Train Travel in France: A Quick Guide for Beginners

Salut,

Bonne année !
Je te souhaite plein de bonheur et de réussite pour 2016. 🙂

Also, here are 2 episodes for you on January traditions in France:
2 Unmissable French January Traditions (Including : Les étrennes)
How to Eat La Galette des Rois

Trains are super useful to travel around France. I received many questions from my viewers about the French railway, and they’re right, it’s confusing.

How can I book my train ticket?
Can I take the TGV to anywhere?
What is really a Thalys anyway?

Well, today I’ll tell you everything you need to know about French trains: best times to take train, the cheapest places to buy a ticket, the french railway network & much more!

Welcome aboard the Comme une Française express!

Le Pass Interrail
Le Transilien
Captain Train

EDIT: I completely forgot to talk about « Composter son billet » !!! Thanks for mentioning this in the comments. ????
Once you got your train ticket, before getting on the train, « il faut le composter »: punching/validating it in a machine. These machines are usually yellow. It means that you cannot use this ticket again.

Et toi ?

When did you last take a French train ? Which one?
Do you have any advice to share about taking the train in France?
>> I’m sure you do! This would be very useful to the Community!

Bonne journée et à tout de suite dans les commentaires,

Géraldine

Join the conversation!

  • I went from Carcassonne to Bordeaux and found no place to composter last October. Nobody ever checked my ticket.

  • Bonjour Géraldine!
    Je voudrais savior si c’est possible d’acheter une carte d’abonnement (à la journée/semaine etc.) pour prendre le métro et le RER. Je vais être à Paris pour cinq jours. Vous trouvez aussi que c’est moins cher que d’acheter un ticket à la fois? Ça en vaut bien la peine? Je compte prendre le train plusieurs fois par jour. Finalement, est-ce qu’il y a des tarif réduits pour les enfants (âgés de moins de 10 ans)?

    Merci beaucoup.

  • J’ai toujours du mal à trouver le numéro du car dans lequel je suis réservé. Par exemple, mon billet indique le car 11 de la TGV 5316 à la place 41. Quelle est la logique pour monter à bord du train dans le car resérvé?

  • Bonjour Geraldine!
    Je dois visiter un ami en France et il a dit que c’est mieux que j’arrive à l’aéroport de Bergerac. Le problème c’est que j’habite en Italie et je n’ai pas trouvé des vols qui arrivent à Bergerac. Donc je voulais demander quel est l’aéroport plus proche (et plus grand!) que je peux utiliser. BOrdeaux peut-etre? Je sais que nous avons beaucoup de vols à Bordeaux. Je suis aveugle et donce maps sont très dificiles à lire pour moi. Merci beaucoup!

  • Everything has been covered so my message will be short.
    My latest trip was from Angoulême par Bordeaux,Toulouse,Carcassonne, Narbonne to Béziers.
    In short: Book early for a cheap ticket. I recommend http://www.seat61.com and http://www.captaintrains.com. Very easy.
    Allow sufficient times if changing trains, you never know if a train is late.
    Be prepared to rush to find your platform when announced. At bigger stations you might get just 15-20 minutes.
    Look out for ” La Repére” on the your platform. It is an information table which tells you exactly the position of your
    carriage. Brilliant and it saves time.

  • Je n’ai jamais voyagé en train en France, mais j’ai eu une très belle expérience en Italie. On a voyagé en TGV de Rome à Florence avec la Freccia Rossa, et après quelques jours, de Florence en Venise avec la Freccia Argenta. La Freccia Rossa est d’une société privée, et l’autre de la Trenitalia, de l’État. Tous les deux voyages ont été super. Nous avons même fait la connaissance d’un couple italien qui nous ont recommandé un très bon restaurant à Venise.

    Pas autant de chance avec les avions. Lufthansa a annulé notre vol de Venise a Francfort, où nous devions faire la connexion pour la rentrée aux États-Unis. On a fini par la passer la nuit dans un hôtel à l’aéroport de Francfort (payée par Lufthansa, bien sur), et on est enfin rentrés chez nous avec un jour de retard.

