Hi, y’all! So, in Paris, public transit is a major part of life. Generally speaking, Parisians either take the train or walk everywhere. However, unless you’re from a major city, you probably aren’t used to using public transportation, especially as an American.
That being said, the Paris Métro is actually pretty easy to figure out. With a couple apps and the tips below, you’ll be zipping around Paris in no time.
1. Download Via Navigo, Google Maps, and Twitter
Via Navigo is the Paris transit app. All you have to do is let it access your GPS and put in your destination, then you’ll get directions by bus and by train. The only weakness is that if you have to walk for a couple blocks to switch train lines, it won’t give you directions for that portion. That’s why I recommend using Google Maps, too. As an added bonus, you can save maps on Google, so that you can still access them when you’re offline.
I recommend Twitter purely because you need to be following the RATP (the official name for the Métro). They’ll announce closures and security issues on their Twitter feed, so following them is a great way to stay updated. You could also probably use Facebook, if you’d rather go that route.
2. Buy “un carnet” or “une carte”
A carnet is a ten pack of tickets and the cheapest option if you just need to get to a couple places, or if you’ve overstayed your day pass by a short time.
A carte comes in various lengths. Being a resident, I used the monthly Navigo pass, but you can get a tourist version, Paris Visite, for 1, 2, 3, or 5 calendar days. This will be your best option if you’re staying longer than a few days. And remember, if need be, you can combine your carte with a carnet.
Note: a ticket bought in the Métro is good for both trains and buses. However, a ticket bought on a bus is only valid for buses. Also, if you’re traveling with children, you can save even more money because kids under age 4 are free, while those aged 4-10 pay half price for a carnet, but full price for a single fare. Some food for thought if you have some young members in your group.
3. You must get your ticket validated at the turnstile
You’ll notice a lot of people jumping over or crawling under the turnstiles to sneak in without paying. DO NOT BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. You could get fined and, more than likely, that fine will be astronomical compared to the price of a ticket.
4. Buy your tickets from an automated machine
There are kiosks in pretty much every Métro station where you can buy tickets. Just select “English” (Anglais, in French) as your option and follow the instructions. You can pay by card or coins, but not with banknotes. This may sound weird, but since the euro has 1 and 2 euro coins, it’s not much of a hassle.
5. Don’t leave your luggage unattended
I cannot stress this one enough. After several terrorist attacks, Paris is on high-alert. If you leave a bag unattended, not only will you never see it again, but you will also likely cause an entire station to be shut down and trains to be cancelled or delayed for an hour or more. I can’t tell you the number of times my train was delayed because an unattended bag was found at a station a couple stops down the line.
6. Consider the zones you need before buying your tickets
If you’re a tourist, odds are that you’ll be staying within Zone 1, the city center. There are only 3 reasons why you would need to go outside this zone:
A) To get to and from Charles de Gaulle or Orly airports (buy single-use tickets to get to and from the airport)
B) Your hotel is outside Zone 1 (you can ask your hotel, or you can find the nearest Métro station and cross-reference it with this helpful list)
C) You want to visit attractions outside of the main city, like Versailles, Disneyland Paris, or Fontainebleu (again, a single-use ticket is your best bet)
7. Pay attention to where you’re exiting the station
Many major stations will have multiple exits, which can get confusing. Just look for the sign that has the street name you need and follow that. Worst case scenario, you’ll have to make a circle around the station above-ground.
8. Watch out for pickpockets, muggers, and beggars
Despite all its charm, Paris is still a major urban area. With that designation comes some crime problems. Make sure that you don’t wear expensive clothes or flashy jewelry, pull money out in front of anyone, or keep your bag anywhere except on your lap or in front of you (if you’re wearing a cross-body, which I highly recommend).
And if you see beggars, just ignore them, even if they’re children. I know it sounds horrible, but you never know what their story really is or if they have a partner watching them to see who’s an easy mark.
In other words, keep an eye on your surroundings and belongings, don’t talk to anyone, and just keep your head down in general. If you can, avoid talking too much or too loudly on the trains, since people will automatically know that you’re tourists. Talking loudly, especially, will mark you as an American.
9. Know what stop you need
In every train car, there are maps that show all the stations for that line. Make sure you know where you need to get off at, as well as the couple of stops before it, so that you can be on the lookout for yours.
If you notice that you’re going in the wrong direction, don’t freak out. Simply get off at the next stop and head over to the proper platform.
10. Don’t act lost
This goes for any city in general.
Put on your best Resting Bitch Face. Don’t be glancing at your phone for directions every five seconds. If you’re really lost, either duck into a store to check your phone or follow the crowd, because you’ll likely end up somewhere populated enough that you can feel safe while you try to get your bearings again.
This last is exactly what I did when I thought I was being followed in Prague, by the way, so I highly recommend it for those kinds of situations as well. I also used it to get out of some potential trouble in Lille, when I made a wrong turn and had to walk past a gang of guys. Seriously, some RBF and a confident walk does wonders for your safety.
Well, there you have it. 10 tips to riding the Paris Métro safely. Do you have any questions or concerns that I didn’t address? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer it if I can. Or do a quick Google search if I can’t 😉
This is the last article in my Visiting Paris 101 series. For more tips on general Parisian culture, where to go, and what restaurants to try, follow these links: Visiting Paris 101: Basic Tips, Visiting Paris 101: Where to Go, and Visiting Paris 101: Where to Eat.
If you’ve already read them all, then let me just say a huge “Thank you!” for your support. I hope you’ve enjoyed these guides!