Finding an Address
The river Seine divides Paris into the Rive Droite (Right Bank) to the north and the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) to the south. You can figure out which is which if you face west. (Figuring out which way is west is another problem.) Paris is divided into 20 municipal districts called arrondissements, which spiral out clockwise starting with the 1st, which is the geographical center of the city. It’s not easy to figure out without a map, so we strongly suggest that you invest in some version of “Paris par Arrondissement,” a small book of maps showing the streets, Métro, and bus routes that costs around 7€. Our personal favorite is “Paris Pratique par Arrondissment,” which has a bus and metro map for each arrondissement, and shows where the Velib’ stands are. And there are, of course, dozens of good map apps for Paris if you prefer using your phone—though Wi-Fi doesn’t always work as well as it should in public spaces.
By Public Transport
For everything you ever wanted to know about the city’s public transport, visit the RATP (www.ratp.fr; [tel] 34-24 in France). Paris and its suburbs are divided into five travel zones, but you’ll probably only be concerned with zones 1 and 2, which cover the city itself.
RATP tickets are valid on the Métro, bus, tram and RER. You can buy tickets at the window (if you are lucky—ticket booths are an endangered species) or from machines at most Métro entrances. The machines take coins and chip-enabled credit cards only. So if you don’t have one of those, you can also buy tickets from some cafes that have a TABAC sign outside. A single ticket costs 1.90€ and a carnet of 10 tickets costs 14.50€ . Children 4 to 9 years old pay half-price; kids under 4 ride free. A special transit pass for tourists called Paris Visite offers unlimited travel in zones on bus, Métro, and RER, and discounts on some attractions, but aside from the ease of having an unlimited pass to jump on and off buses and Métros, its usefulness is limited. Remember, Paris is a relatively small city, and you’ll probably end up walking a lot. In the end a cheaper carnet of 10 tickets does the trick just fine. Not only that, unlike a pass, a carnet can be shared with your fellow travelers. Next, there is the cost (high): A 1-day adult pass for zones 1 to 3 costs 11.65€ , a 2-day pass 18.95€ , a 3-day pass 25.85€ , and a 5-day pass 37.25€ . It is also possible to buy even more expensive passes for zones 1 to 5, which will also get you to both Versailles and the airport.
However, if a transit pass if what you are after, there are other options that serve the same purpose and are less expensive, even if they don’t include Paris Visite’s minimal discounts to some attractions. First there is the slightly cheaper 1-day Mobilis ticket, which offers unlimited travel in zones 1 up to 5; a pass for zones 1 and 2 costs 7.30€ . Travelers under 26 can buy a Ticket Jeunes, a 1-day ticket that can be used on a Saturday, Sunday, or bank holiday and provides unlimited travel in zones 1 to 3 for 4€ or zones 1 to 5 for 8.70€ . If you’re staying for a week or longer and will be doing a lot of buzzing around, it may be worth getting the Navigo Découverte (www.navigo.fr), a swipe card that you can buy at certain Métro or train stations for 5€ . You must provide a passport photo, but once you have the card it offers unlimited travel in the relevant zones. The weekly tariff (which runs Mon–Sun) for zones 1 to 5 is 22.15€ . That includes going to and from the airport, and transport for day trips such as Versailles or Fontainbleau, so it could quickly pay off. If your trip fits into a Mon–Sun schedule, this 7-day card is substantially cheaper than a 5-day Paris Visite card.
BY MÉTRO (SUBWAY)
The city’s first Métro, or subway, was at the apex of high tech when it was inaugurated on July 19, 1900, and over a century later, it still functions very well. Its biggest problem is not actually technical, but political: Subway workers are fond of strikes (grèves) and periodically instigate slowdowns or complete shutdowns of a few lines. Usually, strikes are merely annoying and most of the time your route will not be affected, though your trip might take a little longer than normal. If you see the euphemism “Movement Social” on the TV monitor as you enter the station, read the message carefully to see if your line is involved (low groans and cursing by ticket holders are also good indicators of strike activity).
Strikes aside, the Métro is usually efficient and civilized, especially if you avoid rush hour (7:30–9:30am and 6–8pm). It’s generally safe at night, and you don’t need to worry about taking it at 3am because you can’t. Alas, when people dolefully talk about “The Last Métro,” they’re usually not discussing a movie by François Truffaut. Instead, they’re referring to a fact of Parisian life: Your evening out must be carefully timed so that you can run to the station before the trains shut down between midnight and 1am. To ease your pain, the transit authority has recently added an extra hour on weekends, so now the Métro closes around 2am on Friday, Saturday, and pre-holiday evenings. The suburban trains (the RER, see below) close down around the same time (without the weekend bonus hour).
Most Métro lines ramble across the city in anything but a straight line, connecting at strategic points where you can transfer from one to the other. A map is essential (pick one up at any ticket window, or take a look at the one on the inside back cover of this book); for a good app, download the one by the RATP, or ViaNavigo, which covers the whole Paris region. The key is to know both the number of the line and its final destination. So if you are on the no. 1 line (direction La Défense) and you want to transfer at the enormous Châtelet station to get to St-Michel, at Châtelet you’ll need to doggedly follow the signs to the no. 4, direction Mairie de Montrouge.
Your only underground express choice is the RER (pronounced “ehr-euh-ehr”), the suburban trains that dash through the city making limited stops. The down sides are (a) they don’t run as often as the Métro, (b) they’re a lot less pleasant, and (c) they’re hard to figure out since they run on a different track system and the same lines can have multiple final destinations. Important: Make sure to hold on to your ticket because you’ll need it to get out of the turnstile on the way out. To check your destinations, check the departure boards (or screens) on the quays: The stops served by the next train are either listed or lit up.
Thanks to a new network of dedicated bus lanes, buses can be an efficient way to get around town, and you’ll get a scenic tour to boot. The majority start running around 6am and stop anywhere from 9:30pm to midnight; service is reduced on Sundays and holidays. You can use Métro tickets on the buses or you can buy tickets directly from the driver (2€ ). Alas, you can’t re-use a ticket you’ve used on the Métro on the bus, even if you’re within the 2-hour time limit. You can, however, re-use the same ticket you’ve used on the bus on a tram (and vice versa). Tickets need to be validated in the machine next to the driver’s cabin.
Inside the bus, the next stop is usually written on an electronic panel on the ceiling of the bus. Press the red button when you want to get off.
After the bus and Métro services stop running, head for the Noctilien night bus (www.transilien.com/static/noctilien). The 47 lines crisscross the city and head out to the suburbs every half-hour or so from 12:30 to 5:30am. Tickets cost the same as for the regular bus.
Over the past decade, Paris has added eight new tramway lines, with extensions and new lines in progress. These tramway lines connect Paris with its suburbs; within Paris they run along the outer circle of boulevards that trace the city limits. Tickets are the same price as the Métro.
Cycling in Paris has been revolutionized by the hugely successful Velib’ bike rental scheme launched in 2007 (the name comes from vélo, meaning “bicycle,” and liberté, meaning “freedom”). It takes a little effort for a tourist to sign up, but it’s worth it to see Paris on two wheels (see box below).
Alternatively, you can rent a bike from Paris à vélo, c’est sympa!, 22 rue Alphonse Baudin (www.parisvelosympa.com; [tel] 01-48-87-60-01; Métro: St-Sébastien-Froissart or Richard Lenoir). Rentals for a regular bicycle cost 12€ for half a day and 15€ for a full day, but they do require a safety deposit of at least 250€, depending on the type of bike you rent. If you’re feeling extra lazy, there are also electric bikes from 20€ for half a day.
Velib’—A Great Way to Cycle Around Paris
“Ride a bike around Paris,” you ask. “Are you nuts?” Yes and no. True, you have to have a bit of the daredevil in you to take to the streets on a bicycle in this traffic-crazed city, but since July 2007, when the City of Paris inaugurated a wildly successful system of low-cost bike rentals called Velib’ (vel-leeb), it’s really hard to resist the temptation to do so. Quite simply it’s fun to check out these high-tech, sexy-looking bikes and take them for a spin, dropping them off at bike stands with no fuss and no muss.
