Travelling by train in France

General information

Welcome to our guide how to save money, time and confusion when travelling in France by train.

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Travelling on French trains can be an exhilarating experience, and once you’re used to the many quirks of national rail operator SNCF, it can be less complicated then it first seems.

The 10 Things Most Worth Knowing About Travelling By Train in France:

. SNCF is the national rail operator in France and it provides virtually all French train services - which are grouped into these five categories

(1) InOui = standard TGV services, which use the high speed lines for all or most of their journeys.

(2) Ouigo - More basic lower cost TGV services, which provide an alternative to the InOui services on comparatively few routes.

(3) Intercités = Express train services which don't use the high speed lines.

Cities which aren't served by TGV trains include Amiens, Caen, Clermont-Ferrand and Limoges.

(4) TER services = The regional train services in France, but this encompasses a broad swathe of services including;

(i) trains that can spend more than two hours travelling between cities - and some of these routes can parallel the high speed lines;

(ii) the local trains outside Paris.

(5) Transilien services - the longer distance 'commuter' trains to/from Paris.

The RER trains which travel across Paris are co-operated between SNCF and RATP, which operates the Paris Metro.

2. TGV trains can travel long distances away from the high speed lines.

But on these non-high speed routes, travelling by InOui (TGV) services can* be more expensive than taking alternative Intercités or TER services.

* Tickets will be more expensive if you book less than 10 days ahead, BUT will also usually be cheaper if you book in advance.

The most popular routes on which TGVs DON'T travel at high speed are:
Bordeaux ↔ Toulouse
Marseille ↔ Nice
Bordeaux ↔ Biarritz/Hendaye/Lourdes
Rennes ↔ Quimper/Brest

3. French train timetables are particularly irregular, many train services/departures only operate on certain days of the week.

Also few train services operate at regular intervals - leaving at the same minutes in every hour during the day.

On TGV (inOui) 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.

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

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

5. There is no main central station in Paris.

Train services between Paris and destinations to the north depart from and arrive at the Gare Du Nord, while those between Paris and the south-east France use the Gare De Lyon.

The two stations are linked by frequent RER (commuter) trains.

However there are direct TGVs between Lille and many destinations served by trains to/from the Gare De Lyon, including Avignon, Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier.

6. If you buy a ticket(s) at the station it will be train service specific.

Meaning that if you buy a ticket that is valid for a journey by TER train services, you cannot then use on Intercités or TGV trains.

7. Tickets for journeys by Intercités and TGV (inOui) trains are GENERALLY placed on sale 3 months (90 days) ahead of the travel date - but this booking period can be extended when SNCF is running a promotion.

8. The earllier you can book jouneys by by Intercités and TGV (inOui) trains, the more money you can save.

That's because only limited umbers of the most heavilly discounted (Prems) tickets are made available on most routes taken by TGV (inOui) and Intercités trains.

9. Those cheaper Prems' tickets are taken off sale 10 days ahead of the travel date.

10. Have your passport (or another form of ID) with you on any journey - including domestic journeys solely within France.

You need ID with you for ANY ticket to be

11 Other Things That Are Good To Know about French Trains:

1. French national rail operator SNCF has embarked on a policy of sub-dividing its TGV services into two categories.

(i) Most TGV services are being re-branded as 'InOui' - These are the standard TGV trains with all on board amenities available.
On most routes these InOui services are the only TGV services.

There are four* different types of TGV train, which travel on the InOui high speed routes within France.

You can check which of these TGV trains will be used on an InOui departure you will be taking by following these simple steps.

*Technically there are more than 4 types of TGV train, but we have focused on the four trains, that will have differences, which will be obvious to all travellers.

(ii) However, on an increasing number of routes, travellers now have a choice between travelling on an inOui service, OR on low-cost, more basic TGV services, which are branded 'Ouigo'.

2. In contrast to inOui services, the Ouigo services:

(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 a less generous luggage allowance
(vii) have a different boarding procedure
(viii) have tickets that that can be booked up to 6 months ahead.

What's new is that some Ouigo services now mirror standard InOui services on some routes.

Previously most Ouigo services had used alternative stations away from the city centres, some still do so, but new Ouigo routes now offer a like-for-like comparison with InOui services.

Particularly because many Ouigo services now depart from stations in central Paris.

