Navigating the Paris Metro | Rick Steves | Smithsonian
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Though it’s one of the oldest subway systems in Europe, the Paris Métro has some sleek, 21st-century stations. (Jeffrey Blackler / Alamy)

Navigating the Paris Metro

With nearly 300 stops in the underground system, the Metro takes Parisians and tourists alike from neighborhood to neighborhood

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Paris’ Métro is one of Europe’s great bargains. Hopping from railed strand to railed strand, you pass musicians pulling Brahms out of plugged-in cellos and beggars with greasy hair pasted to their faces. Hoping for step-across-the-track transfers, you end up on 500 yards of moving sidewalk sliding past a parade of meaningless ads repeated and repeated and repeated. And budget travelers — the kind who eat too much at a buffet — delight in the thought that you could go around and around forever on just one ticket!

Waiting for my train, I peer down the tunnel. In the distance is another subterranean bubble, a hamlet of light with more people waiting for the same train. Two-hundred eighty-eight such bubbles — some hamlets, some virtual cities — fill that parallel world...under the streets of the City of Light.

Trains whistle, wheeze and screech around corners and past venous intersections. Gazing out the window into the darkness and recalling the “Lara on the tram” scene from Dr. Zhivago, I accidently make eye contact with the reflection of the lady across from me.

Upon arrival at my station, I seek out its Plan du Quartier. This neighborhood map generally offers a few unexpected sightseeing treats. Happy blue and white signs announce sortie (exit). Another slice of Paris...right this way.

Tickets and Passes

In Paris, you’re never more than a 10-minute walk from a Métro station. Europe’s best subway allows you to hop from sight to sight quickly and cheaply (runs daily 5:30–24:30 in the morning). Learn to use it.

The Métro, RER, and buses all work on the same tickets. (You can transfer between the Métro and RER on a single ticket, but combining a Métro or RER trip with a bus ride takes two tickets.) A single ticket costs €1.70. To save money, buy a carnet (kar-nay) of 10 tickets for €11.70 (that’s €1.17 per ticket—€0.53 cheaper than a single ticket). It’s less expensive for kids (ages 4–10 pay €5.70 for a carnet). Carnets can be shared between travelers.

The transit system has introduced a chip-card, called the Passe Navigo, but for most tourists, carnets are still the better deal. The Passe costs €22.50 (including a one-time €5 card fee), covers Monday–Sunday (expires on Sun, even if you buy it on Fri), and requires a photo, which means it’s not shareable. In contrast, two 10-packs of carnets — enough for most travelers staying a week — cost €23.40, are shareable, and don’t expire until they’re used.

If you do want the pass, ask for the “Passe Navigo hebdomadaire” (pahs nah-vee-go ehb-doh-mah-dair) and supply a small postage-stamp-size photo of yourself (bring your own, or use the €4 photo booths in major Métro stations). You buy a chip-embedded card (€5 one-time cost), then “load” a weekly value onto it (€17.50); this gives you free run of the bus and Métro system. At the Métro/bus turnstile, you scan your Passe to enter, and you’re on your way.

The overpriced Paris Visite passes were designed for tourists and offer minor reductions at minor sights (1 day/€9, 2 days/€15, 3 days/€20, 5 days/€28).

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About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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