How to Use Paris Public Transportation - Metro, Bus and RER

Paris metro crossing Pont de Bir-Hakeim, Paris, France
••• PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa / Getty Images
  • 01 of 08

    One of the World's Best (And Most Infuriating) Public Transport Systems

    Paris boasts one of the world's safest and most efficient public transportation systems. Trains usually arrive on time; buses are well-appointed and clean, and commuter express ("RER") trains service the city's most important stops in record time. What's not to love?

    Well, for those of you who have already had the pleasure of riding the Paris metro or taking a bus in the city of light, you know that there's plenty to potentially infuriate and unnerve travelers. For one thing, Parisians eschew cars so much that trains and buses are more often than not overcrowded-- and Paris being the world's top tourist destination doesn't help matters. For another, most Paris metro lines lack air-conditioning-- positive from an ecological standpoint, but watch out for those summer steambaths (and grouchy travelers). To gripe just a bit longer, Paris public transportation is also notoriously lacking where accessibility to disabled visitors is concerned. Gymrats will...MORE rejoice at the endless tunnels and stairs that snake through the Paris underground, but after a day visiting the city, the lack of elevators or escalators in some stations can be a real headache.

    The good news? The Paris city government takes public transport very seriously, and every year a big chunk of the budget is reserved for improving traffic and passenger conditions in Paris trains, buses, and tramways. In the coming years, you can expect Paris public transportation to become more efficient, accessible and comfortable. Lots of new stations are also being added, making it easier than ever to get around.

    If you're a bit daunted by the metro, fear not: this guide will provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to help use Paris public transport with ease. Click through for more. 

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  • 02 of 08

    Tips for Riding the Metro, Bus and Tramway System With Ease

    The Paris metro system is relatively easy to get the hang of if you come armed with the right information. Here are some tips to help you navigate Paris public transport like a local (and avoid unnecessary frustration and claustrophobia).

    • Get yourself a metro map. These are available free of charge from any metro information booth, and can also be downloaded online. There's no use scurrying around underground trying to find your way. A map will do the trick.
    • Dislike carrying maps around? Some great free apps are now available for your smartphone, IPhone or tablet. I've used a variety of these and they all work well, but I especially recommend the RATP transport company's own app, downloadable here. If you have such a device, I strongly recommend getting armed with a good app before your trip.
       
    • Avoid riding the metro or RER (express trains) at rush hour (8:00-10:00 a.m.; 5:00-8:00 p.m.). During these times, opt to walk or take the bus. One word of warning, though: some bus...MORE lines are also swamped at these hours.
       
    • Metro lines 1, 2, 4, 11, 12, and 13 are generally the most overcrowded lines, especially at rush hour. Bus lines 38, 28, 68 and 62 are among the most cramped-- but they also service many of the city's most central areas.
       
    • Metro lines 6 and 2 run above-ground much of the way, sometimes offering impressive views of the city. Line 6 offers spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower near the Bir-Hakeim station. From line 2, a less striking view of the Sacre Coeur can be seen.
       
    • Learn to ride the RER when it makes sense. Many visitors to Paris never venture to take Paris' five higher-speed commuter trains, RER lines A, B, C, D, and E, which can get you to your destination much faster since they stop at far fewer stops than the Metro. The primary hub for outgoing and incoming RER trains is the Châtelet-Les Halles station. Other major hubs include Gare du Nord, St. Michel/Notre Dame, and Gare de Lyon.

      The RER, which is run by a different (public) company than the Paris Metro, can be a bit complicated at first, but the time gained is generally worth it. It takes roughly 20 minutes to get from Denfert-Rochereau in South Paris to Gare du Nord in the North. The same route by metro would often add at least ten minutes.

    • Consider purchasing a Paris Visite Pass. As I detail in my complete guide to the pass, it may be worth your while to buy this special ticket that allows you to ride freely on metro, RER, and buses and also allows entry to many popular Paris attractions. If you're planning on hitting several major museums and monuments on your trip, it's worth considering.
    • Save time: Book the Paris Visite Pass direct (via Rail Europe)
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  • 03 of 08

    Where to Buy Paris Metro, RER, Bus, and Tramway Tickets?

    Tickets and passes can be purchased at any metro, RER or tramway station, and when boarding buses. They are also available at Paris Tourist information centers around the city, and can sometimes be found at newsstands or tabacs (tobacco sellers).

    Something to keep in mind: when purchasing tickets from an automatic distributor in a Metro or RER station, only debit cards and coins are accepted in some stations-- if you have only bills you may need to purchase tickets from a vendor at the "Vente" (Sales) desk. Similarly, when boarding Paris buses, you'll need exact change. Remember that your metro ticket usually does not allow for transfers to the bus; you'll need to pay for a transfer by asking the bus driver. Tell the driver your destination when you board so he or she can charge the correct fare. If you plan to use the bus frequently, buy a "carnet" (packet) in advance from a metro station.

    You should also be aware that at metro stations with booths marked...MORE "Information", tickets are sold exclusively via self-service machines; the staff behind the window are there only to answer questions and provide information on schedules, routes, etc. Automated ticket vending machines are slated to completely replace the traditional system within the next few years. A helpful hint: you can change the interface language of the self-service ticket machines to English. This should make it easier to find the ticket/s you need, despite the machines' reputation for being a little less than user-friendly.

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  • 04 of 08

    Paris Metro Tickets and Passes - What Kind Should You Buy?

    Depending on the length of your stay, how much you'll use public transport, and whether you plan on day trips to places like the Chateau de Versailles or Disneyland Paris, you'll need to choose between single metro tickets or one of several passes. Below is a rundown of your options.

    Important: Never purchase tickets from vendors on the street or hovering around the entrance to stations; these tickets might be counterfeited and could cost you later in fines and/or extra time and money spent.

    • Standard "T+" Metro Tickets

      Good for: One metro, RER, bus, or tramway ride within Paris (zones 1-2 only), including transfers. You may transfer from the Metro to the RER, but you must use a second ticket to transfer between Metro/RER and buses or tramways. In the RER, you'll need your ticket to exit the station. Always keep your ticket in hand.

      Note that special tickets are required for buses and trains traveling to and from Paris airports.
      See Paris Airport Ground Transport for...MORE more details.

      Current Prices (May change at any time):

      • 1 ticket: €1.70
      • 10 tickets (full price): €13.30
      • 10 tickets (reduced price for children under the age of 10): €6.65

      Purchase if: You're staying for a short time and will use public transport sparingly. You don't plan to take day trips.
       
    • The Paris Visite Pass

      Good for: Unlimited travel in Paris (Metro, RER, bus, tramway, and regional SNCF trains) and the greater Paris region, for 1-5 days. Also provides special offers at select museums, attractions, and restaurants.

      Paris Visite Pass Prices: For a list of current fares and details on how to use the pass, see this page.

      Choose if: You want to travel extensively around the Paris region. Choose the zone 1-5 card to see Versailles or Disneyland Paris, and 1-8 for greater coverage.

      Save time: Buy the Paris Visite pass direct at Rail Europe
       

    • Daily and Weekly Passes:

      Good for: Similar to the Paris Visite pass, minus special offers.

      Prices:

      • One day pass ("Mobilis"): €6.60 to €15.65, depending on number of zones
      • Weekly pass: Approximately €20-€45 Euros, depending on number of zones

      Good for: Unlimited travel in and around Paris, minus frills

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  • 05 of 08

    Getting Oriented with the Metro: Lines, Routes, and Hours

    Metro Lines Explained

    The Paris metro has a total of 16 lines identifiable by number, color, and end-of-line names. For instance, line 4 is magenta, currently has 27 stations, and is called "Porte de Cligancourt/Mairie de Montrouge" because it runs from the Mairie de Montrouge station south of the city to Porte de Clignancourt in the north.

    Accordingly, you should always first figure out which direction you need to go relative to the line's endpoints. If you are at Chatelet and need to get to Odeon, you'd look at the map and see that Odeon is located south of Chatelet, toward Porte d'Orléans. This is important because once you take the metro in one direction, it's impossible to change directions without exiting the turnstile and going through again. This becomes a costly mistake if you have single tickets, rather than a weekly or monthly pass. In addition, certain lines (notably lines 7 and 13) fork in several different directions at key points, so make sure to...MORE check your destination carefully before getting on one of these trains, ensuring that the train you're boarding goes to your stop.

    Hours

    During normal operating times, the metro runs Mon.-Thurs. and Sun. from 5:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m., and Fri.-Sat. from 5:30 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. The same late services also run the night before a public holiday.

    To ensure you catch the last train, you should generally aim to arrive at the station approx. 30 minutes before closing, as final trains depart at different times depending on the station.

    Major Metro Lines

    • Line 1 ( La Défense/Château de Vincennes): Stops include Louvre, Champs-Elysées, Chatelet, Bastille.
       
    • Line 2 (Porte Dauphine/Nation): Stops include Anvers (Sacre Coeur), Gare du Nord, Champs-Elysées, Père-Lachaise
       
    • Line 3 (Pont de Levallois – Bécon/Gallieni): Stops include St. Lazare, République, Père-Lachaise
       
    • Line 4 (Porte de Clignancourt/Mairie de Montrouge): Stops include Chatelet, St. Michel, Montparnasse.
       
    • Line 5 (Bobigny – Pablo Picasso/Place d'Italie): Stops include Gare d'Austerlitz, Bastille, Place d'Italie
       
    • Line 6 (Charles de Gaulle-Etoile/Nation): Stops include Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse, Champs-Elysees.
       
    • Line 7 (La Courneuve – 8 Mai 1945/Mairie d'Ivry and Villejuif – Louis Aragon): Stops include Place d'Italie, Louvre, Opera. Make sure to check your destination along the southern axis as this line forks off in two.
       
    • Line 8 (Balard/Creteil): Central stops include Invalides, Opéra, Bastille
       
    • Line 9 (Pont de Sèvres/Mairie de Montreuil): Stops include Republique and Grands Magasins
       
    • Line 10 (Gare d'Austerlitz/Boulogne–Pont de Saint-Cloud): Stops include the Sorbonne and the Gare d'Austerlitz train station.
       
    • Line 11 (Châtelet/Mairie des Lilas): Stops include Chatelet and Republique.
       
    • Line 12 (Aubervillers-Front Populaire/Mairie d'Issy): Stops include Abbesses (Montmartre), Grands Magasins, Montparnasse
       
    • Line 13 (Saint-Denis – Université/ Asnières–Gennevilliers-Les Courtilles/Châtillon–Montrouge:) Stops include Invalides, St. Lazare. Make sure to check your destination carefully as these trains fork off in several directions.
       
    • Line 14 (Saint-Lazare/Olympiades): Stops include Chatelet, Gare de Lyon, Bibliothèque Nationale and the Saint-Lazare train station.

    Connecting to the RER (Commuter trains)

    Many tourists find the RER, Paris' commuter train system that's technically separate from the metro but connects at several points, confusing. If you need to use it-- and it will generally only be necessary when traveling to and from Paris airports or taking day trips (such as to Disneyland Paris or the Versailles Palace), make sure to first get a sense of how these trains work in tandem with the metro by navigating to the next page.

    Also see: Paris Metro Vocabulary and Useful Phrases

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  • 06 of 08

    The Paris RER: Lines, Routes, and Hours

    The RER, Paris' commuter train system, consists of five express trains that travel within Paris and the greater region (contrary to the metro, which stops just outside the city limits).

    Like the metro, RER lines are identifiable by letters and end-of-line names. However, the RER is more complicated than the metro because each line breaks into different directions at a certain point, making it easy to get lost (and waste funds and time) if you hop on the wrong train. To avoid surprises, check your direction carefully before boarding, and use the train itineraries located in RER stations to help you get oriented. If in doubt, ask for help. If you have a smartphone or tablet, consider installing a Paris Metro/RER app. Many are free, and are very handy to have so you can navigate what even locals often consider to be a confusing system.

    Another tricky point in riding the RER is getting the fares straight. The RER covers 8 zones within the Paris region, and if you travel further than your...MORE ticket or pass allows for, you can be fined. Make sure your metro ticket or pass covers the zones you need for the destination, and double-check your destination's zone with a ticket agent if need be before boarding.

    Remember that you'll need to conserve your ticket in order to exit most RER stations.

    RER Hours

    RER hours vary, but on average trains run from 5:15 a.m. to midnight or 12:30 a.m. For itineraries and hours, consult the RATP itinerary-finder page.

    Breakdown of RER Lines

    • Line A: Paris hubs are Chatelet-les-Halles and Gare de Lyon. This line runs west to La Défense and St. Germain en Laye; east to Marne la Vallée (Disneyland Paris)
       
    • Line B: Hubs at Gare du Nord, Chatelet, and St. Michel. This line runs north to Charles de Gaulle airport and south to Orly Airport (via the Orlyval train).
       
    • Line C: Hubs at St. Michel and the Eiffel Tower. Goes to Versailles southwest and also services northwest Paris suburbs .
       
    • Line D: Hubs at Chatelet, Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. Services north and south suburbs.
       
    • Line E: Hub at Gare du Nord. This line services the east suburbs.
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  • 07 of 08

    Paris Buses - Lines, Routes, and Hours

    When visiting Paris, trying to figure out how to use buses to get around the city can seem like a challenge. Yet the bus can be both more scenic and less claustrophobic than the metro or RER. Taking time to get familiar with the city's clean and pleasant buses can pay off. With a total of 59 lines operating, you can get just about anywhere the metro will take you-- and often to a wider variety of destinations.

    Travel Tip: If you're a disabled or elderly traveler, you may find taking the bus much easier: most are now equipped with ramps, unlike the metro which is still woefully inadequate where accessibility is concerned.

    Lines and Stops

    Bus stops are found all around the city and more often than not are hubs for several different lines. Recently, a majority of bus stops were equipped with electronic information systems that tell you when to expect the next bus. Neighborhood maps and bus routes are also displayed at most stations, as well as at Paris tourist information offices.

    Pari...MOREs buses are marked by double numbers and the name of the end of the line marked on the front. You can use T+ metro tickets or weekly and monthly passes to ride the bus, but if you've already used a single ticket in the metro, you can't transfer to the bus. You can, however, transfer between two buses without extra cost providing you do so within 90 minutes of boarding the first. Ask the driver to stamp ("valider") your ticket when you board the first bus.

    Using Buses to Tour the City?

    Certain bus routes are particularly scenic and can be a cheap alternative to Paris bus tours.

    Bus Hours

    Hours vary considerably, but major lines run from approximately 5:30 a.m. to midnight. Night buses run throughout the night (see below).

    For itineraries and hours, consult the RATP itinerary-finder page

    Bus Lines and Routes

    Interactive Paris Bus Map

    Paris Night Buses (Noctilien)

    Night owls rejoiced in 2006 when Paris inaugurated a new night bus system throughout the city and suburbs, making partying late much less of a pain. Buses leave from most spots around the city at intervals of 15-30 minutes.
    Find a nightbus itinerary

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  • 08 of 08

    The Paris Tramway - Lines, Routes, and Hours

    A 21st-Century Revival

    Paris had a tramway in the 19th century, which was subsequently dismantled and replaced with the metro. But a swelling city population and a need to connect Paris with its suburbs has led to the revival of the tramway in the city of light. With only one line, the T3 tram, running within Paris city limits, coverage is still limited and concerns mainly south Paris, but the tramway is expected to grow in the coming years.

    You can ride the tramway using regular metro tickets and passes.
    (See "Paris Metro Tickets and Passes" page for more info)

    For itineraries on the Paris tramway, consult the RATP itinerary-finder page.

    The T3 Tramway Line

    The T3 tramway line has stops in Paris' 13th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements, and connects to the southeast suburbs.
    The tramway stops at the following major stations (with some metro connections:)
    • Porte de la Chapelle (connects to M line 12)
    • Porte d'Ivry (connects to M Line 7)
    • Porte de Choisy (connects to M Line 7)
    • Porte...MORE d'Italie (connects to M Line 7)
    • Poterne des Peupliers
    • Stade Charlety
    • Cité Université (connects to the RER B line)
    • Montsouris (Parc Montsouris stop)
    • Porte d'Orleans (connects to M Line 4)
    • Jean Moulin
    • Didot
    • Porte de Vanves (connects to M Line 13)
    • Brancion
    • Georges Brassens
    • Porte de Versailles (Paris Convention Center); connects to M Line 12
    • Desnouettes
    • Balard (connects to M Line 8)
    • Pont de Garigliano (connects to RER C line)