3. TER train services are the regional trains in France, they can vary between local stopping trains in cities or rural areas - and faster services, which cross multiple regions.

The four key things worth knowing about TER services are:

(1) Seats can't be reserved.

(2) Tickets aren't discounted, so you will pay the same price if you book last minute at the station.

So if you'll be making a local train journey there's no need to book online.

(3) No on-board catering services will be provided.

(4) A wide variety of trains are used for TER services, you could be travelling on a brand new train, or a train that still conveys its sense of 1970s style.

4. Somewhat confusingly there are two distinct types of express train services, which are both branded 'Intercités'

(1) Longer distance trains which are the top-tier services on long distance routes that have no, or very limited, TGV services.

We have used the Intercités branding on ShowMeTheJourney for these train services - because they have specific ticketing terms and conditions, including the fact that seat reservations are compulsory.

(2) Shorter distance express train services, particularly between Paris and destinations to the north and east of the capital.

We have classified these services as 'IC France' - due to the differences in ticketing terms with the other Intercités trains.

5. Reservations are compulsory for all journeys by TGV (inOui) train, irrespective of whether the journey is on a high speed line, AND on some (but not all) Intercités trains.

The reservation will automatically be included when booking tickets for journeys by these trains online, but rail pass users, will need to arrange and pay for these reservations prior to boarding.

6. On your ticket 'voiture' = coach/carriage number, ‘Place Assise’ = the seat number.

7. Each individual train service has its own Train number and this 4-digit number will be printed on your ticket/reservation - usually under the departure date and time.

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

8. Despite France's reputation for fine-dining, the catering on French trains isn't exemplary.

No standard SNCF express trains have restaurant cars and regular 'Premiere/1st class' tickets do not give access to complimentary food/drink.

An at seat service can be rare, we've only seen a trolley of drinks/snacks appear on one Intercités service - and the on-board bistros can be a tad disappointing.

So taking food/drink on board with you is recommended for long journeys.

9. Wi-fi is currently not available on the majority of French trains and on the TGV (InOui) routes it tends to be only available on the high speed lines

10. On TGV (inOui) services and Intercités - folded bikes are classed as hand luggage, all other bikes require a reservation that costs €10.

Bike tickets can be booked here (use Google Translate if necessary) add 'Travel With A Bike' to your booking.

11More info is available on our French trains GUIDE - recommended if you are new to travelling in or to/from France by train.

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French Train Journeys  -  17 Fabulous Scenic Trips:

. Chambéry Bourg St Maurice

2. Chambéry Modane

3. Chamonix ↔ Martigny (The Mont Blanc Express)

4. Clemont Ferrand Béziers

5. Clemont Ferrand Nimes (pictured above)

6. Gap Briancon

7. Geneve Aix-Les-Bains

8. Grenoble  Marseille

9. Marseille  Nice

10. Marseille  Martigues

11. Narbonne  Perpignan

12. Nice ↔ Digne

13. Nice  Cuneo

14. Nice  Ventimiglia

15. Perpignan ↔ La Tour De Carol

16. Perpignan  Port Bou

17. Toulouse   La Tour De Carol

18. Valence  Veynes

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Using the major French Train Stations:

Most of the main statons in French cities are very evocative of how they were orginally constructed back in the 19th century.

So they can be beautiful locations in which to wait for and board a train, but they weren't built to accommodate 21st century travel requirements.

As a result the access to and from the trains at some non-terminal stations can be comparatively awkward, because at this type of station, a passage beneath the tracks can be the only means of accessing many of the voies (platforms/tracks) which the trains depart from and arrive at.

And these passage ways are often not equipped with escalators or lifts (elevators) and if they are provided at all, their use is restricted to travellers who require mobility assistance.

Meaning that steps can be the only means of transferring to and from the trains, at some or most of the platforms/tracks at many stations including Bordeaux St Jean; Dijon-Ville; Nantes and Toulouse Matabiau.

More info, including how to find your way to your train, is available on our GUIDE to using French stations.




10 general things that are particularly good to know when using any major station in France:

1. 'Voie' = the platform/track.

2. The voie (platform/track) that an express train will depart from is divided into zones, a repére = a zone.

3.  Letters and not numbers are used for each repére (zone), but at some major stations the voies (platforms/tracks) also have letters in place of numbers.

