French Vocabulary And Phrases For Traveling by Train in France
The train is one of the easiest ways to get around France if you are planning a multi-destination journey through the country. Paris is usually the least expensive city to fly into, but there is so much more of the country to see outside of the capital!
The rail network–SNCF (Société Nationale de Chemins de fer Français)–serve cities throughout the country. A smaller network of fast trains–the TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse)–will get you from Paris to a selection of major cities throughout the country in record time.
Traveling outside of France? You can use Eurostar to get to the U.K. and Belgium by train (Paris to London in just hours), and a combination of national rail lines to get nearly anywhere else in Europe. Check the Eurail website for information on passes for traveling between multiple European countries.
|A la gare||At the train station|
|the train station|
|Les grandes lignes
|main line (trains)|
|SNCF (Société National de Chemins de fer Français)
|National French Railway Society|
|TGV (Trains à Grand Vitesse)
|Trains of Great Speed|
There are six main train stations in Paris that serve various parts of the country. If you are arriving in Paris by plane but planning to head immediately to another city, see my posts on getting from CDG, Orly or Beauvais to central Paris.
Once you’re in Paris, getting to the right train station is pretty easy. You can check your journey on the SNCF website to find out which Paris station you’ll be departing from.
- Metro Station: Gare de Lyon
- Metro Lines: 1, 14
- RER Lines: A,D
- Metro Station: Gare du Nord
- Metro Lines: 2, 4, 5
- RER Lines: B, D, E
- Metro Station: Gare de l’Est
- Metro Lines: 4, 5, 7
- Metro Station: Montparnasse Bienvenue
- Metro Lines: 4, 6, 12, 13
- Metro Station: Saint-Lazare
- Metro Lines: 3, 9 (Saint-Augustin), 12, 13, 14
- Metro Station: Gare d’Austerlitz
- Metro Lines: 5, 10
- RER Lines: C
It is possible to pre-order train tickets for SNCF from outside of France, but it is a huge waste of time and money.
It is not possible to book an electronic ticket from outside of France, so you end up having to pay extra for them to mail you a ticket in the U.S. (or wherever you may live). This can take weeks, and trains don’t tend to book out, so it’s really not worth the money and effort.
If you are on a route to a popular destination and the train you want does book out, there will likely be another one within an hour. If you’re traveling the less-beaten track, you’ll have no trouble buying a ticket the day of.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When I first moved to France, I was living in a small town in Normandy and teaching English, and I made sure to order my train ticket from Paris weeks and weeks in a advance. When I arrived in Paris, it took much less time than I thought it would to get from the airport to the train station, and I ended up spending hours (completely jet-lagged and sleep-deprived) waiting for my scheduled train.
If I had just shown up and bought a ticket, I would have been on my way much sooner.
The ticket machines in French train stations only take European cards (with a special chip) and some take cash as well. You are best off to go to a ticket window and buy your ticket in person.
****TIP****Look for the ticket windows with an American or British flag sticker in the corner: this indicates that the salesperson speaks English.
As mentioned earlier, the TGV is a high-speed train. The network runs out of several of the Paris train stations to popular destinations in France and neighboring European countries. Check out the network map here.
The Eurostar is a special train network that uses TGV trains to serve the U.K., France and Belgium. The Eurostar starts at the Gare du Nord in Paris then travels North to Lille. From there (depending on which route you’re on), you’ll either be headed for Bruselles, Belgium, or London, via Calais, Ashford and Ebbsfleet. Check out the route map here.
If you’re going to be in France for an extended period of time (at least a month), buying rail pass is a worthy investment. I bought a 12-25 card when I was living in France, and it paid for itself in my first two journeys. The French offer a lot of deals to young people and students, so keep an eye out while traveling. All passes are valid for a year.
- Cost: 49€
- Age: 12 to 25 years
- Savings: 25-60%*
- Cost: 85€
- Age: 26 to 59 years
- Savings: 25-50%*
- Cost: 56€
- Age: 60+ years
- Savings: 25-50%*
- Cost: 70€
- Age: 5-11 years
- Savings: 25-50%*
*Depending on date and time of journey
If you’re buying a discount rail card, you’ll need to bring a passport-size photo with you. These are very easy to get in France as most supermarkets are equipped with photo-booth-style machines that print out 4 to 6 photos at a time for about 5€.
You will receive your I.D. card immediately at the station (nothing more than a slip that looks like a train ticket with your name and to which you must adhere your photo). A fidelity card (which allows you to earn miles) will be mailed to you within two weeks. If you don’t have a permanent address, you can likely have it sent to a hotel or hostel, but in reality, you don’t need the fidelity card, itself (I never earned enough miles for a journey).