Train travel in France:  Boarding a high-speed TGV at Paris Gare de 'Est

France by TGV...  There's no check-in, you simply walk straight from the city centre onto the station concourse, glance at the indicator board to find your train & hop on, any time before departure...

Buy French train tickets...

Raileurope.com (can be used by anyone, small fee)

www.thetrainline.com (can be used by anyone)

Omio.com (can be used by anyone, small fee)

https://oui.sncf (SNCF's own site, no booking fee)

►►►Which website to use? Comparison table

 

 

Paris to Nice, Lyon or Bordeaux from €25...

The best way to travel between French town & cities is by train, in comfort at ground level.  France's world-famous TGV travels at up to 199 mph, from city centre to city centre, and if you pre-book direct with the operator you can find some really cheap fares, too.

COVID-19 update French domestic trains are running almost normally.  See COVID-19 travel information & update on international trains.

Train travel within France...

  Train schedules & fares

  Maps of the French rail network

  How to buy tickets

  What are French trains like?

  TGV, Intercités, overnight trains, TER

  Lo-cost TGV trains: Ouigo

  Paris to Nice by TGV train

  Travel tips:  Luggage, ticket validation, food...

  Places off the rail network: Corsica, Mont St Michel...

  Charles de Gaulle Airport trains

  Railpasses for France

  Hotels & accommodation in Paris & France

International trains to & from France...

  Train travel from the UK to France

  Trains from Paris to other European cities

  Trains from Nice to other European cities

  Trains from Marseille to other European cities

  Trains from Toulouse to other European cities

  Trains from Bordeaux to other European cities

  Trains from Strasbourg to other European cities

  Trains to Paris & France from other European cities

Station guides...

  Paris Gare du Nord station information

  Paris Gare de l'Est station information

  Paris Gare de Lyon station information

  Paris Gare d'Austerlitz station information

  Paris Gare Montparnasse station information

  Paris Gare de Bercy station information

  Paris Gare St Lazare station information

  Lyon Part Dieu & St Exupéry station information

General train travel information...

  How to use the French Railways website

  Train seat numbering plans

  Luggage on trains    Left luggage at stations

  Eurail passes   InterRail passes

  General European train travel information

  Child age limits & travel with kids

  Taking bikes   Taking dogs  

  Taking your car - Auto Train


Useful country information

Train operator in France:

 

SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer), www.oui.sncf (formerly www.voyages-sncf.com).  To check train times & fares & book trains within France see raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com.  To check for disruption affecting trains in France (in French), see www.sncf.com/fr/horaires-info-trafic.  Eurostar trains from London to Paris: www.eurostar.comCorsican Railways Nice-Digne railway Petit Train Jaune.

Buy French train tickets:

 

Raileurope.com, www.thetrainline.com, www.oui.sncf

Paris bus & métro:

 

www.ratp.fr - for a Paris metro map, select 'plans'

Railpasses:

 

Beginner's guide to European railpasses    Buy a rail pass online

Time:

 

GMT+1 (GMT+2 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October)

Dialling code:

 

+33

Currency:

 

£1 = approx €1.11.   $1 = approx €0.8.    Currency converter

Tourist information:

 

www.franceguide.com    Guidebooks     Tours to France by train

Hotels & guesthouses:

 

Finding accommodation in France

Page last updated:

 

27 September 2020.


Train schedules & fares

How to check train times & fares...

Maps of the French rail network...

How to buy train tickets

  French Railways self-service ticket machine at Paris Lyon

You can buy tickets at these self-service machines.  Just click the UK flag on the touch screen for English!

Tickets bought online at Raileurope.com, Thetrainline.com, Rail Europe or Oui.sncf can be collected from these machines, although many tickets are now print-at-home e-tickets so don't need to be collected. 

Do you need a credit card to ride this train... or at least to collect the tickets?

If you bought your tickets from raileurope.com, Thetrainline.com or Rail Europe you don't need a credit card to collect tickets from these machines, just enter the reference number & your name.

But if you bought from Oui.sncf you'll need to insert the original card you used to buy the tickets.  If this isn't a Chip n PIN credit card you'll need to collect tickets from the staffed ticket office instead.

Remember to validate (composter) your ticket before boarding!

Print-at-home e-tickets don't need to be validated.

