From the bourgeois chic of the 16th arrondissement to the trendy shopping and nightlife of the Marais, and from the literary legends of Montparnasse to the quaint side streets of picturesque Montmartre, Paris has something to offer everyone. Whether perusing the quayside bouquinistes, trekking the infinite halls of the Louvre, or dancing jusqu’a l’aube (till dawn) at Le Queen, every minute of a stay in Paris will overwhelm your senses and surpass your expectations from one pleasure-filled moment to the next.
Paris is an interesting dichotomy of subtle inspiration and unrelenting challenges.
Wander along the Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the night and you may peek into a doorway to find a painter passionately splashing colours onto a canvas in his studio, smell the sweet aroma of warm morning bread from a boulangerie, or hear the low tones of a trumpet player practicing below in the moonlight on the quay. Come morning, hordes of tourists and rushed businesspeople flock through the streets and descend into the snaking halls of the metro, causing some of the most jammed traffic and congested sidewalk choreography you can find anywhere.
A first venture into the most visited capital in the world will present you with unique perspectives into culture, history, fashion, gastronomy, and the arts. At times it can be a strenuous task to navigate through such a complex urban metropolis, but ultimately worth it many times over. Once you familiarise yourself with the metro system and overcome the initial shock, you can begin to enjoy all the intricate complacencies of Parisian life.
The city’s 20 arrondissements are laid out in l’escargot, a snail-shaped pattern of quartiers, spiraling out from the centre, and each with its own distinct flavour, so that a stroll from one to the next often feels like you are passing through villages rather than traversing a city.
The métro system is easy and efficient, and often an interesting form of entertainment on its own, with performers and musicians taking advantage of the sometimes very long commutes. This underground labyrinthine system has over 300 station stops, which means you are never more than a ten minute walk from one. Often it will suffice to walk to the nearest métro station to get your bearings when you are lost. If you are in Paris for three days or a week, it is usually worth it to buy a three day metro pass or a weekly carte orange instead of individual tickets. However, Paris is a very walkable city, and some of the most magical moments and beautiful scenes can unfold along random wanderings through cobbled backstreets and ancient passages.
You can’t get lost in Paris as long as you know where the nearest métro or RER station is. Outside every station, and on most busy streets you will find maps of the local area.
For an up-to-date look at what’s happening around Paris, including information on gigs and theatre, pick up a copy of Pariscope (€0.50 in French). If you want information in English grab a copy of the Paris Free Voice from the bins at the WH Smith bookshop near Place de la Concord or the American Church near Invalides.
Paris is divided into 20 numbered districts known as arrondisements. It is a common practice for people to refer to a part of town by its arrondisement number so don’t be too surprised when someone tells you that they live in the 17th. Parisian postal codes are made up of a combination of the department number 75 plus a zero and the arrondisement number. Therefore the postal code for the 17th arrondisement is 75017.
The following hostels have free wireless internet access: Absolute Paris, Aloha Hostel, CISP Kellermann, CISP Maurice Ravel, Hotel Caulaincourt Square, Oops Budget Hotel and St Christopher’s Paris “On the Canal”.
Many parks and public libraries throughout Paris have free wireless internet access, although Wi-Fi only operates during government business hours. The City of Paris maintains a website listing city services (including Wi-Fi hotspots) on an interactive map.
Free Wi-Fi access is also available in many branches of McDonalds as well as an increasing number of cafes throughout Paris.
Paris has an excellent network of public transport operated by RATP (Regie Autonome de Transports Parisians) comprising buses, trams (in some suburbs), suburban trains, RER (suburban trains that go underground through the centre) and the métro (underground).
The Parisian transport network is divided into six zones and the price of your ticket will be reflected by the zone you are travelling to. This zone system applies mainly to the RER and suburban trains, but all the métro stations can be reached with a single ticket or a single zone travel pass even though some métro lines extend as far as zone three. If you have to venture out into the suburbs where there is a choice of métro, train or RER it works out much cheaper to take the métro – this applies mainly to excursions to La Defense, Château de Vincennes and St Denis.
