Understanding French Trains & Some Basics

The first time I visited France and tried to catch a train, it was one of the biggest hassle of my life! I didn’t understand the language, I didn’t understand the kiosks, I didn’t understand anything about their train system as it is unlike any other that I encountered in Europe or elsewhere. After a lots of trial and error (and sign languages with helpful passerby!) I managed to get a ride in a French train. So, this post is for all those who is travelling to France for the first time and intend to take a train there and also for seasoned travellers who are still trying to demystify the French train system! In this post I’ll discuss about the trains in France, the ticketing system, some basics about travelling in French trains, etc.


How and where to buy train tickets?

The most important question – how to buy train tickets in France? The general thumb rule is that you should buy your tickets (whether for local or regional trains) at the station itself. The prices are fixed and no reservation is required. However, it is important to remember that almost all long-distance trains require compulsory reservation, including the TGVs. For the long-distance trains it is advisable to buy the tickets as early as possible as it is cheapest then. Slowly the price keeps of increasing (like in plane tickets!). Generally all long-distance trains tickets comes with the reservation aromatically included. If you wish you can buy tickets online from the French Rails (SNCF) website http://www.sncf.com/, however, please read into the Rules & Regulations as it is seen that when you buy online tickets there might be a slight difference as to whether you can choose your seats or not. So, before you click the ‘Purchase’ button read through the smaller prints.

Do you need to buy tickets in advance?

  • For Local & regional trains: No. Buy a ticket from yellow self-service machine at the station or from the ticket office.

  • Short-distance Inter-City trains:No. They don’t have compulsory seat reservation.
  • Long-distance trains: Yes. All high-speed trains and long-distance Intercités require compulsory reservation. They come with a seat reservation automatically included in the price. Booking opens 90 days ahead.

Pertinent to know that French trains are also classified as High-Speed Train, Classic Train and Low-Fare Train and I will cover these classifications in another post.

Other important Informations:


  • e-ticket: If you have bought a ticket online then ensure that you print it full-size on A4 or US Letter Size paper.
  • Ticket Collection: If your online tickets is not the ‘print-at-home’ type, then collect it from the yellow self-service ticket machines at any major station in France. You will have to enter your booking reference and lead passenger name, and bingo you get your ticket! Please remember that some of the online tickets are a bit tricky and you might have to have the original credit card with you. If your face difficulty, don’t panic and approach the staffed counter. They will help you out.

  • Ticket validation: This is a MUST KNOW! All French train tickets bought from the machine or counter must be validated before you board your train. You validate it by putting the ticket into the slot in the small yellow machines marked Compostez votre billet at the entrance to each platform. If you don’t validate you will be fined, which is quite a large amount!
  • Luggage on trains: You can carry your luggage in all French trains. There are no baggage fees or weight limits. Do remember to place your luggage on the racks at the end of each car, or above your head. Don’t block the passage, that’s very rude.
  • Child seat reservation: Infants and all children under 4 years travel free on French trains and they need no tickets. They have to be carried on your lap though. However, if you do want a seat for your little one then on domestic TGV, TER and Intercité trains you can pay around €10 for a ‘forfait Bambin’ and get a reserved seat for your infant.

That’s all for today folks! Hope the information was useful! Have a great day!

Copyright: The thoughts and the photos are my own, the knowledge is universal. If you want to use the content of the post, then you are welcome to use it, however, do give due acknowledgement to this blog for the content and also leave a link to this page. This is not only a legal requirement but also a internet ethics. Regards.

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