Toolkit: Top tips for train travel in France
While it may seem like any other country, train travel in France has a long respected tradition and history to be aware of. Make sure you know the rules before getting stranded on the SNCF!
Train travel has held significant importance in France since the 1930’s with the unification of independent train lines to create the SNCF, or the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français.
There is an associated pride and aspect of nationalism that goes with trains in France. There is no denying it, they are absolutely iconic. Most of us, French or not, can recognise the SNCF ‘theme-tune’ instantly, and when we hear it, we couldn’t be anywhere else but at a train station in France.
Here are our top tips about how to best manage your travel by train around France.
- Remember to ‘composter votre billet’ otherwise you could risk a fine on the train. To do this there are small machines, usually yellow in colour, dotted around the station. To make life harder they are often dotted in quite obscure and random places so the whole process can be easily forgotten, make sure not to make this mistake.
- As we all know, Sunday in France is often pretty quiet! You can almost guarantee therefore that on a Sunday there will be a significant decrease in the number of trains and if you do manage to get on one, there is quite a high chance that it will be delayed! This may be a generalisation but this is usually the case, so it may be better to plan your trips around this day of the week!
- The French are often prone to go on strike and there is no exception on trains so be prepared for your train to be cancelled or delayed. That being said, when there isn’t a strike, trains in France are incredibly efficient and arrive and depart according to their exact times. So, there is no time for dawdling! When you are at the station make sure to get to your platform on time and ready to board before the train arrives into the station.
- Look where your seat is, there are often indications of where the carriages will be when the train arrives into the platform on a board (an electronic panel displaying a map of the train). You should try to stand where your carriage will be so that you do not have to walk through all of the carriages. This will help you as sometimes TGV trains are quite long and split off at various locations to go to different places, make sure you are on the right end of the train or you may end up somewhere completely unexpected!
- Most long distance trains have a restaurant café where you can buy snacks or a meal for your journey but if you do not feel for train food you can of course bring your own, even a bottle of wine if you want to really be in keeping with the French, as there are of course no rules against drinking wine and eating cheese on a French train!