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. Not easy to figure out without a map, so I heartily 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 8€. My personal favorite is “Paris Pratique par Arrondissment,” which has a bus and metro map for each arrondissement, and shows where the Velib’ stands are.
By Public Transport
For everything you ever wanted to know about the city’s public transport, visit the RATP; [tel] 32-46 in France; www.ratp.fr). Paris and its suburbs are divided into six travel zones, but you’ll probably only be concerned with zones 1 and 2, which covers the city itself.
RATP tickets are valid on the Métro, bus, 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. You can also buy them from cafes that have a tabac sign outside. A single ticket costs 1.70€ and a carnet of 10 tickets costs 14€. Children 4 to 10 years old pay half price; under 4 rides free. Tourists can benefit from a Paris Visite pass, which offers unlimited travel in zones on bus, Métro, and RER, and discounts on some attractions. Think hard about how much you are going to use your pass however, as you’ll probably end up walking a lot, and in the end a cheaper carnet of 10 tickets might do the trick. A 1-day adult pass for zones 1 to 3 costs 11€, a 2-day pass 18€, a 3-day pass 24€, and a 5-day pass 35€. It is also possible to buy more expensive passes for zones 1 to 5, which will also get you to the airport. Slightly cheaper is the 1-day Mobilis ticket, which offers unlimited travel in zones 1 zones 1 up to 5; a pass for zones 1 and 2 costs 6.80€. For travelers under 26, look out for the Ticket Jeunes, a 1-day ticket which can be used on a Saturday, Sunday, or bank holiday, and provides unlimited travel in zones 1 to 3 for 3.75€, or zones 1 to 5 for 8.10€.
If you’re staying for a while, 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 and 2 is 20€, and the monthly tariff (which runs from the first to the last day of the month) is 67€.
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 is also a good indicator 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 (although you might want to think twice about using it to get to more isolated parts of the city), 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). 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 as you’ll need it to get out of the turnstile on the way out.
Thanks to a rash of new dedicated bus lanes, buses can be an efficient way to get around town, and you’ll get a scenic tour to boot. The majority run from 6:30am to 9:30pm (a few operate until 12:30am) and 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€). 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. Your regular Métro ticket gives you a free transfer, to be used within 1 1/2 hours; if you buy your ticket on the bus there is no transfer included.
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 12:30am–5:30am. Tickets cost the same as for the regular bus.
Over the past few years, Paris has added three new tramway lines, with extensions and new lines in progress. They 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 from two-wheels.
Alternatively, you can rent a bike from Paris à vélo, c’est sympa!, 22 rue Alphonse Baudin ([tel] 01-48-87-60-01; www.parisvelosympa.com; Métro: St-Sébastien-Froissart or Richard Lenoir). Rentals cost 12€ for half a day and 15€ for a full day, but they do require 250€ or a passport as a deposit. Vespas are available for rent from Left Bank Scooters ([tel] 06-78-12-04-24; www.leftbankscooters.com) from 70€ per day (55€ if you rent 4 or more days), and the company will deliver the scooters to your hotel or apartment. A credit card deposit of 1,200€ is required, but this can be reduced to 500€ for an additional fee. This amount is held rather than charged on a credit card.
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 I 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 success has been such that new ones are being added, and cyclists have the right to ride in the bus lanes. One more tip: Before you ride, get a map of the city that shows where the bike stands are 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 buy either pay with a 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 costs from 1.20€ to 3.60€ per hour, and you can’t stay in the same spot for more than 2 hours. Mercifully, on Sundays and after 7pm 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 3€–4€ per hour, and you can stay all day (you don’t need a card here).
If, despite my ranting, 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 Sat, 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 Rental¾Autolib’
First there was the highly successful Velib’ bike-rental system, and now it has a four-wheeled cousin: Autolib’ ([tel] 08-00-94-20-00; www.autolib.eu). 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, but more are being added. To register you can go to one of the Autolib’ subscription kiosks or to the Autolib’ information center (5 rue Edouard, 5th arrond.) with your driving license, a valid form of ID, and a credit card, or you can simply register online. A 1-day subscription is free, but you pay 9€ per half hour. A 7-day subscription is 10€ plus 7€ per half hour, a month is 25€ plus 6.50€ per half-hour, and a year is 120€ plus 5.5€ 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. To return it, 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 ([tel] 08-25-05-01-01; www.batobus.com) is a fleet of boats that operates along the Seine, stopping at such points of interest as the Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, and the Hôtel de Ville. 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 sort of hop-on, hop-off on water. A 1-day pass costs 15€ for adults, and 7€ for children 16 and under. From September to April boats operate daily every 25 minutes between 10am and 7pm; April to September boats operate daily every 20 minutes between 10am and 9:30pm. The timetable changes slightly every year so it’s always worth double-checking on the website.
This is the most expensive way to get around and not necessarily the most efficient. Merely hailing a cab can be an ordeal, since you’ll have to find a taxi stand (in practice, you can hail them in the street, but not all will stop). Taxi stands resemble bus stops and sport a blue “taxi” sign. You can also call the dispatcher at [tel] 01-45-30-30-30. Once you get inside, you’ll have to pray that your driver is skilled in dodging through 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 2.50€. Then, the basic rates for Paris intramuros ranges from 1€–1.50€ per kilometer, depending on the day of the week and the hour. There’s a minimum fare of 6.86€; if you have more than three people in your party, you’ll also be charged 3€ for each additional passenger. You’ll also be charged 1€ for each suitcase you put in the trunk. Unless you’re a math whiz, it’s near impossible to calculate exactly what your fare should be, but if you feel you’ve been seriously overcharged, you can contact the Préfecture de Police ([tel] 08-91-01-22-22; www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr). The saving grace here is that the distances are usually not huge, and barring excessive traffic, your average cross-town fare should fall between 15€ and 20€ for two without baggage. Tipping is not obligatory, but a .50€ to 1€ tip is customary for short trips; for longer hauls a 5 to 10 percent tip should do.
It’s often easier to call a cab then to hail one on the street: Contact Les Taxis Bleus ([tel] 36-09, .15€ per min; www.taxis-bleus.com) or Taxi G7 ([tel] 36-07, .15€ per min; www.taxisg7.fr). Avoid minicabs or unlicensed taxis.
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.
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.