The Paris métro is one of the world’s best public transport systems with 16 lines, 303 stations and 214km (133 miles) of track. The route map looks like a tangled mess of coloured spaghetti with lines and stations everywhere. Once you’ve mastered the confusion, you’ll appreciate that there is a station within a five minute walk anywhere within the city.
Free colour maps are available from tourist information centres and all métro stations (just ask for un plan du métro, s’il vous plaît) or you can download them in PDF format from the RATP website. If you are lost, you’ll find a map of the local area at the entrance to each station.
Each métro line is numbered with the direction indicated by the destination at the end of the line. It is quite a simple system when you consider that the trains always run on their own line and stop at each station indicated. If you have to make un correspondance (a transfer between lines) you need to follow the signs indicating the line number and direction (the station at the end of the line). This will lead you down endless corridors, past newstands and accordian players, up stairs and escalators eventually leading you to another platform where you can hop on a train. The sortie sign indicates the exit.
Although most of the métro system is designed for efficiency, some stations are elaborate works of art. Take a look at Louvre-Rivoli with its art from the nearby Louvre museum or the beautiful murals on line one at Bastille; or for something completely different, check out the polished brass submarine architecture on the line 11 platform at Arts et Métiers. Line 14, the first new métro line since 1935, offers a completely high-tech experience.
The métro runs from around 5.30am to midnight.
The Réseau Express Régional (RER) is a suburban train network jointly operated by RATP and SNCF which runs underground through the city centre where it acts like an express métro.
The RER is integrated with the métro and regular métro tickets can be used on the RER within zone one. Within the city limits the RER is a great way to quickly get across town. Line A covers the east/west axis from the Arc de Triomphe to Nation. Line B speeds you from north to south taking you from Gare du Nord to Cité Universitaire. Line C covers a few areas left out by the métro connecting Gare d’Austerlitz with the Notre Dame (St Michel), the Musée d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower (Champs de Mars), the Statue of Liberty (Javel) and Porte Maillot. Line D is a good express route between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon.
If you are heading out into the suburbs, for instance if you want to visit Versailles or get to one of the airports, you will need to buy a separate ticket to your destination.
Although some of the suburban train lines have been converted into the RER, there are still many suburban train services which operate from all the main Parisian train stations. You’re not likely to use these services unless you’re visiting friends who live in the suburbs or you’re trying to get to hitchhiking spots or sights on the outskirts of Paris such as Fontainbleau, Versailles or Chantilly.
Paris Visite and Passe Navigo travel passes are valid on suburban train services as long as the station falls within the zones for which the pass is valid. You will need to buy an individual ticket if you don’t hold one of these passes. If you are given a large SNCF ticket, you will need to validate it at one of the orange date-stamping machines on the platform.
Paris has nine tram lines, which are listed on métro and RER maps. Most tram lines run in the suburbs and the outer arrondissements. Tram route 3a is handy for travelling along the southern edge of the city and tram 3b runs along the city’s northeastern edge. Another handy tram route is tram T7, which runs between Villejuif – Louis Aragon metro and Orly airport.
Paris is also well served by local bus routes which can provide a good sightseeing tour of the city since you’re not stuck underground on the métro. The Balabus is a special bus route from Gare de Lyon to La Defense which has been designed to take in many of Paris’s major sights. Other bus routes may be a little more confusing for the visitor, since stops aren’t marked as clearly as the métro.
Paris Visite and Passe Navigo passes are valid on buses. Otherwise you can validate a métro ticket in the composteur machine on board the bus. You will need to validate one métro ticket for a short trip, however longer trips within the city limits require two tickets to be validated and trips into the suburbs may require up to six tickets to be validated making the bus a more expensive and confusing option than the métro.
Once the bus, train, tram, RER and métro lines cease operating for the night, a special night bus service known as Noctilien takes over. This service operates from 1am till 5.50am with 47 lines with stops at the city’s main train stations. You can use Paris Visite and Passe Navigo tickets on Noctilien.
There is also an open-top double-decker tourist bus service called L’Open Tour that runs a circuit of tourist sights. At €37 for a two-day pass (€33 for a one-day pass) this is a bit expensive although the unique position from the top deck allows for some excellent photo opportunities.
