Forget about driving, Paris has one of the best public transportation networks in the world! Generally considered safe, clean, affordable and widespread throughout the city and its suburbs, make like a local and get to know the city’s bus, metro, tram and regional commuter train networks.
THE PARIS METRO
UPDATED JANUARY 2022
It just wouldn’t be Paris without the Métropolitan (or Métro), one of the most efficient and user-friendly subway systems in the world. Its 14 lines (plus two smaller bis lines) crisscross the city and the immediate suburbs daily from 5:45am-1am (2am on Saturdays), with connections to the RER and international train stations. Each line is designated by a number and its terminus points (ie Line 1: Château de Vincennes – La Défense). Most stations can be reached with one or two changes at the most. Maps are posted in Métro cars, on platforms (quais), and next to ticket windows. You can also ask for a free Métro map (un plan) from any ticket agent. You can also have a peek at the online map here (click on “metro” at the top blue navigation bar, then on a metro number above the map to see a specific line route).
Reminder: If you haven’t been to Paris since 2019, you’ll want to update your maps, since several lines have been extended (lines 4, 13, and 14) and you’ll need to know the new terminus station names.
- Tickets & Passes
Individual tickets cost €1.90 each (€2 from the bus driver). Tickets are valid throughout the RATP (Paris Transit Authority) network of Métro, bus, tram, Montmartre funicular, and RER lines within the city and immediate suburbs (zones 1-2). Beyond zone 2, RER fares are higher and require different tickets (ie airports, Versailles).
The paper tickets infamously demagnetize if kept next to a smartphone or credit cards, and they’re also a huge waste of paper, so the RATP is transitioning to the Navigo Easy card that you can just load the tickets onto the card, then swipe and go. The card is €2 (good for 10 years) that can then be charged with as many tickets as you like (up to 20 individual tickets, or two “carnets”, as well as airport tickets, and one-day passes). The Easy Navigo cards don’t need a name and id photo (so you can give it to someone else when you’re finished with it), but can’t be used more than once for the same trip (ie you can’t have three people go through the turnstile with you). So each person in your group would need their own card. They can be purchased and loaded at any ticket window where there’s a human, and refilled at any of the ticket machines (or via the Bonjour RATP app with an NFC sensor on your smartphone, but this app doesn’t work on all smartphones, so take the time to test it).
You can save money by purchasing ten tickets at once, known as a “carnet” for €14.90. These are no longer available as paper tickets, so you’ll need the Navigo Easy card to purchase these (and for some reason they seem to only allow you to load two carnet per transaction). There’s also an unlimited 24-hour ticket is €7.50 within Paris, up to €17.80 if you want to use it to access the airports (the paper version is called Mobilis, and the one you charge onto your Navigo card is Navigo Jour; but they work the same).
There are unlimited travel passes for visitors called Paris Visite valid for 1 day (€12), or 2 (€19.50), 3 (€26.64) or 5 (€38.35) consecutive days, good anywhere in Paris (zones 1 to 3). Double the price for passes that include Paris and the Île-de-France region (all zones, including airport connections, Orlyval, Disneyland Paris and Château de Versailles). This is good if you don’t want to stress about how many tickets you have left and plan on taking lots of short trips. There are also a bunch of discounts for other tourist stuff with your pass, like river cruises and cabaret shows (but honestly most people pre-purchase that stuff anyway). The downside is that it’s only available as a paper ticket which can demagnetize (be sure to keep the receipt in case you need to exchange it). You need to write your name and the date you start using it on the ticket to show if you’re stopped by security.
There are also unlimited weekly, monthly and annual passes meant for Parisians and commuters from the region. The weekly pass is good Monday-Sunday (€22.80) and the monthly pass starts on the first of the month (€75.20), so up to you if it seems logical to use these on your trip if it starts mid-week or mid-month. You’ll need a French bank account to be able to get an annual pass (€827/year), as they take the payments automatically each month, but it can be started at any moment.
If you’re a student or worker living in Paris, there are other passes specifically adapted for you, check out the RATP website.
- How to Use the Tickets
If you’ve got a paper ticket, stick it in the slot and take it when it pops out the other side before moving through the turnstile. You’ll need to keep this until you exit the metro as proof of payment, and you’ll need it to exit the RER by putting it through the turnstile again. If you have a plastic pass of any kind, you just wave it in front of the purple circle and you’ll hear a ding and see a green light to pass through the turnstile (it will also show you how many tickets you have left).
Within the Métro, a single ticket is good for one journey with unlimited transfers (correspondences) as long as you don’t exit. You can transfer between metros and RERs with the same ticket for up to 2 hours, and you can transfer between busses and trams with one ticket (for up to 90 minutes). But oddly, you can’t transfer between metro and busses, or between trams and metros (you need to use another ticket).
Reminder: Have your paper ticket or card on you at all times when traveling; you’ll need it to prove you’ve paid if the RATP officials do a random check. You’ll also need it to exit from RER stations.
- Discounts for Kids
All RATP tickets, carnets and passes are 50% off for kids 4-9. Kids under 4 ride for free (if you’re a Paris resident, check the rates because kids usually have free transport if you live here). Parents with bulky strollers (which are not recommended) can avoid the turnstiles by asking agents at the ticket window to open the side gate, if there is one. Be prepared for long tunnels and numerous stairs throughout the Métro and RER.
- General Rules & Etiquette
Smoking, eating and drinking on the Métro and RER is not allowed (although it’s mildly tolerated on the platform). Don’t put your feet or luggage on the seats. The fold-down seats shouldn’t be used when the car is crowded. Do not try and jump on at the last second, even if you see daredevil Parisians doing it.
It’s also not recommended to talk so loudly that everyone can hear your conversation. It’s considered rude in France, and even if you think they can’t understand you, most of them can (and so can all of the other native English speakers who are cringing in horror).
The safest place for anyone traveling alone at night is in the first car directly behind the driver. If you have any problems, use the yellow emergency call boxes found on every platform.
Beware of pickpockets in crowded cars, especially during the jostle of getting on or off. Some people will squeeze in right behind you at the ticket turnstiles to get in without paying; make sure they’re not going through your pockets at the same time!
- Access for those with Impaired Mobility
Only Line 14 is completely accessible today. The rest of the Métro/RER system is only partially accessible for people with reduced mobility. There are turnstiles, long halls with many stairs, and escalators and elevators that are frequently out of order. That means anyone carrying heavy luggage, pushing a stroller, in a wheelchair, or having a bad knee day should take the bus (which have ramps) or taxi.
THE RER – REGIONAL EXPRESS
The RER suburban express railway has five lines (A, B, C, D and E) with multiple branches (such as B2 or C4), which connect to the Métro at several stations. The RER isn’t just for going to the airport or suburban towns; it’s also convenient for crossing Paris since it goes much faster and has fewer stops than the Métro. This can be useful for getting quickly from the Parc Montsouris to Gare du Nord (RER B) or from the Champs-Elysées to the Gare de Lyon (RER A).
- How it Works
The RER operates approximately the same time as the Métro, 5:45am-12:30am, and uses the same tickets as long as you stay within Paris. If you plan on going past zone 2 and you don’t have a zone 1-5 pass, then you’ll need to buy an individual ticket before you enter the RER turnstile. A regular Métro ticket will allow you to get on any RER within Paris, but if you travel past the zone you won’t be able to exit the turnstiles at the other end.
Tickets can be purchased from automated machines or any RATP ticket window (tickets are only good for one-way trips, so ask for two tickets to save time if you’re coming back the same way). It’s important to look at the monitors on the platform to see if your destination (ie: Versailles) is lit up for the incoming train, because express RERs don’t stop at every station outside of Paris. When in doubt, ask someone before getting on. And stay at the top end of the platform (RER’s arrive from the right, so the top is to the left) because some trains are shorter than others (train court) and you’ll end up running to catch it.
Note: The biggest RER station is Châtelet-Les Halles in the center of town, where three of the five lines intersect with five Métro stations. It’s a horrible maze of tunnels and should be avoided if possible for sanity purposes (get off at the station before or after if it’s convenient).
THE PARIS BUS SYSTEM
The RATP bus system has had a lot of updates since 2019, including new lines, consolidated lines, and a few routes that have been removed. If you’re used to taking a certain bus, or have an old map, double-check the route. With over 200 lines running through the city, it may take a bit more work to figure out, but the bus is worth it because it’s safer, more comfortable, and virtually stair-free compared to the Métro. In Paris the bus is a bit more chic than the metro (and everyone uses it). And you’ve got a view! All lines are now equipped with ramps for wheelchair access, too.
- How It Works
Most buses operate Monday-Saturday from 7am-12:30am, although many major lines are open daily until 1:30am. The signs at each bus stop indicate all of this information, and clearly show the route of each bus which stops there. There are also route maps inside the bus. If you’re not sure, you can ask the driver, but be sure to let other passengers get on before doing so.
If you’re the only person standing at a stop used by different bus lines, be sure to raise your hand or stand at the end of the sidewalk to indicate that you want the bus stop. Drivers are not supposed to let passengers on or off outside designated stops, but will usually wait if they spot you running down the street.
Inside the buses you’ll often find electronic signs indicating the next stop (accompanied by a voice recording) and the time until it reaches the end of the line. Push one of the red buttons if you want to get off. Always exit through the back doors (many open automatically, some require you to push a silver button).
Note: To get off a crowded bus, just say “pardon” and start gently pushing your way through. You might have to be a bit aggressive! If the door closes before you can get out, just yell “La porte, s’il vous plaît!” to the driver.
These are the same as those used on the Métro. Drivers can sell single tickets for €2 only, no carnets or passes (these can be purchased at Métro stations or tourist offices). Tickets should be inserted into the ticket machine. These are only good for 90 minutes within the bus and tram network (but not for transfers onto the metro). The Navigo passes should be swiped in front of the purple panel until you hear the ding and see the green light. Keep your ticket until you get off in case the security agents get on board and start checking. If you have any questions at all about the tickets and what to do with them, ask the driver (but be nice and get on last so you’re not blocking others).
- Other Buses (all accept regular RATP tickets)
The RATP’s Noctilien Night Bus operates roughly between 11pm-5:30am throughout the city and the immediate suburbs and airports. It works just like the regular bus system, with its own 35 routes that overlap the day routes (you’ll see the Noctilien’s sign and map at bus shelter where it stops). The five main stops are Châtelet, Gare St-Lazare, Gare de L’Est, Gare de Lyon, and the Gare Montparnasse. Tickets are the same as you use on regular buses and the Métro (Carte Navigo and Mobilis are accepted for the right zones). Times between busses vary from 10-60 minutes depending on the line. Check the website for schedules.
The Montmartrobus circles the Butte de Montmartre between M° Anvers and M° Jules Joffrin with stops in front of Sacre Coeur Basilica and Place du Tertre.
There’s also the Montmartre Funicular, a short but steep rail ride up to the foot of Sacre Coeur in a glass box for those who can’t bear another flight of stairs.
Okay, it’s a Boat: But the Batobus works just like a bus on the Seine, with eight stops at the Eiffel Tower (Port de La Bourdonnais, 7th), Musée d’Orsay (Quai Solferino, 7th), St-Germain-des-Prés (Quai Malaquai, 6th), Notre Dame (Quai de Montebello, 5th), Jardin des Plantes (Quai St-Bernard, 5th) Hôtel de Ville (Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4th), Louvre Museum ( Quai du Louvre, 1st) and the Champs Elysées (Port des Champs Elysées, 8th). Checkout the website for seasonal schedules and pass prices.
THE PARIS TRAM SYSTEM
There are 11 tramway lines in the Paris region (including the T9 to Orly), but only 4 within the city limits. The T3a from Porte du Garigliano to Porte de Vincennes connects métro stations in the lower 13th, 14thand 15th arrondissements such as Porte d’Ivry, Porte d’Orléans and Porte de Versailles, and tram T3b from Porte de Vincennes to Porte d’Asnières connects metros in the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements such as Porte de Clichy, Porte de Clignancourt, Porte de la Villette, and Porte de Bagnolet. It will eventually be extended to Porte Dauphine on the west side of Paris by 2023. The trams use the same tickets as the Métro and bus (€2 for a single ride).
The Paris tramways as of 2022 and T3b extension plan for 2023.
TRAINS TO AND FROM PARIS
Trains in France are operated by SNCF (also see www.transport-idf.com), including regionalTransilien trains which serve the greater Ile-de-France department and supplement RER service to the Banlieues (suburbs). For general queries contact SNCF at tel 01 53 90 20 20. Ticketing information from within France is at tel 08 36 35 35 35 (€0.34/minute).
The six international train stations in Paris are the Gare de l’Est (10th), Gare du Nord (10th), Gare Montparnasse (6th/15th), Gare St-Lazare (9th), Gare de Lyon (12th)and the Gare d’Austerlitz (13th). These are connected to the bus, Métro and RER networks for quick transfers throughout Paris. Each station includes services such as car rental, baggage lockers, taxis, currency conversion, cash machines, shops and cafés.
Tickets must be purchased at the SNCF ticket windows or automatic kiosks (which seem more useful than the website or waiting in line for a human) found in any Paris train station (gare) and some major RER stations such as Châtelet – Les Halles. Most Transilien lines in Paris originate at the Gare St-Lazare and Gare Montparnasse.
- How it Works
To find the right platform look for the Banlieues or Transilien signs (the Grands Lignesserve the outer regions of France and Europe). Just like at the airport, the departure track (voie) isn’t posted until the last minute, so you’ll have to watch the boards (if you’re confused, ask at the information kiosk on the platform where you should wait). Tickets must be punched in the orange ticket machines located on train platforms before boarding in order to be valid (there are no turnstiles, so it’s easy to forget). Tickets are good for a trip, not a particular time or date, so if you miss a local train it’s still valid for the next one (or even the next day).
For information on international and TGV trains like the Eurostar or Thalys, click here.