    Il semble que le train est plus fiable que l’avion!

  • A word of caution when using a sleeping compartment on the Paris to Madrid train (and maybe on other, similar trains). The electronic key to the compartment opens the door of same-numbered compartments in other carriages elsewhere on the train – and vice versa! I checked into my compartment early and therefore decided to stretch my legs by taking a walk along the platform. After some twenty minutes I returned to what I imagined was my carriage only to find that when I opened the door to the compartment there was a young woman inside undressing her two children. How embarrassing! I apologised in my best Spanish, and quickly closed the door. I immediately contacted a train official who explained the situation to me and showed me to the right compartment in the right carriage. I guess it could have been even more embarrassing!

  • Bonjour,notre train de paris a marselles a ete retardee en raison de la neige. Il etait difficile de comprendre ce que le conducteur a dit, donc nous savions pas ce qui se passait. Pourriez- vous faire un segment sur les annonces de train. Merci

  • Salut encore Geraldine.

    Premièrement, j’aimerais te dire que je pense à tous les Parisiens aujourd’hui, un an après les attaques chez Charlie Hebdo. En particulier, aux personnes qui sont morts ou qui ont perdu un membre de famille ou un ami.

    Maintenant, merci pour ce clip. Très intéressant! Il y a dix ans, j’ai voyagé en train (à Nice) et j’ai entendu quelqu’un parler d’un homme en disant, “Ce Loïc-là…” Peux-tu m’expliquer cette expression/ce mot ‘Loïc.’ J’ai consulté des sites-web, mais je n’ai pas bien compris.

    Merci!
    Sera

  • Salut Géraldine – bonne année !

    Merci bien tout le monde pour vos infos très utiles. Hier, après regardant ta vidéo, on a acheté des billets pour notre voyage de Rennes à Paris, par TGV, au Paques. On a utilisé captaintrain.com, suivant ton astuce super. Il était très facile à utiliser, et moins cher !

    Bonne semaine

  • J’ai pris les trains en France chaque fois j’ai visité. J’adore le tgv. Un conseil j’ai pour les touristes américains est avoir l’argent en pièces pour acheter les billets parce que les cartes crédit Americaine ne marche pas dans tous les machines et il n’y a pas machines pour changer l’argent dans les gares. J’ai un problème à gare de nord à Paris une fois qui encore me donne les cauchemars. Mais j’ai pas de problèmes avec le TGV quand j’ai acheté les billets sur internet. Merci Géraldine pour cette vidéo.

  • Geraldine, je vous remercie de l’épisode sur les trains
    . J’aime les trains circulent en France et ont utilisé tous les trains, y compris divers trains touristiques tels que le petit train jaune.
    Depuis longtemps je cherchais une carte ferroviaire de France et finalement trouvé un atlas.
    C’est superbe. Aussi je l’utilise train capitaine. il est le meilleur et ils sont si utiles.
    Parce que Geraldine , parfois je fais une erreur

  • Salut Geraldine – composting or validating your ticket before you go on to the platform is something strange to British visitors and causes them much confusion!

    We have had two great holidays based in Nimes where we exclusively used the train to get about and see some amazing places like Avignon and Arles. Well recommended and much better than driving (and parking). A highlight was the train from Nimes to the fortified town of Aigues Mort which costs just 1 euro!

    Wish our UK trains were as good as yours …

  • Hi Geraldine, about 8yrs ago I travelled on the TGV from Cannes to Paris & as I had never done anything 1st class I got a ticket. It was fast, blindingly so, but I was disappointed as I did a check of 2nd class to discover everyone else was in there and seemed to be having a better time. I have also used the TER to Nice & another to Monaco but on one occasion to Nice it wasnt a strike that cancelled trains but an electricity blackout. The people at the train station however were very informative, gave up to date information, we went for a coffee and returned but by midday we decided it would be better for another day. The station ticket staff were very helpful and we immediately got our money back, for another day. The French trains are reliable I have found and most importantly on time…lol

  • Great advice, Geraldine, as always. I travel frequently by train in France, and find the TGV connections fast and efficient and the TER and Intercities trips always enjoyable despite the slower speed and frequent stops. I have never had any problem, though I would reiterate other people’s advice about the importance of composting your ticket before boarding the train. I forgot once, and was made to feel practically like a criminal by the conductor, who made a great show of reminding me she could charge me all over again if she wished.

