Friday, October 14, 2011

Paris Part Two: Getting around

[I'm writing this post while we're still making plans for our trip. We will be visiting Paris in December 2011]

Figuring where to stay in Paris can be an exciting (and exhausting!) thing to do. But what next? Paris is a city that offers, as the cliche goes, something for everybody. There's art, music, architecture, food, education, fashion, shopping, people watching...more to do and too little time to do it all. Given that, it's good to get your bearings right before you visit and figure what's a good way to get around. And at the very end, I'll tell you the best way to get around in Paris!

Understanding Paris
There are two simple things to remember about the geography of Paris.

Image source: Wikipedia

The first is that the River Seine divides Paris into two rough halves - the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) and the Right Bank (Rive Droite). Areas north of the the River are the referred to as the Right Bank and those south of the River comprise the Left Bank. The Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, Luxembourg Gardens, Musee Rodin and the Saint Germain des Pres area are some of the notable Left Bank occupants, as is Paris' famous Sorbonne University. The Right Bank features notables such as Musee du Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Sacre Coeur, Montmarte, Centre Pompidou and the famous Marais neighborhood.

The second thing to remember is that Paris is divided into Arrondissements numbered 1 to 20. The 1st Arrondissement is located in the historic centre of Paris (on the Right Bank) and the other 19 spiral outwards clockwise on either sides of the River Seine. This division might sound complicated but it actually makes getting around and planning much easier (and you can thank Emperor Napoleon III who did this in 1860). Each Arrondissement has it's own distinct character, sights, history, cafes, restaurants and bistros. The last two digits on the Paris postal code tell you which Arrondissement you are in (75001 to 75020).

Paris offers great options for travellers to get around. There's the network of trains (Metro and RER) and Bus to pick from. While most of the information is available online in detail, including the fantastic RATP site, I'm just going to give you a quick overview of the basics.

The Metro
The Metro, like metros in most other cities, is a quick, efficient way to get around with stops at every station along each line. The Metro has 300 stations and 16 lines, each with a unique colour. The lines are numbered 1 to 14 but there are two secondary lines 3b and 7b. The lines are named according to the name of the terminal station.

The Metro runs from 5:30 am to 12:40 am from Sunday to Thursday and 5:30 am to 1:40 am on Fridays and Saturdays, with trains at an interval of a few minutes. The RATP site has detailed information, including maps, so I won't go into the details here.
It's important to figure tickets before you travel, since public transport in Paris offers a variety of ticketing options - single & multi-day tickets, weekly, monthly & yearly passes and ticket booklets. Tickets are valid for the Zones that you purchase them for and the prices referred to here are largely only for Paris and not specifically for the suburbs or sights out of Paris, like Versailles. For more details on the pricing for different zones, visit the RATP site.

Single ticket: A single ticket (called ticket t+) costs 1.70€ and is valid for one single continuous journey, including change of lines to your destination or on the RER. A better option for travellers is a booklet called the Carnet.
Carnet: A Carnet is basically a booklet of 10 single tickets sold at 12.50€ (at 1.25€ a ticket, it's a better option than buying single tickets). You don't get an actual booklet. What you get is a set of 10 tickets to use whenever you want to. There's also a discount for children from ages 4-9 (under 4 years old ride free).
Day ticket: Called the Ticket Mobilis, it gives you unlimited rides on the Metro during operational hours for 1 day. It costs 6.30€.
Multi-day tickets: Called the Carte Paris Visite, this is a pass that is valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 days and for different Zones. In addition, the Visite also comes bundled with discounts at certain attractions. From what I've read and researched, it's not a very good option compared to the Carnet or the...
Pass Navigo Decouverte: For people like me who are staying for more than a week, this is a fantastic option. No flimsy tickets to deal with, no fumbling with the ticket slot, no nothing. The catch is it's valid from Monday to Sunday with no continuous 7-day usage period from midweek. The card is activated on the Monday following the day you purchase the card and expires the following Sunday. So if you're arriving mid-week, a Carnet is still a better option. It's priced at a great 18.85€ per week (but remember to add a non-refundable 5€ fee for the first time you buy the card). Remember to carry a 2.5cm x 2cm photograph for the paper nominative card that accompanies the plastic card. Both cards must be carried together for use.

