Six places in France to visit by rail in 2024, within five hours of London

Plan your next trip to France now and you can secure one-way Eurostar tickets from London to Paris for as little as £39. Compare this with last-minute fares of more than £200. The money saved on getting to France can be used towards seeing the country beyond its capital – by rail.

Travelling on French trains always feels like an adventure. Firstly, most of the carriages are double decker, and if anyone can honestly say that they don’t get a thrill sitting on the top deck, no matter how many times they’ve done it, we’ll eat our berets. Then there’s the food. A packet of cheese and onion crisps looks paltry compared to the squid ink risotto served on certain French trains. The majority of TGV (high-speed train) services also have free Wi-Fi, meaning you can work or browse on the go.

When the French government banned flights where a suitable alternative of two and a half hours by train was available, train travel in l’Hexagone became all the more relevant. The cost of rail travel can be a prohibitive factor, however. Trainline is helpful for cutting costs as it doesn’t just show French train providers, but also companies from other countries too (such as Italian provider Trenitalia), which often work out cheaper. And, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint in 2024, it’s helpful to know that planes emit between 30 and 50 times more CO2 than trains.

Here are six places in France to visit by rail next year, all two hours or less from Paris.


Europe, France, Loir-et-Cher Department, Loire Valley listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, Chateau de Blois, Fine Arts Museum
Chateau de Blois is sumptuously decorated (Photo: Getty)

Châteaux are the big pull in Blois with the colour of pale butter, built largely from tuffeau, the Loire’s local limestone. The richly decorated Château de Blois was home to several French monarchs, François I and Louis XII among them. Just nine miles (15km) away (40 minutes on a direct bus), the Château de Chambord, which dates to the 16th century, is full of architectural curiosities. The “double helix” staircase, two helical ramps twisted around an open core, is particularly impressive. Even more surreal is the Magic Museum, where six dragon’s heads spring out of the windows every half an hour like cuckoo clocks.

1 ½ hours from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz, from €10 one-way


Half-timbered buildings in the center of Troyes, France in the Champagne region of the country.
Troyes is filled with half-timber buildings (Photo: Evan David Lang/Getty)

Troyes looks like the set of a period drama. The half-timber houses are beautifully preserved, and at some points the streets are so narrow that the houses almost touch in the middle. The Ruelle des Chats, the skinniest, was so named because the buildings stand so close it was said cats could jump from one to the other. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in the heart of France’s Champagne region, either. Aux Crieurs de Vin has a bar and sells good value bottles of bubbles. Of course, when you’re travelling by train it’s much easier to carry champagne home with you.

1 ½ hours from Paris Gare de l’Est, from €10 one-way


The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvi??re is a minor basilica in Lyon.
Head to Lyon for the views, and art (Photo: Getty)

Lyon is a giant art gallery, and sure, the “official” galleries (futuristic Musée des Confluences, anarchistic art collection La Demeure du Chaos and the Beaux-Arts among them) are well worth a visit, but it’s the street art that makes it so special. It’s not often you should look at the ground when exploring a city, but Lyon has its own Banksy. This incognito street artist, who goes by the name of Ememem, fills in the city potholes using colourful mosaics.

2 hours from Paris Gare de Lyon, from €19 one-way


Sunset at the Place des Heros square in Arras, France taken on 23 March 2015
Arras has grand squares (Photo: Nigel Jarvis/Getty)

Arras is a looker. The grand Flemish squares are best seen from above, by climbing the belfry of the Hôtel de Ville for a birds’ eye view. Look out for the “giants” that lurk in the main hall on your way down. In Hauts-de-France, giants are a regular sight at local celebrations. Originally based on biblical figures, they now usually represent local heroes, or even farmyard animals such as chickens and pigs. The most fascinating part of Arras’s history, though, lies underground, and dates from the First World War. Carrière Wellington, a vast network of chalk quarries, was extended over six months between 1916-17 by New Zealand soldiers to prepare for an offensive to break the German front line. The exhibit includes audio clips of diary entries from soldiers who lived in the tunnels

50 minutes from Paris Gare du Nord, from €8 one-way


France, Ile-de-France, Provins, Cite?L Medieval
Provins has a prosperous trading history (Photo: Hiroshi Higuchi/Getty)

Provins is to France what Stratford-upon-Avon is to England. Full of French school children, but also chock-full of history. A medieval walled town with a prosperous trading history, parts of the ramparts date from the 11th century. In the Middle Ages an annual champagne festival was held here, and the festivals haven’t stopped since, with Provins hosting regular medieval festivals and reenactments.

1 ½ hours from Paris Gare de l’Est, from €7 one-way


France, Lorraine, Metz, Porte des Allemands,
Porte des Allemands (Photo: Getty)

To arrive in Metz’s centre, visitors cross over France’s last remaining castle bridge, the Porte des Allemands, built in the 13th century. It’s not a city stuck in the past, though, and it has its own Centre Pompidou, a scaled down version of the Parisian contemporary art gallery. But the really great thing about Metz is the beer culture, and it’s one of the biggest hubs of artisan breweries in France. The hefty student population injects extra life into the city’s already overflowing beer halls.

1 ½ hours from Paris Gare de l’Est, from €16 one-way