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A Complete Guide for Traveling by Bus in France
Traveling by bus is one of the best ways to get from point A to point B while in France. Admittedly, driving a car is a more straightforward and popular option when it comes to ground transportation. However, cities are often congested and lack parking, gas prices continue to skyrocket, and tolls add up quickly. On the other hand, bus travel around France is both cheap and convenient, and it’s quickly growing in popularity.
Before 2015, the government restricted coach travel within France, and only international buses passing through the country on their way to other European destinations were allowed to operate. Thankfully, a new law liberalized the market in 2015, and long-distance bus travel is now a full-fledged industry in the country.
The popularity of intercity buses continues to increase each year, and it's a favorable option for getting to the far-off places that train lines don’t service. It’s also the cheapest way to travel around France, and surprisingly comfortable at that. So, whether you’re journeying near or far, traveling by bus is one of the best ways to get around France.
Bus companies in France
There are two main bus companies that service France: FlixBus and BlaBlaCar Bus. A few smaller carriers also provide routes within certain départements (or regions) around the country, in addition to brands that transport passengers to and from airports and city centers.
FlixBus is the big name in bus travel across Europe, and France is no exception. FlixBus offers hundreds of direct routes domestically, internationally, and to and from some of the country’s major airports.
BlaBlaCar Bus (formerly known as Ouibus) also services a handful of cities, airports, and neighboring countries, though options are limited compared to FlixBus’s extensive fleet.
In addition to France’s two major carriers, a few other international carriers offer cross-border travel, including Union Ivkoni and Sindbad. Major airports also tend to have their own buses (known as navettes) to shuttle travelers into the city. Depending on the airport, you may even find a navette that journeys to other towns and nearby points of interest.
Travelers should note that, although service to more remote areas is more comprehensive by bus than by train, there are still certain regions around France where bus travel is infrequent and slow. This is especially true around the countryside where school children use intercity buses more than travelers. Bus travel in these areas is usually reduced or unavailable on weekends and school holidays.
Popular bus destinations in France
Your options for bus travel in France are nearly endless, but we’ve taken the liberty of suggesting a few of the most popular destinations in the country. Whether you’re hoping to visit multiple French cities on a budget or simply pick out the best of the bunch, get some inspiration from our recommendations below.
Paris is a great first stop on your bus trip through France. While visiting the City of Light, you can picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower, take a boat tour along the scenic Seine, or down as many croissants as humanly possible from any number of romantic riverside cafes. Of course, you could spend a lifetime in Paris discovering all of the city’s eccentric secrets, but there’s a lot more to France than its enticing capital city. Once you’re ready to move on, you’ll find hundreds of routes out of the city with both FlixBus and BlaBlaCar Bus.
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Head to Strasbourg for a cross-culture experience. The architecture is reminiscent of tales from the Brothers Grimm and medieval Germany, and indeed the city takes inspiration from its nearby neighbor. But Strasbourg is French through and through, and this city is a contradiction that you’ll love as soon as you step off the bus. Take some time to ogle at the impressive gothic cathedral before wandering along the narrow cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered houses.
Once you’re ready for a break, pop into a winstub (Alsace tavern) along the canal for a glass of regional white wine and gorgeous views of the River Ill. If you’re visiting France around the winter holidays, don’t miss Strasbourg's world-famous Christmas Market. No matter what time of year you are here, there are plenty of connections both to and from Strasbourg with FlixBus and BlaBlaCar Bus.
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The southerly city of Marseille is where grit and grandeur come together to charm travelers from around the world. While it lacks the glamor of some of France’s other coastal cities in the region, it heaps on the history and the multicultural je ne sais quoi that other parts of the French Riviera are missing.
Often considered France’s Second City, Marseille is an international hub of diverse people, culture, cuisine, and history. Visitors can travel through time as they explore the ancient parts of Marseille, including the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, the Le Panier neighborhood, and the Républic quarter, among others. But don’t be fooled by all the historic charm. Marseille is a vibrant metropolis with plenty to offer in the way of nightlife, entertainment and modern infrastructure.
