Saint Charles, Marseille's main rail station, forms the southern terminus of the TGV (high-speed train) network and is served by five other conventional lines. This is a guide to travel by train to and from Marseille.
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Click here for an article about the historic Saint Charles station itself as well as its facilities for travellers.
Train routes to and from Marseille
The Marseille Saint Charles station website includes live travel information and a limited number of pages in English, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. Click here to view live train arrivals at and live train departures from Marseille Saint Charles station. Click here to pre-book a holiday taxi to or from Marseille Saint Charles station.
Marseille Saint Charles is the terminus for train routes serving most of the major French provincial towns. From the adjacent bus station, you can also travel on to regional destinations, including Aix en Provence, Salon de Provence and Aubagne, with the Cartreize network, as well as to international ones, including Barcelona, Lisbon and Rome, with Eurolines.
But, more importantly from the overseas visitor's point of view, Marseille is also the southern end of the high-speed TGV Mediterranée line, inaugurated in June 2001, that links Marseille to Paris in just three hours.
And now Eurostar has launched a new direct rail service between London and Marseille starting on 1 May and operating all year round. The company has run a direct summer-only service between London and Avignon since 2002 and tried out a pilot scheme between London and Aix en Provence for a few weeks in spring 2014.
The latter was apparently successful but Eurostar's final choice for its new route to Provence has fallen upon Marseille instead because, executives say, the city has become a very attractive destination in the wake of the MP2013 European Capital of Culture year.
The London-Marseille train stops in Ashford, Lyon and Avignon on its way south. It takes six hours, and seven hours on the journey north (the extra hour is due to an extra stop in Lille where northbound passengers must pass through security and passport control). Trains run "up to five times a week" (in the summer) and tickets are now on sale.
If for some reason this direct service is unavailable when you want to travel, you can change trains in either Lille or Paris. The advantage of Lille is that the onward TGVs leave from the same station. Paris offers more trains and the total journey time is shorter, but you will need to cross the city, either by taxi or by RER, from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon: allow at least 90 minutes.
You could do this trip in a leisurely style and have a drink or a gourmet meal in the incredible Le Train Bleu restaurant (pictured) in the Gare de Lyon.
Built in 1900, it is decorated in full Belle Epoque splendour with 41 magnificent ceiling frescos giving Parisian diners a foretaste of their destinations in the South of France.
Another, cheaper restaurant near the station is the Brasserie l'Européen, right opposite the main entrance to the Gare de Lyon. It has a flamboyant interior with Art Nouveau chandeliers and Tiffany lights (and a clock whose hands go backwards), a handy locker room for suitcases, and a medium-priced set menu. Good to know: unlike Le Train Bleu, which only serves meals at limited set times, the Brasserie l'Européen offers continuous service.
The choice is small and basic, but of excellent quality and hot meals are served throughout the day. The set menu might feature "ocean pearls" (aka oysters), steak, duck or fish and a dessert. The house speciality is rum baba. Brasserie l'Européen, 21 bis boulevard Diderot, 75012 Paris. Tel: (+33) 1 43 43 99 70.
Alternatively, if you have plenty of time, and don't mind paying a little extra (or are travelling on a rail pass) then try the alternative route from Paris to Marseille via Clermont-Ferrand and Nîmes. This is a spectacularly beautiful journey for much of its route, although it does take 12 hours and involves changing trains twice.
There are also direct TGV services between Marseille and Aix en Provence, Avignon, Brussels, Geneva, Lille, Lyon, Nice and Toulon, as well as less frequent ones with Barcelona, Dijon, Frankfurt, Hyères, Madrid, Montpellier, Nantes and Strasbourg.
Of the five non-TGV lines out of Marseille, one goes east to Toulon, St. Raphael, Cannes, Nice and on into Italy. The second serves the Alps via Aix-en-Provence, Sisteron, Gap and Briançon. The third is the old (pre-TGV) main line to Miramas, Avignon, Lyon and, eventually, Paris.
The fourth follows the same route to Miramas but then turns west to Arles, Nîmes, Montpelier and eventually Toulouse and Bordeaux or Perpignan and on into Spain.
The fifth is the dramatic Côte Bleue (Blue Coast) Line (pictured) which hugs the coast until it finally turns inland to rejoin the main lines at Miramas.
A recent addition is the "Ouigo" low-cost, high-speed train introduced by the SNCF in 2013. You can take this train from Marseille to Lyon or Marne la Vallée, just east of Paris (the station for Euro Disney).
The current timetables for train services out of Marseille can be downloaded from the SNCF TER website (in French only). Select the route you want from the drop-down menu (Recherche par ligne - liste des fiches horaires).
There is a regular shuttle bus from Marseille-Provence Airport to the bus station which is integrated into Saint Charles station. It runs every 15 minutes and the journey takes about half an hour.
It's preferable to the alternative route by train from Vitrolles-Aeroport station which, despite its name, is not in the airport itself: you have to take a (free) shuttle bus over to it. The service was improved in 2012, but there can still be long intervals between trains.
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There is a ticket office at Saint Charles station but you can book Eurostar and high-speed train tickets in advance on the official TGV-Europe booking site. TGV tickets can be printed on your own computer before departure, just like a low-cost airline ticket.
If travelling from the UK, bear in mind that it is often cheaper to buy a Eurostar ticket to Paris or Lille and then a separate onward ticket to your final destination through the SNCF (French Rail) booking site. It is also worth checking the first-class fare, which might be little more than the second-class fare for the same journey and is sometimes even cheaper.
Look out for trains marked iDTGV when booking trains from Paris to Marseille. They are exactly the same as other TGV trains except that all the seats are offered below the standard full fares, and can only be bought in advance on the Internet. The iDTGV fares seem to be marketed with younger travellers in mind but in fact there is no age restriction on them.
Like the TGVs and Ouigo trains, some iDTGVs are double-deckers, or "duplexes". To secure a seat on the top deck, select the seating zone option "iDzap" when booking online. The lower-deck seats are in the zone "iDzen", which is supposedly quieter though in practice there's not much difference between them.
Click here to read about the ZOU! card which offers up to 75% discount on local train travel.
As on all continental railways, you need to date-stamp (composter) your ticket before boarding the train at one of the yellow machines at the entrance to every platform.
This does not apply to tickets which have been printed on your own computer and are tied to a particular train.
It's wise prior to travel to check for French train strikes, delays, breakdowns and cancellations as the SNCF is highly susceptible to all of these (click on the relevant region on the website map). Fortunately at least this information is now available in English on the SNCF website.