Planning Train Travel

Trains in France – How to Travel in France by Train


Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Train Travel in France

If you’re planning to visit France, getting around France couldn’t be easier than by train. The trains in France are one of the best modes of transportation in France and will get you anywhere you want to go in the country with ease and to or from any neighboring country.

If you’re a first-timer coming to France and need some assistance with understanding train travel in France, then you’ll want to read this Guide to France by Train. This guide provides everything you need to ensure traveling by train in France goes smoothly, including information on the different types of trains in France, the best France rail pass, where to buy your tickets, and just some general tips.

France Train Travel

France Train Map

The French rail network links all the major French cities as well as linking up to the smaller rural towns and cities of neighboring countries. In the France train map below you can see the high-speed rail lines in red and other major lines in brown.  As you can see in this France train map, the country is well serviced by the rail network.

France Rail Map
France Rail Map

Types of Trains in France

Train Station in France

There are various types of trains in France, from the local trains to long-distance trains and even the trains that cross into neighboring countries. So you can understand which trains will get you to your destination, below I have provided a brief overview of the various trains in France.

France Train Travel: First Class or Second Class?

When you travel France by train, you have the option of purchasing a first-class or second-class ticket. Either class is very comfortable with most seats, including drop-down tables and power. First class seats are wider and more comfortable than 2nd class seats, as there are fewer seats per car. There’s also more space for the luggage.

Personally, I find first class less noisy and a place where it’s easier to relax or work (no kids running along the corridors or people talking on the phone or listening to music with the loudspeaker).

Sometimes, the difference of price between first and second class is minimum, so it is well-worth that extra comfort.

Generally, all trains have free WIFI and a café on board, but you are also welcome to bring your own food onboard.

1. TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse)

The TGV train is France’s high-speed rail service which connects over 230 cities across France and some European cities. Running up to 320km/h, these trains will get you where you need to go fast!

Unfortunately, we don’t have a specific TGV map but if you look at the map above, the France TGV map would correspond to most of the dark red lines.

With TGV Trains, you have the option of traveling first-class or second-class. To ride the TGV, it is mandatory to book a seat reservation (see below on how to purchase train tickets). For the cheapest tickets, book your tickets well in advance rather than on the day of travel. Tickets are usually available for purchase around 90 days before the day of travel.

Book your TGV tickets here

2. Intercités

Intercités trains in France are express trains that connect the main cities within France. They cover longer distances than local trains, but not quite as long as the TGV trains. These trains service over 300 destinations in all the French regions, reaching cities such as Amiens, Orleans, Bordeaux, Caen, Lyon, Reims, Troyes, Toulouse, and Paris.

With Intercités Trains, you have the option of traveling first-class or second-class. Generally, all trains have free WIFI and a café on board, but you are also welcome to bring your own food onboard.

Like the TGV trains, it is mandatory to book a seat in advance to ride the Intercités trains. For the cheapest tickets, book your tickets well in advance rather than on the day of travel. Tickets are usually available for purchase around 90 days before the day of travel.

Book your Intercity train tickets here

3. TER (Transport Express Regional)

TER trains are regional trains within France and are usually referred to as local trains. TER trains are ideal for getting between regional French towns and villages.

Like long-distance trains, with TER trains you can also travel first or second class.

No seat reservation is required to travel on a TER train (you can sit anywhere you like). You will, however, require a ticket. Tickets can be purchased as you go or in advance up to 120 days before the day of travel. During the high season in France, main holidays, and long weekends, we recommend booking these train tickets online in advance.

4. AutoTrain

Don’t feel like driving to your destination, but require your car once you get there? Well, AutoTrain is the answer.  This train runs from Paris Bercy Station to the South of France, with your car onboard. So all you need to do is take a comfortable and quick Autorain and meet your car there.

5. Night Train

Some destinations, are also covered by night trains – TGV trains or Intercités trains, which also have 4 and 6-bed cabins. Night trains are environtally-friendly are a great way to save time and money (one hotel night less).

The main lines covered by night trains in France are Paris – Nice, Paris – Toulouse, Paris – Antibes, Paris – Marseille, Paris – Rodez, and Paris – Montauban. There are also international night trains from /to France, being Paris – Vienna the most famous line. Paris – Berlin is coming soon!

5. Eurostar (Train from England to France)

The Eurostar (international joint operation) is a high-speed train from England to France which connects France with the UK and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel. One of the most popular Euro trains to Paris, the Eurostar is so fast that it’s, in fact, possible to make day trips from London to Paris or London to Disneyland Paris. Other French cities served by Eurostar trains are Calais, Lille, Lyon, Avignon, Marseille, Moutiers, Aime-la-Plagne, and Bourg-St-Maurice.

This Euro train has three classes of travel being standard, standard premier, and business. All classes of travel are very comfortable. Standard premier and business classes are served food onboard, while standard class can purchase food at the onboard café or bring their own food. On most trains, WIFI is available onboard the trains and a range of entertainment via the Eurostar App.