BlaBlaCar Bus and FlixBus offer up tons of connections between Marseille and other French cities, in addition to service to various international destinations. If you’d like to explore more of the French Riviera, local bus company Zou! also has regional buses that transport travelers around the entire South Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
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You’ve likely heard of Bordeaux, or you’ve at least seen the name in the French wine section a time or two. But there’s more to this historic city than just vino (although there’s plenty of that to go around as well). About half of this historical city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it the largest in the world! Obviously, exploring this part of town is a must. So, take your time as you stroll along the streets and check out the incredible views from the 15th-century Pey-Berland bell tower. After taking some time to explore Bordeaux, you can take the bus deeper into wine country or head to further flung destinations with FlixBus or BlaBlaCar Bus.
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We all know that Bordeaux is wine country, but did you know that Lille is the unofficial waffle country of France? This whimsical, Flemish-influenced city sits near the border of Belgium and offers up an array of historical architecture, a glittering urban area and unique sweet treats that are sure to have you drooling.
Lille plays host to designers, students and international expats. This eclectic mix of residents gives way to fun nightlife, excellent cuisine and outstanding shopping opportunities. Try to indulge in a little bit of everything in Lille before hopping back on the bus. FlixBus and BlaBlaCar Bus will both get you to your next destination, be it another French city or an international excursion.
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The most scenic bus routes in France
One of the best things about taking the bus through France is the incredible scenery you’ll see along the way. From the tropical southern coast to the historic villages in the north and everywhere in between, France’s scenery is as varied as it is beautiful. There are some routes within the country so beautiful that the journey is more of an experience than the final destination, including the following:
The glamorous French Riviera is famed for its upscale resort towns and postcard-perfect ocean views. While it has long since had a reputation as a playground strictly for the well-to-do, bus travel within this region makes France’s Mediterranean coast accessible to penny pinchers and yacht owners alike. A bus trip up and down the coast is possible with a number of companies, including FlixBus, BlaBlaCar Bus, and the regional carrier Zou!. You can take a long-distance bus trip from Marseille to Nice, or enjoy shorter routes between the smaller cities on this scenic stretch.
Known for its wild beauty, rugged capes, and historic towns, the Brittany region of northern France is chock-full of scenic bus routes. Unfortunately, Brittany is a bit of an underdog when it comes to bucket-list destinations, and it rarely makes it onto the itineraries of foreign travelers. Avoid this common mistake, and you’ll get to experience some seriously beautiful French countryside, coastal views and charming villages during your bus trip. Route options are infinite, but the stretch from Saint-Cast-le-Guildo to Saint-Malo and Crozon to Daoulas are both spectacular in terms of scenery. You can take shorter trips like the ones suggested with the regional bus line BreizhGo.
The French Alps need no introduction, but the French region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes may be a bit of a mystery to foreign travelers. This mountainous region is situated in southeastern France and shares a border with Switzerland and northern Italy. The region is abundant in national parks and tiny mountain towns dotting the hillsides. Those on the hunt for a scenic bus route would be hard-pressed to find a better region in France, and route options are nearly limitless in this region. If you need some inspiration, check out the stretch from Grenoble to Chamonix by bus. BlaBlaCar Bus services most of the routes within Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and beyond.
How to book bus travel in France
In general, the best way to book your ticket for French bus travel is online in advance. Not only does purchasing your ticket in advance guarantee your seat on the bus, but it’s also usually the cheapest option. Most tickets are flexible, and if you need to cancel or change your ticket, there is usually little to no fee depending on the carrier and how far in advance you alter your ticket.
If you do decide to wait until you’re at the station to purchase your ticket, be sure you have cash with you, as not all carriers accept credit cards. In addition, you may want to bring your English-to-French dictionary as most people who work at bus stops, as well as the bus operators, don’t speak English (or any language other than French).
Tips for finding deals on bus tickets in France
Because bus travel is already the cheapest form of ground transportation in France, deals and discounts are usually hard to come by when it comes to intercity travel. The best way to find a cheap ticket is by booking in advance, usually a few weeks or months ahead of time.
While large carriers like FlixBus and BlaBlaCar bus do not offer any special discounts, some of the smaller regional bus companies often have special prices for younger travelers. In addition, you may find cheaper rates if you purchase a subscription, though these are usually only available for small zones within a specific region and won’t work for long-distance travel.
