Train travel in France

First things first – if you can speak French (or at least understand it well enough) DO NOT use RailEurope for any point-to-point train ticket purchases (they are still the only place to buy EurRail passes).  For example, I was looking for a ticket from Paris to Macon:

  • SNCF / TGV site:  I found a 1.5 hour TGV ticket for 50 Euros.
  • RailEurope:  I found a 4 hour train ride, no TGV, with a transfer, for $120 (about 80 Euros).

You can purchase TGV tickets (or even regular non-TGV train tickets) from the SNCF site, from any point to any point (even the smallest station).  There is a small question at the end of the form that asks your country of residence.  If you say the US, you get punted to RailEurope; however, you can say France – and then select the option to print out your ticket yourself.  International credit cards work fine on the site.

A couple of other things to note:

  • DON’T select any ticket that only allows for a ticket retrieval from a “borne automatique” – a ticket machine.  These require you use your purchasing credit card to retrieve your ticket- and if you’ve spent any time in France, you’ll know that almost every “credit card” machine actually requires the French credit card with the embedded chip (I’ve seen foreign cards – chip and all – fail in these systems too).
  • You can, in general, retrieve your ticket from a human being – just be sure to give yourself enoguh time to stand in lime.  And keep handy the confirmation code number they send you via email.  They can’t do anything about your ticket without it.  I missed a train (see “credit card without chip” above) and had to get re-routed – the agent could not look up my info based on my card nor my name.
  • When you buy a ticket from a human, remember that the train system pricing depends on a rather complicated set of peak and off-peak times that can radically affect the price – and they won’t necessarily offer you the cheapest ticket unless you ask.  They tend to ask when you want to go, and then give you a standardized price based on that time of day and day of week (and season, etc).
  • For what it’s worth – mobile phone use within the cabin is strongly frowned upon.  That’s what those cute stickers of sleeping cell phones all over the cabin mean (go to the area by the bathrooms and exit doors for a phone conversation).

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2 Responses to “Train travel in France”

  1. 1 Beth Kanter July 5, 2007 at 2:09 am


    Nice to discover your blogging again .. hope all is well. I wish so much I could be on a train in France.

  1. 1 Renting a car in France « Goat at Large Trackback on October 26, 2007 at 12:42 am
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