Seeing Paris On The Cheap
Seeing the sites in Paris can be a costly adventure. First, the city itself is very large. On our recent trip we went from Notre Dame to the Louvre, up to Sacre Coeur and back to Notre Dame and clocked fourteen miles. There are a couple of hop-on, hop-off bus services like Big Bus Tours but expect to pay between 40€ to 60€ per person. Add in a Seine boat excursion and it climbs to 75 to 85€.
While Paris boasts one of the worlds oldest and largest subway systems (Metro) that includes 14 city lines, 2 Tramways and 6 RER express lines it strikes most visitors as just overwhelming especially with the language barrier.
Above is the official system map and it does look imposing. The color coded, numbered lines are the city Metro routes. The lettered routes are the RER lines that are an express underground or subway trains in Paris city centre, outside Paris it becomes a ground level commuter train connecting outlying suburbs. In addition, on the map there are 27 transfer stations along with connections to airport shuttles spotted around Paris.
Our recommendation is to put your fears aside, focus on your goals and go underground.
We created the map above to simplify the system and focus on routes that have the highest value to a new visitor. They include Metro routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12. It includes orange asterisks that highlight tourist attractions that include:
- E – Eiffel Tower
- A – Arc de Triomphe
- D – Notre Dame
- B – Sacre Coeur
- C – Louvre
- F – Champs-Élysées
- B – Montmarte
We have also removed the RAR express train routes as the Metro will get you to almost all major visitor destinations with less confusion.
By simplifying the system you can now focus on where you will be entering the system, where you want to go and what lines you need to use to get there. To make sure you are going in the right direction make a note of a lines end stations as they are usually used to identify a trains direction of travel. If you are staying on another line simply locate your station on the general map and find the transfer point to get you onto a destination line.
For example, if you get on the Yellow Line at the Louvre and want to go to the Arc de Triomphe at the Charle De Gaulle Etoile station, look for a train with the destination of La Defense Grand Arche to be sure you are going in the right direction.
Tickets And System Cost
There are visitor passes available for one to five days on the Metro in Paris center:
- 1 day: 12€ (kids : 5.80€)
- 2 days: 19.50€ (kids : 9.75€)
- 3 days: 26.65€ (kids : 13.30€)
- 5 days: 38.35€ (kids: 19.15€)
In addition there is a card fro travel outside of the city center called the Mobilis Card for unlimited travel for one day in Zone 1-5 for 7.00€.
For most visitors it is often cheaper to buy one-trip tickets. A single ticket costs €1.80. A single ticket is valid for 1½ hours within the metro system but if unvalidated, will last indefinitely. The best buy is a ‘CARNET’ which is a pack of 10 single tickets. You won’t have to mess around buying tickets each time you use the train and you can split the pack with your companion. It is also cheaper buying a carnet than a single ticket each time. A carnet of 10 single tickets costs €14.10. Therefore a saving of 3.90 euros. Paris is a city of attractions and each stop can take a few hours to see,so buying single tickets can be much cheaper than a full day or multi day pass depending on your plans for the day.
Each ticket allows travel from an entry station to any exit station regardless of distance. Insert your ticket into the slot, when it comes out pass thru the gate. Be sure and carry that ticket with you until you exit the Metro above ground as tickets are occasionally check inside the Metro to confirm validity (fines if you cannot produce the ticket).
You can buy a single ticket, a Carnet of tickets or recharge Navigo Decouverte passes at a green colored machine in the Metro or at ticket counters, but ticket counters are not always staffed and not all of the staff speak English.
You can use Euros, coins or debit/credit cards if they have a chip. Some machines are used only for re-charging Navigo cards and most newer machines offer instructions in several languages. Most machines have touch screens but some have a large silver cylinder shaped scroll device below the screen. Gliding your fingers on this will scroll up and down the screen.
Using The System
Once you have your ticket, go to the turnstiles. Slip the ticket in the slot, move forward but wait for the ticket to pop out at the top, than move through the turnstile and hang on to your ticket and don’t discard it until you have left the system. If a red light appears, the card isn’t being accepted. If you know it is a new card, go to a ticket counter.
Be prepared to do some walking in Métro stations, especially if you transfer. Transfers are free and can be made wherever lines cross, provided you do so within 1.5 hours. When you are looking for the right platform, follow the signs by the color of the line, the line number and the line end destination. When you transfer, follow the colored line number and end-of-the-line stop to find your next train, or look for signs that lead to your next line. At the destination look for the blue-and-white sortie signs pointing you to the exit. After you exit the system, dispose of the used ticket.
The Paris Metro is a blend of a number of lines with different ages.There are three types of trains with three types of door mechanisms. The newer trains have automatic opening and closing doors. Another type has a green button when pressed opens the doors. The third has a handle, which you pull up and the door will open.
Upon leaving a train look for signs for your next line and the direction you need to go on the platform, looking for the line color, the line number and the end destination of the line. Also look for your exit and note if it has a number. As you walk through the station it helps to follow the number, rather than names.
Leaving The System
If the station has only one exit simply follow the SORTIE signs. Otherwise follow the SORTIE, exit signs to the right exit. On leaving you will find steel doors, there are two types; automatic and manual. You either push the doors open or you stand on a sensor pad and the doors will automatically open. In the larger and newly renovated stations there are turnstiles where you simply walk through.
There is also an APP for the Paris Transit System (the android app is HERE) for Apple and Android but thus far they reviews aren’t good.
To download your free pdf copy of our Paris Metro map:
Up next, boat tours on the Seine.