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Train travel in France – who runs French trains, where to go and how to buy tickets

Thinking about taking a train in France but not sure where to start? We’re here to help. The aim of this guide is to give anyone considering rail travel in France a strong understanding of how the rail system works and just how easy it is to travel by train.

Whether you’re visiting France for a family holiday, a business trip, a backpacking adventure or studying in Paris for a semester, we’ve got you covered. From the train companies that operate in France, the types of trains and how to buy cheap ticket tickets, keep reading to discover our guide to trains in France.

If you're planning on travelling in December 2019, strikes planned by SNCF workers' unions will be severely affecting services. Check out our SNCF Strikes page for information on how to navigate the strikes.

France rail map

It's easy to travel by train in France. Thanks to SNCF, France's national state-owned railway company, you can, for example, eat a croissant in Paris at 10:00 and drink a glass of wine in Bordeaux by midday. Sounds like heaven? Well, if you're planning a trip to France and want to see as many cities as possible, the train is definitely your best friend.

SNCF operates the 4 main rail services in France:

  • TGV, the high-speed rail service which links together the major cities of France like Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille. With TGV, you can go to more than 230 destinations in France and Europe. If you want to learn more about TGV routes and other fast trains across the continent, visit our high-speed trains in Europe page.
  • TER, the regional network for local trips in the different regions of France. 20 regions are now served by the TER, which represents more than 5,000 stops and SNCF stations.
  • Intercités, the non-high-speed rail service which offers an alternative route around France for all the cities not served by the TGV network.
  • OUIGO, the low-cost train service which allows you to travel around France at high-speeds. A great option to discover a lot of French cities with cheap train tickets.

Ready to start planning your trip to France? Check out our interactive France train map

Train companies in France

If you’re hopping on a train in France, it’s very likely you’ll be boarding an SNCF service as they’re the main train company in the country. If you’re travelling from France to another country, there are a few different cross-border train companies you need to know. We’ve broken down the different brands and their services below.

SNCF

  • Domestic routes
  • Main train operator in France
  • High-speed and regional services

As the main train company operating in France, step on a train here and it’ll most likely by an SNCF service, especially for domestic routes. The main types of SNCF train are high-speed TGV, Inercités and slower regional TER services, you can find out more about these further down the page.

Find out more about SNCF trains.

OUIGO

  • Domestic routes (6 in total)
  • Low-cost operator
  • High-speed: up to 300 km/h (186 mph)

A low-cost alternative to high-speed train travel in France, OUIGO trains are still part of the SNCF brand, but usually lower cost than travelling on TGV services, although they also come with less onboard amenities. OUIGO operate on popular routes such as Paris to Marseille, Paris to Lyon and Paris to Strasbourg. They can even take you to Disneyland Paris and Charles-de-Gaulle Airport from certain locations.

Find out more about OUIGO trains.

Thello

  • International routes from France to Italy
  • Day trains between Marseille and Milan
  • Night trains between Paris and Venice

A joint venture between SNCF and Trenitalia (the main train operator in Italy), Thello trains run day and sleeper services between France and Italy. If you want to save on a night’s accommodation, taking the night train allows you to leave Paris in the evening and wake up in Milan. Thello trains only run on two cross-border routes, so you’re unlikely to take one of these trains for travel purely within France.

Find out more about Thello trains.

TGV Lyria 

  • International routes from France to Switzerland
  • High-speed: up to 320 km/h (198 mph)

A collaboration between SNCF and SBB (the main train operator in Switzerland), TGV Lyria trains offer quick connections from Paris, Dijon and Marseille to popular Swiss cities like Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich. 

Find out more about TGV Lyria trains.

Thalys

  • International routes between France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany
  • High speed: up to 300 km/h (186 mph)

Thalys trains connect some of the biggest cities in Europe via high-speed rail. This includes Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Cologne. Enjoy comfortable and quick cross-border travel on these trains, perfect for if you’re on a country-hopping holiday.

Find out more about Thalys trains.

Eurostar

  • International routes from France to the UK
  • High-speed: 321 km/h (200 mph)
  • Seasonal ski resort service between December and April

Eurostar operate high-speed services between major cities in France and London (via a trip through the Channel Tunnel), Amsterdam and Brussels. Between December and April, the Eurostar Ski Train also runs to major ski resorts in the French Alps. 

