The Paris Metro (officially the Paris RATP) operates 16 subway lines (14 regular lines, and two 'by' lines) that crisscross the city of Paris and its surrounding neighborhoods. The system, which opened in 1900, features 134 miles of track and 380 stations, not including the more modern suburban RER lines. It is a fast, efficient, and economical way to travel around Paris and her suburbs.
Basic Tips for Using the Metro
Arm yourself with information before you get to the station. Parisians notoriously do not have time to stand behind a lost tourist. Metro stations are identifiable by the large 'M' above the entrances and stations are located at almost every intersection. Make your experience a little easier by following these tips.
Know Where You're Going
Maps are available at the information booths in the metro stations themselves. If you avoid rush hour (between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.), it is perfectly acceptable to arrive at the train station, get your map and figure out where to go. With that said, there are maps scattered liberally throughout the subway system so you should always be able to find something to refer to.
Use the Route Planner
If you have a specific destination in mind, you can use the RATP route planner. This tool allows you to enter a street name, station name or a popular destination and it will plan out your route letting you know where to get on, where to get off, lines to take, and approximately how much time it will take you. You can also select options for your route such as the route that is the quickest or the one that takes the least amount of walking.
Avoid Rush Hours
The Metro is open from 5:30 a.m. every day until 1 a.m. every day. To travel outside those times, you can use the bus system. However, wise travelers will avoid weekday morning and evening rush hours, which are 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m to 7 p.m. respectively. The Metro is horribly crowded during these times.
Keep Your Tickets Handy
When you feed a ticket into the machine as you're boarding the train, keep it handy because you'll also need to feed it into a machine at your destination. It's easiest if you keep your current ticket in a pocket, or in the coin section of your purse, separate from other tickets you may have purchased. If you do not, you may find yourself standing at a machine feeding it tickets, until you find the right one.
You can purchase tickets at any metro station, as well as many newsstands around the city. Inside many train stations, there is an automated 'vente' (sales) machine as well as a 'vente' counter with a customer service agent. However, there are also stations where the customer service agent's booth simply says 'informacion' - these booths do not sell tickets. Instead, you'll have to go to a 'vente' machine.
As far as what to purchase, that depends on how long you're staying and how heavily you're planning on relying on the public transportation system.
A single t+ ticket is a good option for those who have one or two destinations in mind and whose trips are simple. You can use your ticket, for 90 minutes, to transfer from metro to metro, bus to bus, bus to tram and metro to RER within Paris. Prices for t+ tickets are subject to change at any time, but as of November 2012 were:
- 1,70 euros for a single ticket
- 12,70 euros for ten tickets
- 6,35 euros for children 10 years and younger
The Paris Visite pass is a good option for the tourist who wants to see it all in Paris via public transportation. The pass will get you unlimited riding on the metro system for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days. You can either buy a pass for Paris proper, or a pass that includes Paris, the suburbs and the airport.
Note that the only two major tourist attractions outside of the Paris center are Paris Disney and Versailles. If your plans do not include those two places or the airports by public transport, you can buy the less expensive 'Paris Centre Pass.'
In addition to getting you around Paris in one, easy ticket, the Paris Visite pass also will get you discounted admission to some of Paris' best-loved attractions. As of November 2012, prices for the Paris Visite pass vary from 10,25 euros for a one=day pass in Paris itself to 56,05 for a five day pass that includes the suburbs and airports. For up-to-the minute prices, see the official website.
It should be noted that you can also purchase combination passes that combine tickets for the metro with admission to local tourist attractions. If you have a well-planned itinerary that includes several days, with several different attractions, this might well be worth your while. However, if you have five days or less, and you really want to enjoy certain sites in lieu of rushing from one to another, you are better off buying a 'carnet' (a book of 10 tickets) at the train station.
Combination tickets can be purchased online via travel sites such as Paris Metro (not the official Paris Metro website), or you can purchase them through your travel agent. Cost for these vary widely based on what attractions the combination pass you choose includes.
Finding Your Way
While the metro system may seem confusing to a foreigner, you'll typically find that the folks at the 'informacion' booth are very friendly, and happy to help. If you're unsure of where you're going, ask, because if you get on and find you're going the wrong way, you'll have to get off and pay again to enter the train going to correct way.
Lines on the Metro are designated by color, number and their beginning and end points. For example, line 1 is yellow and is called Château de Vincennes La Défense because it runs from Château de Vincennes in the north to La Défense in the south. Below is a chart of popular attractions, along with what line you would take to get there.
- Line 1: Louvre, Champs-Elysées, Chatelet, Bastille.
- Line 2: Anvers (Sacre Coeur), Gare du Nord, Champs-Elysées, Père-Lachaise
- Line 3: St. Lazare, République, Père-Lachaise
- Line 4: Chatelet, St. Michel, Montparnasse.
- Line 5: Gare d'Austerlitz, Bastille, Place d'Italie
- Line 6: Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse, Champs-Elysees.
- Line 7: Place d'Italie, Louvre, Opera
- Line 8: Invalides, Opéra, Bastille
- Line 9: Republique and Grands Magasins
- Line 10: Sorbonne, Gare d'Austerlitz
- Line 11: Chatelet, Republique.
- Line 12: Abbesses (Montmartre), Grands Magasins, Montparnasse
- Line 13: Invalides, St. Lazare
- Line 14: Chatelet, Gare de Lyon, Bibliothèque Nationale
Avoid Getting Lost
There are two tricks to avoid getting lost in the metro system, most of the time.
- Keep your destination in mind in relation to where you are and the end point of the line. For example, if you're at La Défense in the south end of line 1, and you plan to go to the Palais Royal (the Louvre), you are heading towards Château de Vincennes and should get on the train heading in that direction.
- It is helpful to know that all trains run through both the Charles de Gualle Etoile station and the NATION station. If you ever do get lost, you can navigate your way back to one of those stations and find the correct line.
Trip of a Lifetime
Visiting Paris is a dream come true for many people. Taking public transportation may help make the dream more affordable, but it will also give you a taste for Parisian culture and allow you to visit sites all over Paris. Bon voyage!