There is no denying that France is one of the most exciting countries to explore.  This diverse country boasts of the highest mountain ranges in Europe.  Additionally, it comprises of a fantastic array of artistic and architectural wonders.  There is a lot to do and see in France as it is filled with glorious coastlines, luxuriant forests as well as grand canyons.  Moving around in France is really cheap, especially if you travel by train.  Moreover, it is an affordable and convenient way to get around France and see all that the country has to offer.

Read on to learn more about train travel in France and know how to travel in comfort and most importantly, at affordable costs at ground level.

One of the Best-connected Countries

Train Travel Guide to France - One of the Best-connected Countries

France is indeed one of the most well-connected countries in Europe by train.  For this reason, it is easy to reach out and travel to almost every city within the country by train.  Nothing could be more fun and exciting than going through the French countryside in a train zooming at 200 mph.  As a matter of fact, there are high-speed train lines all over France that extend to more than 1700 kilometers.  As a result, there is a train available no matter which city you plant to go.  Whether it be Bordeaux, Nice, Avignon, Paris or even the route Michael Portillo took from Lyon to Marseille.  Moreover, there is a train, even for Disneyland Paris.  In my experience, France is one of the best destinations for Train holidays in Europe.

However, the rail network can be a bit confusing to understand for those who do not speak French.  Once you know which city you have to go, all you need to do is check the train times, the fares plus how and where to buy the tickets.  It is a good idea to download the rail planner app.  Eurail App is one of the most popular train Apps used by tourists in Europe.  Finally, browse the French rail network map to get a comprehensive picture.

Check Train Times and Fares

It is easy to check the train times and fares, and all one needs to do is visit the websites of the leading French Railways.  The fares will depend on the train route and destination.  The lowest fares for short trips start at €8 or about USD $10.  However, you need to understand the different types of train and train fares for different routes before booking.

Book Early

The trains can fill up ahead of time and the bookings might overbooked depending on the destination.  So, start looking early to be sure that you will have your train ticket well in time.  This is especially essential when you are traveling through France during peak season or in summer.  For those traveling solo, it is a good idea to look for single window seats for an awesome experience.  By awesome experience, I refer to the wonderful views as you travel through the country only by land.

Where to Buy Tickets

It is essential to know your options well ahead of time and check online at SNCF.  One can book online or get tickets at the train stations.  Buying train tickets is easy but can be a bit confusing for those who do not speak French.  There are a variety of ways to get your French train tickets including;

  • Browse Omio to compare and book train tickets anywhere in France, and one can use their credit card to purchase the tickets.  You can even search for multiple rail routes on their website.
  • TheTrainLine is another popular booking site where you can compare and book your
    train tickets.
  • Rail Europe is an authorized distributor of French rail tickets and offers English speaking customer support for those who do not speak French. However, Rail Europe is very much like France’s National Rail website, but the prices can be higher as there are limited sales and promotions on train tickets.  French Railways website is the official website.  Be aware, the issue is that it often redirects you to RailEurope.com, and thus, it can be challenging to find the best and the lowest fares.

Which Trains?

Train Travel Guide to France - Which Trains

There are different types of train lines, and it is essential to get an overview of them before you purchase any tickets.  Ouigo is a new low-budget train line created by the French National Railways. It connects Paris with popular destinations throughout France.  While the fares are
crazy cheap, there can be restrictions such as limited luggage.  Moreover, there is often no first class or catering.  The Eurostar is popular among the tourists as it links Paris and London.  There are both regular and TGV high-speed trains run by the French Railways.  Intercité trains are fast but not as fast as the TGV trains.  Lastly, France has several regional trains that connect regional hubs; for example, TER connects smaller towns, Transilien and RER connect suburban Paris.

Which Class?

French trains have both first-class and second-class options for travelers.  A lot depends on the travelers and what they are looking for.  Many look for comfortable travel while others focus on saving on price.  First-class cabins are definitely more luxurious and comfortable when compared to second-class as they have large reclining seats and tables for your laptop.  Furthermore, there are snack carts, luggage racks, as well as WiFi.  Needless to say, first-class fares are more expensive than second-class.  Traveling in a second-class cabin doesn’t mean a huge downgrade as they just offer lesser space and comforts.

Buying Tickets at the Station

Train Travel Guide to France - Buying Tickets at the Station

One can easily buy a French train ticket from the ticket window or an automated machine at any train station.  In fact, you can even buy your tickets in advance from the train stations.  There is no reservation necessary for shorter trips and local journeys.  There are multilingual self-service machines placed at the station, and all one needs to do is press the symbol for English.  If you have chip and PIN cards, you can easily buy the ticket.  Alternatively, you can go to the ticket office instead.  Reservation is compulsory for overnight trains and longer or more popular routes.

Collecting your Tickets

If you buy your ticket online, there are several different ways to get your tickets.  For example;

  • You can get your ticket sent to your phone and can use it as an electronic ticket. You can show your electronic ticket to the conductor.
  • Print tickets at home and show the printed ticket to the conductor when he asks for the tickets.
  • You can collect your ticket at the train station with the help of your booking confirmation number or your credit card.  Just remember to use the same credit card used for booking tickets at the station.
  • You can get collect your ticket from the automated machines with the help of a chip and PIN card.  Alternatively, you can use the booking reference number.
  • You can ask for the train ticket to be mailed to you.  However, this process can be a bit slow.  Thus, it is better to stick to other available options to buy and get your tickets.

Validate your Tickets

Remember to validate your tickets and all you need to do is place the ticket into the Compostez votre billet, a little yellow machine placed at every platform. Simply insert one end of the ticket with the barcode and an SNCF logo in the grey mouth-like slot near the bottom.  It is essential to
validate the ticket before hopping on the train and get the validation stamp print on the ticket.  French ticket inspectors are notorious for handing out fines therefore I strongly suggest you pay extra attention for a ticket validation machine before boarding!

Enjoy your Train Travel Experience in France

Train Travel Guide to France - Enjoy your experience

Train travel in France can be a very rewarding experience.  Even more so when planned well in advance.  Sit back and enjoy the views!  Read about my experience in traveling from Nice to Monaco and Andorra by train.