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How to Use the Paris Metro and Public Transportation

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This post is an introduction to using the Paris public transportation system, especially the Metro. The Metro can be intimidating, but we have tips to make getting around the City of Lights a breeze.


GETTING TO KNOW THE METRO

The Paris Metro is a visitor’s dream- with 14 lines, 303 stations, and fast and efficient service, the Metro is almost always the best way to get around Paris quickly.

If you’re in the center city, an even faster option can be the RER, which acts kind of like an express train in the city, and also goes to airports and other destinations outside the city center.

The RER has 5 lines and serves 257 stations, 33 of which are in Paris. There are also over 100 bus lines, including the Noctilien buses (which run from 12:30 to 5:30 a.m.), as well as trams, trains, and buses that run in and around the suburbs.

Basically, the RATP (the name for the Paris public transportation system, Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, or Autonomous Parisian Transportation Administration) is a huge, complex network that can get you from Point A to Point B no matter when or where you are.

However, most visitors to Paris need only to concern themselves with the Metro, possibly buses, and RER trains.

 


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4 TIPS FOR USING PARIS METRO MAPS AND APPS

The RATP Mobile App has maps of all the routes, and it even shows scooter (Cityscoot) and bike-share (Velib’) docks.  There is also the Vianavigo app, which you can use to buy and use Metro tickets and passes.

The only downsides are that the Vianavigo app’s ticket function only works with Android, and that there are portions of both apps that are only in French (see THIS ARTICLE for more details about Vianavigo).

You can figure out routes and get real-time updates on service through either app. You can always download maps on your phone to consult off-line, or use trusty paper maps.

There are Metro, bus, and neighborhood maps posted in the Metro stations for you to consult, or pick up a paper map at any hotel or tourist venue (look for Metro maps on the back of Paris tourist maps).


1. Figure out what type of ticket you need (single or pass)

The paper tickets will be phased out by 2021, but for now, you can still use them. If you’ll be in the city for a few days, consider buying a ten-pack of t+ tickets.

Ask for un carnet at a ticket window or use one of the automate ticket machines. For more information, click here for our guide to tickets and passes.


2. Know your line

If you’re trying to figure out which train to take, it will be important to remember that Metro uses numbers and the RER uses letters.

On the transit maps, solid black dots are served by only one line, and stops with white centers serve more than one line.

The transfer points of some stations have very long hallways, multiple sets of stairs, or both, so be prepared for a bit of a hike.


3. Know your direction

On both maps and apps, trains are listed by number and the final stop, so figure out the name of your line’s final destination, and look for the closest platform which services the train going there.


4. Know your zones

The RATP serves five zones in the Paris area. Most tourist destinations are in Zone 1, but if you’re taking the RER from one of the airports or going out to a destination such as Versailles, you’ll be traveling into a different zone and the ticket will cost more.

If you’re using individual tickets (called t+), you will have to purchase separate, higher-priced tickets to get to and from your Zone 2-5 destinations.

 


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FINDING A STATION

Finding one of Paris’s hundreds of Metro stations can be simple. Some of the station entrances are even works of art! Look for lamp-posts or wrought-iron entryways that have METRO or METROPOLITAN written on them, or even a simple M.

To figure out which stop is closest to your destination, check out our guide to popular stations below.

  1. Louvre – Louvre Rivoli or Palais Royal Musée du Louvre – Metro Line 1, Chatelet Les Halles – RER/train A
  2. Musee d’Orsay – Solferino – Metro Line 12 , Musee d’Orsay – RER/train C
  3. Eiffel Tower - Champ de Mars / Tour Eiffel on line RER C., Ecole Militaire – Metro Line 8, or Bir-Hakeim – Metro Line 6
  4. Arc de Triomphe – Charles de Gaulle Etoile – Metro Line 1 2 or 6, RER/Train
  5. Champs Elysee – Concorde – Metro lines 1, 8, 12), Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau – Metro lines 1, 13, Franklin D. Roosevelt – Metro lines 1 and 9), George V – Metro line 1,  Charles de Gaulle Etoile – Metro lines 1, 2, 6
  6. Montmartre – Anvers – Metro Line 2, Abbesses – Metro Line 12, Blanche – Metro Line 2 (tickets are also good on the funicular to get to the top of the hill to visit the Sacre-Coeur
  7. Notre Dame – St-Michel Notre Dame – RER B Train Line, St-Michel Notre Dame – RER C Train Line, or Cité – Metro Line 4

Rules and Procedures

Ready to dig a little deeper? Here are some rules to follow when using public transportation in Paris:

  • Fare gates: Only fare gates with green lights or arrows on the right are available for use; ones with red are exit-only. If you’re using Navigo or a pass, tap your card on the circle on top of the right panel next to the gate and walk through. If you’re using a single ticket, insert it in the slot to the right of the gate and pull it out at the second slot… and hold onto it. If you’re using Metro or buses, Metro police may ask to see your ticket; if you’re using RER, you will need to reinsert your ticket to exit the system. 

