Using Rail Passes in and to/from France

Using Eurail and InterRail passes in France
Welcome to our guide to using InterRail and Eurail Passes which are valid for train travel in France

Having used rail passes to travel more than 1500 of kilometres around France by train in the past two years, we've anticipated the questions you are most likely to have - we hope.

So either click on a question to jump straight to the info you need, or spend 10 mins (ish) reading all of our insights.
They should save you save you time, money and confusion!

Which train services do I HAVE to make reservations and how much do they cost?

How can I book rail pass reservations for journeys WITHIN France in advance?

What do I need to be aware of when booking rail pass reservations?

Which French train services can't be used with a Eurail or InterRail Pass?

Which train services DON'T require reservations?

Which INTERNATIONAL train services from/to France do I HAVE to make reservations for - and what do they cost?

How to book these international reservations?


RAIL PASS RESERVATIONS FOR JOURNEYS WITHIN FRANCE:

(The 'rules' for how rail passes can be used and booked on the international trains FROM/TO FRANCE can be different - hence the info dedicated for international trains further down the page.)

Which train services do I HAVE to make reservations and how much do they cost?

Reservations prior to boarding are compulsory on all journeys by TGV France trains -  irrespective of the length of journey or whether the route between the stations is on a high speed line.

However, rail passes CANNOT be used for journeys by the alternative, low cost, more basic TGV service - the Ouigo trains (more info about this is available below).

Reservations are also compulsory on these routes/journeys by Intercités trains:

(i) Bordeaux - Toulouse - Montpellier - Marseille 
(ii) Paris Austerlitz – Limoges – Brive – Toulouse
(iii) Paris Bercy – Nevers – Vichy – Clemont Ferrand

If you have a valid Eurail or InterRail pass, the reservation fees for the TGV trains and THESE Intercités services start at €10 - irrespective of whether you have a 2nd class or 1st class pass.
So 1st class passes can be better value IF you will be making multiple long distance journeys.

However, the fee rises to €20 if the €10 reservations are sold out - and the €20 fee can seemingly be the only fee available on the most popular trains.

If you will be planning a rail pass itinerary that includes travelling in France, what's good to know, is that on most long distance rail routes in France, you won't have a choice of alternative DIRECT train services on which you can avoid these reservation fees
This is particularly the case when travelling to and from Paris.

So if it can be tricky to avoid having to pay rail pass reservation fees when travelling long distances, unless you are prepared to make connections AND travel on slower trains.

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How can I book rail pass reservations for journeys WITHIN France in advance?

Reservations can be booked on the Eurail and InterRail Rail Planner app.

OR you can book these reservations online:

Eurail Passes:

Go to RailEurope and tick the 'I have a rail pass' box.

InterRail Passes:

Here are the step-by-step instructions for booking rail pass reservations for journeys WITHIN France on Oui.SNCF - you won't be charged a booking fee!

Seat reservations can usually be booked up to 3 months ahead of the travel date.

Step 1: Accessing the Rail Pass reservation option.

Go to the Oui.SNCF website or app - the screen shots are taken from the website.

booking a rail pass reservation on OuiSNCF
What's been highlighted above is that to access the rail pass reservation, you MAY need to click on this arrow.

Do so and you will see the further journey search options, as shown below.

Booking rail pass reservations on OuiSNCF
On the 'No discount card' menu, select the 'Global Pass' option and then look up the journey, as though you are buying a ticket.

Step 2 - Choosing Your Departure

You should then see NOT the ticket price, but the price of the rail pass reservation on these trains.
selecting a rail pass reservation on OuiSNCF

Book far enough ahead and you will see the €10 price, but if the €10 reservations have sold out, the price will be €20.

If you see any other price than €10 or €20, then either;
(i) the €20 rail pass reservations have also sold out,
(ii) rail pass reservations weren't ever available for this specific train.
(iii) or there's been a bug on the system - not an unknown scenario.

Rail pass reservations for DIRECT international journeys cannot be booked on Oui.SNCF, but if you look up an international journey, there can be the option to pay the €10/20 fee, if you are willing to change trains.
Rail pass alternative options on OuiSNCF
What's being illustrated on the above example of a booking screen is that Oui.SNCF won't sell rail pass reservations online for the direct Lyria train from Paris to Basel, the departures at 10:23 and 12:23 - despite having selected the 'Global Pass' option, these are the ticket prices.

But note that the €10 rail pass reservation fee, is an option if you take an indirect journey, some of which aren't much slower than the Lyria trains.

Step 3 - Accessing and using your reservation:

You will almost certainly have to use an 'E-Ticket' for your reservation and according to Oui.SNCF, there are only two options for using these e-tickets:

(1) Download the attachment on the confirmation email, open it and then print your ticket on to a sheet of A4 paper - the T&Cs on Oui.SNCF are very specific about this

(2) Access your ticket (reservation) using the Oui.SNCF app, downloading it from the 'My Travel' tab.

However, SMTJ is 99.9% certain that another option will be to open the confirmation email on your phone and then to simply download the reservation to your documents folder - and then open the reservation from there, when you need to show it at a station, or to a conductor on board the train.