    Also worth noting, many stations have signage on the platforms that show exactly where your TGV car will stop. It can save a frantic last-minute scramble if you arrive a bit early and position yourself where your car will stop.

    Great advice someone posted about making sure to match the train number on your ticket with the train you are about to board. Also, your destination might not match the destination displayed on the large overhead sign, if for example, it is just a stop along the way. I found this out the hard way a couple of times.

    Also, women traveling alone might want to pack light. Many of the more rural stations do not have elevators, and it’s no fun struggling up multiple flights of stairs or boarding trains with heavy luggage in tow, or trying to heft unwieldy or overly heavy suitcases onto the rack by oneself. Though there is usually some helpful French traveller around to offer aid.

  • Bonjour Géraldine
    En avril, j’ai utilisé l’Eurostar de Londres à Paris et le TGV de Paris à Lyon. Tous les deux étaient excellents. Il y a trois ans, j’ai passé un mois à Paris et j’utilisais une carte Navigo chaque fois que je suis sortie. C’était est plus convenable que les carnets. En plus, j’ai pris le train de Paris à Chartres et aussi de Paris à Reims pour visiter les cathédrales. Les voyages ont duré environ une heure et demie et les billets, réservés trois mois auparavant, étaient assez bon marché.

  • Love your videos, Geraldine. Thanks so much.
    Video about trains very timely for me, too. Planning on going to Bordeaux from Paris. Any opinions on going from CDG to Orly to fly to Bordeaux versus RER from CDG to Montparnasse to take the train? How much time does one need to be at the airport in order to go through security etc? Thanks for any ideas.

    • Hi Joan, there is no need to go to Montparnasse to get the Bordeaux train as the Lille to Bordeaux service goes via CDG. Our US friends always take the TGV to us when visiting as it is a very relaxing journey after a long flight.

  • Thanks for this timely advice everyone. Currently tossing up between train from Lyon to Biarritz to fly? Can anyone help re changing trains in Paris taking the TGV. Is it problematic moving from one station to next and what is the best way to do those?
    Many thanks Geraldine for your videos, they are fun and informative. Also, what a pleasure to receive your Christmas card but snail mail, what a treat.

      • If you have luggage you may want to avoid metro for crossing Paris, particularly at peak times. The combination of steps and crowds is not easy to navigate.

      • Great episode and comments! A couple more thoughts.
        1. Coach companies also operate in France and can be as quick as trains on some journies. Coaches can also be much easier if you have difficulties with steps or have heavy luggage.
        2. Overnight trains sell both beds and reclining seats. A first class recliner may cost you more than a bed.
        3. Women may also be interested to know that they can request a female only sleeper compartment on overnight trains.
        4. Be prepared to pay high prices for toilets in stations (amazingly, even in the train station at CDG airport).
        5. The sncf app has a loverly real-time feature that tells you how much time you have left on your journey and if the train is running late. You can also see a plan of the stops. This makes getting off at the right place much easier! (The announcements are typically only in French and it can be hard to recognise a place name you have never heard spoken).
        6. The conductor almost always announces that if you have had any problem composting your time key you should stop him/her. I did this once and he was very kind. So don’t panic if you remember too late.
        Thanks!

  • My husband and I took the train round trip from Paris to Avignon this past September and it was wonderful! My tips are these: if you’ve going to be bringing more than one piece of luggage DO NOT make your seat reservation for the upper deck. There’s no lift, do you’ll have to schlepp your bags up and down the steps: not fun! Also, print your ticket even if you’ve got it on your phone. We learned the hard way that unless you’re an octopus, you can’t manage your bags and your phone, but you can have that piece of paper readily available!

  • In Paris last year I found it convenient to be near line 14 for wheelchair access. It might be worth adding a few minutes to your journey if you are using Chatelet/Les Halles – it’s rather large and we took a long time to find the lift, finally escaping near the Bourse de Commerce!

  • Think others may have already mentioned but can’t stress enough the importance of stamping (composter) your ticket BEFORE getting on the train. To Europeans this may sound obvious but in the UK we don’t need to do this as our ticket is only valid for a certain day (and sometimes time). I once got told off on the RER for not having composté my ticket. I thought simply having it would be enough!

  • I travel by train a lot in France alone and I feel quite safe. I find the guard/ticket collector is helpful and friendly. There is a TGV from Paris to Barcelona now which saves what used to be a lot of messing about at the French/Spanish border where the train gauges were different.

  • Last year I took the TGV from Paris to Nice to visit a friend and then returned to Paris. It was wonderful to just sit back and look at the cows and beautiful scenery.

  • Salut Géraldine

    L’année dernière je suis allés à Paris par train (j’habite à Carcassonne). J’ai voyagé à Toulouse par RER ou j’ai changé pour la service idTGV, destination Paris. Quand j’ai fait le réservation en ligne par Capitain Train, j’ai noté qu’il y avait deux trains qui partent destination Paris au même heure. Un était le TGV, l’autre était l’idTGV qui était beaucoup moins cher (moitié du prix). J’ai commandé le billet moins cher! Quand les trains sont arrivés à la gare, ils sont le même train! Il y avait dix wagons pour le TGV et dix wagons pour l’idTGV! Heureusement ils sont arrivés à Paris au même temps.

    Pour le retour j’ai pris le TGV qui passait par Lyon à Montpellier et un autre TGV qui est allé à Carcassonne.

    En France la moitié du prix est égal à deux fois le temps de voyage.

    • Pour les IDTGV et les TGV, en théorie, les IDTGV sont moins confortables. Mais ce n’est pas (du tout) toujours le cas. Les IDTGV sont censés desservir d’autres gares aussi. Mais dans la vraie vie, c’est un mystère et j’ai pris des IDTGV sans voir aucune différence… 🙂

  • On our last trip to France we rented a car & took a wonderful road trip from Paris to the Mediterranean, then took the TGV back to Paris from Aix. Unfortunately it turned out there were 2 train stations in Aix and we went to the wrong one. By the time we figured out that the TGV had its own separate station and managed to find it, we had missed our train and had to pay a penalty to exchange our tickets for a later one. So we learned our lesson and will not assume there is only one station in a given town and will pay more attention to station locations.

    • That’s a classic mistake Richard and the 2 stations are VERY far! Same in Lille, there are 2 stations… 🙁 Lyon as well.
      Happened to many French people too!

  • Bonne année! I very much enjoyed the video on trains, and am now doubly thankful for them, since your parents met on a train!
    As an American, I very much appreciate the train/metro/bus system in France and probably all of Europe, but I have only taken it in France. I would love to see such a fantastic system here in the USA. (Fat chance!) Each time I took the train from CDG to Lille, I booked on-line using raileurope.com and it was very easy! I checked the pricing between Captain Train, SNCF and Rail Europe and found that SNCF and rail Europe were the same. Captain Train was a bit less. I might look into that one next time, but since I fly as a retied airline employee, I generally need some flexibility on the train time. I had researched the ins and outs of trains before my first trip, and found it very helpful. It was not as difficult as I expected. My best advice, when flying into CDG and taking the train, is to use the toilettes in the airport, as the one in the train station is not free and is not as nice as the one(s) in the airport! It typically does not take long to get from the plane to the train station, but I would not advise a really close connection. One never knows what might happen!
    On my last trip, Dec 9, 2015, I cruised through the airport to the TGV and was pleasantly waiting for my train to Lille Flandres to appear on the board when everyone was made to exit the station! We had to go to the far end of the upper level, away for the doors, due to a security issue. It was a little nerve-wracking since I was not able to view the board, but I saw no trains coming thru. After about 15 minutes, I saw people going down to the tracks and asked if trains were coming? Yes! The train to Lille? YES! In three minutes track 3! I headed away as quick as I could, naturally I was on the opposite end, but I made the train! That was my only adventure; otherwise all trains trips have been smooth and quite relaxing. It boggles my mind that I can be in Lille from Paris in less than an hour. I never noticed the speed until another train passed. Long story short: I love the train system!

