I traveled on a double-decker train between France and Switzerland at 199mph. See inside the TGV Lyria, which costs as little as $50.

The author wearing a gray suit akes a selfie in front of a TGV Lyria, and the train's onboard café car.
The author, the TGV Lyria, and its café car.Pete Syme/Business Insider
  • I traveled on the TGV Lyria between Paris and Geneva, which can reach 199 mph.

  • Tickets can be as cheap as $50 and offer scenic views of the countrside.

  • The journey was about as long as a flight but more relaxing and convenient.

France's high-speed trains are among the best in the world, capable of traveling up to 199 miles per hour.

The TGV Lyria is a joint venture between the state-owned rail operators of France and Switzerland. I traveled on one as I returned home to London after a conference in Geneva.

If you book in advance, it can be as cheap as $50 — about the same price as a budget airline flight and usually faster.

Plus, with great views of the countryside and friendly interactions with employees or other passengers, it's a great way to better comprehend the country. Not to mention the convenience of boarding and the relaxed atmosphere of the café car.

Here's what it's like to travel on board.

Last month, I was in Geneva to attend a business aviation conference.

The flags of Switzerland, the Canton of Geneva, and the UN on a bridge over the Rhône with buildings in the background on a sunny day
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Jeff Bezos owns a $10 million Swiss private jet. See inside the Pilatus PC-24 with its unusual toilet in the galley.

While I flew into the city, I traveled back to London via train — starting with the TGV from Geneva to Paris.

A TGV Lyria double-decker train at the Geneva railway station
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TGV — pronounced in French as tay-zhay-vay — stands for train à grande vitesse, meaning high-speed train.

It's operated by the TGV Duplex, which has 510 seats — 332 in second class and 183 in first.

A side view of a TGV Lyria carriage at Geneva station
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That's a higher capacity than the 469 seats in British Airways' A380 superjumbo jet.

I booked my seat online and got a QR code ticket, but you can also get one in person at the station. A one-way ticket in advance is as cheap as 47 euros ($50).

The interior of Geneva train station
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At Geneva, the TGV platforms were separate from the rest. I walked through a narrow corridor where two border-control officers stood watching people.

Entrance to border control at Geneva train station
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The train arrived about 15 minutes before departure which gave me plenty of time to find the right carriage.

Passengers lining up to board the TGV Lyria at Geneva train station
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I was impressed by how many luggage racks there were, with one on either side by the carriage entrance...

Luggage racks next to the carriage entrance on a TGV Lyria
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... As well as one between seats.

A luggage rack between seats on a TGV Lyria
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There was also space for smaller bags above the seats.

About five minutes before departure, there was an announcement reminding everyone to label their luggage with their name and address.

Helpfully, the announcements were all delivered in French and English.

I was on the lower deck in standard class in a 38-seat car. Tables for groups of four were at the front and back, while the other seats were in pairs.

A second-class carriage on a TGV Lyria with blue cushioned seats
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It was pretty simple to find my seat — around one of the tables — with these numbers and illustrations of aisle or window.

Seat numbers on a TGV Lyria
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It's easier to move around and get into your seat since the table extends and folds out.

A folding table on a TGV Lyria
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Underneath, there was only one outlet for two seats, which isn't ideal.

An outlet under a table on a TGV Lyria
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The seats also have a recline button on the armrest, and I found them to be much comfier than a typical plane seat.

We set off at a slower speed, enjoying some beautiful views of the eastern French region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

A view of Lac de Sylans in France from a TGV Lyria window
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After stopping at a couple of small French towns, the train joined the high-speed line towards Paris where it can reach 199 mph.

The black line shows the 1 hour 25 minutes it took to reach Bourg-en-Bresse. Onward to Paris was a similar time, another hour and 53 minutes, thanks to the LGV Sud-Est.

After leaving Bourg-en-Bresse the conductor gave the only announcement that wasn't repeated in English — something about us now traveling at high speed and "bon voyage."

A few minutes later, the ticket inspector came by. He was friendly as he scanned my QR code.

Looking out the window, I could tell the train was going much faster. Watching the countryside whizz by was a great sight (even if the windows were a bit dirty).

I've traveled on an Italian high-speed train before, the Frecciarossa, which feels similarly speedy at around 190 mph. Along with the TGV, they feel far more advanced than the 125 mph reached by British trains, while the fastest Amtrak train travels at 150 mph.

Then I went to check out some more of the train, which had some relatively spacious bathrooms.

A bathroom on a TGV Lyria
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It had a peg for a jacket or bag, an electric shaver outlet, and a handle that was useful for those bumpy parts of the journey.

The toilets on the upper deck looked to be slightly smaller.

On the upper deck, you can find the TGV Duplex's pièce de résistance...

A staircase on the TGV Lyria
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The café car was impressively modern and bright, with long curved countertops and trash cans underneath.

A wide shot of the TGV Lyria café car
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The menu was pretty extensive, with sandwiches, cheeseburgers, pizzas, and a croque monsieur, among others.

You can also buy tickets for the Paris Métro on board.

I managed to order with my rudimentary French skills, and when I didn't understand the response, the friendly cashier helpfully repeated it in English as well: "Rien d'autre? Anything else?"

A table and the café bar on a TGV Lyria
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I haven't spent much time in France and only remember bits of what I studied at school when I was 14. But thanks to that small interaction I have another phrase that'll stay in my mental dictionary.

There were a couple of spaces with stools ...

Two stools and a table in the TGV Lyria café car
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... but I preferred to stretch my legs a bit and lean against the counter while taking in the landscapes.

A view out the window and a table on the TGV Lyria café car
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Returning to my seat, I had a laptop and a book with me, but I was happier spending much of the journey just listening to my headphones and appreciating the French countryside.

Undulating fields in France as viewed from a TGV, with a blurry railway track in the foreground
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After three hours and 18 minutes, we made it to Paris Gare de Lyon on time. TGV Lyria staff hung around the platform to help people with onward journeys.

Passengers and a TGV official at Paris Gare de Lyon
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It was about the same time as a flight between Geneva and Paris, taking into account the extra time needed for security and traveling from the airport to the city center.

While it would've been quicker to fly directly home to London (the Eurostar was another few hours), I certainly don't have any regrets because it was more relaxing and gave me more time to enjoy the country.

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