Getting Around Paris: Guide to Public Transportation

Learn to Use the Paris Metro, Bus, RER & Tramway System With Zero Stress

Paris metro station with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Julian Elliott Photography/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Paris boasts one of the world's safest and most efficient public transportation systems. While the metro subway system is extensive, it's generally safe and easy to use once you familiarize yourself with it a bit. Trains usually arrive on time; buses are well-appointed and spacious, and commuter express ("RER") trains service the city's most important stops in record time. What's not to love?

There are admittedly a few things that travelers can find confusing or downright unnerving about the French capital's transportation system. For one thing, trains and buses are more often than not overcrowded — and Paris' status as one of the world's most-visited cities doesn't help matters. For another, many metro lines lack air-conditioning — positive from an ecological standpoint, but watch out for those summer steambaths (and grouchy travelers). Public transportation here is also notoriously lacking where accessibility to disabled visitors is concerned.

Gym rats may 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. Parents with young children or strollers may find this point particularly frustrating.

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.

Keep reading to learn how to navigate Paris public transport them like a pro, including advice on the best tickets and passes, plotting your trip, safety and more.

Riding the Paris metro doesn't have to be stressful.
Izzet Keribar/Lonely Planet Images/Getty

How to Ride the Paris Metro: Tips & Tricks

  • The Paris metro system has a total of 16 lines identifiable by number, color, and end-of-line names. These will help you figure out whether you're heading in the right direction and assist in planning line transfers.
  • For example, line four is magenta, currently has 27 stations, and is called "Porte de Clignancourt/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 check your destination carefully before getting on one of these trains, ensuring that the train you're boarding goes to your stop.

    Hours of Operation

    • During normal operating times, the metro runs Monday through Thursday and Sunday from 5:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m., and Friday and Saturday 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 approximately 30 minutes before closing, as final trains depart at different times depending on the station.
    • Certain metro lines open all night long for certain holidays and city events, including New Year's Eve and the October museum and exhibitions event known as Nuit Blanche (White Night). If participating in these events, check the official Paris public transportation authority website for more information.

      Safety on Paris' Public Transportation

      The metro and other public transport is generally safe, but pickpockets operate on many lines. Keep your wits about you and your valuables close to your person. See this page for more information on traveling safely, including advice on what to do in case of an incident or emergency.

      Accessibility

      • Only certain Paris metro lines are accessible. If you have disabilities or limited mobility, check the box for accessible itineraries at this page.
      • Onboard trains, passengers are obligated to give up their seats to travelers with disabilities, elderly passengers, pregnant women or passengers traveling with small children. Don't hesitate to ask for a seat if you need one, and remember to look out for any travelers who may have difficulty standing, offering them your seat.
      Where to buy tickets for the Paris metro?
      kiszon pascal/Moment/Getty Images

      Where to Buy Paris Metro Tickets

      You can buy tickets and passes for Parisian public transportation networks 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 vendors).

      • 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.
      • 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 can change the interface language of the self-service ticket machines to English. This should make it easier to find the tickets you need, despite the machines' reputation for being a little less than user-friendly.

      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, packs of tickets (called "carnets"), or one of several useful transport passes. Below is a rundown of your options and some tips on how to choose the right one. 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 extra time and money spent.

      Standard "T+" Metro Tickets

      • These tickets are 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.
      • Special tickets are required for buses and trains traveling to and from Paris airports. See our Paris airport ground transport guide for more details.
      • Buy these if you're staying for a short time and will use public transport sparingly. You don't plan to take day trips.
      • As of June 2019, a single ticket costs 1.90 euros, while a bus ticket purchased onboard is 2 euros. A package of 10 carnets may be purchased for 14.90 euros, or 7.45 euros for children under 10.

      The Paris Visite Pass: For Unlimited Travel

      • This pass is good for unlimited travel in Paris (Metro, RER, bus, tramway, and regional SNCF trains) and the greater Paris region, for up to five days. Also provides special offers at select museums, attractions, and restaurants. For a list of current fares and details on how to use the pass, see this page.
      • Choose this pass if you're planning to travel extensively around the greater Paris region. Choose the zone 1-5 card to see Versailles or Disneyland Paris, and 1-8 for greater coverage. As we explain in our 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.

        Daily and Weekly Passes

        • These passes are good for unlimited travel in and around Paris, but do not include some of the perks that the Paris Visite pass does.
        • A one-day pass starts at 7.50 euros, depending on the number of zones, while weekly passes start at 20 euros.

        For more information on using the Paris Metro system, see the local transport authority RATP's official website (in English). You can download free maps, search timetables and plan your itinerary, as well as find information on current rates, network issues and other information.

        An RER commuter-line train in Paris
        Moovit App/Creative Commons 2.0/Flickr

        How to Ride the Paris RER (Commuter-Line) Train System

        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). The RER can get you to your destination much faster since it stops 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.

        RER Lines, Routes, and Hours

        Like the metro, RER lines are identifiable by letters (A through E) 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. Follow these tips to make your journey go more smoothly:

        • 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 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 if in any doubt, double-check your destination's zone and required fare with a ticket agent before boarding.
        • Remember that you'll need to save your ticket in order to exit most RER stations.

