My first introduction to Paris was in the back of a shuttle van from the Orly airport to our hotel. And what I saw made me absolutely certain that I never wanted to drive a car in Paris. Fortunately for the average tourist there is no reason to drive through the city of the Paris; the public transportation system is excellent and will serve to get you wherever you are going.
While the metro system can get you anywhere in the city that also means it is quite large and can be confusing to new visitors, particularly if like me you don’t know French. There are subways, rail lines, and busses, all with different colors and numbers making confusing transfers and crossing 5 zones.
There are two keys to successfully riding the Paris metro as a tourist, the first is to get the right tickets for your trip and the second is to use the metro app if you have a smartphone. Note that you can use the app even if you do not have a cellular connection while you are in France.
The first thing to do is make sure that you get the right tickets for what you will be doing in Paris. In order to do this you will need to know how long you are staying for and what sites you are going to visit. The best option for most tourists will be the Paris Visite pass. These passes come in options of 1, 2, 3, or 5 days for either Zones 1-3 or Zones 1-5. The pass will give you unlimited rides on the entire metro system for the designated number of days and zones you choose.
For example, when we were there we knew we would be touring for 3 days and that we would want to see the sites in the main area of the city and get back and fourth to our hotel, this would involve travel in Zones 1-3, but we also know that we wanted to go visit Versailles on one of the days which meant we would need to travel to zone 5. So we got the Paris Visite 3 day pass for zones 1-5.
There is supposed to be a way to purchase tickets online but I am not sure where you pick them up if you do that. Most people purchase tickets from a tickets machine in the metro stations. Be aware when using the machines that if you don’t speak French you will need to use a machine that lets you choose the language. These will normally be marked with a British flag on them. Once you have a machine you can understand getting the tickets is a fairly simple process of following the on screen directions.
Warning: the ticket machine we used would not take our Visa cards, we don’t know why but we had to use cash Euros to finally get our passes. So even if you plan to use a card to purchase them make sure you have enough cash on hand to purchase them if needed. At least at our station the people at the window could not sell tickets so the machine was the only way.
When you do get your tickets you will find that they are very small, just about half an inch wide. We were really worried that we would lose them, but fortunately we didn’t. You only need them when entering a metro station or getting on a bus, not when exiting or getting off. Keep them someplace safe when you are not using them.
Make sure that you download the app before you get to Paris. This is especially true if you are not going to have cell service while you are in Paris, but is good practice even if you are. Once you have the app downloaded on your phone make sure you open it so that it can download the offline maps for you.
In the app you will most often use the option at the top of the main screen to get direction to a specific location. All of the main tourist attractions are in the app, if you need to get somewhere else such as a restaurant or hotel it is easiest to just find out which metro stop is nearest to it and navigate to that.
If you are planning your days and you want to know how to get from one spot to another, or if your GPS is not working, you can hit the plus sign below the destination bar to get the full options.
Other Things to Know:
- The Paris metro, like all metros, gets very crowded when people are going or coming from work, or if there is a major sporting event. If you don’t like to stand close to people try to avoid riding the metro at these times.
- Also like most metros the Paris trains are home to pick pockets so stay aware of your surroundings and secure your belongings while riding.
- In metro stations where several lines meet you should follow the numbered colored circles for the train you are transferring to, these will be on signs above your head. In some stations there will also be footprints on the ground in the color of the different trains.
- Be aware that a down arrow means straight in France, this took me a lot of getting use to.
- Always make sure you know where the line you are looking for terminates in the direction you are going because you will need that information to know which side of the tracks you should be on.