The Ultimate Guide – France Itinerary by Rail

Thank you so much for loving our France series on Instagram and all your lovely messages and DMs. In this blog post, we share some of the best places to visit in France, things to do and loads of tips so that it helps you in planning your Ultimate France Itinerary by Rail or by road.

France is much more than Eiffel Tower and Paris. 

 

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In this blog post, we share our itinerary that will take you to some of the fairy-tale towns, lavender fields, one of the highest dunes in Europe, mesmerizing lakes, stunning canyons,  sunflower fields and to a beautiful national park.

It is hard to narrow it down to just a few places when the country has so much to offer. 

We also have a few suggestions that you could incorporate if you are planning to do this trip by train like us or by road. Though by car it might take a bit more time in comparison to the train, as France is not a small country like Slovenia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Luxembourg.

France is a stunning country to explore and hopefully, by the end of this post, we can inspire you to plan an amazing trip to France.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris

BEST TIME TO VISIT

France is an all-year-round destination. If lavender fields, sunflower fields, and beaches are part of your itinerary than obviously from June – August when the weather is at the best, beaches are warm, days are longer but that’s also the time when prices go up and it’s crowded as well. If budget and crowd are your concern, we would suggest visiting during the shoulder season. We did this trip in the month of July.

HANDY TIPS

  • Learn some French words and phrases.
  • Greet with a smile and say “Bonjour” before starting any conversation
  • Locals are reserved and might not be over friendly but they are quite helpful.
  • Waiters might not greet you with a smile at some restaurants but don’t be rude to them in return
  • Smile and try to interact with locals

Here are some common French words that you will come across. It will come in handy if you can remember these.

  • Départ = Departure
  • Arrivée =  Arrival
  • Gare = Station
  • Sortie = Exit
  • Désolé = Sorry
  • Excusez moi = Sorry, Excuse me
  • Quai = Platform

Paris

Our first and the last stop in France was Paris. We flew into Amsterdam as we got a dirt cheap flight and then took a train from Amsterdam to Paris with Thalys

Paris has been always high on our list and no doubt it’s a beautiful city but somehow we felt it was way too crowded when we visited in July but we absolutely loved our time there. We had no fixed agenda and spent our days loitering, devouring Croissants and Macrons and capturing tons of pictures. 

I think the best thing to do in Paris is to Flâner aka “to stroll”. Go with the flow but if you want to know our recommendation then we would highly suggest visiting the following places.

The Ultimate Guide - France Itinerary by Rail

Louvre, Paris, France

Things To Do In Paris

  • Visit the iconic attractions like Eiffel Tower, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, Louvre Museum, Arc de Triomphe, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris
  • Champs-Élysées is an amazing neighborhood to admire the Parisian buildings, shop and eat.
  • Pont Alexandre III
  • Don’t miss the Grand Palais and  Petit Palais.
  • If you love visiting Museums, don’t miss out –  Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée de l’Armée Invalides and Musée de Rodin.
  • For Architecture lovers — head to Sainte-Chapelle , Le Moulin de la galette . Get lost in the world of Picasso at Hôtel Salé that houses the largest collection of Picasso’s works in the world.
  • Don’t miss the pretty neighbourhood — Monmarte.  
  • Beautiful parks of Paris
    • Parc des Buttes-Chaumont which is the third largest park in the city.
    • Discover the statues and artwork of Luxembourg Garden
    • Jardin D’erivan
  • For Shopping & Food Market – visit Marché des Enfants Rouges ( Oldest market in Paris where you can find a lot of options for food and fresh produce)Galeries Lafayette Haussmann – a one-stop destination for shopping and gastronomical experience, North Marais is also one neighbourhood that is being loved by locals
  • Offbeat Places – Les Catacombes ( Underground tunnels lined with skulls and bones ), Père Lachaise Cemetery
  • Things to Eat – Try all-natural and chemical-free flavors ice cream at Berthillon, Macaron at the famous Ladurée and hot chocolate at Angelina’s.
  • For views that includes Eiffel Tower – Arc de Triomphe,  Montparnasse Tower, or Tour Saint Jacques, ( only open to visitors from June to September) 

 

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Read the detailed article – The Ultimate Guide to Paris 

Where to Stay in Paris

We stayed at CitizenM La Defense which is in the La Defense area and is quite close to the metro station but if you are looking for hotels with the iconic view of Eiffel Tour then below are few recommendations based on popularity and hospitality —

Other Options: Hotels ( Booking.com ) |  Airbnb with views of Eiffel Tower ( Get 30$ off on your first booking ) |  Compare Prices before booking. 

