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 or an app, so I strongly suggest that you invest in a booklet called Paris Pratique par Arrondissement, which has a bus and metro map for each arrondissement. You can buy one for about 5€ in most Presse—newspaper—stands and at Fnac stores, or on Amazon.com beforehand for considerably more. The only thing is that at time of writing, the current edition is old, so the Vélib’ stand info is not up-to-date. The city layout won’t have changed, though. Or there are, of course, dozens of good map apps for Paris if you prefer—though Wi-Fi doesn’t always work as well as it should in public spaces, and it’s near impossible to get 3G, 4G, or 5G coverage on the Métro.
By Public Transport
For everything you ever wanted to know about the city’s public transport, visit the RATP (www.ratp.fr; 34-24). 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. If you don’t have one of those, you can also buy tickets from some cafes that have a TABAC sign outside—though the number of them selling tickets is diminishing too. A single ticket costs 1.90€ and a carnet of 10 tickets costs 16.90€. Children 4 to 9 years old pay half-price; kids 3 and under ride free. A special transit pass for tourists called Paris Visite offers unlimited travel in zones on buses, 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 12€, a 2-day pass 19.50€, a 3-day pass 26.65€, and a 5-day pass 38.35€. 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 is what you are after, other less expensive options serve the same purpose, even if they don’t include Paris Visite’s minimal attractions discounts. First 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 7.50€. 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, a swipe card that you can buy on the RATP app (www.ratp.fr/apps/bonjour-ratp) and 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 22.80€. That includes going to and from the airports (except OrlyVal) and transport for day trips such as Versailles or Fontainebleau, so it could quickly pay off. If your trip fits into a Monday-to-Sunday schedule, this 7-day card is substantially cheaper than a 5-day Paris Visite card.
By Metro (Subway)
The city’s first Métro, or subway, was at the apex of high tech at its inauguration on July 19, 1900, and over a century later, it still functions very well. The lack of cleanliness and wheelchair/stroller access are its greatest downfalls and somewhat embarrassing for the city that will be hosting the 2024 Paralympics. A big push to render the city more accessible is underway, however, so don’t be surprised to find some stations closed between certain hours. Another problem is not 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, close down around the same time (without the weekend bonus hour).
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 (www.ratp.fr/apps/bonjour-ratp) or Île-de-France Mobilités (www.iledefrance-mobilites.fr), which cover the whole Paris region. The key is to know both the number of the line and its final destination. 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. 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.
Your only underground express choice is the RER (pronounced “ehr-euh-ehr”), the suburban trains that dash through the city making limited stops. The downsides 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 reuse a ticket you’ve used on the Métro on the bus. You can, however, re-use the same ticket you’ve used on the bus on a tram (and vice versa) within a 90-minute limit. 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 30 minutes or so from 12:30 to 5:30am when the usual bus and Métro services start up again. Tickets cost the same as for the regular bus.
Over the past few years, Paris has added 11 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.
Velib’—A Great Way to Cycle Around Paris
For Vélib’, you have several subscription options (online or from the machine at over 1,000 bike stands): Buy a single journey ticket for 3€, for a 45-minute journey on either a pedal bike or an electric bike; get a 1-day pass for 5€ (pedal bike) or 10€ (electric), which gives you the right to as many 30-minute (45-minute for electric) rides as you’d like for 24 hours; and purchase the 3-day pass for 20€ (pedal or electric). If you want to go over 30 minutes, you pay 1€ for your extra 30 minutes on a pedal bike, and 2€ for the 45 minutes on an electric bike. The bikes are fitted with a V-Box, a computer system set between the handlebars, which enables you to lock and unlock the bikes. It also lets you leave your bike in an otherwise full station; follow the instructions and park it top-to-tail with another bike. The English version of the website (www.velib-metropole.fr) explains how everything works; the assistance phone number is tel. 01-76-49-12-34. The one big catch is that to use the machines you must have a credit or debit card with a chip in it (at time of writing, you couldn’t use phone pay apps like Apple Pay). 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 even easier, buy your subscription ahead of time online (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. Note: Cyclists no longer always have the right to ride in the bus lanes; check for road signs. One more tip: Download the Vélib’ app on your phone, so you don’t waste precious time looking for a place to check in or check out.
If you don’t want to self-serve, you can still rent a bike from Paris à Vélo!, 22 rue Alphonse Baudin (https://parisavelo.fr; tel. 01-48-87-60-01; Métro: St-Sébastien-Froissart or Richard Lenoir). Rentals for a regular bicycle cost 13€ for half a day and 16€ 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, electric bikes are available from 33€ for half a day and 40€ for a full day.
