Guide to Public Transportation in Paris: Metro Version
There’s something mystical about taking public transportation in Paris. I use its many forms on a daily basis to get around the city. There’s also a whole rhythm of its own as well as unspoken rules of the way. If you do not have some sort of prior knowledge, you will certainly be in for a rude awakening. Not to sound like a Debbie-downer, but the metro system and the like can be a tad overwhelming particularly if you’re not accustomed to it. So that’s why I’m sharing my guide for how to use public transportation in Paris: metro version.
The metro/bus/tram/train are not free. You’ll need a ticket for 1 (single-way) trip. If your phone is NFC enabled, you can buy tickets through the BonjourRATP app or the IDF Mobilités app. They are a life and time saver. Trust me.
Paris and the surrounding suburbs are divided into 5 zones. You can purchase transportation to two types of formats, either all zones (meaning 1 through 5) or two zones (meaning valid travel within 2 specific zones). If you’re going with a week’s pass, I recommend purchasing zones 1 to 5. This will get you anywhere in Paris (Versailles and such included). The price for a weekly pass for all 5 zones is 22,80€.
The RATP is moved away from purchasing packs of 10 cardboard tickets in October 2021. You can read all the information here.
You can purchase tickets in several formats. Depending on what you’re doing in Paris, depends on what tickets you’ll need. If you want the freedom of movement, go for the tickets that cover zones 1 through 5.
Buying a Pass
There are several different passes you can purchase while you’re in Paris. Depending if you are visiting or living here, depends on what’s best for you. There are some that are good for both.
If you’re visiting Paris, you have several options out there that can be tailored to your needs.
First and foremost, if you’re coming in from the airport, you’ll need an airport ticket. This can be used for the RoissyBus, RER B, and other bus lines. They can range from 1,90€ to 17€ depending on the route you take and where you’re coming from/going to. You’ll want to look for the RATP/IDF Mobilités booths after you’ve come out of security/customs. You can purchase these tickets there. This is blog post for another day.
For getting around the city, the cardboard (or not) tickets are good for the metro, bus, tram, and train. One ticket gets you one trip (no round trips are included, sorry). You can also get a plastic card (the size of an American credit card) that holds your tickets/pass. If you are using the cardboard tickets, I cannot stress enough that you need to keep them until you have left the station. There are several different options if you are staying for more that a few days.
Paris Visite Travel Pass : This is valid for public transportation only: metro, RER, bus, tram, and trains. This pass is valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days. You must write your first and last name and the dates of use on the back of the pass for it to be considered valid. This can be purchased in 2 travel manners: zones 1-3 or zones 1-5. You can use these passes for unlimited travel during the day. You can buy these passes at any ticket window or automated window at any metro station. They start from 12€ up to 32,30€ depending on the zones and number of days chosen.
Navigo Weekly pass: this pass runs from Monday to Sunday. This is a fixed price that starts at 22€. This is also good for all modes of transportation (metro, bus, tram, train) depending on the zones you purchase. This, in my opinion, is the best bang for your buck. If your cell is compatible, you can even upload your pass/tickets to your pass. I do this every month for my pass, and I never have to deal with any of the lines that happen on the last day of the month or the first day of the month I am needing to buy.
If you’re moving to Paris and you seem a little intimidated by the thought of taking public transportation. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. A word of advice that helped me get more comfortable with it was, to just take it one day, jump on with no destination in mind and ride it to get myself acquainted to it. Make a couple changes, get the lay of the land.
If you’re using cardboard tickets, you’ll want to keep them on you until you have exited the metro system. Depending on the station, there may be a check point with RATP agents. There is no rhyme or reason to these check points, you’ll never really know when they’ll be around. It’s always best to be prepared. They’ll want to make sure you have a valid pass for transportation, if not, you’ll get fined and you don’t want to deal with that.
Your best bet is the Navigo monthly pass. If you are planning on using the public transportation system on a regular basis, this is the way to go. If you are unsure of what you will be doing, the Navigo Liberté pass is your best bet. This is a pay as you go option (you will be charged at the end of the month for the number of trips you made). Both of these passes will require your photo and information. If you sign up for the Navigo Monthly/yearly pass, you will send in all your information and photo and you will get a physical pass in the mail afterwards.
Some metro stations have one entrance or numerous ones.
Using an application such as BonjourRATP or Île de France Mobilités to get to your final destination can really help. Not only do they offer several different routes, but they’ll also tell you how long it will take to get you to your destination, how much walking you will need to do, what station to enter and exit and even where to get on the train to get to your exit the quickest.
When you enter the metro station, you will be able to gain access to the quai (platform) through a turnstile. You will either pass your cardboard ticket through the front of the turnstile and it will pop up on the top right before you pass the bars. Or you will pass your card over the contactless point of contact on the top of the turnstile. There are two things you need to be aware of at this point. You will need to watch the turnstile as you are going through for the green light that indicates that you can go on through.
*There have been a few instances where I’ve used the BonjourRATP app, and it has told me to get on the train at a specific point for my exit and the exit has been near a different area. I will continue to test this to see if it’s a bug or a common occurrence within the app.
On the Quai
There is an unspoken etiquette when standing on the quai and entering the train car.
If you are taking the metro, there is only one direction of travel. The train will always arrive from the left and take off from the right.
If you’re taking the RER, most likely the train will arrive from the right and take off from the left. This also depends on what station you are in. You can easily tell if a train arrives first on the other side of the tracks.
When the métro or RER train arrives, you will need to let those inside the train off first before getting on. It is understood that you should stand to either side of the door and then enter into the car when all have gotten off.
In the train car
Once inside the métro or RER car, you’ll want to move to the back (side) or take a seat. On the métro, if you are getting off in a few stops or there are no seats available, you’ll want to move away from the door. This will allow room for others to come on when necessary, especially during rush hour.
If you’re standing, it’s best to hold onto something (ie the hand rails throughout the car) and have a balanced stance. This will help you in case the train car comes to a halt or takes a rough curve. I’ve too many times fallen onto some unwilling subject either at a screeching halt or sharp curve. It happens to everyone, and I mean everyone and you do not need to feel embarrassed. Apologize and smile.
If you’ve got a backpack with you, you’ll want to take it off and carry it in your hands by your legs. Not only does this allow room for more people to get on if it is busy, but it also helps against pickpockets.
When your metro train comes up to your station, it’s best to get near the door for a quick exit. You don’t have all the time in the world to get off before the people standing on the quai want to get into the car. Once the train comes to a stop, the buzzer will go off indicating that the doors will open (or you need to open them manually).
It is extremely important, as I have said before, that if you have the cardboard tickets, that you keep your tickets. This reason is two-fold. You never know when there will be a check point when you are moving through the public transportation system (either in between stations or in the train itself) as well as when you are leaving from the RER.
You do not need your ticket to leave the metro, but you do need your ticket to pass through the turnstile (or mainly glass doors) when you are leaving or changing the RER.
Understanding where to go
It’s pretty simple.
All exits are indicated with a street name. Exits are either at the front, middle or back of the platform. If you are using an application to help you get from point A to point B, it will have suggested where on the train you need to get on. You’ll want to look for signs on the wall of the quai that tell you what direction the exit you are to take is located.
Some stations have only one exit (at either end of the quai), two exits (at either end) or multiple with an exit in the middle. If you are ever unsure at any time, get on in the middle. You’ve got a 50/50 percent chance it is at either end.