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... (anyone) (UK residents) (anyone)* (US residents) (residents of Canada, Australia, NZ, Asia, Africa, South America)

* = Be careful, I've seen the US Rail Europe charge higher prices than or, 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

  Budget trains: iDTGV & Ouigo

  Paris to Nice by train

  Travel tips:  Luggage, 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,

  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),  To check train times & fares & book trains within France see or  To check for disruption affecting trains in France (in French), see  Eurostar trains from London to Paris: www.eurostar.comCorsican Railways Nice-Digne railway Petit Train Jaune.

Buy French train tickets: the UK the USA Australia Asia, Africa or S.America from SNCF

Paris bus & métro: - for a Paris metro map, select 'plans'



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



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



£1 = approx €1.25.   $1 = approx €0.8.    Currency converter

Tourist information:    Guidebooks     Tours to France by train

Hotels & guesthouses:


Paris hotels     France hotels     Finding accommodation in France

Page last updated:


5 April 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 can be collected from these machines, although many tickets are now print-at-home e-tickets so don't need to be collected. 

If you bought your tickets from, 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 (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?

Buying tickets at the station...

Buy French train tickets online...

Which website should you use to buy French train tickets?

With most train operators it's easy.  They have one website, you go there and you buy a ticket, it doesn't 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 different 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 omit the cheapest prems fares shown on some of the other sites, so be on your toes if you use them!


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?





SNCF themselves

Anyone worldwide








Any, but sometimes struggles****

Yes, to anywhere except USA****


SNCF's UK subsidiary

UK residents only








UK cards only

Yes, to UK addresses only.

UK-based private company

Anyone worldwide








All cards accepted 

Yes, to UK addresses only.

French-based private company

Anyone worldwide








All cards accepted 

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

SNCF's US subsidiary

US & Canadian residents








All cards accepted 

Yes, to US & Canadian addresses

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

Most countries worldwide








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.

**** 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, as per the instructions here.

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

What are French trains like?

What are TGVs like?

TGVs or Trains à Grande Vitesse run at up to 186 mph (300 km/h) on long distance routes covering most of France.  In fact, they run at up to 198 mph (320 km/h) on the new TGV-Est route from Paris to Reims, Strasbourg, Metz, Luxembourg & Basel, opened in 2007.  Smooth & quiet even at high speed, it's a very relaxing way to travel.  Seat reservation is compulsory on TGV services, and all TGVs are completely non-smoking.  All TGVs have a wheelchair space & wheelchair-accessible toilet.

1st class on all TGVs has spacious seats with armrests and power-recline, arranged one-abreast on one side of the aisle, two abreast on the other side of the aisle.  Each seat has either a drop-down table big enough for a laptop (face-to-back seats) or a fixed table with table lamp (face-to-face seats).  All first class seats have power-points for laptops & mobiles with European-style two-pin sockets.  There are luggage racks above the seats and at the end of the car for larger items.  There is a small bench seat outside each main seating saloon if you need to make a private mobile phone call.  When making a reservation, two seats facing each other across a table are referred to as 'Club duo' or 'Dual face to face', four seats around a table are 'Club Quatre' or 'Club four'.  Two seats side by side facing seat backs in front are 'Duo' or 'Dual side by side', and single seats facing a seat back in front are 'Solo'.  Top tip:  Ask for (or select) 'Club Duo' or 'Dual face to face' if travelling as a couple for an intimate table-for-two, or 'Club Quatre' or 'Club four' if three or four of you are travelling together so you can sit cosily around a table.

2nd class on all TGVs has comfortable seats with armrests, arranged two-abreast on both sides of the aisle.  There are drop-down tables big enough for laptops (at face-to-back seats) or fixed tables (at face-to-face seats), although laptop/mobile power sockets are not always fitted in standard class.  There are two toilets for each pair of coaches, and baby changing facilities in the second class coach at the end of the train.

Cafe-bar:  All TGVs (except a few running very short distances, for example Lille-Paris in just an hour) have a café-bar serving hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, a few hot dishes such as quiche or lasagne, small bottles of wine & spirits.  The café-bar is located in the centre of the train, between the first and second class cars.  The coffee is good, and credit cards are accepted as well as cash.  There is a standing area where you can eat and drink your purchases, or you can take them back to your seat.  Alternatively, on European trains including TGVs you are free to bring your own food and drink (including beer or wine) on board if you like.

TGV seat numbering plans: Click here...

There are several types of TGV, for plans of the seating layout on various TGV types see the Train seat numbering page

On board a typical TGV....

TGV 1st class... TGV 2nd class...

TGV 1st class.  There is a 'club duo' on the left, a bay of four 'club quatre' on the right, and many rows of solo & duo seats behind.

TGV 2nd class.  Most seats are face-to-back, but there are some bays of four face-to-face seats, ask when booking.

Many TGVs have now been refurbished with interiors by designer Christian Lacroix.  All TGVs on the TGV-Est route from Paris Est to Reims, Strasbourg, Metz, Luxembourg, Basel & Zurich & the TGV-Atlantique route from Paris Montparnasse to Tours, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lourdes, Rennes are already refurbished...  Incidentally, SNCF's in-house designer still hasn't forgiven Christian Lacroix for breaking the 'rules' and using warm colours in 2nd class, cooler colours in 1st class, so see what you think!  Watch the video - inside a Christian Lacroix TGV.

Refurbished TGV interior, first class   Refurbished TGV interior, second class

TGV 1st class, refurbished...


TGV 2nd class, refurbished...

TGV Duplex:  double-deck TGVs...     Watch the TGV Duplex video guide

Almost all Paris-Lyon, Paris-Marseille & Paris-Nice services and even some Lille-Marseille services are now run by impressive 186 mph TGV Duplex double-deckers, and as a traveller, I have a real soft spot for these trains.  You can check if your train will be a TGV Duplex as you'll be given a choice of upper or lower deck if you book (or try a dummy booking) at  You board the train at the lower level, but walk along the train from car to car at the upper level.  The café-bar is also at the upper level.  When booking, you can choose a seat on either upper or lower decks if you use or or book by phone, but not if you book at  If you have problems with stairs or very heavy luggage, the lower deck might be best.  But for the best views (over the top of the occasional sound barrier along the high speed lines!), choose an upper deck seat.  For couples, an upper deck first class 'club duo' ('Dual face to face') table-for-two is easily the best option.

An impressive TGV Duplex at Nice station.   First class on board a TGV Duplex

TGV Duplex at Nice station.  All Paris-Nice TGVs are TGV Duplex...


1st class seats, upper deck.  That's a 'club duo' on the left & a 'club quatre' on the right.

Upper deck second class on board a TGV Duplex.     The bar on the upper deck of a TGV Duplex

2nd class seats on TGV Duplex, upper , upper deck.  There's a mix of face-to-back & a face-to-face seating.


The café-bar, on the upper level in car 4...

Upper deck second class on board a TGV Duplex.   TGV Duplex about to leave Paris Gare de Lyon for Nice

The stairs...  The landing on a TGV Duplex showing the stairs down to the entrance door...


A double-deck TGV Duplex, about to leave Paris Gare de Lyon for Cannes & Nice.  You can easily travel from London to Nice in a day by Eurostar & TGV, a relaxing day catching up on your reading or your email, over a bottle of wine...

What are Intercité (Téoz) trains like?

Although merely 125mph trains rather than TGVs, most Paris-Limoges-Brive-Toulouse & Nantes-Bordeaux-Marseille-Nice trains now use stylish air-conditioned Téoz coaches like this, with a unique interior design.  SNCF has dropped the Téoz branding, calling both Téoz and Intercité trains 'Intercités', but it helps to call them Téoz to differentiate them from the more mundane non-compulsory-reservation Intercités on less important routes!  Click for seating plan.

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

Téoz train...


Téoz 1st class...


Téoz 2nd class...

What are Intercités de Nuit overnight trains like?   Watch the video guide

  Corail Lunea couchette on a French overnight train...

Sleep your way to the South of France on an Intercité de Nuit couchette train (formerly Lunéa).

It can be the most time-effective way to travel, effectively faster than flying.  Sleep your way to the south of France in a comfy couchette, from Paris to Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Monaco, Biarritz, Lourdes, Narbonne, Perpignan, Bourg St Maurice or St Gervais (for Chamonix) for as little as €35 (£30) each way booked at or  Formerly branded Lunéa, French overnight trains are now branded 'Intercités de Nuit' and have couchettes (simple sleeping berths) in 1st class 4-berth compartments & 2nd class 6-berth compartments.  Most of these trains also have 2nd class reclining seats, but a safe and comfortable couchette is recommended for an overnight trip.

Exclusive use of a couchette compartment:  Sleeping-cars with 1 & 2 bed compartments were withdrawn from all French overnight trains in 2007, but you can now book a 1st class 4-berth couchette compartment for single or dual occupancy with the Espace Privatif offer, see here for details.

Couchettes are simple padded bunks, each supplied with a pillow and special lightweight sleeping-bag, a great idea, replacing the traditional sheet and blanket.  Men and women are mixed in couchettes, as you don't normally fully undress, but on these French overnight trains women travelling alone can ask for a berth in a ladies-only compartment if they prefer.  If you have children, you can ask the train staff for an additional child safety rail for their bunk.  There are washrooms and toilets at the end of the corridor.

The couchette cars have been modernised with bright interiors, new carpeting and soft fabric bunks.  Each couchette passenger gets a small bottle of mineral water, earplugs and tissues.  There's a security lock on the door which cannot be opened from outside even with a staff key, and plenty of staff are on duty if you need them.  Only passengers with tickets and reservations are allowed onto the platform, and there are minimal stops between midnight and 06:00 to ensure a smooth and secure journey through the night.   I prefer the top bunks up in the roof space as these give the most privacy, though if you've any mobility problems you should ask for a bottom bunk.  Bottom and middle bunks can also be cooler than top bunks, if that's an issue for you.

2nd class couchettes have 6 bunks in each compartment, with upper, middle & lower berths on each side of the compartment.  Lower bunks are easier to get into, but top bunks up in the roof space give you more privacy.

1st class couchettes have 4 berths per compartment, arranged as upper and lower on each side of the compartment.  They are much more spacious than 2nd class couchettes, with 4 people instead of 6 in in a slightly larger room with slightly wider bunks.  Great for travelling as a family or with friends.  It's now possible to reserve a whole 4-berth 1st class couchette compartment on Intercités de Nuit overnight trains for sole or dual occupancy with the Espace Privatif arrangement, see here for details.

For more information, photos & video, see the dedicated Intercités de Nuit page.

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...

Most Intercités de Nuit overnight trains also have reclining seats, and you can also find overnight TGV trains on some routes which of course just have seats (non-reclining, at least in 2nd class).  However, a couchette allows you to sleep properly lying down in a securely locked compartment, so is the recommended option, well worth the small extra cost.  Travelling overnight in a seat is not recommended except as a last resort.

iDTGV & Ouigo

What are iDTGV trains?

On key routes, SNCF operates one or two daily trains branded iDTGV.  These are simply special TGVs with their own cheap fare structure and bookings which open 120 days ahead, designed to compete head-on with budget airlines.  iDTGVs do not appear on any of the Rail Europe sites, only on, or their own website  iDTGVs often run coupled to a regular TGV, which is why you'll see two trains in the search results with identical departure times but different fares and logos.

Zap and Zen...  You'll find both 1st and 2nd class on an iDTGV, physically identical to a regular TGV.  But on iDTGVs you can choose the Zen ambience (located on the lower deck on routes where it's a double decker TGV Duplex) where things are quiet and peaceful, or the Zap ambience, where it's more lively, located on the upper deck when it's a TGV Duplex.

Credit card rejection when booking an iDTGV?  iDTGV bookings always go through a special payment system which often rejects non-French credit cards.  If you have problems making an iDTGV booking, don't worry, the solution is explained here.

What is Ouigo?

In 2013, French Railways launched a budget-airline-on-rails called Ouigo,  Ouigo trains are totally separate from all other French trains, and can only be booked online at their own website,  Unusually, Ouigo's self-print tickets are only emailed to you 3-4 days before travel, and not at the time of booking.

Currently, Ouigo operates several trains a day from Marne la Vallée just outside Paris to Lyon, Aix en Provence, Avignon, Marseille, Nimes & Montpelier using specially-refitted double-decker TGV Duplex trains with just one class of seating, no catering car and no 1st class. 

The advantage is ultra-cheap fares from just €10.  The disadvantage is that they have applied all the things people dislike about budget airlines to their trains:  Departure from a location 45 minutes outside central Paris by RER suburban train, a 30-minute check-in, stringent baggage limits (one item of hand luggage and one bigger bag not exceeding 55x35x25cm) with a €5 extra fee for additional or oversize bags (€40 on board the train if not paid in advance), and no catering. 

But if you are determined to reach the South of France from the Paris area for €10-€25 (plus the cost of reaching Marne la Vallée from central Paris and fees for your extra or oversize bags, of course) it may be worth trying.  Other travellers may prefer to stick with the regular TGVs or iDTGV, with departures from central Paris, first class available, catering on board, and no baggage size limits...

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...


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, 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

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 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 or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from

Tailor-made tours of 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,

  US call toll-free 1-888-829-4775,

  Canada call toll-free 1-855-882-2910,

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526,

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034,

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

It's easy to book hotels online to go with your train tickets.  Try, 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:  A city-centre Ibis hotel booked in advance online can be a very good deal.  Finally, is a good place to browse independent travellers' reviews of the main hotels.


◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison. 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! 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 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

        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  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 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 for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on mobile data and phone calls...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find a huge bill.  Consider buying a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone from, which can slash costs by up to 85%.  Go-Sim cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also allows cheap data access for laptops & PDAs.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not used between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.


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