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Understanding The Paris Metro: A Guide For First Time Visitors

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Although Paris is a very walkable city, you may sometimes be feeling a little lazy, the weather may be poor or you may just want to venture outside the centre. In these cases, your first port of call should be understanding the Paris Metro.

There are over 300 stations serviced by 16 Metro lines so exploring the city on the subway is super easy!

Paris Metro Map

Understanding The Paris Metro

Most lines run from 5.30am to 12.40am Sunday through Thursday; with weekends keeping lines running until 1.40am and sometimes later. Departure times of the first and last trains differ with each station during these times.

But if in doubt, there is a chart on the wall of every station (either at the station entrance or on the platform) listing the departure times for both the first and last trains leaving that particular station.

Top Tip: The RER trains look similar to the Metro but it’s actually a different train system. If you decide to travel further into France from Paris, then this would likely be via the RER trains. But if you’re staying within just Paris, it’s the Metro you want. The Metro stations will either have a large M over the entrance or be called Metro or Métropolitain.

Paris Metro

Buying Paris Metro Tickets and Ticket Types

There are a number of Paris Metro tickets available to buy including single use tickets, books of multiple tickets, day passes, multi-day passes, weekly passes, you name it.

Tickets that are purchased individually are called un billet in French whereas books of tickets are known as un carnet.

But which is the most cost effective?

The books of tickets (carnets) allow you to use the Metro and buses around Paris within zones 1-3. Books of tickets offer limited journeys (ie 10 or 20) and they are actually much cheaper than buying individual tickets.

You can also buy a Paris City Pass, which helps to keep costs down as unlimited travel on the Metro is included in the price. It’s possible to get a pass from two to six days. Not only can you use unlimited transport, but you’ll also receive discounted entry to some popular museums and attractions too. These include Centre Pompidou, Versailles Palace and the Louvre to name just a few.

If you plan on using the Metro a lot every day then the Paris City Pass is the best option. But if you choose to walk to most places with only getting a couple of Metro trains here and there then a book of tickets would be best instead.

Louvre Museum, Paris

You should ensure that your ticket type is for the correct zone. This is easy to do as the Paris Metro is contained entirely in zones 1 and 2, except the La Défense station, which is zone 3. You’ll likely find that most tickets are for zones 1-3 only, but if you need to head out further, then this will take you into new zones. For instance, Charles de Gaulle airport is in zone 5 and Versailles is in zone 4.

Whichever ticket you decide to choose, you can buy them in advance or on the day via ticket machines at the Gare du Nord station, Charles de Gaulle Airport and other major stations.

One word of caution: Beware of scams! In some stations, there are people who try to con unsuspecting travellers. The ticket machines are super easy to use and have a variety of language settings. But some will try to convince you that the machines are difficult or confusing to use. Do not listen to them!

Major Paris Landmarks and Metro Stations

When keeping things slick and stress-free during your trip to Paris, it makes sense to find Metro stations near to your hotel and chosen landmarks ahead of your trip. This prevents you from having to spend valuable sightseeing time on planning journeys whilst you’re in the city.

Even if you wish to walk to most places, you’ll never know when you will become tired or need to hop on a Metro rather than walk.

In aid of keeping things super simple for you, here are the closest stations to each major landmark in the city plus which Metro lines they are accessible via:

  • Eiffel Tower: Bir-Hakeim (line 6)
  • Arc de Triomphe: Charles de Gaulle Étoile (lines 1, 2 and 6)
  • Champs-Elysees: George V (line 1), Franklin D Roosevelt (lines 1 and 9) or Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau (lines 1 and 13)
  • Louvre: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7) or Louvre-Rivoli (line 1)
  • Sacre Coeur: Anvers (line 2)
  • Notre Dame: Cité (line 4)
  • Jardin du Luxembourg: St-Sulpice (line 4), Rennes (line 12) or Notre Dames des Champs (line 12)

When it comes to the Metro, the lines are all colour-coded and numbered, keeping things nice and simple. Each line travels in two separate directions, which is indicated by the start and end stations on each line. For instance, when looking from left to right on the Metro map, line 1 starts in La Défense and ends in Château de Vincennes.

There are also some stations that serve more than one line whereas some stations serve just one Metro line only. On the map, it’s super easy to spot those stations operating on more than one line as they show a white circle or oval shape across all of the lines running through that station.

Take the main station of Châtelet for example. This station serves lines 1, 7, 11 and 14, which is shown by a white oval shape across the coloured lines. The brown dot inside the circle simply indicates that it is also the start or end point of a line (in this case, line 11).

Paris Metro Map: Chatelet Station Circled

This is all useful to know as it allows you to plan your route ensuring you’re heading to stations that are serving the lines you need to use.

When understanding the Paris Metro for the first time, it works well to make notes of example journeys you plan on taking using the Metro.

Take this example for instance:

Say your hotel is located in the 19th arrondissement near to the Belleville station and you wish to head to the Louvre to see some chic art. In order to get there, you would need to hop onto line 11 at Belleville in the direction of Châtelet. You would need to head all the way to Châtelet, change to line 7 and finally get off at either Louvre Rivoli or Palais Royal Musée du Louvre.

We’d recommend planning a journey like this (and writing it down) for the common journeys you’ll need to take or the main journeys you’ll be taking on each day. If you travel with a journal or guidebook with all of this written down, then it will definitely help shave minutes from each day.

The River Seine in Paris at night

Super Speedy French Language Guide

Despite most people speaking perfect English in Paris; when travelling to anywhere new, it pays to have at least a few words in your arsenal in case you need them:

Hello: Bonjour
Goodbye: Au revoir
Thank you: Merci
Please: S’il vous plaît
Sorry: Pardon
Excuse me: Excusez-moi
Entrance: Entrée
Exit: Sortie
Left: La gauche
Right: Droite
Metro Ticket: Un billet
Book of Tickets: Un carnet

Paris Metro Safety

Although the Metro trains and stations are fairly safe, it pays to be on the lookout for pickpockets (as within any city). Ensure your bag, pockets and valuables are in your sight at all times.

Also, there may occasionally be con artists inside some Metro stations. Despite the ticket machines being easy to use with a number of different language settings, some will try to convince you that the machines are difficult or confusing to use. Do not listen to them! They are simply trying to whittle money from unsuspecting travellers.

Paris Metro Street

Unspoken Rules of the Paris Metro

In large cities, there are always unspoken rules (especially when it comes to public transport). Here are just a few things to bear in mind when using the Paris Metro:

  • When Metro doors open, stand to one side. This allows people to get off the train first, then you can get on.
  • If the trains are busy, make your way as far back as you can go so that others can board the train without any delays.
  • Stand on the right on escalators as people running up and down them will do so on the left. Don’t be that person who gets in their way!
  • Paris Metros are very quiet, so avoid talking loudly on your phone or playing loud music. People are here for a quiet hassle-free commute.
  • If you spot performances on the trains or in the stations, then avoid watching unless you want to be pestered for money afterwards.

Paris Metro Strikes

Paris has been making headlines for months now regarding train and metro strikes. But what’s important to remember is that the Paris Metro is not affected every day – and it’s usually only some lines at a time that are affected rather than all of them. 

We’d recommend keeping an eye on this article all about the train strikes and Paris. It’s updated regularly and has tons of information in it to suit first time visitors and frequent travellers alike.

Hopefully, you have seen from this guide that understanding the Paris Metro is easy once you know what to look for and how to get the most out of each journey. Now the only important question remaining is: where are you most excited to see in Paris first? Let us know in the comments section below…

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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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