How to Ride the Paris Metro

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

Buying Tickets

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€.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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).

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

On the PlatformThis 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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

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

Click here to view all of my travel posts.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

19 thoughts on “How to Ride the Paris Metro

  1. 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.

  2. Don’t forget the Paris metro app! It works without wifi and has a “plan your trip” drop down which is invaluable!

  3. 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!😉

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

    Kmt

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