After countless trips to Paris, I can confidently say my preferred method of transportation in the city is my own two feet (I guess that’s the New Yorker in me!) However, for times when I need to travel further distances or the weather is uncooperative, I always turn to the Paris Metro.
How to Use the Metro in Paris
This underground train network provides an affordable and efficient way for locals and visitors to get to any part of the city. For a lot of first time visitors the Paris metro system can be a daunting experience. So today I’m sharing a guide to help you navigate the Paris Metro with ease. Be sure to save this video on Instagram as well to bookmark for your next trip.
Related: Paris First Time Visitors Guide
I find the idea of using public transportation abroad can be overwhelming for a lot of people, especially when it’s in a different language! This post will give you all the basic information you need on what the Paris Metro is, how it works, which Paris Metro pass to purchase, and where to buy metro tickets.
I’ll also share some of my tried and true tips so you can confidently navigate one of Europe’s best subway systems. My Paris, Perfected clients also get additional insights, advice, and guidance on navigating the Paris metro system as well as my most trusted alternative transportation options.
What Is The Metro in Paris
One of the oldest subway systems in the world, the first Paris Métropolitain (or simply Métro) line was opened in 1900, just in time for the World’s Fair. Today, there are 16 interconnected lines (each with a number) and the subway system transports over 4 million passengers per day! This extensive public transportation system is built under the city of Paris and extends out to nearby suburban areas of the city.
The Paris Metro is a densely packed system (there are over 300 Paris metro stations), meaning stations are not too far apart which is great for getting as close as possible to your destination. I personally find the Paris Metro to be one of the most efficient, reliable and affordable subway systems.
It’s important to note that the RATP (the name for Paris’ public transportation system) includes the metro (underground subway), buses, RER Paris regional trains (sort of a metro-rail hybrid), and trains.
Paris Metro Zones
Paris operates on a “zone” system for public transportation. The city and surrounding areas are divided into 5 transportation fare zones (this is different from the 20 neighborhoods or arrondissements!) It’s important to note that the metro zones really only come into play for travel passes. Or if you want to take something other than the Paris Metro – like RER trains or buses. The Paris Metro subway operates exclusively in zones 1-3, with the overwhelming majority of stations in zone 1.
Zones 1-3 include the majority of major tourist attractions in Paris. Most visitors will never even leave zone 1. Here you’ll find most hotels as well as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Arc de Trimophe.
Zone 4 is where you will find Chateau Versailles and Orly Airport. The Paris Metro underground does not reach these destinations. To get to Versailles, you will have to take the RER train to Versailles-Rive Gauche. To get to Orly Airport you will have to take the RER train to Antony and then the OrlyVal train (the airport’s specific automatic train).
Zone 5 is where you will find Charles de Gaulle Airport and Disneyland Paris. To get to CDG Airport you will need to take the RER train to Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 1 (terminals 1 & 3) or Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 2 (terminal 2).
To get to Disneyland Paris you will need to take the RER train to Marne-la-Vallée — Chessy.
Paris Metro Passes
With such a sprawling RATP network, there are endless public transportation pass options. Below are the Paris travel passes I would most recommend for visitors. Unfortunately (and probably the only major downside of the Paris metro), unlike in other cities you cannot just tap-to-pay with your credit card. You will need to purchase some type of pass.
One of the easiest options for riding the Paris Metro is a single ticket, or a t+ ticket. A single ticket costs €2,10 and gives you access to travel to any metro station regardless of zone, including metro transfers, as well as the Montmartre funicular. Historically these have been sold as small paper tickets that you can purchase in a packet of 10 (a carnet) for a slight discount, but these paper tickets are being phased out. However if you do use the paper tickets you will need to physically insert the ticket into the gate, it will be validated, the doors will open, then you need to take the ticket with you.
Navigo Easy Pass
As the paper tickets are phased out, the Navigo Easy Pass is far and away the best option for Paris Visitors. It’s similar to an Oyster card in London or a Washington, DC SmarTrip card. It’s a reusable, refillable plastic metro card (no more losing paper tickets!) that costs €2 to purchase – you can then add a single ticket, or a digital packet of 10 tickets at a discount.
With these passes, you will tap them at the gate to open. You will need to purchase your Navigo Easy Card from a booth with an attendant at a metro station, major train station, or CDG airport. And you can reload your pass with a credit card at any of the purple kiosks you see at metro stations.
You cannot share a Navigo Easy pass between multiple people on the same journey. And you will need to purchase a separate ticket to get to the airport, Versailles, or Disneyland Paris via RER. You can purchase those tickets at the RER station.
Navigo Decouverte Pass
This is a bit of a tricky pass, but you can get a lot of bang for your buck if the conditions are right. Similar to the Easy Pass, the Navigo Decouverte is also a reusable, refillable plastic metro card. The difference is that this card is a week-long, unlimited pass for the Paris Metro, all RER trains, all buses and trams. It includes travel to CDG, Disneyland Paris, and Versailles and costs €30 for the week.
The catch is that regardless of when you purchase a weekly pass, coverage is only valid from Monday morning at 12:01AM to Sunday at 11:59 PM. If you buy the pass after Thursday at midnight you cannot use the pass for that current week. Like the Easy Pass, this pass must also be purchased from a booth with an attendant. It costs €5 and also requires a small passport photo (another tricky aspect) so you will need to either bring one with you or use one of the photo booths in the station. Like I said, this pass is complicated but can be an amazing deal if your travel dates line up and you don’t mind the extra hoops.
Paris Visite Pass
The Paris Visite Pass is a multi day pass marketed specifically to visitors and offers unlimited public transportation on the Paris Metro, RER, and buses for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days. You must select how many days and which zones you’d like access to (either zones 1-3 or all zones). Depending on how much you anticipate taking public transportation this can be a great deal! They also offer discounted passes for children. These are paper passes that can be purchased at the ticket booth or kiosks in metro and RER stations, train stations, airports, and tourist offices.
Where To Buy Metro Tickets In Paris
Metro tickets and passes can be purchased at:
- Paris metro stations
- RER stations
- Train stations (Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare d’Austerlitz, Gare Montparnasse, Gare Saint-Lazare)
- Airports (CDG and Orly)
Keep in mind that travel passes like the Easy Pass and Decouverte need to be initially purchased at a manned ticket booth inside the stations, but then can be topped up at a kiosk. You can still purchase paper tickets at most automatic ticket kiosks. You can always use a credit card to purchase your ticket(s) or pass.
Paris Metro Tips
Hold onto your paper ticket
You need to be in possession of your paper ticket until you’ve finished your ride and left the Metro station for good. Police are regularly checking passengers’ fares. So be sure you always have your proof of payment at the ready otherwise you may land a fine. I know many travelers who have fallen victim to this often forgotten rule! This is another reason why I suggest purchasing the Navigo Easy Pass.
Kids don’t always travel free
While children under 4 ride free, children 4-10 can ride at a 50% discount. Remember, when traveling with kids they need to have their own Navigo Easy pass or their own paper ticket.
Know the Paris Metro operating hours
The Paris Metro operates from 5:30AM to 1:15AM daily. On Friday and Saturday evenings it operates until 2:15AM. Rush hour for the Paris Metro is usually 8 – 9 AM, and 6 – 7:30 PM.
Keep an eye on your things
As in most major metropolitan cities, use caution and exercise good judgement. Keep your personal belongings zipped up and in front of you, important items like wallets and phones should also be in your bag or front pocket. This should be followed for your entire metro experience – not just on the train itself.
Visit the iconic Art Nouveau metro entrances
It’s always such a treat to visit one of the iconic and historic Art Nouveau metro entrances. At the turn of the century, French architect Hector Guimard was hired to design these aesthetically pleases entrances to the city’s brand new metro system. Today, 86 still remain. Some of my favorites include Palais-Royal–Musée-du-Louvre, Cité, and Saint-Michel–Notre-Dame.
You might need to open the door yourself
On most of the metro cars, you will need to manually open the door to get on and off. Only a couple of lines have automatic doors! My tip is to watch how others do it your first time. It’s very easy!
I hope you find this post helpful for your next trip to Paris!