Find out more about Eurostar trains

Renfe-SNCF

  • International routes from France to Spain
  • High-speed: up to 320 km/h (198 mph)
  • Connects French cities with Barcelona and Madrid

A joint venture between SNCF and the main rail operator in Spain (Renfe), these high-speed trains connect major cities in both countries such as Paris, Marseille, Barcelona and Madrid.  

Find out more about Renfe-SNCF trains.

Eurocity

  • International routes between France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland and Italy
  • Connects major European cities 

A slower form of international train travel than some of the others we’ve mentioned, Eurocity trains usually visits at least two countries on most of their routes.

Find out more about Eurocity trains.

Types of trains in France

There are three mains types of trains you'll find yourself travelling on in France. SNCF operate a mix of high-speed services on major routes and slower regional services between smaller stations around France. Find out more about each train type below.

TGV

  • High-speed: up to 320 km/h (198 mph)
  • Connects Paris with major cites in France
  • Double-decker trains

One of the most popular modes of transport for travelling long-distances in France. These modern trains run on around 50 high-speed routes and always require a reservation in advance. 

Find out more about TGV trains.

Intercités

  • Stops at cities not part of the TGV network
  • Day and night services
  • Night trains between Paris and Toulouse, Rodez, Briancon and Latour-de-Carol

Intercités trains are mainly used for medium-distance journeys across France. Although not as high-speed as TGV trains, they service a lot of stations across the country that aren't on TGV routes. 

Reservations are usually required on most Intercités services. 

TER

  • Regional trains (One for each region in France)
  • Low-cost
  • Stops at smaller stations around France

TER stands for Transport Express Régional and there are 20 different regional TER services operating across France. Popular with commuters, you’ll likely board one of these trains for shorter distance travel to smaller cities and towns throughout France. You won't need a reservation to board a TER train.

Find out more about TER trains.

Train classes

Want to know whether if it’s worth spending that extra cash to sit in First Class? Or whether Standard Class will do just fine? We’ve highlighted what you can expect to find in each class when travelling by train in France.

Second Class

Available on all trains in France

Second (or Standard Class) on trains in France can vary depending on the type of train you’re travelling on. Usually though, you can expect to find the following in Second Class carriages:

  • Retractable tables
  • Shared access to power sockets
  • Duo or four passenger seating options
  • WiFi (TGV only)
  • Luggage storage areas

First Class

Available on TGV and Intercités trains

Not available on TER and OUIGO trains

Depending on the train you’re travelling on and the ticket you buy, First Class travel on trains in France can include the following extras on top of Second Class amenities:

  • More spacious and comfortable seating
  • Solo, duo or private cabin seating options
  • Power sockets per passenger
  • Travel in Quiet areas for free
  • Access to First Class lounges in certain stations

France train tickets

There are four main train ticket types in France, read on for more information on each of the different ticket types and what they’re best for.

Prem’s

The cheapest ticket type, Prem's go on sale up to three months in advance, usually at their cheapest price so tend to sell out quickly. 

They may be the cheapest but they are also the least flexible. Prem's tickets are non-refundable or exchangeable.

Available to buy for travel on TGV and Intercités trains. We'll show these tickets as Prem's in our Journey Planner. 

Best for

  • Budget travellers

Seconde

These are Second Class (also known as Standard) tickets. Seconde ticket prices increase as the departure date approaches. 

A more flexible ticket option, Seconde tickets are refundable and exchangeable.

Available to buy for travel on TGV and Intercités trains. We'll show these tickets as Seconde in our Journey Planner. 

Best for

  • Saving money with added flexibility

Premiere

This is the name for First Class train tickets in France. Prices for these tickets will also increase as the departure date approaches. 

Another flexible ticket option, Premiere tickets are also refundable and exchangeable. These tickets are shown as Premiere in our Journey Planner. 

Best for

  • Extra comfort

Business Premiere

The most expensive ticket option, Business Premiere (Business First Class) is only available on certain TGV services between Paris and Bordeaux, Nantes and Rennes. Tickets are always a flat rate price. 