Do you need to buy in advance?

Types of fare explained...

How to buy tickets at the station...

How to buy train tickets online...

Which website should you use to buy French train tickets?

Most train operators just have one website which you can use no matter where you live.  French Railways set up multiple Rail Europe subsidiaries trying to serve residents of specific countries or continents, but with differing functionality & fees.  In 2020 they are trying to simplify things, so many former Raiol Europe websites have been rolled into just one, Raileurope.com, using the booking engine formerly developed by the excellent Loco2.com. Here's a summary of the features of each site, you can draw your own conclusions.  As far as price is concerned, all the sites below charged the same basic fare (give or take exchange rates) at least based on recent test-bookings for French domestic journeys.

Website:

Who are they?

Who can use it*

Booking fee?

Offers seat choice?

Can it sell...

Accepts your credit card?

Will they send
tickets by post?

Type?

Facing?

Deck?

Ouigo? FB? EP?

https://oui.sncf, formerly voyages-sncf.com

en.oui.sncf (English)

nl.oui.sncf  (Dutch)

be.oui.sncf (Belgian)

de.oui.sncf (German)

it.oui.sncf (Italian)

and so on...

SNCF's own websites for booking SNCF trains

Anyone worldwide, but only if you can avoid diversion to one of their subsidiaries.

Free

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Any, but has been known to struggle**

Yes, to anywhere except USA**

Raileurope.com

Formerly Loco2.com.  Loco2 was bought by SNCF and rebranded raileurope.co.uk in Nov 2019.  It was then rebranded Raileurope.com in 2020.

The US-based Raileurope.com & Raileurope.ca (= Rail Europe Inc. based in New York State) and Paris-based Rail Europe 4A's sites Raileurope-world.com, Raileurope.com.au, .co.nz, .co.in and so on were also all rolled into this one worldwide URL in 2020, tidying up a very messy situation.

Retailer selling European train tickets worldwide, owned by SNCF.

Anyone worldwide

€5.95

Y

Y

Y

N

Y

N

All cards accepted 

Usually issues show-on-phone or print-your-own or collect-at-station tickets.

www.thetrainline.com

Formerly Captaintrain.com until bought by Trainline

Retailer selling European train tickets worldwide, a private company based in the UK.

Anyone worldwide

3%

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

All cards accepted 

Only sells journeys that can be self-printed or collected at station, which is most of them.

Omio.com, formerly GoEuro.com

Private company, based in Berlin.

Anyone worldwide

€4

N

N

N

N

N

N

All cards accepted 

No.

www.saveatrain.com

Private company, based in Israel.

Anyone worldwide

Free

N

N

N

N

N

N

All cards accepted 

No.

Type = offers basic choice of aisle, window, table-for-four or (in 1st class) a table-for-two or solo seat. 

Facing = offers option to request a seat facing direction of travel, only on those few TGV routes where this is possible, see the explanation below.

Deck = offers choice of upper or lower deck on a double-decker TGV Duplex, I recommend top deck for the best views.

Ouigo = Special lo-cost budget-airline-on-rails TGV trains branded Ouigo, see the Ouigo page for information.

FB = Forfait Bambin, allows you to pay a few euros to reserve a seat for your infant aged 0-3, more information here.

EP = Espace Privatif, allows you to book sole or dual occupancy of a 4-berth couchette on a French night train, more information here.

*  This assumes you are offered an e-ticket or collect-at-station delivery option for your journey, which you usually are for most French domestic journeys.  For a handful of journeys or fare types, tickets must be sent by post and whether you can use the site in question then depends on what it says in the Will they send paper tickets? column.

** Oui.sncf (formerly voyages-sncf.com) has always worked with any credit card, but recently I've received a number of It's rejected my credit card emails from Americans and Australians so they may have tightened up on card acceptance rules, especially if you try to use their site at weekends when their fraud team is out of the office.  They'll post tickets to anywhere in the world except the USA, but this assumes you have managed to avoid being diverted to Rail Europe, as per the instructions here.

Buy train tickets by phone in the UK...

If you live in the UK you can buy French train tickets by phone with a number of UK-based train travel specialists, for example, International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.  They charge a £10 booking fee for bookings under £100, £20 for £100-£300, £30 above £300. In many cases tickets can be emailed to you as e-tickets, so there's no postage fee or delay.  But bear in mind it's quicker and easier and cheaper to book online...

