Cheap Train Tickets and Rail Passes

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

Best Local Train Passes and Discount Deals

The best year-around deal is the deep-discount Zou weekly (‘Hebdo’) passYou get a week of unlimited train travel in th region, and you choose your endpoints, so for example, an unlimited week pass for all the stops between Cannes and Italy is just 35€.   It’s a super deal and you can calculate the cost based on the towns you choose and buy the pass online at the link above.  If you are here for a while, there is the same deal but in a month pass, the Zou Mensuel.  With pass-in-hand, you just hop on and hop off the TER trains, free as a bird, with no tickets, no lines, and no punching.

The best summer deal is the TER Summer Youth Pass ‘Pass Jeune   Available only during July and August and only for those between 12-25, for just 29€ you get a month of unlimited local trains all over France, not just here in the Cote d’Azur.  The weird catch is that with this pass you can’t just hop-on and -off at will, you have to print out a free ticket each time, so it is kind of a hassle, but worth it for the killer deal.

TER Summer Day Pass (‘Pass Touristique’) is available June through September, and offers a day of unlimited train travel in the Cote d’Azur region for 16€, 26€ for two travelling together, and just 10€ for each friend thereafter.  It’s good from Ventimiglia Italy to Theole-sur-mer, and inland to Grasse or Tende… pretty much anywhere you would want to go in the space of a day.  It doesn’t cover the Train des Pignes, however, which is a separate line with a different train station)

Pass Isabelle Family is a day pass for 2 adults and 2 kids under 16 for just 35€, and is available all year long, not just in the summer. It’s good for unlimited travel on TER trains between Ventimiglia and Frejus on the coastal route, and inland to Grasse, and even the mountain train as far as Tende (but not the Train des Pignes which is a separate company).

Family Pass train + Oceanographic Museum is 69€ and gets to adults and two kids to Monaco and back plus admission to the most expensive museum on the French Riviera.  All-in-all it saves you the cost of the train ride.  There is a similar deal for trains + Marineland which is 40€ for adults 33€ for kids, and basically gets you the train ride free.

These passes can be purchased…

  • Online by clicking on the links above (in French)
  • At the blue ticket machines in the train station (in English, sort of); click Zou for the youth pass or week pass, Products Evènementiel for the rest. For step-by-step instructions on using the blue ticket machines, click here.
  • At the ticket office at the train station (where they speak English), but there is usually a bit of a line, so give yourself extra time.

Once you have your pass, you don’t need any tickets, no validating, no lines… just hop on the train and go (except for that pesky youth pass).  The only catch is that you are limited to TER trains, the local trains, and can’t hop on the TGVs (drat!).

And one final deal: Show your same day train ticket/day pass/week pass at the Monaco Oceanographic Museum and get 2€ off on your admission, normally 16€.

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.

This yearly ZOU discount pass is available to tourists and residents alike.  Just head to the Zou office at the train station (weekdays only), 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 2021 full-fare train rates from Nice:

  • Villefranche-sur-mer  1.90€ one-way, 3.80€ round-trip
  • Monaco  3€ one-way, 6€ round-trip
  • Ventimiglia, Italy 7.50€ one-way, 15€ round-trip

Going West:

  • Antibes  3€ one-way, 6€ round-trip
  • Cannes  5€ one-way, 10€ round-trip
  • Grasse   7.50€ one-way, 15€ round-trip (or better, take the train to Cannes then catch the bus #600 to Grasse from in front of the Cannes train station)
  • Saint Raphael  10€ one-way, 20€ round-trip
  • Aix-en-Provence 16€ one-way, 32€ round-trip
  • Avignon Center 35-65€ one-way

All-in-one Pass SudAzur for train-tram-bus

This yearly SudAzur all-in-one pass includes trains, the big bus lines, plus all the local bus networks.  You choose how many zones and then the cost goes from 63€/month for two zones (say Nice and Monaco), to 80€ for all zones (Cannes, Grasse, Antibes, Nice, Monaco, Menton, and the back country).

France-wide Discount Rail Passes

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 worth the money you often need to be constantly on the move, and end up only really seeing the scenery whiz by from the inside of a train.

Insider tip: In general, European train tickets are almost double the price if you buy them outside of Europe; you will save a ton if you can wait and buy them here once you arrive.  This is true even online, as the sites can see that you are using an American ISP for instance, and boom, you are redirected to the super expensive site for suckers.

SNCF offers senior, student, and family discount cards, for 50€ a year, that basically give you 30% 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.

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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