Do you wish your train rides could have the same cramped seating and nickel-and-diming for extras as a low-cost airline? French train operator SNCF supposes you do; and voilà, they give us Ouigo.
Ouigo is actually nowhere near as bad as a budget airline, though the experience is a bit more trying than a standard train ride. Its popularity has exploded recently — reports say ticket sales have doubled.
I’ve taken Ouigo a number of times and don’t completely regret the experience, particularly when I’ve been able to slip across France in a few hours for less than the cost of lunch in a Parisian bistrot.
Here then is a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the system, how to book tickets as a foreigner, and what to expect from the ride.
- What Is Ouigo?
- Is Ouigo Worth It? Weigh the Pros and Cons
- How to Purchase Ouigo Tickets — Even if You're a Foreigner
- Ouigo Baggage Restrictions, Explained in English
- Arriving at the Train Station, Check-In, Waiting for Your Ouigo
- The Full List of Current Ouigo Routes
Update History of This Article
What Is Ouigo?
Ouigo is a subsidiary of the SNCF, the French national train company. It has been offering rides between major cities in France since 2013. Prices are lower generally than on standard trains, starting at €10 and going up to around €100.
Ouigo trains are fast trains, just like the SNCF’s TGV service, running at 270-320 km/hr (160-199 mph).
There is no first-class/second-class division but there are extra options like place tranquille (described as a quiet space with no young kids), an outlet at your seat (“prise”), and the baggage option, which lets you bring a standard-sized suitcase instead of just a carry-on.
Is Ouigo Worth It? Weigh the Pros and Cons
I like Ouigo and I take it. But I know what to expect. Here’s what you should consider.
Advantages of Ouigo
- Much cheaper: Tickets start at €10 and tend to be very reasonable compared to standard trains.
- Fast: All Ouigo trains are fast trains (TGV), so travel times are short.
- Kid fares: All children 0-11 years old get their own seats for just €5 (or €8 if starting/ending in the center of Paris). Each child ticket also includes its own luggage, with the same size restrictions as adult fares.
- Anti-kid option: Want to be seated far from those 0-11-year-olds? Choose the place tranquile for a small extra fee (electric socket is included).
Disadvantages of Ouigo
- Smaller, less-comfortable seats: They are four to a row with less leg room and there’s less vertical room too since you’re in a double-decker train car.
- Uses secondary train stations (sometimes): Some train stations used are outside of city centers and for those there is additional cost and time needed to then get to the city center. Before booking, check where the station is and check Google Maps for the additional time and cost to then take public transport to your final destination.
- Large luggage costs extra: You’re allowed to take two small carry-ons (see below for details), and pay €5 extra for large luggage.
- Use of an electric socket costs extra: €2 to plug in, and you need to reserve this ahead of time.
- No dining car or bar
- Arrive ahead of time: Ouigo insists that you must arrive at least 30 minutes before your train. With that extra margin, the staff checks tickets and herds everyone onto a large platform in order to leave the train idling in the station with passengers actually boarding for a minimum of time.
How to Purchase Ouigo Tickets — Even if You’re a Foreigner
Ouigo tickets are only available for purchase online. The Ouigo website is in French only and also tends to reject lots of foreigners’ credit cards, so that website is mainly useful for getting idea of the Ouigo routes that are available and their times and dates. Install the Google Translate extension in your browser if necessary.
Once you know exactly which train you want, it can be cheaper and much easier to book Ouigo tickets either with OUI.sncf or (by far the easiest) Trainline. On Trainline, Ouigo tickets come up automatically in the main search, so if you’re searching for a route and a day that is covered by the network, you won’t miss out on this possible discount option.Check for Ouigo tickets on Trainline
Trainline offers the same prices as the SNCF for Ouigo trains, though there may be a booking fee of a few percent. This fee can still be well worth it considering the hassle of the SNCF sites and their issues with foreign credit cards.
In addition, the Ouigo system only allows credit cards with addresses in the following countries to purchase tickets on any platform (Trainline or SNCF itself):
Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, French Southern Territories, Germany, Greece, Guadeloupe, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, St Pierre and Miquelon, Sweden, Switzerland, United States and United Kingdom.
If your credit card has an address is an any other country it will be blocked. If that applies to you, we suggest trying Trainline with Paypal as unofficial workaround; we’d love to hear from our readers in the comments if that works.
If you do decide to book Ouigo tickets on OUI SNCF’s site, be sure not to let it automatically reroute you to Rail Europe, its site for foreigners, which has much higher charges.
Ouigo Baggage Restrictions, Explained in English
The SNCF lists its full text on Ouigo baggage limits in French only; here’s our translation of that page into English:
All passengers (including babies and children) can take for free either:
- Two pieces of hand luggage measuring maximum 36 x 27 x 15 cm (14 x 11 x 6 in), OR:
- One piece of hand luggage measuring maximum 36 x 27 x 15 cm (22 x 14 x 10 in) and one carry-on piece measuring maximum 55 x 35 x 25 cm (22 x 14 x 10 in).1Yes, we know; the SNCF defies logic by listing these as two different options.
