Best Escape From Paris: Take the Fast Train to Lyon

Sunset on the Saone River in Lyon

In the past, we have highly recommended taking the fast train from Lyon to Paris. 

But the French government announced a new and controversial ruling that makes air travel between the two cities almost impossible and train travel almost essential.

Designed to reduce airline emissions, the ruling eliminates the possibility of Air France commercial flights from Paris to Lyon. Private jets are excepted but are required to pay a higher “climate charge.”

In addition to Lyon, the change affects domestic flights between Paris and other regional hubs such as those in Nantes and Bordeaux, which can be reached by train in less than 2-1/2 hours. Connecting flights remain unaffected.

Read about our delightful experience on the fast train from Paris to Lyon below.


Lyon, France is one of the premier places in the world for food lovers: Even Parisians begrudgingly admit there is no better food than that found in Lyon.

We’ve previously written about the city’s historical and culinary treasures—but if you take the TGV high-speed, fast train from Paris to Lyon, half the fun of the trip is getting there! And once you are there, you will want to return from Lyon to Paris by train!

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Buying tickets for the fast train from Paris to Lyon

SNCF/TGV tickets can be purchased in person or online. The concierge in our hotel in Paris helped us secure tickets (although you can do it yourself, even from home).

We opted for luxury and purchased comfortable first-class seats for the two-hour, non-stop, just under 250-mile ride (at the cost of about $75-$140 per person. Fares start as low as $11 per person. On weekdays, 77 trains run between Paris and Lyon.

The high-speed train has two seating levels, upper and lower. You choose the one you prefer as well as the location of your seats when purchasing tickets.

If you’re traveling with suitcases, it’s easier to sit on the first level, avoiding a narrow flight of stairs.

Navigating the Gare de Lyon railway station

Clock atop Gare de Lyon, built in a similar style to that of Big Ben
Clock atop Gare de Lyon, built in a similar style to that of Big Ben

Our train, Number 6609, was scheduled to leave from the elegant, architecturally beautiful Gare de Lyon station, one of the six large railway stations in Paris.

Worth a visit in its own right, it was built at the turn of the 20th century.

Upon entering the station, you need to find out the number of the hall (lobby) from which your train will depart; it will be listed on one of the information boards overhead.

As the time for departure approaches, another board directs you to the correct voie (train track.)

If you arrive early for your train, you’ll have a chance to poke into some of the shops or purchase a coffee and croissant at a kiosk.

In addition, a full-service restaurant with excellent ratings is located at the station, Le Train Bleu, which was designated a national historic landmark in 1972.

One of the kiosks at the Gare de Lyon
One of the kiosks at the Gare de Lyon
Le Train Bleu Restaurant at Gare de Lyon
Le Train Bleu Restaurant at Gare de Lyon

Your ticket tells you which voiture (car) you’ll be riding and the location of your seats. You pass through an automated self-service ticket scanner to get to the train platforms.

Walking to our car seemed to take forever as we passed about twenty cars. The car numbers are posted on an electronic board near the door of each car.

Getting onboard the fast train from Paris to Lyon

Getting ready to board the fast train from Paris to Lyon
Getting ready to board the fast train from Paris to Lyon

Our plush, velvet-upholstered, reclining seats on the TGV train were extremely comfortable and had ample legroom.

The seats allow you to recline if you want to sleep through the ride but we wouldn’t recommend that. You would miss the experience!

Seats on the fast train from Paris to Lyon: Wish they had some of these on planes
Seats on the fast train from Paris to Lyon: We wish they had some of these on planes
Our new friend, Jean Louis
Our new friend, Jean Louis

Soon after finding our seats, we were greeted by Jean Louis, an affable train conductor who told us he would be walking through the car periodically in case we needed anything or had any questions.

Once onboard, there were plenty of options to make time pass quickly. Of course, your eyes are drawn to the large windows framing the beautiful countryside as the train moves by at a speed of approximately 180 miles per hour.

The ride was surprisingly smooth and bump-free compared to the subway or Metro North in New York City, or even the Acela Express on the northeast corridor.

But there was plenty of competition for our attention onboard:

  • Free, high-speed Internet connection, as well as electrical charging outlets at each seat,
  • A web page that pops up with details about your ticket purchase and information about connecting trains should you need them,
  • An option to play online games or watch Yoga exercises you can do at your seat,
  • City guides you can read with tourist information for major cities on the SCNF lines,
  • You can track your train on the map on the train’s website on your laptop or phone,
  • Order food online for in-seat service (only available in first-class) or order it for pick-up at a priority line in the café-bar car on the train. Our train offered a breakfast menu, foodie menu, a la carte menu and meals created by celebrity chefs, or
  • Engage in a “T-chat” with fellow passengers. Instructions for use suggest that you might want to ask someone to share a charger or provide you with information for your travels.
Screenshot of Wi-Fi homepage on the TGV train
Screenshot of Wi-Fi homepage on the TGV train

Each car has racks to store your luggage and restrooms located at the end of cars. If you do want to nap and miss the trip, you can simply pull down the window shade beside your seat.

