Navigating the Paris Metro

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

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

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How the Métro Works

To get to your destination, determine the closest “Mo” stop and which line or lines will get you there. The lines have numbers, but they’re best known by their end-of-the-line stops. (For example, the La Défense/Château de Vincennes line, also known as line 1, runs between La Défense in the west and Vincennes in the east.) Once in the Métro station, you’ll see blue-and-white signs directing you to the train going in your direction (e.g., direction: La Défense). Insert your ticket in the automatic turnstile, pass through, reclaim your ticket, and keep it until you exit the system (some stations require you to pass your ticket through a turnstile to exit). Fare inspectors regularly check for cheaters and accept absolutely no excuses, so keep that ticket!

Transfers are free and can be made wherever lines cross. When you transfer, look for the orange correspondance (connections) signs when you exit your first train, then follow the proper direction sign.

Even though the Métro whisks you quickly from one point to another, be prepared to walk significant distances within stations to reach your platform (most noticeable when you transfer). Escalators are common, but they’re sometimes out of order. To limit excessive walking, avoid transferring at these sprawling stations: Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, Chatelet-Les Halles, Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, Gare du Nord, and Bastille.

Before taking the sortie (exit) to leave the Métro, check the helpful plan du quartier (map of the neighborhood) to get your bearings, locate your destination, and decide which sortie you want. At stops with several sorties, you can save lots of walking by choosing the best exit.

After you exit the system, toss or tear your used ticket so you don’t confuse it with your unused ticket — they look virtually identical.

Pickpockets and Panhandlers

Thieves dig the Métro and RER. Be on guard. For example, if your pocket is picked as you pass through a turnstile, you end up stuck on the wrong side (after the turnstile bar has closed behind you) while the thief gets away. Stand away from Métro doors to avoid being a target for a theft-and-run just before the doors close. Any jostling or commotion — especially when boarding or leaving trains — is likely the sign of a thief or a team of thieves in action. Make any fare inspector show proof of identity (ask locals for help if you’re not certain). Never show anyone your wallet.

For more details, please see Rick Steves’ Paris.

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

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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