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...

www.loco2.com (anyone)

uk.voyages-sncf.com (UK residents)

www.capitainetrain.com (anyone)

www.raileurope.com* (US residents)

www.raileurope-world.com (residents of Canada, Australia, NZ, Asia, Africa, South America)

* = Be careful, I've seen the US Rail Europe charge higher prices than www.loco2.com or www.capitainetrain.com, so compare prices before before buying.

Which website to use? Comparison table

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

French trains are easily the best way to travel between major French town & cities, 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.

Train travel within France...

  French train schedules & fares

  Buy train tickets for France - at the station, online or by phone...

  What are French trains like?  TGV, Intercités, overnight trains, TER

  Budget trains: iDTGV & Ouigo

  Paris to Nice by train

  Travel tips:  Luggage, ticket validation, food, places not served by train, language problems

  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 to Paris from other European cities

Information on other pages...

  How to use the French Railways website, www.voyages-sncf.com

  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 - Motorail

Sponsored links...

 

Useful country information

Train operator in France:

 

SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer), www.voyages-sncf.com.  To check train times & fares & book trains within France see www.loco2.com or www.capitainetrain.com.  To check for disruption affecting trains in France (in French), see www.infolignes.com.  Eurostar trains from London to Paris: www.eurostar.comCorsican Railways Nice-Digne railway Petit Train Jaune.

Buy French train tickets:

 

...in the UK  ...in the USA  ...in Australia  ...in Asia, Africa or S.America  ...direct from 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 €1.25.   $1 = approx €0.8.    Currency converter

Tourist information:

 

www.franceguide.com    Guidebooks     Tours to France by train

Hotels & guesthouses:

 

Paris hotels     France hotels     Finding accommodation in France

Page last updated:

 

13 August 2015.


French train schedules & fares...

How to check train times & fares in France...

Maps of the French Rail network...

How to buy train tickets for France...

  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 Rail Europe or Voyages-sncf.com 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 Loco2.com, Capitainetrain, uk-voyages-sncf 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 voyages-sncf.com (other than the UK version) 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 tickets in advance?

Types of fare...

How to buy tickets at the station...

How to buy French 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 have decided to have multiple Rail Europe subsidiaries trying to serve residents of specific countries or continents, but with differing functionality & fees.  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 - although on previous occasions I have seen raileurope.com omit the cheapest prems fares shown on some of the other sites, so be on your toes if you use them!

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?

iDTGV? FB? EP?

www.voyages-sncf.com

en.voyages-sncf.com/en

www.voyages-sncf.nl www.voyages-sncf.be

www.voyages-sncf.de

www.voyages-sncf.es

SNCF themselves

Anyone worldwide

Free

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Any, but sometimes struggles****

Yes, to anywhere except USA****

uk.voyages-sncf.com

(formerly raileurope.co.uk)

SNCF's UK subsidiary

UK residents only

Free*

N

N

N

N

N

N

UK cards only

Yes, to UK addresses only.

www.loco2.com

UK-based private company

Anyone worldwide

Free*

Y

N

Y

N

N

N

All cards accepted 

Yes, to UK addresses only.

www.capitainetrain.com

French-based private company

Anyone worldwide

Free

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.

www.raileurope.com & .ca

SNCF's US subsidiary

US & Canadian residents

$7.95

N

N

N

N

N

N

All cards accepted 

Yes, to US & Canadian addresses

www.raileurope-world.com

SNCF's 4A  subsidiary (Oz, NZ, Asia, Africa)

Most countries worldwide

€4

N

N

N

N

N

N

All cards accepted 

Yes, to Asian, African, South American, Australian addresses

iDTGV = Special cheaper TGV trains branded iDTGV

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.

*  Free if you use a debit card.  There's a small fee if you use a credit card.

**  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.

***  Seating choice:  Type means a choice of aisle, window, table-for-four or (in 1st class) a table-for-two or solo seat.  Facing means a chance to request a seat facing the direction of travel, only on those few TGV routes where this is possible, see the explanation belowDeck means a choice of upper or lower deck on a double-decker TGV Duplex, I recommend top deck for the best views.

**** 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 or uk.voyages-sncf.com, as per the instructions here.

Buy French train tickets by phone in the UK...


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.

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  

The Train Bleu overnight train from Paris, arrived at Nice Ville...  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.


iDTGV & Ouigo

What are iDTGV trains?

What is Ouigo?


Travel tips...

How to change trains & stations in Paris...

Which station in Paris?

Places not served by the main rail network...

Railpasses for France, a warning about passholder quotas...


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 onlineLonely Planet France - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Western Europe - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Europe on a shoestring - click to buy onlineThe Man in Seat 61 book - click to buy online

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The 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 have set up a private venture and published the first edition of a reborn 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/Maps--Atlases/Europe-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.


Custom-made train tours in France

 

Custom-made tours of France by train...

If you want to tour Spain by train, with all your train reservations and hotels sorted for you to your own specification, contact rail travel specialists Railbookers and they'll create the best rail holiday for you, hassle-free.  Unlike some overseas travel agents, they really do know all about train travel in Italy and right across Europe, and they know some excellent hotels, too.  They take good care of their clients and it's not surprising they get a lot of repeat business, so I have no hesitation in recommending them.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

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

  Canada call toll-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 002 034, www.railbookers.co.nz.


Find hotels in Paris or anywhere in France

Hotels in Paris or any city in France...Click to book a hotel or guesthouse online with Venere.com

It's easy to book hotels online to go with your train tickets.  Try www.venere.com, who have a wide selection of hotels on a well-presented website.  They're also good because the price you see is the price you pay, no hidden extras, and you simply pay the hotel when you get there.  After you've booked, you can change or cancel your reservation in line with the hotel's own change and cancellation policy.  Use the links below:

Paris   Lille   Avignon   Marseille   Cannes   Nice   Nîmes   Montpellier   Perpignan   Bordeaux   Strasbourg   Toulouse   Other French towns & cities

Alternatively, if you want a reliably good quality hotel at a reasonable price, rather than unique character, try the Ibis, Mercure & Sofitel hotels run by Accor group in almost all French cities, with online direct booking:  www.accorhotels.com.  A city-centre Ibis hotel booked in advance online can be a very good deal.  Finally, www.tripadvisor.com is a good place to browse independent travellers' reviews of the main hotels.

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

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...

There's the famous & flashy Paris Ritz in the Place Vendôme of course (over 490 euros a night) or the similarly-priced Le Meurice, but if you want a really special hotel for a luxury break or romantic weekend and can afford to splurge around 280 euros a night, I'd recommend the small, sumptuous and intimate L'Hotel.  It's on the bohemian left bank, walking distance from the Seine, the Ile de la Cité & Notre Dame.  Oscar Wilde spent the last days of his life here in room 16, and the hotel has been used by many famous people from Sinatra to Mick Jagger.  Rooms are on the cosy side, but they are beautifully decorated and have character that other hotels lack.


Travel insurance & health card

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without proper travel insurance from a reliable insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash & belongings (up to a limit), and trip cancellation.  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, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        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.

Get an EU health card, it's free...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low/no ATM fees

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

 


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