France by train: The Ultimate Guide to French Railroads

guide to french railroad

Since my first visit to France I just well in love with the railway system here! Easy-to- navigate, super-fast, comfy and cheap (if you know a few little tricks).

Did you know that as part of the experiment a TGV train was accelerated up to 500 km/ per hour?  The usual travelling speed is around 300 km/per hour which is definitely faster than getting around by car.  

Types of Trains in France

RER – stands for Réseau Express Régional. It's a Paris-only city train connecting the city with the suburbs and merging with the metro line.  There 5 lines with around 257 stations  (33 within Paris) as is a faster way, comparing to metro for navigating around the city. There’s even a station right next to the Eifel tower.  Tickets can be bought at each station at the ticket machine selling transport tickets at the metro or railway station. The fare is same to the metro when you’re travelling within the city and rises once you’re away in the suburbs.

TER - stands for Transport Express Régional. This rail system connects main regional cities with smaller towns and sometimes runs between region capitals. Tickets can be bought at SNCF machines at the 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.

 trains run between major French cities, connecting all parts of the country in one huge network, TGV trains run to some destinations abroad too, so you can hop a train from Paris to Amsterdam and get there in just 3 hours! 

The 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 site.  

Any 3rd party providers (
like will give you a price at least 15% higher and you won’t be able to use any discount cards.  

Yet the difficulty here is that SNCF site doesn’t allow you to buy tickets via Internet directly (you’re asked to make a phone call) unless you’re in the country. But this thing can be easily by-passed.

How to buy TGV tickets online from any location  

- Open your browser in incognito mode and head to - the official SNCF website

- In the pop up window choose France as your destination.

-  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 minutes would be more than enough! 

 Now choose the way how you’d like to receive your tickets.
The best option’s an 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 your ticket in advance

Same thing as for air tickets: 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.) for best price. Besides, some destinations are pretty popular, so the tickets here will always be more expensive.

It doesn’t’ have to be Paris as your first destination point. Choose a smaller air hub to save a penny on both air and railway tickets and start your trip there.

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.  This option’s available for most tickets and could be chosen when you decided on the way of how you’d like to get your tickets. Just add your email where the confirmation will be sent and a reminder to buy them. The price stays same as for the day when you’ve booked them.

- Get a reduction card.
In case you’re still in your twenties and planning to travel by train a lot – buy Card Jeune at any SNCF boutique. It costs 50 euro, but it will save you way more. Here’s the price difference.

Without card

With Card

See? What I love about France and Europe in general, you can get numerous discounts till you're around 25-29 years old. 

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

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