8 reasons to take the train in France this summer

From comfy seats and great picnic options to good views - and of course your carbon footprint - here are 8 reasons why you should ditch flying and take the train in France this summer.

8 reasons to take the train in France this summer
Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP

High speed networks

In global terms, French trains are pretty good. The high-speed TGV network connects the country up well, allowing you to travel from one end of the country to the other in less than four hours (Paris to Marseille, 775km, takes three-and-a-half hours on the direct train).

Although trains aren’t cheap there are regular sales and offers, plus railcards for families, young people and pensioners which means that it can be quite affordable if you plan in advance.

Once off the TGV network and onto the local TER trains, things are a little slower and more basic, with fewer trains per day that connect France’s small towns and villages.

International routes

But the train network is not just for within France. There is also a host of international connections.

You can travel direct to Barcelona, Milan, Vienna, Amsterdam and Geneva to name just a few destinations, not forgetting the 2 hour 20 minute direct journey from Paris to London on the Eurostar.

If you’re planning a real adventure or a multi-country trip don’t forget to check out prices for an Interrail pass.

The downside is that a lot of the international routes do tend to depart from Paris, which is not ideal if you’re based in another part of France.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from France by train

There won’t be a strike (probably)

Strikes are an occupational hazard in France, but this summer French rail unions have said that there won’t be any more strikes until September in their ongoing pay dispute.

That doesn’t rule out local strikes on different issues, but does mean that large, nationwide strikes on the rail network are unlikely this summer, before pay negotiations restart on September 1st.

Comfy chair, a nice lunch and good drinks

There’s no denying that trains are more comfortable than planes. Seats are bigger and more comfortable; you have a table, a charging point for your electronic devices and you can get up and walk around at any time. First class carriages provide even more space and tickets are often less than €10 more than standard price ones, if you feel you deserve some pampering.

READ ALSO What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

French TGV trains (with the exception of the budget Ouigo lines) have bars and buffet cars serving food and snacks, plus drinks, and trains often partner with local companies to promote French-made beer or wine.

You can also bring your own picnic on board as trains have no limits on hang luggage or 100ml liquid restrictions, so if you prefer you can buy or make a picnic lunch and bring it on board with a nice bottle of wine. 

Good views 

There’s also the question of the view – much of France is simply stunning and a train window gives you a prime view of some lovely parts of the countryside that you might not otherwise see.

From the rolling hills of central France to the Alps or the Pyrenees if you’re on one of those international routes or some lovely coastlines (Marseille to Nice is particularly gorgeous) there is a lot to see.

VIDEO 7 of the most beautiful train rides in France

City centre destinations

Although train journeys are usually longer than flying, don’t forget to factor in the time spent getting to and from the airport (plus airport waiting and queuing times).

While city airports can be a long way away from where you want to be (looking at you, ‘Paris’ Beauvais), train stations tend to be fairly central to cities, meaning that you arrive close to where you actually want to be. You will also avoid extra charges for bus/train/taxi transfers from the airport into the city.

Pets (and bikes)

It’s not just humans that French trains welcome, pets are also allowed on all trains (with the exception of the Eurostar).

They will need a ticket, though. Pets (or their owners) now pay a standard fare of €7, small dogs and other pets must travel in a carrier while large dogs are required to wear a muzzle – full details here.

If you’re planning a cycling holiday, most French trains can also accommodate your bike – TGVs have storage areas but you need to pre-book a space for your bike (at no extra charge) and bikes must be carried folded or disassembled. Local TER trains also have storage spaces which don’t need to be pre-booked, although there may be limited space on certain lines at busy times – full details here.

Carbon footprint 

Finally, there’s the undeniable fact that taking the train is better for the planet.

Air travel produces 77 tonnes more CO2 per passenger than a train taking the same route. 

In recognition of this fact, the French government has banned domestic flights where an alternative rail route that takes less than two-and-a-half hours exists, therefore axing the Paris to Lyon, Paris to Bordeaux and Paris to Nantes flights.

The original proposal was to ban domestic flights where a rail route of six hours or less existed, but as is often the way in politics the proposal was watered-down as it made its way through parliament. But there’s nothing to stop travellers making this their own personal pledge this summer – if everyone did it then it would save 3.5million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, according to Greenpeace . . . 

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How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The French boss of Eurostar has laid out how the combination of the pandemic, Brexit and ongoing uncertainty over new EU travel rules have left the company in a very precarious position.

How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas has laid out the company’s woes in a long letter to British MPs, stating that as things stand “Eurostar cannot currently pursue a strategy of volume and growth. We are having to focus on our core routes . . . and to charge higher prices to customers”.

He said that two things have significantly damaged the company – the pandemic (worsened by the fact that the company received no state aid from the UK government) and Brexit which has made travel between France and the UK considerably more complicated with more checks required at stations.

Damas said that peak capacity at both London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord is 30 percent less than it was pre-Brexit, because of the increased infrastructure needed to check and stamp the passports of travellers.

He said: “Even with all booths manned, St Pancras can only process a maximum of 1,500 passengers per hour, against 2,200 in 2019.

“It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels, that we are not seeing daily queues in the centre of London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.

“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is not sustainable in the mid to long-term.”

He added that the increased passport checks and stamping needed since Brexit adds at least 15 seconds to each passenger’s processing time, and that automated passport gates are less efficient.

The other factor that has hit the company hard was the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, leading to revenues being cut by 95 percent for 15 months.

The London-based company struggled to access government financial aid due to its ownership structure, with both the British and French governments reluctant to assume sole responsibility for bailing out the company.

It began as a joint venture between the British and French governments, but then the British sold off its share to private investors.

Damas said: “Contrary to the £7 billion in state aid given to our airline competitors, Eurostar did not receive any state-backed loans”. 

By May 2021 the company was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and was eventually bailed out to the tune of €290 million in loans and shareholder-guaranteed loans and equity – although this saved the company it has now left it with huge debts to be repaid.

The CEO’s letter was responding to questions from British MPs on the Transport Select Committee who wanted to know when trains would again stop at Ashford station – which has been closed since March 2020. Damas said there was no immediate prospect of that, or of reinstating the route to Disneyland Paris, while the company grapples with these financial problems.

He added that there is also “considerable uncertainty” around the new EU travel systems known as the EES and ETIAS, which are due to come into effect in 2023 and which will require extra checking of passports at the EU’s external borders – such as the UK/France border. 

READ ALSO Fears of ‘massive travel disruption’ in 2023

Many Eurostar passengers have commented recently on increased ticket prices, and it seems that there is little immediate prospect of prices going back down to 2019 levels.