 

Fare gates
Janericloebe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

  • Keep your ticket. On the RER, you’ll need to put your ticket into the fare gate both entering and exiting the system, so be sure to hold onto it on your trip. While you won’t need to use your Metro ticket again exiting, Metro police are known to ask passengers for their tickets aboard trains, on platforms, or at stations. Show them your ticket (or Navigo or other pass LINK TO PASS ARTICLE), or risk a fine, which they will charge you on the spot with the handy fine-collecting machines they carry. And, of course, don’t even think about jumping the turnstiles, even if you see locals do it!

 

Mixte turnstile of parisian metro
Tangopaso, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

  • Train etiquette. As in most city transit systems, a little consideration is key. Here are some things to keep in mind when using the Paris metro:
    • Have your ticket or pass in hand before getting to the fare gate.
    • Once through the gate, keep walking or move out of the way so others can get past you
    • On the platform, stand to the side of the doors when the train arrives, and let people off the train before attempting to board
    • When you get on, move to the center of the car so others can board
    • When you get off the train, keep walking so others behind you can get off the train
    • On the kinds of trains with flip-up, movie-theater-style seats: If the train is getting crowded and you’re sitting near the door in a flip-up seat, stand up to make more room.

 

 

  • Suitcases and strollers. Use the wider gates when you have suitcases, strollers, or other bulky items. Push suitcases through the fare gates before you walk through so they don’t get caught in the doors. We’ve learned this the hard way.

 

  • Speaking of luggage, if you’d like to ditch your luggage and explore the city as soon as you arrive, you can book a storage location through Eelway or Nannybag, contracted by RATP to provide storage booking. If you’d rather leave your bags at a train station, Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare Montparnasse and Gare de Marne-la-Vallée Chessy have left-luggage areas for up to 72 hours. Eelway also provides luggage transfers, say, from your hotel to the airport so you can enjoy the city up till the last moment without having to schlep your bags around town or go back to your hotel before heading out.

 

  • Eating, drinking, and buskers. It should not surprise you that France’s ritualized food culture means that eating on public transportation is frowned on, while not explicitly banned. Of course smoking, vaping, or drinking alcohol is forbidden. Also, while buskers may perform on station platforms, it is illegal for them to play inside the trains, and therefore illegal for you to give them money on the trains. Save your cash for streetside or station buskers.

 


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SAFETY AND COMFORT

While public transit may not be as comfortable as a private car, it’s an affordable, efficient, and totally Parisian way to see the city. Here are some tips on staying safe and comfortable on your journey.

  • Closing times: Unlike other major cities like New York, Paris metro runs from 5:30 a.m. till about 1:15 a.m. On Friday and Saturday evenings and the night before bank holidays, trains run until about 2:15 a.m. Keep in mind that those are the times the last train arrives at its terminus. Check the app, and there should be signs at the station for the last (dernier) train that leaves that particular station going in the direction you’re headed. If youmiss the last train, you can take a night bus (Noctiliens), which run from 12:30 to 5:30, but be aware that they have much more limited coverage than the Metro.

 

  • Stay safe. The Paris Metro is overwhelmingly safe, but pickpockets are known to target Metro riders. Crowded trains are great for pickpockets, so stow your phone, wallet, and any valuables where you can reach them. See these tips for more on avoiding pickpockets in Paris. Also, don’t ride by yourself at night, don’t fall asleep on trains or buses, and be alert to any unusual situations or potential dangers. In an emergency, call 112 for the police; go here for more safety information.

 

  • While some Metro stations have elevators, most don’t, so prepare to carry your bags up stairs if needed. RER stations in the heart of Paris have elevators, but people in wheelchairs need to ask station agents to place a ramp on the platform, and they’ll call ahead and have the station agents place a ramp at your final destination. You can find information on accessibility here.

 

  • Avoid rush hour. If possible, travel in groups or with big bags outside the morning or evening typical rush hour, when impatient Parisian commuters may push past you with a curt pardon if they think you’re a tourist impeding their commute. 

