Interrail in France: a country guide 🇫🇷

Interrail in France: the ultimate country guide 🇫🇷

Historic architecture

Excellent food

Stunning museums and art galleries

Côte d'Azur

Amazing wine

Table of contents 🇫🇷

France overview

France, the world’s most popular tourist destination, is a gorgeous country located in Western Europe. Part of its rich identity are its medieval cities, alpine villages, the Mont Blanc, the Provence and Mediterranean beaches at Côte d’Azur. Paris, the capital city, is famous for its fashion houses, art museums including the Louvre, Monet’s gardens at Giverny, Palace of Versailles and monuments like the Eiffel Tower. 

France is also well known for its wines (Bordeaux, anyone?), cheese and sophisticated cuisine, but also a country of rich history. It’s where the French revolution originated and some of the greatest battles took place. To understand what WW2 was truly like, take a trip to Normandy. 

When it comes to tourism, Paris is mostly at the top of most of interrailers’ list, however, other French cities should not be overlooked. The French countryside, the region of Provence, Bordeaux, the island of Corsica, and the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) with the charming resort towns of Marseille, St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice and the tiny nation of Monaco are definitely worth visiting. Due to all its charms, France is a country for a “staycation” rather than vacation. Take your time and enjoy the French way of life. And, for a fairytale holiday there is Disneyland Paris, the most visited theme park in Europe, located 32 km east of the centre of Paris.

 

The top 5 cities to visit in France

Paris

When it comes to tourism in France, Paris is the most popular destination and for a good reason. This gorgeous city is full of charm, incredible history, architecture, art, and distinct cuisine. Paris is a travel experience of its own. 

First and foremost for most visitors is the Eiffel Tower, its surrounding parks and the River Seine. Along the Seine you can see the famous architectural wonder of Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle, as well as one of the oldest bookstores in Paris, the Shakespeare & Company. A shopping paradise is the Champs Élysées with its beautiful fashion stores, as well as numerous cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy the grandeur of the boulevard and soak in the French lifestyle. 

Just like Rome, Paris has its own pantheon in the Latin Quarter. This splendid building is nowadays the resting place for many of Paris’ famous scientists, writers, churchmen, and politicians. 

Another popular tourist spot is the artistic hilltop neighbourhood of Montmartre. The Place du Tertre is a hub for artists, where you can watch them in action painting Parisian street scenes, caricatures, portraits and silhouettes. On Montmartre, you can find the Café des Deux Moulins used in the movie Amelie as the heroine’s charmingly vintage place of employment. Leaving the Place du Tertre behind you, follow Rue Azais along the edge of the park to the stunning Sacré-Cœur Basilica. 

The list of sights in Paris could literally go on and on: the iconic Musee D’Orsay housed in an old railway station, The Luxembourg Gardens and Palace, which are a beautifully serene oasis in central Paris, Moulin Rouge, Le mur des je t’aime (Wall of Love), but what many tourists miss is The Fontainebleau Forest located just outside of Paris. It is one of the most picturesque woodlands in all of France, perfect for bird watching, hiking, and climbing. A location to escape the hustle and bustle of Parisian life.

Photo by Léonard Cotte
Photo by Nil Castellví
Photo by Vince Gx

Bordeaux

Bordeaux, the wine capital of France, full of rambling vineyards is not to be missed if you enjoy good wine. There is no better place to take a tour and enjoy a glass of one of delicious French blends. Particularly when you head to St. Emilion for some world famous wine. Check out Bordeaux’s School of Wine for some great value wine and to learn from the sommeliers.

However, even if you are not interested in wine, Bordeaux’s historical centre is worth a visit in itself. Expect to see some outstanding urban 18th century architecture and you’ll find the second most preserved historical buildings in France, behind only Paris. The most admired architectural beauty in Bordeaux is the Place de la Bourse with its iconic reflecting pool which makes it an amazing spot for photos.

