Croissants and culture, pampered pooches and patisseries, romantic bridges and iconic landmarks – Paris has it all. But when it’s time to explore further afield, it’s also perfectly placed for a mini break to its attractive coastline and famous Riviera.
The train from Paris to the South of France is one of the easiest ways to reach its more uplifting climate. Bask in the glorious sunshine of Nice, enjoy a cocktail in Cannes, or simply unwind in the many beaches of Biarritz, at your leisure.
Sure, you can fly, but where's the fun in that? Make your journey as important as the destination and travel by train from Paris to the South of France. In doing so, you’ll be able to enjoy the local wine as you pass through its beautiful cities, soak up picturesque views from the comfort of your window seat, or use the time to catch up with work or pleasure, with access to WiFi on board.
Just think about what you could do on a three to six-hour train journey all to yourself, as you're transported to a slower pace of life. Not sure where to start? Here are six of the most popular destinations to visit by train from Paris to the South of France.
1. Paris to Nice
Known as a coastal sun-trap, Nice is a gem in the Côte d’Azur that offers mouth-watering cuisine, blissful beaches and grandiose buildings.
Start your day early, with the direct train from Paris to the South of France arriving into Nice Ville Station in under six hours and just in time for lunch! There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants within walking distance of the station.
Eating is indeed a popular sport here, with locals grazing over fresh seafood and wine from the area. As such, you’ll find no end of Michelin-star restaurants, like the legendary Le Negresco and Restaurant des Rois in some of the most scenic spots in the city. A later visit to the Beaulieu provides the perfect base to explore this alluring area with tranquil views across its Mediterranean waters. You’ll soon see why it attracts an aristocratic clientele with the splendour of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and moving architecture of Villa Kerylos, offering great ways to spend an afternoon.
Further on, dangling out to sea is the ever-popular Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. This pretty Peninsula appeals to outdoor types with walks, trails and hikes for those that like a ramble. Be sure also to visit the Grand Hotel Du Cap, a sprawling estate where everyone from Winston Churchill to Elizabeth Taylor has stayed over its long and rich history.
Back in town, the Waterfall on Castle Hill is a perfect spot for eyeing up the coastline, or there’s plenty of museums and cultural sights to enjoy. Finally, save time to enjoy the local beach – there’s 30 to choose from, including the famous La Plage Publique de Beau Rivage.
2. Paris to Montpellier
In just 3h 26m you’ll be transported from the bright lights of Paris, to the charm of Montpellier-Saint-Roch on the TGV Duplex train from Paris to the South of France.
Écusson, at the heart of its Old Town, must be visited to appreciate the local way of life. Casual café shops litter its crooked streets, with typical European plazas and squares interwoven between independent boutique shops. It’s easy to lose yourself here especially to its many markets, including foodie favourite Marché des Arceaux.
Rich in art and culture, there are a few sights not to be missed. This includes Musée Fabre, known for its staggering collection of European art and the slightly creepy yet intriguing Musee d’Anatomie. Montpellier Cathedral is a national monument that also deserves a visit.
But to truly leave the chaos of the city behind you, make a beeline to Espiguette beach. Long, wild and running for six glorious miles, this windswept beach is one of the finest in the area, allowing you to get away from modern living, if even for just a few stolen moments.
3. Paris to Biarritz
In just over four hours, take the train from Paris to the South of France’s best-kept secret – Biarritz. Straddling the western coast, this is the perfect destination for beach lovers, whether you want to chill out or ride the surf.
Crashing waves and gusts of Atlantic winds make this a surfer’s paradise. Head to Côte des Basques if you’re a grom or novice, working up to Grand Plage and Anglet beaches for the more experienced rider.
But there’s much more to Biarritz than catching waves. In keeping with the beach theme, if you have a head for heights then seek out Rocher de la Vierge. This massive rock flung out to sea is connected only by bridge, once crossed you can catch a glimpse of the Virgen statue it’s home to. There’s also Biarritz lighthouse, which is quite an attraction.
Back on dry land, the Église Russe de Biarritz and Hotel du Palais are inspiring architectural buildings drawing on its past heyday.
For family fun, be sure to visit the Aquarium de Biarritz celebrating sea life at its best. There’s even a shark feeding session for those feeling brave enough.
4. Paris to Cannes
Leave the humdrum behind you and head to the glitz and glamour of Cannes. This A-list favourite destination is always buzzing, especially in May during the International Film Festival. If you’re a film aficionado, then a visit to the Palais des Festivals is a must.
Taking 5h 15m, the direct train from Paris to the South of France offers a magical journey through the magnificent French countryside. Upon arrival, head straight to the Boulevard de la Croisette and take in the fresh sea air. Here there’s no end of beach clubs and cafes to enjoy a glass of something chilled. This is also the place to pose for a selfie, if not from your superyacht then on one of the many loungers nearby.
On the other side of the road, the famous beach strip offers hotel after hotel, all famous in their own right. The Carlton InterContinental is known for attracting a rich and beautiful crowd, while Hotel Martinez is quite the party spot. Any of the restaurants lining this street offer great views and delicious food, moules frites being a popular dish, that is, if you can resist the boutique shops as you pass.
Nearby Antibes is just a 20-minute train ride away and offers a different side to the south coast. Rich in art and culture, there are lots of great museums and galleries to visit. Top of the list is the Picasso Museum with hundreds of works from the iconic artist, as well as the historic Chateau Grimaldi. While in the area, it would be remiss to bypass Hotel Cap-Eden-Roc. Hailing back to a bygone era, this exquisite hotel has played host to some of the most famous people in Hollywood and royalty and remains in fashion today as it ever was.
5. Paris to Monaco
Pack your bags, a good book for the journey and plenty of credit cards, for the 6h 23m train ride from Paris to the South of France, specifically Monaco Monte-Carlo.
Famous for decadence and glamour, this tiny independent state is home to a population of nearly 39,000. It may be small in size, but Monaco makes a grand statement on the world stage. Notably, it’s home to the Formula 1 Grand Prix. If you’re a fan, then be sure to stay at the Fairmont Hotel, where rooms overlook the hairpin bend that doubles up as the race track.
Close by, the marina is home to giant superyachts and lovely waterfront cafes for enjoying a bite of lunch with great views.
The spectacular 19th-century Salle Garnier Opera House can also be found here, worth booking in advance to see one of its many magnificent performances. Another important building to visit is Saint Nicholas Cathedral, also known as the final resting place of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier.
6. Paris to Marseille
Located in the middle of the Riviera is the port city of Marseille. Close to lavender fields, vineyards and national parks – it’s a great base to explore the wider region.
The city instantly greets you with Notre Dame de la Garde in its skyline. This 18th-century building, once used as an observation point, offers magical views across the city.
As you walk around the old town, castles and churches en route, be sure to detour via the port which serves as an essential part of the city’s history. This is also a great area for enjoying time out and watching the world go by. Fresh seafood is served with a side of pastis, a local aperitif not too dissimilar to Ouzo - it sure packs a punch!
Of the many attractions to visit in the area, Les Calanques is a firm favourite. This national park can be reached by boat or on foot (be prepared to hike) offering natural beauty, hidden alcoves and breathtaking beaches to discover.
But, best of all, the city is easy to get to from the capital. The train from Paris to South of France's Marseille takes just 3h 18m, what's not to love.