Text: Claire Lessiau
In a nutshell, Paris is a megalopolis where traffic can be hectic, but a good amount of taxis and Ubers are efficient at times. Public transport and biking are often the best options to get around. Here are a few tips by a local to help you make the most of your trip to the City of Lights, detailing every mode of transport so that you can adapt!
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There are two airports around Paris: Charles de Gaulle (CDG) – mostly for international flights – and Orly (ORY) – mostly for domestic flights. Some low cost airlines fly to and from Beauvais airport located 50 miles north of Paris (not covered here).
Most likely, your first move will be to reach the city from the airport. Taxis, buses, or RER subways are the top choices (if you are staying in Paris, do not rent a car!). I have been stuck in a cab on the highway so often, thinking I should have taken the subway instead that, except if I am overloaded with luggage, I tend to always go for the RER subway. It is easy, there is only one line: the B line (light blue) toward Paris. You will need to purchase a ticket onsite at a vending machine or sales counter. Some trains are express and do not stop in the northern suburbs but only within Paris. The B line stops at Châtelet les Halles, the main subway hub of Paris from where you can connect easily to get anywhere you wish in the city.
The buses are roughly the same price as the subway, but you can get stuck in traffic. They connect to Opéra that is not as practical as Châtelet les Halles, so I would not recommend them unless you are staying around Opéra Haussman.
If you decide to take a taxi, it is well organized and there is a fixed rate to get into town, avoiding the old scams of circling three times around the ring road before making it to your hotel! Should you have a very early departure or late arrival (see schedules), the subway may not run, and taxis at these times are efficient as there is little traffic.
- Paris and the suburbs are divided into zones. Paris is zone 1, and as you move away from the city you get into zone 2, then 3, 4 (for the castle of Versailles), and 5 (EuroDisney).
- To get around within Paris and in very close proximity, the standard métro ticket t+ (ticket de métro) is valid for all of the métro stations and in zone 1 for the RER stations. It is also valid in all buses in and around Paris (but the airport buses Orlybus & Roissybus) and tramways. You can buy them as:
- single tickets,
- books of 10 (1 carnet): the ticket will be roughly 25% cheaper than if bought as a single,
- day-tickets for unlimited rides:
- You can buy unlimited rides for the day (from midnight to midnight), for a specific range of zones (mobilis travel pass). This is worth it only if you are planning on riding more than 5 times a day in Paris (zone 1-2). The pricing scheme makes it interesting for 1 day only.
- You can buy unlimited rides for 1 to 5 consecutive days (starting at midnight the first day to end at midnight on the last day), in zones 1 to 3 or 1 to 5 (including airports, EuroDisney and Château de Versailles), including discounts to some museums and attractions (Paris Visite travel pass).
- Tickets can be bought by credit cards or cash at any subway station (if there is no counter, there will be a vending machine).
- Make sure you keep your ticket with you once validated (it will be required if you are controlled, and necessary to exit in the RER).
- None of the tickets have an expiration date. Just make sure you don’t keep them by your cell phone as they will get de-magnetized and won’t work anymore. If this happens, go to the info or sales counter where they will be replaced for you for free.
- Make sure you download the RATP app to navigate on your phone and access the public transport network map.
- Public transport network maps are available for free at any subway station: just ask at the info or sales counter (“un plan de métro s’il vous plaît“).
- The métro runs from 5:30 a.m. until 1:15 a.m. every day, but for Friday and Saturday nights when it runs until 2:15 a.m.
- The bus runs from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. and the night bus (noctilien) runs from 8:30 p.m. until 5:30a.m.
- This is the most used mean of transport by Parisians. It is fast and thanks to its close to 300 stations and 200 kilometers of tracks (being expanded even more), it gets you within 500 meters of anywhere you want in town!
- At peak hours, the frequency of the métro is very high as there is one departing every 2 minutes in the station!
- Every line is defined by its number and color, while the first and last stops on the line indicate the direction of the métro. So if you hop on the yellow line 1, you go either toward Château de Vincennes or La Défense.
- There is no express métro: the métro always stops at every station along the line (except if there is construction work that is then announced by speaker often in French, English, Spanish, German and Chinese).
Buses are a great way to get around while witnessing the Parisian life. Bus lanes ensure that you won’t get stuck (too much!) in traffic.
- You must validate your ticket on the machine by the doors of the bus when you hop on in the front.
- If you want to hop on a bus, and if you don’t have tickets, it’s OK: you can buy a ticket in cash from the driver. But this ticket will be valid only for that specific trip on that specific bus, and you won’t be able to use it if you connect with another bus. It will also be slightly more expensive (about 10 to 15% more than a single bought at a subway station).