Lyon

The second largest city in France is best known for its cuisine, vibrant creative scene and historical architecture. Fourvière Hill and the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvièr are the top sites and feature in most interrailer itineraries. And it is no wonder, as they offer some of the best views of the city. 

There is also the Ancient Theatre from the Roman times on the Fourvière Hill behind the Basilica. After the Basilica, stroll down the Fourvière Hill and into the Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), one of the oldest districts in the city with several old buildings from the 15th, 16th and 17th century, erected during the silk industry boom in Lyon. The Traboules, a narrow passageway, is another witness of the silk industry. It was used by the silk workers to get access to the water of the river Saône. Some passageways are open to the public. 

Lyon is also a significant name in the cinema history due to the invention of the cinematography by Auguste and Louis Lumière who lived in Lyon. The Musée Miniature et Cinéma contains over 300 authentic props from movies, such as a dinosaur used in Jurassic Park, and the full-size Alien Queen prop from the movie Alien.

Photo by Florian Wehde
Photo by Erin Doering

Marseille

This Mediterranean city with almost constant sunshine, miles of beautiful beaches and a wonderful mix of cultures is nothing like Paris, but in the best way possible. Marseille is one of those cities that is easy to fall in love with. The first step, The Gare De Marseille-Saint-Charles railway station, located on top of a small hill and linked to the city centre by a massive staircase, is a remarkable station with large glass windows with natural light pouring in. 

Marseille’s Old Port is one of the most picturesque parts of the city and a beautiful location with the cafes on the water edge where you can order a croissant and cafe au lait and watch the old wooden boats in the distance. 

The Notre Dame de la Garde is one of the most iconic symbols of the city and in Cours Julien, the Marseille’s bohemian quarter you can explore the street art, shop for vinyl records, vintage clothes or handmade gifts, as well as have the traditional French “apéro” pre-dinner drink in one of the bars. 

Another charming neighborhood is La Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighborhood with cobbled streets and cute vintage shops. 

If you want some time outside the city, go on a day trip to the gorgeous national park Calanques, known for its striking turquoise water and limestone cliffs. 

And don’t leave Marseille without trying the Bouillabaisse. The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, or Mucem, a modernist building was built to stand out and transform the city, besides the Musée d’histoire de Marseille and Musée des Beaux-Arts.

Nice

Located on the glamorous French Riviera, Nice enjoys year-round sunshine, sandy beaches, history, museums, and a stunning restaurant scene. As the home of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wild parties in the 1920s, Nice has a strong jazz culture and great bars, such as Shapko or B Spot, which are a great place to spend the evening while unwinding with a glass of wine. Art lovers will enjoy Cimiez, a neighbourhood with a rich culture where some of Europe’s most famous artists drew inspiration from. 

To get a beautiful panorama of the city, climb up to Old Town on Castle Hill, the highest point in Nice with the ruins of the former Chateau de Nice. 

A perfect day trip from Nice would be the glamorous Cannes with its beautiful beaches, as well as Monaco, the world’s second smallest country known for its glitz and glamour, luxury yachts, upscale casinos, and five-star hotels.

Photo by Paul Rysz

People who visit France also visit...

Belgium 🇧🇪

Paris and Brussels are very well connected with the high speed lines taking just 1 hours 29 minutes between the two capital cities.

Germany 🇩🇪

There are frequent trains running daily between Paris and Frankfurt, with the journey taking around 4 hours on the high speed line.

Switzerland 🇨🇭

Get to most major Swiss cities directly from Paris, with journeys taking no longer than 4 hours no matter which city you are heading to.

Spain 🇪🇸

There are high speed connections running on popular routes between France and Spain. Get from Paris to Barcelona in around 6 hours.

Great Britain 🇬🇧

Get to London directly from Paris with the Eurostar connection. Interrail passholders can benefit from a discount on Eurostar trains.

