy a French beer on the terrace of one of the many local watering holes. If you visit on Sunday, the Farmers Market is an absolute treat, with cheap and delicious local produce plus handmade baskets and other pretty things.
Picnic under the Eiffel Tower = travel goals! ?@lola.photography
Yes, it’s touristy, but we love it! Don’t judge us. ?@lola.photography
Paris is one of the most popular cities in the world, and even if it can be mega touristy, it’s just one of those destinations you HAVE to visit at least once in your life. Despite its popularity, it is possible to see the City of Love on a budget. There are some awesome, centrally-located hostels (try the vintage chic of Les Piaules or Arty Paris Hostel for starters!) and SO many free things to do in Paris: wander Montmartre’s secret vineyards, people-watch along the hip Canal Saint-Martin, rummage in one of the many epic fleamarkets in Paris, and keep your eyes peeled for Paris’s elusive Arago medallions. Contrary to popular belief, cheap food in Paris does exist: head over to Chez le Libanais for a tasty Lebanese shawarma, or grab some simple but delicious French basics from the supermarket and picnic beside the Eiffel Tower.
Vegan street food heaven at Mango Chill in Bordeaux ?@mar_berry
Bordeaux is quickly becoming one of the hippest city break destinations in Europe, so get here before everyone else does! The region is well known for its excellent wines, but Bordeaux now has an epic food scene to match. Think vegan food trucks, hipster coffee shops and old fashioned markets selling the finest local produce. If you find some time between all that eating and drinking, there are glorious riverside walks, cool little vintage shops and smoky student bars waiting to be explored.
11. Mont Saint-Michel
Is this real life? ?@evva_fialova
It may look photoshopped, but Mont Saint-Michel is 100% legit and even more beautiful in real life. If you’re stumped for where to go in France, you simply can’t go wrong with this place. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it can get pretty popular on public holidays and weekends, but if you visit during the week it won’t feel too touristy. Get up early for the perfect light, and then come back in the evening for one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever seen in your life. Top tip: although you can take the free shuttle bus (starting next to the shuttle hub) from the entrance to Mont Saint-Michel itself, the walk is much prettier and well worth it if the sun is shining.
WHAT A VIEW! ?@lauwrastevens
This pretty little spot is everything a French village should be ?@annaaroundtheworld
This tiny little village in the Dordogne region has to be one of the most beautiful places to visit in France. The quaint cobbled streets and rustic wooden shutters are like something out of a fairy-tale, and the views from the Chateau de Castelnaud which towers over the village are unreal. It’s around a 2 and a half hour drive from the nearest big city of Bordeaux, but you’ll pass through some stunning countryside on your way so the journey will fly by.
Marseille is one of the best places in France for skaters ?@tombook
The architecture in Marseille is a flawless mix of old and new ?@opossum_insulaire
The port city of Marseille used to have a bit of a shady rep, but it’s quietly blossomed into one of the most alternative, vibrant cities in the South of France. Multicultural, unpretentious and effortlessly cool, Marseille is a treasure trove of colourful graffiti, epic skate spots, cultural gems and glorious beaches. Oh, and of course the weather is nice pretty much ALL the time. One of the weirdest and best things to do in Marseille is to pay a visit to Château d’If, the city’s answer to Alcatraz. Located on a tiny island, this former prison can easily be reached by boat from Marseille’s Old Port and was made famous as the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo.
La Piscine is a strong contender for prettiest museum in France ?@dalbera
You’ve probably never heard of this former industrial hub, located close to Lille and the border with Belgium, but it’s about time you put it on your radar. The star attraction in Roubaix is La Piscine, a museum of art and industry housed in a disused Art Deco swimming pool. Yes, it’s as incredible as it sounds and Roubaix is worth a daytrip from Lille for this alone! The original features have been preserved, and the pool remains filled with water, but the bathers have been replaced with sculptures, paintings and ceramics all jostling for the best poolside spot.
If you like hiking, you’ll love Montgenèvre ?@silviataberini
Perched right next to the Italian border in Southeast France, Montgenèvre is a pretty spot with plenty of outdoorsy delights to keep backpackers happy. In the summer, head here to walk the many flower-filled trails and parks that fill the area, and cool off afterwards in the village’s huge communal pool. If you decide to visit in winter, think about splurging on a lift pass for a day up the slopes as this is still one of the cheapest places to ski in the Alps. To refuel head over to Le Petit Creux for one of the juiciest and cheapest burgers in the Alps.
The annual Nuits Sonores festival transforms Lyon into one big party ?Diego Cupolo
Lyon is low-key one of the best places to party in France; a bit like Paris but with fewer tourists. For peak partying, time your visit to coincide with the annual Nuits Sonores (named by Resident Advisor as one of the best city festivals in the world), which transforms the city into one big playground for electronic music fans. Other cool things to do in Lyon include the giant fleamarket Les Puces du Canal, and the gorgeous “hanging” gardens located on top of Lyon Perrache train station.
Walking the old city walls of Aigues-Mortes ?@handluggageonly
Situated on the southern coast of France just outside Montpellier, Aigues-Mortes is a historic town that’s over 1,000 years old. Walk the historic city walls, and fill yourself up at Le Petit London with some of the best burgers in the city. Next head into the gorgeous Camargue National Park, home to wild flamingos and shocking pink salt flats. Finish up with a dip in the Med at Espiguette Beach and watch the sunset with a nice cold beer.
Chantilly is one of the best daytrips from France ?@kikalavil
Located on the outskirts of Paris, Chantilly is a delightful throwback to good old-fashioned splendour. Stroll around the beautiful landscaped gardens of Le Potager des Princes and visit the Chateau de Chantilly for the afternoon, before returning to the hustle and bustle of Paris. The train takes around 30 minutes from the centre of Paris, so it makes for a cheap and easy daytrip.
Refreshments and adventures in Nîmes ?@dan.aldana
Nîmes’s gorgeous Roman Ampitheatre ?@handluggageonly
Around 25 minutes from the coast, Nîmes is the perfect place to go for an authentic taste of southern France on a budget. Being an ancient Roman city, Nîmes has plenty of beautiful and historic attractions, including the Maison Carrée, one of only a few remaining Roman temples in the world. Walk through the Roman Amphitheatre, which is better preserved than the one in Rome, and hop over to the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct. You’ll leave feeling like a true Roman! If you’re looking for a budget friendly brunch, head over to Creperie Le Frenchy for a delicious homemade crepe.
Where to stay in France
Did we mention how EPIC the hostels in France are? Think chilled out beach vibes, vintage chic interiors and stunning roof terraces. Have a browse on our site and read reviews from other travellers who have stayed in each hostel to find your perfect accommodation in France.
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Did we miss a gem off our list of the best places to visit in France? Tell us about your insider tips in the comments below ?