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What are French trains like?

What are TGVs like?   See the TGV page...

Boarding a TGV   TGV 1st class by Christian Lacroix

A single-deck TGV...

 

1st class seats on a single-deck TGV...

First class on board a TGV Duplex   An TGV Duplex to Munich at Paris Est.

1st class seats on a TGV Duplex upper deck...

 

TGV Duplex.  Red near the door indicates 1st class, pale green 2nd class.

Ouigo & iDTGV  See the Ouigo page...

What are Intercités like?

SNCF Teoz train... 1st class 'Teoz' coach 2nd class 'Teoz' coach

Intercité (Téoz) train...

 

Téoz 1st class...

 

Téoz 2nd class...

2nd class seats on an Intercité train   2nd class seats on an Intercité train   Intercité train at Paris Nord

2nd class on an Intercité...

 

1st class on an Intercité...

 

An Intercité train...

What are Intercités de Nuit overnight trains like?  See the Intercite de Nuit page & watch the video...

French overnight train  

A French overnight train...  More photos & information about French Intercités de Nuit

 

French couchettes are equipped with lightweight sleeping bags for a cosy night's sleep...

What are TER trains like?

Seats on a TER train between Toulouse and Latour de Carol   A TER train at Calais Ville

Inside a modern TER.

 

A TER diesel train at Calais Ville.

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Travel tips...

How to change trains & stations in Paris...

Which station in Paris?

Places not served by the main rail network...

Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport station...

Railpasses for France

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Guidebooks

Paying for a guidebook may seem an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see so much more, and know so much more about what you're looking at, if you have a decent guidebook.  I recommend the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides as the best ones out there for independent travellers.  Click the images to buy the books - if you buy anything at Amazon through these links, Seat61.com gets a small commission (at no extra cost to you) to help support the site.  My own book is an essential handbook for train travel to Europe based on this website called "The Man in Seat 61".

Click the images to buy at Amazon.co.uk...

Lonely Planet Paris - click to buy online   Lonely Planet France - click to buy online   Lonely Planet Western Europe - click to buy online   Lonely Planet Europe on a shoestring - click to buy online

Alternatively, you can download just the chapters or areas you need in .PDF format from the Lonely Planet Website, from around £2.99 or US$4.95 a chapter.

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European Rail Timetable & maps

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineTraveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable) has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team set up a private venture and resumed publication of the famous European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online with worldwide shipping at either www.stanfords.co.uk or www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

A Traveller's Railway Map of Europe covers the whole of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  On the back are detailed maps of Switzerland, Benelux & Germany, plus city plans showing stations in major cities.  Scenic & high-speed routes highlighted.  Buy it online for £14.50 + postage worldwide (UK addresses £2.80) at www.stanfords.co.uk/Continents/Europe-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.

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Custom-made train tours in France

 

Custom-made tours of France by train...

Railbookers are a train travel specialist who can put together a tour or short break for you as a package, including rail travel, hotels & transfers.  On their website you'll find a range of suggested tours & holidays which can be varied or customised to your own requirements.  And as you're booking a package, they'll take care of you if anything happens to one part of the itinerary such as a strike or delay.  They now have offices in the UK, USA & Australia.

  UK call 0207 864 4600, www.railbookers.co.uk.

  US call free 1-888-829-4775, www.railbookers.com.

  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, www.railbookers.com.

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au.

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

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Find hotels in Paris & France

My favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

Hotels near the Gare du Nord, Gare de l'Est, Gare de Lyon & other Paris stations:

If you need to stay over between trains, here are some suggestions that are both very close and get good reviews:

A special hotel for that romantic break in Paris...

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels: www.hostelworld.com...

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Travel insurance & VPN

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

 

Always take out travel insurance...

Never travel without travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should also cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  However, don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback is always welcome.

In the UK, reliable insurers include Columbus Direct.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

You can use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card to save on foreign transaction fees...

Banks often give a poor exchange rate, then charge a currency conversion fee as well.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I use a Curve Blue card myself - I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card. Use code MAN61 to get £5 cashback after signing up and using your Curve card the first time.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use them myself.

 


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