This post is also available in: Dutch

Latest update: 1 May 2024

Whether you travel to the French Alps for a skiing holiday or want to soak up the sun in the Côte d’Azur, you can easily get there by night train. But how comfortable is that really? I tested the night train in France for you!

Sustainable travel option

I don’t have to explain that the train is much more sustainable than the plane. However, the costs of a more sustainable train journey can sometimes be a deterrent. On the other hand, the prices of the plane and the train cannot be wholly compared one-to-one. You need to consider what it costs to take your luggage with you (usually unlimited and free on the train), what an overnight stay costs (you save a night with a night train), and what it costs you to compensate for your CO2 emissions. Then you might end up choosing the train after all.

To France by train

During the day, you can travel from the Netherlands (my home base) to France easily with NS International, to summer and winter destinations. If you keep an eye on the offers, you can get some competitively priced tickets. A one-way ticket to Paris, for example, for €35 – or else check the prices of the Flixbus.

Because yes, you must go to Paris first to use the French night train. These ‘Intercités de nuit’ can be booked directly with SNCF. If you can’t quite figure it out on that site, Omio is a very good alternative.

Night trains in France

The night trains in France all depart from Paris Austerlitz station. From here, you can take the SNCF night train to various destinations:

  • Toulouse
  • Rodez
  • Latour-de-Carol
  • Cerbère
  • Lourdes
  • Briançon
  • Nice

These are the final destinations of the night train. There are also intermediate stations, but listing them all here would be a bit too much.

The night trains in France were completely renovated in 2022. It was desperately needed because they became less popular in the 1970s and 1980s due to cheap airline tickets and fell into decline.

Which ticket class do you choose?

You have three options on France’s night trains: a seat, second-class berth, or first-class berth. You can probably guess which one is the cheapest and which one is the most comfortable. If your budget allows it, I would go for first class. I’ll tell you more about that in a moment.

On both the outward and return journeys, my friend and I have the compartment to ourselves. If you want to be sure of a private compartment, you can pay extra for it. Otherwise, it’s a gamble.

From Amsterdam to Briançon

I am traveling from the Netherlands to Briançon in the French Alps. This means I need two separate tickets: one from Amsterdam to Paris and one from Paris to Briançon.

I buy the first at NS International and the second at SNCF or Omio. At NS International, pay attention to the price difference between second class and comfort class: you can sometimes upgrade for 5 euros, and those spacious, comfortable seats are absolutely worth it!

Change in Paris

In Paris I arrive at Paris Nord station, but I have to go to Paris Austerlitz. This is possible (in 2023) with Metro 5. To do so, you can buy a metro ticket for €2.10 BEFORE the gates. The metro takes you directly to Paris Austerlitz.

If you have some extra time to spend in Paris on your outward and/or return journey, you can rent a locker at one of the stations. I rent one at the Paris Nord station. The lockers at the station can be found near platform 3. There you go down the stairs and then right. Here is an area with a security check and several lockers. Renting a large locker costs €9.50 for a day. This easily fits two small suitcases and two backpacks. I think all of our stuff might even have fit in the medium locker. You will receive a receipt with a code to open your safe again later. Take a picture of it just to be safe!

Facilities at Paris Austerlitz

I am at Paris Austerlitz station on a dark, rainy evening when the station is also in disarray due to construction work. At the platform of the night train, there is a waiting area where you can get something to drink and eat from a vending machine, go to the toilet, and rent a locker. It’s not a place to spend hours, but luckily, the night train to Briançon runs perfectly on time.

Board the night train

As soon as the train staff is ready, you can stand in line to scan your ticket. You then look for the correct carriage and compartment yourself. Of course, we get it wrong, and soon, a gentleman comes to claim his bed. Oops!

On the way back, at Briançon station, everything is much smaller and less hectic. The conductor stands on the platform to show us and a handful of other travelers the way. I don’t have to show identification both times, but after about half an hour, a conductor comes by to check the ticket.

On board the French night train

The carriage with seats is, understandably, almost entirely empty. The journey between Paris and Briançon takes almost 12 hours, so sitting for that long seems uncomfortable to me.

The second-class compartments have six sleeping places (couchettes in French). Three on top of each other. This means you cannot sit upright on your bed. The first class has four sleeping places, so you have a much more spacious sleeping place. It allows you to sit upright, and the bed is wider. In both classes, you have your own charging point and light, and a small suitcase fits perfectly under the bed. It’s all very clean and neat. I can tell that the trains have been refurbished in 2022.

In both the first and second classes, a pillow and a sleeping bag are ready for you. I wasn’t cold but slept in leggings, a long-sleeved shirt, and socks. I just changed clothes in the compartment because it was just the two of us. Otherwise, in each carriage, there is a small area to brush and freshen up your teeth and a slightly larger area with a toilet.

You’ll also find a bottle of water on your bed and a small night set, including a toothpaste tablet, eye mask, earplugs, and refreshing cloth. It’s all so well organized.

I expected some kind of restaurant compartment, but there is only a distribution point in one or more carriages. You can get a cup of coffee, soft drinks, or breakfast. There is no wine! A bit of a disappointment to be honest.

Can you sleep on the night train?

Well… At the start of the journey, the train staff shouts over the speakers several times, and the passengers are still quite active: walking around, getting something to drink, and chatting. But around ten o’clock, most people seem to opt for a night’s sleep.

The bed is long enough for me – I am 1.68, but you are much less comfortable if you are 1.80 or taller.

On the way there (in second class), I slept super light. On the way back (in first class), I slept like a baby. Around six o’clock, an announcement is made about breakfast, and the train slowly becomes more lively. It’s pretty early, but I wake up in the French Alps with beautiful views of the mountains, so I’m fine with the early rise.

Night train France second class

Tips for booking a night train in France

  • Book on time.
  • Be flexible with your dates for better prices.
  • The first class is much more relaxed than the second class.
  • If you are traveling alone as a woman, you can inform SNCF so that you will be given a place to sleep in a compartment for women only. This option is free!
  • Book directly with SNCF or otherwise Omio – comparing prices is of course always a good idea.

More inspiration for travel in France?

  • Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Campspace for unique camping spots. Rather stay in a hostel? Check out Hostelworld.
  • Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. You can find other good options at WithLocals. Check out Freetour and GuruWalk for ‘free’ walking tours, and for bike tours, try Baja Bikes. If you’re into wine: check out all the wine-related activities at Rue des Vignerons.
  • Attractions and museums. Book museum and attraction tickets with Tiqets and get a 5% discount with this code: KIMOPREIS22.
  • Car rental. Want to compare prices? Check out Discover Cars and Rental Cars.
  • Flights. Definitely compare prices! Try Skyscanner and Kiwi.
  • Money. Your debit and credit cards may not be accepted everywhere. When you travel, you could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card. 
  • Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? Maybe Expedia or CheapOair has a good option.
  • SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
  • Train and bus. Travel by train to France with NS International, or plan your trip via Trainline. Or find deals on trains and busses in France via Busbud, Omio, or 12Go.
  • Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Amazon.
  • Yoga retreat. And what about a yoga retreat in France?

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission.

SNCF sponsored my train journey as part of a press trip. I have been given complete editorial freedom.

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