A seat reservation is mandatory on Eurostar (see below on how to purchase tickets). For the cheapest tickets, book your tickets well in advance rather than on the day of travel. Tickets are usually available for purchase around 90 days before the day of travel.

Unlike most of the other trains above, for the Eurostar, you are required to check-in before boarding the train.

Book your Eurostar train tickets here

6. Thalys

The Thalys is a French-Belgian train operator connecting France with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Traveling on the Thalys train, you can purchase a first-class (comfort or premium class) or second-class ticket.  Either class is very comfortable with all seats, including drop-down tables and power sockets. All trains have free WIFI and a café on board, but you are also welcome to bring your own food onboard.

A seat reservation is mandatory on Thalys trains (see below on how to purchase tickets). For the cheapest tickets, book your tickets well in advance rather than on the day of travel.  Tickets are usually available for purchase around three months before the day of travel.

Book your Thalys train tickets here

France Rail Pass Options

France Travel

There is a range of different rail passes which you can use to travel France by train. Some passes are solely for train travel in France, while other passes will allow you to travel in France and other European countries.  As to what pass is best for you really depends upon your individual travel plans.

There are various benefits in having a rail pass as opposed to purchasing point to point tickets as you go, such as:

  • Convenience – no need to purchase train tickets every time you want to take a train.
  • Flexibility – given a rail pass provides you with unlimited train travel you can just turn up at the station whenever you like and catch the next train. If you miss a train – no problem catch the next one.
  • Save money – this is the main reason people purchase a rail pass. Unless you book your tickets well in advance, last-minute train tickets can be crazy expensive.  By having a pass with unlimited travel, you will in many cases, save money.
  • Discounts: many rail passes come with other inclusions of discounts for attractions or other modes of transport.

1. Interrail Pass One Country

For those just traveling in France, then the Interrail Pass, One Country is the way to go. This France rail pass provides you will unlimited train travel on the national rail network of France (all France trains including the TGC, TER, Intercity, etc.) – there is absolutely no limit to the number of times you take a train on any given day.

You can choose a France rail pass based on how many travel days you will have in France. Choose either 1 through to 8 days of travel within a month. You can also choose to travel first or second class.

Interrail Pass can only be used by European citizens or permanent residents in Europe. If you are a UK resident, you can use this pass too.

When it comes to regional and local trains, just jump on board and sit wherever you like.  For fast trains, in most cases, a seat reservation is required in addition to your pass.

With the Interrail Pass One Country, you will also receive discounts on various museums, attractions, cruises, ferries, buses, and hotels.

2. Eurail Global Pass Multi-Country Pass

If you are visiting France as well as neighboring countries, then the Eurail Global Pass is the better rail pass option. Indeed, with this multi-country train pass, Europe has no secrets for you! This pass provides you will unlimited travel in 31 different European Countries (including France) – there is absolutely no limit to the number of times you take a train on any given day.

You can choose the best train pass for Europe based on how many travel days you will have in Europe.  Choose either 3, 5, or 7 days of travel within a month or 10 or 15 days of travel within two months.  If you travel by train more frequently, you can also buy a consecutive day travel pass of 15 days, 22 days, one month, two months, or even three months.  You can also choose to travel first or second class.

While some trains you can just jump on board and sit wherever you like, remember other trains require you to have a seat reservation in addition to your pass.

How to Use Rail Passes

Generally, most rail passes are still paper-based and require you to write the date of your travel before the first trip of each day.  You then simply board the train.  If you have made a seat reservation (remember this is mandatory for some trains), you need to find this seat and sit there for the duration of your train trip.

Ticket inspectors will come through the train periodically and ask to see your ticket. You simply show them your rail pass and seat reservation (if you have one).

Train Travel France: Where to Buy Train Tickets

There is a range of ways to buy your train tickets, depending on your preference. These options are available whether you hold a rail pass and just need to take a seat reservation or if you require a point-to-point ticket.

In Train Stations

For the ultimate in flexibility, you can just turn up and purchase your ticket at the train station. You can either purchase your ticket at a vending machine or from a ticket window. If you don’t speak English, often it’s best to use the vending machines as you can switch it English.

Online on the SNCF Website

Locals in France usually prefer to purchase their train tickets via the SNCF website, which is the official website for the French Railways. You can either purchase your tickets as you go or in advance to secure some good deals.  Unfortunately, the English version of the site is not that great, but still, a good way to purchase tickets online.

You can then choose to print your ticket out at phone or keep it on your smartphone.

Online on Omio Website

First-timers traveling in Europe and France by train often prefer to purchase their tickets online with OmioThis website is well set up for foreigners, with lots of extra information, and is all in English, and easy to navigate. Just be aware that sites like this charge a small booking fee.

