Plane, Train, or Bus: What’s the Best Way to Travel around France?

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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}.

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22 Comments
  • Kavey
    November 5, 2016

    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!

  • Holly
    November 5, 2016

    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.

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      Yes! Whizzing by the countryside by train is such a thrill.

  • Natasha Amar
    November 6, 2016

    Train travel is my favorite way of travel for all the reasons you mentioned and a certain sense of romanticism that I associate with it.

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      Ah, yes, it is quite romantic. Plus, the train stations are usually so much prettier than airports.

  • Jennifer
    November 6, 2016

    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.

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      It’s so easy in France to travel by train. I think it’s only rivaled by Switzerland in terms of comfort and convenience.

  • Christina
    November 6, 2016

    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.

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      I do like a car, but I don’t want to be the one driving, unless I’m in the USA. 🙂

      • Chetan Jadhav
        November 10, 2016

        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 🙂

  • Marlene Marques
    November 6, 2016

    I once took the TGV Paris / Bordeaux and was quite a nice trip. Super fast and comfortable. As for bus traveling, I always find it more dull and normally prefer to rent a car. 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      I’m not a bus traveler, but it’s a great option if on a budget.

  • Loredana
    November 6, 2016

    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 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      Often, yes, it’s cheaper by train, especially with tolls and the price of gas. I like traveling by car in France, as long as I’m not driving!

  • Carmen's Luxury Travel
    November 6, 2016

    I agree – only seeing Paris is a big mistake! Lovely post and photos, thanks for sharing. Happy travels 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      November 7, 2016

      Yes, as much as I love Paris, there are so many wonderful places to see in France.

  • Aileen Adalid
    November 8, 2016

    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! 😀

  • Mai
    November 10, 2016

    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.

  • Klyn Everett
    August 7, 2017

    We are traveling in early October from Paris to Arles and then eventually to Nice before flying home. Do you recommend taking the TGV to Avignon and then renting a car? Any suggestions for getting from Arles to Nice? Our time is unfortunately short so we have to make the most of every minute 🙂

    Thank you!! Your blog and Insta stories are on my daily radar!

    • Leah Walker
      August 16, 2017

      I’d take the TGV to Avignon and then rent a car. I’d use the car to get to Nice, dropping it off at the airport. There’s no easy way to get to Nice, unless by plane.

  • David Helton
    May 16, 2018

    Thank you for all the interesting information. I am leading a group of students to France for a School Exchange. Just wandering if anyone has any idea about traveling with 15 chaperons and students and the easiest/cheapest way to get my students from place to place?

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