The route from Cologne to Paris is an important connection for train travellers en route to the world metropolis on the Seine. There are daily five direct connections with the Thalys high-speed-train from/to Cologne main station to/from Paris.
The Thalys offers less for rail pass travellers, as it is not included with Interrail and Eurail. You only get a special price travelling with a rail pass. A possible alternative without extra reservation costs is the connection with changes in Brussels, Tournai, Lille and Amiens.
For travellers travelling with point to point train tickets, the Thalys is an attractive option for comfortable travel. Especially booking early, you will find highly discounted tickets. See the "Tickets and Prices" section for more information.
The Thalys train runs five times daily between Cologne main station (Köln Hauptbahnhof) and Paris Gare du Nord with stops in Aachen Hbf, Liège-Guillemins and Bruxelles-Midi.
Some Thalys trains begin/end in Dortmund Hbf / Essen Hbf / Duisburg Hbf with stops in Düsseldorf Airport and Düsseldorf Hbf.
The Thalys trains run up to a speed of 300 km/h and need less than 3.5 hours from Cologne main station to Paris Gare du Nord.
The Thalys consists of four 2nd class cars (Comfort 2), three first class cars (Comfort 1) and a bistro/catering car. All seats are equipped with table, socket and small rubbish can. Each car has 1-2 toilets. In the second class, WiFi is available to all passengers who have booked a ticket for the tariff "Semi-Flex", "B2B" or "Thalys-Abo".
In the first class, special services are offered to the passenger. Included in the ticket price is an on-site meal adapted to the daytime (breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner), international daily press (in German, French, English, Dutch), free WiFi and a taxi service by the Bordteam In Brussels and Paris).
The Bistro ("Thalys Welcome Bar") offers numerous hot and cold drinks, sweet and hearty snacks, sandwiches/wraps, hot dishes and desserts.
The quality and prices are in my opinion absolutely okay.
Here are some price examples:
Coffee, Espresso, Hot Chocolate: EUR 2,60
Mineral water, soft drinks (0,5l): EUR 1,50 - 3,30
Beer, wine (0,33l and 0,25l): EUR 3,70 - 5,00
Snacks (eg: waffle, chips, pastry): EUR 1,50 - 3,90
Sandwich, salad: EUR 4,50 - 7,80
Hot dishes (eg soups, wraps): EUR 4.80 - 9.50
Thalys also offers some "menus":
A breakfast consisting of a hot drink, breakfast pastry and orange juice or mineral water for EUR 7.
A sweet snack („Sweet Break“) for EUR 5, which includes a hot drink and a piece of cake or a chocolate bar.
A meal ( "Welcome Deal") consisting of a cheese-ham-toast / wrap / cheese-ham sandwich, a cold drink and a waffle or chips for EUR 9.60.
In addition, the Bistro offers public transport tickets in Paris, Brussels, Aachen and Cologne.
As an alternative to Thalys there is the possibility to travel with the comfortable ICE International trains from Cologne Hbf to Bruxelles-Midi (1st and 2nd class, a restaurant car is available!).
The ICE requires less than two hours for the route.
In Bruxelles-Midi you have to change to the Intercity to Tournai.
In Tournai, the Intercity is almost always ready for Lille-Flandres and is usually waiting for the Intercity from Brussels. In Lille-Flandres you will be transferred to the TER to Amiens.
In Amiens there is a connection with an Intercity to Paris.
Altogether, this variant takes almost eight hours.
Tickets and Prices
Tickets for the Thalys train are available online at b-Europe, Trainline, ACPRail, Omio and Thalys. Since June 2013 the German railways Deutsche Bahn does not sell Thalys tickets anymore, but there is the possibility to buy them in the Thalys Store&More shops in Cologne (open from Monday to Friday from 08:00-18:45 and Saturday from 08:00-17:00) and Aachen (open from Monday to Friday from 06:45-10:45 and 12:45-19:45, as well on Saturday from 09:00-18:00).
There are three different tariff categories (prices for Cologne-Paris, as of March 2016):
No-Flex: tickets from EUR 35.
No exchange and no refund of the ticket possible.
Semi-Flex: tickets from EUR 70 (2nd class) and EUR 75 (1st class).
Ticket with an exchange without fees until the day before departure. Thereafter, a refund of 50% of the ticket price before the departure and up to one hour after the departure is possible. Afterwards, exchange and refund are excluded.
Flex: tickets for EUR 173 (1st class).
Tickets can be exchanged and reimbursed free of charge up to one hour after departure at the departure station. Ticket without exchange after departure. A refund after the departure is possible for 50% of the ticket price.
Thalys also offers special conditions for children up to 12 years old, adolescents up to 25 years old and seniors aged 60 and over:
- "Kid" rate: from EUR 15 (2nd class), from EUR 19 (1st class)
- "Junior" rate: from EUR 41 (2nd class), from EUR 90 (1st class)
- "Senior" rate: from EUR 85 (2nd class), from EUR 121 (1st class)
Update Interrail 2018: there are now "cheaper" reservations available for Thalys. Please read here.
Travelers with Interrail or Eurail Pass (valid for Germany and/or Benelux and/or France) require a reservation of EUR 25 (2nd class) and EUR 35 (1st class) for the Cologne-Paris route. The reservation should be purchased as early as possible, since it is contingent. The reservation is available online at ACPRail, at ACPRail, at the international counters of the SNCF (France) and SNCB (Belgium) as well as at the Thalys Store&More Shops in Cologne and Aachen (Germany).
Tickets with this special tariff can be exchanged once, up to one hour after the departure of the train in the departure station. In addition, the reservation can be refunded up to two months after the departure of the train against 25% of the reservation costs.
Tickets for the ICE are available online at Deutsche Bahn as well as in the DB travel centers and to the DB ticket machines.
Tickets for the Belgian and French IC and TER trains can be purchased at Belgianrail or Trainline.
Overall, I recommend rail pass travellers, who want to travel as cheap as possible, to use the connections free of charge. These connections take considerably longer, but you see more of the country and the people.
Rail pass travellers who want to travel as fast as possible, only have one choice: the Thalys train.
However, a trip with the Thalys (one of the most comfortable trains in Europe) is quite worthwhile!