Travelling on the Paris Metro
No trip to Paris would be complete without travelling a few stops on the Paris Metro. Indeed, it would be hard to see much of Paris without using the Metro at some point.
Metro ? RER ?
The Paris area mass transit system is run by RATP (Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). Most of it is underground and includes central Paris, the suburbs (banlieu) and as far as the airports. Since the first Metro line opened, it has expanded to 16 lines, 303 stations, and four RER (Réseau Express Régional) lines where larger trains transport you quickly from the centre of Paris to the suburbs and the two Paris airports – Charles de Gaulle, and Orly. The RER also extends west to the Palais de Versailles. The average distance between Metro stations is approximately 500m, or just 90 seconds travel time, making the Metro the quickest way for anyone to get around Paris be they full time resident or tourists visiting the City of Light.
Finding Your Metro Station
The Metro stations are clearly indicated above ground. They can be found close to all Paris monuments and points of interest. The entrances are easily recognized having two classsic designs. One features a classic dark iron column with a red “METRO” sign at the top. Our favourite though is the classic nouveau art designed by Hector Guimard in 1900. It has two elegant ironwork lamp-posts looking for all the world like plant stems with an orange lamp on top. They support a Metropolitan sign between them and are a very distinctive feature of the Parisian landscape.
The classic Art Noveau Metro station sign
Which Tickets Do I Need ?
We would strongly recommend you think about the things you may like to do in Paris while enjoying breakfast in your hotel before you venture into a Metro station. Are you likely to use the bus or do you have time for a Bateau Mouche riverboat trip on the River Seine? Will you travel further afield perhaps to visit the beautiful Versailles Palace ? Or do you only have a few days and prefer to zip around on the metro? It’s worthwhile thinking about this so you know which tickets to buy when you get to your first Metro station. They can be very busy at times and we’d recommend knowing exactly which tickets you want before you get there. We have an detailed guide to all the tickets available to you. Parisians can be as impatient as New Yorkers or Londoners when they want to get places and there’s a tourist holding them up. Uncertain tourists can also be easy targets for pickpockets in Paris much as they can be in any big city. So work out what you want to buy before you get there.
Art et Metiers Metro station in Paris
T+ Metro tickets. The purple ink stripe across the bottom means it’s been used.
The Metro is inexpensive. If you are in Paris for a day or two, purchase a Carnet of tickets, which is basically 10 loose tickets (T+ tickets) that can be shared among your group. The cost is €14,50 ($18) for the ten tickets. This is quite a saving because one individual ticket would cost €1,90. Children under 4 travel free and those age 4 to 10 years can have their own Carnet of 10 tickets for half price. Each ticket is valid for 90 minutes across the whole metro system and Region 1 of the RER. You can use these tickets on the bus system above ground as well as the Metro and RER. Please note though that once you leave a Metro or RER station your tickets expires so you’d need another ticket to hop on a bus to get to your final destination. Same goes if you use a bus to get to a Metro station. You can’t then use the same ticket for the Metro part of the journey.
The Paris Visite
For more intrepid travelers there is the Paris Visite card. This is an unlimited tourist pass that can be purchased for one, two, three or five days. There are different versions of the Paris Visite card, depending on how far out of Paris you are planning to travel. Again, children under 4 travel for free, and there are half price Paris Visite cards for children age 4-10. One of the benefits of the Paris Visite card is that it offers discounts on boat cruises and other tourist attractions, so bear this in mind when deciding which type of ticket you need to purchase for your days in the city.
How Do I Buy My Tickets ?
Tickets can be purchased from automated machines in the main lobby of each Metro station. These machines accept bank cards and cash. There is usually a staff member around to provide assistance. One word of warning though, some of these Metro station lobbies are small, busy areas with commuters and tourists hurrying in and out. When pulling out your wallet or purse to retrieve your cash or bank card, take care to protect yourself from a random pickpocket attack. Hesitant tourists fumbling with foreign money or delving into a bag to find a bank card are easily spotted by opportunist thieves and like all other cities, Paris is not immune. Just show the same care as you would in any other big city back home.
How Do I Use My Ticket ?
The ticket is validated by putting it through the turnstile machine which you’ll find in the entrance to all Metro stations, retrieving the ticket as you walk through the barrier. There is also a pad for contact-less cards. If you are using individual tickets from a Carnet, hold on to your ticket as random checks are made on Metro trains. You do not need the ticket to exit the metro station.
The Metro is only one part of an integrated transport system that links central Paris and the immediate area. With a choice of Metro, railway, buses and trams you’re spoilt for choice. You also have quite a few ticket options.
Tickets and Carnet can be purchased from ticket machines at every Metro station.
“Paris is always a good idea”
Navigating the Metro – How do I Find my Line ?
The key to using the Metro system successfully is knowing that you always look for the number of the line you need, then the Terminus or end station on that line. The terminus determines your direction of travel and the platform you need to be on. This is unlike the London Underground system, where the lines have their own names with directions (Central line, westbound) and the New York Subway, where lines are indicated by letters or numbers (Line 2, uptown). Something I learnt on my first trip to Paris when I didn’t know this so got rather lost until I got my bearings ! Therefore, if you are travelling towards say the Arc de Triomphe from Sacre Coeur, using Line 2, you would follow the signs for Ligne 2 Porte Dauphine to guide you in the right direction. There are large Metro maps posted in every station lobby and on each platform, and it is also handy to have a pocket map to consult when above ground.
You never have to wait long for a Metro train. There are 303 metro stations and the trains come every 3 minutes on average. You may have to wait longer during a weekend evening, but this will rarely be for more than 5 minutes. Because the metro system is dense and the stations are close together, the time between each station is roughly only 90 seconds. Unlike the London Underground system, the trains on each Metro line shuttle from one end to the other, there are no branches where a train may split off on another line half way along and take you to a different terminus station than the one you expected to go to.
Don’t forget – your ticket once stamped on entry is valid for your entire journey – even if that means heading off in the wrong direction, realising your mistake , getting off and heading back in the right direction ! As long as you’re still inside a Metro station your ticket is still valid and you don’t need to buy another ticket.
If you are travelling from Monmartre to see the Arc de Triomphe on Line 2 look out for Porte Dauphine as the terminus.
If you are changing to another Metro line, look instead for the sign Correspondances and the line numbers that intersect with that station. As you follow the Correspondances sign, you will see new signs giving the Terminus stations of the intersecting lines (where they actually go to). Know which one you need for the next part of your trip, and follow that Terminus sign.
Some Metro stops are more complicated due to the number of lines that intersect and therefore the volume of Metro travellers. For example, try and avoid Chatelet-Les Halles at rush hour as you can walk for miles, hustled along with thousands of other commuters, to get from one line to another if you need to change there. There are 5 Metro lines and 3 RER lines which intersect at this station, making it the world’s largest metro station.
Republique is another large metro station where 5 lines intersect. It is quite difficult to avoid changing at Republique at some point during your stay in Paris, especially if you are staying to the eastern side of the city, or arriving/departing via mainline train. Republique is close to most of the main line stations (Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare Saint Lazare)
If you can navigate the Chatelet Metro station you’re a Metro maestro !
Getting on and Off the Metro
Doors open and close automatically and a loud horn sounds when the doors are about to close. That said there are still a few of the older trains that have a handle on the door which you need to pull up once the train has stopped if you want the doors to open. Paris is a busy capital city, filled not just with tourists but with commuters too, so be prepared for people to fling themselves into the train at the last moment!
Some Metro trains still have a handle to open the door at stations. It just lifts up.
Leaving the Metro
When you reach your station, look for the sign saying “SORTIE” and this will lead you to the exit from the station. At the busier locations there may be more than one exit, especially at the main tourist sites. Just wait for a moment, get your bearings and work out which exit to head for. It might look like everyone knows exactly where they are going. Not true – there are a lot of tourists in central Paris all trying to work out which exit they need. We’re fortunate in having visited Paris many times but we still stand wondering which exit we need to take !
You will not need your metro ticket to exit, so no need to fumble in your pocket for the “used” ticket which can be discarded. You might find it useful to keep unused in one pocket and put your used tickets in the bin or another pocket to keep them seperate. To get out you will pass through some mechanical metal gates and can then climb up and out into the world of Paris above you!
Follow the Sortie signs to leave the Metro station
Inspired by France is a small family run business/blog . We have lived and worked in France at various times in our life and hope to spend a lot more time there in the future.
We love all things French ranging from film, music and literature to the simple pleasures of French cooking and the odd glass of wine. We want to share our love of France with other France fanatics !