Access to SNCF lounges in certain stations and priority boarding are just a few of the added extra this ticket provides. You'll see these tickets in our Journey Planner as Business Premiere

Best for

  • Business travellers
  • Extra comfort 

How pricing works for French train tickets

TGV and Intercités tickets can normally be booked up to three months in advance, usually at their cheapest price, except during the following times on year when the SNCF sale runs: 

  • Between mid-December and mid-January, when tickets go on sale two months in advance.
  • Between February to April, when tickets go on sale four months before the date of travel.

Ticket prices for TGV and Intercités trains increase as the train fills up and it gets closer to the departure date. Tickets for TER trains are always sold at a set price.

Discover more by reading our guide on cheap train tickets in France.

How to book train tickets in France

Buying train tickets in France with us

  1. As trusted sellers of SNCF, OUIGO and other cross-border services in France, we’ll show you train times, ticket options and highlight the cheapest prices when you use our Journey Planner or book on our app. Here’s a step-by-step guide to booking train tickets in France with us:
  2. If you're on our website, put your departure and arrival stations into our Journey Planner at the top of the page. If you're on our app, enter them in the Search tab. Don't know the name of the station? You can also search by city. 
  3. Enter the date and time you’d like to depart (and return if you're buying a return ticket), along with the number of passengers and any relevant Railcards/Loyalty cards you have them. 
  4. If you're looking for tickets on our website, hit Get times and prices. If you're using our app hit Find times and prices to start your search. 
  5. Select a time and the class you'd like to travel in from our search results. Once you’re happy with your choice, continue to choose your seat preference, seat type and which deck you'd like to sit on if it's a double-decker train. 
  6. On web, enter an email to send your ticket confirmation to, along with the full name of each passenger you’re booking tickets for (the name must match their IDs).
  7. Continue to the checkout and book your tickets!

Collecting at the machine

If you’ve brought your ticket online before your journey and need to print it out, all train stations in France will have a self-service ticket machine you can collect them from. If you’ve booked with us, simply enter your booking reference and lead passenger name to print your tickets.

Finding cheap train tickets

If you’re planning a journey on a TGV, OUIGO or Intercités train, cheaper tickets are often released up to three months in advance (except when the SNCF seat release is running). They are quick to sell out though, so snap them up when you can!

Find out more in our guide to cheap train tickets in France

Places to visit in France

Did you know France is the most visited country on earth? And for good reasons. Plenty of good reasons actually. The main one? France has everything. Whether you prefer spending your holidays swimming, skiing or walking, we're bringing you beaches, mountains and countryside on a silver tray.

Côte d'Azur (French Riviera)

The Côte d'Azur (French Riviera). Just its name brings glorious sunshine into the room. Locally known as the Côte d'Azur, that is one of the most beautiful parts of France. Ideally located in the southeast, the region is a year-round holiday destination.

It’s no surprise that so many famous artists such as Monet, Picasso and Renoir have been inspired by the magical light and intense colours of the French Riviera. And once you'll be on the pebble beaches of Nice or enjoy a walk on the famous Promenade des Anglais, you'll certainly wish you were a painter too. Looking for some glamour, The Promenade de la Croisette of Cannes and the yachts of St. Tropez are waiting for you. For nature lovers, don't miss the picturesque mountaintop villages of Eze and Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

Trains to Cannes

Trains to Antibes

Trains to Nice

Main stations 

Airport transfers 

Paris

The City of Love. The City of Lights. You've heard the nicknames, now it’s time to find out why.

Start your journey at the top of the Eiffel Tower, so you can take in the rest of the city you’ll be exploring. Then go down and down again to visit the hidden Catacombs of Paris 135 feet below ground or head over the iconic Pantheon's dome, before wandering through the Latin Quarter and marvelling at Notre-Dame Cathedral's Gothic masterpiece.

Don’t forget to fill your stomach with French cuisine. Which obviously includes cakes, viennoiseries and chocolate. Paris is home of some of the most world-famous pastry chefs, and from the macarons of Laduree to the Ispahan of Pierre Hermé, your sugar fix is in good hands.

Trains to Paris

Main train stations

Airport Transfers

French Alps

Nature lovers, sports fans, here is your spot. From snowy mountains to green valleys, from Annecy's blue lake to Chamonix's view of the Mont Blanc, the French Alps will charm you by the diversity of its landscapes and for its fresh air.

In winter, get on your skis and snowboards. L'Alpe d'Huez, Courchevel or Val Thorens open their doors to you... or their numerous slopes. Miles of pistes stretch in front of you. Going in summer? Put your walking shoes on and go on an adventure among the chamois and groundhogs. The French Alps are perfect for hiking or rock climbing and, why not, going for a romantic picnic in the middle of nature.

But the Alps are not only made of mountains. Discover Annecy and have a walk along its famous lake. Get to know the region's cuisine: its fondue next to a fireplace, its raclette to taste with family and friends. All of this with a view on the Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe.

Trains to Bourg Saint Maurice

Trains to Grenoble

Eurostar ski train

Main train stations 

 

 

Lyon

Do you want to experience the true French art de vivre? Look no further, Lyon is a brilliant mix of culture and architecture, food, art and peace.

Did you know this French city is the capital of gastronomy? The temptation is everywhere in the numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, the traditional bouchons (small bistros serving Lyonnaise cuisine) and the prestigious Les Halles de Lyon indoor market, to name a few.

Without hesitation, head to the Vieux Lyon, one of the largest Renaissance neighbourhoods in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stare in wonder at the Gothic style Saint-Jean Cathedral and lose yourself in the charming 200+ hidden passageways (traboules) around the city.

Trains to Lyon

Main train station 

Airport transfers

Bordeaux

If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bordeaux is wine – we can’t blame you! It is the world’s wine capital after all. So, if you're into Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, this city located in the southwest of France is definitely a destination worth visiting.

Of course, how can you not partake in a little wine tasting or vineyard tour during your stay? You’ll get to visit châteaux (castles) or villages in the Aquitaine region as part of many trips. And don't miss La Cité du Vin, a modern and unique museum celebrating all things wine. But even before drinking your first glass, you'll fall in love with Bordeaux – the city is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site for its remarkable urban and architectural unity created in the Age of Enlightenment.

Trains to Bordeaux

Main train station

Travel tips

We want to make train travel in France as easy as possible for everyone. Whether you're backpacking through the country, visiting on a work trip or planning a family holiday, we've put together some of the most important things we think you need to know about visiting France and travelling by train. 

Student/budget travellers

Visa requirements

If you hold a valid US, UK, AU, NZ or CA passport, you won’t need a visa if you’re staying in France for less than 90 days.

If you’re studying in France, you’ll need to apply for the visa that covers the amount of time you’ll be spending there. Short stay visas are for courses not exceeding 3 months. Temporary long-stay visas are for courses between 3 and 12 months.

Discounted train travel

For long-distance trains, look for OUIGO tickets rather than TGV tickets – these no-frills low-cost trains are a cheaper high-speed travel option.

If you have a residence in France, apply for a Carte Avantage Jeune. It costs just €49 and gets you 30% travel on TGV, Intercités and TER trains for 1 year.

If you know your travel plans ahead of time, SNCF release Prem’s tickets up to 3 months in advance. These cheap tickets get snapped up quickly so secure them when you can!

Business travellers

Visa requirements

If you’re staying in France for less than 90 days and hold a valid US, UK, AU, NZ or CA passport, you won’t need a visa.

If you’re travelling from the US, you’ll just need to show proof of sufficient funds and a return ticket to enter the country.

First Class or Standard Class?

Amenities in Standard and First Class vary depending on the train you’re travelling on.

Business Premier Class is only available on TGV trains on Paris to Bordeaux, Nantes and Rennes routes.

First Class is not available on regional TER trains.

Family travellers

Visa requirements

If you’re visiting France for less than three months, you won’t need a visa to enter the country if you hold a valid UK, US, CA, AU or NZ passport.

Child train tickets

Babies and children up to 4 years of age can travel for free on TGV, Intercités, TER and all cross-border services. They won’t be able to have their own seat, so will have to sit on your knee during the journey.

Fares for children aged 4 years and older vary depending on the train company. TGV, Intercités and cross-border services usually allow children between 4 and 12 to travel at around 50% of an adult ticket.

Most TGV trains have dedicated family-friendly carriages.

Good to know

Wondering when to buy your train tickets or how much luggage you can take on trains in France? We've got answers to some of your most frequently asked questions below. 

Buying train tickets

No. It’s not possible to buy tickets on the train in France, you should always book in advance – especially when cheaper tickets are released up to 3 months ahead of time.

You can buy train tickets in advance for TGV and Intercites services in France. Prem’s tickets are usually released three months ahead of time at their cheapest price, so if you want to find cheaper tickets this is a good way to save. If you’re travelling on TER services, tickets are always a set price so there’s no need to buy in advance.

If you want to save money and know your travel plans ahead of time, buying train tickets in advance for TGV and Intercites trains is an easy way to find cheaper prices.  

Yes, you can. If you book with us we’ll give you the option of receiving your ticket as an eticket where it’s available. We’ll email this to you to the email address you provide when booking. Just present the ticket’s barcode (in our app) when asked. You’ll also have the option of printing the ticket at home or showing the six letter reference code to the ticket inspector, which they can use to look up your ticket.

On the train

You’ll need a seat reservation if you’re travelling on a TGV train, however, may not always need one for Intercites services – especially the shorter distance routes. Intercites routes that do require a seat reservation are Paris to Toulouse and Paris and Marseille.  TER trains don’t require a reservation.

Yes they are. All sized dogs are allowed on all types of trains in France, except for the Eurostar. If your dog is larger than 6kg, you’ll have to buy a ticket from them, it usually costs around 50% of a Second Class ticket.

It depends on the type of train you’re travelling on:

TER – it’s free to take your bike on TER trains, they have dedicated bicycle spaces you’ll need to put them in, although it’s on a first come first served basis so there may not always be space.

TGV – you’ll need to book a space for your bike when you book your ticket (it’s around €10).

It varies depending on the type of train you’re travelling on:

TGV – there’s no baggage allowance, but you must be able to carry your bags yourself. Larger items should be stored in the luggage racks at either end of the carriage. Smaller items can be stored on the shelf above your seat.

Intercites – there’s no baggage allowance, but again you must be able to carry your bags yourself. You’ll find luggage racks in the centre of the carriages, and also have overheard storage on the shelves above your seat.

OUIGO – a standard ticket will include 1 piece of hand luggage (not exceeding 36 x 27 x 15 cm) and 1 piece of larger luggage that can’t exceed 55 x 35 x 25 cm. This must be stored under your seat. You’ll have to pay an additional fee to bring other pieces of luggage.

Miscellaneous

The main high-speed train in France is the TGV. France’s version of the bullet train can travel at speeds of up to 320 km/h (198 mph).

Ouigo is the budget high-speed train service that’s part of the SNCF brand. It offers cheaper tickets than TGV trains, although has fewer amenities to enjoy along the way (unless you pay extra).

TER stands for Transport Express Régional. They are SNCF’s regional trains that allow passengers to travel within a given region of France (there are 20 different TER trains types in total). 

Recommended itineraries

If you’re in need of some ideas for your trip, look no further than our France travel inspiration hub. Our dedicated travel writers have been putting together exciting and inspiring guides to travelling around France by train. We’ve highlighted some of our most popular itineraries below.

Trainline and France.fr are partnering to show off the best of France this fall. The Côte d’Azur is glittering, with its seaside art de vivre in Nice and Fréjus and its living history as an artistic hotspot in Antibes and Cannes. And of course, the exquisite vineyards of Bordeaux and Cognac, as well as charming towns like Rochefort and fiercely beautiful Biarritz in Nouvelle Aquitaine, prove that La France is in bloom in autumn—and now reachable by bus or train from anywhere in Europe.

Learn more about French train travel

So you’ve come to the end of our guide to train travel in and around France. We hope you now know your Prem’s from your Premiere and your TGV from your TER. We’ve covered domestic and cross-border train travel, how to buy your tickets and which ones can save you the most money.

Ready to book your train travel in France? Start your search for times and tickets in our Journey Planner at the top of the page. Not quite found what you’re looking for yet? Check out our other pages about train travel within France, or our guides to taking the train in other European countries.

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