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The French train system is truly remarkable and a great way to see the country. The one accomplishment in train travel that the French are most proud of is the Trains á Grande Vitesse, or TGV. This lightning fast railway links towns and cities across much of the country providing an easy, comfortable and best of all, rapid way to get to your destination.

The TGV trains run on electricity and can achieve their cruising speed of 186 mph using the special high-speed tracks called Ligne á Grande Vitesse, or LGV. For those who want to make the most out of their time in France the TGV is a special part of the French experience. Let’s get to know all about France’s TGV.

How to Reserve Your Seat and Purchase Tickets

Before you can ride the TGV you do require a reservation. Advance purchase of your ticket is available and at that time you’ll need to book your seat. Of course you should expect to pay slightly more for high speed travel but typically the prices are fairly affordable and very much worth it. Book your tickets as soon as you can in order to get the best selection of available seats and the best fares. If possible, book your seats on the TGV three months prior to departure. Here is our favorite booking site for your TGV tickets.

First Class

As you might expect a first class ticket comes with some amenities. First class accommodations on the TGV are designed with your extreme comfort in mind. There are spacious seats that recline with armrests and a drop down or fixed table. Seats are arranged in the car as 2 adjacent seats on one side and one on the other.

All first class seats have an outlet to charge your mobile devices (laptop, pad, phone, etc.) however they are configured for the European two-pin socket so make sure you have an adapter handy.

Variations on the seating in first class are available but you must request when receiving your seats. You may desire two seats facing each other with a table between. This is called Club Duo in French or, in English, dual face-to-face. For four seats and a table (two on each side facing each other) select Club Quatre (Club Four in English). Two seats side by side are Duo and a single seat is a Solo.

Second Class

Second class accommodations offer comfortable seating as well. Two seats next to each other on either side of the car are how the second class seats are configured. Drop down tables to accommodate your laptop, or fixed tables are standard. Not all TGV second class seats offer mobile device charging outlets. Table seats are offered in second class. You will see them listed as family, facing or, in French, carré.

Your Luggage

There are no luggage limits on the TGV. If you can carry it you can bring it! However, there is limited storage space but there is room between seats, on racks above your seat and at the front of the coach. The only requirement is that your luggage is labeled with your name, such as on a luggage tag.

Some of the economy trains will charge a few euros for bags so just be aware.

Facilities On Board the Train

Food and drink are available on all TGV trains in the cafe-bar in the center of the train between first and second class. They feature sandwiches as well as some hot dishes, typically quiche and lasagna. The cafe-bar also serves hot and cold beverages and small bottles of wine and spirits. The cafe-bar accepts cash and credit cards for your purchase. You can take your food back to your seat or enjoy it in the standing area of the cafe-bar.

 While Wi-Fi isn’t always the most reliable (or trustworthy) on the TGV, cell service is normally fine. As mentioned above, all TGV first class seats include charging outlets for mobile devices. Only some of the second class seats include the power outlets.

TGV trains are wheelchair accessible and have at least one wheelchair accessible restroom. There are baby changing stations on board also. Smoking is not permitted on any of the trains.

Tips for Navigating the Train and Boarding Process

Many of the bigger TGV stations have automated ticket gates. You simply scan the barcode on your ticket to open the gates and access the boarding area.

With most of the trains in Europe there is no check-in required and the TGV is no different. You simply go to the station and look at the board that indicates the trains and their location (Composition des Trains). Find your train number (referencing the train number is more reliable than looking for your destination) and refer to your ticket for the coach number.

Look on the board to find the section of the platform that corresponds with your coach number. For instance if your ticket says “coach 5, seat 52” look at the board to find the corresponding section of the platform to board coach 5. The platforms are divided into alphabetical sections (typically) so if the indicator board shows coach 5 boarding at section M make your way to section M to wait for your train and then board the coach on your ticket. Then look for your seat number on the coach.

Additional Tips to Make Your TGV Experience a Good One

  • Arrive at least 20 minutes prior to departure. Especially if you don’t speak French. It’s helpful to arrive early and get your bearings. Find the Composition des Trains and scope out where you will board.
  • Never leave your luggage unattended even for a moment. There are those just looking for an opportunity to help themselves to the belongings of a weary, slightly jet-lagged traveler.
  • The French like to enjoy a meal on the train. Bring your own snacks or a meal on board if you like.
  • Familiarize yourself with the names of the train stations. It can be especially confusing when going from somewhere like Avignon to Paris to catch a return flight.
  • Relax but be aware of your stop! It’s easy, especially for those who are a bit jet-lagged, to nod off as you watch the gorgeous French countryside pass by your window. Try to stay alert so you don’t miss your destination.

The TGV is one of the best ways to get around France. The speed with which you travel between towns-especially the Paris airport and your destination-ensures that you spend more time enjoying your vacation.