Cheap Train Tickets and Rail Passes

Head sticking out train windowThere are several train passes available for train travel on the Riviera… from the TER Summer Day Pass, the killer weekly Zou Pass, Isabelle Family Passes, and monthly and yearly train pass deals…   

TER SUMMER DAY PASS

The TER Summer Day Pass is available from June through the end of September, costs just 16€, and can be used from Ventimiglia Italy to Theole-sur-mer, and inland to Grasse or Tende… pretty much anywhere you want to go in the space of a day.  You just get the card and hop on and hop off the trains, free as a bird, with no tickets, and no punching.  This pass is 32€ for two travelling together, but just 10€ for each friend thereafter.

But wait, there’s more! Your Zou Pass entitles you to get certain discounts as well:

  • 3€ off admission to the Villa Rothschild (regularly 13.50€)
  • 3.50€ off admission to Villa Kerylos (regularly 11.50€)
  • 2€ off the Monaco Oceanographic Museum (regularly 14€)
  • 2€ off the Monaco Grand Tour hop-on-hop-off bus (normally 22€)
  • 20% off the menu at the Nice Hard Rock Cafe (not alcohol though, boo)
  • and 10% off your room at the Nice Holiday Inn on Victor Hugo (which could actually be a big money saver, but you have to reserve with this link)

You can buy it from the SNCF ticket office with cash or credit card, or avoid the lines and get it from blue ticket machines: just click Products Evenementiel, then you will see TER Day Pass.  One thing to note, if you buy from the machine you need to either have a chip-and-pin credit card or a pocket full of coins, as the machines don’t take bills.

Another summer-only offering is the TER Summer Family Monaco+Museum Pass, which is good for round-trip to Monaco for 2 adults and 2 kids, and gives you Oceanographic Museum entry as well, while saving you around 12€.  Buy from the blue machines, see above.

For step-by-step instructions on using the blue ticket machines, click here.

 

CARTE ISABELLE FAMILY PASSES

Carte Isabelle Family Pass is available all year long, not just in the summer. It’s good for 2 adults and 2 children and gives unlimited travel on TER trains between Ventimiglia and Frejus, and inland to Grasse or up to Tende for 1 day for 35€ or 3 days for 80€.    And… you can get all the tourist discounts to the museums, etc.!  Buy it from the machines or SNCF ticket office, same as above.

 

THE BOMB:  ZOU WEEKLY TRAIN PASS

This is the best deal, available all year, and is totally worth it if you will be making even just 2 train trips in a week. The ZOU weekly unlimited train pass gives you unlimited coastal train travel for a week (or even a month) at around an 75% discount, and it couldn’t be easier: just choose two points along the coast, then get on and off the trains anywhere you want between those two points, with no tickets, no punching.

This pass is good along a particular route, so to have maximum access to the coastal trains, ask for a card from Theoule-sur-mer (gorgeous beaches just past Cannes) to Ventimiglia, Italy (33€ for a week and 117€ for a month).  You can even narrow it down further, say if you are staying in Nice but going to the Cannes Film Festival every day (19.50€ weekly Zou pass vs regular price of 14€ round-trip… what a deal!)  Here’s a handy Zou price calulator: put in two points along the coast, choose Zou Hebdo for weekly or Mensual for monthly, and get your price!

Plus, for just a little more, you can now upgrade to Zou +, getting unlimited use of local buses and trams along your chosen route.

And… with your weekly or monthly card, you are entitled to all the tourist discounts to the museums, etc., listed above under the day pass!

Go to the Zou office at the train station and ask for the Carte ZOU Hebdo (weekly) or Carte ZOU Mensuel (for a calendar month); you’ll need ID but there is no form to fill out and no photos required, it doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist or a resident, and they give you your card straight away.  Allow a little time, as there might be a line, and if the office is closed you can still get your Zou pass from the SNCF ticket office at the other end of the station, which is open evenings and weekends.

 

ZOU YEARLY PASS

Logo for Carte Zou train passIf you stick around for most of the year, the Zou 50-75% discount pass is  for you.  For just 30€ a year (or 15€ under 26), you get half price on all your train tickets, for you and three traveling companions, and can go all the way to Avignon!   The discount is good for a whole year on all TER trains (so no TGV’s) between Ventimiglia and Avignon, and all the inland routes into the mountains, including the Chemin de Fer de Provence – Train des Pignes, and also on the LER bus to Aix-en-Provence.

And as if that wasn’t enough, you can buy a 10-pack of tickets for the destination of your choice for 75% off, which you can use anytime in 4 months.  I buy the 10 pack from Nice to Ventimiglia, which makes each trip cost only 2€ each way, a savings of 58€, which pays for the yearly fee right off the bat. It’s worth it even if you’re here only a few months.

And… you can get all the tourist discounts to the museums, etc., listed above, plus more (especially in Marseilles), just by showing your same-day TER train ticket.

This yearly ZOU discount pass is available to tourists and residents alike.  Just head to the Zou office at the train station, with a copy of your passport or ID card and an ID photo (which you can take at the photo machine at the train station).

 

Ticket machine at the train stationJust for comparison, here are the normal 2018 full-fare one-way train ticket prices from Nice (before applying any discount):

    • Villefranche-sur-mer  1.80€
    • Monaco  3.90€
    • Ventimiglia, Italy 7.70€
    • Antibes  4.80€
    • Cannes  7.20€
    • Grasse   10.40€
    • Saint Raphael  12.80€

 

 

FRANCE-WIDE DISCOUNT RAIL PASSES

In general, full-fare European train tickets are almost double the price if you buy them outside of Europe, even online; you will save a ton if you can wait and buy them here once you arrive.

SNCF offers senior, student, and family discount cards, for between 50-80€ a year, that basically give you 50% off your train travel all over France.  They cost a bit more that the ZOU card, but they are not limited to this region and can be used anywhere in France.

There are deals for unlimited train travel in France that are only available for non-European residents, and must be purchased before you arrive.  I generally don’t suggest these, because to make them worthwhile you often need to be constantly on the move, and I prefer getting to know fewer places better.

But before you order train tickets from outside of France, read this super informative page from Seat61.com on how to use the SNCF affiliate sites, like TGV-Europe and the more expensive Rail Europe, with really good tips (like saying you are in Canada instead of the US) to avoid several tricky and expensive pitfalls.

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Photo credits: Train head by Haberler.com, Ticket machine by Best of Nice

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