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Photograph: pxfuel

Your essential guide to public transport in Paris

From buses via trains to the metro, here’s everything you need to know about public transport in Paris

Written by
Eleanor Aldridge
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Paris is an excellent city to explore on foot – but even on a short trip, you’re likely to use public transport at least once. The great French tradition of grèves (strikes) aside, the RATP-run network is mostly cheap and efficient.

The Paris metro is of course one of the symbols of the city, with its art nouveau entrances and quirky station designs (check out Arts et Metiers’ copper-clad platforms). Lines are shallow and trains run every few minutes, so it’s easy to hop on and off. Buses can also be handy, especially if you don’t mind making sacrifices on style to stay above ground. Taxis and ride-hailing apps take over after dark, while the brave can hit the roads on a Vélib’.

To reach the airports or explore further afield, you’ll find yourself on the RER network or regional train services. You’re unlikely to take one of the eight lesser-known tram lines on the city’s fringes.

Tickets

Tickets can be picked up from machines in any mainline or metro station, all of which have an English-language option. For journeys in the centre of Paris, a €1.90 t+ ticket can be used for a single trip in zones 1 and 2 on the metro, bus, RER or tram. It’s usually worth buying a carnet of 10 for €16.90. For longer journeys, you can pick up point-to-point tickets or set-fare one-way tickets to and from the airports.

If you want unlimited travel, buy a Mobilis one-day ticket or a five-day Paris Visite pass. Rechargeable weekly, monthly or annual Navigo passes are only really worth it if you’re here for the long haul. You’ll need to purchase the card for €5 and it’s only valid in its clunky plastic casing affixed with a passport-sized photo.

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Public transport in Paris: Your essential guide

Metro
Photograph: SofiLayla / Pixabay

Metro

The metro will take you almost anywhere you need to go. Each line has a colour and number, with the final stop indicating the direction of travel. Trains run from around 6am until around 1am from Monday to Thursday and on Sunday, and until around 2am on Friday and Saturday. A standard t+ ticket is valid for one journey, including changing lines. You don’t need your ticket at the exit barriers, but inspectors can ask you to present it at any time – lose it and you risk a heavy fine.

Underground etiquette can be baffling, especially when everyone tries to embark and disembark simultaneously, but travelling by metro is generally safe. Different lines have different reputations: the 1 is automated and so clean and efficient, the 13 is renowned for being obscenely over-crowded and the 6 offers brilliant views of the Eiffel Tower as you cross the Seine. Changing lines in the labyrinth of tunnels at Châtelet is best avoided unless you’ve got half an hour to spare.

Bus
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / PR180.2

Bus

Thanks to Parisian traffic, bus timings are not always reliable. That said, their slow pace allows plenty of time to take in the sights. As in most European cities, Citymapper is indispensable for planning your route. A single journey costs €2 if you buy a ticket from the driver, or with a t+ ticket you can also change lines within 90 minutes. Validate your ticket as you board.

Noctilien night bus services run from 12.30am to 5.30am, but this isn’t always the most pleasant way to travel after dark.

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RER
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Frédéric de Villamil

RER

The RER is a metro-rail hybrid, its single- and double-decker trains connecting dark and dirty interchanges in the centre of Paris to above-ground stations in the suburbs. Many stations are outside zone 2, so the t+ won’t be valid and you’ll need to buy a point-to-point ticket.

There’s a noticeable contrast in atmosphere (and some say reliability of service) on the trains that run to the city’s bougie suburbs and those that serve more marginalised communities. You’re most likely to take the RER to Versailles or the airport. Watch your wallet and phone: pick-pocketing of disoriented, jet-lagged foreigners is rife.

Train
Photograph: pxfuel

Train

A few close-to-Paris sights, such as Giverny and Chantilly, are served by regional trains rather than the RER. You’ll need to buy rail tickets online from en.oui.sncf or at the station. They’re usually cheaper when bought a few weeks in advance. If you have a paper ticket, remember to validate it at one of the machines on the platform.

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Taxis
Photograph: pxhere

Taxis

The official Taxis Parisiens are safe and not too extortionate for short trips (expect to pay around €15–€20 for a 20-minute ride). You can hail them on the street or queue at ranks near large stations. Many only take cash.

It’s hard to recommend Uber based on their record of dodging both tax and sexual harassment claims – not to mention their increasingly variable fares. Parisian ride-hailing app Kapten is often cheaper and the drivers more courteous.

Vélib’
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / KTo288

Vélib’

If you’re up to battling the traffic on two wheels, you can sign up for a one- (€5) or seven-day (€15) pass for the city’s bike sharing scheme. Rides of less than 30 minutes are free on the regular bikes or start at €1 on the newer light-blue electric versions.

Paris has a fantastic network of bike lanes, shared with an ever-expanding range of electric scooters. Lime, Bird and Dott and among the main players to have made inroads so far.

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