If travelling with a child, you may also take a stroller; it must be declared when making the reservation, and must be folded in the train.
Larger luggage pieces (maximum 2 meters (7 feet) and less than 30 kg (66 lbs)) can be booked for €5 each, and each person can take up to two such larger pieces.
Arriving at the Train Station, Check-In, Waiting for Your Ouigo
You’re told by the SNCF that you must arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure for a Ouigo train.
There is no check-in process per se as with an airline. You move towards the area of the station with the quai (platform) for your train and you will generally go through a long line to actually access the platform. Only those with tickets may approach the platform, your friends must stay back.
You show your ticket on your app (Ouigo says it prefers this) or print-out ticket which is available four days before departure under the menu “mes réservations” (my reservations) on the Ouigo site. I recommend printing out tickets when possible, as phones are still a rather funky, unreliable technology compared to paper, and you don’t need to make sure a piece of paper is charged. But the app is fine too.
You will also be asked for a valid photo ID or passport; photocopies are not accepted.
If you don’t have your ticket or it is deemed “unreadable” you will be charged 5 euros by the staff. You will also be charged an extra 20 euros if you have exceeded the baggage limit.
Thirty minutes before the train arrives, everyone is thus crammed onto the same platform waiting for the train. It can be annoying. The boarding process is a lot more crowded and chaotic than with a regular train (these are train cars with lots of seats, and they often fill up). It’s a bit more comparable to boarding a plane, though not quite as packed in, tedious, and horrible, thankfully.
The Full List of Current Ouigo Routes
As of May 2019, this is the full listing of current routes on Ouigo.
- Aix en provence – Lyon
- Aix en provence Paris
- Amiens – Angers
- Amiens – Le Mans
- Amiens Nantes
- Amiens Paris
- Amiens – Rennes
- Angers – Lille
- Angers – Paris
- Angoulême – Bordeaux
- Angoulême – Paris
- Avignon – Lyon
- Avignon – Paris
- Bordeaux – Angoulême
- Bordeaux – Paris
- Colmar – Strasbourg
- Colmar – Paris
- Le Mans – Amiens
- Le Mans – Lille
- Le Mans – Lyon
- Le Mans – Nantes
- Le Mans – Paris
- Le Mans – Rennes
- Le Mans – Roubaix
- Lille – Angers
- Lille – Le Mans
- Lille – Lyon
- Lille – Nantes
- Lille – Paris
- Lille – Rennes
- Lyon – Aix-en-provence
- Lyon – Angers
- Lyon – Avignon
- Lyon – Le Mans
- Lyon – Lille
- Lyon – Marseille
- Lyon – Montpellier
- Lyon – Nîmes
- Lyon – Paris
- Lyon – Roubaix
- Marseille – Lyon
- Marseille – Paris
- Metz Paris
- Metz Reims
- Metz Strasbourg
- Montpellier – Lyon
- Montpellier – Paris
- Nancy Paris
- Nancy Reims
- Nancy Strasbourg
- Nantes – Lille
- Nantes – Paris
- Nîmes – Lyon
- Nîmes – Paris
- Paris – Angoulême
- Paris – Aix-en-provence
- Paris – Amiens
- Paris – Angers
- Paris – Avignon
- Paris – Bordeaux
- Paris – Colmar
- Paris – Le Mans
- Paris – Lille
- Paris – Lyon
- Paris – Metz
- Paris – Marseille
- Paris – Montpellier
- Paris – Nancy
- Paris – Nantes
- Paris – Nîmes
- Paris – Rennes
- Paris – Reims
- Paris – Strasbourg
- Paris – Valence
- Rennes – Lille
- Reims – Metz
- Reims – Nancy
- Reims – Paris
- Reims – Strasbourg
- Rennes – Paris
- Strasbourg – Metz
- Strasbourg – Nancy
- Strasbourg – Paris
- Strasbourg – Reims
- Strasbourg – Colmar
- Valence – Paris
Ouigo perhaps requires a bit more flexibility than some other modes of travel, but it can be one of the fastest and cheapest ways to cross France.
Also note that in addition to Ouigo, there are plenty of other ways to snag cheap train tickets for France, including a few other high speed lines that are cheap, described at the link.
Overall, I think it’s well worth it. We always recommend travelling light anyway (e.g. with our favorite wheeled carry-on backpack), and going low carbon wherever possible, so the overall Ouigo experience fits well with our Minimalist.Travel objectives.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||⇧||Yes, we know; the SNCF defies logic by listing these as two different options.|