Many visitors will choose to hire a car to explore France, but congestion and high toll road charges can make it an unpleasant experience. For cities and busy tourist areas, stick to train travel to avoid stress, traffic, and to save money on transportation.
In more rural areas, hiring a car can offer access to some off-the-beaten-path locations that are near impossible to get to via public transport.
Flying into Charles de Galle can cost a fortune; try instead Paris’ Orly or a regional airport close to another attraction on your list. And don’t forget that travel is easy throughout Europe, so flying into another country and crossing the border by public transport might be a better option.
France’s state-owned SNCF is one of the best rail networks in Europe. There are high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) trains or LGVs (Lignes à Grande Vitesse) from Paris. These services travel with speeds of up to 300 km/h.
There are also slower local services provided by TER (Transport Express Régional) or Corail trains for travelling to other destinations. It can be up to 50% cheaper to book tickets in advance, with additional discounts for students, seniors or groups.
Tickets known as “100% Prem’s,” are available from Thursday evening to Monday night, for last-minute travel on the weekends. If travelling between Paris and Bordeaux/Toulouse/Nantes/Strasbourg look for “Intercités 100% Éco'' for cheap tickets for all stops in any direction.
They can be booked up to three months in advance with a single fare costing €15 to €35. On the Paris-Lyon and Paris-Nantes lines, the Ouigo Train Classique scheme means that you can get cheap fixed fares all year round.
For European residents, the Interrail Pass allows you to travel from 3 to 8 days within 1 month. If you’re a non-European resident, you can travel throughout Europe with a Eurail Pass for any 7 days within 1 month, or 10 days in 2 months.
These don’t include seat reservations and are only good if you are travelling often by train - find out more about France rail passes and train trips.
European coach services like FlixBus and EuroLines offer another alternative to travelling between major destinations in France. In cities, public bus networks are reliable, accessible and cheap to use.
Buy a billet à l'unité (single ticket) or an all-day pass valid on all public transport, and remember to always validate it.
For longer distances and in more rural areas buses can be more infrequent and less reliable. Often there are reduced services on weekends and public holidays and during school holidays.
Driving in France is similar to much of Europe, with cars on the right side of the road and giving priority to the right. The speed limits are 130 km/h for motorways, 110 km/h for dual carriageways, 80 km/h for other roads, and 50 km/h in built-up areas.
Avoid filling up at expensive service stops and instead refuel at discounted super/hypermarkets such as Carrefour, Intermarché, and Super U. Automated petrol pumps are common, but cards issued abroad are not always accepted.
Parking on the outskirts of town can be a lot cheaper with public transport or free shuttles (navettes) offering a convenient way into the main areas. In cities metro stations, tram lines and bus routes are the best way of getting around, anyone that has driven in Paris will tell you that it’s best to avoid it!
The French police are quite strict with driving offences and can issue on-the-spot fines of up to 750 Euros. It is illegal to wear headphones when driving in France, it’s also required to have safety items in the car including snow chains from November 1st to March 31st.
French law also prohibits drivers from devices capable of detecting speed cameras (ie. sat navs, Google maps) with fines of up to €1,500 - so it’s vital to know how to turn this feature off.
Paris has a low emission zone and certain cities require a Crit'Air sticker to be displayed on your car which costs just a few Euros. Most motorways have tolls (péages) that can be paid at the booth by cash or with a Mastercard or Visa (Maestro and Electron debit cards are not accepted) - avoid the lanes with a big orange ‘T’ as they are automated.
Toll prices can really add up if you are covering a large distance with some tunnels costing in excess of 50 Euros to cross - use the Michelin Route Planner to work out costs.
Car rental agencies can be found at airports and many large train stations. Stick to reputable companies and have a credit card available for taking a deposit. Car rentals vary by region but can cost €35 to €80 per day on average.
In May 2023, France banned all domestic flights that are possible in less than two-and-a-half hours by train. This move has put the country at the forefront of Europe's efforts to go green, with the rules even being extended to private jets.
Cycling is popular in the French countryside with ‘pistes cyclables’ and greenways linking many beauty spots especially in the Loire Valley, the Luberon in Provence, and Burgundy.
Public transport ticket: €1
Car rental: €35 to €80 per day
Fuel: €2.01p/l for petrol and €1.95p/l for diesel
Bike rental: €15 per day
Interrail Pass for 3 days within 1 month: €133
While the metro is fairly old and difficult to use for those with reduced mobility, buses in Paris are 100% accessible, and specialised taxis can be organised through G7.
The nationwide network of trains are generally very accessible, but journeys require some pre-planning. You can find a list of step-free stations and discounts as well as further information on the SNCF website.
Last Updated 28 November 2023