Types of bus services available in France
While a seat is guaranteed when you purchase a ticket, you usually won’t be able to choose which seat is yours until boarding. Some routes do offer specific seat reservations, though these are few and far between. If you are traveling with FlixBus and want to claim a seat next to the window or near your travel partners, be sure to arrive at the station early, so you’re not the last one in the queue. BlaBlaCar Bus assigns seats ahead of time, and on some routes you can change where you’re sitting ahead of departure for a small fee.
Big carriers like FlixBus and BlaBlaCar Bus offer routes around the entire country, while smaller companies like Zou!, Breizhgo and others serve specific regions within France. Whether you’re traveling long distances or just a few towns away, bus service is fairly similar across all carriers.
If you are taking a bus to or from the airport, you’ll likely be taking a navette – a specific bus serviced by major airports to shuttle passengers between their gates and nearby towns. Most of the larger airports offer this service, and while it may be a bit more expensive than taking the local bus line into town, you’ll have more space for yourself and for your luggage on a navette.
Getting to the bus station in France
Most long-distance coach companies in France do not have their own stations. Instead, they operate out of existing transportation hubs like rail stations, bus depots, and airports. Many of the larger city centers in France have a designated bus terminal, usually labeled Gare Routière, followed by the city name. These are typically located in the heart of the city and can be easily reached with public transportation or even on foot. Be sure to check your ticket carefully and note the address, as some carriers operate out of more than one location in large metropolises. Big city bus stations often have amenities like restrooms, coffee bars, kiosks, luggage storage and ATMs available for passengers.
In smaller French towns, the bus stations (which are really more like glorified bus stops) are usually located a bit outside of the city. Depending on your final destination, you may need to arrange transportation into the city center from the bus stop.
No matter where you are departing from, be sure to pinpoint the bus station in advance to ensure that you will arrive in time to board the bus. Even if you have purchased your ticket in advance, plan to arrive at the station at least 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time, especially if you want to snag a good seat!
Getting on the bus in France
If you buy your bus ticket online in advance, you will receive a digital ticket that you can use for mobile boarding. If you wait to buy your ticket at the station, you will receive a physical copy of the ticket to board. Some stations have representatives present to help with ticket sales, while others have vending machines for purchasing and printing tickets.
No matter what ticket type you use, you will also need to have a valid form of identification to get on the bus. If you are traveling internationally across any borders you will need a passport or an identity card if you are a member of the EU. This includes trips to the microstate of Monaco! All documents must be original and not a copy of an official ID.
Boarding begins before the official departure time listed on your ticket, so be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule. If you do not have an assigned seat on your ticket, seats will be up for grabs on a first-come first-served basis, so arrive even earlier if you want first dibs on the best spots.
On-board experience on French buses
Coach travel in France is exceedingly comfortable. Because bus travel is a fairly recent addition to cross-country travel, coaches have modern amenities to entertain passengers and ensure that they have an enjoyable experience.
Amenities & onboard entertainment
Amenities are fairly similar across the board, no matter which company you are traveling with. While offerings vary by route and carrier, you can expect your bus trip to include comfy seating with plenty of legroom, power outlets, Wi-Fi and even onboard entertainment to help the time go by.
Although most buses have free Wi-Fi, service is notoriously spotty at best, so you may want to download your own offline entertainment before lift off. Most buses are handicap accessible and offer assistance for those who need it.
All intercity buses have a restroom, and longer routes often stop for comfort breaks at rest stops along the way. Unfortunately, French buses do not offer any onboard food or beverage options, so you’ll either want to stock up before you depart or wait for a rest stop. Note that stops are not guaranteed, and depend on the length and route of your trip.
Baggage allowance differs from carrier to carrier, but most French bus lines transport regular luggage without a fee. Larger bags will be stored in the luggage hold, and you’ll be responsible for grabbing your own items when you arrive at your destination. Smaller bags can be brought on board and stored above your seat. You may need to pay an extra fee for bulky items and extra luggage, so check with the individual carrier when booking your ticket. Things like wheelchairs and strollers are usually transported for free.
Traveling with pets
Pets are not allowed on buses in France. Even if you have a service animal, it’s best to check with the individual carrier to guarantee that they are allowed to ride.
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