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Trains: The Best Way To Explore France

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With the Tour de France underway, many people are wondering how best to explore France throughout the "Le Tour." Like most European destinations, France boasts a fantastic public transportation system, which offers visitors and locals alike a fast, convenient and inexpensive way to get from here to there.

While there are plenty of options available, from taxi to minibus, one of the most popular means of transport in France is train. If you're planning a visit in the near future, here are a few tips and pointers on train travel in France to help keep you safe and organized in your travels.

The trains available for passenger travel in France come in a variety of styles and offer a number of options to travel between just about all the major French cities and towns. The world-famous TGV, short for Trains à Grande Vitesse, provide a relaxing, high-speed way to get around. These amazing pieces of equipment can travel at speeds nearing 200 mph, and offer a variety of options for passengers, including 1st class, 2nd class, duplex (double decker) cars and a convenient café bar. Despite its speed, the TGV offers a smooth, quiet ride from city center to city center. Alternately, there are Teoz coaches, which travel at a much slower pace but also offer a comfortable ride, with 1st and 2nd class options.

For those longer journeys, there is also the convenient option of an Intercités de Nuit, or overnight train ride. Sleep away the journey from Paris to other popular destinations like Nice, Cannes, Monaco or Perpignan. Couchettes feature comfortable bunks for sleeping, complete with basic bedding, and passengers can choose from 1st and 2nd class options. It's an excellent and extremely economic way to cover longer distances, plus you'll save money on lodging at the same time!

Purchasing tickets for train travel in France is fast and convenient. Passengers have the choice of buying them at the station just prior to setting off or online in advance through various secure websites.

Train Travel Tips

Validate Your Tickets - It is required that all tickets (with the exception of print-at-home) be validated just before you board the train. If you fail to do so, you may face a fine. You can find these small yellow electronic validation machines at the entrance to each platform with the label "Compostez votre billet."

Keep Your Passport Handy - You never know when someone may ask to check it, and you don't want to have to be digging through bags to locate it.

Dine at the Gare de Lyon - If you happen to be passing through Paris via the Gare de Lyon, you may want to consider stopping to enjoy a meal at the in-station restaurant called the "Train Bleu." The food is a bit pricey, but it's absolutely delicious and an experience you won't soon forget. There's also a bar at which you can enjoy a cocktail while waiting for your next train.

Food and Drink in Transit - If you're prefer, most long-distance French trains feature convenient café bars, which offer a variety of drinks from coffee and tea to alcoholic beverages, as well as several food items to snack on. You're also allowed to bring your own food and drink aboard, including a bottle of wine, if you're so inclined.

Pack Light - Since there are no bag checks on French trains, try to pack as light as possible and keep belongings to one or two bags.

Luggage - If you so choose, you can leave your luggage in a locker at certain stations for a small fee and a designated amount of time (typically 48 hours), if you'd like to stay for a bit and see the sights.

Protect Your Belongings - Take advantage of the locking mechanism of the overhead storage areas. Be particularly mindful when traveling on overnight trains and always keep your valuables safely secured either in locked containers or well-concealed on your person.

Bikes - Many French trains allow you to bring a bike aboard for no charge, while others, like the Intercités de Nuits overnight trains and TGVs, may charge a nominal fee on certain routes. This is an especially nice feature, since France is among the most beautiful destinations for cycling.

Not only is train travel in France convenient and cost effective, but it's also highly recommended. With so many options and such an extensive railway network throughout the country and beyond, there's no safer, more comfortable way to get around this beautiful country. These tips and pointers will help you get the most out of your train travel experience and keep you safe and comfortable along your journey.

To learn more about exploring France by bike visit Discover France.