 

, via Wikimedia Commons" src="https://freetoursbyfoot.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/M4_Chatelet_rush_hour-1.jpg" alt="M4 Châtelet rush hour" width="600" height="400" data-wp-pid="169238"> Minato ku, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

  • Empty cars. A train pulls into the station, and all the cars are crowded except for one. Do you hop aboard the sparsely-populated car, or do you squeeze onto a crowded one? Nine times out of ten, that car is empty because there is there is something wrong with it. Perhaps a rider relieved him or herself on the train, or the heating or air conditioning isn’t working, or there’s something else that makes riding in that car uncomfortable. When in doubt, choose a more crowded car if you’re going more than one stop.

Airport Options

Ah, getting to the airport. If you’re flying in or out of Paris, it’s a necessity, but there are so many options, it can make a traveler’s head spin. Here are some tips.

  • Types of airport transit. The type of transportation you choose to and from the airport depends on which airport you’re using (Orly or Charles de Gaulle), how much time you want to spend getting there, where in the city you’re departing, and your budget. This page has info about all the public transit options available for airports and train stations in Paris, and there are a lot, from the RER (kind of like suburban trains that have stops in the city), dedicated buses, city buses that also stop at the airport, and taxis. For comparison, taxis to Charles de Gaulle from the center of Paris can be about 50-60 Euro, and to Orly are roughly 40-45 Euro.

 

  • Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle Airport (CDG). If you’re staying near a metro station, the RER B is a reliable way to get to Charles de Gaulle, and it takes 30-40 minutes to or from the center of Paris to the airport. Charles de Gaulle is in Zone 5, so tickets there cost 10.40 Euro. You can buy a one-way ticket to your destination in Paris at Charles de Gaulle’s Terminal 2, at the RATP ticket kiosk or the ticket counter. Tip: buy your return ticket at the same time and keep it safe until you need it. You can also purchase metro t+ tickets and passes at the airport. The Roissybus from Opera (12 Euro, about 75 minutes) is another option, as are the cheaper public buses 350 and 351, though they take longer (about 90 minutes from downtown Paris).

 

  • Orly Airport (ORY). For Orly, you have even more options: The Orlybus (from Place Denfert-Rochereau) takes about 30-40 minutes and has free Wi-Fi aboard (8.30 Euro). You could also take RER B to the Antony station (in Zone 3) and hop aboard the Orlyval (9.30 Euro), a lightrail train that takes less than 10 minutes from Antony to Orly. There’s also Bus 183 to Orly from Porte de Choisy (Metro line 7), the T7 tram from Villejuif-Louis Aragon (metro M7); either option will cost you less than 5 Euros but take a bit longer. Finally, there’s the Navette GO C Paris (6.35Euro), a shuttle bus from the Pont de Rungis Aéroport d’Orly RER C stop.

 

  • Paris-Beauvais Airport. There is only one public-transit option - a shuttle bus for 17 Euro - for this airport.

 

  • Tickets vs passes. Some passes cover transit to the airports and may be a good value, depending on how much you plan to ride transit (see LINK)

 


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THINGS TO CONSIDER

Paris is charming and quirky in many ways, and its public transit is no exception. Read on for a few tips on navigating a few of Metro’s peculiarities.

  • DIY bus tour. While the Metro is great, don’t forget about the bus! You can get a great view of the city from aboveground. They’re clean, efficient, and cost the same as a Metro trip. You can use your pass or a t+ ticket to get on the bus, or you can pay 2 Euro on board. Hack your own hop-on, hop-off tour bus by taking the 72. Hop aboard at Gare de Lyon, cross the Canal St. Martin, then cruise along Rue de Rivoli, with a view of the Hotel de Ville, Tour St. Jacques, Louvre, Tuileries Garden, and Eiffel Tower. You can transfer as many times as you’d like for up to 90 minutes with a t+ ticket, or unlimited times using one of the passes (see this page INSERT LINK TO PASS PAGE)

 

  • In France, worker strikes (greves) are a common form of worker protest, and the RATP is not immune. You will often get ample warning that a strike is planned, and there are always a few lines that stay open. Still, keep an ear out for any strikes and prepare to make adjustments if they happen.

 

  • DIY Doors. While many of the trains are state-of-the-art, with computerized signage and automatic doors, some of the older trains are still in use, which means that you may need to open the doors yourself. If you see a door like the one below, simply push hard where it says poussez and the doors will pop open. On trains with latch doors, grab the handle and twist it up to open it. (Don’t worry, the doors close on their own.) If you’re in front of the doors and are flummoxed, hop out of the way and let a local open it instead.

 


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About The Author

Christina

Christina studied art history and French literature at the Sorbonne for a year in Paris as an undergrad. Now based in Washington, DC, she visits Paris as often as possible and loves introducing family and friends to her favorite places there. She has worked as a travel writer, museum professional, English tutor, and editor, and her favorite French cheese is Pont l'Eveque.
Updated: October 11th, 2021
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