Tips for getting around in France

TGV in Lyon, photo by Frederic Dinh

France is an amazing country, but it is also pretty big, it’s major cities are pretty big, and the bottom line is that you can’t escape using some form of motorized transport unless you don’t mind cycling for hours on end through sometimes hectic traffic. A first-time visitor to France can easily be confused by the many types of tickets for public transport, the different trains and buses that can be found in cities (the situation is much simpler in small towns, obviously) and how to get hold of the ticket that you need and not pay extra for services that you don’t need. So if the though of jumping into France’s complicated public transport system scares you a bit, here are some tips for getting around France.

Renting a car

Motorway in France, photo by FranceHouseHunt

Renting a car is by far the most complicated way of getting around France, and unless you do some serious research into French traffic rules and laws (keeping an eye out for potential offenses), don’t mind the many toll barriers and you are prepared to take the risk of getting a car with manual transmission, using public transport is less of a bother.

By train

The absolute best way to get around France is by train, because they can get you from almost anywhere to anywhere, they are comfortable and safe, and they allow you to observe the scenery while you travel. Reservations are obligatory in most cases, and you can do that either in a travel agency or the railway station (but sometimes it can be problematic if you don’t speak French), or book through the SNCF website in English. There are several types of trains in France: TER are regional trains and they are fairly slow,  while the Corail Intercité operate between most cities in France and don’t need a reservation. Corail Téoz are similar but require reservations, while Corail Lunéa are night-trains. The most famous of all French trains are the TGV (train a grand vitesse) which operate between several destination, and are very fast indeed. Buying a ticket online can be confusing, but you can simply pick it up at the railway station.

By bus

Photo by Jean-Louis Ximmerman

The French government encourages people to use the well connected railway system, so there is no national bus service in France. But if you travel within a city, buses are the cheapest way to get around. A bus ticket will usually cost less than 2 euro, considerably less than what the journey would cost by taxi. In Paris, getting a bus ticket is quite easy (it used the same single ride tickets as the metro), and the Noctilien night bus is a great for safely getting home after a night out. Traveling by bus in most cities is quite easy – you just need to pay attention the the bus route (usually written at the front of the bus) and buy a ticket from the driver, just don’t expect any change. In sum, with some tips for getting around in France, travel in the Hexagon can be downright pleasant.


Leave a Reply