Tips for Getting Around in Paris
If you're heading to Paris and are stressing out about how to get around once you get there, take a deep breath and relax. While Paris is a very large city with its twenty arrondissements, they have done a great job with public transportation and it’s not as hard as you might think to get around the city.
First let’s get some of the local lingo regarding the city out of the way. Arrondissements are basically the districts of Paris, it's their way of subdividing the city for administrative purposes. There are twenty of them and each has it's own distinctive flavor. The arrondissements, or districts, start in the center of the city and pinwheel out clockwise.
The River Seine cuts a path through the heart of Paris and you will frequently hear people referring to the Left and Right Bank when describing Paris. The Right Bank actually refers to the area of Paris to the north of the Seine, which makes the area to the south the Left Bank. Most of the city lies on the Right Bank and of the twenty arrondissements there are only six on the Left Bank. The map below will give you a nice visual.
Established: 3rd Century BC
Area: 40.7 square miles (105.4 sq km)
Time Zone: CET (Central European Time)
There are many ways to successfully get oneself around Paris. The best way to experience the city first hand is always to simply walk. But, given the size of Paris this is not always the most efficient means of getting to your destination. If you want a nice mix of walking and public transportation then you will have a number of options available to you. There is the usual assortment of transportation options in Paris including taxis, city buses, the metro, river boats and tour buses. Paris also has a number of electric bicycle stations setup around the city called the Velib.’
This looks like fun!
As with any other great city one of the best ways to truly explore a new destination is to walk. Paris is no different from many other European capitals in that it really is a great walking city. But, Paris is also very large and as such it might not be physically possible for some people to see everything on foot. This is where some pre-planning can come in handy. It is always wise to scout out your destinations beforehand to determine the best method of getting there and where in the city you want to base yourself. Of course Paris does have one of the world's great walks in the Champs-Élysées, which stretches from the Arc de Triompe to the Place de la Concordia.
Paris also has a very nice network of free walking tours that are given by young, local guides who are often students. The way the tours work is that there is no fee to participate in a walking tour, but if you enjoyed yourself and thought the guide did a good job you can leave them a tip. It’s sort of a win-win for the tourist and the guide. You get a guided tour of a section of Paris by someone who actually lives there and knows the city and all it will cost you is a tip to the guide. Although we did not partake in one of the walking tours we did consider it and did see a number of them in action while we were there. The ones that we looked into were Discover Walks Paris and Sandemans New Paris Tours.
Have you ever taken a free walking tour in Paris?
The metro may seem a little intimidating to the first time user but once you get the hang of it I think you will find it to be a comfortable and easy way to get around. Paris has 16 metro lines with about 300 stations that cover the central Paris area. The metro lines are numbered 1 to 14 with two secondary lines, 3b and 7b. The metro is for the most part clean, efficient and cheap. They run daily starting at 5:30am until after midnight and the wait between most trains is never more than 8 to 10 minutes. The metro stations are very easy to spot and there are many good metro maps available either online or through your hotel or B&B. We took the metro numerous times including at night and never had an issue.
Metro tickets are available in a wide array of choices including a single ride ticket, a book of ten, a single day pass, and even weekly and monthly passes. Just decide which option fits your needs and schedule. Tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines or through a ticket window inside the metro stations. The beauty of the metro ticket is that it is also valid for transport on Paris city buses, Tramways, RER Train (zone 1, 2) and the Montmartre Cable Car. What a deal!
- Single Ticket - 1.80 euro
- Book of Ten – 14.10 euro
- Week Pass – 21.25 euro
- Month Pass – 67.10 euro
There are literally tens of thousands of bikes at over 1,800 stations around the city and you can rent one from any station and drop it off at any other station. This seems like a great idea to me and Paris has actually become a very bike friendly city with dedicated bike lanes and some bike only areas.
To utilize the Velib’ all you have to do is to buy a 1-day ticket (1.70 euro) or a 7-day ticket (8 euro). To entice people to hop on the bikes the first 30 minutes of use for each trip are always free. If your journey is under 30 minutes all it will cost you is the 1.70 euro. If your journey requires more time the first additional half-hour rate is 1 euro. Need another additional half-hour and it will cost you two euro. A third additional half-hour runs 4 euro. As you can see the system is not designed to take the bike and keep it for the entire day. The system encourages users to take the bike to their destination and return it to a bike station. If you need it again, say after touring a museum, you simply rent another one for your return journey. It’s actually a very well designed system.
So let’s recap. If you want to spend a day biking around Paris simply purchase a 1-day Velib’ ticket for 1.70 euro at any of the over 1,800 Velib’ stations. Your ticket gives you access to the Velib’ bikes all over Paris and your first 30 minutes of each trip is at no additional cost. For each additional half hour of use there is a use fee ranging from one euro and up. When you arrive at your destination simply re-dock the bike and obtain your “bike return certificate” and print your receipt. Bikes are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You can take a bike and return it as often as you require during the day with your 1-day ticket. To minimize the cost plan your day with fairly short trips between destinations and you will not incur any use fees.
The idea of taking a city public transportation bus may not appeal to many tourists, but in Paris it can be a scenic and pleasant way to get around the city. There are about 60 RATP city bus lines operating throughout Paris that can get you just about any place to want to go and certainly anywhere the metro can get you.
Paris bus lines are designated with two-digit numbers such as 38 or 72 and many of them traverse along some of the most scenic routes in Paris. Bus Line Numbers start at 20 and go up to 96. The bus stops are fairly well marked and will have a map, schedule and some even have a new electronic display board telling when the next bus will arrive.
Many a visitor has discovered that taking the city bus can be akin to a virtual tour of the city. The number 72 bus route for instance takes passengers from the Louvre through the Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Gardens, along the River Seine and on to the Eiffel Tower.
The RATP city buses use the same ticket as the metro so you can take either form of transportation. Just be careful trying to transfer from one means to the other. Your single ticket t+, as it is referred to, is good on one city bus, and for a transfer to another bus line if within 90 minutes. You cannot transfer from the city bus to the metro however. The ticket cost for the city bus is the same as for the metro, (see metro section above) and the buses run from 5am until midnight.
The RER is the regional train system and has five lines that pass through the center of Paris. The RER will take visitors to both airports and also out to Versailles and Disneyland Paris, both popular day trips. The five RER lines are color coded and designated A (Red), B (Blue), C (Yellow), D (Green), and E (Purple). Although it is possible to move about the city using the RER, it’s generally quicker to use the city bus or metro when moving within central Paris. Use the RER for trips out to the suburbs or the airport.
The RER trains do not run as frequently as the metro so this is another reason to stick with the metro when in Paris. The fares are also more expensive and are based on your departure and destination point and can range from 1.80 euro to as high as 11 euro. Tickets can be purchased in any Metro or RER station or ticket vending machine.
Keep your RER ticket until your journey ends as you will need the ticket to exit the station.
Paris Tour Buses
Once in Paris you will quickly notice that there are numerous tour buses operating within central Paris. Most of them utilize the Hop-On, Hop-Off concept and follow a designated route that makes stops at some of the most visited sites. While we have never done this we have considered it and I do think it would be a great way to spend one’s first day in a large city such as Paris. If you are just arriving and still suffering from jet lag or an overnight flight this can be a great way to see the city, get your bearings, and not have to walk around all day until you have recovered from your flight.
Some of the more popular Tour operators are L’OpenTour, Foxity, and Big Bus Paris. They all operate double decker buses that are open on the upper deck and have headphones so you can listen to an audio guide. Most of them stop at about ten key destinations and with the Hop-On, Hop-Off concept you can utilize the bus all day to move from one site to another. Ticket prices range from about 25 euro up to 50 euro depending on the route, number of days, and whether you are doing just a day tour, night tour, or a combination.
The Batobus is another interesting means of getting around in Paris. It’s basically a river shuttle service that stops at eight different locations along the River Seine. We actually utilized the Batobus on a couple of day's in Paris and it turned out to be a relaxing way to see Paris from a unique perspective.
The Batobus fleet is made up of six river boats called trimarans and each has both indoor and outdoor seating located at the back of the boat. Just like the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses you can get on and off the Batobus as often as you like and at any of their eight stations along the Seine. We used this late one afternoon and actually stayed on the boat of an entire loop and a half. It was a great way to see Paris from the River and we timed our journey so as to see the sun setting from the Seine. We finally ended our almost three hour river cruise at the Eiffel Tower in time to see the lights come on.
The eight stations on the Seine are:
- Eiffel Tower
- Musee’ D’Orsay
- Jardin des Plantes
- Hotel de Ville
As you can see from the stops they hit all of the key tourist sites along the river. You can use the Batobus to simply get from one location to another or do as we did and use it to take a complete tour of the city and then hop off at the destination of your choosing. Either way it’s a wonderful way to see the city from a different perspective.
A Batobus ticket can be purchased for 1-day, 2-days, or an annual pass. You can buy a ticket at any of the Batobus Stations. The pricing is as follows:
- 1-day Adult: 16 euro
- 1-day Youth (3-15): 7 euro
- 2-day Adult: 19 euro
- 2-day Youth: 10 euro
- Annual Pass Adult: 60 euro
- Annual Pass Youth: 38 euro
There are a number of other tour operators cruising up and down the River Seine and many of them offer lunch and dinner cruises, live music and a narrated tour. Just decide what your priority is, basic transportation or something more, and proceed from there.
Like any other major city Paris has an abundance of taxis, although when you need one, they seem to disappear into thin air. We used a taxi on three different occasions without a major incident, although we did have trouble locating a taxi when we really needed one to get to the train station early one morning. Paris taxis will charge a service fee of 2.10 euro plus the mileage rate, which depends on the time of day and what zone you are in. An average fare within central Paris will run you about 6 to 12 euro. The per kilometer rates vary from .82 to 1.33 euro and there is a 1 euro fee for each piece of luggage. Some drivers also will not take more than three passengers and if they do there is yet another fee of 2.75 euro for the fourth passenger.
While this all sounds complicated and expensive it’s really not. We found the taxis in Paris to be a quick and easy way to get from one end of the city to the other when we were on a tight schedule and had our luggage. If you know you are going to use a taxi ahead of time you would be wise to arrange for it a day or two prior so you don't run into the problem we had. One of our hotels told us they would have no problem getting us two taxis early one morning so we could get to the train station. We requested they arrange this ahead of time but they insisted it would not be a problem to wait until that morning. Well, we almost missed our train because no taxis were available. In a city with thousands of taxis how could there not be two available? Lesson learned.
The Little Train of Montmartre
Hopefully you found this overview of getting around in Paris useful. Once you get comfortable with the layout of the city you'll be zipping around town like a local. When in doubt always ask and be sure to utilize your accommodations for advice and tips.
View of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
© 2015 Bill De Giulio