The Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais (SNCF) is the French national railway system. It has suburban Transilien trains (trains de banlieue) as well as trains that service the rest of France and Europe (grandes lignes). There are several discount train travel options available. For general information on prices, destinations and regulations, visit http://www.sncf.com (available in English). France is well covered by trains and it is possible to access even quite small towns with this network. Prices are cheaper the further in advance you are able to buy your tickets, and there are also reductions available for the elderly, students, children and families who hold a “familles nombreuse” card (available for families with 3 or more children). If you book a trip for the weekend, you may be able to receive a further discount depending on what day and time you travel.
The TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) is a high-speed train that serves selected cities in France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Visit http://www.tgv.com (available in English) for reservations, information, and tickets. Eurostar departs from Paris and arrives in London about two-and-one-quarter hours later. Tickets and reservations are available at http://www.eurostar.com (available in English). All tickets may be bought online, at any of the train stations in Paris, or at SNCF boutiques throughout the city. Contact the website for further details.
Seat reservations are required for the Eurostar and TGV, but for other trains no specific reservation is required. During peak travel times, however, you may want to reserve in order to guarantee a seat. Before you board the train, you must ‘composter’ – validate – your ticket at an orange or yellow machine that is about the size of a mailbox (composteur) in the station. Watch other travelers if you are unsure of where to validate. If you forget to validate your ticket once you are on the train, alert a conductor immediately to avoid paying a high fine. Be sure to label all of your luggage and do not worry excessively about leaving your luggage in the assigned luggage bins. Theft on trains, while not impossible, is rare.
Thee are six major stations within the city of Paris:
- Gare du Nord Place Napoléon III, 75010 Paris: Trains serve the U.K., Northern France and Northern Europe. The Eurostar train is also here.
- Gare de Lyon 20 Boulevard Diderot, 75012 Paris: Trains serve southeast France, Geneva, and Italy.
- Gare d’Austerlitz Place Valhubert, 75013 Paris: Trains serve southwest France, the Loire Valley, and Spain.
- Gare Saint-Lazare 108 Rue Saint-Lazare, 75008 Paris: Trains serve Normandy and England (non-Eurostar).
- Gare de l’Est Place du 8 Mai 1945, 75010 Paris: Trains serve Eastern France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Eastern Europe.
- Gare Montparnasse Place R. Dautry, 75015 Paris: Trains serve western France