  • Thanks, Geraldine for the new vid. Excellent and useful info on the train system to which I could add a few comments or questions. While studying in Tours several summers ago (2 or 3) I found it impossible to purchase TGV train tickets online. The system and some of the automated kiosks at stations would not accept my US credit card. I think my only other issue with using trains to travel from Paris to Normandy and the Touraine and back was where to put my luggage. When traveling from CDG to Tours on a Sunday afternoon in summer, I found myself on a crowded train surrounded by seemingly hostile travelers who criticized for me for placing my luggage on the pile which included theirs or in the overhead luggage racks. It would have been helpful if someone had pointed out an alternative site to store luggage for the train trip. But instead, I ended up sitting on my luggage in the isle at the rear of the car rather than interact further with the angry commuters. After two very happy summers (and multiple pleasure trips to Paris) this remains my single unpleasant memory of interactions with French citizens. When the luggage racks overhead and at the rear of the car are full, where does one put the luggage so as not to inconvenience the other riders?

    • Je suis d’accord. Les valises, voilà le problème. Quand on est en France pour quelques semaines et qu’on a une grosse valise, il est impossible pour une femme de la lever et de la poser au dessus du siège. Et parfois, il n’y a même pas d’espace. Et si je la laisse derrière, je suis toujours stressé que quelqu’un descende à une gare intermédiaire en emportant mes bagages!

  • I once took a “sleeper” train from Paris to Rome. The compartment was very small and crowded. Next time, I will opt for first class sleeper.

  • Bonne Année aussi Géraldine.
    Moi je suis allée en Suisse à Lausanne une fois toute seule et jeune! Mais c’etait bien très organisée et à l’heure qui n’est pas toujours le cas pour nous les Brittaniques.
    aussi la chose de composter le billet avant je me suis trompée avec ca avant!

  • Bonne Année Geraldine,

    Thank you for this excellent post. My husband Harry and I live in Menton 5 months of the year and the train and bus are our preferred mode of transportation. The trains are reliable and you can get everywhere quickly. In the PACA region, you can purchase a ZOU card which gives you 50% discounts on fares.

    One hint for American travelers, in addition to the composting (validation) discussed by others, payment can be a challenge. Most Americans don’t have credit cards that are chip and PIN enabled and most, if not all, of the automatic ticket machines require chip and PIN to work. So you will either have to buy your ticket on-line in advance or at the ticket counter when it is open. Many smaller stations don’t have staffed ticket counters. Most US banks recently upgraded to chip technology from the magnetic stripe but unfortunately, it’s “Chip and Sign” rather than “Chip and PIN”.

    Here is a useful tip, ask your bank to upgrade your American debit card or ATM card to a chip card. Since the debit card already uses a PIN, it should work fine at the automatic ticket machines. This will also be more secure in using your card abroad.

    Thank you again for this fantastic summary of the excellent train system in France.

    • Thanks for the excellent suggestion re: US credit cards. I will see if I can get an “upgrade” to a card w/a chip BEFORE my next trip to France!

      • Nelliepodge, make sure they give you a chip and pin card. Unfortunately, most US banks have only done the chip and sign but as I posted, your chip and PIN debit card should work. I have not tried it yet but will do so in June when we return to Menton.

    • I have been buying TGV tickets on line with American credit cards w/o a chip. The payment goes through at the time of purchase. You do have to show the credit card when you pick up your tickets at a SCNF office in France but, as they are already paid for it does not matter if you have a chip or not. To get the best rate (sign up for alerts) on the SNCF website you have to start the transaction as if you were already in France so the language will be French (not too difficult), and pick up your tickets in France. On our trip from Paris to Strasbourg last month the conductor viewed our tickets but did not ask for id.
      I also prefer buses to metro. We have Navigo cards that are good for 10 years. They can be charged up at the train station at CDG enabling you to take the RER B into Paris: 21€ for 1 week. There are also monthly rates. Thank you, Geraldine for a very informative post!

