Paris is the hub of the national rail system (SNCF), with high-speed trains connecting it to most major European cities.The SNCF (88 rue St-Lazare, Paris, 75009.
08-36-35-35-35, but note that this costs an outrageous €.35 a minute, so it's better to go to the station in person or check the website: http://www.sncf.fr), is fast, punctual, comfortable, and goes everywhere.
The SNCF covers the whole gamut of rail transport: local trains, overnight sleepers, and of course the high-speed TGV, or Trains à Grande Vitesse (averaging 255 kph/160 mph on the Lyon/southeast line and 300 kph/190 mph on the Lille and Bordeaux/southwest lines).
The TGVs are the fastest way to get around the country, and run between
Paris and Lyon/Switzerland/the Riviera: From Paris via the Lyon, Marseilles line to the south, and Geneva and Lausanne in the east in three and a half hours;
Paris and Angers/Nantes
Paris and Tours/Poitiers/Bordeaux: the ultra high-speed Bordeaux Atlantic line to the southwest (three hours to Bordeaux)
Paris and Lille/Calais: The northern line which reaches Lille in one hour and connects with the EuroTunnel to Great Britain, i.e. the TGV Eurostar Paris-London/Brussels-London service.
Paris and Brussels/Amsterdam: This line also connects to to Cologne.
These trains are cool: in September 2005, TGV launched its new train interior designed by the Christian Lacroix - MBD Design - Compin Group no less (my wife Helen was impressed!) and 183 trains are getting the upgrade (that's more than half the fleet).
Paris has six international rail stations which are all served by metro stations:
Gare du Nord (northern France, Belgium, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, and England via Calais or Boulogne);
Gare St-Lazare (Normandy, England via Dieppe);
Gare de l'Est (Nancy, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Basel, Germany and eastern Europe, including ex-Yugoslavia and Moscow.
Gare de Lyon (Lyon, Marseille, the Riviera, Geneva, Italy); and
Gare d'Austerlitz (Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Spain and Portugal via Orléans, Tours, Poitiers and Angoulême, but note the new Gare Montparnasse service).
Gare Montparnasse (now the main terminus for trains bound for southwest France since the introduction of the new TGV-Atlantique service).
You can get train information or reserve tickets in any Paris station, you don't have to go to the one from which your train actually leaves. They now have a flashy computerized multilingual info system at all Paris stations, and you can use it to make reservations and buy your ticket on the spot.
Go to the Grandes Lignes counter for journeys within France and to the Billets Internationaux one if you're travelling out of the country.
Seat reservations are required on TGVs and are a good idea anyway; popular trains can get crowded -- particularly in summertime and on holidays. If you're travelling overnight and want a sleeper you'll also need a reservation.
Lastly, before boarding your train make sure you punch your ticket and reservation receipt in one of the automatic cancellation machines located at the head of each platform.
British Rail also has several daily departures from London's Victoria Station, all linking with the Dover-Calais/Boulogne ferry services through to Paris. There is also an overnight service on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. Journey time is around eight hours or longer. See our Arriving in Paris by Boat pages for ferry details.
Transporting your Car by Rail:
You can take your car to France by rail under the Channel, or put it on a train to avoid the long drive to the South of France: