France by Train: Guide to French Railroads

posted on April 7th 2014 in Blog & France & Travel Tips with 0 Comments

Navigating around France by train is as simple as one-two-three. Seriously, you can get ANYWHERE by train, even to the most remote and tiny cities, barely visible on the map.

Did you know that as part of the experiment a TGV train was accelerated up to 500 km/ per hour?

TGVPhoto by yostD7000//Flickr

The usual  TGV travelling speed is around 300 km/per hour which is definitely faster than getting around by car. Sometimes, SNCF workers go on strike and there may be changes in the schedule and delays.

Yet I still find French railroads to be uber-cool and cheap (if you follow a few tricks I’m about to tell you…)

Types of Trains in France

RER – stands for Réseau Express Régional.

A Paris-only city train connecting the City of Lights with numerous suburbs and merging with the metro. There 5 lines with 257 stations (33 in Paris). Often it  faster to take a RER train instead metro to get around the city.

One of the RER stations is right next to the Eiffel Tower, in case you didn’t know :)

Tickets can be purchased at each station at the ticket machine or from a cashier. Fare is same to the metro when you’re travelling Paris Transport Zone 1-2  and rises once you’re away in the suburbs.

TER – stands for Transport Express Régional.

TER Train

TER trains run between main regional cities with smaller town, as well as between major cities in different regions.

Tickets can be bought at yellow SNCF ticket machines at each station with either your credit card (should have a chip) or coins. For some unknown reason the machine doesn’t except notes, so be ready to have change, lots of change :) As well, you can buy your ticket at the ticket desk operating from 9 till 7 at most stations.

TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse 

Probably, the most commonly know high-speed rail system in the world. TGV trains run between major French cities, connecting all parts of the country in one huge network.  Except for Eurostar, TGV operates to a number of other destinations abroad.

You can get from Lyon to Geneva in less than two hours for just 23 euros (!!!) If you are in no hurry take a 3-hour train for 17 euro with one connection.  

How cool is that?!

A trip from Paris to Amsterdam will take around 3 hours and cost you 65-70 euro one way.

SNCFPhoto by Jaime//Flickr

The whole railroad system’s so well-crafted that you can get to any place by train and you have numerous options to choose from in what concerns price and travel time.

Tickets could be bought at the station, at authorized SNCF boutiques throughout the country and online, which I find to be the most convenient option.

How to get cheap TGV tickets

Buy your tickets directly from SNCF official website.

Any 3rd party sellers (like RailEurope.com) will give you a price at least 15% (often up to 40%) higher than official SNCF rates. Plus, you won’t be able to apply any discounts or get reduced fair.

The easiest way to get cheap TGV tickets is to use the French version of voyages-sncf.com. When you click open the website, you are immediately asked of your country.

In case you choose USA – haha, you’re redirect to RailEurope.

Step 1

If you choose UK – you get to UK version of the same website with prices in pounds and no discounts applicable either.

French website ticket price v.s UK  (44£ = 55€)

TGV price

How to get to the right price

a) buy tickets via French website version: http://www.voyages-sncf.com/ (use Google Translator, duh)

b) Okay, you still want a website in English? Here it is: http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/ 

Just one thing: DO NOT Choose USA/UK/CA or anything in Europe in as “Ticket collection country”. You will get into another re-direct to RailEurope or UK SNCF.

I usually choose Afghanistan. Because it comes first on the list.

Train travel in France and Europe   Voyages sncf.com

- Voila. Now choose your departure city and destination, correct age group (discounts for youth!) and your preferable time to catch the train.

In case you need one way ticket, leave Retour tab empty.

- Browse through the list of trains available at that day with a breakdown in prices and time of travel. Don’t be afraid to miss your connection time.

Twenty min is usually enough.

- Choose the way how you’d like to receive your tickets.

The best option is e-ticket that’s sent right to your email and all you have to do is print it or show QR code at your mobile, tablet or whatsoever device.

Even if you forgot (drowned, lost, ate) your paper copy, you can name the booking number or hand out your passport and the ticket inspector, so he could just find you in customer base.

In case you’re already in France you can:

- Hop to SNCF boutique to pick up your tickets in person.
– Receive your tickets by mail or courier delivery
– Get them printed at a special machine at the train station.

Trip Tip: Don’t forget that you’ll need to punch such tickets at the ticket machine before boarding the train. Otherwise, they’re considered invalid

Buy tickest in advance and be flexible about time and dates

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Airfare rule is applicable to trains tickets in France too! The earlier you buy – the cheaper deals you’ll get.

Try opting for early morning trains or evening one’s (departing after 19 p.m.) to score the  best price. Besides, some destinations are pretty popular, so the tickets here will always be more expensive in any case.

Are you sure you need to go straight from Paris to Nice? Maybe you should check out some places midway instead.

Check out my list of 20 Secret Spots To Visit in France for some inspiration!

In case you still feel uncertain about your plans and don’t wanna pay for the tickets right away, you can just keep them booked up to 10 days for free.

Price stays same as for the day when you’ve booked them.

Get a reduction card

If you’re still under 26 and planning to travel by train in France a lot – Card Jeune will save you loads of cash. Can be bought at any SNCF boutique for 50 euro, but it will save you way more.

Without card

no card

With Card

With card

If you took the train at 10.23 with card you just saved 16€. 

Having a card is worth if you are planning to take at least 4-5 one way train rides or stay in France for over two weeks.

Discounted rates are also available for children and elderly people over 65, large families, business travelers and the military. If you fall under this category and interested in the discount cards – leave a comment below. I’d love to help you :)

How to get from Paris to Marseilles for just 10 euro

MarsselliesPhoto by John Kroll//Flickr

Yep. You read it all correct. A train ticket from Paris to Marseilles for just 10€! 

In April 2013 SNCF launched a low-cost train service – Ouigo with outrageously cheap offers, yet to a limited amount of destinations.  Tickets can only be bought online. 

From Marne la Vallee Chessy – a station in Paris suburb, close to Disneyland you can get to:

- Lyon
– Marseilles
– Montpellier
– Aix-en-Provence
– Nimes
– Valence

You are allowed one carry-on and one hand bag for free.  Extra baggage space – 5€ online and 40€ before boarding the train if you couldn’t persuade the ticket officer your bag only seems so big.

Seats next to sockets + 2€

Children under 11 years old can travel for a flat rate of 5 euro.


Do you like traveling by train? What was the longest route you took?

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