Train travel in France is an easy, affordable, and sustainable way to get around and see all that the county has to offer. There are over 1700 kilometers of high-speed train lines all over France.
One of the best parts about traveling by train is the fact that there are stations in almost every city rather than only near the airports. Whether you want to go to Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Avignon, St. Émilion, or even Disneyland Paris, there’s a train you can catch.
Especially if you don’t speak French, the process of traveling by train can be a bit confusing (more on my tragic personal experience below).
To avoid any issues, read on for the ultimate guide to traveling by train in France!
Where to Buy Tickets + Train Prices
One of the best ways to see all of your options is to check online ahead of time. You can see all of your choices (duration, price, etc.) online at SNCF.
As surprising as it seems, trains can and do fill up ahead of time depending on the destination. Book early to help you plan out your trips and ensure that you’ll have a ticket when the time comes. This is especially essential if you’re traveling in high seasons like summer.
If you do decide to book last minute, you can quickly get tickets at the train stations no matter what language you speak.
Pricing all depends on the trip itself though many tickets start as low as €8 (about USD $10) for short trips. For exact pricing, you can go to the tickets and booking portal.
First Class vs. Second Class
I usually lean towards comfortable travel vs saving on price– especially when I’m traveling solo. For such a small price difference, you get a big difference in comfort when riding in 1st class on trains in France.
When traveling solo, you can book single window seats online– which I love!
First class usually also has a power outlet, large reclining seats, laptop sized foldable tables, free WiFi (depending on the route), a snack cart (with food available for purchase), luggage racks, and toilets.
Helpful Tip: First class tickets are assigned specific seat numbers, so be sure to look on your ticket for the carriage number and seat number that you are assigned.
Second class tickets are less expensive, obviously, but they aren’t a huge downgrade. There is just less space and fewer comforts.
Validate Your Ticket
It might seem straightforward once you’ve booked your tickets and you are ready to go but here are some tips that will help ensure you catch your train without any hiccups.
Before you head out, make sure to validate your ticket at one of the bright yellow machines inside of every station. Failure to do so will result in a fine. Although, I have read that if you do happen to forget and you ask for validation on board, there’s a good chance they’ll do so (though they might charge a small fee).
I never had any issues with validation, so as long as you keep your ticket on you so you can show it to the train attendant when they come through to check.
How to Find Your Train
Once you are at the train station, keep an eye out for your train platform. Your train platform will NOT be on your ticket. The platform is posted about 20 minutes before departure.
Another vital tip– do not look for your destination on the departures list. The trains are listed by number and where they terminate. Instead, look for your train number and be aware that some trains make multiple stops may terminate at a different destination.
I missed my train to Avignon because I was looking for Avignon as the train destination. Had I been looking for my train number, I would have seen that it was a train terminating in Paris (Avignon not listed). So I ended up on a regional train that took 2 hours instead of 30 minutes.
Last, but not least, my final tip is to enjoy yourself. Did you know that having a picnic during a train ride is a bit of a French tradition? Pack a baguette, some cheese and a single serving bottle of wine. I can’t think of many things better than snacking on delicious food as the French scenery glides by!