Destination guide: Paris, France

Paris is the capital of France and one of the most famous cities in Europe.

Each year, thousands of tourists arrive in the so-called "City of Love" to visit the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, the Moulin Rouge, the Olympic Stadium, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, the Champs Elysees and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as many other attractions.

Paris has a bohemian, inspiring and sublime atmosphere, which is why it's normal to see artists looking for their muses, poets reciting their poetry and people reading in public. Plan your trip to Paris and discover all the charm this city has to offer.

  • Paris - Transportation

    Bicycle

    Two-wheeling has never been so good in the city of romance thanks to Vélib’ (a crunching of vélo, meaning bike, and liberté, meaning freedom), a self-service bike scheme whereby you pick up a pearly-grey bike for peanuts from one roadside Vélib’ docking station, pedal wherever you’re going, and park it right outside at another.

    A runaway success since its launch in 2007, Vélib’ ([tel] 01 30 79 79 30; www.velib.paris.fr; day/week/year subscription €1/5/29, bike hire 1st/2nd/3rd & each additional half-hr free/€2/4) has revolutionised how Parisians get around. Its almost 1500 stations Vélib’ across the city – one every 300m – sport 20-odd bike stands a head (at the last count there were 23,300 bicycles in all flitting around Paris and the suburbs) and are accessible around the clock. iPhone launched a Vélib’ application in mid-2010.

    To get a bike, you need a Vélib’ account: One- and seven-day subscriptions can be purchased at the terminals found at docking stations with a major credit card provided it has a microchip (be warned North Americans). As a deposit you’ll need to pre-authorise a caution (deposit or guarantee) of €150, which is debited if your bike is not returned or is reported as stolen. If the station you want to return your bike to is full, swipe your card across the multilingual terminal to get 15 minutes for free to find another station. Bikes are geared to cyclists aged 14 and over, and are fitted with gears, antitheft lock with key, reflective strips and front/rear lights. Bring your own helmet though!

    Note that bicycles are not allowed on buses or the metro except on line 1 on Sunday and public holidays until 4.30pm. You can, however, take your bicycle to the suburbs on RER lines before 6.30am, between 9am and 4.30pm and after 7pm on weekdays, and all day at the weekend and on public holidays. More-lenient rules apply to SNCF commuter services. Contact SNCF for details.

    Boat

    For pleasure cruises on the Seine, Canal St-Martin and Canal de l’Ourcq.

    For a more flexible, hop-on-and-off approach:

    Batobus

    Its fleet of glassed-in trimarans dock at eight small piers along the Seine and tickets are sold at each stop as well as tourist offices. For those keen to combine boat with bus, its Paris à la Carte deal allows two/three consecutive days of unlimited travel on Batobus boats and L’Open Tour buses for €41/44 (child€20/20).

    Telephone Number: 0 825 050 101
    Pricing: adult 1-/2-/3-day pass €13/17/20, student €9/12/14, child 2-16yr €7/9/10
    Opening Hours: 10am-9.30pm late May – Aug, 10am-7pm Sep – early Nov & mid-Mar – late May, 10.30am-4.30pm mid-Nov – early Jan & early Feb – mid-Mar, closed early Jan – early Feb.

    Boats depart every 15 to 30 minutes from various stops:

    • Champs-Élysées (Port des Champs-Élysées, 8e; [metro] Champs-Élysées–Clemenceau)
    • Eiffel Tower (Port de la Bourdonnais, 7e; [metro] Champ de Mars–Tour Eiffel)<
    • Hôtel de Ville (quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4e; [metro] Hôtel de Ville)
    • Jardin des Plantes (quai St-Bernard, 5e; [metro] Jussieu)
    • Musée d’Orsay (quai de Solférino, 7e; [metro] Musée d’Orsay)
    • Musée du Louvre (quai du Louvre, 1er; [metro] Palais Royal–Musée du Louvre)
    • Notre Dame (quai de Montebello, 5e; [metro] St-Michel)
    • St-Germain des Prés (quai Malaquais, 6e; [metro] St-Germain des Prés)


    Bus

    Local Buses

    Paris’ bus system, operated by RATP, runs from 5.30am to 8.30pm Monday to Saturday; after that, certain service en soirée (evening service) lines continue until between midnight and 12.30am. Services are drastic- ally reduced on Sunday and public holidays, when buses run from 7am to 8.30pm. Among useful evening routes – distinct from the Noctilien overnight services described here – are route 26 between the Gare St-Lazare and Nation via Gare du Nord; route 38 linking Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Châtelet and Porte d’Orléans via blvd St-Michel; route 92 from Gare Montparnasse to place Charles de Gaulle via Alma Marceau; and route 95 between Porte de Montmartre and Porte de Vanves via Opéra and St-Germain. The same fares and conditions apply on evening routes as on regular daytime services.

