If there’s one thing I learned during my two-week solo backpacking trip through France it’s that I can do anything I set my mind to.
I booked the flight on a whim one evening and by the morning of my flight I didn’t have a train pass, I didn’t have a phone plan, I didn’t have a travel guide, I didn’t have a plug converter and I wasn't even sure I wanted to go.
So, the morning of my flight, my mum took me to the local bookshop were we picked up a copy of Lonely Planet’s Discover France. Turns out that, while some of the locations are over-romanticized and negativity is hard to find within its pages, this guide was my saving grace. It became a way for me to read up on potential places I may want to visit, it gave me something to look at while I sat alone at a café, it passed the hours I ended up spending on planes, trains and buses, and it had an excellent map of Paris including a detailed metro map which was a lifesaver.
If you’re traveling during the high season (Jul-Aug & Dec-Jan), I suggest booking accommodation in advance to avoid getting stuck with limited options. On the contrary, trains are much easier to book on the fly and are rarely ever full.
So, now for how I spent my time in France - I started in Paris and then traveled across the country in search of beautiful spots and fascinating history.
DAY 1 – FLY INTO PARIS
Make sure you sleep on the plane so you can take on your first day full of energy! Head into the city on the metro and find your accommodations for the night. Once you’ve checked in and dropped off your bags, grab a map and go exploring. Start by taking the metro to Cité and explore the little island on the Seine that is home to the Notre Dame and Pont Neuf.
Wander along the River Seine and spend the afternoon exploring the Louvre, home to Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. Walk through the Jardin des Tuileries and have a hot chocolate from Angelina to fuel up before arriving on Champs-Elysées for the best shopping in France and for dinner.
DAY 2 – EXPLORE PARIS
Wake up early to get the most out of your day. Take the metro to Charles de Gaulle-Étoile for the best view of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, then head down Avenue Kleber to the Trocadero, the best place to spot the Eiffel Tower. Enjoy breakfast at a local café.
Make your way to the Jardin du Luxembourg and enjoy the Parisian air with the locals before lunch. Spend the rest of the day exploring Montmartre where you can visit the Sacré - Cœur, wander fun art-filled streets and spot the Moulin Rouge.
DAY 3 – VERSAILLES
Get on the metro to Versailles-Château-Rive Gauche station, arrriving early to beat the crowds. Spend the day exploring the grandiose and highly extravagant Palace, once home to Louis XIV and his vision of the absolute monarchy. Make sure you buy the full ticket that includes the entire grounds and gardens, you won't want to miss any of this incredible space.
DAY 4 – CLAUDE MONET’S GARDEN IN GIVERNEY
Catch a TGV to Vernon station from where you can take either a shuttle bus or Le Petit Train to Giverney, home to the gardens of Claude Monet. It was these gardens that provided Monet with his ongoing inspiration for his gorgeous lily paintings that now frequent museums around the world.
Return to Paris, check out of your accommodation in the city and take a train to Rennes for the night.
DAY 5 – MONT SAINT MICHEL
The next morning, take the shuttle from Rennes to Mont St Michel to spend the day exploring the nooks and alleys of the bustling island and grand abbey.
Return to Paris to take an overnight bus (Flixbus or Ouibus) to Avignon in Provence.
DAY 6 – PROVENCE
Wake up in Avignon and spend the morning exploring the heart of Provence. In the afternoon, join a tour company to explore the surrounding lavender fields; aim for highlights like Gourdes, Sault and the rolling landscapes accessible only by car.
DAY 7 – NICE
The next morning, take a train to Nice along the gorgeous coastline of southern France. Visit the Market which is at its peak in the morning before spending the day on foot wandering the busy Massena Plaza, the old town alleys and the promenade. Climb the stairs to the top of Château de Nice for the best view over the town and end your day by watching sunset from the #ILoveNice ledge overlooking the bay.
DAY 8 – MONACO & FRENCH RIVIERA
Catch a bus early the next morning to travel along the incredible French Rivieran coast into Monaco. Spend the day exploring the tiny country of Monaco – visit the Monte Carlo casino and ogle at the incredible super yachts in the harbour.
On your way back to Nice after your day in Monaco, stop along the way at some of the sights on the coast: Plage Mala, the prettiest beach in the French Riviera; Villefranche-sur-Mer and the medieval little town of Èze.
DAY 9 – SAILING IN THE FRENCH RIVIERA
This was coordinated through my hostel - your accommodations should be able to assist you with this adventure. I spent the most incredible sun-filled day on the azure waters of the south of France aboard a yacht diving and swimming and tanning.
Once you’ve returned from the most epic day out, take a local bus to Nice Airport and then a Flixbus or Ouibus to Strasbourg.
DAY 10 – STRASBOURG & COLMAR
Wake up in Strasbourg, grab a map from the bus depot and head for the train station. As you walk through town, catch sight of restaurants opening their shutters for breakfast and the locals strolling through the streets.
At the train station, take a short half-hour train to Colmar. Spend your day exploring what has been dubbed ‘the cutest town in France’ and has me convinced that Beauty and the Beast was based off this place.
Once you’re ready to head back, catch a return train to Strasbourg and spend the afternoon exploring. The central shopping street comes alive at night with twilight dinners lit often by candle. From here, return to the bus depot for an overnight trek to Paris.
DAY 11 – PARIS
Spend your last day in Paris, exploring any spots you may have missed when you first arrived here. There is enough to do in the city to keep you going for a lifetime, but I strongly recommend a visit to the iconic Musée d’Orsay, home to some of the world’s best painters - Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and the likes. Stop off in Ladurée on the Champs Elysées for high tea.
If I had more time, I would have dearly loved to spend time in the Alps, more places along the south coast such as St. Tropez, and in the Loire Valley visiting the incredible castles of the land. I'll just have to come back!