Discovering France: Our Guide to Planning your Holiday
Originally posted on & updated on 9th December, 2023
Days are getting shorter and the heating is back on, indicating that it’s time to start planning your next summer holiday in France. With numerous regions to choose from and so much historical and cultural heritage, selecting the perfect holiday destination can be quite challenging. This article aims to explore different ways to plan your journey while keeping an eye on the budget and the environment.
Flying to France
Flying to France offers a quick way to experience the country’s culture, incredible landscapes, and vibrant cities. With numerous airports spread across the country, travellers can find a convenient gateway to their desired destination. Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is the main international airport, handling millions of passengers every year and offering direct connections to major cities worldwide.
Other notable French airports include Orly Airport (ORY) to the south of Paris, Lyon-Saint-Exupéry Airport (LYS), Toulouse Blagnac Airport (TLS), Bergerac (EGC) in the Dordogne, Bordeaux (BOD), and Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE), providing access to various regions of the country. There have been reports of thousands of flights to Paris being cancelled in early 2024 as France is planning important upgrades on its air traffic control systems. Ensure you check with your airline prior to arranging any trips to the capital in January and February next year.
There are several budget airlines providing seasonal flights to a wide range of major and smaller regional airports. Jet2.com, a leading low-cost airline offers a good range of flights to France from various UK airports, including London Stansted Airport (STN), Manchester Airport (MAN), and Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA). Their affordable fares and extensive network make them a popular choice for travellers seeking a budget-friendly option. Whether you’re planning a city break to Paris, a relaxing holiday on the Côte d’Azur, or a cultural immersion in the heart of Provence, Jet2.com provides a convenient way to explore the most popular regions of France.
To reduce carbon footprint and meet the country’s climate targets, France has recently regulated flights within its borders. It’s important to research this as once you have landed in France, there may not be any internal connections to your destination. This is partly the reason we’ve prepared this article as we know that many American and non-European travellers are used to jumping on planes for smaller inter-state trips.
Consider the Extensive Rail Network
Travellers to France should seriously consider using the extensive train network, it’s a fantastic way to travel quickly while enjoying the scenery along the way with a snack and a drink purchased from la voiture-buffet. Occasionally you may make new friends or get tipped about the best table for your evening in town later.
France has invested heavily in expanding and improving its train and rail network to cater to its diverse and vast terrain. The country now boasts one of the fastest trains in the world, with a TGV test train setting a world record by reaching a speed of 574.8 km/hour in April 2007. In 2019, SNCF operated a total network of over 3,000 train stations, and 27,480 km of rail tracks, of which 12,540 km are TGV fast train tracks. This is approximately 10,000 km more than the UK which is half the size of France.
The TGV high-speed trains operate at 228 stations across France and eight European countries. The most well-known stations are located in Paris, including Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare du Nord and Gare Montparnasse. Lyon and Marseille are also popular, along with Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille, Tours and many others. For a complete list of all TGV train stations, please refer to the official SNCF website.
Eurotunnel Shuttle services to France
The Channel Tunnel connects Calais in northern France to Folkestone in the south of Kent. If you want to travel to France quickly and sustainably, Le Shuttle is a great option. Eurotunnel provides an environmentally friendly way to travel by car, with routes from Folkestone to Calais taking just 35 minutes. Paris is approximately three hours’ drive from Calais, while Folkestone is around an hour and a half’s drive from London.
Eurotunnel is a leader in low-carbon transport. They chose to use 100% electric rail traction from day one, and a truck crossing the Channel on the Shuttle freight service emits significantly less carbon emissions compared to using a ferry. Additionally, Eurotunnel supports EV drivers with chargers on site, allowing customers to charge up while on the move. EVs are even kinder to the environment, and their chargers support Tesla cars, as well as most other brands.
Eurostar services to France
Eurostar and Thalys have merged under the Eurostar brand to create an exciting new era for fast and efficient international train travel. Eurostar offers high-speed rail services that connect the United Kingdom to mainland Europe, with direct routes to France. Departing from St Pancras International station in London, Eurostar trains arrive at Paris Gare du Nord, Lille Europe, and Marne-La-Vallée Chessy TGV station, providing easy access to major French cities.
