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!