4. If you be will taking an Intercités or TGV service, when you are on the voie (platform/track) that your train will be leaving from, you can use the info screens to check the repére (zone), that each 'voiture' (coach) will occupy.

This repére (zone) information is only usually available when you are on the voie (platform/track)

5. The number or letter of the specific voie (platform/track) that a train will be departing from, will not usually be confirmed until 20 minutes before the departure time

It may only be confirmed only 5 minutes in advance.

As a result the concourses at major stations can become crowded.

6. Because the voie (platform/track) is only confirmed so soon before departure, few major stations have departure sheets/posters.

If, for example, you want to check the return timings of a TER train, a good option is to pick up a pocket timetable for the route you will be taking, from a ticket office or 'Accueil' information desk.

7. However, not all 'Accueil' information desk staff will speak English.

8. If you will be booking tickets at the station be aware that tickets valid for journeys by TER train cannot be used to travel on Intercités or TGV trains.

Similarly tickets valid for journeys by Intercités trains cannot then be used on TGV train services.

9. All tickets* must be stamped at on the small yellow machines prior to boarding a train.

Normally these can be found at the entrance to a voie/track/platform.

*Tickets = tickets printed out by ticket machines or issued at ticket counters.

10. French stations have staffed luggage offices, you need to process your bags and then having done so, you take them to a locker.

Therefore pay attention to the opening times when you drop off your luggage, you can only return and retrieve it at designated hours.

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French Train Tickets - The 14 things that are particularly good to know:

1. If you will be travelling by local or TER trains, tickets will cost the same price if you buy them last minute at the station.

2. If you buy a ticket(s) at the station it will be train service specific.

Meaning that if you buy a ticket that is valid for a journey by TER train services, you cannot then use on Intercités or TGV trains.

3. Limited numbers of  the most heavilly discounted (Prems) tickets are available on most routes taken by TGV (inOui) and Intercités trains – but NOT by TER trains.

4. Tickets for journeys by Intercités and TGV (inOui) trains are GENERALLY placed on sale 3 months (90 days) ahead of the travel date.

However, this booking window can be extended between late March and early June, during SNCF's summer promotion - and between early November and mid-December if SNCF has a winter promotion.

As the limited numbers of discounted tickets at the cheaper prices, inevitably sell out faster, the earlier you can book, the more likely it is that you will save money.

5. The very cheapest (Prems) tickets, for journeys by TGV (inOui) and IC train, usually HAVE to be booked a minimum of 10 days ahead of the travel date.

6. In contrast tickets for Ouigo services are typically available more than 6 months ahead.

If you look up journeys MORE than 3 months ahead on Oui.SNCF, on routes shared by InOui and Ouigo services, you will usually only see the Ouigo departures listed - so in these circumstances, don't assume that travelling by a Ouigo service will be your only journey option.

7. Ticket prices can be dependent on how popular a specific departure is likely to be, so different IC and TGV (InOui) trains leaving the same day can be (much) cheaper than others.

8. If you can book ahead, it's possible that tickets for the TGV (InOui) trains and Intercités MAY be cheaper than taking the TER trains.

So you can have the option of getting to your destination faster AND save money.

TER train tickets can cost more than you might expect.

9Children aged under 4 travel for free (but you need to travel with them on your lap)

Children aged 4-11 pay half fare on all trains EXCEPT for Ouigo services, on which they travel at a flat rate of €5.

The adult rate is charged for all travellers aged 12 and over.

10. Reservations are compulsory for all journeys by TGV (inOui) train, irrespective of whether the journey is on a high speed line, AND on some (but not all) Intercités trains.

The reservation will automatically be included, when booking tickets for journeys by these trains online.

11. If you are booking 2nd class tickets for InOui services you can choose the part of the train you would prefer to travel in, but when booking 1st class tickets on InOui trains, you can also select specific seats from a seating plan.

12. Reservations are compulsory on virtually all express trains to and from France including:

Eurostar, DB-SNCF, Lyria, RENFE/SNCF, Thalys, TGV France/Italy and the TGB (TGV) trains between France and Belgium.

The reservation will automatically be included, when booking tickets for journeys by these trains online.

13. On your ticket ‘voiture = the coach/carriage number, ‘Place Assise’ = the seat number.

14. idTGV tickets have been phased out and are no longer available.

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