If you’re traveling from Paris to Nice, save your precious daylight hours by taking the night train. It’s an enjoyable adventure. Here there are some things you should know to help ensure your trip is fun and comfortable.
The Paris to Nice night train
Trains run during the day of course to Nice, but it’s a long journey (it averages around 6 hours) and many people opt to take the overnight train and arrive refreshed, and maybe feel its a bit of an adventure!
You can take the Intercîtés de Nuit night train, which departs from Paris’ Gare d’Austerlitz in the late evening, and arrives in Nice the following morning (day trains depart from Gare de Lyon). A couchette, or sleeping compartment, is relatively inexpensive (modestly more than a reclining seat) and ensures you a good night’s rest before the start of your adventure on the Côte d’Azure.
You can book a first class compartment with four bunks, or a second class compartment with six bunks. Be aware that men and women share compartments unless single female travelers request a women only compartment. Each couchette is essentially a padded bunk bed, with a clean pillow and sleeping bag. SNCF (which stands for the quaint “Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français”) will provide the additional luxuries of a bottle of mineral water, tissues, soft socks and ear plugs. You’ll find a small reading light in your space as well.
The bunks are comfortable, but you might want to opt for first class compartments if you are claustrophobic or like a bit of space. The bunks are stacked quite close together, with very little head room, and you may need all your agility to climb up to the top. You can find deals on tickets depending on the time of year, whether there are sales on and who you buy from. You can buy Paris-Nice TGV tickets online at various websites, but choose carefully as some sites charge booking fees, some don’t and some sites offer seating options, some allocate your seat with no choice. You can take pets (if they have a ticket) and bikes on board and you’re allowed two cases and a piece of hand luggage.
When you arrive at Paris’ Gare d’Austerlitz, find your departure gate and make sure you look at the route of the train before you board it’s easy to make a mistake if you’re flustered and get on the wrong train. You will generally find that there is an electronic board with a guide to the location of carriages (a carriage is a voie in French) and the number is indicated near the doors of the train.
It’s actually quite easy to get settled into the wrong carriage, only to have to gather all your luggage and move along. And note that these French trains can be quite long! So make sure you wear comfortable shoes. If you are carrying your own luggage and your car is at the front of the train, heels are not helpful.
Your fellow French travelers are usually friendly and helpful, but socializing will likely be kept to a minimum; generally, passengers go right to sleep. If you fancy a card game or to stretch your legs, do it outside, if you can find space in the corridor or at the end of the train.
Using a mobile phone in a carriage is frowned upon in France and many trains provide a space dedicated to mobile phone users – or go outside the carriage.
Remember, if your bunk is on top, your fellow passengers will appreciate a minimum of climbing up and down the ladders during the wee hours.
Here’s a list of small items that may be helpful for your trip:
- Anti-snoring strips. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being the only snorer in a group of strangers. Please don’t ask how I know.
- Extra bottle of water, and small, portable meals or snacks. The trains have vending machines but your own snacks will be fresher and healthier.
- Small luggage. Storage space is limited in the compartments, and you may have to lift your bag above your head, or climb up on a ladder to store it.
- Wipes and/or an antiseptic hand lotion. While the trains are clean, you can still feel a little grubby after a long trip, and you may have a wait for the washroom.
- iPad or other device with ear buds, to read in night mode, play solitaire or other games. Make sure your books and games are downloaded; there’s no WiFi yet on trains. An extra, fully charged battery will also be helpful.
- Take a plug converter with you and charge your mobile devices as you travel, trains have plug sockets to enable you to do this.
With a little planning, you can leave Paris and wake up to the beautiful sight of the sun rising over the Cote d’Azure, past the palms and the Mediterranean, ready for the next adventure.
Practice at home a few times so that when you’re in France, you won’t hesitate to order a whole fish or be daunted if one is placed in front of you. You’ll have some good eating and impress your friends, too.
More about taking the train in France:
French words and phrases to help you when you’re travelling by train
How to take a train in France – all the details you need to help you navigate your way round stations and trains!
Louise Denegre blogs at MmeLouise and ParlezVousProvence