Travelling by train in France is to experience one of Europe's most efficient rail systems, bringing the sights, sounds and culinary delights of the country within easy reach of any traveller. The railway network is divided into regional and national sub-networks, these are called TGV, Intercity (or Intercités as you'll see it advertised in France) and TER. All of these services are managed by the publicly owned company SNCF. In France, you can choose different routes and prices for the same destination, but for that you have to know the types of trains that exist and that is where Trainline comes in, helping you search, compare and book the best train ticket prices for your journey.
Types of SNCF trains
Long and medium-distance trains: TGV and Intercités
The TGV (high-speed train) is the star of the French network and the most comfortable. This is true whether you travel in first or second class. Every TGV service also has a buffet car, adjustable seats, power outlets and soon WiFi on all services. The TGV is France's fastest train, with a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph) - you can leave the centre of Paris and within 3 hours be in the very heart of Marseille for example.
There are cheaper TGV tickets available, although it is worth noting that these tickets are non-refundable. These tickets are called Prem's, iDTGV and Ouigo.
Prem's are available on routes to and from Paris and connect to 25 French towns and cities including Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille and Metz. Prem's tickets are sold for every seat on the train at a fixed price and start from just 15 Euros one way.
IDTGV tickets start from 19 Euros and go to more than 30 destinations that start or terminate in Paris. Popular routes include trains to Toulouse, Nice, Perpignan, Montpellier and Grenoble.
Popular IDTGV routes
Another service you may hear of is Ouigo. A low-cost train ticket which can only be bought online and at least four hours before departure. These services use double-decker TGV trains and have no buffet car available, there are also certain restrictions on luggage and larger bags must be paid for. Ouigo is able to offer these lower cost tickets, often starting from just 10 Euros, because they use alternative stations to the main ones such as Marne-la-Vallée instead of Paris-Gare de Lyon. As a result, you may need to catch a connecting service or use alternative transport to continue your journey into the city centre.
The Intercité (IC) connects cities large and small and covers routes outside of the TGV network. Both first and second class trains have a mobile catering service and you can book your food for that trip online before departure. The Intercité train makes long and medium routes across France and has a maximum speed of 200km/h (124 mph). Whilst they are slower than TGV, the tickets are cheaper for a route between two cities, for example between Paris and Strasbourg. Intercité also offers an overnight sleeper train from Paris to Toulouse, Paris to Nice and Strasbourg to Nice.
To travel with TGV or Intercités, it is recommended that you book your tickets in advance to take advantage of the cheaper fares. Fares go on sale up to three months before departure and this is often the best time to find Prem's tickets.
Regional trains: Intercités, TER and RER
There is another type of Intercités service, which covers close proximity routes such as Tours to Nantes which lies approximately 160 km (100 mi) apart. This service is known as TER or Train Express Regional and tickets are available for both first and second class. The TER serves individual regions in France and is often used by commuters during peak hours. Arguably the most scenic TER route is the one around the PACA region (Provence, Alps and French Riviera). There are always seats available on these trains at fixed prices starting from just two Euros, increasing according to the distance you wish to travel.
The RER network (regional express network) is managed by SNCF and RATP (Paris transport). These are commuter trains that allow you to travel to the outskirts of Paris. A good example of tourist areas on the outskirts of Paris that you can travel to via RER are Versailles (RER C) and Disneyland (RER A).
Standards for luggage, bikes, animals, tickets for children and safety on SNCF trains
If you travel with your bike on TGV trains and can't fold or disassemble, you must reserve a space for it when you buy your ticket - this comes at an extra cost of 10 Euros. If you decide to disassemble your bike, it must be transported in a bag or box no bigger than 120 cm x 90 cm. It will be considered as hand luggage, so you will not have to pay for it. On TER (regional) trains, your bike travels for free. You will though have to put it in a designated bike space.
On regional trains in the Île de France region (called Transilien), you can take your bike with you free of charge during the following times: from Monday to Friday before 6:30 am as well as between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and after 7:30 p.m. On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, bikes can be taken on the train at all times.
To travel with your pet on TER, TGV and Intercités trains, you have to reserve an extra ticket at the same time as booking yours. You can travel with up to two animals per person. If it weighs less than 6 kg, it must be put in a suitable pet transporter not exceeding 45cm x 30cm x 25cm and you will have to pay an extra seven Euros on top of your ticket price. When travelling with a dog that weighs more than 6 kg, you will need to buy a discounted ticket. This will cost 50% of the base fare price of a second class ticket, even if you travel first class. Your dog would also need to be kept on a leash and wear a muzzle for the whole duration of the journey. If you want to change or cancel your pet's ticket, you can do so until the day before the trip but you will have to pay a cancellation fee of 10% of the ticket price.
If your children are under four years old, they travel for free when not requiring an extra seat. If you prefer to book a seat for your child, you can buy a ticket at the "Bambin" (toddler) rate, which you can change or cancel free of charge until departure. If your children are under 12 years old, you can take advantage of the "Enfant" (child) fare. This ticket will be half price on all trains except for iDTGV for which you have to book a seat at the adult fare.
🛂 Security check
There are no security or baggage checks on domestic routes around France. However, you have to pass a security check and passport control when boarding Eurostar trains in France and the United Kingdom. You must show up at the security line no later than 30 minutes before departure.
SNCF ticket rates
TGV and Intercités tickets can normally be booked up to three months in advance, except between mid-December and mid-January, when tickets go on sale two months in advance and during the holidays from February to April and in summer when the sale begins four months before the date of travel. For IDTGV it is possible to book six months in advance. The ticket price for TGV and Intercité trains increases as the train fills up and it gets closer to the departure date. Tickets for TER trains (regional) are always sold at a set price. The types of tickets available for SNCF trains are:
Prem's - Tickets for TGV trains only. These tickets should be purchased as soon as possible as there are limited places and they will only be available up to two weeks before departure. Ticket prices start at a minimum price of 15 Euros but they cannot be changed or refunded. You may find cheaper tickets if you travel by train outside of peak hours.
Loisir - This type of ticket is available for TGV and Intercités. They are only valid for the selected train, although they can be changed until the day of departure of the train. The total amount of the ticket can be refunded up to 31 days before the departure of the train, after which a management charge of five Euros will be paid per ticket up to a day before departure. If you wish to change the ticket on the day of travel, there is a management charge of up to 15 Euros for TGV and 12 Euros for Intercités.
Pro -A fully flexible ticket. They can be cancelled or changed until the day of departure of the train for free - in fact, you can do it until two hours after the departure of the train, but only at the train station.
Pack Tribu - Specific ticket for TGV and Intercités. This offer includes four tickets for the price of three for the same trip. Available for first or second class. They can not be changed or refunded.
Europe by train from France
Thanks to the association between SNCF and the other railway companies in Europe including Deutsche Bahn, Renfe, Eurostar, Italo, Lyria and Thalys, you can buy Trainline tickets to explore the whole continent from France by train. Look out for the following companies and routes:
- Germany with ICE
- The UK with Eurostar
- Spain with AVE
- Italy with Freciarossa
- Switzerland with TGV Lyria
- Belgium and Netherlands with Thalys
It is also possible to take the night train (Trenhotel) with Thello that departs from Paris to Venice or Milan and travels at a smooth 200 km/h (125 mph). Another night train to consider is the Intercités service to Andorra or Luxembourg.