RER (Reseau Express Regionale - Regional Express Network)
The RER is pretty much like the Metro, except these are fast trains with fewer stops. There are 5 lines (A, B, C, D & E). The RATP site has detailed maps of the RER that you can download. If you're arriving at CDG Airport (detailed out below in the section of getting to and from CDG Airport), the RER connects you to the city. It's also a great option if you're visiting Euro Disney. If you're travelling wihin Paris, the Metro ticket (or pass) can be used on the RER as well.
The following passes are valid for travel on the RER: Ticket Mobilis, Carte Paris Visite and Pass Navigo Decouverte. But do remember the fares for the passes and the tickets are determined by the zones you buy them for.
Travelling by bus in Paris is a fantastic option. It's definitely the most scenic way to get around and it also gives you the option to hop off if you've seen some place interesting where you want to make an unscheduled stop.
There are Bus stops every few blocks all over Paris and some of them act as points where different lines intersect. Buses run from 5:30 am to midnight, although it would be wise to check the actual timings since not all of them run until midnight. There's also a night bus network, called the Noctilien, that runs through the night. Buses on this network aren't as frequent as the regular buses and aren't as well-spread either. Arm yourself with a map for the Noctilien to avoided getting stranded late at night. Some buses also run through a lot of scenic routes but I'll list them out in future posts on things to do and see in Paris. [I've just re-written some bits of this section, thanks to helpful advice from djkbooks at I've learnt a lot from him and other experienced travellers on the Paris Forum. Do not skip checking it out!]

By River
Venice has it's Gondolas, Paris has Batobus. Well, they're not as romantic and exclusive as the gondolas but the Batobus River Shuttle is still a great way to explore Paris. The Batobus is basically a hop on-hop off service that has 8 stops along the River Seine - Tour Eiffel, St-Germain-des-Pres, Jardin des Plantes, Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Notre-Dame, Hotel de Ville and Champs-Elysees. The boats run at different frequencies around the year but on an average, you can find one every 20 minutes or so. Tickets are available in a variety of options. 1 day pass (14€), 2 day pass (18€), 5 day pass (21€) and an annual pass (60€). Remember, on the 2 day and 5 day pass, it's 2 or 5 consecutive days from the first day you use it. The Batobus is definitely a great way to see Paris and I suggest at least a 1 day pass where you can hop on and hop off at every stop and see the bits of the city around these stops. The link to the site has detailed information on the rates, points of sale and timetables around the year.

From Charles de Gaulle Airport
Train: You can get from CDG Airport to Paris in a number of different ways - train, bus or taxi/shuttle.
The RER B line runs from CDG Airport to Paris city with stops at Gare du Nord, Chatelet les Halles, St Michel/Notre Dame, Luxembourg, Port Royal, Denfert Rochereau and Cite Universitaire. The ticket price is 9.10€. If you have heavy luggage, it's not advisable. Escalators aren't available at every station and are known to be shut without prior notice. It's also not the easiest thing in the world to cart large suitcases in and out of packed commuter trains.
Bus: There are quite a few bus options available. Air France operates buses from both Terminal 1 & 2. There's also the RoissyBus & RATP that connects CDG Airport to Paris city.
Taxi: Depending on when you arrive, the number of passengers and the luggage you're carrying, taxis are an option you can also consider. If you're a larger group (or willing to take a shared taxi), a shuttle is also an option.
I'm intentionally not going into the details in this post because there's a lot of information available online, especially here.

Things to remember:
  1. Familiarize yourself with the map of Paris.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the Metro map. It looks complicated but it isn't.
  3. Watch for pickpockets at stations.
  4. Pick the best ticket option on the Metro and RER. This depends on which day of the week you're coming in, how long you're staying and what your schedule is looking like. For all practical purposes, a Carnet is a great idea. For those coming in early during the week or on a weekend, the Pass Navigo Decouverte is excellent.
  5. Tickets and passes are valid for both buses and the Metro.
  6. Tickets to and from certain venues (CDG Airport, Versailles, etc.) may not be covered by what you've purchased previously. So check your zones and buy separate tickets for these journeys.
  7. If you've got a lot of luggage (more than one large item per traveller), spend a few extra Euros and get a taxi or a shuttle.
  8. Download a Metro app on your phone or begin using the RATP site. It's really helpful and user-friendly.
  9. Ben Lam has written what I consider the Bible on travelling in Paris by train. I've found his site invaluable. I'm sure you will too when you check it out. Or you'll kick yourself for not checking it out once you get to Paris.
  10. If you're lost, don't worry. You can walk your way out in Paris.
  11. Finally, here's the best way to actually get around Paris: by foot.


Post a Comment