The quickest way to reach France from most parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland is by air. From southern England, however, the Eurostar provides a viable alternative, making the journey from London to Paris in as little as two and a quarter hours. The Channel Tunnel is the most flexible option if you want to take your car to France, though cross-Channel ferries are usually cheaper. From the US and Canada a number of airlines fly direct to Paris, from where you can pick up onward connections. You can also fly direct to Paris from South Africa, while the best fares from Australia and New Zealand are generally via Asia.
Whether you are travelling by air, sea or rail, prices increasingly depend on how far in advance you book, but will also depend on the season. Fares are at their highest from around early June to the end of August, when the weather is best, drop during the “shoulder” seasons – roughly September to October and April to May – and are at their cheapest during the low season, November to March (excluding Christmas and New Year when prices are hiked up and seats are at a premium). Note also that flying at weekends can be more expensive; price ranges quoted below assume midweek travel, and include all taxes and surcharges.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
Flights between the UK, Ireland and France are plentiful, even from regional airports, though industry consolidation and higher departure taxes mean that the bargain-basement fares of the budget airlines’ heyday are much rarer than they were – so look out for special offers advertised on the airline websites or in the media. The main budget airlines are easyJet, Flybe Jet2 and Ryanair, which between them cover forty or so airports across France, including Bergerac, Carcassonne, Chambéry, La Rochelle, Montpellier, Nantes, Perpignan, Toulon and Tours, as well as more established hubs such as Paris, Lyon and Nice. Routes change frequently and many destinations are not served all year round, so again keep an eye on the airlines’ websites. It’s also worth double-checking exactly where the airport is in relation to your destination; Ryanair claims to fly to Paris, for example, but in reality flies to Beauvais, a 1hr 15min coach journey from Porte Maillot, west of the city. Tickets work on a quota system, and it’s wise to book ahead for the cheapest fares. In theory it’s still possible to travel for as little as £50/€62 return including taxes, if you’re prepared to be flexible about routes and to go out of season – but surcharges for checked-in baggage, priority boarding or paying by credit card can all bump up the price considerably, so the price you actually pay will probably be higher than these figures.
It’s worth checking out the traditional carriers, such as Air France, British Airways and Aer Lingus, which have streamlined their schedules and lowered prices in response to the budget airline challenge. Low-season return fares to Paris start at around £80 from London, £115 from Edinburgh and €115 from Dublin; to Nice you’ll pay upwards of £150 from London and €115 from Dublin.
Air France flies direct to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) several times daily from London Heathrow, Dublin and regional airports such as Birmingham and Manchester; its subsidiary Cityjet flies from London City to Paris Orly (ORY). Flights to most other French destinations involve a change at Paris. British Airways has several flights a day to Paris CDG from London Heathrow but its flights from provincial airports to Paris involve a change at London. BA also operates flights from London to Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Toulouse. In Ireland, Aer Lingus offers nonstop flights from Dublin and Cork to Paris CDG; from Dublin to Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Perpignan and Toulouse; and from Cork to Rennes.
Flights from the US and Canada
Most major airlines operate scheduled flights to Paris from the US and Canada. Air France has the most frequent service, with good onward regional connections and competitive fares that sometimes undercut US carriers; it also operates a codeshare with Delta. One possible disadvantage, if your destination is not Paris, is that while Air France trans-atlantic flights often terminate at Charles-de-Gaulle, domestic connections frequently depart from Orly, entailing an inconvenient transfer between the two airports. Other airlines offering nonstop services to Paris from a variety of US cities include: American Airlines from New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Miami; Delta from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati; United from Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington DC and US Airways from Charlotte. Air Canada offers nonstop services to Paris from Montréal and Toronto, while Air Transat offers good-value scheduled and charter flights to Paris from a number of bases and to other destinations from Montréal, Québec or Toronto. Another option is to fly with a European carrier – such as British Airways, Iberia or Lufthansa – to its European hub and then continue on to Paris or a regional French airport.
Transatlantic fares to France have risen sharply in recent years, reflecting green taxes and variable fuel costs. An off-season midweek direct return flight to Paris can be US$1145 including taxes from New York, US$1335 from Los Angeles and US$1255 from Houston. From Canada, prices to Paris start at around CAN$800 from Montréal or Toronto.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Most travellers from Australia and New Zealand choose to fly to France via London, although the majority of airlines can add a Paris leg (or a flight to any other major French city) to an Australia/New Zealand–Europe ticket. Flights via Asia or the Gulf States, with a transfer or overnight stop at the airline’s home port, are generally the cheapest option; those routed through the US tend to be slightly pricier. Return fares start at around AUS$1520 from Sydney, AUS$1420 from Perth, AUS$1500 from Melbourne and NZ$2830 from Auckland.
From South Africa, Johannesburg is the best place to start, with Air France flying direct to Paris from around R7150 return; from Cape Town, they fly via Johannesburg or Doha and are more expensive, starting at around R8300.
Eurostar operates high-speed passenger trains daily from London's St Pancras International to France through the Channel Tunnel; many but not all services stop at either Ebbsfleet or Ashford in Kent (15min and 30min from London, respectively). There are 1–2 services an hour from around 5.30am to 9.15pm for Paris Gare du Nord; fast trains take 2hr 15min; Brussels-bound trains stop at Lille (1hr 20), where you can connect with TGV trains heading south to Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille; some also stop at Calais (1hr). In addition, Eurostar runs direct trains from London to Disneyland Paris (daily during UK school holidays; otherwise daily except Tues & Sat; 2hr 40min) and to the south: Lyon (4hr 40min), Avignon TGV (5hr 50min) and Marseille (6hr 30min), with 1–5 trains running weekly. There is also a special direct twice-weekly ski service to Moutiers, Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-St-Maurice in the French Alps (mid-Dec to mid-April; 7hr 5min–7hr 20min).
Standard fares from London to Paris or Lille start at £72 (£99 to Avignon) for a non-refundable, non-exchangeable return; availability is limited so it’s best to book as early as possible. Another option is the non-refundable “semi-flexible” ticket (from £160/208 respectively), where you can change the dates for a fee. Similar non- and semi-flexible terms are offered at slightly higher prices (including a meal) if you book Standard Premier. Otherwise, you’re looking at £500/520 for a fully refundable Business Premier ticket with no restrictions. Return fares to Disneyland Paris start at £92 for adults. Child fares apply for 4–11-year-olds while under-4s travel for free provided they travel on the lap of a fare-paying passenger.
Tickets can be bought online or by phone from Eurostar, as well as through travel agents and websites like lastminute.com. InterRail and Eurail passes entitle you to discounts on Eurostar trains. Under certain circumstances, you can also take your bike on Eurostar.
There is a variety of rail passes useful for travel within France, some of which need to be bought in your home country (for details of railcards that you can buy in France). Rail Europe the umbrella company for all national and international rail purchases, is the most useful source of information on availability and cost.
InterRail Passes are only available to European residents, or those who have lived in a European country for at least six months, and you will be asked to provide proof of residency (and long-stay visa if applicable) before being allowed to buy one. They come in first or second-class senior (over 60), first- or second-class over-26 or second-class under-26 versions, and cover thirty European countries. Children from 4–12 years can travel free as part of a family pass; those under 4 travel free, though they may not get a seat.
There are two types of passes: global and one-country. The global pass covers all thirty countries with various options: five days travel in a ten-day period (under-26 £149/over-26 £322); ten days travel within a 22-day period (£219/£458); 15 days (£253/£507), 22 days (£280/£592); and one month (£359/£766) continuous travel. The family pass is the same price as the over-26 pass per adult. Similarly, the one-country pass allows you to opt for various periods, ranging from three days to eight days travel in one month with prices varying between countries (see winterrail.eu). In each case, first-class passes are also available.
InterRail Passes do not include travel within your country of residence, though pass-holders are eligible for discounts on Eurostar and on ferries from Rosslare.
Eurail Passes are not available to European residents but once ordered can be delivered to a European address. Again, there are various options; the most useful are likely to be the regional passes, covering France with Benelux, Germany, Italy, Spain or Switzerland. The France-Italy pass offers four days of unlimited train travel within two months for €203 under-26/€309 adult travelling second class, or up to ten days within two months for €340 under-26/€521 adult. The Saverpass offers 15 percent discount on Eurail passes for between two and five people travelling together, and children named on the pass go free.
By car via the Channel Tunnel
The simplest way to take your car to France from the UK is on one of the drive-on drive-off shuttle trains operated by Eurotunnel. The service runs continuously between Folkestone and Coquelles, near Calais, with up to four departures per hour (one every 1hr 30min from midnight–6am) and takes 35 minutes. It is possible to turn up and buy your ticket at the check-in booths, though you’ll pay a premium and at busy times booking is strongly recommended; if you have a booking, you must arrive at least thirty minutes before departure. Note that Eurotunnel does not transport cars fitted with LPG or CNG tanks.
Standard fares start at £72 one-way if you book far enough ahead and/or travel off peak, rising to £117. Fully refundable and changeable FlexiPlus fares cost £160 each way for a short stay (up to 5 days) and £154 for longer periods. There’s room for only six bicycles on any departure, so book ahead in high season – a standard return costs £30 for a bike plus rider.
Though slower than travelling by plane or via the Channel Tunnel, the ferries plying between Dover and Calais offer the cheapest means of travelling to France from the UK and are particularly convenient if you live in southeast England. If you’re coming from the north of England or Scotland, you could consider the overnight crossing from Hull (13hr) to Zeebrugge (Belgium) operated by P&O Ferries. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you live west of London, the ferry services to Roscoff, St-Malo, Cherbourg, Caen, Dieppe and Le Havre can save a lot of driving time. From Ireland, putting the car on the ferry from Cork (14hr) or Rosslare (17hr 30min) to Roscoff in Brittany, or Rosslare to Cherbourg (19hr) in Normandy cuts out the drive across Britain to the Channel.
Ferry prices are seasonal and, for motorists, depend on the type of vehicle. In general, the further you book ahead, the cheaper the fare and it’s well worth playing around with dates and times to find the best deals: midweek and very early or late sailings are usually cheapest. At the time of writing, one-way fares for a car and up to four passengers are available for £28 with DFDS on the Dover–Dunkerque and Dover–Calais routes. One-way fares from Ireland kick off at around €123 for a car and two adults.
Some ferry companies (but not DFDS) also offer fares for foot passengers, typically from £50 return on cross-Channel routes; accompanying bicycles can usually be carried free.
Eurolines runs regular services from London Victoria to forty French cities (fewer in winter), with up to eleven a day to Paris, crossing the Channel by ferry or Eurotunnel. Prices are lower than for the same journey by train, with adult return “Advance” fares (must be booked at least ten days in advance) starting at around £40 to Paris or Lille. If you’re travelling frequently, a Eurolines Discount Card (three months £23/six months £43) will give you 25 percent off fares subject to certain restrictions. There’s also a Eurolines Pass which offers Europe-wide travel between 50 European cities for fifteen or thirty days. Prices range from £225 for a fifteen-day youth pass in low season to £340 for a peak-season thirty-day adult pass.
Agents and operators
Allez France UK tour operator offering accommodation only as well as short breaks and other holiday packages throughout France.
Arblaster & Clarke UK 01730 263 111. Wine-themed tours to all the great wine regions, from Champagne to Bordeaux.
Austin-Lehman Adventures US 1 800 575 1540. Good range of bike and walking tours all over France for family groups or solo travellers.
Belle France UK 01580 214 010. Walking, cycling and boating holidays throughout France.
Canvas Holidays UK 0845 268 0827. Tailor-made caravan and camping holidays.
Chez Nous UK 0845 268 1102. Thousands of self-catering and B&B properties online, including ski rentals.
Corsican Places UK 0845 330 2059. Corsica specialists.
Cycling for Softies UK 0161 248 8282. Easy-going cycle holiday operator to rural France.
Discover France US 1-800-929-0152. Self-guided cycling and walking holidays throughout France.
Eurocamp UK 0844 406 0402. Camping holidays with kids’ activities and single-parent deals.
European Waterways UK 0808 168 1458. Wide range of river cruise options, from hotel barge cruises through Burgundy to boat hire or trips on the Loire.
Fields Fairway UK 01376 327 63664. British-run company offering all-inclusive golfing holidays in France and Belgium.
France Afloat UK 0870 011 0538. Canal and river cruises across France.
Headwater UK 01606 828 457. UK-based operator offering walking, cycling, and canoeing tours throughout France, and cross-country skiing.
Holiday France. Website that allows you to search for French tour operators by holiday type and location.
HouseTrip Holiday home rental website offering a wide range of affordable family accommodation with thousands of properties across rural France.
Inntravel UK 01653 617 001. Broad range of activity holidays, including riding, skiing, walking and cycling, as well as property rental.
Le Boat US 1-800 734 5491, UK 0844 273 8296. Self-drive canal holidays all over France.
Locaboat France +33 (0)3 86 91 72 72. French company specializing in holidays on pénichettes (scaled-down replicas of commercial barges).
North South Travel UK 01245 608 291. Friendly, competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.