14 Tips for backpacking in the South of France

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Written By Candela Garcia

Backpacking in the South of France can be a hard challenge as the Cote D’Azur is known for being one of the most luxurious destinations in the world, where most rich and famous Europeans escape every summer. 

Thankfully, the cost of travel to the French Riviera can be easily reduced with some simple tricks such as relying on public transportation, choosing affordable towns, and taking advantage of all the free cultural activities that the region has to offer.

Are you ready to start planning your next South of France trip on a budget? Don’t miss these tips!

01. Pick one region of the South of France to discover

The South of France can be broadly divided into three main regions: Marseille and its nearby beaches, the Côte d’Azur with Nice as its main hub, and the Provence.

When embarking on your backpacking journey in the South of France, it’s wise to focus on one distinct region to truly soak in its essence and save money on transportation. 

While Cannes and Nice might be the most popular cities of the French Riviera, Marseille and the Provence are known for having slightly cheaper accommodation so both of them are great choices if you are on a tight budget.

Backpacking in the Provence, South of France
In mid July you can catch the Lavander fields of Provence in full blossom

02. Stay in a more affordable town

As we said, there are several towns to visit on the French Riviera and some of them are more affordable than others. The good thing is that the public transportation in the South of France is one of the best in Europe so even if you opt to stay far from expensive cities such as Saint Tropez or Cannes you can still visit them on a day.

In general terms, I recommend Saint Raphael and Cagnes Sur Mer as two of the most affordable alternatives, but I suggest you read our article about the cheapest places to stay in the South of France to find out more options.

03. Use public transport to take day trips

Backpacking the South of France without a car is really simple thanks to its extensive public transport network so, unless you are traveling in a large group, renting a car is unnecessary and expensive.

As a reference, a roundtrip train ticket from Nice to Monaco will cost you as little as €8.80 while a 40-minute bus ride from Nice to Villefranche Sur Mer is only €1.50.

04. Season matters, plan your dates wisely

June, July, and August are the most expensive seasons to visit the South of France so you should consider visiting during shoulder seasons (spring or fall) to enjoy pleasant weather and fewer crowds.

If you are planning a beach holiday I highly recommend you to travel during the last week of May or the first week of September. You will be able to enjoy off-season discounts while still enjoying warm weather and summer nights. 

05. Don’t check out only hostels

Most people make the mistake of only browsing hostels when trying to book accommodation in the South of France as backpackers. However, hostels in the region are not cheap, in fact, a night at an average hostel in Nice during the summer months can cost you up to €80 per night.

If you are traveling with a partner in crime or as a group, consider also checking out bed and breakfasts and Airbnb’s as sometimes you will find great deals when you split the cost. 

As an example, while the average hostel night in Nice costs €60-€70 in August, the Hotel de Belgique in Menton has triple rooms starting at €140 for the same dates, which comes down to €46 per person.

06. Take advantage of the French Riviera Pass and the Nice Museum Pass

The government of the Cote D’Azur offers two great discount passes that will let you visit the most popular attractions for a reduced fee: the Nice Museum Pass and the French Riviera Pass, so keep this in mind when planning the things to do during your trip.

The Nice Museum Pass covers the 11 municipal museums of Nice (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Matisse Museum, Museum of Natural History, and more!) for €15 during a 48-hour time frame. 

On the other hand, the French Riviera Pass covers not only Nice museums but also several attractions around the French Riviera such as the Jardin Exotique in Eze, Villa Paloma in Monaco, and the famous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. The pass can be purchased for €28, €40, or €59 depending on how many pass days you want.

07. Take a lunch bag with you for picnics at the beach

Besides beach clubs and its private restaurants, there aren’t many food facilities around the French Riviera beaches so, unless you are ready to spend +€60 on a sunbed and a meal, carrying a lunch bag with you is the best way to enjoy the beaches on a budget.

Back at home, the MIYCOO lunch bag is my go-to picnic bag as it has several compartments to keep my fruits, meals, and beverages separated and cold for long periods of time.

However, I have recently bought the Jumbo insulated cooler bag for my latest trip to Europe and I found it the perfect bag for trips abroad as not only keeps your drinks cold during a whole beach day but also easily folds to fit your luggage without taking much space.

08. Shop at local markets for delicious and cheap eats

If you are backpacking to the South of France on a budget but still want to try authentic French food then local markets are perfect for you. 

From the most delicious cheeses you have ever tasted to exquisite truffles and oysters, you can have a try of the best that French cuisine has to offer without breaking the bank. 

My personal favorite market is the Marché Forville located in Cannes, a perfect place to have a croissant for breakfast or do grocery shopping for a picnic at the beach. 

