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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THE TRAINS      l           THE STATIONS   

      l         SCENIC JOURNEYS    

      l       USING RAIL PASSES 

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.

Also the major stations in France are often wonderfully evocative - though admittedly some of them are not particularly user friendly -  escalators and elevators can be either absent or well hidden.

French Trains - The 15 things that are particularly good to know:

. French train services are divided into categories and a SUMMARY of these is - 

(i) The local trains outside of Paris = TER trains

(ii) Regional train services = also TER trains

(iii) Express trains that use high speed lines for all or part of their end-2-end journeys = TGV trains

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

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

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'.

(iv) Express trains which don't use the high speed lines = Intercités trains

(v) Local/Regional trans to/from stations in Paris = Transilien trains

(vi) Local trains in Paris that cross the city in tunnels = RER trains

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

The three things 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) 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.

3. 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 - 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 the other Intercités trains.

4. The iconic TGV high speed services are being re-branded;

InOui = standard TGV services

OuiGo = cheaper TGV trains on comparatively fewer routes.

In contrast to inOui services, 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.

5. 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 the 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.

6. 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.

7. 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* still be more expensive than taking alternative Intercités or TER services.

*Will be more expensive if you book less than 10 days ahead, BUT 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

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

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15More 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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French Stations - The 12 things that are particularly good to know:




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) info 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 confirmed at the last minute, 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.

11. 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 and 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.

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

Taking a train from a major station in France can be a very different experience to how you're used to catching a train.

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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 on 90 days ahead of the travel date.

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 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.

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

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

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

13. Children 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.

14. 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 

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