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What do I need to be aware of when booking rail pass reservations?

Being aware of these four things can be a big stress savers - and yes we wish we didn't have to include so much information!

(1) Whether you can book a reservation online can be hit and miss.

In particular check the price of the reservation you will be shown on Oui.SNCF or Rail Europe for each specific departure
If it's NOT €10 or €20, then what's being offered for sale ISN'T a rail pass reservation.

(2) The availability of rail pass reservations can still be limited.

Something to be aware of when planning itineraries and checking the availability of rail pass reservations on Oui.SNCF, is that the price of rail pass reservations can be listed - even though they are NOT actually available.
You can subsequently click on the ‘confirm and pay’ (or equivalent purchase buttons) and be told that the reservation you have seen listed is in fact sold out.

In these scenarios Oui.SNCF will usually offer alternative journeys, which have different departure/arrival times - and can be slower.
This particularly matters if you will booking reservations and then connecting into another train, which also requires compulsory reservation - a Eurostar, Thalys, AVE etc.

So book your TGV reservation FIRST - particularly before you book any accommodation for the night at destinations, which are dependent on taking a particular train.
Don’t assume that because you have seen the price listed, that you can come back and book the reservation later.

(3) For holders of 1st class passes, the changes make 1st class passes better value for money than 2nd class passes.

Paying a €10 reservation fee for a long TGV journey in Premiére class is a good deal - IF you can find it online

(4) However the InterCités trains on the routes that DO have compulsory reservations are now best avoided - when alternative train services available

Why pay a fee of up to €20 to travel in 2nd class on what can be comparatively shabby trains for journeys such as Marseille to Montpellier - when taking a TER train for the same journey, won’t cost anything extra at all.

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Which French train services can't be used with a Eurail or InterRail Pass?

(1) Rail passes can't be used on the RER trains in Paris.

(2) The Thello trains between Marseille and Menton.

(3) InterRail and Eurail passes cannot be used on Ouigo trains - the low cost, but more basic TGV trains.

This didn't use to be of concern to rail pass users, as Ouigio trains were confined to alternative stations on the edges of cities, so if you wanted to take a TGV train, it always made sense to pay the reservation fee to travel by the TGV France services.

Having to take public transport at both ends of a journey AND booking a ticket on a Ouigo train is more expensive than paying for a rail pass reservation fee on a TGV France train.

However, SNCF has now begun to re-organise its Ouigo services, so that they share some like-for-like routes with the TGV France services - as a result many Ouigo trains now arrive at and depart from city centre stations.

Ouigo services now share these routes with TGV France services (with more to follow):
 

(1) Paris Gare De Lyon - Lyon St Exupery (Lyon Airport) - Aix-en-Provence TGV - Toulon - St Raphael - Cannes - Antibes - Nice

(2) Paris Gare De Lyon - Lyon St Exupery (Lyon Airport) - Avignon TGV  - Marseille
 

(3) Lille - Aepoort CDG - Marne la Vallée - Lyon St Exupery (Lyon Airport) - Avignon TGV - Aix-en-Provence TGV - Marseille 

(4) Paris Est -  Lorraine TGV (for Nancy)- Strasbourg

(5) Paris Est -  Metz and Strasbourg and Nancy

(6) Paris Montparnasse - Poitiers - Bordeaux

(7) Paris Montparnasse - Nantes and Rennes

If you will be using a 2nd class* rail pass to travel in France, this re-organisation of the Ouigo services means that they can be a viable alternative to paying the reservation fee on the TGV France services - particularly if you will be taking one of these routes AND using the type of pass restricted to a set number of travel days.

Ticket prices on this Ouigo routes can be as low as €16, so IF you can only find a €20 reservation fee available for a standard TGV France train, AND the €16 price is still available for a Ouigo train - not only will you save money, you can also save a day of use on your pass.

OR if the €10 reservation is available for a TGV France train, you may still conclude that paying €16 to travel on a Ouigo train is good value for money.
You can use that day your pass is valid for on other more expensive travel days.

*If you will be travelling with a 1st class pass, avoid the Ouigio trains.
Paying a €10 or €20 reservation fee to travel in Premiere class on a long journey by TGV France (InOui) train, is better value for money than buying a Ouigo ticket instead.

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Which train services DON'T require reservations?
 

You can use a rail pass on any TER train service at no additional charge  - the most modern TER trains can be comparatively comfortable compared to 2nd class on TGV trains.

You also don't have to reserve on the InterCités trains that operate to/from Paris Nord, Paris Est and Paris St Lazare.
And some other routes Intercités routes that don't travel from/to Paris including Nantes - Bordeaux.

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RAIL PASS RESERVATIONS FOR INTERNATIONAL JOURNEYS FROM and TO FRANCE:

Which INTERNATIONAL train services from/to France do I HAVE to make reservations for?

High speed train services provide the majority of the international train services to/from France – including ALL international daytime trains to/from Paris

For rail pass users, the reservation fees for these trains are comparatively expensive - the fees for using TGV trains solely within France are now cheaper.