The recent advent of the self-serve electric scooter (trottinette) has Parisians whooshing along the sidewalks at high speed (up to 25km [15 miles]/hr.), often two to a scooter. Watch out! And, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em—though avoid the sidewalk (it’s not officially allowed) and opt for a cycle lane or the road instead. Unlike the Vélib’ bike system, scooter rentals are “free floating,” which means there are no official parking stations. Parking on the sidewalk is no longer allowed, however, so there are designated scooter parking places on most roads; you find the nearest available scooter via a geo-localization system. No matter which company you choose, expect to pay around 1€ for the rental fee, then .25€/minute as you ride (which equates to 7.50€ for 30 mins.). Here are the five main ones: Bird (www.bird.co), Lime (www.li.me), Bolt (https://bolt.eu/en), Wind (www.wind.co), and Tier (https://www.tier.app). Note: Helmets are not provided, though they are recommended, and you’re not authorized to ride on the road.
In a similar line to trottinette scooters, e-scooters (self-serve, two-wheeled, moped-style electric scooters) are all the rage right now, and people 18 and over can use them on the road (not in bike lanes or on the sidewalk). The main company is Cityscoot (www.cityscoot.eu), costing .39€/min (that’s 11.70€ for 30 min.). If you were born before 1988, you don’t need a driver’s license to use an e-scooter; if you were born after 1988, you must have either a valid E.U. driving license or a license that was issued in your own country and translated into French by an accredited translator (plan well ahead and check with your embassy; the translation process can be costly and time-consuming). Note: Helmets are provided (with disposable helmet liners), but bring your own gloves, which must be worn.
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 (Mon–Sat 9am–8pm). And you can’t use coins in the horodateur (parking meter) anymore—you must either pay with a chip-enabled credit card or via the PaybyPhone app (www.paybyphone.fr). If you pay by card at the parking meter, you’ll get a print-out ticket that you must put on your dashboard. If you pay via the app, you don’t have to do anything except state where you are parked; the traffic police have a device linked to the app and can see that you’ve paid from the car’s license plate. Paris is a polluted city, so the city is trying to reduce traffic, largely with dissuasive parking prices. Today in the most central arrondissements (1 to 11), parking costs 6€ for the first hour, then increases incrementally to a whopping 75€ for 6 hours; in the outer arrondissements (12 to 20), it’s 4€ per hour, up to 50€ for 6 hours. What’s more, you can’t stay in the same spot for more than 6 hours—and fines have increased to 75€ in zones 1 to 11, and 52.50€ in zones 12 to 20. 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€ and 4€ per hour, or between 25€ and 35€ for 24 hours.
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 or app. Taxi drivers nowadays use the app Waze (www.waze.com), which works like a GPS using real-time traffic info to guide you to your destination using the fastest, least traffic-clogged route. 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.
The Batobus (www.batobus.com; 08-25-05-01-01; .15€/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 (see “Bus Tours” ), 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 is a day pass valid for either 1 or 2 days, each allowing as many entrances and exits as you want. At time of writing, the 1- and 2-day passes cost the same: 19€ for adults and 9€ for children 3 to 15, though this may change as tourism increases. Boats operate daily from around 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.
Much to the disdain of regular taxi drivers (and as in most big cities), Uber (www.uber.com) has changed the taxi landscape. Just download the smartphone app and enter your credit-card details. Once you’re logged on, you enter your location and your destination. No cash changes hands, and the cost of your journey is pre-calculated 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 ride 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 Uber, and for central Paris, you rarely have to wait more than 5 minutes for an Uber to arrive.
That said, Uber’s controversial presence in France kick-started the launch of several competing apps: LeCab (https://lecab.fr), Bolt (https://bolt.eu), and Heetch (www.heetch.com) all provide ridesharing services in English, and sometimes at a lower price. If you’re an Uber hater, try one of the above instead. Heetch is particularly good for traveling between Paris and the suburbs, including the airports.
To hail a cab from the street, try for those with a full green or white light (red light or a single white bulb means they’re taken), or look for a taxi stand, which resembles a bus stop and usually sports a blue taxi sign. It’s often easier to call a cab than to hail one: Taxi G7 (www.taxisg7.fr; tel. 36-07; .45€/min.) is the main company. It also now has an app similar to those of ridesharing services in that you can pay without cash changing hands, which can be reassuring for travelers.
Calculating taxi fares is a complicated business. When you get in, the meter should read 2.60€. Then, the basic rates for Paris intramuros range from 1.06€ to 1.61€ per kilometer, depending on the day of the week and the hour. The minimum fare is 7.30€; if you have more than three people in your party, you’ll be charged an extra 3€ too. 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.
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.
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.