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A guide to exploring the dazzling French Riviera on a budget

port in Cannes, French Riviera

What do you think of when you think of the French Riviera? Shiny yachts, pristine shopping streets that stretch for miles, gold-clad hotels, Hollywood stars dotting the beach. In short, not cheap. After all this is where Monaco, possibly the most glitzy place in Europe, is tucked away. But what if we told you that the French Riviera Cannes (see what we did there?) be cheap!

Yup, with a combination of the right tips and a can-do attitude, you can explore the French Riviera on a budget and live lavishly without breaking the bank. Your guide is below; we’ll meet you there!

1. Stay in smaller towns

Cannes, Monaco, and St. Tropez are probably the most known towns of the Côte d’Azur, and this makes them very popular in the summertime, and also expensive. That’s not to say you can’t still visit, but we don’t recommend making them your main hub of operations. Instead, opt for the smaller neighbouring towns like Antibes, Menton, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, or Èze.

You’ll find cheaper eats and stays here, and these towns are just as charming and beautiful as their big city counterparts. Plus, you’ll still be right on the beach, so you won’t miss those nectarine sunsets sinking below the horizon.

Menton, French Riviera, France

Image source:Contiki

2. Book local stays instead of hotels

Because this is quite a popular location, hotels along the French Riviera can cost a pretty penny. If you’re into the luxury movie-star lifestyle then go for it! But for those looking to travel the French Riviera on a budget it’s best to search for some local affordable accommodation.

Airbnbs are always an option, and many residents own apartments that they rent out to travellers during the off-season. While planning your sunny getaway you’ll want to do some research to find good deals and cute stays – but it’s not impossible! If you’re travelling with a car then staying a little outside of the towns is a good idea as the accommodation will be cheaper there, and you can have a little more privacy and quiet. And if you’re travelling with Contiki, then both your transport and accommodation is taken care for you anyway!

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3. Travel by train or bus

The great thing about the Côte d’Azur is that everything is so well connected. If you’re staying in Menton but desperately want to see Marseille, then all you have to do is hop on a train and you’ll get there in 3 hours. Rails connect the majority of the seaside towns, and wherever the train doesn’t go, a local bus can take you as well. Day trips are the best way to get around the French Riviera for any budget traveller.

This will significantly lower your transport costs, and you can get a railcard for the week if you need to slash prices even more. Public transport is also much better for the environment than travelling by car or Uber, so you’ll be doing a good deed while keeping your pockets full. Plus, the train rides along the coast are absolutely STUNNING as you’ll be staying close to the ocean and the fabulous views most of the way – a perk flying can’t offer you.

4. Off-season

Travelling through the French Riviera on a budget just got easier during the off-season. When it comes to budget travel, this is always a bit of a no brainer seeing as prices drop when tourist numbers drop.

The peak travel season for the Côte d’Azur is between June and September, and this includes travellers from around Europe and the rest of the world, as well as travellers from other parts of France seeking the sun. April and May, however, are just as lovely (though a little less hot) and the beaches are much less crowded – so aim for a holiday around then!

5. Shop markets

The French Riviera is known for two things: beaches and shopping. However, the shopping here tends to be on the higher end of fashion, making it not so budget friendly. But, one of the best things about the south of France is the adorable open air markets that line the streets every week!

Search through racks of beautiful handmade items like chiffon scarves and woven bags, as well as local trinkets, and unique pieces for you to take home. You’ll also find plenty of stalls selling jewellery, perfumes, as well as flowers and even books and artworks. 

If it’s food you’re after then the markets also sell fresh fruit and veg, charcuterie and fish, homemade bread and patisseries, all the cheese you could ever want, and even flavour-packed oven meals. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, taking a stroll in these markets is a must do. And if you do buy anything, you’ll be getting it for a great price!

6. Make your own food

Once you’re back from the market with a bag of crisp and yummy produce, why not cook up a storm? A big cost of travelling is the meals, and when you’re travelling the French Riviera on a budget you may have to opt for some DIY. If you can get a hotel room or apartment with a kitchen, you’re in luck! Cooking for yourself instead of eating out every night will save you some pennies, and you can also pack picnics for the next day. Who doesn’t love a picnic on the beach?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t sample the local restaurants – you are in France, after all, and the cuisine is to die for. You’ll be treated to the healthy Mediterranean diet, as well as the wines and cheeses the country is famous for. If you want some tips to go fine dining on a budget, we’ve got you covered. 

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7. Do free things

So, accommodation and restaurants on the Côte d’Azur are expensive, and the shopping can be depending on where you go, but the rest of the region is actually really budget friendly! There are so many free things to do which makes going around the French Riviera on a budget easier than it seems. 

Walking around and catching all the stunning views is one thing, and there are plenty so you’ll really be kept busy doing that! If you’re in need of a break from the sun there are plenty of art galleries that you can walk into, as well as museums and historical sites. And of course, the beaches are always free!

Cassis, French Riviera

Image source:Nick Roberts

Things to do in the French Riviera

Nice

Cannes

St. Tropez

Menton

Antibes

Monaco

Cathedral of Monaco, Monaco

Image source:Contiki

Budget Destinations

If you’re smart, careful with your cash, and plan accordingly, anywhere can adhere to your budget on the French Riviera. Some towns are inherently cheaper than others though. You can hop around place to place on your holiday, but for your home base we recommend staying in one of these fairytale like towns:

How long should I stay in the French Riviera

To make the most of your adventures in the south of France, a week or two should do you just fine! This way you’ll have time to explore most of the cities and towns, while also having plenty of time to relax and soak up that delicious sun. 

Should I see Monaco?

French Riviera on a budget and Monaco don’t typically go together. Famously, Monaco is very expensive and some even consider it a money trap. However it is a dazzling place, so a day trip in Monaco is definitely worth it! And guess what? You can do it with Contiki.

What’s better than biking along the shores while ferraris and lambos drive by? Doing it with a friend, duh! Many of our European trips will take you across the continent with a day stop in Monaco so you can explore this gem without worrying about going broke over a hotel stay. 

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