      • Hi Bonnie, yes, as I mentioned in my post you can purchase them online. However, many tourists from the US don’t know about this option and come to the train station and are at a loss when they can’t buy a ticket with their credit card because it won’t work. I have helped many of these folks in my town.

  • 20 years ago, my family and I took the TGV from Paris to Avignon. In Paris it was rainy and chilly, but after a few hours we stepped out in the hot sun of Avignon. We had some waiting time before continuing with TER to Banyuls near the Spanish border, so we changed clothes , and borded the TER in shorts and T-shirts. Big mistake!! The train was airconditioned like a freezer, so it felt like a very long trip. :[

  • Here are some other tips:
    SNCF has basically two types of tickets an they have confusing names in both French and English. One type is more like an airline ticket, you an print it as many times as you want until the train leaves and it is linked to your ID. The other kind is printed at the station and you treat it like cash. Captain Train explains this well.

    Larger stations have both the yellow SNCF machines and specialized TER machines. Make sure you don’t go to the wrong one.

    If you are a tourist in Paris, ride the bus instead of the metro. Sure, it takes longer, but you experience Paris the whole time and get a feel for how the different arrondissements are laid out and how far things are. You learn the city and talk to more people.

    • Good suggestion, Joel about use of buses, especially in Paris. Although several obvious bonuses include visual information about the city, I also find people initiate conversations with me more when ride the buses. Possibly a false impression, but I typically feel like less of a target for pickpockets when I take in the bus in comparison to use of Metro (which I also love and relish taking). But especially for women travelers with serious luggage, it can be a wise choice to take the bus–which eliminates almost all stairs. Montparnasse station is especially problematic, but even 2 flights of stairs at an station can present a challenge to some travelers.

  • Salut Géraldine. Je l’utilise l’Eurostar autour de 9 fois par an. Si il n’y avait pas Eurostar Je ne serais pas être marié à ma femme parisienne. Il était la clé de notre relation longue distance. Je suis d’accord avec tout ce que vous dites au sujet du système de train français, il met à la honte du système ferroviaire au Royaume-Uni qui est relativement cher et un manque de financement. Un site que je ai trouvé utile pour les voyages en train de planification est https://www.horairetrain.net/, il est plus facile à naviguer que le site de la SNCF labyrinthique.
    Je vais utiliser le site Captain Train la prochaine fois que je veux billets SNCF.

  • I have used the trains in France several times and have found them to be brilliant. However, a hint- make sure the trains you get on has the same number as your ticket. We mistakenly got on a train which was running late and arrived just before our train. It was going to the same place fortunately but our booked seats were on the train arriving a minute or so later !
    In 2015 we booked a rail/hike tour on the Nimes to Clermont Ferrand line. The SNCF decided to do track work for the whole month of June so no trains! Our rail/hike holiday became a bus/hike holiday. Still great though!
    And finally, a mention of the Train des Pignes from Nice to Digne. This is a delightful trip through a river gorge and several very quaint and historic villages including the wonderful Entrevaux. A lovely day trip if you are in Nice. I love train travel both at home (Australia) and in France in spite of the occasional glitch.

  • I use the train quite a lot, apart from composting, which is not recycling your ticket in the compost bin, be careful of platform numbering. At many stations they are identified by letters not numbers and this can cause confusion if you don’t understand the difference between G and J !
    One week-end, I caught an inter-city train to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand from what I thought was platform 1. Next time I went I was going to Lyon and the display said platform I which I assumed was the same platform as before, but it was platform i not 1. Platform i was a little bay platform 50 metres up from the station building. By the time I had the sense to ask it was too late and the train was leaving! Luckily there was another train in 2 hours.
    Another thing, with tickets bought on line, you must carry a piece of identity which the conductor will ask to see!
    Oh and off peak travel on regional lines by train (TER) is often by coach, trains only being used in the peak hours. The train display will say whether it is a “car” or not and usually where to find it.

