A Step-By-Step Guide To SNCF: Train Types, Timetable, Cheap Tickets, And Uses

Is the immense network of SNCF trains holding you back in doubt? This ultimate user guide for SNCF trains will have you buckled up.

Nguyen Oanh


Do you know that there are up to five different types of trains operated by the SNCF system? If you’re a first-time visitor to France, getting around by public transport would be the end of the world if you don’t understand the language or don’t know how to buy and use tickets.

Rest your worries, I’m here to help!

In this article, I’ll be covering SNCF trains. If you’ve heard of TGVs before, that’s a high-speed railway system but it’s only one option to recall.

Different trains will have different coverage. Some trains focus on the city core and major transit hubs such as Paris. Some are only applicable to the suburbs and further cities afield. Meanwhile, the Grandes Lignes is a cross-region train that takes you to all parts of France.

Read on and I’ll show you how to differentiate these train types, the best way to buy a ticket, and how to use it for access.

A Low Down On SNCF Trains


RER mainly focuses on Greater Paris as an extension of the metro network. This one is mostly used by commuters who live outside of Paris and go there to work.

RER stops every 5 to 10 minutes. It can get crowded at certain stops with lots of people coming in and out but not all. The frequency of an RER is around 20 minutes.


TER is similar to RER but more modern. The TER network is independently operated by each region, meaning not every region has it available. 

Grandes Lignes (GL)

The GL is known as one of the classic train types (original). It takes you from one part of France to the other, which is more like a cross-region train.


The most commonly known, TGV is a high-speed train with a large coverage all over the country. TGV has a modern facility. It connects Paris (the central hub with the surrounding suburbs and further regions).

Other than TGV, you may also see iDTGV and OUIGO. These are low-cost trains that are the best options for travelers on a budget.

iDTGV is part of the TGV train system but is cheaper and its tickets are only available online for early birds. Note that the ticket for this type of train is non-refundable. Pricing on most routes starts at €19.

OUIGO, on the other hand, focuses on very lesser-known places that are usually on the outskirts of large cities other than the central lines such as Paris. It starts from Marne-la-Vallée, Massy, while some Ouigo lines also depart from Charles de Gaulle airport.

SNCF Timetable

Ironically, the official website of SNCF is pretty slow in updating its departure and arrival time. Sometimes it misses out on certain stops upon checking, Therefore, I recommend you switch to this DB Bahn for a better update.

SNCF Train Tickets: A Buyer’s Guide

A Brief Introduction

All train rides have different fares which are indicated by duration, first/second class, cabin type, and time of purchase.

Early Bird Ticket

Even though early bird tickets and group discounts are available, the final price you see always fluctuates every time you check. Early bird tickets are available for sale 90 days in advance or earlier if the high season and festivals are around the corner.

Early bird tickets are non-exchangeable and non-refundable. If you’re not settled on your traveling date, avoid this as you’re gonna lose all the money if you cannot make it on the last day.

Last-Minute Ticket

This is the best option for those who like to go with the flow. This type of deal offers promotions when they have so many empty seats left for a certain window and route.

Group Travel Discount

This one is applicable for group sizes of 3 and above.

Best Ways To Buy SNCF Tickets

Direct Purchase At The Train Stations

Only for an emergency, direct purchase in person usually involves queues that may take an hour to clear. Plus, the on-site ticket is always more expensive. Not to mention language barrier gets in the way too.

Ticket Vending Machine

This option is better than an on-site ticket since it doesn’t always involve a queue. The major problem is that certain types of credit/debit cards are not acceptable.

Voyages-SNCF Mobile App

Download it on App Store or Google Play. The e-ticket will have a barcode. Show it at the station for verification and get on.

Online Tickets – Best Option

This is the best option of all. Here’s how you do it:

Click on this website: SNCF-Voyage.

Enter your departure and arrival destination.

Essential tips: If you’re unsure of the exact name of the station, start with a generic name such as “Paris” and it will give you a breakdown of all the potential results that include “Paris” in it.

Choose your departure time and ticket type. In the screenshot below, you can see three types in total: Non-exchangeable, Exchangeable with Conditions Applied, and Flexible. The last option, Flexible, is always the most expensive.

Select your desired seat from:

  • Indifferent: No special requirement applied.
  • Fenetre: Window seat.
  • Couloir: Aisle seat.
  • Duo cote a cote: Two people side by side.
  • Carre ou famille: Opposite facing seats.
  • Salle haute: Upper deck.
  • Salle basse: Lower deck.

Choose your pick-up location. They have four options in total, including an e-ticket, collecting the ticket at a ticket machine, collecting the ticket in person at an on-site ticket counter, and delivery to your home in France.

Amongst those options, opting for an e-ticket is the best. They will send the e-ticket to your email. Print it out and keep it with you. The inspector will check the QR code on it when you get on the train. You don’t have to do this if you have an app. All you need to do is show the e-ticket on your phone to the inspector when needed.

The other 3 options are not really handy if you don’t actually live in France, or if your credit card is declined when you choose to pick it up at a ticket machine.

Confirm to pay. You can pay by credit card.

Essential Tips For Riding The SNCF

  • Keep an eye out for your luggage. On most TGV trains, you need to store your luggage in the luggage locker. In some cases, they disappear. Make sure to double-check at every stop to make sure your luggage is not stolen.
  • No swiping is needed, you can get on the train with your ticket/e-ticket in hand. Keep it with you all the time.
  • Punch your physical ticket at the small yellow punching machine at the train stations. If you hold an e-ticket or a printed ticket, you don’t need to do this. It’s only applicable to those bought at the ticket machines or counters.

I hope you will have a hassle-free trip using my guide for all of your SNCF rides. If you’re looking for more travel ideas in France, check out my personal sharing below to be inspired: