Although there's nothing like walking to get to know a city, the size of Paris sometimes makes it necessary to use some form of public transport to take in all there is to see in Paris. The French city has a good network of city buses, but the metro is undoubtedly the best way to get around the city.
The Paris metro has been in operation for over 100 years and the city has been modernising and expanding it to make it one of the largest underground transport systems in Europe. Proof of its usefulness is that the distance between stations (more than 200) is usually no more than 500 metres.
How the Paris metro works
The first thing you should know is that you can buy tickets for the Paris metro:
- At the self-service machines in the stations: this is the best option and the instructions come in several languages, including English.
- At the ticket offices: they are not usually open.
Once you have bought your ticket, you have to insert it into the turnstiles at the station in order to pass through. Never forget to pick up your pass or ticket once you have passed through the turnstile barrier, as you will need it to exit the station at your destination. Unlike in other cities, you will have to press a button to enter the carriage, as the doors do not open automatically.
Differences between the metro and the RER
The RER is a kind of suburban train that takes you to locations near Paris but outside the city. There are five RER lines, although you will most likely only use three of them during your visit:
- Line A: connects Paris to Disneyland Paris and is one of the most popular ways to get to the park if you haven't booked an excursion from the capital.
- Line B: it leads to Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports.
- Line C: links the French capital with the Palace of Versailles.
Another important aspect is that you will be able to use the same ticket for both types of transport (RER and metro) in case you need to transfer between them.
Paris metro zones
When you first look at a map of the Paris metro, you will notice the division of the city into zones. These are sort of imaginary rings that divide the city and are important when it comes to using the underground, as they affect the cost of transport.
However, you shouldn't worry too much, as the vast majority of hotels and tourist attractions are concentrated in zones 1-3. Normally, you will only leave these zones if you are going to Disneyland Paris, Versailles or Charles de Gaulle or Orly airports.
Paris Metro fares
The T+ Metro ticket is for one journey only and can also be used on the RER, Parisian trams and public buses. Each ticket costs just under €2, but if you buy 10 such tickets you will get a discount of around 40 cents per journey.
With a Metro T+ ticket you can travel in zones 1 and 2 on both Metro and RER. This covers much of the city's main attractions, such as Paris' most important museums.
Paris Metro Passes
If your stay in Paris is going to be a long one(4 days or more in Paris) and you plan to use the Metro very frequently, you will usually be better off buying one of the existing passes. Note that this transport is no longer included in the Paris Pass tourist card, although it is still interesting for visits.
These passes allow you to use all types of transport in the different areas of the capital. If you are interested, you can choose from the following:
- Paris Visite: until recently, this pass was included in the Paris Pass, but now it is necessary to buy it separately. Its possession allows unlimited travel for a period ranging from 2 to 6 days, depending on the mode you pay for. It also includes discounts for some attractions.
- Navigo Pass: In principle, this pass allows the same type of travel as the Paris Visite, but it only works for full weeks, i.e. from Monday to Sunday. To buy it, you will need a passport-sized photo.
Paris metro timetables and frequency
The first train on each line of the Paris Metro departs at 05:30 in the morning, while the last train leaves at 1:15pm from Sunday to Thursday and at 2:15pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
To find out if the train is the last one of the day, all you have to do is look at the lights on the front of the train: if they are flashing, it is the last train of the day. If you're unlucky and miss it, you can only use one of the night buses to get around Paris, the so-called Noctilien, or call a taxi.
Frequency varies depending on the time of day, but in general you won't have to wait more than 4 minutes for most of the day.
Most important lines of the Paris metro
The Paris Metro has 16 lines to complete a transport network of about 200 kilometres. There are over 300 stations in the city so that no Parisian or visitor has to walk too far to find one.
Each of the lines is numbered and assigned a colour so that they can be easily distinguished on a map. Chances are that if you are visiting the city to see its best museums, monuments or gardens, you will only use a few of the lines. In this respect, there are three that stand out above the rest:
- Line 12: it is going to allow you to see the interesting Montmartre neighbourhood and offers several possibilities to reach the Sacré-Coeur basilica. Likewise, its Concorde station is ideal to reach the Tuileries Garden, right next to the Louvre Museum. Its next stops are also perfect for visiting the Musée d'Orsay.
- Line 6: Charles de Gaulle Etoile station on line 6 will take you very close to the Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe. On the other hand, if you get off at the Trocadero stop, located in the square of the same name, you will have a great view of the Eiffel Tower. Line 6 will also allow you to reach the Montparnasse Tower and the Paris Catacombs.
- Line 1: the route of this line connects, among other places, the Champs Elysées with the Arc de Triomphe. On the other hand, if you get off at the Concorde or Tuileries stations, you can easily visit the Louvre. The journey can be extended to the Ile de la Cite, where you can see the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral or the Conciergerie.
Make a note of these stations to make it easier to reach your destinations
When travelling on the Paris Metro, it's not only important to know the route of each line. Knowing the names of the stations you are most interested in is essential so that you don't end up getting off at the wrong place. Here are some of the ones you may need:
- Champ de Mars: Champs de Mars and Eiffel Tower
- Opera: Opera Garnier
- Trocadero: Trocadero Square and Eiffel Tower
- Abbesses: Montmartre
- Louvre Rivoli: Louvre Museum
- Cité: Notre Dame Cathedral
- Saint Germain de Prés: St. Germain quarter
Paris metro stations worth a visit
Not only is the Paris Metro a great means of transport, but many of its stations are tourist attractions in their own right. Some of the older stations have Art Nouveau entrances, while other more modern ones have tried to give an original touch to their design:
- Arts et Métiers station: (lines 3 and 11) is decorated in a style reminiscent of Jules Verne novels.
- Cluny - La Sorbonne station: has fabulous mosaics decorating its ceilings.
- Gare Cité: it has beautiful retro-style lamps.
- Louvre-Rivoli: it is decorated with copies of some of the most important works exhibited in the Louvre.
- Abbesses: has a wonderful fresco depicting a period in French history.
General tips for using the metro in Paris
A great tool for getting around the Paris Metro without any problems is to download the Next Stop app, the official app of the company RATP, responsible for managing the city's transport.
The app is in 10 languages (including English), includes short audio guides to some of Paris's most important tourist attractions and can be used offline. However, many of the Paris metro stations have a free WiFi connection that does not require prior registration.
If you are concerned about security, you should know that the entire network is monitored at all times by security guards, inspectors and security cameras. However, you should always keep an eye on your possessions in the busiest sections, as there may be pickpockets in the area trying to take advantage of the crowds.