The journey from London to Paris takes just over two hours, making Eurostar a popular choice for both business travellers and leisure seekers. With frequent departures throughout the day, Eurostar offers flexibility and convenience for people seeking a comfortable and efficient way to travel between the UK and France.
Eurostar trains can reach a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour (which is 186 miles per hour) on high-speed lines. This means that you can explore the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands on a wide range of high-speed routes.
While in Paris go RER
The RER (Réseau Express Régional) rail network in Paris is an efficient mode of transportation. It provides a convenient way to navigate the city and its suburbs, as it has an extensive network of lines and stations that offer direct access to major attractions, business districts, and residential areas. Unlike the metro, the RER extends far beyond the city limits, making it a great choice for exploring the entire Ile-de-France region.
The RER offers a fast and effective service with trains running at frequent intervals and reaching speeds of up to 120 km/h. This allows passengers to travel quickly between destinations, without the congestion and traffic delays that can plague Paris’ streets. Compared to taxi fares, the RER is an economical option for getting around, with single tickets costing just a few euros. Moreover, it’s very practical as the RER network is fully integrated within the metro and bus system, allowing for easy transfers between different modes of transport.
So whether you’re a tourist exploring the city’s landmarks or a local commuting to work or school, the RER provides a reliable and efficient means of transportation, allowing you to maximise your time and minimise stress.
Ferry services to France
France’s extensive coastline and proximity to the UK and Ireland make it a well-connected destination for ferry travel. Numerous ferry companies operate routes between France and various ports in the UK and Ireland, offering a range of options for passengers and vehicles.
Ferry services from the UK to France offers many options with routes connecting Dover, Folkestone, and Newhaven to Calais, Boulogne, and Dunkerque. These crossings take around 2 to 3 hours, making them ideal for day trips or weekend getaways.
From Ireland, ferry services connect Rosslare, Dublin, and Cork to Cherbourg in Normandy, Roscoff, and Le Havre, providing direct access to popular tourist destinations and major cities. The journey time varies depending on the route and the type of ferry, but typically ranges from 3 to 12 hours.
Whether you’re travelling from Ireland or the UK, ferry services to France provide a convenient and comfortable way to reach the enchanting area of Brittany, famous for its unique Celtic feel and background. For example, with its modern fleet of ferries and a range of convenient routes, Brittany Ferries offers an enjoyable way to travel between the UK and France. You can sail directly from the port of Portsmouth to Cherbourg, Caen, Roscoff, or Saint-Malo, each offering a unique gateway to France’s diverse regions.
Cherbourg, a vibrant port city in Normandy, provides easy access to the countryside and historical attractions of the region. Roscoff, with its charming harbour, ferry port and unique Brittany culture, offers a great starting point for exploring the region’s rugged coastline and charming villages. World-famous Saint-Malo, a walled city perched on the Brittany coast, is the ideal destination for those seeking a mix of cultural experiences and seaside fun.
Driving in France
When driving in France, it’s important to be aware of specific traffic laws, although they are not much different from driving in the United States or many parts of Europe and the world.
We recently published a blog post regarding school and public holidays in France, which could prove useful to help plan your next trip. It is advisable to avoid driving during peak traffic hours on the road network, especially when travelling around major cities like Paris, Lyon (tunnel), Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nice.
Many other towns and cities are affected, so it is recommended to familiarise yourself with the French road network, including the A roads (autoroutes) and main N roads (routes nationales). The smaller roads in France are referred to as départementales routes, which form the secondary network, and are denoted by D roads.
Seek advice and maps on the usual websites, as well as Bison Futé, the French government website for traffic information, maps, distances, traffic and the UK travel office for British travellers. Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license, ensure your paperwork is up to date and respect the speed limits, it makes a difference, and it’s worth it. If anything, you really do not want to have a conversation with the Gendarmes on the roadside with the family in the car.
Before you embark on your journey, we recommend that you check you have confirmation for all the bookings you made and that you read our essential guide to driving in France. It provides valuable information about the necessary travel documents, car requirements, general rules on the roads in France, travel insurance and an extensive list of emergency phone numbers so that you are well-prepared and informed.