France Travel Tips: Accommodations and Transportation

Jennifer Sutherland-Miller

This guide to France, complied by Jennifer Sutherland-Miller & Jessie Beck, is part of a series of country-by-country focused resources addressing accommodations and transportation. You’ll find some overlap with the posts for other countries within the region. We’ve separated them by country because that’s what our readers are looking for. Feel free to skim past the parts that don’t suit you or seem redundant. Let us know if you’ve got insider knowledge to add!

When headed to Europe, France is on almost everyone’s bucket list.  Paris is the quintessential European city, with crepes on the street, mouth watering boulangeries, quaint local markets tucked into alley ways, bookshops smelling of the classics, and the meandering Seine, all in the shadow of the imposing structures of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. And then, of course, there are the museums; don’t get me started.

But, France is far more than Paris, even if that’s where most travelers begin. How do you find that idyllic place in the French countryside to stay, and once you find it, how do you get there?

If you’re planning a trip to France then this guide is for you, we’ve got everything you need for finding accommodation and transportation covered:

Table of Contents

Hotels $100+ per Night

Four Seasons: The best of the best, one of the most highly rated hotel chains in the world. If you’re looking for all-out luxury, this is it.

Ritz Carlton: Another top-rated hotel chain. Fantastic luxury in the heart of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Fairmont: Luxury hotels, but a bit less pricey than the above. Comfort is guaranteed.

Park Hyatt: Classic luxury, familiar to all those who like to travel in style. Located in several destinations around Europe.

Radisson Blu: Hotels with a modern vibe, Radisson Blu is moderately priced and boasts 182 unique hotels in Europe.

Novotel: A comfortable stay in convenient locations around the continent. 290 hotels in Europe.

JW Marriott Luxury Hotels: All the comforts of home, in every major European city.

Small Luxury Hotels: Just like the name says. They’ve got a number of listings in France. Private luxury. Good stuff here.

Johansens: Many of these listings, dotted all over France, are old chateaus remade into private retreats. Luxury meets romance.

Hotels Under $100 per Night

Finding budget hotels in France is not hard if you know where to look. Your best bet is to do some research ahead of time. Depending on where you’re going, book your hotel at least two days in advance.

To save a buck, sacrifice proximity to city centers for a more modest hotel nearer the outskirts of town. City transit tends to be affordable, so you’re better off taking the subway in than you are spending extra money on being two blocks closer to the Eiffel Tower.

Don’t forget to use air miles to get the best deals!

iescape: A personal favorite for finding France accommodation. Lists boutique hotels as well as your average hotel room.

Sherman’s Travel: A go-to site for more than just hotel deals. Book flights, car rentals, and more; as well as finding a great room.

Expedia: Prone to give you classier accommodation options than you might typically find for under $100, Expedia will not always give you the best deal, but you’re more likely to end up in a comfortable room.

Travelocity: One of the top hotel booking sites out there. Travelocity is great for its reviews. If a hotel is listed with them, it’s passed their inspection and you know you’re getting a clean, comfortable room.

Hotels: An offshoot of Expedia, Hotels.com is good for finding big hotel chains or local favourites for a low price.

Hotels Combined: One of the most popular booking sites for European hotels, with thousands of options and set up to be easy to navigate. Hotels Combined makes researching easy.

Ibis: Ibis hotels convey the feeling of luxury while not breaking the bank. By far, some of the nicest “cheap” hotels you can find in Europe.

EuroCheapo: Made specifically to help you find budget European hotels, including France, of course. Read reviews, find deals, and reserve a room in any of the most popular cities.

EuroBookings: Over 160,000 hotels in thousands of locations across Europe, catering to all price ranges.

Venere: Book hotels, apartments, and B&Bs across Europe, including France. Unlike many other booking sites, Venere focuses primarily on Europe.

Agoda: A tried and true travel booking website used by thousands of travelers. Sure to get you a good deal on the lodging you’re looking for. You pay in advance on Agoda, accumulate points towards free stays, and if you end up with a terrible place, they’ll refund your money for unused nights.

Boutique Hotels

Boutique hotels in France don’t have to be expensive, and staying in one could be one of the highlights of your trip. If you’re looking for a local, hip, place to stay, this is a good place to start.

iescape: Lists at least a few boutique hotels in each European country, offering the best deals first.

Mr & Mrs Smith: Catering to honeymooners in particular, this site locates the best boutique and luxury hotels in Europe, rating them for you, as well.

Great Small Hotels: With over 2150 European boutique hotels listed, you’re sure to find a place to stay here. However, it may be harder to sort the best rooms from the just “ok.”