A single ticket (€1.90 if you buy on board a bus) will get you anywhere on the métro and within zone one on the RER. The best deal is to buy a carnet of ten tickets for €14.50. Just say “un carnet s’il vous plait”, if you are wearing a black polo-neck jumper and a scarf, the guy behind the counter will probably think you are a local. If you are planning to hang around a while, consider buying a weekly or monthly Navigo pass. Hold on to your ticket because you sometimes need it to transfer between lines and occasionally you might get stopped by someone in a snappy green blazer who will fine you if you don’t have a valid ticket.
The Paris Visite is a special pass for tourists visiting Paris. This pass allows unlimited travel on the métro, RER, suburban trains, trams, buses (including night buses) and the funicular railway at Montmartre. Although it seems a good deal, the Paris Visite Pass is quite expensive and you will really need to rely a lot on public transport to make the most of this pass.
The Paris Visite is available for a number of different zones in the Parisian transport system. The zone 1–3 pass covers all of central Paris plus excursions to La Defense, St Denis and Chateau de Vincennes. The 1–5 zone pass allows you to travel further afield to Versailles and Orly and Charles-de-Gaulle airports, while the 1–8 zone pass provides for all this and visits to Provins, Fontainebleau and Rambouillet. Unless you are really gung-ho about your sightseeing, it is probably better value to buy a couple of carnets of métro tickets rather than one of these passes. However a one-day 1–5 Paris Visite is a good option if you need to transfer between Orly and Charles-de-Gaulle airports, taking in a bit of sightseeing en-route.
|Zones||1 day||2 days||3 days||5 days|
This daily travel card is good for one day of unlimited travel on suburban trains, RER, trams, buses and the métro within the zones indicated on the pass. Unlike the Paris Visite, the Mobilis is not valid on some airport services. If you’re not planning on going to the airport, it is better value than the Paris Visite pass, but not as good a deal as the Passe Navigo Découverte.
This smartcard-based travel pass has replaced the weekly and monthly Carte Orange pass. The Passe Navigo costs €5 for a blank card, which credit is then added to. However the weekly and monthly Navigo passes are excellent value and it is worth getting a Passe Navigo if you’re planning on spending more than a week or two in Paris.
At only €22.15 for a weekly two zone ticket this is way cheaper than buying a Paris Visite pass. It’s worth buying one of these tickets even if you’re staying in Paris only three or four days .
You will need to bring a passport sized photo with you when you buy your Passe Navigo Découverte, the guy behind the counter will then ask for your name. Remember that nom is your surname and prénom is your first name. Once you have your pass, you will need to add credit for a weekly (semaine) or monthly (mensuel) travel pass. The weekly pass is valid from Monday to Sunday and the monthly pass is valid for a full calendar month so it best value if you buy it at the beginning of the week or month.
The Passe Navigo Découverte allows unlimited travel on buses (including night buses), trams, the Montmartre funiculaire, suburban trains, RER and the métro. You swipe your pass over the card reader just like using an Oyster card in London.
|1–2, 1–3, 1–4, 1–5, 2–4, 2–5, 3–5||€22.15||€73|
There is also a regular Passe Navigo, which is free. However this ticket is only available to residents of Ile-de-France.
Velib’ bicycle programme
Velib’ is a new citywide cycle programme that consists of over 23,000 bicycles at 1800 locations throughout Paris. That works out at around one Velib’ station every 300 metres, which makes Velib’ on of the world’s largest city bicycle programmes.
To gain access to the bikes you can buy a one-day access card for €1.70, a weekly card for €8 or an annual card for €29–39.
Once you have an access card you can ride the bikes for free for up to half an hour, the second half-hour of a rental period is charged at €1, the third half-hour is charged at €2 and each additional half hour costs €4. In other words, a 25-minute trip is free, a 45-minute trip costs €1 and a 1 hour and 20 minute trip costs €3.
When you have finished with your bike, just return it to the nearest Velib’ station and pay any additional charges that may be due.
Each Velib’ station has machines where you can buy one-day and weekly passes and pay additional rental charges after returning your bike. If you want an annual pass you need to complete an application form from a Marie (arrondissement city hall) or one of 400 bakeries.