Euro Trains to France

The France rail map is not exclusive of French trains anymore, so it is possible to travel within France with train companies from abroad, especially on international train lines. Examples of international cooperations are SNCF – Deutsche Bahn for train travel France – Germany, SNCF – Swiss Rail for train travel France – Switzerland, and SNCF – RENFE for train travel France – Catalonia and Spain.

Below we have listed the most popular international train travel routes to France:

  • Need to catch a train from England to France – take the super-fast and efficient Eurostar. England to France by train was never easier, and Eurostar connects Paris with both the UK and Brussels.
  • From Switzerland, you can get a high-speed train to France with TGV Lyria.
  • SNCF in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn operates frequent trains between France and Germany.
  • If you’re after train travel to France from Belgium, the Netherlands, or Germany, Thalys operates an efficient train service.

New French destinations by Spanish Fast Trains (AVE)

Lyon was the city chosen by RENFE (the Spanish network of trains) to introduce its new AVE fast train service for France.

This new service connecting France and Spain began on 13 July 2023 between Barcelona and Lyon with no change of trains. Then, the connection between Madrid and Marseille started on 28 July 2023.

This is great news for Catalan and Spanish fans wishing to attend the Rugby World Cup 2023 and the Summer Olympics competitions in Southern France.

Train Travel in France from Paris

Gare du Nord - Paris

Given many tourists arrive in Paris, this is often the starting point for many train journeys within France. With the trains in Paris, you can pretty much reach anywhere within the country with ease.

Here are some of the main destinations in France served from the train stations in Paris:

» Gare du Nord: Northeast France, Lille, Valenciennes, Calais, London (Eurostar), Brussels, Cologne, and Amsterdam (Thalys)

»  Gare de l’Est: Nancy, Metz, Reims, Strasbourg, Colmar, Germany, and Luxembourg

» Gare de Lyon: South of France. Lyon, Dijon, Besançon, Clermont-Ferrand, Marseille, Nice, Montpellier. Mulhouse in the East of France. Switzerland (Geneva, Zurich), Italy, and Catalunya (Girona, Barcelona)

» Gare d’Austerlitz: Tours, Poitiers, Limoges, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Biarritz, Western Spain

» Gare Montparnasse: All TGVs to West of France (Brittany, Brest, Rennes, Nantes)

» Gare St. Lazare: Caen, Cherbourg, Rouen, Le Havre.

Traveling France by Train – Best Tips

To make your train travel in France enjoyable, here are a few additional tips:

Train Strikes in France

Train strikes in France can be a major inconvenience for travelers, especially if you’re caught off-guard. We tell you all about train strikes in France dates and best tips to deal with them in our article about French Train Strikes.

Arrive Early at the Station

There is nothing worse than arriving a few minutes before your train is about to part and you have no idea where to go. France train stations can be huge places, and it can be a little daunting to navigate your way around.

Arrive at least 15-20 minutes (perhaps more in huge train stations like Gare du Nord in Paris) before your train is due to depart.  This will give you enough time to check the large screens and see which platform your train is leaving from and then find the platform.  Once you arrive at the platform, there is often a sign indicating where the train’s carriages are so that you can wait in the appropriate place for easy boarding.

If this is your first time catching a train in Europe, or if you don’t speak French, I’d even recommend giving yourself an extra 10 minutes until you get the hang of things.

Bring Snacks for the Train

This is particularly important for long-distance trains. While most trains have a trolley cart that comes around or even a café on board, sometimes, for whatever reason, the trolley doesn’t come, or the café is closed. Even when they are open, they may not have your favorite drink or anything you like. Plus, the food and drinks tend to be expensive.

Most train stations have various convenience stores where you can pick up food and drinks before boarding the train.

Validate Tickets before Boarding

If you use point-to-point tickets on regional and local trains, you must validate your ticket before boarding the train. Usually, there is a machine just before you enter the platform where you insert your ticket.

If you are using a pass, in most cases, nothing is required except for boarding the train.  If in doubt, always ask at the staff at the station before boarding the train.

Never Leave Unattended Luggage

It can be tempting to briefly leave your bag while you walk to a nearby shop for a bottle of water, but you should never leave your luggage unattended – even for a second.  Unfortunately, thieves are everywhere, and they are well experienced with taking bags in a split second.

It is also recommended that on board the train, you store your luggage within eyesight, instead of in the dedicated spaces between the seats and the doors. In most cases, you should be able to store your luggage in the compartments above your seat.

Making Train Connections

Unlike flight connections, you really don’t need much time between train connections. Sometimes, a train connection might involve walking to the other side of the platform.  However, at other times you will need to walk from one end of the train station to the other, so leave yourself plenty of time to make your connection – 10 minutes should be plenty.

We hope that this guide to France by train will help you with getting around France by train. Bon voyage!

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Check out our France by Train Guide for getting around France by Train. All the information about TGV travel, France train tickets, Europe Rail Passes and France Rail map