Here’s how it works: You buy a 1- or 7-day subscription (1.70€ or 8€ , respectively) from the machine at one of the futuristic-looking bike stands, which gives you the right to as many half-hour rides as you’d like for 1 or 7 days. If you want to go over a half-hour, you can either check in your bike, wait 5 minutes, and check it out again, or you can pay 1€ for your extra half-hour, 2€ for the half-hour after that one and 4€ for the third half-hour on. Everything is meticulously explained in English on the website (www.velib.fr), and there’s even a number you can call for English-speaking assistance ([tel] 01-30-79-79-30). There’s one big catch, however—to use the machines you must have a credit or debit card with a chip in it. This can be a problem for North American tourists, so we advise either getting a TravelEx “cash passport” with money on it (www.travelex.com) or just buy your subscription online ahead of time (make sure you have your secret code to punch in on the stand). Helmets are not provided, so if you’re feeling queasy about launching into traffic, bring one along. There are few bike lanes so far, but new ones are being added. Note: Cyclists no longer always have the right to ride in the bus lanes; check for road signs. One more tip: Before you ride, get a map of the city that shows where the bike stands are or download the app on the Velib’ site so you don’t waste precious time looking for a place to check in or check out.
A Word About Driving in Paris
Don’t. Even if you are a Formula 1 racecar driver with years of experience, you’ll be alternately outraged and infuriated by the aggressive tactics of your fellow drivers and the inevitable bouchons (literally, a bottle stopper or cork), or jams, that tie up traffic and turn a simple jaunt into a harrowing nightmare. To make matters worse, it’s easy to believe that the street and direction signs were cunningly placed by a sadistic madman who gets kicks out of watching hapless drivers take wrong turns. No matter how carefully you try to follow the signs pointing toward, say, Trocadéro, you’ll suddenly find yourself on an outer boulevard headed for Versailles.
Your troubles are not over once you get to your destination, because then you will have to park, which is a whole other trauma. Spots are elusive, to say the least, and you’ll probably find yourself touring the neighborhood for at least 20 minutes until you find one. By then you’ll have figured out why it is that Parisians park on the sidewalks: Often, there’s nowhere else to park.
One final hurdle: feeding the parking meter. All parking is payant—that is, you must pay. And you can’t use coins in the horodateur (parking meter) anymore—you must either pay with a chip-enabled credit card or buy a “Paris Carte” parking card at a tabac, or smoke shop. This card is inserted directly into the meter, which will print out a ticket that you must put on your dashboard; parking in the most central arrondissements (1 to 11) costs 4€ per hour; in the outer arrondissements (12 to 20) it’s 2.40€ per hour. What’s more, you can’t stay in the same spot for more than 2 hours. Mercifully, on Sundays and from 8pm to 9am the rest of the week, all street parking is free. If you are not up to the challenge, try one of the many underground parking lots, indicated by a sign with a white “P” on a blue background; parking in one of these is between 2.60€ –4€ per hour, and you can stay all day (you don’t need a card here).
If, despite this rant, you still feel compelled to rent a car and drive around the city, or are forced to do so due to extenuating circumstances, at the very least get your hands on a basic explanation of international street signs (this should be available at your car-rental agency) and a good street map. Try to do your driving on a Sunday, when most Parisians head for the country (but forget about Saturday, when they all do their shopping). Finally, try to keep your cool, because no matter how sure you are that you are following the rules of the road, at some point, someone in another car will curse you. Good luck—you’re going to need it.
Electric Car Rental: Autolib’
The Velib’ bike-rental system now has a four-wheeled cousin: Autolib’ (www.autolib.eu; [tel] 01-58-34-44-10). The concept is the same: a short-term self-service rental, but this time, you get to tool around in a spiffy electric car. There are hundreds of rental stations in Paris and the surrounding area. To register, you can go to one of the Autolib’ subscription kiosks if you have a credit card with a chip; if not, go to the Autolib’ information center (5 rue Edouard VII, 9th arrond.) with your driver's license (plus—for non-European drivers—your international driving license), a valid form of ID, and a credit card. The easiest option, though, is to register online. A 1-day subscription is free, but you pay 9€ per half-hour. A year is 120€ plus 6€ per half-hour. You are given a badge that you then pass over the sensor at a rental station to unlock the car. Unplug it from the charger and drive away. One of the best things about Autolib’, however, is parking when you are done. Instead of going insane looking for a spot, just use the GPS to find an Autolib’ station and plug in the Bluecar. For information about other car-rental companies, please refer to the “By Car” section of “Getting There,” earlier in this chapter.
