Despite France’s large size — roughly the same area as the state of Texas — it is an easy country to navigate. Paris’ main airport, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), is the busiest airport in mainland Europe and the country’s major point of entry. Air France is the French flag carrier with hubs in Charles de Gaulle and Paris’ secondary hub airport Paris Orly (ORY). Flights are also readily available to major cities in neighboring countries including London, Brussels, Frankfurt and Geneva. From London, the Eurostar train offers an affordable, high-speed option connecting London to Paris is just over two hours. Once within Europe, numerous intercontinental and domestic flights are available to connect the rest of the country through flights to Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and more.
France’s extensive rail network easily weaves these cities together with the second-largest rail network in Europe. Paris’ largest rail station, Gare du Nord, is the country’s main station that connects Paris to Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom. Additionally, Paris is home to six other train stations — each station is the launching point for trains departing for a certain region of the country. The four main directional stations are Gare du Nord to London and northern France; Gare Saint-Lazare to Normandy; Gare du Lyon to the Alps, the French Riviera, Barcelona and Lyon; Gare de Austerlitz to the Loire Valley, Toulouse and central France. These four stations connect the local Paris Métro, the suburban rapid transit RER (Réseau Express Régional) lines and the high-speed TGV lines.
France’s national rail network is operated by the state-owned SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) and offers a number of flexible transportation options for travelers interested in both time-efficient and affordable journeys. The high-speed TGV (Trains a Grande Vitesse) is the most efficient mode of transportation when navigating the French countryside, traveling from Paris to Marseille in just under three and a half hours — a distance of nearly 500 miles (800 kilometers). Traveling at maximum speeds of up to 199mph (320km/h), the TGV connects the major cities in France to Paris and most of its neighboring countries — Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. France’s regional railway — the TER (Transport Express Regional) — is the most affordable mode of transportation connecting 20 regions across the country. Travel via the TER is best for nearby cities and towns and allows you to fully enjoy the French countryside without breaking the wallet.
When looking to buy tickets for a leisurely train ride through the French countryside, they can be purchased via phone app, online or at the train station through automated machines or the teller window. Be sure to specify whether you are interested in the TGV or the TER trains and select a first- or second-class ticket. Most trains require a seat reservation at an additional cost, especially high-speed trains like the TGV and Eurostar, international trains and overnight trains. You don’t need a seat reservation for regional trains, but planning ahead and doing so makes sure that you’ll have a spot aboard. Each train has a limited number of reserved seats and they can sell out quickly during peak times and holidays. Most trains throughout Europe can be reserved up to three months ahead of time, so if you have a set destination, it is always better to book further ahead of time.
With more than 2,000 miles of coastline and navigable rivers connecting the entire country, experiencing France by ocean cruise, riverboat or barge is a one-of-a-kind experience. At the western end of the French Riviera (Côte d'Azur), Marseille is France’s second-largest city and one of the oldest ports in Western Europe. Marseille is a common departure and port of call for Mediterranean cruises and connects southern France to North Africa, Sardinia and the western coast of Italy. At the foot of the Alps and the eastern edge of the French Riviera, Nice is a hub for Mediterranean cruises sailing to the neighboring Principality of Monaco and ferries sailing to the French island of Corsica, located 110 miles off France’s southeast coast.
Ocean and Small Ship
Along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the English Channel to the north, port cities and fishing villages welcome ocean liners and small ship cruises. Larger cities such as Nantes and Bordeaux are cruise gateways to the world-famous Loire Valley and Bordeaux wine region. European cruises navigating the Iberian Peninsula — sailing to and from renowned cities including Rome, Barcelona and London — offer spectacular introductions to coastal France.
Each of France’s three major rivers — the Seine, the Loire and the Rhone — have their own personalities and transport visitors through the country’s distinctive regions aboard immersive river cruises. Seine River cruises sail out of Paris and connect the metropolis to the Impressionist villages of Giverny and Rouen and the D-day Beaches lining the English Channel. France’s longest river, the Loire, begins in the French Alps and turns west at the City of Orléans towards the Atlantic Ocean; Loire River cruises are famous for the hundreds of imposing châteaux and monuments reminiscent of the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. Flowing from the Rhône Glacier in Switzerland to the sun-kissed shores of the Mediterranean, the Rhône River passes through France’s culinary capital Lyon and the Palais des Papes at Avignon. Rhône River cruises navigate through cities protecting ancient Roman ruins and the premier Rhône wine region.
France's main rivers are connected by nearly 1,500 miles of canals, built mainly throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Canals are especially common in northeastern France in the regions of Burgundy, Alsace and Lorraine. Many historic barges have been repurposed and renovated to share the beauty of the French canal towns at a relaxed and leisurely pace. French barge cruises transport passengers into towns fresh out of a Disney fairytale and many have onboard bicycles that allow you to cycle between destinations during the daytime sailing.