Interrail in France: the ultimate country guide 🇫🇷
Table of contents 🇫🇷
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
People who visit France also visit...
Which Interrail pass do I need to travel around France?
Interrail Global Pass
Interrail France Pass
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.
Where to stay in France
Plug Inn Montmartre - Paris
Central Hostel - Bordeaux
Meininger Lyon Centre Berthelot - Lyon
Vertigo Vieux-Port - Marseille
Villa Saint Exupery Beach
Events in France
Rock en Seine - Paris
Fête des Lumières - Lyon
Fête du Citron - Menton
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