Trans­port in France

Your guide to trav­el­ling around France by road, rail, bus and bi­cy­cle

Living France - - Contents -


The French road net­work is ex­tremely dense, link­ing ma­jor cities and re­mote ru­ral ar­eas alike, so it’s small won­der that many lo­cals and tourists take to the road in large num­bers to criss-cross the coun­try.

France’s mo­tor­way net­work is the sec­ond largest in Europe, af­ter Ger­many, with the famed au­toroutes as­sur­ing a fast, com­fort­able jour­ney – with the ex­cep­tion of a few peak hol­i­day travel dates in the an­nual cal­en­dar! It does come at a price, how­ever, with reg­u­lar péages col­lect­ing a toll for your plea­sure at the wheel. On longer routes, the cost can add up, so it’s worth tot­ting up the to­tal in ad­vance (go to That said, if you want a rel­a­tively has­sle-free trip with reg­u­lar rest stops (called aires) and clean ser­vice sta­tions along the way, it’s the way to go.

The cost of the tolls is cal­cu­lated ac­cord­ing to dis­tance trav­elled and ve­hi­cle class, and you can pay by cash, credit card, or pur­chase the Liber-t télépéage badge in ad­vance for quicker pas­sage through the péages.

For those who want to save money and/or see more of France, there is also an ex­ten­sive sys­tem of state-owned trunk roads ( routes na­tionales). The N-roads are di­rect, and can even be quicker than the mo­tor­ways dur­ing the peak hol­i­day travel pe­ri­ods.

The smaller roads, known as the routes dé­parte­men­tales, are gen­er­ally well main­tained. In ex­treme weather con­di­tions, for ex­am­ple ice or snow, the grit­ters get out early to spread sand on all the pri­mary B-roads link­ing to towns as well as roads pro­vid­ing prin­ci­pal ac­cess to vil­lages.


Keep an eye on the dif­fer­ent speed lim­its when mak­ing car jour­neys, be­cause the French author­i­ties are hot on speed­ing of­fences, de­ploy­ing large num­bers of traf­fic police and radars in ef­forts to re­duce ac­ci­dents.

Speed lim­its are 130km/h on mo­tor­ways, 110km/h on A-roads, 90km/h on B-roads, com­ing down to 50km/h as you drive through towns and vil­lages. In ad­verse weather con­di­tions, these lim­its are re­duced by 20km/h on mo­tor­ways and by 10km/h on other roads.


The French rail net­work is one of the most com­pre­hen­sive in the world, and also car­ries one of the fastest trains link­ing ma­jor cities – the high-speed TGV ( train à grande vitesse). The only draw­back with the TGV ser­vice is that its net­work mostly con­nects to or through Paris.

Stan­dard TER trains ( trans­port ex­press ré­gional) are not as speedy as a TGV, but they of­fer a good, fast ser­vice and op­er­ate on di­rect routes in the re­gions, stop­ping be­tween main sta­tions only.

Fi­nally, the branch lines are served by om­nibus trains, which travel at slower speeds and stop at ev­ery sta­tion ser­vic­ing sub­ur­ban ar­eas.

Many of the TGV and TER trains are dou­ble-deck­ers, thereby pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate seat­ing – the dream of many a UK com­muter!

To date, the net­work has been run by the state-owned com­pany SNCF (So­ciété Na­tionale des Chemins de Fer Français), how­ever, plans are un­der­way to open the mar­ket in line with Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion rules. For the TER net­work, open ac­cess will be im­ple­mented from De­cem­ber 2019, with con­tracts be­ing put out to ten­der as and when they come up for re­newal. The TGV net­work will im­ple­ment the change from 2021, how­ever, it is likely the gov­ern­ment will look at a re­gional con­tract sys­tem sim­i­lar to that in the UK to pre­vent com­pa­nies seek­ing con­tracts to op­er­ate only the more prof­itable routes.


The Parisian un­der­ground rail net­work has a smell, a sound and a vibe all of its own. Kilo­me­tres of join­ing walk­ways host end­less buskers and en­ter­tain­ers, tiled plat­forms with colour­ful ad­ver­tis­ing, and trains with so­cia­ble four-by-four seat­ing. Buzzing with life un­der­neath the Paris streets, the Métro de­liv­ers pas­sen­gers all around the cap­i­tal, link­ing with the RER trains out into the sub­urbs.

Many of France’s larger cities also have an un­der­ground train net­work and, like Paris, of­ten an over­ground tramway ser­vice too. With a good bus ser­vice fin­ish­ing city cen­tres’ trans­port of­fer­ing (many buses with a cater­pil­lar dou­ble car­riage), it’s al­ways rel­a­tively easy to get around.


There is no na­tional coach ser­vice in France that is com­pa­ra­ble to the UK’s Na­tional Ex­press, how­ever, in 2015 FlixBus started oper­at­ing an in­ter­city coach ser­vice across the coun­try that is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity.

In ad­di­tion, coaches (known as ‘ cars’ or ‘ bus’) op­er­ate on a more re­gional and lo­cal level, stop­ping reg­u­larly along their given route. Some of the longer coach routes are in fact run by SNCF and in­cluded in their trans­port timeta­bles. Coach sta­tions in ma­jor towns are of­ten found next to the train sta­tion, as in the UK, fa­cil­i­tat­ing on­ward jour­neys to the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

In ru­ral ar­eas, the coaches link vil­lages to nearby towns, and in some ar­eas where there is no ser­vice, lo­cal author­i­ties have opened up the heav­ily sub­sidised school bus ser­vice for use by pay­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic.

Al­ways check the coach/bus timetable in ad­vance, par­tic­u­larly in more ru­ral ar­eas, as ser­vices can be lim­ited at week­ends and off-peak hours. In ar­eas where buses are scarcer, hitch-hik­ing re­mains a com­mon and ef­fec­tive means of get­ting around.


Travel within France is also well served by the do­mes­tic air mar­ket, with notably the bud­get air­lines of­fer­ing af­ford­able, ac­ces­si­ble flights across the coun­try. To counter the in­roads be­ing made by the likes of easyJet and Ryanair in this sec­tor, the for­mer gi­ant of the French skies, Air France-KLM, launched its own bud­get brand Hop! in March 2013 tar­get­ing cheaper do­mes­tic pas­sen­ger flights.

Most in­ter­na­tional flights con­tinue to be routed via the two Paris air­ports, but France has sev­eral ma­jor air­ports serv­ing the big­ger cities, with good park­ing fa­cil­i­ties and trans­port links.

If trav­el­ling abroad, you need to plan to ar­rive well in ad­vance to get through re­in­forced se­cu­rity and pass­port con­trols – pass­port con­trol in par­tic­u­lar can some­times take a very long time! Bear in mind that, since Jan­uary 2017, all mi­nors de­part­ing French ter­ri­tory alone or with­out their par­ents must have a signed parental au­tho­ri­sa­tion form ( une au­tori­sa­tion de sor­tie de ter­ri­toire, AST – forms can be down­loaded on­line, at ser­vice-pub­

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