After 3 delightful but hot weeks in Paris, our family boarded a train bound for the sunny French Riviera. We adored being in Paris but were ready for a break from the city, and we really wanted to bring our girls to a beach before the summer ended. So we set our sights on the city of Nice on the Cote d’Azur!
If you’re looking to make a similar escape from the City of Lights to the beautiful southern coast, here’s everything you need to know about taking the train from Paris to Nice. (NOTE: a lot of these tips are useful for traveling anywhere in Europe by train, not just this specific route!)
1) Download the Capitaine Train app on your phone. It is much easier to use than the confusing online European ticket sites, and they don’t charge an additional fee on top of the ticket price.
2) Once you’ve purchased your tickets, you’ll either need to print them or download the iDTGV app to use for your tickets (iDTGV refers to the train you’ll be taking from Paris to Nice).
I couldn’t figure out how to get the app to show up in English, so here’s a quick guide to navigating the French menus:
Swipe through the intro screens and then click “Je Me Connecte”.
When the main screen appears, click on the top left lines that indicate that you’ll be opening a new menu.
Click on “Mes reservations”:
Then click on “J’importe ma reservation”:
You’ll enter the 6-digit confirmation code from your Capitaine Train order on the line that says “Dossier Voyage”, enter your email on the next line, and then click “J’importe ma reservation”.
After that you’ll be able to show your tickets (“billets”) once you’re at the station!
3) One note for those traveling with children - you’re not allowed to book seats in a quiet zone. Even though I made sure not to request the quiet zone when I bought tickets, we still accidentally got tickets in that section. We didn't know that until we were already on the train, and a conductor came through and told us we weren't allowed to be there. He was very kind and friendly, though, and he helped us find an open set of seats in another car where the girls didn't have to stay quiet.
So if your tickets say “idZEN” and you have children, you’ll need to switch your tickets to another seat… you can try contacting Capitaine Train or iDTGV, going to the train station ahead of time, or simply talking with one of the train staff members before you board the train.
4) The boarding process for trains is so much easier than for airplanes! The train from Paris to Nice leaves from Gare de Lyon, and you simply wheel in your bags, find your platform, and then they scan your ticket at the entrance to your car. Your seat number is listed on the ticket, so you can use that to find your car.
Now… I say that you “simply” wheel your bags in to the station, and if you are a light packer, are solo or a couple, or even if your children are teenagers, then that’s probably true. But, if you struggle with letting go of that black cocktail dress, a workout outfit, and a couple other items you haven't worn yet in two months of travel but might need at some point… and then you have three small children on top of that… there’s nothing simple about it.
Our Uber drivers left their cars at the curb and helped us wheel our luggage all the way to the train door. I don’t know how we would have done it without them - first of all, we might not have found the platform, because when you come into station Gare de Lyon, there are lettered platforms like A, B, C, etc., and our train was listed as being at platform number 7. The numbered platforms are hidden on the back left side of the station, which I never would have found on my own, but the drivers knew right where to go. Secondly, we never would have made it to the train on time if we’d had to get all our bags through the station by ourselves!
5) Technically your train ticket includes two pieces of luggage, and then they give you the option to pay for extra baggage ahead of time which is cheaper than paying at the train station. Given the fact that you have to manage to get all your belongings through the station and onto the train all by yourself (unless you have an awesome Uber driver too!), you’ll be much better off sticking as close to two bags per person as you can.
As you probably guessed from the blog title, we were bogged down with 12 items -- 2 medium suitcases, 2 carry-ons, 1 duffle bag, 1 backpack, 2 children's suitcases, 1 stroller, and 3 carseats. That is a ridiculous amount of stuff to maneuver through a train station and on/off the train. Take it from one who’s been there - avoid traveling with so much stuff at all costs! For your own sanity. :)
6) The train ride is really nice! It was our family's first time taking a long train ride, and it was cool. It felt a lot freer than being on an airplane. We were able to stand up, walk around, and move between cars with no problems, no flight attendants with drink carts taking up the aisle, and no turbulence forcing you to stay in your seat.
My favorite part was being able to see the French countryside for 5 hours. We zipped past rolling vineyards and picturesque towns, and then finished by traveling up the Mediterranean coast and drinking in the gorgeous sea views. You get a much better sense of a place by being on the ground instead of up in the air.
7) Surprisingly, the time really flies by. I was a little nervous about being on the train for over five hours with the girls, but they all did really well.
We left out a few toys for them to play with (baby dolls and stuffed animals) and had fully-charged iPads ready with movies and games, and they were great. We went on walks to the cafe car for a change of scenery and to grab some snacks, and we were pulling in to the Nice station before we knew it.
8.The train ends at Nice Ville station, so you don’t have to worry about jumping off the train in a hurry. You’ll have enough time to make multiple trips onto the train to grab all your luggage, if necessary. :)
If you are unfortunate enough to end up on the far platform, like we did, you will have to make your way down a flight of steps, cross under the train tracks, and then come up on an escalator before you can leave the station. This last part is like a cruel taunt… you’ve made it so far and are so close to relaxing by the sea… you just have to lug all those bags down a flight of steps and then up an escalator. This was honestly the most stressful part of the trip for us, and nobody working at the train station seemed to notice or care.
So my biggest piece of advice for you, especially if you’re traveling with your family, is to take your time when you have these moments. Yes, it’s hard work. No, it’s not the fun and glamorous part of travel. But it’s a necessary evil, and you will survive it.
So take a deep breath and start wheeling your bags or carrying things down the steps. Plan to just take your time with it, and you’ll get through it.
And in the end, it will be totally worth it! You will be minutes away from gorgeous views like this, and the stress of the travel day will melt away.
Have you done the trip from Paris to Nice before, or a similar European train trip? Leave me a comment and let me know about your experience and if there’s any other tips you have to help fellow explorers!
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