Getting Around France by Train
If you’re planning to visit France, getting around France couldn’t be easier than by train. The trains in France are fast, efficient and will get you anywhere you want to go in the country with ease as well as 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 France Train Travel Guide. In this guide, we provide everything you need to ensure your France train travel goes smoothly, including information on the different France train lines, the best France rail pass, where to buy your tickets and just some general tips.
France Rail 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 rail 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.
Types of Trains 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.
TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse)
The TGV 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.
Traveling on TGV trains, 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 sockets. Generally, all trains have free WIFI too as well as a café on board, but you are also welcome to bring your own food onboard.
To ride the TGV, it is mandatory to book a seat reservation (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.
Intercity Trains are express passenger trains that 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 Intercity Trains you have the option of traveling first-class or second-class. Either class is very comfortable with most seats, including drop-down tables and power sockets. Night trains also have 4 and 6-bed cabins.
Generally, all trains have free WIFI too as well as 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 reservation in advance to ride the Intercity 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.
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.
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 on board. All you need to do is take a comfortable and quick Autorain and meet your car there.
The Eurostar is a high-speed train from England to France which connects France with the UK and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel. This Euro train to Paris is so fast that it’s, in fact, possible to make day trips from Paris to London.
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 on board the trains as well as a range of entertainment via the Eurostar App.
A seat reservation is mandatory on the 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.
The Thalys trains are another high-speed train connecting Paris with Belgium, the Neverlands and Germany.
Traveling on Thalys train, you have the option of purchasing 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 too as well as 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.
France Rail Pass Options
There is a range of different rail passes which you can use to travel by train within France. Some passes are solely for train travel in France, while other passes will allow you to travel in France as well as 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 to 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.
France Country Pass
For those just traveling in France then the France Country Pass is the way to go. This pass provides you will unlimited train travel on the national rail network of France (including the TGC, TER, and Intercity, etc.)- there is absolutely no limit to the number of times you take a train in any given day.
You can choose a 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.
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 France Country Pass, you will also receive discounts to various museums, attractions, cruises, ferries, buses, and hotels.
Multi-Country Pass – Eurail Global 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 (included France) – there is absolutely no limit to the number of times you take a train in 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 are traveling 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).
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 make 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
French locals 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 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 RailEurope Website
For those first-timers traveling in Europe and traveling by a rail pass, often they prefer to purchase their tickets online with Rail Europe. This website is well set up for foreigners and is all in English so reasonably easy to navigate. Just be aware that sites like this charge an additional booking fee.
Euro Trains to France
As discussed above, there are various options when it comes to euro trains to Paris or high-speed trains to France from neighboring countries. 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.
Getting Around France from 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, 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.
Train Travel in France – Best Tips
To make your train travel within France enjoyable, here are a few additional tips.
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 navigating 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 to 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, We’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, perhaps they don’t 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 are using point to point tickets on regional and local trains, you will need to validate your ticket before boarding the train. Usually, there is a machine just before you enter the platform that you insert your ticket.
If you are using a pass, in most cases nothing is required to except for boarding the train. If in doubt always ask 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 on 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.
Download a Rail Planner App
There is a range of different rail planner apps available, and they are well recommended to make your train travel much easier. These Apps help with showing whether your train is going to be on time if it delayed by how long as well as telling you which platform your train will arrive at and depart from.
These Apps are also great to ensure you get off the train at the correct station. In super large cities like Paris, for example, there isn’t one main station, so it is easy to confuse one station for another. With the Apps, you can follow your train journey along and ensure you get off at the correct station. At the very least, follow along on Google Maps to ensure you jump off at the correct station.
Making Train Connections
Unlike flight connections you really don’t need much time between train connections. In fact, sometimes a train connection might just involve walking to the other side of the platform. However, 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 Train Travel Guide will help you with getting around France by train. Bon voyage!
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