How to get to the Pyrenees: transport options and more
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If you’re wondering how to get to the Pyrenees, then this article is for you. There are several options available depending on your starting point and mode of transportation. If you’re travelling by car, the Pyrenees can be accessed via several major highways including the A64 from Toulouse and the A65 from Bordeaux. If you prefer public transport, there are several train and bus routes available to reach the Pyrenees from major cities such as Bordeaux or Toulouse. Additionally, there are several airports located near the Pyrenees, including Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, Pau Airport and Lourdes Tarbes Airport that offer convenient connections to the region.
I have visited the Pyrenees many times and I am now lucky to call this part of France home. As such this article is based on our my own experienced of travelling to and from the Pyrenees. Living here gives me the advantage of seeing what is going on in terms of transport and being able to update this page with anything that you as a visitor should be aware of.
The Pyrenees are located in the far southwest of France and form the border with Spain. They run 491km from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. They are home to numerous peaks reaching over 3,000m with the highest being Aneto at 3,404m. The closest major city to the Pyrenees is Toulouse which is anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours by car depending on which part you go to.
Pau is the largest town within the Pyrenees and has a population of nearly 80,000 people. The larger population centres including Foix, Lourdes, Tarbes, and Pau sit in the foothills of the mountains and are the major transport hubs in and out of the region. The majority of towns and villages within the mountains sit in the many valleys which run roughly from north to south. The valleys slope upwards toward the Spanish border, typically getting steeper the further in you go.
I also have a short YouTube video about How to Get to the Pyrenees that you may wish to have a look at after you have finished reading this article.
Flying to the Pyrenees
For those who wish to fly to the Pyrenees, there are 3 airports to consider, Pau airport, Lourdes-Tarbes Airport, and Toulouse Airport. Which one you choose will depend on where you are flying from, and which part of the Pyrenees you plan to visit. Both Pau and Lourdes-Tarbes airports are located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, while Toulouse is located some distance from the Pyrenees.
If you are planning to travel to the western half of the Pyrenees you could also consider Bordeaux airport if the others do not have flights that suit you. It will take you longer to get to the Pyrenees from Bordeaux airport than any of the others but it is something to keep in mind.
Pau Pyrénées Airport
Pau Airport is serviced by two airlines, Air France and Transavia. Air France flies from Pau to Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon, while Transavia flies to Paris Orly. The airport is connected to the town by bus and all the major car rental companies are represented at the terminal. The Pau Airport website has more information to help you plan your trip.
Lourdes-Tarbes Pyrénées Airport
Lourdes-Tarbes Airport is serviced by three airlines, Volotea, easyJet and Ryanair. Volotea flies to Paris Orly, Naples, Palermo, Catania and Rome; easyJet flies to Milan Malpensa; Ryanair flies to London Stanstead, Dublin, Brussels, Milan Bergamo, Krakow, Malta, and Rome. These services are mostly seasonal running in the summer months only, but some routes do operate all year round. There are bus services from the airport to Lourdes and all the major car rental companies are located at the terminal. The Lourdes-Tarbes airport website has more information.
I have flown from Lourdes-Tarbes Airport a couple of times to Paris and it is a nice small airport that is easy to navigate. There are cafés both before and after the security gates and food is reasonably priced. I have learned that the car rental desks in the arrival area are not always staffed. If this is the case you simply need to head out of the terminal and turn right, you will see the car rental kiosks in the car park a short distance away.
Toulouse Blagnac Airport
Toulouse Blagnac is the closest international airport to the Pyrenees and is serviced by 28 airlines flying to 59 destinations. It gives you the greatest variety of flights and destinations of all the airports that service the Pyrenees. There are more flights into Toulouse in the summer months and some services are suspended or wound back over winter. You will find all the major car rental companies located at Toulouse Blagnac Airport.
Toulouse Blagnac airport is connected to the city via both tram and bus. Travel times on the tram are around 40 mins and, on the bus, 20-40 minutes depending on traffic. My tip for those catching a train from Toulouse after their flight would be to catch the bus, rather than the tram. The bus stops at Toulouse Matabiau station, whereas the tram does not. If you do catch the tram and need to go to the station you will either need to walk the 2.5km from the final tram stop or change to the Metro at Arénes. For more information about Toulouse Blagnac Airport visit their website.
I have flown from Toulouse Blagnac a few times now and found getting through the security and passport control generally is quick and easy to do. Once through security, there are a number of cafés and other shops to keep you occupied while you wait for your flight. On my last trip, I also took advantage of desks with power outlets to do some work while I waited for the flight to board.
A little tip I learned to save some money. If convenient for you I recommend the tram from the city centre to the airport as it is €1.40 each vs €8.50 each on the bus. You can change from the tram to the metro at the Arena stop to take you to the train station and city centre or enjoy the walk once the tram reaches the end of the line. The tram ticket is valid for 90 minutes from the time you first validate it, so you don’t need a separate ticket for the metro.
Bordeaux Mérignac Airport
Bordeaux Merignac airport is further away from the Pyrenees than Toulouse but it can still be an option, especially if you are visiting the western half of the Pyrenees. There are 23 airlines that fly into Bordeaux servicing 63 destinations across Europe giving you plenty of scope for your holiday to the Pyrenees. All major car rental companies are located within the terminal.
Bordeaux airport is connected to the city via bus and as of April 2023 a tram also. There is a dedicated shuttle bus that takes you directly to the train station in central Bordeaux or a bus that takes you into the city centre with multiple stops on the way. The tram will take you into the city centre and you can change trams if you need to get to the Bordeaux train station. Visit the Bordeaux Mérignac Airport website for more information.
Catching a train to the Pyrenees
Getting to the Pyrenees via train is another great option and there are multiple daily services from both Toulouse and Bordeaux connecting to destinations across France. Both Lourdes and Pau stations are on the high-speed TGV network which connects to Paris via Bordeaux. Within the Pyrenees, there are train stations in Pau, Oloron Saint Marie, Lourdes, Lannemezan, Saint Gaudens, Foix, and Ax les Thermes.
If you are travelling to the Pyrenees from Paris you may wish to consider the recently re-introduced night trains which stop in Lourdes, Foix, and Ax les Thermes. The services operate in both directions on a daily basis. I travelled back from Paris to Lourdes on the night train and recommend it highly. The service left Paris at 9:15 pm and arrived in Lourdes at 7:40 am. This service operates via Toulouse where the train splits with half the train heading to Lourdes and the other half to Foix and Aix les Thermes.
There is a range of bus and taxi services available from each of the stations to get you to your final destination if you are travelling further into the mountains. I personally find the Rome2Rio website the best way to work out how to get from the station to our final destination. It gives you all the available options from each of the stations as well as the names of the operators. Both the Pau and Lourdes stations have car rental outlets for Avis and Europcar.
Buses in the Pyrenees
There are bus services that operate within the Pyrenees to help you get to your chosen destination. Bus routes operate from all the train stations providing a great link to the mountains. The buses are operated by two companies, liO, and Modalis. liO operates in the eastern and central sections of the Pyrenees, while Modalis operates in the western section. You will find all the routes, timetables, and ticket information on their websites.
My recommendation when catching local buses would be to have some small change on you. Tickets are only 1€ or 2€ depending on the service and can be bought from the driver. Some buses have card readers but I have discovered they don’t always work properly, especially if you have a foreign card. Some of the buses I have caught only accepted cash.
Driving to the Pyrenees
The main autoroute accessing the Pyrenees to the west of Toulouse is the A64. It runs between Toulouse and Bayonne and if you are visiting this side of the Pyrenees you will use this road. East of Toulouse you will use both the A61 and A66 to access the Pyrenees. These roads will get you to the foothills of the Pyrenees and from there you will head onto smaller roads as you get further into the mountains.
