I love me some public transportation. I swoon over good public transportation. Maybe it’s because I live in a major metropolitan area with a sub-adequate system.
The Metro is the best way to get around Paris. I’m also a fan of the bus and walking but that’s another post.
To my American readers who may not ride public transportation that often: yes, you can figure this out, it’s fairly easy, and it’s wonderful. Public transportation isn’t scary and thousands of people ride the Metro every day.
This post covers travel within Paris on the Metro. This does not cover the RER, which is the regional train system that also serves Versailles and the airports, or the national and international train services.
Ah, France: where everything is slightly more difficult than it needs to be. In other major world cities, we can buy the same rechargeable subway card that commuters use. Not possible in Paris.
Short version: it’s quicker, easier, and usually more cost-effective to buy packs of individual tickets instead of a pass.
We buy packs of t+ tickets, which are good for Zone 1. Zone 1 will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in Paris. T+ tickets will not go to the airport or Versailles, but you can buy a single ticket for those zones if you need them.
A single t+ ticket costs 1.80€ and is good for a single ride on the Metro (or bus!). If you buy a book of 10 tickets for 14.10€, the cost per ride is 1.41€.
Buying a Book of Tickets: A book of 10 is called a carnet (“car-nay”). You can buy a carnet at automatic ticket machines, tourist information stands (including the TI at the airports), and at most tabac stands. People at TI’s speak English but if you go to a Metro ticket window or tabac and say carnet, they’ll know exactly what you want.
I love the carnet because you only buy what you need and you can split it between people if you aren’t taking that many rides.
You can buy a carnet at ticket machines but use cash. Most Americans have credit/debit cards that will not work in ticket machines in Europe. Learn more about using credit and debit cards abroad here.
There are two pass-type options that I don’t like:
The Navigo Découverte is a week pass for 24.40€ plus a 5€ fee. The kicker is that the week runs Monday-Sunday. If you don’t buy it on the right day of the week, it isn’t cost-effective.
The Paris Visite is a pass you can get for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days. A 1-day adult pass costs 12.30€. You would need to take 9 trips in that day for it to be more cost-effective than single tickets.
Planning Your Route
Look at the Metro map. Print this map or pick one up at a station.
Each Metro line has a color and number. Find the station closest to you and where you want to go. Pay attention to the color and number of the line, plus the name of the terminus station in the direction you are going. This is important: you will find your train platform by knowing the name of the last station at the end of the line where your train is going.
Example: If you are traveling on Line 1 (yellow) from Bastille to the Louvre, you want a Line 1 train going toward La Défense.
If you need to transfer, look for the white circles where the train lines intersect. You’ll need to know what direction your first train is going, plus what direction your second train is going so you can find the transfer signs in the station.
If you are in a busy part of Paris, odds are there are multiple stops within a few blocks of you. If you need to make a transfer, consider whether it’s better to start your trip a couple blocks further than the closest stop if it means a shorter ride or fewer transfers.
Taking a Ride
Many Metro stations have multiple entrances. Get yourself to the general area and you’ll see signs. They vary wildly and I love taking pictures of them.
Be Prepared for Stairs: Lots of them. In bigger stations they may have escalators, but most don’t. You’ll hop up and down multiple short and long flights of stairs to find your platform. Pro tip: if you Metro to Abbesses station, there is an elevator from the platform to the fare gates. It’s there for a reason — don’t take those stairs or you’re in for some serious exercise (it’s the deepest station in the Metro).
Riding the Metro is just like navigating an airport: just look up and follow the signs. In some stations, you’ll pass through the fare gates and then find your train. Some stations are huge and have multiple sets of fare gates. Just look for signs. You will see the color and number of your train plus the name of the terminus station.
Using the Fare Gates: stick your t+ ticket in the little slot, printed side up. It’ll pop up from another slot. Pull it out and pass through the gate. Keep the ticket — a fare inspector on the train may ask to see it (it’s only happened to me once).
Don’t Mix Used and New Tickets: A used ticket will have a date printed on the back from the fare gate. It’s often really hard to see these. Keep used tickets in a different pocket. After I use my ticket, I give it a little tear so I know.
On the Platform: This is why the Metro is awesome. Unlike other cities, each direction for each line has its own platform. When you get to your platform, you don’t have to worry about whether the next train is your train. It is. All the hard work is done!
Using the Train Doors: Most of the Metro trains have doors that will not open automatically: they have to be opened with a lever or button. This goes for entering or exiting a train. Older trains have a lever (shown below). Just lift the lever and the doors will pop open.
Getting off at Your Stop: All train cars will have a map of the line. Some of the newer cars have maps that light up showing the next stops, some just have a sticker. Find the map and pay attention to the stops. All transfer stations are clearly marked with the color and number.
Transferring or Exiting: Step off the train onto the platform and look for signs. If you are transferring, look for a sign with the color, number, and terminus of your new line and repeat the process again. If you are exiting, look for the blue and white sortie signs. Exits are numbered. If you are in a big station, look for a map outside the fare gates to show you which exit will get you closest to your destination.
Happy Metro-ing! If you need help, leave a comment and I’m happy to answer questions.
It’s a two post day today, scroll down!
MORE IN THIS SERIES:
Everyone’s Paris is Different
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre
How to Eat Out in Paris: 11 tips
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Your Paris tips are going to be so helpful for me when i go there next week! Do you think a carnet of 10 tickets can be easily used up by 2 people within 2 nights and 3 days? x
Cool! Let me know if you have more questions.
I think a carnet would easily get used up between 2 people for that amount of time. Of course it depends on how many rides you are planning but think of it this way: if you are planning one Metro trip to a site and back, it’ll use up 4 tickets. One ticket is good for one person one way. When we got to Paris for the weekend, we usually use up a carnet and then buy 2-4 additional t+ tickets from a ticket machine if we need them. It’s a good way to use up extra Euro coins.
That’s really helpful, thanks!
Don’t forget the Paris metro app! It works without wifi and has a “plan your trip” drop down which is invaluable!
Good point! I’ve never used it before since I can get by with a map or Google.
excellent post. traveling to paris in august for the first time. found your post via pinterest adn boy do i need the advice. thank you
Glad to hear it! You’ll do fine on your trip, I’m sure, but let me know if you have questions.
Me too! Late August from the US.
Have a great trip!!
do they offer any monthly passes for student?
I haven’t seen one but I’ve never traveled as a student before.
Yes, for students there is a pass called Imagine-R ! I got mine for 1 year and it’s ridiculously cheap compared to the normal price. For more info : http://www.imagine-r.com/forfait/la-carte.aspx . You need to send a few documents and a form with a paycheck. It takes a few weeks to arrive (they say 21 days or so, mine arrived in 14) but once you have it it’s amazing, because you don’t need to care about the zones anymore. You have unlimited access to the Metro, RER, Bus and Train (only inside of Île de France though). Enjoy Paris !
How would you reccomend getting to disneyland paris? 🙂 And what is the cost for transportation? Thank you x
Love this post! Thanks for sharing your practical tips. Can’t wait to visit Paris again!
We were just in Paris in mid August, and our Canadian MasterCard worked fine in the ticket machines. It’s a Chip & PIN card, and our PIN worked. I wish we had known before we left about putting the tickets into the machines face up and also about the levers to open the train doors. Great post! 😉
Lucky! I envy the PIN card!
Just a side note: I have a Bank of America travel Visa that has a chip and I was able to get a pin for it. So, it is possible! 🙂
Hi Natalie, Unless I missed it, another thing to be careful about is storing your Métro tickets adjacent to a charge or PIN card. I don’t know which of the two (magnetic stripe or chip) is the culprit – I have both – but I voided an entire carnet when I stored them in my wallet in close proximity. The Métro tickets have a stripe too – but when they clash with their bigger brothers, charge cards and bank cards, they lose the battle. At the time, I didn’t realize this, and took my tickets back to one of the vendors at the station – thinking I had a ‘bad’ batch – and he kindly informed me what I’d likely done. He was able to re-enable them all by passing them through a thingamajig probably expressly made to counteract the actions of people like me. Anyway, I separated them after that and had no more trouble. An interesting note: I’ve been going to Paris for extended visits for years – using the Metro hundreds of times – and never experienced this problem before. Perhaps I was simply lucky, unwittingly doing the right thing without even realizing it!
Yes, keep your used ticket until you exit the Metro and then dispose of it after you exit the station. We were stopped twice and I had a messy handful of tickets used and new and the poor officer didn’t know what to do with us. I kept handing him tickets to scan and they were all invalid because they were old tickets not for that current metro stop. And he didn’t speak english. It was a disaster. He let us pass though because he felt bad for us because we clearly had no idea what we were doing!
The Bus is the best way to get around Paris.
You get squished into subway cars like sardines at peak times.
At least in the bus you have a chance to see the outside and where you actually are.
However, the train as a good way to get in from the airport to the city.
I agree! I prefer the bus but wish they made the schedule available to Google Maps like they do the Metro!
I appreciate your tip about the carnet and I used it on my last trip to Paris because I was only there for 2 nights. That being said, I think you should give the Navigo Decouverte more credit…I have used it twice, each time during a 5 day stay and it more than paid for itself! The fact that there’s a 5€ fee is nothing when you consider that it can be reloaded as many times as you want for 10 years!!! Also, the fact that it includes travel to and from the airport, Versailles and Disneyland is huge! I do agree that your timing has to be right (once I was there from Tuesday-Saturday and once from Monday-Friday) but it’s definitely a huge money saver that you shouldn’t discount to your readers 🙂
Nice job, but I prefer a pass for convenience! My husband and I have the Navigo Decouverte and will also buy a 1 day 6 zone Mobilis Pass for some day trips.
Hi– just a side note/update for your post:
You actually can buy a rechargeable pass– you can also buy 1,3,and five day passes. All of these are more useful if you plan on really making use of the bus, metro, tram, and RER system.
In order to get a week long pass (which comes out to just over 20€ for unlimited transit on bus, metro, tram, and RER system- including out to Versailles and airports) you just need a passport sized photo (which you can get in a photo booth at most metro stops), head to the information booth for tickets, ask for a NaviGo decouverte week pass and you are good to go!
The only thing to note is that the week long pass runs Sunday-Sunday, so if you arrive on a Saturday, then get tix for the day and a pass to start on the Sunday.
If you aren’t there for the entire week or just want tix, as for the 1, 3, or 5 day pass which allows you unlimited travel within the city limits.
Help…I am traveling alone. All I need to do is get from Charles DeGaul airport to Effel Tower.
What train should I get on? How can i get a ticket for round trip?
You would need to take the RER, which is not the Metro, and then transfer to the Metro once in Paris. Plug your journey into Google Maps and select public transit instead of driving and it will give you options. There are ticket machines in the airport at the train station. I’ve only done the RER from the airport once, so I don’t recall a step by step.
Hi. I love your valuable infos. I will be in Paris in august for 12 days with my family. We will have navigo passes. We will land in Orly. and i want to to know if i can buy the carte decouverte and the navigo pass at any of orly terminals (and not gare antony)to use it on the spot to get to Paris? Thanks in advance for your help
Hi, I’ve never flown into Orly so I have no idea. Sorry!
I love the Paris Metro, it’s so user friendly and much cheaper compared to other European cities. And there us so much of it! 😁
I wish I’d read your post before my recent trip, I ditched the elevator at Abbesses😥😓 and the climb up with a 6 year old was something I never want to do again!
Oh dear! I don’t even want to think about what those stairs would be like with a kid.
Loved reading your piece anyways 😀. The public transport system was my 1st love in Paris 😊
How long are the Metro tickets good for? Do they expire? Thanks!
Not sure! I’ve held onto some for a year and they still worked when I used them the next time.