Getting Around in Paris

Getting around in Paris is pretty easy. We used the metro and train services to travel within Paris. The frequency is also very good and you don’t have to be stuck in traffic. There are different tickets for different zones. You can opt for the one based on your preference and stay. There are taxis and buses too that you can opt for. 

Alsace Region

( Strasbourg, Obernai, Colmar, Eguisheim )

If you ever google picturesque villages in France, you will find pictures of beautiful towns and villages of Alsace region popping up on your feed. The half-timbered houses, colorful decorations on the exterior walls of the houses, and prettiness all around will charm you. No doubt the villages have been an inspiration for many Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast and many others. 

We stayed in Strasbourg for three days and explored the beautiful Alsace region — Strasbourg, Obernai, Colmar, and Eguisheim. We could not visit the other fairy-tale villages like Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé, & Kaysersberg.

France-Itinerary-Colmar-Petite-Venice

Petite Venice, Colmar

I won’t say that public transportation is great, there are public buses connecting to smaller towns but the timings and the frequency of the bus service could be much better.

Note: It is best to rent a car and explore these places. Another option to explore the Alsace region is you can opt for the Wine Trail which is quite famous and covers a lot of places and also takes you to some of the scenic destinations.

How to Reach – It is just an hour and a half from Paris. We took a fast train from Paris to Strasbourg with our Eurail Global Pass. From Strasbourg, you can either rent a car or travel to other places by train & bus.

The Ultimate Guide - France Itinerary by Rail Colmar

Pretty Houses of Colmar, Alsace

Ultimate France Itinerary - Alsace Region France

Eguisheim, Alsace Region

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Obernai, Alsace Region

Places To Visit/ Things To Do in Alsace Region

Strasbourg

  • Visit the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral. There is no escalator so be prepared to climb up to the rooftop for the panoramic views.
  • Stroll through the picturesque “Petite France”, one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Strasbourg by the river 
  • Batorama boat tour
  • Palais des Rohan

 

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Colmar 

  • Walk around and take in the beauty of the charming village.
  • The beautiful “Petite Venice” can’t be missed – Petite Venice is one of the most attractive parts of Colmar. The river Lauch flows past half-timbered houses and bridges and the best way to see these is to take a canal boat tour.
  • Visit the covered market of Colmar for some local produce. 
  • Hop on a touristic train if you fancy one to know more about the village and all the major attractions.
  • You can also visit the Museum Musée Bartholdi dedicated to French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi who is the sculptor of Statue of Liberty New York.
  • You can also visit the Statue of liberty, yes, there is one in Colmar as well. 😉 

 

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Note: If you are planning to visit on Sundays, most of the shops will be closed so be prepared for that but restaurants & cafes will be open in Petite Venice and public transportation is also not great compared to weekdays. Tourism office closes by 12 pm on Sundays.

Eguisheim 

  • Wander along the Rue du Rempart Sud
  • Visit the Eguisheim castle & Place du Chateau
  • Don’t forget to try the local wine which is quite famous. 
  • Enjoy your time in the Vineyards

 

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Where to Stay 

We stayed at IBIS Strasbourg and explored the Alsace region by train as we had EURAIL Global Pass. We highly recommend renting a car to explore the region if you are planning to do it at your own pace.

Other Options: Hotels ( Booking.com ) |  Airbnb ( Get 30$ off on your first booking ) |  Compare Prices before booking. 

Provence Region

(Provence, Manosque, Valensole )

This region has to be one of our favorite regions in France. The rustic charm of the small towns, the warmth of the locals and the endless Lavender and Sunflower fields for the company. We can’t wait to go back again this summer and chase the slow life. 

France-Itinerary-Lavender-Fields-Valensole

Lavender Fields, Valensole

France-Itinerary-Provence-Sainte-croix-lake

St. Croix Lake, Provence

Things to do in Provence

  • Visit Lavender Fields – Rent a car and visit the famous Lavender fields of Valensole. Read our blog post on where to visit the lavender fields here.
  • Visit one of the most beautiful lakes in France – Sainte Croix du Verdon 
  • Rent an Airbnb and enjoy the rustic charm of the Provence Region
  • Visit Provincial villages like Aix, Provence, Sault, Gordes, Mount Ventoux to name a few.

 

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READ: BEST LAVENDER FIELDS IN FRANCE

How to Reach – 

Plane | You can either fly to Cannes, Marseille, Lyon or Paris 

Train | Eurail Pass or Interrail Pass are good options if you are planning to visit the Provence region. Avignon & Sault are the major stations. Public transportation in Manosque where we stayed was free of cost. 

Bus | There are buses connecting to all the major destinations but it is advisable to check the timings beforehand during public holidays and weekends.

Car | You can rent a car and drive. The roads are awesome. 

Note: You need to rent a car to explore the region as public transportation is not that great. There are multiple buses connecting cities and towns but always factor in the weekend schedules. 

Where to Stay – 

We stayed at Manosque instead of Provence because most of the hotels were sold out in Provence and we were not able to find a perfect Airbnb last minute. Manosque is also the headquarters of Lo’ocatainne and close to the below Instagram spot.

Other Options: Hotels ( Booking.com ) |  Airbnb ( Get 30$ off on your first booking ) |  Compare Prices before booking. 

France-Itinerary-Lavender-Fields-Valensole

Lavender Fields, Valensole

Marseille 

France-Itinerary-Marseille

Old Port, Marseille

A beautiful port city in the Mediterranean region, Marseille will enchant you with its interesting mix of culture, food, and its vibes. We were in Marseille for just 2 days. We explored the city and the port area on day one and did all the touristy stuff. The next day we opted for a day trip to Calanques National park. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do the hike as it was too hot on that day so we opted for a 4-hour boat ride.

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Marseille

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Old Port, Marseille

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Calanques National Park, France

Things To Do in Marseille

  • Explore Le Panier neighborhood
  • Hang out at the Old Port of Marseille
  • Visit Cathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral)
  • Enjoy your time at La Corniche
  • Don’t forget to buy the famous soap of Marseille – Savon – de – Marseille
  • Take in the breathtaking view of the city from Notre-Dame de la Garde 
  • Visit Chateau D’If
  • Hop on a boat to explore Frioul Islands and don’t miss the stunning Calanques National Park
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Calanques National Park, Marseille

France-Itinerary-Savon-de-Marseilles

Savon de Marseille, Marseille

 

Read More: Things To Do in Marseille 

How to Reach – 

Marseille is well connected by rail, road, and air with all major cities of France and Europe. 

Plane | You can fly to Marseille from Paris / London or any other major hub. 

Train | Eurail Pass or Interrail Pass are good options if you are planning to visit multiple cities and countries. 

Car | You can hire a car from any city and drive to Marseille. 

Where to Stay –

We stayed at IBIS  which was right next to the train station. It was quite cheap and we just walked into the hotel at night 9 PM without any prior reservations and booked the room for 2 nights. If you follow us on Instagram, you might know that Marseille & Bordeaux were initially not part of our itinerary, we were supposed to do the French Riviera but we changed our itinerary on the go.

Options: Hotels ( Booking.com ) | Chalets and Homestays on Airbnb ( Get 30$ off on your first booking ) |  Compare Prices before booking. Prefer staying close to the city center if you are planning to explore the city.

Bordeaux 

France-Itinerary-Bordeaux

Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux is located on the west coast of France and the city is famous for its wine region. It is also called the wine capital of the world. Though our intention of visiting Bordeaux was a little different, we wanted to visit the Dune of Pilat, which happens to be the highest sand dune in Europe. The city is a perfect base for a day trip to Dune of Pilat and also for numerous vineyard tours.

We were in Bordeaux for 3 days and had opted for the Bordeaux city pass. The city pass allows you to use public transportation for free and many attractions like La Cite Du Vin are also included in this pass. The city boasts of splendid 18th-century architecture. If you have time at hand then we would suggest a 4 to 5-day stay as you can visit many UNESCO world heritage villages nearby Bordeaux. We felt that the 3 days we spent at Bordeaux was not enough to explore the city and the neighboring areas.

France-Itinerary-Dune-of-Pilat

Dune of Pilat, France

Things To Do in Bordeaux


  • Explore the origins of winemaking and varieties of wine at La Cite Du Vin. A museum dedicated to wines.
  • Enjoy your time at numerous vineyards and stay in an Airbnb or Chateau amidst Vineyard for an experience to cherish.
  • Porte Cailhau – A 35-meter tall tower from where you can enjoy the panoramic views of the river and the oldest bridge, the Pont de Pierre.
  • Water Mirror – A shallow pool of water on smooth granite, across the Place la de Bourse, which creates a beautiful reflection.
  • Pont de Pierre – The oldest bridge in Bordeaux over the river Garonne.
  • Basilica of St. Michael – A 114-meter bell tower and basilica. The basilica is one of the three monuments accepted by UNESCO as part of the French Pilgrim routes of Santiago de Compostela which is added to the list of World Heritage sites.