Example reservation fees:

Eurostar:
Paris – London = €38 1st; €30 2nd

DB-SNCF:
Paris – Frankfurt = €30 1st; €13 2nd

Thalys:
Paris – Brussels = €30 1st; €20 2nd
Paris – Amsterdam  = €35 1st; €25 2nd
Lille – Amsterdam = €25; €15 2nd
Paris – Cologne = €35 1st; €25 2nd

Lyria:
Paris – Basel/Geneve/Zurich = €52* 1st; €25 2nd
Marseille/Nice – Geneve  = €23 1st; €16 2nd

RENFE - SNCF:
Paris – Barcelona = €48 1st; €34 2nd
Marseille – Madrid  = €48* 1st; €34 2nd
Lyon – Barcelona = €26 1st; €19 2nd

TGV Bruxelles - France:
Marseille – Brussels = €30 1st; €20 2nd

TGV France/Italy
Paris – Turin/Milan = €89 1st; €62 2nd

*includes complimentary light meal

Rail passes cannot be used on Thello night trains.

On the day trains rail pass users can obtain a discount against the full price ticket, but the limited numbers of the most heavily discounted tickets are cheaper than this special rail pass rate .

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Booking these international rail pass reservations:

Oui.SNCF no longer seemingly sells rail pass reservations for international trains from and to France online - it's predecessor Voyages-SNCF did sell them on most services.

(1) For journeys by Eurostar to the UK and Thalys trains from Paris to Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands you can book rail pass reservations on B-Europe - can be booked up to 6 months ahead

(2)  The DB-SNCF services between Paris and Frankfurt (Main), Stuttgart and Munchen/Munich.

Rail pass reservations for these trains are no longer sold online by DB, so  the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:

(i) Book at a station in France at a 'SNCF boutique'

(ii) Book at the Reisezentrum travel desks in Germany

(ii) Use the InterRail reservation service or the Eurail reservation service (though you will be charged a booking fee per reservation).

(3) The TGV trains between other cities in France and Bruxelles

Rail pass reservations for these trains are no longer sold online by Oui.SNCF or by B-Europe, so  the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:

(i) Book at a station in France at a 'SNCF boutique'

(ii) Use the InterRail reservation service or the Eurail reservation service, though you will be charged a booking fee per reservation.

(iiI) If you will be travelling through Germany prior to arriving in France you can book reservations for these trains at the Reisezentrum travel desks at the major stations.

(4) The RENFE-SNCF trains between France and Spain.

Rail pass reservations for these trains are not sold online by Oui.SNCF or by the RENFE (Spanish Railways booking service), so  the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:

(i) Book at a station in France at a 'SNCF boutique'

(ii) Use the InterRail reservation service or the Eurail reservation service, though you will be charged a booking fee per reservation.

(iiI) If you will be travelling through Germany prior to arriving in France, you can book reservations for these trains at the Reisezentrum travel desks at the major stations.

(5) The Lyria train services AND the TGV France-Italy trains.

Before committing to paying a rail pass reservation fee for either of these trains, look up the ticket prices for journeys by these trains on Oui.SNCF - particularly if you want to use the InterRail reservation service or the Eurail reservation service.
It's highly likely that you will save money if you book tickets instead.

Money saving tips for rail pass users when travelling from and to France:

You can now usually save money by taking a TGV train to/from a station near a border and then continuing/commencing a journey by international local/regional trains – on which rail pass fees don’t apply.


Cross – border routes on which fairly frequent local/regional trains operate include:
 

· (1) Lille – Gent – Antwerpen (Belgian IC trains, change of train may be required in Tournai)

· (2) Strasbourg – Offenburg

· (3) Strasbourg – Colmar – Mulhouse – Basel (TER trains)

· (4) Cannes – Antibes – Nice – Monaco-Monte Carlo – Menton – Ventimille/Ventimiglia (TER trains)
 

Cross border routes with a less frequent local/regional train service include:
 

· (1) Lyon – Bellegarde – Geneve (TER trains)

· (2) Valence – Grenoble – Chembéry – Aix-les-Bains – Bellegarde – Geneve (TER trains)
· (3) Narbonne – Perpignan – Cerbere – Port Bou (connect for Barcelona) (TER trains)

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The Concierge Service can help with planning a rail pass itinerary, both for using one-country passes to travel around France and for including France on a multi-country Global Pass itinerary.

OUR OTHER INFO FOR EURAIL & INTERRAIL PASS USERS:

Our introduction to using Eurail and InterRail Passes:

Which DAYTIME train services require reservations for rail pass users AND which don't:

How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in most European countries -  including on which trains you do and don't have to reserve:

What are the routes taken by international trains in Europe:

Our money saving tips for Eurail and InterRail Pass Holidays:

How to Get The Most of Using Rail Passes and Minimize The Stress:

Tips for PLANNING  your own journey around Europe - make your trip as easy as possible:

Fabulous Itineraries - Save the bother of working out which trains you need to take and where: