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

From by Leah Walker
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
plane-train-or-bus-whats-the-best-way-to-travel-around-france-by-leah-walker1By 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-walker2Train 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-walker7In 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-walker3A 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-walker4Whether 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-walker5Paris 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-walker9There’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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