The French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur has earned itself the reputation of being one of the most glamorous places in France. This part of France’s Southern coast has attracted the rich and famous for years. With gorgeous sandy beaches, glistening blue seas and stunning coastline, you can certainly see the appeal!
Whilst there is an abundance of designer shops, luxury hotels, high end restaurants and glitzy champagne bars all along the coastline, you don’t need to own your own yacht to visit the French Riviera!
Yes, the French Riviera can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ll be pleased to know that it is possible to visit the French Riviera without breaking the bank.
My husband and I spent 10 days travelling along the French Riviera visiting Cannes, Menton, Antibes, Nice and Monaco at the start of our full time travels. So here, I'll share my simple tips for just how you can visit the French Riviera on a budget.
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1. Don’t just rely on planes to get there
This only really works if you are travelling to the French Riviera from somewhere in Europe, where overland transport is possible. The French Riviera has a great train network and Nice is a big hub for connecting France’s Southern coast with the rest of the country. For example, you can travel by train from Paris or Lyon directly to Nice. So from the UK, you could consider travelling by train from London - Paris, then Paris - Nice. With many budget airlines available, the train might not be the cheapest option, but it is definitely worth researching before you book.
2. Stay in smaller towns
The larger, more popular towns of the French Riviera, such as Nice, Cannes, Antibes, and of course Monaco, will always be more expensive for accommodation. To stay in the French Riviera on a budget, you will need to look at accommodation in one of the smaller towns. One such place is Juan les Pins, a great little beach town close to Antibes. Juan les Pins is where we based ourselves during our 10 days exploring the French Riviera. We also stayed slightly outside the centre of town which made the cost even cheaper. Before booking accommodation out of town, make sure you check walking distances from key landmarks such as the beach, train station and shops.
We enjoyed a day out in Monaco without spending much at all!
3. Look for apartments rather than hotels
Often apartments are cheaper than hotels, especially if there are two or more of you travelling together. I actually found apartments to be even cheaper than hostels in most places in Europe as there was two of us. Having an apartment with a kitchen also means that you can save money by eating in on an evening, or preparing your own lunch to take out with you for the day. We were lucky and our apartment came with an equipped kitchen, free underground parking and also free use of the washing machine.
4. Travel by train
When choosing which town to stay in, make sure that it has a train station and your accommodation is within walking distance to it. The train is definitely the fastest and easiest way of getting around the French Riviera. The train follows a linear route, stopping at all the main towns along the coast, making it really easy to plan and navigate. Buy a Zou weekly train pass for unlimited train travel along your chosen route. For example, we wanted to visit several places along the coast between Cannes and Menton. The Zou card we purchased allowed us unlimited train travel in any direction between those two places for 7 days. Total cost? Just €63 for both of us! That’s just over €30 per person for 7 days of unlimited train travel!
At Antibes beach. Using local transport makes travelling along the coast really easy.
5. Use local buses within the towns
Taxis are expensive, so check out local buses to travel around in the towns if you don't want to walk. There are also buses which will travel along the coast, linking the major towns, however these will take much longer than the train and I really think the train is a better option for longer distance journeys.
6. Ditch the car
France is a great place for a road trip. We actually travelled to the French Riviera from Switzerland in our own car, as part of our 3 month European road trip. But you definitely won’t need a car to travel around the south coastline of France. The roads are busy and parking is very expensive. So, if you plan to arrive by car, make sure that your accommodation has free parking (preferably underground or secure), so that you can leave it safely there for the duration of your stay.
7. Don’t eat out every night
This sounds obvious, but you will save so much money by eating in. Of course, this is easier if you have an apartment or are staying at a hostel or guesthouse with a shared kitchen. But even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, take advantage of the beaches and do as the locals do and bring a baguette and a bottle of wine to the beach to enjoy watching the sunset. Even if you only eat in for a couple of nights or fill up on a hearty breakfast before you set off exploring for the day, it makes a big difference to your daily spend.
When the sunset looks this good, why not bring your own dinner to the beach?!
8. Pack a picnic
Even though takeaways can often seem cheap, the cost adds up and it will always work out more expensive than shopping at the supermarket and making your own lunch. When travelling in Europe, I regularly made sandwiches, salads or pasta which I took with me when I went out for the day. You might not believe me when I say that I actually took a packed lunch with me to Monaco for the day. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting by the Port, admiring the luxury yachts with my little sandwich!
Ready for a day out with a picnic in our backpacks!
9. Travel out of season
This is obvious, but travelling during the peak summer months, or during a large festival is not a good way to save money! The prices of accommodation in the French Riviera, like many European destinations, are much higher during the months of July-August. The beaches are also very crowded during this time. On the whole, it is much better to travel in the shoulder seasons of April, June and October. However, be sure to check the dates of large festivals throughout the Riviera before your visit, here’s a few of the key ones to be aware of:
Key festivals and events in the French Riviera:
February - Menton Lemon Festival
February - Nice Carnival
May - Cannes Film Festival
Late May / early June - Monaco F1 Grand Prix
July - Nice Jazz Festival
Late September - Monaco Yacht Show
None of these tips are surprising. They are just some really simple things you can do to save money whilst travelling!