Getting Around France
Although one of the larger countries in Europe, France is actually just about the size of Texas. In just a few hours you can go from the lofty Alps to the low laying valleys of the Loire or the sunny Mediterranean coast. France operates one of the largest and most efficient train services on the continent, with high speed trains going to every nook of the country. France is also laced with a network of large interstate-like highways called Autoroutes, and even their canals are well-maintained and efficient for traveling (albeit at a much more leisurely rate). Local budget flights can also take tourists from one corner of the country to the other in a relatively short amount of time. Whether you are driving, boating, biking or taking a train, there are a lot of good options for getting around this diverse and beautiful country.
Planning a trip to France? Check out these helpful links:
- Map of France
- France first-time visitor’s guide
- Cities and regions of France
- Weather in France
- Hotels in France
- Hostels in France
- Bed and breakfasts in France
France holds the record for both fastest wheeled train and highest average speed for regular train passenger service in the world. This means getting around by train in France is quick and efficient and is usually the best way to travel. The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or high-speed train) network is centered in Paris and expands out to connect to cities across France as well as neighboring nations. These high-speed trains travel at 200 mph, meaning you’ll get to your destination much faster by train than by car., and have practically replaced inter-country air travel as the most efficient way to travel between cities and regions in France.
France’s high-speed highways, called autoroutes, that are mostly toll roads (péage). While these autoroutes make for easy travel around the country, you are usually better off taking a train when traveling longer distances across France. Traffic in and around the large cities (like Marseille, Paris and Lyon) can also be heavy and cause long delays.
However, a car is an absolutely great way to travel around the French countryside. In areas with small villages and little to no public transportation, a car can be a great way to go from point A to point B. A car in these areas also allows a traveler to set his or her own agenda, stopping at interesting sights along the way and meandering through quaint villages.
>>Read more about how to rent a car in France.
France’s canals make for easy travel by boat through many areas of the country. In fact, these canals that were once used primarily for trade are now dominated by tourists who chose to see France from a unique perspective. While not the most efficient way to travel around the country, seeing France by boat can be an interesting way to enjoy the country.
Buses are a great way to get around within the various cities of France. Buses can also serve to connect smaller villages to cities with train stations for those who want to get off the beaten path but don’t want to rent a car. While generally an inconvenient and unsuperior option to train or car travel, buses can be the ideal way to get around on short trips not serviced by rail. But because there is no national bus network in France and the other major bus companies offer international but not domestic routes to/from France, it is impossible to travel by a French-owned “public” bus between regions of France.
While usually less convenient than taking the TGV, traveling by plane in France is another option. Domestic flights leaving from Paris serve other major regional airports around the country. Flying Blue, the domestic branch of Air France, services France’s major airports. Discount air travel companies like Ryanair also offer inexpensive flights to cities around France.
One important thing to keep in mind when considering domestic air travel of France is transportation costs and hassle of getting to and from the airport. Airports are frequently located outside of town and can hard to get to, whereas train stations are usually located in the center of town and are connected to systems of public transportation. Although you may feel like you are saving money by buying a discounted air ticket, you’re often better off coughing up a few extra bucks and taking a high speed train.