        Hours of Operation

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

        Taking a city bus can be a great, inexpensive way to go sightseeing in Paris.
        Mariodo59/Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license

        How to Ride the Bus in Paris

        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 64 lines operating within the Parisian city limits, you can get just about anywhere the metro will take you — and often to a wider variety of destinations.

        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.

        Paris 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: An Inexpensive Alternative

        Certain bus routes are particularly scenic and can be a cheap alternative to Paris bus tours. You can see an map of bus lines in Paris here.

          Hours of Operation

          Hours vary considerably, but major lines run from approximately 5:30 a.m. to midnight. 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 to 30 minutes.

          Courtesy of the RATP  

          How to Ride the Tramway in Paris

          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.

          The city now has a total of eight tramway lines running within Paris' city limits, mostly around the outer bounds and numbered T1 through T8.

          • You can ride the tramway using regular metro tickets and passes, and it can be a nice way to see the city from above-ground and experience some of the capital's lesser-known areas.
          • On the downside, trams almost never serve the city's big-ticket tourist attractions. This isn't the mode of transport most visitors will end up privileging, unless you choose to stay near the outer limits of the city.
          • For itineraries on the Paris tramway, consult the RATP itinerary-finder page. Please note that you cannot purchase tram tickets on board, but tram stations are equipped with ticket vending machines.
            Taxi sign in Paris
            Wikimedia Commons 

            Taking a Taxi in Paris

            Many tourists wonder when or whether to take a taxi in Paris. The short answer is that you won't usually need to-- unless you have special needs owing to a disability or limited mobility, or you don't like walking or taking public transportation.

            If you do choose to take a taxi, make sure to keep these tips in mind:

            • Never get in a taxi or agree to a ride unless it is equipped with a red and white "Taxi Parisien" sign on its rooftop and has a visible meter inside. Scams are common, and it can also be unsafe — especially for women traveling alone — to accept a ride without verifying the status of the driver.
            • For short fares, drivers often prefer cash. For longer rides (e.g., across town or to the airport, Visa and MasterCard are generally accepted. It is unusual for cabs to accept American Express and traveler's checks are not generally accepted. Ask the driver before agreeing to a ride what forms of payment are allowed
            • Don't hesitate to give your driver a desired route. Be aware, however, that it is not unusual for drivers to have minimal English. Loading a map on a digital device and showing them your preferred route or destination can be helpful.
            • At rush hour and during peak tourist months, traffic can be quite heavy. It may end up taking quite a bit longer to travel by taxi — which is why many tourists opt against it.

            Getting Around by Bike in Paris

            Courtesy of Velib' 

            If you enjoy getting around by bike, you may wonder whether it's a good idea to attempt to do so during your stay in the French capital. While Paris does have a bike rental scheme called Velib', it has numerous downsides:

            • Helmets, which are highly recommended, are not provided, so you'll have to bring or buy one yourself.
            • Cycling lanes do exist in the city, but are inconsistent and safety conditions are often less than optimal for bikers, even experienced urban cyclists.
            • The payment scheme for Velib' isn't especially well adapted to travelers, especially for short visits.

            For all these reasons, we don't generally recommend Velib' to tourists. However, many tour companies offer guided bike and segway tours around the city, including fun night tours. They generally provide helmets, know the best and safest routes to take, and watch out for visitors' general safety and well-being.

            More Tips for Getting Around Paris

            Paris is a relatively easy city to get around if you arrive armed with the right information. Here are some tips to help you navigate public transport like a local — and avoid unnecessary frustration and claustrophobia en route.

            • Get a decent 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 through the underground tunnels struggling to find your way. A map will do the trick.
            • Some great free apps are now available for your smartphone, iPhone or tablet. The RATP transport company's own app, downloadable here, works well.
            • Avoid riding the metro or RER (express trains) at rush hour, if you can. During these times, opt to walk or take the bus. One word of warning, though: some bus 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 to. Many visitors to Paris never set foot on board Paris' five higher-speed commuter trains, but they can be a boon if you need to traverse the city quickly from one point to the next. The RER is also quite useful if you're planning on taking a day trip to destinations including Disneyland Paris, Versailles, or the large park and "wood" known as the Bois de Vincennes.
            • Take advantage of extended Metro hours on weekend nights. While the last trains arrive at their final stop by 1:15 am at the latest between Sunday to Thursday, on Friday, Saturday and the evening before public holidays many lines run until 2:15 am. See the RATP timetables for full hours and schedules.
            • Taxis can be a more time-consuming — and far more costly — way to get around. Especially in the city center and during rush hours, you can expect taxi trips to take quite a bit longer than metro and even bus journeys. Buses often have dedicated lanes, while metro, RER and tramway lines avoid surface traffic altogether.
            • In some cases, walking may be your best bet for a quick and more stimulating journey from one point to the next. Don't automatically hop on the metro or bus to your next destination. Instead, use Google Maps, a street map or the RATP Itinerary planner to check whether walking would actually be speedier. It's almost guaranteed to be more interesting — and you'll get some fresh air, too.
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