Chic fashion, famous art and fine wine for days: France exudes sexy sophistication.
If you haven’t yet made it to the country known for bastilles and baguettes, the time is ripe. Beyond the enchanting capital city of Paris, the gorgeous towns and villages of greater France are as rich—with history and culture and delectable food—as a croque monsieur oozing buttery béchamel sauce.
The best way to absorb all la République has to offer is to take a tour around the country, hitting picturesque destinations along the way. While nearly all of these regions are well-connected by rail, those train tickets can quickly become a burden on your wallet. Which is why we at Wanderu mapped out a bus itinerary that will take you to 10 of the most alluring French cities for the cheapest possible price: less than $150.
While it may feel presumptuous to say that you’ve ever “done” France, after this you’ll have seen more of it than most Parisians. You’ll basically be a French citizen! (Warning: Don’t say this to a local, unless you want a cigarette butt in the eye.)
Even better, because the prices listed are all just averages, there’s a good chance you can score an even better deal far under that $150 mark. This route is also a giant loop—beginning and ending in Paris—to maximize convenience, as you can see in the map below.
Here Are the Stops on Your French Tour
Stuff a backpack and tell your cat au revoir—fabulous France awaits. Find the best routes for your budget, and a description of each charming stop, below.
|Paris to Nantes||$14.63||€12.97||£9.95|
|Nantes to Bordeaux||$13.82||€12.25||£9.40|
|Bordeaux to Toulouse||$4.97||€4.41||£3.38|
|Toulouse to Montpellier||$10.06||€8.92||£6.84|
|Montpellier to Nice||$9.39||€8.32||£6.38|
|Nice to Marseille||$4.62||€4.10||£3.15|
|Marseille to Lyon||$6.45||€5.72||£4.39|
|Lyon to Strasbourg||$25.60||€22.69||£17.41|
|Strasbourg to Lille||$32.00||€28.37||£21.77|
|Lille to Paris||$4.67||€4.14||£3.18|
Ticket prices are based on the average bus fares available on Wanderu for each route over a 30-day period.
Among the world’s most iconic destinations, the City of Light remains as romantic and mysterious today as it was a century ago.
Sure, the sites are plenty. You can take in the Eiffel Tower from a tour boat on the Seine, gape at the gargoyles perched atop Notre Dame Cathedral or wink at Mona Lisa in The Louvre. But the real magic of Paris comes in the form of unexpected discoveries: the eccentric boutique down a dark alley or the loud creperie that applies obscene amounts of gruyére.
However you choose to spend your time, the experience is guaranteed to be memorable. That said, this is only the first stop, so don’t fall into a cheese coma just yet.
Situated on the west coast of continental Europe with views of the Atlantic, Nantes has undergone waves of change over the course of its long history.
The biggest port in the country up until the French Revolution, the city became a manufacturing center in the 19th century and has now developed into a hub of sustainability and biodiversity. With more than 8,300 acres of green space, you’ll want to admire the flora and fauna of Nantes’ public parks. That includes the Jardin des Plantes botanical garden, which draws 1.2 million tourists every year.
If there’s rain in the forecast, fear not—indoor attractions are plentiful. Built in the 1840s, the Passage Pommeraye is a shopping mall in an alleyway decorated with Renaissance-style sculptures and covered in a glass ceiling.
And located in the former shipyards, Les Machines de L’ile is an experience like no other: Walk through a mechanical universe inspired by the imagination of Jules Verne, and ride on devices pulled straight from the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci.
This famed wine-growing region has far more going for it than just the vino. (Although, let’s be honest, that alone is a solid selling point.)
After Paris, Bordeaux has the most preserved buildings in all of France—the city’s historic quarter is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you admire these age-old streets, take the time to climb Pey-Berland tower. Right in the center of town near Cathédrale Saint-André, the 15th-century bell tower offers spectacular views out over the city.
Juxtaposed with Bordeaux’s old-world architecture is the ultra-modern La Cité du Vin, an homage to the winemaking process, where you can wander exhibits while sipping a local vintage. Tours into wine country are also a popular choice—via bike, bus or private car. Before you go, eat a base layer of fresh bread from the Marche des Capucins to help soak things up.
On Wednesdays, the Plastics wear pink, but in this Southern France city it’s the everyday norm.
Nicknamed la Ville Rose (“The Pink City”), Toulouse is known for the distinctive coral-colored terra cotta that covers its buildings, from the Théâtre du Capitole to the Couvent des Jacobins. Essential sites include the Canal du Midi, as well as the Basilique Saint-Sernin, the largest still-standing Romanesque structure in all of Europe.
In contrast to its Gothic charm, Toulouse is also the center of French space travel. The Cité de l’espace is best compared to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., complete with outer-space artifacts and a real rocket ship.
Top off your trip with a bowl of steaming cassoulet, a Toulousain specialty, before buying tickets to your next destination.
Essentially an ancient college town, a full third of Montpellier’s population attends the Université de Montpellier, founded in 1160.
The campus itself is scattered throughout the city and well-worth wandering, full of classical statues and structures. Once your feet are good and tired, stop at a café along the Place de la Comédie, Montpellier’s massive central square, for some prime people-watching.
The area’s other popular attractions include Pic Saint-Loup, a mountain just outside the city known for incredible hiking trails and views that stretch to the Mediterranean.
Sandwiched between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is the port city you picture in your head when you think of the Côte d’Azur: Quaint, colorful buildings give way to white-sand beaches and water as blue as Marion Cotillard’s eyes.
For a pristine view of the harbor, hike up Castle Hill, where you’re sure to experience some serious yacht envy. Afterward, sashay through Marche aux Fleurs Cours Saleya, an open-air market filled with fresh food and flowers.
Although you may be tempted to spend your entire trip outdoors, the Musée National Marc Chagall can’t be missed. Focusing on the famous artist’s religious works, this stop is well worth your time. (Bonus: It’s free.)
Here’s the dossier on the second largest city in France: With roots that reach back to the Greek and Roman empires, Marseille stands out from the other coastal towns of Provence.
Known for its internationalism, Marseille draws immigrants from all over Europe and Northern Africa, including former French territories like Algeria. For travelers, that means a fantastic array of cuisines to choose from come meal time. If you prefer more traditional fare, Marseille is also known for its zesty bouillabaisse (a fish, potato and vegetable stew).
Like other cities on our tour, Marseille has historical landmarks you won’t want to miss, like the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde: a towering church built on the foundations of an ancient fort. For a more contemporary look at this antique city, catch a show at a music venue like Espace Julien—Marseille is known throughout France for its hip-hop scene.
To call Lyon the culinary capital of a country that includes Paris might strike some as outrageous. But if food is a factor in your travels, this is the city to sit down and hear, “Bon appétit.”
Dense with Michelin–starred restaurants, excellent eating is around every corner, but a good meal doesn’t have to break your budget. The beauty of a city with incredible fine dining is that the talent and creativity trickles down to cheaper establishments as well, including the famed Les Halles de Lyon food market.
Belly stuffed, you’ll want to walk through the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon (the old town), including stops at the Notre Dame de Fourviere cathedral and the Musée Cinema & Miniature, which documents Lyon’s history of movie-making.
Fact: The gorgeous Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg is a sight to behold, and you should definitely take a lap around its impressive sandstone exterior.
But there’s an amazing church in every city, and by this time you’re feeling some strong déja vu. Instead, the best way to spend your time in Alsace is to walk the paths that run along Strasbourg’s distinctive canal, admiring the odd intersection of French and German architecture.
Better yet, take a day trip from Strasbourg to Colmar, or one of the other storybook-like towns scattered throughout the region (the village from Beauty and the Beast was inspired by nearby Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé). Here, white wine is the drink of choice—dry gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris. You can actually sample some at a local vineyard for just a few Euro!
Welcome to waffle country!
Tucked along the northern border near Belgium, Flemish influence is everywhere you look in Lille. The whimsical facades of the Ville Bourse stock exchange and the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille museum are something to behold. For the latter, don’t miss out on the artwork within: classic pieces from Donatello, Goya and Veronese.
This small(ish) city is an ideal place to relax. The Parc du Heron is the perfect place for some casual birdwatching, which you can then follow up with a beer at the Marché de Wazemmes open-air market.
For your grand finale, buy a box of merveilleux—balls of flavored whipped cream and meringue rolled in toppings like shaved chocolate, coconut or chopped nuts—and eat the whole damn thing. The stomach ache will linger for a few hours, but the delicious memory will last forever.
How We Did It
In visiting these 10 beautiful French cities, you’ve successfully taken a loop around the entire country for less than $150. (Again, because the prices listed are all averages, it’s quite possible you’ll get an even better deal.)
Using Wanderu’s proprietary data on bus travel in France—including pricing, duration and schedule information from multiple bus carriers—we leveraged our unique routing technology that allows us to route and build multi-stop travel itineraries using trips from various providers in real time. By measuring each leg for the best balance of price and duration, we were able to find the most optimal road trip around France.
The prices quoted in this article are based on the average cost of bus tickets available on Wanderu for each route over a 30-day period.
To ensure that this trip is more than just data science, the Wanderu algorithm used actual bookable trips to verify that this road trip was possible at these prices over multiple consecutive days.
You are welcome to use the information and graphics on this page, crediting Wanderu. If you do so, please link back to this page, so that travel enthusiasts around the globe can check out all the available trips and find out how we came up with the itinerary.