There are many wonderful reasons to rent a car in France and drive around the back country roads – particularly if you’re on a vineyard tour. But France’s public transportation system makes it really easy to travel from one city to another, as well as within mid-size or even smaller cities. Below is a summary of transportation in France – so no more excuses! I know Paris is awesome, but there is so much more to experience.
Arriving and Departing
Major French cities have international airports that link France to almost every other country in the world. The busiest airport is Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, which receives most of the international flights. But many other cities, such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Strasbourg and Toulouse have important international airports, allowing you to plan your vacation depending on which region you are heading to.
France is linked via railroad to all adjacent countries except Andorra. The most popular train link is between the UK and France via the Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel), on the Eurostar line. It leaves from London with stops on “the continent” side in Calais, Lille and Paris. From there, you can pretty much go anywhere, as SNCF – the French national rail system – uses their super-fast TGV network to get you into, out of and around France. Read more about train travel in France, including night trains. They’re a great way to travel from almost anywhere in Europe to France while you sleep!
Several European companies offer direct bus connections to France. The most popular and reliable is Eurolines; check out the Eurolines website for more information. If you want to stick around here, read more about bus travel in France, and where you can find Eurolines bus stations in France, right on WhyGo France!
Traveling Between Cities
France has many airports (45 domestic ones to be exact), and with the increase in low-cost airlines traveling by plane from one city to another can be effective and affordable. Although the tickets are cheap, you need to add the other costs such as the price of transportation from the airport to the city, as the main reason why the tickets are cheap is because the airlines use airports in outlying areas.
You can get to most French cities, even smaller ones, by using the French rail system. It’s fast, reliable and it will drop you right in the middle of the city. And you can’t beat the view! Check the information center in any train station – you can pick up regional maps and schedules, and SNCF employees are well-trained in helping visitors use the railways to get to their favorite destinations.
Of course, renting a car is always an option. As I said above, it’s the ideal transportation for vineyard tours, or if you simply want to go at your own pace. For some inspiration, check out five ideas for France road trips – and then hit the road!
Regional and local public transportation systems in France are well organized, so all you need is a map and some basic French phrases. Using local transportation can be useful if you want to save on accommodation – you can choose a place to stay almost anywhere, as long as you are near a metro or tram station.
Metro services operate in the following French cities:
Tramways and Light Railways
Although most of the old tram railways in France have been dismantles, a new kind of transport has been growing rapidly: light rail networks. You will find such transport networks in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Nantes, St.-Etienne and Strasbourg.
The tram still runs in Bordeaux, using a ground-level power supply. Lille, Marseille and St.-Etienne still use the old tram systems. And if you go in Nancy you’ll find trolleybuses “masquerading” as trams.
To sum up, in the following cities you will find either trams or light tram system: Bordeaux, Caen, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Paris, Lille, Lyon, Le Mans, Marseille, Montpellier, Mulhouse, Nancy, Nice, Nantes, Orléans, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, Strasbourg, and Valenciennes.