Train travel in France: A guide to SNCF

SNCF runs almost all the trains in France, from the famed TGVs to no-frills Ouigo to the RER commuter train that brings you into Paris from Charles de Gaulle Airport. We explain which train to choose, how long they take and the best ways to book train tickets.

SNCF train travel in France

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.

How do I choose between a TGV, Ouigo, Intercité, TER and RER train?
How long do SNCF trains take?
How do I reserve a seat?
How do I buy a ticket?
How do I buy a ticket online?

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.

Related article: Getting around France from Paris, by train

What are the different types of SNCF trains?

There are five main types of SNCF trains in France: TGV, Ouigo, Intercités, TER and RER trains.

  • France’s famous high-speed trains have been revolutionizing train travel across France since 1981 (in areas with fast TGVs, domestic air travel has almost vanished).
  • Run up to 320km/h on special tracks. The network is ever-expanding, with lines running to:
    Ø  Brittany and Bordeaux (newly opened in 2017)
    Ø  Southeast to Lyon and Marseille, expanding via Montpellier to Barcelona
    Ø  East to Strasbourg and Switzerland
    Ø  North to Lille, Calais and Belgium
  • TGVs also run on conventional tracks at regular speeds, eg high-speed Paris to Marseilles, then continuing on at regular speeds to Nice.
  • TGV trains are comfortable. Seating is 1+2 in 1st class, 2+2 in 2nd class.
  • Seats facing the same way (which may not be the direction of travel) have the most legroom. Other seats face across tables.
  • Some TGVs have two levels, with great views from the upper deck
  • All TGV tickets include seat reservations
  • Most TGVs have a cafe area
  • Most TGVs have power points at every seat and WiFi is now being installed
  • SNCF’s version of a no-frills budget airline
  • Uses special TGV trains without 1st class; some have tighter seating than normal TGV 2nd class.
  • Fares as low as €10 when bought in advance; your ticket comes with a seat reservation.
  • Tickets are non-refundable but can be changed to another Ouigo train for a fee
  • Trains do not depart from central Paris, instead, they use suburban stations reachable on the RER
  • Serves 19 cities including Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux
  • Conventional long-distance trains used on non-TGV routes such as Paris–Limoges
  • These trains are reserved-only; you can’t just hop on and go.
  • Trains have 1st and 2nd class. Some seats are in classic compartments.
  • Local regional trains that run throughout France
  • Each French region determines the level of service, so some lines may have frequent service while others see just one or two trains a day.
  • Schedules do not always mesh well with TGV and Intercités trains
  • Trains range from modern, comfortable bi-levels to old and dirty (eg many of those running along the Cote d’Azur from Marseille to Cannes, Nice and beyond)
  • Fares are fixed and seats unreserved
  • Excellent fast commuter trains in and around Paris
  • Used to get from one side of Paris to the other much quicker than the Metro
  • Serves suburban locations, plus the airports and popular destinations like Disneyland Paris and Versailles

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.
In a controversial move, SNCF, is planning to rebrand its famous TGV trains as ‘inOui’ by 2020. The railway claims that this will differentiate the regular TGV trains with 1st and 2nd class from the cut-rate Ouigo TGV trains. So far, however, few outside the SNCF marketing department have bought into this change (and online derision is rampant). For this article, we’ll continue to call regular TGV trains just that.

How long do SNCF trains take from Paris?

Map of France showing distance to French cities from Paris
Sample travel times for direct journeys from Paris without connections (Credit: Rome2rio)
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.

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 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 for seat reservations, which might include a surcharge. Try first and if you don’t get a fare of €5-18, then switch sites.

How and when do I buy SNCF train tickets?

      • 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

How can I book SNCF tickets online?

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.

Rome2rio Paris to Dijon by train
Simply enter your journey details on Rome2rio and we’ll provide all your train options

Alternatively,  purchase tickets via, 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 choose the seat you want on a TGV train, such as window, with a table, upper deck, lower deck etc.

Note: On, 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 and, which in the past have not shown the cheapest fares and often tack on surcharges.

What else do I need to know about buying SNCF train tickets?

      • 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.
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