The Batobus (www.batobus.com; [tel] 08-25-05-01-01/.15€ per min.) is a fleet of boats that operates along the Seine, stopping at such points of interest as the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, and the Hôtel de Ville. Much like the hop-on-hop-off buses, these boats are more about sightseeing and less about getting quickly from place to place, though they will get you up and down the Seine. Unlike the Bateaux-Mouches, the Batobus does not provide a recorded commentary. The only fare option available is a day pass valid for either 1 or 2 days, each allowing as many entrances and exits as you want. A 1-day pass costs 17€ for adults and 8€ for children 15 and under; a 2-day pass costs 19€ for adults and 10€ for children 15 and under. Boats operate daily minutes starting at 10am; boats come by every 25 to 40 minutes, depending on the season. Last call is anywhere from 5pm during the week in the winter to 9:30pm in the summer, see the website for exact intervals and closing hours.
This is the most expensive way to get around and not necessarily the most efficient. Merely hailing a cab can be an ordeal: You can hail them in the street, but not all will stop (only hail those with a full green or white light), or look for a taxi stand, which resembles a bus stop and usually sports a blue TAXI sign. Once inside, you’ll have to pray that your driver is skilled in dodging Parisian traffic, which is horrendous. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself stuck in a jam, watching the meter tick, and cursing yourself for not having taken the Métro.
Calculating fares is a complicated business. When you get in, the meter should read 2.60€. Then, the basic rates for Paris intramuros ranges from 1.06€ to 1.56€ per kilometer, depending on the day of the week and the hour. There’s a minimum fare of 7€; if you have more than four people in your party, you’ll also be charged 4€ for each additional passenger. You’ll also be charged 1€ for each suitcase you put in the trunk. The saving grace here is that the distances are usually not huge, and barring excessive traffic, your average crosstown fare should fall between 15€ and 25€ for two without baggage. Tipping is not obligatory, but rounding up or a .50€ to 1€ tip is customary.
It’s often easier to call a cab then to hail one on the street: Contact Les Taxis Bleus (www.taxis-bleus.com; [tel] 36-09/.35€ per min.) or Taxi G7 (www.taxisg7.fr; [tel] 36-07/.15€ per min.). Avoid minicabs or unlicensed taxis.
Changing the taxi landscape in France (much to the disdain of regular taxi drivers) is Uber (www.uber.com). Just download the smart phone app and enter your credit-card details. Once you’re logged on, you enter your location and your destination. No money changes hands, and the cost of your journey is precalculated according to its “real” distance, so you’re not penalized if you have to make a detour. While you wait, the screen shows the whereabouts of your taxi in real time, as well as the car’s number plate, the driver’s name, and his/her photo. When traveling abroad (especially if you’re a woman), it’s reassuring to know who will be driving your taxi, and for central Paris, you rarely have to wait more than 5 minutes for an Uber to arrive. Generally speaking, Uber is cheaper than standard taxis as well. If you prefer to try a French company, try Chauffeur Privé (www.chauffeur-prive.com) or Le Cab (www.lecab.fr).
If you have the time and the energy, the best mode of transport in this small and walkable city is your own two feet. You can cross the center of town (say from the Place St-Michel to Les Halles) in about 20 minutes. This is the best way to see and experience the city, and take in all the little details that make it all so wonderful. You could spend an afternoon exploring one small neighborhood, or try one of the walking tours in chapter 7.
Fast Facts Paris
Area Codes: The country code for France is 33 and the area code for Paris is 01.
Business Hours: Opening hours in Paris are erratic. Most museums close 1 day a week (usually Mon or Tues) and some national holidays. Museum hours tend to be from 9:30am to 6pm. Generally, offices are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm, but don’t count on it—always call first. Banks tend to be open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but some branches are open on Saturday instead of Monday. Large stores are open from around 10am to 6 or 7pm. Some small stores have a lunch break that can last for up to 2 hours, from noon onward, but this is becoming increasingly rare. Most shops, except those in the Marais or on the Champs-Élysées, are closed on Sunday. Restaurants are typically closed on Sundays and/or Mondays, and many businesses across the city are closed in August.
Cellphones: The three letters that define much of the world’s wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border mobile phone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. You can use your mobile phone in France provided it is GSM and tri-band or quad-band; just confirm this with your operator before you leave.
Using your phone abroad can be expensive, and you usually have to pay to receive calls, so it’s a good idea to get your phone “unlocked” before you leave. Then you can buy a SIM card from one of the three main French providers: Bouygues Télécom (www.bouyguestelecom.fr), Orange (www.orange.fr), or SFR (www.sfr.fr). A temporary SIM card (carte prepayée) costs anywhere from 4€ to 40€, depending on the number of minutes bundled with it. Alternatively, if your phone isn’t unlocked, you could buy a cheap mobile phone in Paris. To top-up your phone credit, buy a prepaid card from tabacs, supermarkets, and mobile phone outlets. Prices range from 5€ to 100€.
A final strategy? Use Skype for phone calls. Make sure you have the app before you get to Europe and then use it whenever you have a signal for ridiculously inexpensive phone calls.
Customs: What you can bring into France: Citizens of E.U. countries can bring in any amount of goods as long as the goods are intended for their personal use and not for resale. Non–E.U. citizens are entitled to 200 cigarettes, 100 small cigars, 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco duty-free. You can also bring in 4 liters of alcoholic beverages less than 22% alcohol and 1 liter of spirits more than 22% alcohol.
Dentists & Doctors: Doctors are listed in the Pages Jaunes (French equivalent of the Yellow Pages; www.pagesjaunes.fr) under “Médecins.” The standard fee for a consultation with a general practitioner (médecin generaliste) is 23€. SOS Médecins ([tel] 36-24 or 01-47-07-77-77) makes house calls that cost around 90€ to 130€ (prices quoted are for people without French social security). Download a list of English-speaking dentists and doctors in Paris on the U.S. Embassy website: http://photos.state.gov/libraries/france/5/acs/paris-doctors.pdf. You can also reach U.S. Citizens Services by phone at [tel] 01-43-12-22-22. See also “Emergencies” and “Health,” below.
Disabled Travelers: I suppose you could blame it on its centuries-old streets, but Paris has only recently started making a concerted effort to become accessible for people with disabilities. While the city still won’t win any prizes for accessibility (tortuous sidewalks, few ramps at public facilities, endless stairways in Métro stations), there has been slow and steady progress, with over 60 wheelchair-accessible bus lines, several RER stations, and stations on the Métro line 14. Access to all tram lines is flush with the ground, though you might have to navigate a curb to get to the station. To find the closest accessible stations, maps, and more, visit www.infomobi.com (in English) or call [tel] 09-70-81-83-85 (in French). Many museums are now accessible; visit their websites for details. Several art museums even offer tactile visits for the blind. Many hotels with three or more stars (under the French national rating system, not ours) have at least one handicap-accessible room. Hotels that are particularly sensitive to the subject may bear the “Tourisme & Handicaps” label. The Paris Tourist Office (www.parisinfo.com) has a good listing of accessible hotels on its site, as well as plenty of other info and links for disabled travelers. Click “Practical Paris” and then “Visiting Paris with a Disability.”
Drinking Laws: Supermarkets, grocery stores, and cafes sell alcoholic beverages. The legal drinking age is 18. Wine and liquor are sold every day of the week, year-round. Cafes generally open around 6am and serve until closing (midnight–2am). Bars and nightclubs usually stay open until 2am (sometimes 5am), but they must stop serving alcohol 1 1/2 hours before closing.
The law regarding drunk driving is tough. A motorist is considered legally intoxicated if his or her blood-alcohol limit exceeds .05%. If it is between .05% and .08%, the driver faces a fine of 750€. Over .08% and it could cost 4,500€ or up to 2 years in jail.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.