I have just returned from another train journey. Taking the train is so relaxing and it is such a nice way to travel around France or beyond. So far this year, I have been to Paris, Brittany, and Amsterdam on the train. It is very easy and convenient. Here are my tips for doing just that.
Train travel: plan ahead!
If you plan ahead of time you can find some really cheap seats. I recently booked a trip to Paris from Aix-en-Provence and paid 20 euros for my one-way ticket. I use the apps SNCF Connect or Ouigo and they can both be read in English. Ouigois a lower-cost service and you may hear that it’s less reliable. I have used both and I haven’t noticed too much of a difference. I’ve never had a problem with delays or anything like that. If price is important, you won’t be disappointed with the 2nd class cars. The train is so organized and everyone has an assigned seat.
Take note: embrace changes
Yesterday on a trip back from Brittany, we were informed (via the app and email) that there was a change. Only three cars would be used therefore it was now open seating. They apologized and promised that it would be fine. It was!
Don’t panic if something like this does happen to you. It’s French organization at its best. It feels chaotic but it is actually not. I would suggest getting there as early as possible and that way you can find a seat as soon as the doors open. We arrived a good 30 minutes ahead of time. The train was already there and we had no trouble finding a seat.
Train to Paris: travel day arrives
Take the Bus to the TGV or Airport from Aix city center
Ever since I discovered the bus, I rarely take a taxi to the TGV or the airport. The system is so efficient and it’s incredibly affordable. The buses are located at the Gare Routiere which is walkable from anywhere in the Aix-en-Provence center. Here’s what you need to know.
From La Rotonde fountain with your back facing Le Cours Mirabeau. Walk straight and take the street which is going slightly left. It is called Avenue des Belges. On the left side of the street, you will see the Apple store along with 5 Guys restaurant. On the right side of the street, you will see the sculpture of Cezanne which is facing the fountain, looking towards Le Cours Mirabeau. Walk about 5/10 minutes (max) until you come to the Gare Routiere which will be at the end on the right. Now, walk down the line of buses until you see Gate 11/12 on your left. It is towards the end.
Gate 11/12 – Leaves every 15 minutes
Buy ahead at the station or on the bus. A round trip is cheaper so if you know that you’ll be back I would suggest asking for this ticket (“un aller-retour SVP “).
Along the way to both the train and airport, there’s one stop in between. It’s about 20 minutes to the train and 30 to the airport.
Train travel: where to stand on the platform?!
It can be confusing to know where to stand on the platform while you wait for your TGV. Look for this sign which will be inside the station. Usually near the entrance to the platform.
The number refers to which car you will be in.
The letter is where to stand on the platform. These letters are overhead when you are on the platform.
Buy your Metro Tickets on Board the Train
If you’re going to Paris be sure to buy your Metro Tickets on the train. Metro/RER tickets can be bought at the cafe/bar which is on the train (usually car 14)
I would definitely do this. I made the mistake once of not buying my ticket on the train and when I arrived in Paris there was a 15-minute wait at the ticket machines to buy one metro ticket. It is not worth it. They make it very easy for you to buy your tickets at the bar so don’t be shy and do just that! (Je voudrais un, deux… ticket du métro SVP)
Train travel: important note
DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR TICKET UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETELY EXITED THE TRAIN STATION. If you’re on the RER you’ll need it to get through the turnstile at the exit. Learn from my mistakes!
As you’ll be coming from the South you will arrive at Gare de Lyon. If Paris is your final destination you can just jump on the metro and find your way to your accommodation. Take a look at the metro map above and find your route or use the City Mapper app to help you find your way.
Paris Metro: Gare du Nord from Gare de Lyon
If you’ll be continuing North, you’ll need to change stations and get to La Gare du Nord. I just did it so here you go….
Paris Metro: D1 RER
Follow the signs leading downstairs. It will be busy so just be patient with the hoards of people running around you and find your way to the platform. Once on the Metro, it says Porte Nord on the train map. Don’t be confused (like me). It’s the same thing as Gare du Nord and it is only 2 stops. It is very quick so don’t panic if you’re worried about time. It only took us about 15 minutes. I would think that 30 minutes would be the absolute maximum and that’s if there’s a delay.
Metro travel: important note – If you need to get to another big station… Map it out before you go so you know what to look for. It can feel overwhelming as there are always a lot of people and signs everywhere. It is doable but If you don’t want to bother, follow the signs for taxis. Uber cannot come directly to the station but there will be a taxi rank outside. It’s easy.
Paris Metro: M1
If your destination is Paris, you’ll probably be somewhere on the M1 metro line. Check it out on the map and make it easy. M1 is easy to find. If it’s not M1 just have a look on the map or city mapper and you’ll find your way. Sometimes, it is a long walk in the metro but you’ll get there.
Above all……have a great trip!
Save this for when you’re planning to take the train to Paris. Do you have any tips to add to these? please share in the comments below.
I have a long history with France as I married a French man in 1988 and have 3 dual-national children. I've lived in different parts of France over the years and I'm currently living in Aix-en-Provence. I enjoy sharing my experiences and bringing France to life via storytelling. Read more on my blog or follow me on Instagram @suzannegrossovidal. À bientôt!
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