Secretplaces: A magical, handpicked collection of the best hole-in-the-wall hotels around Europe. Your best bet for finding the hotel of your dreams.

Slow-Chic: “Travel slow. Stay chic,” is their motto. You’re going to love this collection of really lovely little hidden gems in unexpected places.

Chic Retreats: Everything from Paris to Provence. Check these out, they are some delightful little places.

Design Hotels: A range of charming to chic hotels across France and the rest of Europe. Fifteen are listed for this country.

Vacation Rentals

Staying in one area for the majority of your vacation? You may want to consider renting a home instead of camping out in the cheapest hotel room you can find. Chances are, you’ll be able to find a vacation rental that perfectly suits your needs, and may even be cheaper, in the long run, than staying in a hotel.

Most vacation rentals in France average from $50-150 a night, and come fully furnished with all the essentials. Save a great deal on food by cooking from the comfort of your own home-away-from-home.

VRBO: Find owners of vacation rentals around France and the rest of Europe, get connected, and set up a stay.

HomeAway: One of the best vacation rental websites out there. Search according to your price range, stay in your dream home for a week or two… or more!

Airbnb: Rent a house, or rent just one room in your host’s home. A great way to get to know locals and travel economically. For more on this, read this post about Airbnb alternatives.

9flats: Thousands of apartment rentals available in Paris alone. A fantastic local resource for finding European rentals for a fair price.

OwnerDirect: Apartments all over France. All pro-checked and approved.

Wimdu: Another European based rental website, with a great deal of local expertise. Claims to be Europe’s “biggest portal for city apartments.”

At Home in France: Specializes in short term vacation rentals, specifically in France.

NY Habitat: So… the name is a little weird, considering they have a range of vacation home rentals in the  south of France.

Just France: Cut through the noise and all of the listings that are scattered across Europe and hone in on the best rentals that are just in France.

Vacation France: Again, this portal for vacation rentals is specific to France. Find the perfect place, in Paris, Marseille, or on the beach somewhere quiet.

Vacation Rentals France: Looking specifically for Paris? This is your site.

Housesitting

If you have a beautiful home, you may be able to swap it with another family’s for an ultra-cheap vacation. Or, pay a membership fee to a housesitting website and stay without swapping. Be sure to make your housing arrangements well in advance of your trip.

Luxury Housesitting: For the best of the best. The houses listed here are beautiful. Plus, membership for homeowners is free.

Housesit Match: Very highly rated and used by thousands. An easy, doable way to housesit in Europe, numerous listings for France.

Sabbatical Homes: Homes for rental, exchange, or sitting. $45 listing fee.

HouseCarers: A wide range of listings in France to suit all needs. $50 fee for house sitters.

Trusted Housesitters: This site has extensive profiles of both home owners and sitters to help ensure a good match. We’ve used this one twice and both times have had fantastic experiences. This site caters specifically to pet owners and lovers; pet sitting is often part of the equation.

HouseM8: House sitters and pet care takers are solicited through this site. Register as a carer or as a home owner.

The Good Life France: A sub-site of Trusted Housesitters, this site provides information on living and housesitting in France.

Nomador: Yet another housesitting match site where you can register as either an owner or a house sitter. House sits available in France.

Camping & RV

Camping is a wonderful way to explore France. Get in touch with local culture, meet new people, and discover off-the-beaten path destinations by staying where locals are staying on their holidays.

Unlike in North America, campgrounds in Europe are often located within walking distance of towns, or public transportation routes in major cities. Also, most campgrounds in France will offer cabin accommodations, complete with sheets on the bed, so tents are not required.

The only downside to camping is that you’re at the mercy of the seasons and will likely end up traveling during the more touristed months.

Camping Europe: The official European camping guide. Everything you need to know about camping in Europe.

EuroCampings: Europe’s largest campsite search engine, with 9902 annually inspected campsites.

RV Camping Europe: An amateur’s guide to RVing Europe. Best campsites, RV rentals, tips and tricks, and destinations.

Cool Camping: The coolest camping guide out there for France and the rest of Europe. Read reviews, check out pictures, and book your stay in advance.

Camping Info: This site is an aggregate of camping options in France and beyond.

Les Campings: If you speak french, this is a great resource of local camping information for France.

Camping en France: Again, this site is in French, and it’s a bit dated, but there is a lot of helpful information for the francophone listed here.

Campings.Luxury: Exactly what the slightly disjointed (in English) title indicates: luxury campsites located across France. Check it out.

Retro Airstream Trailer Park: Exactly what it sounds like. Dozens of retro Airstreams parked near the Pyrénées in France. Can it get any cooler?

Treehouse Stay: Sleep in a “cabin in the air” in France. The ultimate camping experience.

Sleep in a Star Box: In the Sparkling Loire Valley you’ll find a unique camping experience. The Boxes come with a transparent roof, a telescope, stellar chart, and astronomy-themed games.

Unusual Accommodations

The weird, the fantastic, and the unbelievable. Here are some of the most interesting accommodation options in France.

Castle and Palace Hotels: Ever dreamed of sleeping like royalty in an actual castle? Here’s your chance.

Les Hautes Roches: This hotel is carved into the wall of a cliff, making it an exceptionally unique European cave hotel.

Quirky Accom: As the name indicates, this is a site full of listings of quirky accommodations, some of which are in France. These are fun.

Responsible Travel: I just found this site recently. With numerous listing of really interesting things to do and places to stay in France this site is full of possibility. Like what? Wolf spotting, walking with a donkey and snowshoeing holidays, among many others.

Hostels

Hostels are a very popular way to stay while in Europe, especially among young people. If you’re willing to sacrifice your comfort and embrace a sense of adventure, hostels are the cheapest way to go. Just don’t expect to be pampered along the way! These are every backpacker’s go-to booking sites for the France and hostels in Europe.

It is worth noting that some hostels have age caps, on the upper and lower ends. Be sure to ask when you book.

HostelWorld: The biggest hostel site out there, with thousands of recorded and rated hostels for you to choose from.

Hostels: They don’t get extra points for creativity, but hey, it’s your basic hostel booking site. What more can you ask?

Savvy Backpacker: One of the best guides to hosteling Europe I’ve seen.

EuropeanHostels: This site specializes in Europe, unlike the others, meaning that it may have more in-depth information on a region than some of the bigger hostel sites out there.

HostelBookers: A personal favorite for easily finding and booking hostels anywhere in Europe, not just the UK.

Flights & Airports

Flying into France, whether from mainland Europe or North America, is going to land you in a major city. If you’re coming from North America and you’re flying from the east coast, check out Nice, or Marseille as alternatives to flying into Paris.

If your time is limited, then there are inexpensive flights between the major cities in France and the rest of Europe. You’ll often find them at rock bottom prices through the budget airlines. Do not expect any amenities and expect to be nickle and dimed to death. Traveling with only a carry on bag will save you loads.

RyanAir: The worst kept secret of budget travel in Europe, RyanAir is a discount UK airline that flies, mostly, just within Europe. Yes, they’re ridiculously cheap (I once bought a flight for 1 Pound), but they’ll try and find ways to charge you for everything imaginable, and they don’t always fly to major airports. So, if this is your first experience with them, err, pack light.

RyanAir Alternatives: However, there are some good alternatives that service France, including EastJet and AirLingus.

FlyCheapo: FlyCheapo will help you figure out which budget airlines go from one destination to another, so you can get even more specific with those RyanAir alternatives.

SleepingInAirports: And, because Ryanair and other cheap-o flights are notorious for having terrible connection times and not being the most convenient, SleepingInAirports.net will give you tips on where and how to sleep in the airport you’re currently stuck in — stuff like “They’ll kick you out of Terminal 2 but Terminal 1 is open all night and there are some benches without arms by the cafe.”

Edreams: A European version of Kayak that will include most budget airlines in your search. I usually run it in conjunction with Kayak or Priceline.

Busing Around France

Taking the bus between cities and towns is a picturesque and economical way to get around France. There are several options for bus lines and some of them offer passes to further reduce the cost and increase flexibility. Even if you don’t have a pass, don’t hesitate to book tickets, even last minute!

EuroLines: A central website for booking buses throughout the continent.

EuroLines: A central website for booking buses throughout the continent. They also have a pass similar to the Eurorail pass.

Oui Bus: The site is in French, but they list a range of great deals on bus trips around France. It would be worth translating the site to check out some of the options.

Isilines: Offering ultra cheap bus fare between select destinations, this site is in French too.

Euro Bus Pass: Because the French have deregulated bus travel it’s become more affordable. This site lists many bus routes and maps to help you find your way to exactly the destination you have in mind.

France by Train

Train travel is common in France. There are routes to almost every town you’ll want to visit. Having traveled extensively on french trains, I’ll say this: service is reliable, if not always timely. Expect to wait, but you’ll get there.

RailEurope: RailEurope will be most travelers’ first stop when looking for train tickets. Yes, it’s good to check these, but do note that local websites will often provide lower fares and discounts that American run RailEurope will not.