- When you validate a regular ticket (bought at a subway station) in a bus, it will be valid for 90 minutes on the whole bus network (excluding the bus numbers you validated it on: so you can’t take the same bus number twice with the same ticket).
- When you connect with the same ticket in another bus, remember to validate your ticket again.
- To estimate the duration of your trip, count about 5 minutes per bus stop.
- At night and on weekends, the frequency of the buses is less.
- The line number and the direction of the bus are indicated in the front and on the sides of the bus, and inside the bus above the driver.
RER: getting out of Paris (Versailles, EuroDisney, airports…):
- To get out of Paris, you will need to ride the RER subway (express train) and buy a specific ticket for that specific destination (you may want to buy the roundtrip to not have to wait twice). For instance, to visit Versailles, you will need to buy a ticket to “Versailles Château”. You can depart from (and get back to) any station within the Paris city limits.
- The same applies to the airports as detailed previously.
Paris was one of the first cities to implement a bike-sharing system. Hop on a bike from any bike station, ride, drop off your bike at another station, and visit around. It is a great way of discovering Paris, especially when it is sunny!
- Vélib’ comes in 2 colors: the blue bikes are electric (remember that in France, 75% of electricity is nuclear – so work out instead!) and the green ones are mechanical.
- If you decide to use this service, the Vélib’ app is a must. It points to the docking stations and the availability of bikes or parking spots.
- The easiest way is to use the V-découverte plan: you get charged to use the service for 24 hour, and then you get charged per the half hour of usage after the first 30 minutes that are free.
- Be careful, there are more and more bike paths, but you have probably heard the reputation of Parisian drivers! And especially bus and taxi drivers with whom bikers share some lanes… Make sure you are respectful yourself of other users of the road as well as pedestrians.
- This system works 24/7: the subway stops at night, and night buses are not that nice to ride, so it is always a good method to get back home late!
- The vélib stations are also shown on maps.me!
- Free floating bikes are also available but not with the same availability as Vélib’ and many get damaged.
Taxis & Uber & other ride-booking services:
Outside rush hours (that when you drive seem to last longer and longer), hopping in a cab or similar is an efficient and safe way to get back to your place. Traffic is fluid at night and very early in the morning (it gets busy on the ring road starting at 7a.m.).
- Despite a bad reputation, Parisian cab drivers have improved their standards thanks to the competition with Uber and other ride-booking services.
- Most of the time, they take credit cards, even though they don’t like it too much… So take some cash with you as well.
- One of the biggest cab companies in Paris is Taxi G7 that you can book online, with their free app or by phone.
- Still, my years riding cabs push me to use ride-booking services. I tend to go for Marcel that is a French start up compensating the carbon emissions and being more ethical with its drivers over Uber that still has the best availability.
These are becoming more and more popular to get around with over a dozen of services in the streets in Paris. However, many accidents have pushed the authorities to redefine the rules, and the law enforcement personnel is inflexible. These services operate in very similar ways: download their app to locate a floating electric scooter near you; to unlock it and start your ride, scan the QR code of the scooter with your app; and lock it back once you are done after parking it responsibly. Costs are pretty similar too. Given the maze of offers, the city hall of Paris has started a call for tenders to appoint 3 companies to manage 15,000 electric scooters in Paris. In the meantime, we recommend Pony, a French startup offering high-quality electric scooters and developing an interesting decentralized ownership concept.
The most beautiful avenue of Paris is the Seine River! The Batobus goes from the Eiffel Tower to the Jardin des Plantes, stopping 9 times and covering many Parisian landmarks. Count about 2 hours for the full loop. You need to buy a pass for 24 hours, 48 hours or the year at a Batobus stop or online. The boats operate from 10 a.m. until and 9:30 p.m. in peak season and run every 20 to 25 minutes.
Renting a car:
If you are staying in Paris or the close suburb, do not rent a car!
Parking is horrendous and very pricey, traffic a nightmare, directions tricky if you do not know the city well, Parisian drivers aggressive (I am one: I know what I’m talking about ;-)), and between motor bikers, cyclists, and pedestrians systematically ignoring their red lights driving can be a nerve wrecking experience!
Many means of transportation are available in Paris, and most often a combination of them is the most efficient way to accomplish all your daily missions. A great app to have is CityMapper as it takes into account multimodal transportation and real time updates. Now, the best way to take it in is often walking…
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)!
For more in Paris, click on these images: