The best and cheapest way to get around Paris is on foot, and secondly, using the Metro which is around one euro seventy cents for a one way trip of any length.
By Scooter or motorbike – Paris is an incredibly open city, with it’s many ‘grande boulevards’ and monuments with large open spaces around it makes for a city perfect to be explored and viewed from on a scooter. A lot of people think it is a dangerous city to drive a scooter or motorbike, and when you’re sitting in a corner cafe watching it may look that way, but in reality it is actually quite a safe city because the drivers are very conscious of one another, a trait that drivers certainly do not have in most other countries of the world! There are so many scooters in Paris, and there has been scooters in Europe forever really, so when people learn to drive here they learn to drive amongst the scooters. The French do drive quite fast, but they respect one another and it is rare that a driver will suddenly changes lanes or swing to the other side of the road without signaling. When you’re driving a scooter or motorbike in Paris you can expect to be able to ‘lane-split’ between the rows of cars waiting in traffic and go straight to the front of the lights. Parking wise there is plenty of ‘Deux Roues’ (two wheel) parking all over the city. Do be careful of parking on the sidewalk though especially on shopping streets or around the monument.
On foot – Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. It is possible to cross the entire city in only a few hours, but only if you can somehow keep yourself from stopping at numerous cafés and shops. In fact within a few years walking combined with biking and the Metro will be the only way to get around the very centre of Paris: The Mayor’s office has announced plans to declare the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements almost totally car-free by 2012.
The smartest travellers take advantage of the walk-ability of this city, and stay above ground as much as possible. A metro ride of less than 2 stops is probably best avoided since walking will take about the same amount of time and you’ll be able to see more of the city. That said, pay attention to the Métro stations that you may pass by on your journey; the Métro network is very dense within the city and the lines are virtually always located directly underneath major boulevards, so if you become lost it is easy to regain your bearings by walking along a major boulevard untl you find a Métro station.
It’s always fun to experience the city by foot, and there are numerous walking tours around Paris, whether self guided (with the help of a guidebook or online guide) or with a touring guide (booked through your travel agency or hotel). The city is best explored by foot, and some of the most marvelous memories you will have of Paris is walking through secret found places.
By Métro – Paris has an excellent underground train system, known as the Métro (short for Chemin de fer métropolitain, Metropolitan Railway). Although you will probably take the RER subway train from the airport to Paris, don’t be confused: RER is a French-language acronym that translates to “Regional Express Network,” and is mostly used by commuters. Look for the Métro stations, marked with a large “M” sign.
There are 16 Métro lines (lignes) (1–14, 3bis, and 7bis) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes between 5AM and 12:30AM (Saturday night/Sunday morning: 1:30AM), stopping at all stations on the line. Times for trains can be seen on an electronic scrollboard above the platform. Line 14, which is fully automated, is called the Méteor. Scheduled times for first and last trains are posted in each station on the centre sign. Generally, except for early and late hours, travellers should not worry about specific Metro train times; just get to your station and take the next train. Trains usually come 2-3 minutes apart during rush hour and 5-10 minutes apart during other times, depending on the line.
Visitors traveling to or from the Airport/train stations with heavy luggage need to keep in mind that changing metro lines might be difficult at times, especially at major metro intersections. Moving from one platform to another generally involves walking up and down multiple flights of stairs and elevators are few and far between. It might be a good idea to check out the Bus routes and timings and see if one can find a convenient bus connection.
Many of the trains do not carry destination binders. All lines on the Paris metro run end-to-end with some trains terminating at certain stations. This practice is common only in peak hours and if you are on a metro train that terminates before the last station, the driver will make an announcement (in French). Listen carefully for signs that the train is terminating before the end of the line.
The lines are named according to the names of their terminal stations ( the end of the line). If you ask the locals about directions, they will answer something like : take line number n toward “end station 1”, change at “station”, take the line nntoward “end station 2” etc. The lines are also colour-coded.