Seat61: British run Seat61 is a great resource for finding discounts on train and ferry rides across France, and the rest of Europe, as well as advice on how to get around (affordably!) using the rail system.

Lastminute: RailEurope and Seat61 both have discounts on rail lines listed, but Lastminute is another website to check for last minute details for French rail travel. It also lists last minute deals on airfares.

SNCF: The official website of the national train service of France.

Paris Metro: The official site for purchasing Paris Metro and museum passes.

Paris by Train: This site will help you sort out how to get around Paris using the metro. It’s easier than it at first appears, I assure you.

Car Shares & Hitchhiking in France

Have you considered ride sharing while you’re in France? Particularly within urban areas, and sometimes between towns, a ride share can be a great way to meet interesting people and save money too. If you aren’t ready for standing alongside the road and hitchhiking, old school, these sites will help you find a reputable ride.

Carpooling: This UK based website will help you find a car share (kind of like Craigslist’s car share feature) throughout France and the rest of Europe.

HitchWiki: Hitchwiki, the “hitchhikers guide to hitchhiking” is an incredible database of tips for hitchhikers — from where to stand are if you’re trying to get a ride out of Paris, to tips on which roads are the best or worst to find rides. I personally used it to hitchhike throughout Europe and the tips are both updated constantly and super helpful.

Bla Bla Car: France based BlaBlaCar (formerly Covoiturage) does the same as Carpooling.co.uk and sets you up with drivers so you can share a ride to wherever you’re going. This is my go-to for travel in Francophone Europe.

GumTree: Gumtree is super similar to Craigslist, and — like Craigslist — will set you up with car shares around Europe… just in case you didn’t find any on Carpooling.

Car Rentals in France

Most of the bigger car rental agencies operate in France, and honestly Kayak, Priceline, or whatever you generally use to book car rentals will do the trick. However, if you’re renting a car for more than 21 days, you may want to consider a “buy back car lease.” Although they’re not always a cheap way to travel, the two resources below will help you start your search to find out if this is the best way to travel for you:

It may also be required, by some car agencies, for North Americans to have an International Driver’s Permit. This is easily procured through AAA and is valid for one year. Be sure to double check this with your rental agency when you book your rental.

Getting Around France by Boat

Ferry Saver: If you’re trying to take a ferry around the UK or to and from continental Europe from the UK, Ferry Saver will help you find discounted rates.

Direct Ferries: “Direct Ferries features the widest selection of ferry routes giving you flexibility and choice as well as access to the best ferry deals around.”

Ferries UK: Billed as the world’s largest independent ferry booking service offering over 1100 ferry routes.

PO Ferries: The largest fleet in Europe, running between Britain and the mainland as well as Ireland.

Brittany Ferries: Ferries from the UK to Spain and France that will save you miles of driving or hours of train time.

Le Boat: Canal boat travel in France. This is a fantastic way to see the country at a leisurely pace.

Barging in France: Check out the option for hiring a barge, from economical and self drive, to luxury and guided, and plying the canals of France.

France Cruises: There are some amazing trips offered here, and a selection of them at up to 30% discount!

Bicycling Around France

One year I rode my bicycle from London, UK, through Europe, to Tunisia and back. We ended in Paris, having come ashore from North Africa at Marseilles. France is a beautiful place to bicycle. Paris is far more bike friendly than you might think, and you can even cut out large sections by popping your bike onto a train between cities and the regions you want to explore.

EuroVelo: Traveling with your bike around Europe? EuroVelo will give you suggested routes for long distance cycling — though, that seems to be about all it does. Check out my post on how to pack your bike for travel if you’re traveling this way.

Discover France: This company offers independent or guided cycle tours of the French countryside. Ooh la la!

French Cycling Holidays: Don’t be deceived, these are luxury holidays, not just sweaty bike tours. You’ll eat the best food and stay in the best places.

Experience France by Bike: An insiders guide to cycling France. Lots of planning ad route information available here.

TL;DR

A classic tourist destination in Europe, France has a lot to offer travelers. From five-star luxury resorts to unique tree house hotels, vacation rentals, or camping experiences, there’s something for every budget and traveler. Before traveling:

France is known for having a ton of options for getting around — from discount airlines, train passes, buses, river cruises, and car shares, to more adventurous distance biking, and even an acceptable culture of hitchhiking. You’re free to explore the country with whatever mode of transit you want. But, what is the best way to travel the country?

Since you won’t find all of these different ways of getting around France sitting nicely on Kayak for you, instead use this list of transportation resources for getting around in Europe to help you find the best way to travel around Europe.

Image: Arka (unsplash)