Some other popular markets around the South of France are:

  1. Marché Forville, Cannes: A bustling market offering a diverse array of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, cheeses, and flowers. It’s a treat for both locals and visitors.
  2. Cours Saleya Market, Nice: Located in the heart of Old Nice, this market offers a stunning display of flowers, as well as fresh produce, local cheeses, and Provençal goods.
  1. Halles de Narbonne, Narbonne: A historic indoor market with a wide range of stalls offering regional produce, charcuterie, seafood, and wine.
  1. Les Halles de Sète, Sète: Known for its seafood, this indoor market offers a variety of freshly caught fish, shellfish, and other local products.
  1. Place Richelme, Aix-en-Provence: This lively market features an array of local and seasonal products, including fruits, vegetables, olives, and Provencal specialties.
  1. Marché Provençal, Antibes: This market captures the essence of Provence with its selection of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, as well as artisanal products.
  1. Marché de la Boqueria, Perpignan: A vibrant market offering a wide variety of Catalan and local products, including spices, sausages, cheeses, and fresh seafood.
  1. Marché de la Poissonnerie, Toulon: A must-visit for seafood enthusiasts, offering an impressive range of fresh seafood straight from the Mediterranean.
  1. Marché des Halles de la Rochelle, La Rochelle: This covered market is a food lover’s paradise, with stalls offering seafood, meats, cheeses, and local delicacies.
  1. Les Halles de Nîmes, Nîmes: An indoor market offering an assortment of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and regional specialties in the heart of the city.
  1. Marché des Lices, Rennes: One of the largest markets in France, it showcases a rich variety of products, from local cheeses to Breton specialties.
  1. Marché aux Fleurs, Toulouse: This flower market features vibrant blooms and plants, along with a selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, and local products.

09. Take advantage of lunch specials at restaurants

Lunch specials are really popular in France, especially during weekdays, and are a great way to enjoy a nice meal at a fine restaurant without breaking your backpacker’s budget. 

Chances are that every town you visit has a couple of restaurants offering these specials so don’t be shy and ask to see the menu when you spot a restaurant that you like.

If you are in Cannes I recommend you to check out Aux Bons Enfants, a restaurant established more than 80 years ago specializing in Provence food. Their lunch special is only €33 and includes an entree, one main course, and one dessert.

10. Take a free walking tour

If you are a frequent backpacker this isn’t news for you: free walking tours are the best way to discover a city for the first time and they are cheap too!

Last year I took a Nice Old Town free walking tour booked through Guruwalk and it was definitely a highlight of my trip. Our guide shared with us a lot of cool stories about the city and its residents, he took us to the local market to have a delicious break and we ended the tour at Castle Hill with the best views of Nice. 

Backpacking in Nice, France
The view from Castle Hill

11. Opt for overnight trains for traveling to the French Riviera

If you are traveling to the South of France from Paris I recommend you skipping the plane and take a night train to your destination. Not only you will save time by traveling while you sleep but also you will save one night of accommodation. 

SNCF, France’s official train system, has a night route from Paris to Nice that stops at several points in the South of France like Marseille, Toulon, and Saint Raphael among others. 

While dates can vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book, you can expect to pay around €100 for a bed in a shared cabin, which is a great deal considering that airlines are charging €50 just to check your baggage and hostels in Nice starts at €40.

12. Give camping a try!

Experience the South of France authentically by trying camping. This region offers numerous summer campgrounds with great amenities. From coastal sites to countryside spots, these campgrounds let you reconnect with nature comfortably.

What’s more, these camping options are much cheaper than hotels or rentals. Imagine waking up to the sounds of nature, surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Campgrounds provide essentials like showers and kitchens, ensuring you have what you need.

Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a first-timer, camping in the South of France offers a chance to enjoy the environment while staying budget-conscious.

13. Choose a hiking trail and start exploring

No backpacking trip is complete without a hiking trail and the South of France has some of the best hiking spots in Europe.

My personal favorite is the Cap D’Antibes hiking trail as it has amazing views of the waterfront and is easy to do if you are not that sporty. 

14. Carrefour will be your best friend

Carrefour is the most important supermarket chain in France and a truly gem for backpackers. The market is full of freshly produced and frozen meals for only €7–12 and you no matter where you are staying chances are that you will have a Carrefour just around the corner. 

The best advice that I can give you is don’t miss the cheese section, you will feel like if you are in a farmers market with all the options that you have and the best part is that none of them will cost you more than €2

In conclusion: Can you backpack to the South of France?

The South of France is known for being one of the most expensive destinations in the Mediterranean but backpacking the region is still possible if you choose to stay in the most affordable towns and take advantage of city passes and free activities.

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