France has one of the best and most developed train networks in Europe so it’s an excellent way to explore the country. To make your trip even easier I’ve created this guide about how to buy train tickets in France so you can get the best train tickets at the cheapest price.
Travel Tip: Most train tickets in France are now electronic so having reliable high-speed data for your phone is super helpful. Here are a few articles I’ve written to help you get cheap mobile data in France: Guide To Mobile Data Plans and Smartphone Phones in Europe, How To Buy A SIM Card and Mobile Data Plans in Europe, and Guide To Buying SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans in France
Buying Train Tickets in France: A Quick Guide
The official French rail website is SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer). You can buy train tickets from www.oui.sncf but the website is plagued with all kinds of weird technical issues—like randomly not accepting non-French credit cards, strange redirects, and odd translation issues.
In short: I recommend avoiding www.oui.sncf as there are other more user-friendly options which I’ll cover below.
There are two third-party booking services that I use when booking my French train tickets:
Trainline is a private company that sells the exact same French train tickets at the exact same price as SNCF but they’ve made the whole buying process simple and user-friendly—no issues using a foreign credit card, no translation issues, etc. You can even choose your seats. The only downside is a small service fee that’s usually around €1-€3.
In most cases you’ll receive an e-ticket sent to your phone (via email or the Trainline App)—just show it to the train conductor. If e-tickets aren’t available, you can print/collect your tickets at the train station.
Omio is another booking service that sells the same French train tickets at the same price as SNCF but with the benefit of being user-friendly—no issues using a foreign credit card, no translation issues, etc. As with Trainline, Omio also adds a small service fee that’s usually around €1-€3.
Buying French Train Tickets At The Train Station
You can also buy train tickets in France from any French train station.
The quickest way is via the automated ticket machines (the machines all have English options). However, sometimes these machines don’t accept foreign credit cards.
You can also buy tickets from the ticket window but the lines can get long during busy times. Many of the ticket sellers will speak passable English but not always. That said, they can accept any credit card so that won’t be an issue.
Tips For Booking French Train Tickets
How To Find Routes and French Train Schedules
While routes between major cities don’t often require changing trains (i.e. it’s a non-stop journey), you should still pay attention when booking your ticket because some routes might require a change.
However, on longer routes or routes connecting smaller towns, you’ll often be required to change trains in a bigger city.
Types Of French Trains (And How To Get The Best Ticket Prices)
In France, the trains are roughly classified as either High-Speed/Long-Distance, & Regional. They each serve a different purpose and have different pricing structures.
TGV High-Speed Train Ticket Fares
The TVG high-speed trains reach speeds of almost 200mph. The major cities in France are connected by high-speed trains so it’s most likely you’ll ride one of these trains if you travel a longer distance.
I recommend booking these train tickets as soon as possible since these tickets get more expensive the closer it gets to the departure date. For example, some routes can start at around €25 and then cost €100+ if booked a same-day ticket.
OuiGo Train Ticket Fares
A few years ago the French National Railways created a new low-budget TVG high-speed train line called OuiGo. It basically connects Paris with a handful of popular French destinations but it does it at a cheaper fare than the normal TVG train.
OuiGo is no/low frills so there are bag limits, no food available, and there are a few extra charges.
Intercités Medium-Distance Train Fares
Intercités (IC) trains are medium-distance trains that often connect both major and medium-sized cities. I also recommend booking these as early as it is convenient to get the best price.
TER Local/Regional Train Fares
Local and regional trains connect small towns to big/medium cities. These tickets have a set price so there is no reason to book early—simply show up and buy tickets at the station.
Do You Have A Rail Pass? You’ll Need A Reservation
If you’re traveling on a rail pass you’ll need to pay a little extra to make a reservation for all high-speed and long-distance trains in France. You can make this reservation from any train station. These can cost anywhere from €5-€35.
Pay Attention To Train Stations
Most large cities in France have multiple train stations (Paris has seven) so pay attention to the station names.
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Thanks For Reading! — James