How to Book French Train Tickets: A Guide to Painless Trip Prep

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2023-06-21
PUBLISHED ON  2023-05-24
On another train. My butt’s been in all kinds of European train seats for 21 years.

Trains are hands-down the best way to get around France.

If you’re not used to France and/or to European train travel, the ticketing options can seem a bit overwhelming. But I’ve been traveling the French rails for the past two decades, and I’m here to assist with the basics and give you tips to get the best deals, seamlessly.

First, some quick basics; then we’ll give details on the more complex questions that tend to come up.

Quick Guide: Booking Tickets on French Trains

Trains are absolutely the most comfortable and convenient way to get around France; and a beautiful, scenic experience in their own right.

  • Decide on an itinerary (see below) involving a few key places you want to experience; most people try to see too much in too little time. Less is more.
  • Book your trip as far in advance as possible (up to about four months) for the best prices. The easiest way to do this is with Trainline (especially if paying with a non-French payment card and/or crossing borders); you can also try directly booking with SNCF Connect (more tips on booking options below).
  • If you’ve purchased online, you’ll receive an e-ticket that you can show on your phone and/or print (more below). No more searching for ticket validation machines!
  • Give yourself extra time to get to the train station (and perhaps get lost on the way there, especially in Paris) and to your platform; for Ouigo trains you should get to your platform 30 minutes ahead of time.

Deciding on a Train Itinerary for France

When to Buy Train Tickets

The Easy Way to Buy Train Tickets: The Top Online Platforms

How to Use SNCF Ticket Machines in Stations

Buying and Using E-Tickets (Recommended)

(Rarer) Paper Tickets—Ticket Validation No Longer Needed

1st Class, 2nd Class, and Other Fare Options with the SNCF

Seat Selection on French Trains

Train Types in France

The (Rarely Worthwhile) Interrail, Eurail, and Other Passes and Discount Cards

Getting Refunds and Exchanges on SNCF Tickets

Key French Phrases for Train Stations and Buying Tickets

F.A.Q. On Booking French Train Tickets

Wrapping Up and Answering Further Questions

It’s my hope that this article has demystified French trains to the point that you’re ready to give this low-carbon option a try.

Drop questions in the comments if you wish and we’ll do our best to answer them—this also helps us know how to improve these articles as we do updates.

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