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Not only is France the most visited country in the world, but it is also the largest country in Western Europe: getting around requires a bit of planning and forethought.
France has excellent public transportation, from efficient trains and buses to cheap rideshares. Choose the right transportation for France, travel across this beautiful country efficiently, and you can expect a visit you won't forget.
Let's have a look at all the pros and cons of each transportation method, from cost to total time spent travelling, all of it key information that will help you when planning a trip to France.
Within France, train travel is actually pleasurable, with a range of high-speed and local trains that serve many small towns and 231 cities across the country. It's certainly one of my favourite types of transportation in France.
Many train routes are unbelievably picturesque, weaving across mountains or along lakeshores through scenery you might not see otherwise. Taking the train in France is also efficient: there are good connections, trains are clean and modern (most, anyway) and the cost is reasonable.
If you're traveling from another European country, trains are among the easiest ways to travel to France, especially now, with the array of available European train passes.
Travelling France by car is possibly the most expensive way to get around the country – but also the one that will get you to the most places.
Rental car prices went up after the Covid pandemic and haven't quite come down yet. Fuel is also increasingly expensive in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the energy troubles that followed, although the government has tried to subsidize gas pump prices to some extent. Tolls, too, will add up quickly. The ViaMichelin online route planner is useful to calculate the costs of your tolls and gas.
Although this may be the most expensive option, it will also give you the most freedom. France's roads are also excellent, making it a pleasure to sit behind the wheel (as long as you avoid the holiday season traffic).
Consider this travel advice if you are planning on travelling across France by car:
Air travel, in my opinion, is probably the worst way to travel around France, with three exceptions. Here are the situations in which flying is the best way to travel in France.
This applies if you're traveling cross-country, from East to West or vice-versa, for example between the Alps and the Atlantic.
France is a highly centralized country and "all roads lead to Paris". So if you're trying to travel, say, from Lille to Marseille or Lyon to Bordeaux by land, you'll probably have to go through Paris. You may even have to change train stations within Paris.
Here's an example of what I mean.
Flying from Lyon to Bordeaux takes just over one hour. Add the messy airport formalities at each end and you're looking at, maybe, four hours.
The train, on the other hand, is a seven-hour journey, and at least one train change, if not two. In some cases, you may have to head north from Lyon all the way to Paris, and then head south again towards Bordeaux. I live near Lyon, and when I go to Bordeaux, I fly.
France has 34 airports suited for international travel, so you can access most of the main tourist destinations by plane.
Flying within France can be incredibly cheap if you use discount airlines and book well ahead of time, often far cheaper than the train. But you'll have to factor transport to and from the airport, which sometimes costs as much as the flight itself.
Not every French destination is on the mainland.
Corsica is very close to the mainland, but the ferry takes 12 hours. This is fine if you're taking your car, but otherwise, the short flight takes an hour from Lyon and 1.5 hours from Paris.
You can always rent a car once you get to Corsica.
And then there are France's overseas territories, when flying is the only form of travel that makes any sense, with islands as far-flung as the Caribbean and the South Pacific.
Whereas all roads may lead to Paris, many flights do not.
Take EasyJet, the discount airline. While many flights go to and from Paris, you can fly between many French cities directly, for example from Lille to Toulouse or Lyon to La Rochelle.
You can even go one step further and fly from one of the cities near a French border, like Geneva or Basel (Switzerland), which have flights into many cities in France.
It usually makes little sense to fly in France, outside those three exceptions.
Here are some essential things to consider when flying in France:
If you want to travel to more off-the-beaten-path regions, you may have to take the bus. Most regions are served by trains − but not all.
If you've ascertained there is no train where you're going, check the bus schedules. They take longer than the train, but they also go further, and travel at odd hours when trains might not be running.
For example, the mostly rural Ardèche region in central France has virtually no trains, so all transport between towns takes place on buses.
All bus companies can travel any route, so there is quite a lot of competition, which means plenty of choice and low prices.
Here are a few tips and information to help you enjoy those bus trips across France:
When planes and trains are full, which often happens around school holiday periods, rideshares become popular (in fact, they're gaining popularity in France).
Think of it as taking a taxi but splitting the fare with another passenger.
The problem is finding someone going to your exact destination at the time and on the day you want, but this is relatively easier on the more frequented routes.
Ridesharing gives you a fantastic opportunity to get to know new people during your trip and find out about your destination if your driver happens to be a local.
Here are some essential tips to consider for ridesharing in France: