A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel in France

Heading to France? Train is by far the best way to travel around the country, with  no baggage restrictions, flexible times, comfortable trains, and cheap fares! Here’s how to do it!

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Buying a Ticket

1. SNCF

Société nationale des chemins de fer français OR “National society of French railways”

  • SNCF runs all trains throughout France, including regional and high speed.
  • You can book train travel outside of France as well!
  • You can buy tickets directly from their conveniently translatable website here.
  • Some trains require an E-Ticket, which can be presented off of your SNCF mobile app that you should download here before going to France!

Regional trains are never full, you can purchase your ticket just before your train arrives for these- just look ahead at the time tables.20160722_153535.jpg

2. TVG Trains

TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, meaning “High-Speed Train”)

  • These are the high speed trains connecting large cities all across France
  • You might be sitting forwards or backwards, a choice that you can pick when buying your ticket, or asking the person across from you to switch you seats

TVG trains don’t often fill up, but if you can check ahead (particularly during tourist season) I recommend you do.

 

3. iDTVG

  • iDTVG is only different from TVG because it only serves 25 stations, all stemming out from Paris, and it offers iDzen and iDzap- with the train being split by carts into these segments. You make this choice upon purchasing your ticket.
    • iDzen is the more zenful experience, where everyone is either sleeping or reading- and no cell phones go off.
    • iDzap is where you want to book your ticket if you have kids, or if you are with a group of friends who plans to talk the whole time.

You can buy iDTVG tickets 6 months ahead of time! While they aren’t likely to fill up if you wait, you might not get that frontward facing seat in the iDzen zone if you do.

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Inside a French Train

Luggage

The best part of train travel is that you can take all of the luggage you can carry (and sometimes more). In fact, all trains have a cart for those with bikes to get on (just be aware which one on your ticket, because walking down the length of the train, on the inside, with a bike, might be looked down upon!)

Food

On high speed trains, there will be a bar area where you can grab anything from wine to a croissant. However, do expect them to take advantage of your hungry stomach! While there is nothing like a fresh Café, I recommend you bring your own croissant.

Seating

There are both frontwards and backwards facing seats, so take care when buying your tickets to take account if you will get sick traveling backwards.

There are different carts for 1st and 2nd classes. You can see these labeled on the outsides of the carts. High speed trains will give you a cart number and a seat number when you print your ticket, but in regional trains all seats are up for grabs.

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iDZEN in an TVG train to Paris

Comfort

High speed trains are perfect temperature, or even a little cold, in the summer time. However; don’t count on getting an air conditioned regional train, the odds are slim.

Overnight Trains

  • TVG offers overnight trains between many destinations, and by purchasing your ticket through the SNCF website or app, the connecting trains will be planned for you!
  • You will have the options of lower, upper, or middle berths!
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You might wake up to a view like this!

Major Routes

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Railcards

If you are in France for the summer, SNCF offers these passes- which will provide enough discounts to pay for themselves many times over!

  • Under 4 Years Old
    • Travel Free
  • 4 – 11 Years Old
    • 50% off all fairs, no fee
  • 12-27 Years Old
    • Carte JEUNE (€50 annual fee, Save 25% on all your trains!)
  • 28 + Years Old
    • The Week-End Card (Annual fee of €75, Save 25% on all of your weekend train tickets- and you can share the discount with one other person!)

Decoding Your Ticket

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Have you ever rode a train in France? Tell me about your experience by replying to my post! Thank you for reading!

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17 Comments

  1. This is sooo incredibly informative! I am tucking this one away for my next trip (first trip) to France! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  2. This is a fantastic resource, Brooke !…I’m in France shortly and will be training-it around so thank you for the tips! 🙂

  3. Trains are the best and one of the cheapest ways to Travel. Taxis in Europe are very expensive. This information would be helpful!

    1. Great!!!! Taxi’s are very expensive, you are right. I experienced one in Amsterdam and if I wasn’t so tired that day I may have freaked out over the price!

  4. Very good post. The trains do fill up on the big travel days–first and last days of school holidays (look them up online–vacances scolaire). You also can check the Bison Futé, which deals with car travel but which will give you an idea of when people go. Weekends during the summer, for example, can be very busy, so you might want to shift your train travel to a weekday.

  5. I don’t think they are cheap, some times they are more expensive than flights. 😊

    1. That’s definitely true in the case of RyanAir or other cheap flight companies! The only problem with those cheap flights is that certain cities only have certain days of the week they go in between! For example, if you want to visit London for the weekend from Bordeaux, the “weekend” dates aren’t actually available on most cheap airlines. Like, Ryan air only hosts flights between cities 2 days a week, and those two days might be Sunday and Tuesday. BUT RyanAir is definitely the way to go if you’re going outside of France (international travel) and you can find cheap flights on your dates!!!!


  6. excellent…My sister said the same thing re luggage and traveling on trains in France. make sure its not heavy and do not carry to much. love it


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