New thoughts on changing station in Paris by RER

I'm a big fan of changing station in Paris by taxi. But a recent trip to the Alps made me realise how easy the RER can be too.

By: Daniel Elkan
Tue 21 Feb 2023


Lots of train journeys between the UK and the Alps require a change of station in Paris. Plenty of skiers travel this way. But some get put off by the idea of changing station in Paris, imagining that it’s going to be a huge hassle. 

For years, I’ve recommended to skiers that this change of station is fairly easy with a pre-booked taxi. And it is. 

Recent experience
But recently, on a trip to Serre Chevalier and Montgenevre in the French Alps, I took the RER to switch between stations in Paris. And on my return journey back to the UK, I decided to document the switch from Paris Gare de Lyon to Paris Gare du Nord, to give you an account of what it was like. 

Some context: I don’t know how to travel light. I would literally take the kitchen sink, if I could rip it off its fittings, just in case it would come in handy. And I normally take my own snowboard, in a big bag that I stuff with more gear. But this time I didn’t. Just a large wheeled duffel bag plus a couple of other bags. This meant I was more mobile than I would be with my snowboard bag, yet still fairly encumbered. 

Coming back from the Alps, my TGV arrived into Gare de Lyon, and I followed the signs to the RER. I was able to buy a ticket for the RER using my Visa debit card, at the ticket machine. 

Paris Gare de Lyon ticket machine

NB: You can buy tickets for the Metro / RER from the café bars of Eurostar trains. Eurostar used to sell them only as a carnet of ten. But now it sells them individually, which means you only need to buy the exact number that you need. 

And thanks to skier Henry Winfield, who has pointed out that single Metro / RER tickets can also be bought from the cafe bar of TGV trains - very useful to know.

Anyway, buying the ticket from the machine was pretty straightforward.

Paris Gare de Lyon ticket machines

The RER isn’t glamourous.  It has a bit of a down-at-heel feel to it, almost Dickensian. But it is very efficient. I took the escalator down to the platform. Then I spent as much time as I could, looking at the escalator. Lit up in blue, it was a joy to watch, and to photograph. This photo doesn't do it justice. I could have spent longer looking at it, but I had a train to catch.

Paris Gare de Lyon escalator

RER trains run every few minutes. It’s only two stops between Gare de Lyon and Gare du Nord (or vice versa, when you are travelling out to the Alps). The journey time on board the RER is just seven minutes, so short it’s not even worth sitting down. 

RER from Paris Gare de Lyon to Paris Gare du Nord

If you’ve got heavy luggage, the schlepp is just lifting them onto the RER, but that’s a momentary thing. To access the platforms, you can use the escalators or lift, so you never need to use the stairs. 

Lift at Paris Gare du Nord station

The ticket machines are a bit of a squeeze with big luggage. There are some large sized exit gates, however, but not as many as on the London Underground.

Exit gates at Paris Gare du Nord

One you are out, it’s just a walk past some French boutique shops, up an escalator and then you are in Gare du Nord, where it’s up another escalator and you are at the entrance to Eurostar ticket and passport control. 

Shops at Paris Gare de Lyon

The RER is quite quick (the who journey from station to station, including buying a ticket, normally takes me 40 minutes), inexpensive and consistently reliable. 

Entrance to Eurostar at Paris Gare du Nord

Would I let this change of station put me off having a lovely train journey to the Alps? Of course not. But for some skiers think, oh all that hassle changing in Paris? Really? 

It isn’t difficult. And it’s definitely worth it. 

Here's a useful guide that I found to changing stations in Paris, too, from rail-travel website Show Me The Journey: https://showmethejourney.com/travel-info-and-tips/gare-du-nord-to-gare-de-lyon-by-rer/

And this is a guide on the same subject by the Seat61: https://www.seat61.com/changing-stations-in-paris.htm#How%20to%20cross%20Paris%20by%20metro

And here's an excellent video by Iain Martin of Skipedia: