Article updated 9 April 2018
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Train travel in France has always felt glamorous, thanks to the famous TGV high-speed trains. But the network also encompasses scores of other, humbler trains that serve almost every corner of the nation – in fact, SNCF operates more than 14,000 trains daily to hundreds of stations across France.
Unlike trains in neighbouring countries, most SNCF trains do not run at regular intervals (eg at the same time each hour). Schedules can be erratic, and connections between, say, a TGV and a regional TER train may be inconvenient. However, with advance planning, riding the rails in France can be both convenient and affordable.
There are five main types of SNCF trains in France: TGV, Ouigo, Intercités, TER and RER trains.
Use this interactive map of the French railway network to see all your train transport options.
What else do I need to know about travelling on SNCF trains around France?
- There is no checked luggage; you can bring as much as you can cram in over or under your seat or in racks at the end of some train cars. This can be a hassle on the RER trains between Paris and Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports, which have little room for bags and can get crowded.
- Almost all trains are air-conditioned
- SNCF has discontinued almost all night trains, with the remaining few soon to go as well
- TGV trains from Paris to Switzerland are marketed as TGV Lyria; other international TGV trains to Germany, Italy and Spain do not have special branding. Fast TGV-like trains to Belgium and beyond are operated by Thalys, while Eurostar runs the famous trains to London.
|Destination||Type of train||Duration|
|Paris to Barcelona||TGV*||6½ hours|
|Paris to Bordeaux||TGV||2¼ hours|
|Paris to Frankfurt, Germany||TGV*||3¾ hours|
|Paris to Geneva, Switzerland||TGV*||3¼ hours|
|Paris to Lyon||TGV||2 hours|
|Paris to Marseille||TGV||3½ hours|
|Paris to Nice||TGV*||5¾ hours|
|Paris to Orleans||Intercité||1¼ hours|
|Paris to St Malo||TGV*||2¼ hours|
|Paris to Strasbourg||TGV||1¾ hours|
|Paris to Toulouse||TGV*||4¼ hours|
|Paris to Versailles||RER||40 minutes|
*TGV trains that run on conventional tracks for part of their journeys.
TIP: If you’re travelling in France using a rail pass, be sure to check if your train requires a seat reservation. All TGV and long-distance Intercité trains require a reservation even if you’re using your rail pass for the fare.
Buy your seat reservation online at oui.sncf.com in 1st or 2nd class. Choose the train you want and change the option ‘No discount card’ to ‘Pass Interrail – Global Pass’, which works for both Eurail and InterRail passes. You should then be allowed to choose your class of service and pick your seat. The fare should show €5–18. Buy the reservation as you would a normal ticket and use it with your rail pass.
Note that some international TGV trains (such as the Lyria to Switzerland) may require you to use raileurope.com for seat reservations, which might include a surcharge. Try oui.sncf.com/oui first and if you don’t get a fare of €5-18, then switch sites.
- Reserved trains price tickets like airlines: the sooner you buy the cheaper the seat. Tickets sales usually open 92 days before departure. Advance-purchase fares can be 75% less than the full fare ticket sold the day of travel.
- Tickets on reserved trains include a seat reservation and are only good for a specific seat on a specific train
- Tickets on reserved trains come in three flavours:
Ø Pro (also known as Flexi) – Full fare and good only on a specific train, but can be changed or refunded with no fee
Ø Loisir (also known as Leisure) – Discounted fares that can be changed to another train for a variable fee
Ø Prems (also known as Book Early) – Cheap tickets that cannot be changed or refunded
- Regional and short-distance trains without reservations (like the TER and RER) have fixed prices, so there’s no need to buy your ticket in advance to save money. You can wait until you’re at the station.
- Child fares (ages 4–11) save about 20% off the cheapest fare in each class
- Children under 4 years old travel free if on an adult’s lap
Rome2rio has schedules and prices for all SNCF routes within France (and beyond, including Eurostar, Thalys and Lyria). Simply enter your destination and starting point on the website or app, and we’ll instantly display all your travel and booking options.
Booking through Rome2rio allows you to request seat preferences on a TGV train, such as window, with a table, upper deck, lower deck etc. Tickets are mostly print at home (for all high-speed trains), while most TER trains will require you to pick up your ticket from a machine at a French train station.
Alternatively, purchase tickets via Oui.sncf, the main SNCF tickets sales site. Tickets bought here can usually be displayed on the SNCF app, which means there’s no need to print or validate your ticket. You also have the option to request the seat you want on a TGV train, such as window, with a table, upper deck, lower deck etc.
Note: On oui.sncf, the ‘Europe (other countries)’ location/language option works best for English-speakers worldwide. Selecting ‘United Kingdom’ or ‘Rest of World’ can get you transferred to other SNCF sites such as uk.voyages-sncf.com and raileurope.com, which in the past have not shown the cheapest fares and often tack on surcharges.
- All SNCF stations have ticket machines that take cash and credit cards. However, don’t use them to buy cheap fares in advance; they are best for same-day sales. Only larger stations have ticket windows, and opening hours may not be continuous.
- Paper tickets (except those you print at home, but including ones bought from station ticket machines and windows) need to be stamped (compostez) using the yellow validation machines on train platforms before boarding.
- If you bought your ticket online and need to retrieve it from a machine at the station, be sure to have the credit card you used with you, as sometimes this is required.