See also: Driving in France
France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the freeway autoroute links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards although may not accept foreign credit cards, or you can use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a chip.
Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centres tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.
France drives on the right.
A French driver flashing headlights is asserting right of way and warning you of intentions and presence. Do not use it to mean thanks. Flashing headlights can also mean, "Watch out as there's a police speed-check ahead of you!" Horns should be used only in legitimate emergencies; use of the horn in urban areas outside such circumstances might win you a traffic ticket. Parisian drivers were notorious for honking their horns at anything and everything, though increased enforcement has greatly reduced this practice.
Trains are a great way to get around in France. You can get pretty much from anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the TGV Train a Grande Vitesse - High-Speed Train on which reservations are obligatory. But, if you have time, take the slow train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
The French national railway network is managed by RÃ©seaux FerrÃ©s de France, and most of the trains are run by the SNCF (http://www.sncf.com/indexe.htm) SociÃ©tÃ© nationale des chemins de fer franÃ§ais. For interregional trains you can get schedules and book tickets online at voyages-sncf.com (http://www.voyages-sncf.c...). For regional trains, schedules can be found at ter-sncf.com (http://www.ter-sncf.com/i...) choose your region, then "Carte and horaires" for maps and timetables. Booking is available in two classes: premiÃ¨re classe first class is less crowded and more comfortable but can also be about 50% more expensive than deuxiÃ¨me classe second class. Note that if your TGV is fully booked, step aboard seconds before the doors close, and look for the guard "contrÃ´leur". He will find you a seat somewhere.
There are a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:
TER Train Express RÃ©gional: Regional trains and the backbone of the SNCF system. TER are slow but do serve most stations. Available on Eurail and InterRail passes.
IntercitÃ©s: As of 2012, the bundling of the former Corail services. Includes trains with compulsory reservation former TÃ©oz and the LunÃ©a night trains and those for which reservations are optional former IntercitÃ©s. The reservation-optional trains are what one will often use on passes. Some trains go to regions that the TGV services don't, namely in Auvergne.
TGV Trains Ã Grande Vitesse: The world-famous French high-speed trains run several times a day to the Southeast Nice5-6h, Marseille 3h and Avignon 2.5 h, the East Geneva 3h or Lausanne, Switzerland and Dijon 1h15 , the Southwest Bordeaux 3h, the West Rennes 2h, Nantes 2h, Brest 4h and the North Lille 1h. Eurostar to London 2h15 and Thalys to Brussels 1h20 use almost identical trains. Reservations are compulsory.
If you'll be doing more than about 2 return journeys in France and are younger than 26, getting a "Carte 12-25" will save you money. They cost â¬50, last a year, and give anywhere from a 25% to 60% discount depending on when you book the ticket and when you travel.
Booking tickets online can be quite a confusing process as it is possible to book the same journey through a number of different websites in different languages and currencies. The fares are not always consistent so it pays to check the same trip on a number of sites.
www.voyages-sncf.com(http://www.voyages-sncf.com/) This is the French language booking website of the SNCF.
www.tgv-europe.com(http://www.tgv-europe.com/) English language version of the SNCF site. Confusingly this site has a completely different layout and style from the French language version. There are a few strange quirks. The booking window requires you to enter your "country", and if you select France as someone already in France is likely to do, you are directed back to the French language site.
www.raileurope.com(http://www.raileurope.com/) (http://www.raileurope.co.uk/) (http://www.raileurope.com.au/) The RailEurope sites are booking agencies owned by the SNCF. Fares will often be more expensive on these sites than on the "official" sites, however they are generally easier to use than the SNCF sites.
Both TGV-Europe and Voyages-SNCF frequently report errors in booking attempts; one of the workarounds is to call SNCF to book over the phone 00.33.8188.8.131.52 "from outside France" per (http://www.sncf.com/en_EN/html/page/CONTACT.html). The most attractive internet-only rates are not available there, but still it secures you a seat, and likely cheaper than if you buy in ticket office upon arrival.