In my experience, the drive from both Toulouse and Bordeaux is nice and easy. The autoroutes are well maintained and have a 130 km speed limit that reduces to 110 km if it is raining. The roads are toll roads so you will need to pay with cash or card. Booths with a green arrow accept all forms of payment. I found this out the hard way on my first trip to France when my foreign card didn’t work and no cash was accepted at the booth I was at.
If you are driving in the Pyrenees in winter you will need to be mindful of snow and ice on roads. Many of the mountain passes are closed in winter usually from October to May or June, depending on the season. If you are heading to one of the ski stations, then make sure you have either winter tires or snow chains as you may need them to access the village and it is mandatory to carry them above certain elevations from November to March.
From the UK or Ireland by ferry to the Pyrenees
For those living in the United Kingdom and Ireland, there are options to bring your own car across by ferry and then drive to the Pyrenees. The closest ferry port from the UK for access to the Pyrenees is Bilbao in Spain where you can catch a ferry to Portsmouth. This service runs twice weekly from late March to early November each year. Depending on where you are travelling to in the Pyrenees your drive time from Bilbao will be somewhere between 3 and 5 hours.
Santander in Spain is another ferry port to consider if you are coming to the Pyrenees from the UK. It is just over an hour further away than Bilbao and offers a year-round service to Portsmouth as well as a service to Plymouth from April to October.
In France, the main ferry ports from the UK are Calais, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo, and Roscoff. They service a range of destinations in the UK including Dover, Poole, Plymouth, and Portsmouth. Drive times from these ports to the Pyrenees range from 8 to 10 hours.
If you are travelling to the Pyrenees from Ireland, there are ferry services from Dublin to Cherbourg, Rosslare to Cherbourg, Cork to Roscoff, and Rosslare to Roscoff. Travel time from the ferry ports to the Pyrenees is between 9 and 10 hours depending on where in the Pyrenees you are going to or coming from.
Visiting the Pyrenees without a car
In my opinion, it’s definitely possible to visit the Pyrenees if you don’t have access to a car and wish to rely on public transport only. But, you won’t be able to get everywhere you might want to go. For example, if you are planning a hike in the high mountains, you might not find public transport to the trailhead and need to make alternative arrangements.
Many popular tourist destinations are well-serviced by either train, bus, or both giving you plenty of opportunity to explore the stunning mountains. But, you will need to spend a little more time researching your trip and making sure that there are public transport options to the destinations you want to visit. Some services run on a seasonal basis rather than year-round and there can be larger time gaps between services to factor in as well.
So I would recommend that when you are planning your trip you look at where you want to go and see and then research the public transport options to see what works.
You may also like
If you are planning a trip to the Pyrenees you may also wish to read some of our other articles about visiting this amazing destination.
- Things to do in Lourdes – there are plenty of things to do in Lourdes and we have put together a list to give you some ideas.
- Day trips from Lourdes – if you are basing yourself in Lourdes you might like to consider one or more of these day trips. Many of which can be accessed via public transport.
- Things to do in the Pyrenees – we list out some of our favourite things to see and do in the Pyrenees
- We also have visitor guides for the towns of Lourdes, Argeles Gazost and Luz Saint Sauveur.
- For anyone thinking about cycling then check out our article about cycling in the Pyrenees.
Useful travel planning websites
There are plenty of websites to help you plan your holiday to the Pyrenees. Here are some of the ones that we use regularly and recommend.
- ViaMichelin– great for planning a route for driving. The site calculates an estimate of the cost of the journey including road tolls. We find this handy when weighing up whether to drive or catch a train.
- Rome2Rio – a site that helps you plan a journey between any two destinations. It provides a list of options for you. to consider including a list of the operators. We find this really handy when looking at bus routes within the Pyrenees.
- Skyscanner – a handy tool to find the best deals on flights. This is our first port of call when planning to book a flight. It is helpful as it shows which website has the best deal and which airlines service particular routes.
- SNCF Connect – we use this site all the time to book train travel within France and also have the app installed on our phones.