In addition, there are five commuter train lines: RER A, B, C, D, and E. RER trains run at intervals of about 6-7 min, and stop at every station within Paris. Although a regular subway ticket can be used within Paris (Zone 1), it is necessary to pass the ticket through the turnstile when passing between the subway and the RER lines, as the two systems are separate networks. This ticket is necessary to enter and exit the RER networks, as the RER trains travel on to the Parisian suburbs, outside the zone where a regular subway ticket can be used. Beware that travelling outside the city centre without a valid RER ticket will get you fined, and the packs of inspectors who roam the system show no mercy to tourists pleading ignorance. In particular, Charles de Gaulle airport is not within the city, and you’ll need to purchase a more expensive RER ticket to get there.
The Métro and RER move staggering numbers of people into, out of, and around Paris (6.75 million people per day on average), and most of the time in reasonable comfort. Certain lines, however, are operating at or near capacity, sometimes being so full that you’ll have to let one or two trains pass before being able to board. If you can help it, avoid Métro lines 1, 4, and 13 and RER line A during rush hours as these are the most congested lines in the system.
In addition to RER, there are many suburban train lines (Transilien) departing from the main train stations. One line of interest is the one from Gare Montparnasse to Versailles-Chantiers, a quick way to go to Versailles castle (covered by a ticket for at least Zones 1-4). The alternative is to use RER C to Versailles Rive Gauche (this station is the closest to the castle). Do not use RER C8 to Versailles Chantiers; this will do a very long loop in the southern suburbs before reaching Versailles.
For travel outside of the Paris zone, the train arrival times are shown on a monitor hanging from the ceiling inside the RER station above the platform. Information about the stops to be made by the next incoming train is presented on a separate board also hanging from the ceiling. It is important to check this board before boarding the train, as not all trains make stops at all stations on a given line. Four letter codes (KRIN, DIPA, TORE, etc.) are used for the RER and Transilien trains. On RER A, B and C the first letter indicates the destination of the train, the second the branch or service type, and the last two are to make the name easier to memorize; on RER D and E, the first letter is destination, the second letter is service type, the third letter is branch, and the fourth letter is direction; on Transilien lines, it’s usually one name for every service type. You can look up what these codes mean on information panels in the station, but the easiest and fastest way is often to check the information screens along the platforms.
RATP is responsible for public transport including metro, buses, and some of the high speed inter-urban trains (RER). The rest of the RER is operated by SNCF. However, both companies take the same tickets, so the difference is of little interest for most people except in case of strikes (RATP may strike without SNCF doing so or the other way round). Current fares can be found at their website. Basically, as you move farther from Paris (into higher zones), tickets get more expensive.
For the subway, a single ticket (ticket t+) costs €1.70; however, it is generally not advisable to buy tickets by the unit. Instead, purchase a carnet of ten tickets, which can be bought for €12.70 at any station, which will bring the price per ticket down to €1.27. Tickets named tarif réduit may be purchased for children under the age of 10 but only in a carnet of 10 for €6.35. Both tickets are valid for unlimited metro and RER or bus and tram transfers during two hours for RER and metro, and 1 hour 30 between the first and the last punch for bus and tram. RER + Métro and Bus + Tram are two separate systems, but they use the same tickets. This means you have to use a new ticket if you transfer from bus to metro or from metro to bus. Tickets do not expire.
A one-day ticket, a weekly pass, and a monthly pass are also available. The price varies according to the zones for which the ticket can be used. The cheapest 1-day ticket called Mobilis, is valid for zones 1-2, with a price of €6.40. Once bought, it is necessary to write in the spaces provided on the ticket the date the ticket is being used in European notation of day/month/year (valable le), the last name (nom), and the first name (prénom). Unfortunately, this ticket is not valid for use for travel to/from Charles de Gaulle airport. Unless you plan to make many trips in one day, the carnet of ten tickets (for €1.27 per trip) will still be a much better cost than a one-day ticket. However, consider the price for all members of your group/family, including children, which days you are travelling on, and in which zones you will be travelling.
