Travelling on French trains

TGV, TER and IC trains operated by SNCF

Welcome to our guide to travelling by train in France which explains the differences between the types of train service, the on board facilities and how to find your seats when you have a reservation.

Click the questions to jump to the info you want or need to know.

OR grab a coffee and discover all the most pertinent info that will help your French train travel experience to be as fabulous as possible!

What are the different train services operated by SNCF?

What about those double-deck TGV trains?

Does it matter which train I travel by?

How do I find my reserved seat?

What is a train numnber and how do I use it?

What facilities can I expect on board TGV and Intercités trains?

Can I take my bike on a TGV or an Intercités train?

Can I take my bike on a TER train?

Do trains in France depart to a regular timetable?


What long distance international train services operate from and to France?

French TGV trains are iconic and the high speeds can give many journeys a wow factor, but other French trains can also be fabulous – we’re big fans of the exceptionally large windows on many of the more modern TER trains.


Though we’d love travelling by train in France even more, if the windows on the French trains in general were washed more often!

And that’s just one of the many quirks of train travel in and to/from France – hence the info you'll find 
below.

TRAINS IN FRANCE:

What are the different train services operated by SNCF?

French national train operator SNCF's domestic train services can be broadly divided into five categories:

(1) TGV France services = high speed trains that use high speed lines for at least part of a journey.

TGV trains that have both enhanced Wi-Fi and new or modernised interiors are now branded as 'INOUI' services.

inOui branding on a TGV

There are four types of TGV trains used on TGV France services

TGV Duplex trains - double deck TGV trains (those with both enhanced Wi-Fi and a modernised interior are classified as TGV INOUI services)
French trains guide
The single deck TGV Sud-Est trains
French trains guide
The TGV Atlantique trains used on some departures on the routes between Paris and Western France
Guide to Trains in France
New TGV Océane trains - which are gradually replacing the TGV Atlantique trains and ALL of which meet the TGV INOUI criteria
Info for trains in France
How to check which type of TGV train you will be travelling by on a specific departure.

(2) Ouigo – low cost, more basic high speed services on which re-modelled double-deck TGV trains are used.
Ouigo
In contrast to  TGV France services, Ouigo trains:

(i) are 2nd class only,
(ii) have no catering facilities available
(iii) have no Wi-Fi etc,
(iv) don't permit bikes on board,
(v) require pre-booking for pushchairs/strollers,
(vi) have less generous luggage allowance,
(vii) have more restrictive ticket booking options,
(viii) have a different boarding procedure -you need to be at the station 30 mins prior to departure.

Something to be aware of, is that Ouigo services are beginning to offer direct alternatives to the standard TGV France services, on an increasing number of routes.

On the latest timetable change, some TGV France services have in effect been replaced by Ouigo trains, to provide travellers with a choice of services between the exact same stations.

(3) Intercités and other IC trains = express train services which DON'T travel on high speed lines.
Intercités trains
Some Intercités services/journeys have compulsory reservation, but most don't.

To make this clearer, IC (France) has been used on ShowMeTheJourney for the services that DON'T have compulsory reservation.
 

(3) TER services, which comprise a mix of:
TER trains
(a) Regional semi-fast services that can link major cities, often stopping at towns skipped by TGV and IC trains
These services MAY be re-branded as 'Chrono' services.

(b) Long distance stopping train services - these services MAY be re-branded as 'Proxi' services.

(c) Local train services away from the main cities - these services MAY be re-branded 'City' services.

A wide variety of different trains are used on TER services and in many areas of France the most modern trains are the TER trains.

Though what's particularly worth knowing is that no matter what TER service you will be travelling by, seat reservations won't be available and tickets won't be discounted if you book in advance -so you may as well book tickets last minute at the station.
 

(4)  Transillien - commuter/local train services in Paris.

----------------------------------

Having some awareness of the differences between these train services matters when travelling by train in France, particularly when there is a choice of train service between two destinations.

Not only can one type of train be faster than another, it also matters when booking tickets.
For example, the terms and conditions for travelling by TGV France trains are very different to those for journeys by TER trains

Back to the menu.

----------------------------------

What about those double-deck TGV trains?

The new TGV Océane trains are double-decked and they are a big step-up in terms of on-board ambience compared to the older TGV trains, but for the time being the most commonly found double-decked TGV trains are the TGV Duplex  trains.

Some travellers target these trains, presuming (wrongly) that they will be more spacious – and there’s also the novelty factor of travelling at high speed on an upper deck.
TGV Duplex
Whether a TGV France train service is operated by a TGV Duplex isn’t listed on timetables -  you won’t know whether a service is operated by a TGV Duplex until you book and are offered the choice of seats on an upper or lower deck.
Though we have worked out a means of discovering which type of TGV train will be used for a specific departure - discover how to do this HERE.

However, TGV Duplex’s are used on virtually all TGV services between the Paris Gare De Lyon and other destinations in France -  as well as some international services from the Gare De Lyon.
They're also used on virtually all the TGV services between Lille and destinations to the south of Paris.
TGV Duplex trains are also used on some departures to/from Paris Est, plus a few trains to/from Paris Nord and Paris Montparnasse

Back to the menu.

----------------------------------

Does it matter which train I travel by?

Yes it does because French train tickets are usually train service specific - book a ticket online or a station which is only valid for a journey by a TER train service and you can't then take a TGV or Intercités train service.

Similarly you can't book a ticket for an Intercités train service and then hop on a TGV instead.

Back to the menu.

----------------------------------

How do I find my reserved seat?

All seats are reserved on TGV France train services and this is also the case on the longer Intercités services - your seat number is the 'PLACE ASSISE' number on your ticket.

The seat numbering system on TGVs and Intercités isn’t particularly logical, so take your time and be guided by the signs in the coach.
If you have heavy luggage, stow this in the racks by the doors first and then locate your seat.

What can be easy to miss when boarding TGV Duplex trains are these signs above the entrances inside the doors.

which show the seat numbers that are located on the upper deck,

Back to the menu.

----------------------------------

What is a train number and how do I use it?

Each individual train departure has its own number and this number will be printed on your ticket/reservation.
It will be a 4-digit number that is usually listed beneath the departure date/time - the departure time will have a 'H' between the hour and minutes.

If you will be changing trains, the train number (and departure times) of each train you will be taking, will be listed separately on the ticket

To find your train you may need to match this train number (and not your destination), to the information that's displayed on departure screens at stations.

Back to the menu.

----------------------------------

What facilities can I expect on board TGV France and Intercités trains?

Wi-Fi:

Enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity is the key distinguishing feature of the (as yet) comparatively small number of TGV trains which provide the InOui services.

It should theoretically be available when travelling by OTHER TGV trains on these routes* only:

(i) Paris Gare Du Nord - Lille/Dunkerque/Valenciennes
(ii) Paris Gare De Lyon - Lyon/Marseille/Montpellier/Nice/Perpignan
(iii) Paris Est - Luxembourg/Nancy/Strasbourg
(iv) Paris Montparnasse - Bordeaux/Toulouse/Hendaye/Tarbes/Rennes/Brest

*It should be available on any TGV between these locations, you don't have to be travelling on trains between these specific destinations.

Though even when it is theoretically available it can be more miss than hit

Wi-Fi is NOT available on the Intercités services.

Announcements:

All on board announcements on domestic trains are French language only.

The train conductors may not speak English on IC and TER trains - particularly those that don’t serve Paris.

Catering:

SNCF doesn't provide restaurant cars on any of its trains services, the TGV France/InOui services have Bars, but the food available isn't particularly exceptional.

Similar Bar facilities MAY also be available on the longer distance Intercités trains.

If you will be travelling long distance on journeys within France, the recommendation is to buy food/drink at the station before boarding.
It is usually cheaper and better quality than on the TGV or Intercités - and in our experience you can’t wholly rely on the bar being open at all on the TGV or Intercités services

Back to the menu.

----------------------------------

Can I take my bike on a TGV InOui or an Intercités train?

On TGV France and Intercités train services folded bikes are classed as hand luggage,

On Intercités and SOME* TGV France services, non-folding bikes require a ticket which costs a flat rate of €10.

*The exception is that standard non-folding bikes cannot be taken on board TGV Duplex trains.

Though if you can remove the front wheel of a non-folding bike, so that the wheel and the rest of the bike can be placed into a bag no bigger 120cm x 90cm, you can take it on board these trains as hand-luggage.

Back to the menu.

Can I take my bike on a TER train?

Bikes can be taken at no additional charge on TER trains and many of the latest types of TER train have designated bike storage areas - look for the symbols on the outside of the coaches.

More information is available on ShowMeTheJourney's guide to taking bikes on European trains.

Back to the menu.

Do trains in France depart to a regular timetable?

Regular timetables - trains leaving at the same time in each hour during the day, are the exception rather than the norm in France.

The exceptions, when the trains do operate to a regular timetable, include the RER trains in Paris and some local trains to/from Nice and Lille.

So keep in mind that:

- Many train services/departures only operate on certain days of the week and few train services operate at regular intervals (leaving at the same minutes in every hour).

 - TGV France services operate at least once an hour throughout the day between Paris and both Lille and Lyon.
However, on other TGV France routes the service can vary from a train every 30 mins at peak times, to gaps of two hours or more between trains in the middle of the day.

- Regional TER trains also tend to operate to very sporadic timetables, 1 x train per hour is the exception rather than the norm, on many TER routes there can be gaps of 3-4 hours between trains.

Local services operate tend to operate at least hourly on routes to/from Paris, Lille, Metz and Nice, but other cities have more sparse services.

Back to the menu.

INTERNATIONAL TRAINS FROM/TO FRANCE:

What long distance international train services operate from and to France?

Worth knowing:

Reservations are compulsory on virtually ALL long distance express trains services to/from France - also note the use of the word 'services', an unusual aspect of international train travel from and to France is the branding which is applied to many routes.

However, when French TGV trains are used on these international services, there is little difference between the passenger ambience within these trains and the TGVs used on journeys within France.

On the lists below, the destinations in brackets are served by some departures only.
 

(1) Thalys trains
Thalys trains
They operate on these routes:
 

(i)  (Dortmund – Essen – Dusseldorf) – Koln/Cologne – Aachen – Liege – Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Paris gare du Nord
 

(ii)  Amsterdam – Schiphol – Rotterdam - Antwerpen/Anvers – Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Paris gare du Nord
 

(iii) Amsterdam – Schiphol – Rotterdam - Antwerpen/Anvers – Bruxelles Midi/Zuid – Lille Europe


(2) Belgian IC trains operate on these routes:
 

(i) Antwerpen/Anvers – Gent – Kortrijk – Lille Flandres (change of train many be required at Kortrijk)
 

(ii)· Mons – Tournai - Lille Flandres (change of train may be required at Tournai)
 

(3) TGV Bruxelles-France trains:
TGB trains
These trains operate direct between Bruxelles Midi/Zuid and many cities in France.

By taking these trains you can avoid the awkward transfer between stations in Paris.

Stations in France that have direct TGVs from Bruxelles include:

Aeroport Charles De Gaulle, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence TGV, Avignon TGV, Cannes, Lyon Part Dieu, Marne La Vallée, Marseille St Charles, Montpellier, Nice Ville, Nimes, St Raphael and Toulon.
 

(4) Eurostar trains
Eurostars
They operate on these routes:
 

(i) London St Pancras International – (Ebbsfleet International) – (Ashford International) – (Calais Frethun) – Paris gare du Nord
 

(ii) London St Pancras International – Ashford International – Lyon – Avignon – Marseille (not every day)
 

(iii)  London St Pancras International – Ebbsfleet International – Ashford International – Marne La Vallée for Disneyland Paris (not every day)
 

(iv)  London St Pancras International – Ashford International – Moutiers Salins – Aime La Plagne – Bourg St Maurice (winter only)
 

(5) Thello trains operate on these routes:
 

(i) Milano Centrale – Genova – Albenga – San Remo – Ventimiglia – Menton – Monte Carlo – Nice – (Antibes – Cannes – St Raphael – Toulon – Marseille) DAYTIME
 

(ii) Venezia – Padova – Vicenza – Verona – Brescia – Milano – Dijon - Paris OVERNIGHT
 

(6) TGV trains operate on these routes:
 

(i) Paris gare de Lyon – (Lyon St Exupery) – Chambery - Torino Porta Susa - Milano Porta Garibaldi  - this service is usually branded 'TGV France - Italy'
 

(ii) Paris Est - Luxembourg
 

(iii) Marseille - Aix en Provence - Avignon - Lyon - Dijon - Mulhouse - Luxembourg
 

(iv) Marseille - Aix en Provence - Avignon - Lyon - Dijon - Basel
 

(7) Lyria trains -
Lyria trains
They operate on these routes (double deck Duplex trains are used for MOST services on routes marked with an *)


(i) Paris gare de Lyon – Geneve – (Lausanne)
 

(ii) Paris gare de Lyon – Dijon – Frasne (connect for Neuchatel) - Lausanne
 

(iii) Paris gare de Lyon – Dijon – Mulhouse – Basel – Zurich*
 

(iv) Paris gare de Lyon – Dijon – Mulhouse – Basel – Bern
 

(iv) Geneve – Lyon – Avignon – Aix-en-Provence – Marseille
 

(8) French TER trains operate on these routes:
 

(i) Lyon – Bellegarde – Geneve

(ii) Valence - Grenoble - Chambery - Aix les Bains - Geneve

(iii) Avignon Centre - Nimes - Montpellier - Narbonne - Perpignan - Port Bou (connect for Figueres, Girona and Barcelona)

(iv) Strasbourg - Colmar - Mulhouse - Basel*

*The Eurocity trains on the Basel – Mulhouse – Strasbourg – Metz – Luxembourg – Bruxelles/Brussels route have been withdrawn.
 

(9) TGV Océane trains operate on this route:

·Paris Montparnasse – Bordeaux – Bayonne – Biarritz – Hendaye – Irun

(From Paris only - connects into a train on to San Sebastian Burgos, Vallodolid and Madrid at Irun).

In the opposite direction from Spain to France, the TGV commences its journey at Hendaye/Hendaia, but a Spanish train operates between Madrid and Hendaye/Hendaia.
 

(10) AVE RENFE - SNCF trains
RENFE-SNCF train
These Spanish (RENFE) trains operate on these routes.
 

(i) Marseille – Nimes – Montpellier – Narbonne – Perpignan – Figueres/Figueras – Girona/Gerone – Barcelona/Barcelone – Camp De Tarragona – Zaragoza – Madrid
 

(ii) Lyon – Valence – Nimes – Montpellier – Narbonne – Perpignan – Figueres/Figueras – Girona/Gerone – Barcelona/Barcelone
 

(iii) Toulouse – Narbonne – Perpignan – Figueres/Figueras – Girona/Gerone – Barcelona/Barcelone (mid Apr – mid Sept only)

Can be TGV Duplex trains at weekends.
 

(11) RENFE-SNCF TGV Duplex trains are used on this route:

 
Paris gare de Lyon – Valence – Nimes – Montpellier – Narbonne – Perpignan – Figueres/Figueras – Girona/Gerone – Barcelona/Barcelone

(12) Le Reseau DB – SNCF* services:
 

(i)  Paris Est – Strasbourg – Karlsruhe – Mannheim – Frankfurt (Main) (some trains on this route are  ICE-V trains, others are TGV Duplex trains)
 

(ii) Paris Est – Kaiserlauten - Karlsruhe – Mannheim – Frankfurt (Main) (some trains on this route are ICE-V trains, others are TGV Duplex trains)
 

(iii) Paris Est - Strasbourg – Karlsruhe – Stuttgart (- Ulm – Augsburg – Munnchen/Munich) (TGV Duplex trains)
 

(iv) Frankfurt (Main) – Mannheim – Karlsruhe – Baden Baden – Strasbourg – Mulhouse – Lyon – Avignon – Aix-en-Provence – Marseille (TGV Duplex trains)

*These routes used to be branded Alleo, but that branding appears to have been replaced by ‘Le Reseau DB-SNCF’.

Reservations are still compulsory for journeys between Germany and France by these trains, even when ICE trains are used.

Back to the menu.