  • Géraldine, merci bien pour cette bonne et utile vidéo.

    La dernière fois que je voyageais par train français est le décembre passé. J’allais à Colmar et Strasbourg, de Lausanne avec une change à Bâle. Le type du train entre de Bâle et Colmar / Strasbourg était un TER, donc les prix sont fixes.

    Le conseil de Susan à propos de composter des billets est très, très important. Ce conseil est aussi applicable (le plus du temps) lorsque on achete un billet au guichet de gare, ou des billets imprimés par les machines SNCF / TGV d’auto-service.

    Quand je partais Strasbourg vers de la Suisse, j’ai acheté mon billet par un machine TER d’auto-service. Comme habitude, je croyais que le billet ait dû être composté avant de monter le train. Mais, quand je essayais composter mon billet, j’ai trouvé que le billet était trop petit. Il n’y avait pas de façon que je pouvais le composter. Heureusement, à bord le train, j’ai expliqué la situation à le controlleur, et ensuite il “a composté” mon billet (il écrivait des quelque choses sur et signait la côté inverse du billet).

    2 autres tips importants :
    1) Les queues pour les guichets à la gare sont typiquement souvent très longues, particulièrement aux gares sur les grandes lignes ou grandes villes. Tout à fait, si vous voulez d’aide au guichet, laissez beaucoup de temps en avance du départ de votre train.
    2) Aux grandes gares, c’est normal que le numéro de la voie pour le train n’est pas affiché jusqu’à un temps *très* proche du temps du départ. Soyez prêt(e)s de bouger rapidement quand l’écrans d’information montre la voie pour votre train, frequemment dans le dernière 10 minutes. Une fois à Gare de Lyon (Paris), la voie pour mon train (vers Lausanne, par TGV Lyria) n’était que montré 5 minutes avant du départ!

  • The French railway system is a great way to travel – but make sure to check for any “mouvements sociaux” (strikes) on the SNCF website or app. It still happens quite frequently 😉

    If you book your tickets via the SNCF website, you can easily cancel tickets until just before the departure of the train (free of charge if print-at-home or mobile device ticket).

    There is a daily direct TGV between Marseille and Frankfurt and several times per week a direct Eurostar between Marseille and London – fantastic!

  • TGV also runs to Switzerland. You can request alerts for cheap tickets via the SNCF website, or go online to book exactly 3 months ahead of your travel date and get great deals (eg approx €29 Paris > Lausanne). I agree with Susan, carnet is great for metro in Paris. Be sure not to store the paper (carnet) tickets near magnetic bag/purse closures, or they won’t work in the machines. If you have a problem with them scanning, don’t throw them away! Take the ‘duds’ to the ticket counter and ask for replacements. Oh, and beware the purple ink after your ticket comes through the machine—if the machine ink has been topped up recently it leaves stains on your fingers and clothes. Aargh!

  • Great overview and I heartily concur with your recommendation to take the train for travelling across France rather than fly. It is so much more convenient and you end up closer to your actual destination in almost all cases and you are not treated like cattle.

    One thing that is particular to French train travel that you forgot to mention — composting your ticket. If you have a real ticket (as opposed to one you printed at home) you must ‘compost’ it in the yellow ‘bornes’. This date stamps the ticket and renders it valid for your travel and invalid after the journey has ended. The conductor on the train will give you a right ticking off if you have failed to do it before boarding the train. Mind you, my observation is that conductors/ticket inspectors appear less and less on trains these days. On the other hand, I have seen people thrown off the train for attempting to use tickets multiple times without composting them.

    For visits to Paris these days I buy a carnet of 10 single journey tickets at a métro station. I usually have a few left over and keep these for my next visit (very handy if you come in to Montparnasse like I do and don’t have to scrum for a métro ticket to get to the hotel). I used to buy a mobilis card, which are great if you are there for a short time and doing multiple métro trips in a day.

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