Travelling by train in France
Getting to France by Train: For convenience the Eurotunnel train service to France is difficult to beat. It may not be the cheapest service to Calais, but you save at least 10 minutes in the UK as you board at Folkestone rather than Dover. The boarding process is usually quite painless and the actual journey time is the quickest at 35 minutes. There are a couple of drawbacks however…..
- It can be a bit boring on the journey – we always plan to have a picnic during the crossing (breakfast on the way out, supper on the way back) and that makes it go a lot quicker!
- Arriving in Calais means you have a long journey ahead of you if you are travelling south of Paris. For Provence/Côte D’Azur you don’t have much choice. But for Brittany, Dordogne and the Vendee you could consider other routes offered by the ferry services.
Also toilets have been poorly maintained on our recent crossings…. so don’t rely on them!
Worried about using Eurotunnel?
Understandably some people are worried about using Eurotunnel, however our experience is that you don’t get claustrophobic at all. You drive your car into the train and sit inside it for the duration. You don’t have any sense of being in a tunnel. If you wish you can get out of your car and have a walk around. One word of warning: although there are toilets on board, there aren’t so many of them, so use them early in the crossing, if at all.
For a holiday in Paris travelling there by Eurostar is excellent if you live within easy reach of London; it whisks you from London’s magnificently refurbished London St. Pancras International Station into the middle of Paris at the Gare du Nord in just two and a quarter hours. St. Pancras mainline station has excellent connections from around England, particularly the north of the country; there is also quality retailing, cafés and eateries, not forgetting the worlds longest champagne bar! This really is a much better way to relax on your way to Paris than travelling by air as the latter normally involves arriving in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport which is situated on the outskirts of the city to the north east of the capital.
Paris as a destination however, is only one of many options open to travellers on Eurostar. Lille (1 hour 20 mins) in its own right is a great place to visit as well as serving as a useful point of departure for many destinations in France including for example Dijon and Montpellier. An important consideration in choosing to make onward connections at Lille rather than Paris is that in the former there is no need to change stations, thus reducing transfer times. In the summer there is an excellent direct service from London to Avignon taking six and a half hours while during the winter there is a ski train direct to the Alps. Of course for those living south of London it is possible to take the train from either Ashford International or the new Ebbsfleet station (this currently only serves Paris and Brussels).
No longer runs. An alternative service is Auto Train which some site visitors have used for their travel south. The car travels separately and passengers travel on the TGV or on the Lunea Sleeper Train. If you can afford it and prefer to take your own car (rather than taking a budget flight and hiring one) then this is an option worth considering.
Frankly, if you don’t mind driving in france, we’d always go by car as there are so many decent autoroutes heading south these days, with many options for overnight stays. Providing you avoid peak Saturdays in late July and August then you should be OK.
Personally we really enjoy driving in France as the traffic is usually much lighter than in the UK and overnight stops can make the whole journey less stressful.
Train travel within France
The main website for train travel within France is that of SNCF. Their website is www.voyages-sncf.com. This website can in fact be viewed in English, although finding the icon to do so is a bit tricky – it is somewhat hidden at the bottom left of the screen! You can travel by train using many of the different train companies that operate in France – Corail, Thalys, Teoz, Eurostar and TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). Train travel in France is comfortable, clean and very affordable and is consequently a popular way to travel.
As a family we have booked tickets on line (using the above website) on several occasions and found the service to be excellent – tickets have been sent to us at our home address with no problems. Just make sure that you leave a few days for them to reach you before you set off on your holiday. You can also look at the very comprehensive site – www.raileurope.com.
Several French cities have a métro service, including Paris, Toulouse, Lille, Rennes, Marseille and Lyon. These are efficient and good value.
General Info: The Paris Métro is first class with over 350 stations and 14 lines and nowhere further than 500 metres from a station. Many of the station entrances were designed in the Art Nouveau style by Hector Guimard and are popular tourist attractions in their own right! The Métro comprises 2 systems – the Métro or underground trains (16 lines) and the RER (5 lines lettered A-E). The former is similar to the London underground while the latter is more like a suburban train system with larger, usually double-decker trains that run from one side of Paris to the other, often over-ground. For example there is an RER (line A) service that goes out to Disneyland in Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy to the east of the city. Take care as this line splits so make sure you get the correct destination.
Buying tickets: (Prices correct June 2011) To travel you need to buy ‘une billet’ (a ticket), otherwise known as a t+ ticket. These can be bought either at the ticket office or the self-service ticket machines with instructions available in English. Buying a ‘Carnet’, a book of 10 tickets is cheaper than buying tickets individually. Single tickets cost €1.70 while a carnet costs €12, with children aged under 4 being free and under 10 at half price. Tickets are valid for 1.5 hours from the time they are validated by the ticket machine and are for use on one continuous journey (with any number of changes) within that time frame, providing you stay on your chosen mode of transport – metro-metro, or bus-bus. Alternatively you can buy a ‘Paris Visite’ for €9.30 for zones 1-3. (a two day Paris Visite is €15.20, three days €20.70 and five days €29.90) Children aged between 4-11 are half price. You can use Métro tickets on the funicular railway at Sacré Coeur. A Mobilis pass allows unlimited travel for one day on bus, metro or RER. This costs from €6.10 – €17.30 depending on the zone.
Using the metro: When travelling on the Métro you need to decide which station you wish to get to and then check the name of the station at the END of the line in the direction in which you will be travelling as this determines which train you get. So, for example, imagine that you have arrived on Eurostar at the Gare du Nord and you wish to head south to Les Halles near The Seine River. This is Métro line 4 so you must follow signs and trains in the direction of Porte d’Orléans that is the last station at the southern end of the line. Should you have wished to travel north on line 4 then you would have followed signs in the direction of Porte de Clignancourt.
RER trains (Réseau Express Régional) operate a similar procedure. These are five suburban trains (Routes A-E), often double deckers, that serve outlying suburbs (e.g.: Disneyland Paris is on Line A). As the Disney route will probably be the most popular RER destination from Paris it is worth noting that line ‘A’ splits and you need to get the one to Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy
Read more travel in France:
- Before You Go
- Getting there
- Day Trips
- Overnight stops
- Entertaining the kids in the journey
- On arrival