Ambiance

You won’t find any boom boxes or strap-hanging dancers on this train. Most of the passengers traveling the fast train from Paris to Lyon seemed to be daily commuters. The typical uniform for a French businessman: a beautifully tailored blue blazer and jeans.

When our very pleasant conductor passed through the car again, we decided to take him up on his earlier offer and asked him whether he had any restaurant recommendations in Lyon. He told us that he lived outside the city but bellowed out to our fellow passengers, soliciting their restaurant recommendations.

One passenger came forward from the other end of the car and told us about his favorite bouchon (typical Lyonnais tavern) in the city. Then a kind gentleman behind us discretely passed us a piece of paper with the names and addresses of three of his favorite restaurants written on it.

The kind man behind us on the fast train from Paris to Lyon
The kind man behind us on the fast train from Paris to Lyon
The recommendations we received on the train
The recommendations we received on the train

Arriving in Lyon

A convenient taxi stand was just outside the train station with waiting vehicles. (You can also use Uber in Lyon.)

Our only complaint: Our time on the comfortable, relaxed fast train from Paris to Lyon passed all too quickly.

Before we knew it, we were at the Lyon-Part-Dieu station. But we were eager to re-explore one of our favorite cities and try out the restaurant recommendations from the locals we had met on the train.


IF YOU GO


 Previously on MoreTimeToTravel:

Other Great Train Rides from Paris:

  • If you are thinking about hopping on a Paris to Italy train, you can also board at the Paris Gare de Lyon Station.

All photo credits (unless otherwise noted): Jerome Levine


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17 Comments

  1. Sooo envious of you! Not just Paris but Lyon. It’s such a great city AND do you realize how lucky you were that there wasn’t a strike set for the date you left?

    1. Hi Janice,

      Lyon is one of my happy places, too! I’m so glad you raised the issue of the strike. We actually did travel on a strike day and there were two things that I learned about railway strikes that I should have included in this post.

      1) Strike days are announced in advance but not all departures are affected. Even if you aren’t able to take a specific train, you may be able to take another.

      2) The railroad only will sell you a ticket if your train is actually going to run.

      Bottom line: Isn’t as bad as it sounds for a traveler with some flexibility.

      Best, Irene

  2. Sounds like while we were ‘riding the rails’ in Italy, you’ve been having similar experiences in France. There is nothing like European train travel!

  3. Sounds like while we were ‘riding the rails’ in Italy you were doing the same in France. Love European train travel. However, on a trip several years ago we were sold tickets (ordered while still in the States to save muss and fuss) and found ourselves standing in an Italian train station for hours waiting for one of the few trains that were running. Our first class tickets got us on to a train and we stood in the hallway, squished like sardines in a can or commuters in Tokyo for the length of the trip. Ya gotta be flexible when you travel! 😉

    1. We had a similar experience in Italy traveling from the port at Civitavecchia to Rome. Squished between people who raced off for a smoke at each station and returned with a stench! If we had been carrying luggage, it would have been really brutal!

  4. Hi Irene. We took this train enroute to Purycard, and I agree, the train is fast, clean, comfortable and scenic. And, we too, had help from our fellow passengers. BUT … I found the train staff to be arrogant and not helpful at all. We got on the wrong train because we were pointed in the wrong direction by a rail employee in Paris who didn’t care, when answering my friend (who are speaking in French with her question.) And when it was discovered by the onboard conductor that we were on the wrong train, he and his cohort laughed at us, rather than helping. It was thanks to a fellow passenger who immediately took out his cell phone and found out where we needed to get off and transfer, that everything worked out OK. I shall never forget that experience.

    1. That experience sounds like such a nightmare and I understand why it won’t be forgotten. I hope it was an aberration because our experience was the polar opposite~

  5. What a wonderful train trip that was! I love that they offered a foodie menu – how fantastic. I only spent a day in Lyon and without a dinner reservation so missed out on sampling the great food as many of the restaurants were closed ( I think I was there on a Monday). I’m interested to hear how the dining recommendations from your fellow passengers worked out!

    1. We actually went to one of the recommended restaurants, Cafe Comptoir Abel, twice because it was so good! You can’t get much better recommendations than those offered up by locals~

  6. I love everything about this journey Irene. We’ve taken the TGV from Paris to Epernay and from Paris to Dijon so I know that the train is comfortable and oh so fast. I’m glad you pointed out the places to get food in the train stations. Some of them are quite good. What a treat to visit Lyon. It’s on the top of our must-eat at list!

  7. I love Lyon! I spent about 6 months there back in the early 80s working as a fille au pair. I took the TGV soon after it was opened, though not in first class. It’s a wonderfully smooth, fast ride, but I got a headache trying to watch the scenery because it goes by so fast. Better to focus on distant sights!

    1. How lucky you were to spend six months in Lyon. That’s my dream! Yes, on trains, buses and boats, it’s always best to focus on the horizon if you are prone to nausea or motion sickness.

  8. It’s easy to get new experiences on fast trains. I will try this weekend. Thanks for sharing your information

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