Italy 🇮🇹

Get from Nice in the south of France to Genoa in the north of Italy within 5 hours by train and swap the French Riviera for the Italian Riviera.

Which Interrail pass do I need to travel around France?

Interrail Global Pass

The only travel pass that lets you ride on trains in 33 different countries and discover over 40,000 destinations. Available in 1st or 2nd class.
Our choice

Interrail France Pass

The easiest way to travel by train in France. Get a pass with 3, 4, 5, 6 or 8 travel days in 1 month and explore the length and breadth of France.

Do I need to make train seat reservations in France?

There are a few trains in France that require reservations:

TGV high-speed trains
All international high-speed trains (Like Eurostar, Thalys and Thello)
All night trains

You can make reservations up to 3 months in advance. The number of seats available for Interrail Pass Holders is limited on the TGV, Thalys trains, certain InterCité trains and the Paris-Frankfurt ICE train. Reserve your seats on these trains as far in advance as possible.

Find out more about reserving trains in France.

Where to stay in France

Plug Inn Montmartre - Paris

A boutique hostel right in the heart of Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge is a 2-minute walk, while the views from the Sacré-Coeur are just 3 minutes away. From Gare du Nord, you can be checked in within 19 minutes. The hostel offers a free Parisian breakfast and a free Sandemans walking tour.

Central Hostel - Bordeaux

A modern and cosy hostel, located in the heart of Bordeaux, two feet away from “le triangle d'Or”, close to the monuments and inevitable places (Cité du Vin, Darwin, Miroir d'eau), nearby the best restaurants, terraces and bars of Bordeaux. The hostel staff can even organise a surf trip to Lacanau!

Meininger Lyon Centre Berthelot - Lyon

A modern, clean and affordable hostel in a highly attractive central location so you are close to all the sights! Its design is inspired by the Fête des Lumières festival which takes place each year in Lyon.

Vertigo Vieux-Port - Marseille

Located in the Old Port area, a short walk from beaches, bars and clubs. The central market is an 8-minute stroll away, and the iconic Notre Dame church is 15 minutes by foot. Decorated with bright murals, the hostel offers good social spaces and claims to be as lively and fun as Marseille itself!

Villa Saint Exupery Beach

Located in the proximity of Nice's old town, this is a great option for interrailers on a budget in the French Riviera. Take advantage of the onsite 24-hour gym, yoga classes, sauna, and free walking tours!

Events in France

Rock en Seine - Paris

Since 2003, Rock en Seine has illuminated the return of the Parisians to the city in late August, when the summer holidays are over. The festival represents a good reason to return to Paris. For visitors, it is also the perfect opportunity to extend their stay!

Fête des Lumières - Lyon

Combining popular traditions with technological innovations, the Festival of Lights is a major event in Lyon. For four days at the beginning of December, the city of Lyon becomes the city of lights – a truly magical sight. Young lighting designers are invited to create their installations, which are then exported around the world. The event is a unique Lyonnaise tradition that expresses gratitude toward Mary, mother of Jesus around 8th December each year for having spared Lyon from plague.

Nice Carnival

The Nice Carnival is one of the world's major carnival events, held annually in February in Nice on the French Riviera. It's famous around the world and the event alone justifies a stay in Nice!

Fête du Citron - Menton

Some 145 tonnes of citrus fruits (oranges as well as lemons) form part of sculptures in the Blovès Garden while the Corsos des Fruits d’Or parades on Sundays in mid February offer a lemony spectacle of dance, music and acrobatics.

Pancake Day

Every year in February the French celebrate with a crêpe (pancake) for the Fête de la Chandeleur. The name Chandeleur comes from the Latin candelorum festum, which means festival of candles. There is evidence that Pope Gelasius I helped to establish the festival of Candlemas and was said to have fed crêpes to the pilgrims who visited his church. Crêpe Day is the day in France when people traditionally eat crêpes and drink cider.

Read more about France on our blog