France is the most popular tourist destination in the whole world, so there’s a good chance that any solo trip to Europe this year will take in a stop in France.
This Western Europe powerhouse has timeless appeal thanks to its elegant architecture, world-class cuisine, and incredible museums. It’s the largest country in Europe – and there’s a surprising amount of variety in its landscapes once you get out of the cities.
And oh what cities they are. Any trip to France will surely include a visit to Paris, but don’t miss some of the country’s smaller cities. Use them as a base to discover the surrounding region (and its castles and vineyards) – Nice or Cassis for exploring the French Riviera, for example. Or Strasbourg for the Alsace.
France is easy to get around thanks to its excellent train network, which is one of the densest in the world. Prices for the faster direct lines such as the TGV can be expensive so stick to the slow, rural routes if you’re looking to save money.
Even travellers on a budget can eat well in France though (as long as you’re a carb fiend, at least). Expect a lot of croissants, crepes, and croque monsieur. Then there’s the cheese!
France has a good selection of hostels, including an increasing number of design hostels in urban areas (prices for a bed can be eye-watering in the summer months though). It has a long-standing tradition of youth hostels (auberge de jeunesse in French), so even in smaller more out-of-the-way places, you’re likely to find a cheap bed – an HI membership might be required. Off the tourist trail it helps to speak a few words of French.
The City of Light is one of Europe’s unmissable cities. It’s also one of the largest. Any trip to Paris must take in its iconic sights; the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Notre Dame cathedral and a stroll along the banks of the Seine, the Opera Garnier, the Pompidou Centre, Montmartre and the Sacre Couer cathedral, and the Moulin Rouge.
It’s well worth an extra few days in Paris to take advantage of day trips to Champagne and the Château de Versailles.
Paris is one of the best cities in the world for shopping and eating so be prepared to watch those euros disappear. Hostels don’t come cheap either, but they do tend to be modern.
St Christopher’s Inn Gare du Nord is one of the most popular hostels in Paris. It’s located near the Gare du Nord train station so perfect if you want to roll off the Eurostar or the train from Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s a large hostel with a bar, better for party animals than those looking for a quiet night.
Highly-rated Les Paules Hostel is in the arty area of Belleville and is run by a team of locals. It has a boutique decor, art deco building, and a friendly vibe. The rooftop terrace has an amazing view of the city and Sacre Couer.
The city of Nice on France’s Mediterranean coast makes a great city break in the spring when the days are starting to warm up. It’s the gateway to the French Riviera and has long been a tourist destination thanks to its temperate climate.
Nice is famous for its pebble beach and the Promenade des Anglais which runs alongside it, surrounded by vast and colourful 19th-century mansions. What you might not know is that Nice also a great destination for art – Matisse was a former resident. It has a lively cafe-bar scene and the food is excellent.
It’s well connected by rail to other destinations along the coast, including Cannes and Monaco, but is significantly cheaper and the airport is well-served by budget airlines. It’s often one of the cheapest entry points if flying from London. Hop on the train to reach the better beaches.
Stay at Villa Saint Exupery Beach is a cross between a hostel and a hotel, with private rooms, a bar, and a gym also available. There’s no outdoors space but it’s not far from the beach.
Wine buffs will want to make a pit stop in Bordeaux, surely a contender for wine capital of the world. It’s the second-largest wine-growing region in the world, and it also produces some of the world’s best and most well-known wines. In other words, it’s the perfect place for wine-tasting. Tours to nearby vineyards are easily arranged.
And then there’s La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux’s shiny new world-class wine centre on the banks of the Garonne.
This west coast beauty is also noted for its elegant historic buildings, bridges, and palaces. It’s a vibrant and laid-back university city with a happening cultural scene. Football fans, cyclists, shopaholics and foodies will also be happy here.
The best hostel in town is Central Hostel which is boutique style with Moroccan textiles, pod beds, and comfortable mattresses. It’s expensive though – the alternative is the cheaper and friendly Hostel 20 Bordeaux.
Annecy is not quite a household name, but this stunning medieval town- known as the Venice of France – is one of the prettiest fairytale towns in the country. The classic image of Annecy is that of the canals which surround its 14th-century chateau (which is open to the public as a museum).
As well as its picture-perfect streets, there are plenty of activities available in the lake or surrounding mountains – rowing boats, hiking, kayaking, and hangliding to name just a few.
Annecy is located in the Haute-Savoie region of the Alps – famous for its cheese and butter – alongside Lac Annecy which seems to glow an emerald colour. It’s easiest to reach Annecy from Geneva or Grenoble.
Annecy Hostel is a bit dated and in need of a refresh, though scores highly for friendliness, atmosphere, and staff.