For travellers under the age of 26, there is a special ticket (Jeunes 26) that you can purchase for use on the weekends or holidays. The price varies depending on the number of zones you wish to cover (Zones 1-3 is €3.55 and Zones 1-5 is €7.10; there are other zone combinations available too) and the ticket is good for one day of unlimited usage of the metro, RER, bus, and trams.
If you are staying a bit longer, the weekly and monthly passes are called Navigo Découverte (1 week pass, €19.15 for zones 1-2) and the monthly Navigo Mensuel (one-month pass, €62.90 for zones 1-2). Note that an Découverte (DAY-koo-VERT) starts on Mondays and a Mensuel on the first of the month. The Navigo pass is non-transferrable and requires the user to provide information on the pass after the sale. The pass is sold for €5. You must write your last name (nom) and your first name (prénom) and stick your photo on the nominative card. After, you have to refill your pass with a recharge hébdomadaire (one-week refill), or arecharge mensuelle (one-month refill). You have to choose at least two of the contiguous “zones”: Paris is the first zone, La Défense is in the third zone, and Versailles in the fourth. Everything related to a “Navigo” pass is in purple (like the target for the pass in the turnstiles).
Although not as good a deal for adults in most cases as the Mobilis or Navigo, there are also one-to-five-day tourist passes, called Paris Visite, available, which are a bargain for kids of ages 4-11, starting at €4.85 per day for travel within zones 1-3.
Keep your ticket or pass with you at all times as you may be checked. You will be cited and forced to pay on the spot if you do not have a ticket. The most likely spots for being checked are just behind the turnstiles at big Métro stations or during Métro line changes (correspondances). RATP agents may be present in the Métro stations even on Sunday nights.
Métro stations have both ticket windows and automatic vending machines. The majority of automatic vending machines do not take notes, only coins or European credit cards with a pin-encoded chip on the front. Therefore, to use either euro bills or a non-European credit card with a magnetic stripe, it is necessary to make the purchase from the ticket window. Be advised that some ticket vending machines do not give change, so use exact change or go to the ticket window. If you look at the vending machines closely, you may find one in the group that takes euro bills and will give change; these machines can be found at major or touristy stations such as Tuileries, Gare de Lyon or La Défense-Grande Arche.
By boat – There are several excellent boat services which make use of the Seine. As well as providing easy, cheap transport to much of central Paris, excellent photo opportunities abound. You can buy a day or 3 day ticket and hop on and off the boat as needed. The boats take a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musee D’orsay. Batobus offers a regular shuttle service between the main touristic sights (closed in January); other companies such as the famous Bateaux Mouches offer sightseeing cruises.
By bicycle – Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport and an excellent way to see the sights. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than almost any town or city in the United States. The French are very cognizant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. A few years ago Paris wasn’t the easiest place to get around by bike but that has changed dramatically in recent years. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well, in establishing some separated bike lanes, but even more important a policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling. The Paris bike network now counts over 150 km of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist. In addition, the narrower, medieval side streets of the central arrondissements make for rather scenic and leisurely cycling, especially during off-hours of the day when traffic is lighter. Do remember to bring a good map, since there is no grid plan to speak of and almost all of the smaller streets are one-way.
Note that, while the streets of Paris are generally fairly easy on novice cyclists, there are some streets in the city that should be avoided by those who do not have sufficient urban cycling experience. ‘Rue de Rivoli’, ‘Place de la Bastille’, and ‘Place de la Nation’ are particularly hairy, especially during weekdays and the Saturday evening rush, and should not be navigated by anyone not confident in their ability to cycle in heavy traffic. ‘Avenue des Champs-Elysées’, ‘Place de l’Étoile’, and ‘Voie Georges Pompidou’ (the lower-level express lanes along the banks of the Seine) should be avoided at all times.
You can find an excellent map of the bike network called Plan des Itinéraires cyclables at the information center in the Hôtel de Ville.
There are two different bike rental programs in Paris:
- Vélib. In July 2007 the municipality of Paris introduced the Vélib program (vélo Liberté or Freedom Bikes) by which it is possible to rent a bike for a very modest price. Numerous stations are to be found around the city (at major landmarks and metro stations, basically every 300m). With a credit card with a “puce” smart-chip (that means that American Visa and Mastercard cards do not work, however American Express cards should work even though they don’t have a chip), you can subscribe for 1 day (€1.70) or 7 days (€8) with a security deposit of €150. & then get a bike; the first 30 min are free, following 30 min costs €1, following 30 min cost €2, etc. to avoid long rentals… so the game is to get to another station in 25 min and get another bicycle. This rental system has been designed to allow you to “pick & drop” a bike, not rent the same one all day long. Try it ! If your card works in the machines it’s a great way to get around! The bicycles are wonderful cruiser bikes, with a front basket to put a purse or bag. If the saddle is turned around, it most probably means the bike is out of order (it’s a convention among Velib users, so do the same if you notice your Velib has problems). €1.70 per day.
In addition to operating a number of bike rental buses, the RATP has some permanent locations, including:
- Roue Libre, Les Halles, 1 passage Mondétour (facing 120 rue Rambuteau, Métro: Les Halles). Bikes can be rented for one weekend (€25), M-F (€20), a working day (€9), or one day on the weekend (€14). Roue Libre also has a location at the Bastille which is open during the summer months.
By bus – Since the Métro is primarily structured around a hub-and-spoke model, there are some journeys for which it can be quite inefficient, and in these cases, it is worth seeing if a direct bus route exists, despite the complexity of the bus network. A bus ride is also interesting if you want to see more of the city. The Parisian bus system is quite tourist-friendly. It uses the same single-ride tickets and Navigo as the Métro, and electronic displays inside each bus tell riders its current position and what stops remain, eliminating a lot of confusion.
These same payment devices are also valid in the Noctilien, the night bus. Night buses run regularly through the central hub at Chatelet to outlying areas of greater Paris. There is also a circle line connecting the main train stations. It pays to know one’s Noctilien route ahead of time in case one misses the last Métro home. Women travellers should probably avoid taking the Noctilien on their own to destinations outside Paris.
Another option for travelers who want to see the sights of Paris without a stop on every street corner is the Paris L’Opentour Bus, an open-topped double decker bus that supplies headsets with the most up to date information on the attractions in Paris. Your ticket is good for four routes ranging in time from 1-2 h. Get off when you want, stay as long as you need, get back on the bus and head for another site. You can purchase tickets at the bus stop. A one-day pass is €25 for adults and €15 for children. A two-day pass is €32 for adults or €15 for children.
By taxi – Taxis are comparatively cheap especially at night when there are no traffic jams to be expected. There are not as many as one would expect, and sometimes finding a taxi can be challenging. In the daytime, it is not always a good idea to take a taxi, as walking or taking the metro (See: Métro) will often be faster. If you know you will need one to get to the airport, or to a meeting, it is wise to book ahead by phone (see below).
Remember if a taxi is near a ‘taxi station’, they’re not supposed to pick you up except at the station where there may be people waiting for a taxi. Taxi stations are usually near train stations, big hotels, hospitals, large crossings.
Livery or Black Car or Limos- Known as car services or livery cabs, these cars may only be called by phone, are flat rate rather than metered (ask for the fare before getting in), and are not allowed to cruise the street or airports for fares. There are two types of licence: the “Grande Remise” that allows the car & driver to pick-up & drop-off passengers anywhere in France, and the “carte verte” that allows pick-up & drop-off in the department or region where the company is based. The Grande Remise cars have a GR on their front plate. They provide more service than a normal cab.
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