While living in Paris may be the romantic dream for many, the hard reality is that it’s a very expensive city to be and unless you have a well paid job in the French capital, there’s much better value to be found elsewhere. In this post we’ll look at some of the cheapest cities to live in France. We’ll also consider which are the best options for students or remote workers hoping to balance a high quality of life with affordable living.
5 of the Best & Cheapest Cities to Live in France
Montpellier is a popular and generally speaking affordable city in the south of France. With no fewer than three universities and three further higher education institutes, roughly a third of the city’s population is made up of students during term-time, making it a bit of a hub for young people looking for a low cost of living.
As well as benefiting from a Mediterranean climate, the city also has many advantages over others in France with a manageable size, a city-wide bike scheme and extensive bicycle lanes making it easy to get around. There’s also a decent tram network with four separate lines if you’re not the energetic type.
It may not be Paris or Marseille in terms of entertainment options, but there are still hundreds of bars and cafes dotted around the city centre, many of which have special ‘happy hour’ periods or themed nights to attract the student crowd.
Estimated Living Costs* – Є1250/month
* The cost of living estimates for the five cities featured in this post will obviously vary (a lot) from person to person and are only designed as a guide and a means of comparison. They are aimed to represent a realistic figure for a single person, including the cost of renting accommodation. Students and anyone willing to live in a flatshare or really watch what they spend, should be able to get by on a bit less. Those with more lavish lifestyles will most likely spend more.
If you want the big city vibe, but aren’t willing to put up with the prices of Paris, then Marseille is your best bet as far as France is concerned. The city proper has a population of just shy of one million, making it the second largest in France while its metropolitan area is home to around double that.
Marseille has many interesting museums, attractions and quirky districts to discover so the risk of boredom setting in is significantly less than in some of the smaller towns. Like most big cities, there are some suburbs which aren’t totally safe though with some neighbourhoods blighted by high youth unemployment and poverty. It’s therefore important to do your research when choosing a place to live.
Despite its flaws, with a coastal location and easy access to the sunny beaches of the French Riviera, Marseille is a rebellious city that ticks a lot of boxes. It’s also cheaper to live in than neighbouring towns and cities such as Toulon and Nice with greater choice when it comes to how to spend your free time.
Estimated Living Costs – Є1275/month
Search for Accommodation in Marseille:
If you’re more into mountains and nature than big city living then Grenoble might be your best option in terms of finding an affordable French city with easy access to the peaks and slopes of the Alps.
Indeed the city promotes itself as the ‘Capital of the Alps’ and the snow-capped peaks provide a stunning backdrop during the winter months. Famous ski resorts such as Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez are roughly 90 minutes away with several daily buses departing from the city during the peak season (December to February), while the nearest ski stations are just 45 minutes away by road.
Although small, the city also has plenty to see and do with several museums (the Museum of French Revolution just out of town is also worth a visit). Grenoble also has a popular cable car which transports you to the Bastille for panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains.
Estimated Living Costs – Є1225/month
Find Work Placements in France
Join Worldpackers ($39/year using our discount code) to access a host of work exchange programs with everything from teaching yoga to farm work and placements at ski resorts. 71 opportunities at the time of writing.
For something completely different, the northern city of Lille is another cheap option for living in France, particularly if you’ve not seen much of Europe before and want a good base for exploring.
Lille is a major terminal on the high-speed Eurostar train line meaning there are rapid rail connections to the major European capitals of Paris, London, Brussels and Amsterdam. Indeed it is only 25 km from the Belgian border with the beautiful city of Bruges, another easy option for a day or weekend trip.
On the downside, Lille is a significantly colder and wetter place than the likes of Marseille and Montpellier in the south of France with average night-time lows of under 6°C for six months of the year. It may not be the most fascinating destination in France either, but Lille does have a really nice city centre and is well on its way to shedding its industrial reputation.
Estimated Living Costs – Є1225/month
Another city you may not have considered is Nantes, lying in the west of France but not quite on the coast. As you will see below, it ranks as the cheapest city in France for living, at least amongst the major urban centres.
Located around 400 km from Paris and further from the popular southeastern region, Nantes is a little bit isolated which perhaps explains its overall affordability. It is though a very safe, green city that is committed to sustainability and is ranked by Nomadlist as the second best place to live in France (at the time of writing).
The pace of life is a little bit slower than in many other European cities but Nantes does have a unique arts scene, as well as a great selection of parks and green areas. It also feels like a very well designed city with well over 90% of residents living within 300 metres of a public transport stop.
Estimated Living Costs – Є1175/month
Note that the costs of travel or health insurance is not covered by these figures. If you’re a digital nomad, retiree, remote worker or anyone else looking to move to France, we suggest checking out SafetyWing – a well reviewed company which has affordable global health insurance, even during a pandemic!
Cost of Living in France – Cities Compared
For the table below (and figures above), we’ve used numbeo’s cost calculator as a guide to work out the estimated cost of living for 12 cities in France. The cities chosen consist of the ten largest in France by population and a couple of smaller ones (Toulon and Grenoble) where sufficient data was available to make a reasonably accurate estimate of the cost of living.
You can clearly see that Paris is by some distance the most expensive major city in France to live in. Otherwise there isn’t a huge amount to choose between the different cities in terms of costs with most averaging out at between 1200-1350 Euros per month according to our calculations.
If you’re avoiding Paris then students, remote workers and digital nomads can probably just afford to opt for the city that they fancy the most and not worry too much about marginal differences in prices.
|City||Estimated Cost of Living (Monthly in Є)|
Remember that the estimated monthly figures themselves are designed to be just a guide as each person’s living and spending habits are different. They are intended to cover the cost of renting accommodation and all living costs but do not cover the cost of health insurance which varies considerably according to your age and general health.
This post on the best cities to live in France was published in August 2020.