    Night Buses

    Night buses pick up after the last metro (around 1.15am Sunday to Thursday, 2.15am Friday and Saturday). Buses depart hourly from 12.30am to 5.30pm. The RATP runs 47 night bus lines known as Noctilien (www.noctilien.fr), including direct or semidirect services out to the suburbs. The services pass through the main gares (train stations) and cross the major axes of the city before leading out to the suburbs. Many go through Châtelet: rue de Rivoli, blvd Sébastopol and av Victoria. Look for navy-blue N or Noctilien signs at bus stops. There are two circular lines within Paris (the N01 and N02) that link four main train stations – St-Lazare, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse – as well as popular nightlife areas (Bastille, Champs-Elysées, Pigalle, St-Germain).

    The buses are equipped with security surveillance systems linked to local police, and RATP staff members are posted at major points to help passengers. Do remain alert, however, and watch your bags and pockets –
    Noctilien services are included on your Mobilis or Paris Visite pass for the zones in which you are travelling. Otherwise you pay a certain number of standard €1.60 metro/bus tickets, depending on the length of your journey. The driver can sell you a ticket for €1.70 and will explain how many you need to get to your destination.

    Tickets & Fares

    Normal bus rides embracing one or two bus zones cost one metro/bus ticket; longer rides require two or even three tickets. Transfers to other buses – but not the metro – are allowed on the same ticket as long as the change takes place 1½ hours between the first and last validation. This does not apply to Noctilien services.

    Whatever kind of single-journey ticket you have, you must oblitérer (cancel) it in the composteur (cancelling machine) next to the driver. If you have a Mobilis or Paris Visite pass, flash it at the driver when you board. Do not cancel the magnetic coupon that accompanies your pass.

    Car & Motorcycle

    While driving in Paris is nerve-wracking, it’s not impossible – except for the faint-hearted or indecisive. The fastest way to get across the city is usually via the blvd Périphérique, the ring road that encircles the city.

    Hire

    You can get a small car (eg a Renault Twingo or Opel Corsa) for one day for as low as €45, including 100km and insurance. Most of the larger companies have offices throughout Paris and at airports and main train stations, including Gare de Nord ([metro] Gare de Nord). Several are represented at Aérogare des Invalides ([metro] Invalides) in the 7e.

    Parking

    In most parts of Paris, street parking costs €1.50 to €3 an hour from 9am to 7pm Monday to Saturday and is limited to a maximum of two hours. Parking meters do not accept coins but require a Paris Carte, available at any tabac (tobacconist) for €10 to €30. The machine will issue you a ticket for the allotted time, which should be placed on the dashboard behind the windscreen. Municipal public car parks, of which there are more than 200 in Paris, charge between €2 and €3.50 an hour or €20 to €25 per 24 hours. Most open 24 hours.

    Parking attendants dispense fines ranging from €11 to €35, depending on the offence and its gravity, with great abandon. To pay a fine, buy a timbre amende (fine stamp) for the amount written on the ticket from any tabac (tobacconist), stick a stamp on the preaddressed coupon and put it in a postbox.

    Public Transport

    Métro & RER Networks

    Paris’ underground network, run by RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisians), consists of two separate but linked systems: the Métropolitain, aka the métro, with 16 lines (including the now independent 3b and 7b) and 300 stations (with 384 stops); and the RER (Réseau Express Régional), a network of suburban lines (designated A to E and then numbered) that pass through the city centre. For the sake of convenience, the term ‘metro’ is often used to cover both the Métropolitain and the RER system within Paris proper.

    For information on the metro, RER and bus systems, contact RATP ([tel] 32 46; www.ratp.fr; [hrs] 7am-9pm Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm Sat & Sun). Metro maps of various sizes and degrees of detail are available for free at metro ticket windows; several can also be downloaded for free from the RATP website.

    Métro

    Metro lines have a terminus at each end; the name of the line depends on which direction you are travelling. To simplify matters further, on maps and plans each line has a different colour and number (from 1 to 14, plus 3b and 7b).

    Signs in metro and RER stations indicate the way to the correct platform for your line. The direction signs on each platform indicate the terminus. On lines that split into several branches (such as lines 7 and 13), the terminus of each train is indicated on the cars with backlit panels, and on the electronic signs on each platform giving the number of minutes until the next and subsequent train. Signs marked correspondance (transfer or change) show how to reach connecting trains. At stations with many intersecting lines, like Châtelet and Montparnasse Bienvenüe, walking from one train to the next can take a very long time.

    Different station exits are indicated by white-on-blue sortie (exit) signs. You can get your bearings by checking the plan du quartier (neighbourhood maps) posted at exits. Each line has its own schedule, but trains usually start at around 5.30am, with the last train beginning its run between 12.35am and 1.15am (2.15am on Friday and Saturday).

    RER

    The RER is faster than the metro but the stops are much farther apart. Some attractions, particularly those on the Left Bank (eg the Musée d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower and Panthéon), can be reached far more conveniently by the RER than by the metro.

    RER lines are known by an alphanumeric combination – the letter (A to E) refers to the line, the number to the spur it will follow somewhere out in the suburbs. As a rule of thumb, even-numbered RER lines head for Paris’ southern or eastern suburbs, while odd-numbered ones go north or west. Stations served are usually indicated on electronic destination boards above the platform.

    Tickets & Fares

    The same RATP tickets are valid on the metro, the RER (for travel within the city limits), buses, trams and the Montmartre funicular. A ticket – white in colour and called Le Ticket t+ – costs €1.60 (half-price for children aged four to nine years) if bought individually and €11.60 for adults for a carnet (book) of 10 (NB: half-price carnets are both available for children). Tickets are sold at all metro stations; ticket windows and vending machines accept most credit cards.

    One ticket lets you travel between any two metro stations (no return journeys) for a period of 1½ hours, no matter how many transfers are required. You can also use it on the RER for travel within zone 1, which encompasses all of central Paris. A single ticket can be used to transfer between buses, but not to transfer from the metro to bus or vice-versa. Transfers are not allowed on Noctilien buses.

    Always keep your ticket until you exit from your station; you may be stopped by a contrôleur (ticket inspector) and will have to pay a fine (€25 to €50 on the spot or €47 to €72 within two months) if you don’t have a valid ticket.

    Travel Passes

    If you’re staying in Paris longer than a few days, the cheapest and easiest way to use public transport in Paris is to get a combined travel pass that allows unlimited travel on the metro, RER and buses for a week, a month or even a year. You can get passes for travel in two to six zones but, unless you’ll be using the suburban commuter lines extensively, the basic ticket valid for zones 1 and 2 should be sufficient.

    Navigo (www.navigo.fr, in French), like London’s Oyster or Hong Kong’s Octopus cards, is a system that provides you with a refillable weekly, monthly or yearly unlimited pass that you can recharge at machines in most metro stations; to pass through the station barrier swipe the card across the electronic panel as you go through the turnstiles. Standard Navigo passes, available to anyone with an address in Île de France, are free but take up to three weeks to be issued; ask at the ticket counter for a form or visit the Navigo website.

    Otherwise pay €5 for a Nagivo Découverte (Navigo Discovery) card, which is issued on the spot but (unlike the standard Navigo pass) not replaceable if lost or stolen. Both passes require a passport photo and can be recharged for periods of one week or more.

    A weekly ticket (coupon hebdomadaire) pass costs €17.20 for zones 1 and 2 and is valid from Monday to Sunday. It can be purchased from the previous Friday until Thursday; from the next day weekly tickets are available for the following week only. Even if you’re in Paris for three or four days, it may work out cheaper than buying carnets and will certainly cost less than buying a daily Mobilis or Paris Visite pass. The monthly ticket (coupon mensuel; €56.60 for zones 1 and 2) begins on the first day of each calendar month; you can buy one from the 20th of the preceding month. Both are sold in metro and RER stations from 6.30am to 10pm and at some bus terminals.