 

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Read  – Things To Do In Bordeaux

How to Reach – 

Bordeaux is well connected by rail, road, and air with all major cities of France and Europe. 

Plane | You can fly to Bordeaux from Paris / London or any other major hub. 

Train | Eurail Pass or Interrail Pass are good options if you are planning to visit multiple cities and countries. 

Car | You can hire a car from any city and drive to Marseille. 

Where to Stay –

We stayed at IBIS which is quite close to the train station. As it was a last minute plan and most of the hotels were sold out, we ended up staying at the IBIS. 

You can check on Airbnb ( Use our code and get discount on your first booking ) or find hotels on Booking.com and compare prices on Hotelscombined.com 

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Sunflower Fields, Valensole

OTHER BEAUTIFUL REGIONS TO VISIT IN FRANCE 

You can also include below regions if you have more days on hand. We are planning to visit a few places this year. We will keep you posted with more details.

  • Normandy Region  (Mont Saint-Michel, Rouen, Honfleur, Caen)
  • French Riveria ( Cannes, Nice, Eze, Menton )
  • French Alps ( Chamonix, Annecy, Grenoble, Aix-les-Bains )
  • Cities you can include in your itinerary if you are planning a month-long trip – Dijon, Lyon, Metz to name a few. 

Related Posts

Things To Do in Bordeaux 

Things to Do in Marseille

Things To Do in Paris

Places to Visit in Alsace Region

20 Photos To Inspire you to visit Eguisheim

20 Photos To Inspire you to visit Obernai

20 Photos To Inspire you to visit Colmar

Best Lavender Fields in France

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NOTE

If you do find our article useful in planning your trip, don’t forget to send a note/picture of your trip to us ( Email:  thetalesofatraveler@gmail.com) for our Testimonial section.

We would like to thank Eurail for making this post possible.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Sarah
    February 17, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Love France and getting around by train is such a fun way to explore the country. Your yellow dress in the lavender fields is gorgeous. May I ask where you bought it from?

  • Reply
    Soraya
    February 18, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    It looks and sounds like you both had an incredibly romantic time traveling in France. The lavender fields are incredibly beautiful and oh so photogenic. Good to know that the best time of the year to visit if we want to see the fields is in June – August. Alsace also looks so great and I am loving all the old buildings. Ohhh if those buildings could talk, I could only imagine the stories they would share! And how I would love to explore Bordeaux and wine taste my way around this area. Good to know it’s very well connected by transport in France.

  • Reply
    Lisa
    February 18, 2019 at 6:22 pm

    Valensole is so stunning! I’ll be heading to Marseille this March, and looking forward to it already! I’ve not yet been to Alsace, or Bordeaux, though I love the wine from this region! I like your hotel options for each place too, they’re great places by the sound of it.

  • Reply
    Anda
    February 18, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    I love traveling by train in Europe, but never took a train trip in France. It seems you had an incredibly beautiful time on this trip. I’d love to do this itinerary sometimes in spring. Europe is less crowded at that time of year. I’ve not yet been to Alsace, but I’m hoping to get there next year. Beautiful pictures, by the way (especially the ones at Trocadero).

  • Reply
    Jane Dempster-Smith
    February 18, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    What a great article for planning to travel around France by rail. We have done a little bit of rail travel, but definitely need to see more of France in this way. Aren’t the lavender fields amazing? The colours and your photos are beautiful.

  • Reply
    Soumya Gayatri
    February 19, 2019 at 9:15 am

    You have such wonderful pictures out there. No doubt your Instagram fans loved them. France is a beautiful country and the beauty is pretty evident in all your pictures. I have only been to Paris in France. So you know there is so much more to explore. Would love to see the lavender fields and explore Alsace and Marseille. Train is our favorite travel companion in Europe. So France will also be by rail in all probability.

  • Reply
    blair villanueva
    February 21, 2019 at 8:30 am

    I love your photographs, or should I commend your Instagram man here 😀
    France is such a lovely place especially during the summer, no wonder my beau is bugging me to visit him this summer. And if things went well, I will definitely visit these places you’ve been too!

  • Reply
    Sinjana Ghosh
    February 22, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Wow, you people had a fabulous time in France. I love all the pictures here. We could only manage to visit Paris on our trip to Europe. So nice to read about these amazing places in France. The lavender fields look exceptionally beautiful.

  • Reply
    Spider Legs
    July 28, 2019 at 8:50 am

    I’d love to visit Paris sometime soon, and your post has put my plans into perspective.

    Hope fully, I’d have collected enough funds to visit there by the end of next year.

    Love your blog, especially the design 🙂

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