If Bordeaux is the French capital of wine, then Lyon is the capital of food. It’s the third-largest city in France and is recognised by the UNESCO for its wealth of buildings from all points in its history (dating back to the Romans in the 1st century BC). In December it comes alive with its popular City of Lights display.
Old Lyon is one of the largest Renaissance areas in Europe, with many narrow streets, hidden courtyards, and secret passageways (known as traboules). But Lyon also a popular commercial hub with modern districts and hipster delights.
But back to the food – Lyon’s Rhone location means access to some of the finest produce in the land. It’s known for bouchons, a type of small bistro that you only find in Lyon, and long-standing culinary traditions. And as of 2019, there are 20 Michelin-starred restaurants in Lyon. Not a place to come on a diet.
There’s a tough choice between two great hostels in the city.
Away Hostel is a bright and airy design hostel with wooden pod beds and a welcome drink. Private rooms are available. It’s friendly but not a party hostel.
SLO Living Hostel is equally as beautiful, with homemade dinners and pancake breakfasts available.
If you prefer urban grit and authenticity to holiday villages and tourist traps then France’s second-biggest city Marseille is right up your street. Situated on the Mediterranean coast and founded in 600BC, Marseille has been an important port for over 200o years.
And now it makes a fascinating alternative city break. This City of Rogues is a melting pot with a distinct influence from Algeria and other former French colonies. Gentrification is on the march but you can still find neighbourhoods which look like they haven’t changed in centuries.
Fans of modern architecture will love the Museum (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations). A street art tour is an excellent way to discover the creative side of the city.
The foodie highlight is the famous fish stew bouillabaisse – but don’t expect it to come cheap, with prices upwards of €40. And don’t miss a trip to the stunning Calanques National Park for its epic rock formations.
Marseille does have a reputation for being a bit seedy and unsafe, solo travellers might feel more comfortable taking a taxi or Uber after dark.
Pitch up at Vertigo Vieux-Port Hostel which is in the Old Port area and has dorms decorated by local artists. B&Bs and guesthouses are also affordable in Marseille – Pension Edelweiss is cute and welcoming.
Outdoorsy travellers will want to make a beeline straight for the majestic peaks of the Alps, which is a top destination whatever time of year you visit. In the summertime the hiking is unparalleled, and there’s also a feast of activites such as mountain biking. But the Alps is most famous as the best winter sports destination in Europe.
Thankfully solo travellers aren’t forgotten when it comes to skiing in the Alps – check out the concept hostel Moontain. This chalet-hostel-hotel at once cosy and industrial-chic, with modern design and pod beds. It’s located in the small town of Oz, not far from the popular ski resort town Alpes d’Huez.
The resort vibe is more family-friendly than hardcore après-ski, but it even comes with its own app to encourage guests to socialise and organise events.
If you’re after small-and-chic summer vacay vibes, rather than the bustle of a big city, then beautiful Côte d’Azur town Cassis is for you.
Popular with sailors and writers, this magical little harbour town is popular lined with colourful buildings and restaurants serving seafood and rose wine. There are beaches within walking distances, and boat trips to the Calanques National Park available.
For accommodation, it’s a toss-up between super cute Mini Hostel which is decorated in summery blues and whites with a charming patio, and Cassis Hostel which is villa-style with a pool and sea views.
Strasbourg may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of fairytale architecture, its better known as the home of modern European bureaucracy (!).
But Strasbourg has a UNESCO-listed historic centre – Petite France – and is the capital of the Alsace region which a popular for its beautiful half-timbered houses and excellent wine and beer. The Beauty and the Beast vibes are strong here – and you can’t miss the dramatic cathedral.
Train and bus links are excellent, and its an ideal base for exploring Alsace.
One of the most underrated destinations in France is the coastal city of Biarritz in the Basque Country. Located on the Atlantic Coast not far from the Spanish border, in centuries past Biarritz was a spa town and glam coastal resort popular with the country’s elite for its beaches and casinos.
Though it went through a neglected phase in the 20th century, Biarritz is having a hipster revival – these days it’s one of Europe’s best beach cities and surf destinations.
The best place in Biarritz for solo travellers is Nami House which is located outside town in a traditional Basque house and hosts plenty of social activities such as BBQs and surf lessons.
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Paris (spring): By Samot / Shutterstock
Paris (fall): By ESB Professional / Shutterstock
Nice: © saiko3p / Adobe Stock
Bordeaux: © Alexander Demyanenko / Shutterstock
Annecy: © karp5 / Shutterstock
Lyon: © Southtownboy Studio / Shutterstock
Marseille: © S-F / Shutterstock
Alpes: © Kartouchken / Shutterstock
Cassis: © Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock
Strasbourg: © Southtownboy Studio / Shutterstock
Biarritz: © Dutourdumonde Photography / Shutterstock