If you're traveling by train in France, you'll almost certainly find yourself using a service operated by SNCF. France's national train service, SNCF has an enormous network that spans the country, connecting it to its neighbors. The high-speed railroad network, TGV, is part of the SNCF umbrella. At Virail, we want to make your journeys around France and beyond as smooth and easy as possible. That's why we'll help you make the best decisions about your trip, and ensure that you get exactly where you want to go without wasting time or money.
SNCF is a state-owned service that runs about 14,000 trains a day and has been in operation since 1938. Its huge network spans 32,000 km, connecting almost every corner of France. When you travel with SNCF, your train may be TGV (high speed), Intercités (intercity), or a local service. The Eurostar, which connects France with England via the Channel Tunnel, is also partly run by SNCF.
SNCF runs trains all around France, and international travelers will also be able to use its services to connect to networks in neighboring countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK. The biggest station is Gare du Nord in Paris, which is the busiest railroad station in the world outside Japan. 206.7 million passengers pass through this station a year, and if you're traveling from one part of France to another, you'll often find it necessary to change trains at Gare du Nord.
If you are traveling by TGV or long-distance Intercités, it is necessary to book your ticket in advance, and you will have a reserved seat. Shorter journeys don't involve seat reservation. Ticket categories are usually found as follows: * Long-distance TGV and Intercités trains: 1st and 2nd class tickets available * Some long-distance trains also include 1st class Business tickets * Local trains: single tariff, no classes * Regional trains: single tariff, no classes * Ouigo (long-distance TGV): single tariff, no classes. A low price service which offers the same no-frills experience as one of the European budget airlines. On local and regional journeys, you may be able to save money by traveling at off-peak times, but this varies from region to region.
The TGV network of high-speed trains runs between the biggest and most important cities. Intercités trains offer an alternative connecting service; they are slower and cheaper than TGV. Regional trains operate under the name TER, and will allow you to travel on short routes.
This varies significantly depending on the type of train. TGV trains offer: * Seat reservation * Large seats with drop-down tables and charging points (not always present in second class) * Ample luggage storage * A cafe-bar with hot and cold food. You can use the train's wifi to order food, which you'll then collect from the cafe without needing to wait * Free Wi-Fi * Wheelchair accessibility * Baby changing facilities * Power outlets * Restrooms The low-cost Ouigo TGV service is significantly cheaper, but has no cafe-bar or first class seating. On Intercités trains, you'll find: * Usually, but not always, reserved seating * Some catering, either a cafe-bar or a trolley service * Luggage space and toilets TER trains offer: * No seat reservations * Luggage racks * Bike racks on most lines
How do I book a ticket? It's very simple. Just enter your information – start and destination stations, and journey dates – into our search tool on Virail. You'll see all the options offered by SNCF. Once you've chosen the right one for you, continue to the SNCF website to make your booking. How do I choose my seat? You will be able to select a seat during the booking process if your route has assigned seating. On shorter journeys, there are no reservations, and it's first come, first served. How do I check in? Check your booking to see if check-in is necessary. On some lines, particularly local and regional trains, you won't need to check in. However, services like Ouigo require you to check in at least 30 minutes before departure, so always check. How do I change a ticket or get a refund? It depends on the ticket you've bought, as well as the time left before departure. In general, more expensive options come with the opportunity to change your ticket online or at the station, while cheaper tickets may be non-changeable or refundable. Make sure to check your booking to see its particular terms and conditions. How do I reach SNCF's customer support? Within France, you can contact SNCF on 3635, the company's toll-free number. To call from another country, use 00-33-1-84-94-3635. The company also encourages users to contact them through Twitter, by tweeting @SNCF. What is the luggage policy? On most trains, you will be able to take as much luggage as you can carry onboard and store. There are overhead luggage racks for smaller, lighter items, as well as dedicated luggage bays at the ends of the coaches on long-distance trains. However, if you are traveling with Ouigo, you are limited to one piece of hand luggage and one of carry-on luggage, with maximum dimensions of 55 x 35 x 25 cm. This must be placed under your seat. The hand luggage must be less than 36 x 27 x 15 cm, and held on your lap. If you bring more luggage on Ouigo, you will pay €5 per item. However, be aware that this must be booked in advance. Turning up to the station with extra luggage will carry a €20 penalty. What is the pet policy? On Ouigo trains, each passenger can bring up to two small domestic pets, if they are in closed containers, without any extra charges. Pets that weigh more than 6kg will incur a special surcharge. Please note that if you are planning to cross international borders, policies may vary from one country to the next. On other trains, pets weighing less than 6kg cost €7. Dogs weighing more than 6kg cost 50% of the full 2nd class ticket fare, and must be muzzled throughout the journey. What support is available for people with reduced mobility? SNCF offers support to travelers with limited mobility. Please specify that you would like to use one of their special assistance services at the time of booking. The Accès Plus service, free at 360 TGV and Intercités stations, offers a personal assistant who will meet you at the station to help you on and off the train. The personal assistant will also transport a single item of luggage, weighing up to 15kg. Personal assistance is also available on regional trains with the Accés TER service. For heavily visually impaired travelers, a discount of 50% is offered to traveling companions. Some discounts may also be offered to certain disabled passengers. How can I travel cheaper with SNCF? Book well in advance to get the best fares on long-distance trains, and don't be afraid to travel at off-peak times; prices may vary significantly within a 24-hour period. The no-frills Ouigo service is a good alternative to the standard TGV, although it doesn't run on all TGV routes. You will have to pay extra for services that are free on other lines, such as electrical sockets or extra luggage. However, if you are used to traveling on European no-frills airlines, this experience will be similar.
Planning a trip to France? Use Virail's search tool to look up the routes you're planning to travel, before clicking through to the SNCF website to complete your booking. We'll help you find the journey that's best for you and suits your needs. Let Virail take the difficulty out of planning your trip, leaving you with one less thing to worry about. Bon voyage!