    Tourist Passes

    The Mobilis and Paris Visite passes are valid on the metro, RER, SNCF’s suburban lines, buses, night buses, trams and Montmartre funicular railway. No photo is needed, but write your card number on the ticket. Passes are sold at larger metro and RER stations, SNCF offices in Paris, and the airports.

    The Mobilis card coupon allows unlimited travel for one day in two/three/four/five/six zones and costs €5.90/7.90/9.80/13.20/16.70. Buy it at any metro, RER or SNCF station in the Paris region. Depending on how many times you plan to hop on/off the metro in a day, a carnet might work out cheaper.

    Paris Visite allows unlimited travel (including to/from airports) as well as discounted entry to certain museums and other discounts and bonuses. Passes are valid for either three or six zones. The zone 1 to 3 pass costs €8.80/14.40/19.60/28.30 for one/two/three/five days. Children aged four to 11 years pay half-price.

    Taxi

    The prise en charge (flagfall) is €2.20. Within the city limits, it costs €0.89 per kilometre for travel between 10am and 5pm Monday to Saturday (Tarif A; white light on taxi roof and meter). At night (5pm to 10am), on Sunday from 7am to midnight, and in the inner suburbs the rate is €1.14 per km (Tarif B; orange light). Travel in the outer suburbs is at Tarif C, €1.33 per kilometre (blue light). There’s a €2.95 surcharge for taking a fourth passenger, but drivers often refuse for insurance reasons. The first piece of baggage is free; additional pieces over 5kg cost €1 extra. When tipping, round up to the nearest €1 or so.

    Flagging down one of Paris’ 16,600-odd licensed taxis can be difficult, particularly after 1am. Some ‘freelance’ (illegal) taxis nip around town but are not organised (like minicabs are in London) and offer no guarantee on price or safety.

    To order a taxi, call:

    Central taxi switchboard ([tel] 01 45 30 30 30, passengers with reduced mobility 01 47 39 00 91; [hrs] 24hr)
    Alpha Taxis [tel] 01 45 85 85 85; www.alphataxis.com
    Taxis Bleus [tel] 01 49 36 29 48, 0 891 701 010; www.taxis-bleus.com
    Taxis G7 [tel] 01 47 39 47 39; www.taxisg7.fr)

    Train

    Suburban

    The RER and the commuter lines of the SNCF (Sociéte’ Nationale des Chemins de Fer; [tel] 0 891 362 020; www.transilien.com) serve suburban destinations outside the city limits (ie zones 2 to 6) in the Île de France. Purchase your ticket before you board the train or you won’t be able to get out of the station when you arrive. You are not allowed to pay the additional fare when you get there.

    If you are issued with a full-sized SNCF ticket for travel to the suburbs, validate it in one of the time-stamp pillars before you board the train. You may also be given a contremarque magnétique (magnetic ticket) to get through any metro-/RER-type turnstiles on the way to/from the platform. If you are travelling on a Mobilis or Paris Visite pass, do not punch the magnetic coupon in one of the time-stamp machines. Most but not all RER/SNCF tickets purchased in the suburbs for travel to the city allow you to continue your journey by metro. For some destinations, tickets can be purchased at any metro ticket window; for others you have to go to an RER station on the line you need to buy a ticket.

    Tram & Funicular

    Paris has three tram lines run by the RATP, although the majority of visitors are unlikely to use any of them. T1 links the northern suburb of St-Denis (metro line 13) with Noisy le Sec on RER line E2 via metro La Courneuve 8 Mai 1945 on metro line 7 and Bobigny Pablo Picasso on metro line 5; T2 runs south along the Seine from La Défense to metro Porte de Versailles on metro line 12; and the ever-expanding T3 currently traces a 7.9km-long curve around the southern edge of Paris from Pont du Garigliano (15e), through Porte de Versailles (where it links with the T2 and metro line 12), Porte d’Orléans, Porte d’Italie and up to Porte d’Ivry on metro line 7. Normal metro tickets and passes remain valid here and function in the same way as on the buses. Buy tickets at automatic machines at each tram stop.

    One form of transport that most travellers will use is the Funiculaire de Montmartre (Montmartre funicular), which whisks visitors up the southern slope of Butte de Montmartre from square Willette ([metro] Anvers on line 2) to Sacré Cœur.