If you've booked online on Voyages SNCF (http://www.voyages-sncf.com), you can pick up your ticket when you get to the train station. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, this web site allows you to order even if you live in the US; it is not concerned where you live, but where you will pick up the tickets or have them sent; thus if you wish to pick up the tickets at a SNCF train station or office, answer "France". When at the station, just go to the counter "Guichet" and ask to have your ticket issued "retirer votre billet". You can ask "Je voudrais retirer mon billet, s'il vous plait", or 'zhe voo dray ruh teer ay mon bee yay, sill voo play' and then hand them the paper with the reference number.
To find your train, locate your train number and the departure time on the departures board. There will be a track "Voie" number next to the train and departure time. Follow signs to that track to board the train. You will have a reserved seat on TGV trains. On other long-distance trains, you can optionally make reservations at least one day in advance; if you do not have one you may use any unused seat not marked as reserved. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train coach number "Voit. No". Pay attention to the possible confusion between track number Voie and coach voiture number abbreviated Voit As you go down the track, the coach number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors.
The reserved seat rules are lax; you are allowed if you switch seats or use another seat of the same class of course if it is empty because the TGV is not fully booked or the other person agrees to switch with you. The only requirement is not to continue using a reserved seat if the person holding the reservation claims it.
On the main lines, TGVs often run in twos. There are two possibilities: either the two TGVs are considered as one train with one train number in this case each coach has a different number; or the two TGVs are considered as separate trains which run together during a part of their journey, with two different train numbers in this case, the two trains may have two close numbers such as 1527 and 1537, and each train will have its own coach numbering. So be sure you are in the right train the train number is shown on the LCD screen, with the coach number.
If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will line up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can stand by the letter corresponding with your coach number and wait to board the train closest to your coach. You can easily go from one coach to another, so if you are very late, jump in any coach of the same class before the train starts, wait until most people are seated, then walk to your coach and seat number.
Beware: To avoid any form of fraud, your ticket must be punched by an automatic machine "composteur" before entering the platform area to be valid. Older machines are bright orange, newer machines are yellow and gray. The machines are situated at the entrance of all platforms. Failure to punch the ticket may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary, depending on how the conductor feels, unless you approach the conductor as quickly as possible and request that your ticket be validated. Likewise if you step aboard a train without a ticket, you must find the conductor "contrÃ´leur" and tell him about your situation before he finds you.
French information booths, especially in larger train stations, can be quite unhelpful, especially if you do not understand much French. If something does not seem to make sense, just say "excusez-moi" and they should repeat it.
Night train services also exist. These include couchettes second class 6 bunk beds in a compartment, first class 4 bunks and Reclining seats.Wagon-lits a compartment with 2 real beds were totally withdrawn from French overnight trains. However, you can ask for a "private room" in first class. Night trains have occasionally been targeted by criminals, though this is not a widespread problem.
France is a good country for hitchhiking. Be patient, prepare yourself for a long wait or walk and in the meantime enjoy the landscape. A ride will come along. People who stop are usually friendly and not dangerous. They will like you more if you speak a little French. They never expect any money for the ride.
Remember that getting out of Paris by thumb is almost impossible. You can try your luck at the portes, but heavy traffic and limited areas for stopping will try your patience. It's a good idea to take the local train to a nearby suburb as your chance of being picked up will increase dramatically.
Outside Paris, it's advisable to try your luck after roundabouts. As it's illegal to hitchhike on the motorways autoroutes and they are well observed by the police, you may try on a motorway entry. The greatest chance is at toll plazas stations de pÃ©age, some of which require all cars to stop and are thus great places to catch a lift. Some tollbooths are really good, some not so good. If you've been waiting for a while with an indication of where to go, drop it and try with your thumb only. And also, you can try to get a ride to the next good spot in the wrong direction.
Note, though, that hitching from a pÃ©age, while a common practice, isn't legal and French police or highway security, who are normally very tolerant of hitchhikers, may stop and force you to leave. You can get free maps in the toll offices - these also indicate where you can find the "all-stop-PÃ©age".