Plane, Train, or Bus: What’s the Best Way to Travel around France?
Leah Walker November 4, 2016

What is the best way to travel around France? Well, there’s not really a simple answer to that question. It depends. Where are you traveling? How much time do you have? What is your budget? There are many factors that must be considered when determining the best way to travel around France. Let’s assume the starting point is Paris to make this as easy to understand as possible.

Travel France by Train

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker1
By train is my favorite way to travel.

Traveling by train is my favorite form of transportation. There are no pesky TSA agents measuring the liquids in my carry on, which means I can pack my suitcase with all the wine it will hold. I can arrive minutes before the train leaves the station, the conductor isn’t telling me to turn off my electronic devices, and there is no seat belt light. Yes, train travel, especially in France, is quite civilized.

Thanks to the TGV {the high-speed train system}, most of the time it’s fastest and more convenient to take the train when traveling around France. Consider the time it takes to get from the Paris city center to either Charles de Gaulle or Orly, check bags, go through security, and board the plane. At a minimum, you’re looking at leaving your hotel three hours before takeoff. Throw in the actual flight time, along with waiting for checked bags and a cab ride or public transport to the city center, and travel time is 5+ hours from the time you left your Paris hotel room, until you arrive at your intended destination.

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker2
Train travel in France is wonderful, in terms of time, convenience, and cost.

For example, let’s look at a trip to Bordeaux. Should you take the 1:05 flight from CDG to Bordeaux, considering the factors I outlined in the previous paragraph, it takes approximately four hours to get to a hotel in Bordeaux’s center. Conversely, it takes less than 30 minutes to get from the Paris city center to Gare Montparnasse. The TGV from Paris to Bordeaux currently takes 3:16. In July 2017, that trip time will be cut to just 2:04. A tram stop is directly in front of Bordeaux’s train station, and for two euros, you can be on the other side of the city in about fifteen minutes. I’m not so great at math, but a trip from Paris to Bordeaux by plane and by train both take about four hours. Though, once the new higher speed train begins service, the trip will take around three hours.

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker7
In July 2017, it will take just over two hours to get from Paris to Bordeaux by train.

In the Bordeaux example, the time is about the same {for now}. However, the process of getting from Paris to Bordeaux by train is less taxing. Think about it: Is three hours of walking as strenuous as three hours running? Of course, the answer is no. I’d rather spend three hours sipping red wine in my train seat and one hour in transit than one hour in a plane seat and three hours in transit. When deciding the best way to travel around France, it’s important to consider all of the pieces of the puzzle, especially time, difficulty, and cost.

Travel France by Plane

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker3
A commercial jet will get you to Nice faster, but it won’t be as fun as a bi-plane.

Although nine out ten times, the best way to travel around France is by train, there are a few occasions when a flight is your best bet. Take Nice for example. The fastest flight time from CDG or Orly is 1:20. Figure in transport to the airport, check in, security, etc. and you’re looking at a travel time of about 4:30. In contrast, the quickest train from Paris’ Gare de Lyon to Nice is 5:37. Factoring in transport time to and from the train station, it will be about 6:30 before you’re basking in the South of France sun. With limited time, clearly flying is the best option from Paris to Nice.

Travel France by Bus

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker4
Whether in 2 hours by train or 7:30 by bus, you’ll want to visit Lyon.

Traveling within France by bus once was limited to international companies passing through the country or by inter-regional service. Since 2015, the options for bus travel in France are expanding. Often the SNCF buses cover routes in which there is no train service, a void that needed to be filled.

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker5
Paris isn’t the only picturesque French city. Look at Lyon.

If you have more time than money, the bus is a great option. I searched for a trip from Paris to Lyon. By high-speed train, the fastest travel time is 1:57 and costs around $118 {at the time I checked}. Conversely, the same route by bus takes 7:30 and costs $17. Spending 5:33 of your time will save $101. Is your time worth about $18 per hour? Only you can decide the answer to that question.

plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker9
There’s much to discover throughout France, like Cognac. Don’t limit yourself to just Paris.

So, what’s the best way to travel around France? As you can see, there’s no clear-cut answer to that question. Circumstances, routes, and budgets all must be considered. The most important thing is to get out of the city. As much as I love Paris, there’s so much to discover in France. I think only seeing Paris is probably the biggest mistake that travelers make. And with the country’s superior transportation options, it’s simple and affordable to get out of the City of Light {as long as there’s not a strike}.

whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

19 Comments

  1. I love taking trains in France, but for us our favourite way of travelling in France is to drive. It allows us more flexibility on timings, we can stop as often as we like to sightsee on the way, it makes it easier for us to explore places that are not directly on a public transport route, and we can buy a lot more wine to bring home. We also like to have a cool box in the back with some basic kitchen equipment and crockery so that we can buy delicious food at French markets and enjoy the occasional picnic overlooking a lovely view. We love travelling in France!

  2. I have never traveled around France, but I would love to. Ground transportation seems like a great way to see a lot of the country side. Great if you have the time.

  3. I was just weighing all the various options on the best way to get from Bordeaux to some other cities in France, like Paris and Beaune. While I hated train travel when I lived in Italy, I actually quite enjoy it in France. The trains are very nice and the high speed TGV trains do allow you to easily zip around to many places. I also really like driving though too, since you can get off-the-beaten-path and really dig in to France’s pretty villages that aren’t accessible by public transportation.

  4. I prefer train travel, especially in France where the trains are fast and comfortable. I’m not a fan of large buses but I do like driving, as it gives you the flexibility to stop whenever you want.

      1. Same here, even I prefer to travel by a car.
        But going through your article and the experiences you had sounds pretty interesting.
        France seems a pleasing place to wander, surely will plan and experience all the modes of transport.
        Keep posting 🙂

  5. While I love to travel by car, it’s cheaper to use the train. Plus, their trains are indeed great – and fast – like you also said, the TGV is really fast. It saves a lot of time – and money – and they have a great network 🙂

  6. Great tips! But indeed, it really also depends on the kind of trip you want to do. But given that it’s France, I like it best to either do train or go on a road trip. I get to see things more up close! 😀

  7. I’m really convinced that traveling around France is not an issue. I’ve never been traveling in France with a plane, hope to try it too. Thanks for the tips anyway.

Your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers

Have the world delivered to your inbox
Well, maybe not the whole world, but some of it. Either way, subscribe to my monthly newsletter. I'll include my latest articles from around the Web, travel announcements, and maybe even a few Paris insider tips.