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 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 Arrondissement, which has a bus and metro map for each arrondissement and shows where the Velib’ stands are (you can buy one in most Presse—newspaper—stands). 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; 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 14.90€. 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 if what you are after, other options 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 7.50€. 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 4.10€ or zones 1 to 5 for 8.95€. 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 22.80€. That includes going to and from the airports (except Orlyval), 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.
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. 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, 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. 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. 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 (see above).
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; 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, electric bikes are available from 20€ for half a day.
Velib’—A Great Way to Cycle Around Paris
Since July 2007, when the mayor’s office inaugurated the Vélib’ (vel-LEEB) system of low-cost bike rentals, Parisians have been pedaling up a storm. Traffic be dammed: It’s fun to ride around town, drop off your bike near your destination, and not have to worry about locking it up. And since the launch of Vélib-Metropole in 2018 (an updated, broader service), it’s just gotten easier, thanks to the addition of a number of electric bikes, and pedal bikes that are 30 percent lighter—though the prices have gone up. The way it works is this: You buy a 1- or 7-day subscription (5€ or 15€, respectively) online or from the machine at one of hundreds of bike stands, which gives you the right to as many 30-minute rides as you’d like for 1 or 7 days. If you want to go over 30 minutes, you pay 1€ for your extra 30 minutes, 2€ for the 30 minutes after that one, and 4€ for the third 30 minutes on. Use of electric bikes costs 1€ extra. The bikes are fitted with a V-Box, a smart computer system set between the handle bars, 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 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. 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, just 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. Thanks to the success of the ever-increasing number of bike lanes, 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, download the app on your phone, 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 (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 in particular 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. 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—and fines have increased to a whopping 50€ in zones 1 to 11, and 35€ 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 20€ and 30€ 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.
Electric Car Rental: Autolib’
The Velib’ bike-rental system now has a four-wheeled cousin: Autolib’ (www.autolib.eu; 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. Paris and the surrounding area have hundreds of rental stations. 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 (20 quai de la Mégisserie, 1st 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 30 minutes. A year is 120€ plus 6€ per 30 minutes. You are given a badge that you then pass over the sensor at a rental station to unlock the car (the badge takes a few days to arrive by post, but you can get a temporary one from one of the kiosks). 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 (see above), use the app to reserve your parking spot in advance, or just use the GPS to find an Autolib’ station and plug in the Bluecar.
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 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 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.
By Uber and Taxi
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 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. Generally speaking, Uber is cheaper than standard taxis as well.
If you don’t have an app (and let’s face it Uber is controversial for all sorts of reasons¬—tax issues for one), and find yourself hailing a cab from the street, only hail 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.
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 1.56€ per kilometer, depending on the day of the week and the hour. The minimum fare is 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: Taxi G7 (www.taxisg7.fr; 36-07; .15€/min.) is the main company. It now has an app that functions in a similar way to Uber in that you can pay without money changing hands, which can be reassuring for travelers.
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.