How To Travel With Paris Subway

Metro stationOn my last post of 2012 I was asking for suggestions from you, the readers of this blog, about post themes that would be useful to you.

One of the suggestions was that I write about practical tips for people who travel to to France as tourists and would have no clue about certain things that the locals might take for granted.

So, today, I thought I’d write a post about traveling with the subway in Paris and how you can buy your tickets.  But first, to understand better how you can travel within the city of Paris let’s understand how the city is shaped.

How is Paris Shape?

If you think about Paris, think about the shell of a snail. Paris has roughly the shape of a snail shell with its twenty arrondissements going from 1 to 20 in a circular shape going from the 1rst arrondissement in the middle of the city round and round around up to the 20th arrondissement.

So, because of the arrondissements being shaped that way if you are in the 1rst arrondissement you are at the very center of Paris. If you are in the 12th  to 20th arrondissement you are on the outskirt of Paris as this map below shows.  The blue thread is the Seine river.


The Portes (doors) of Paris

 Paris is surrounded by what we call “doors” (portes) because they are basically entrance areas to the city from the Highway around the city called “périphérique”, which is the equivalent of a “beltline” here in the US. There are (59 portes) surrounding Paris found to the north of the city in the 18th and 19th arrondissements. To the south of the city, in the 13th, 14th and 15th . To the East in the 12th and 20th arrondissements. And to the West in the 16th and 17tharrondissement.

While Paris has many road access areas as you can see, I would not advise you to drive in that city.  As you can easily figure out, it’s a large busy city with more cars than it should have, and the traffic is rather heavy.

As a matter of fact, if you’d drive on the top of the Champs Elysées around the Arc de Triomphe, what is called “l’étoile” (the star) you would probably agree with me that it’s the scariest place to drive on earth. There is a saying in Paris that goes like this: “if you can drive at ‘l’étoile’, you can drive anywhere”.

So, moral of the story don’t drive in Paris, if you can avoid it.

Paris Metro (Underground Travel)

However, Paris has one of the largest Subway (underground, metro) in the world and you can go absolutely anywhere in and around the city with the Metro or RER as long as you understand how it works and where you need to go.  However, it’s not hard to figure it out with a metro map.

For example, to go from where I used to live North of Paris in the 18th arrondissement to the Champs Elysées in the 8th arrondissement I would get off at the Concord metro station, and walk up on the Champs  Elysées. I use to absolutely love that walk.  I it probably the most beautiful walk you can find in a city.  The Concord plaza station was 10 stations away from where I lived on the #12 line (the dark green line on the map below).

If I wanted to go the center of Paris the “Notre Dame” area, I would take the train #4 and get off at “Chatelet  Les Halles” (the dark pink line on the map).  Each line has a different color, and pin points very clearly when there it’s a transfer station.  By following the line that will take you where you want to go you can see easily if you can make it with on train only of if you are going to need a transfer.  For transfer directions look for the signs that say “correspondances“.  The video below will explain all that very well.

plan-metro (1)

Buying Your Ticket

Back when I was living  in France you would buy the metro tickets from a clerk, but nowadays most metro tickets are sold from automated booths where you can purchase your tickets yourselves.


You can buy individual tickets and you can buy books called (carnets) in French. If you spend more than 3 days in Paris I would advise you to get a carnet instead of individual tickets, since it’s cheaper by the book.  They are 10 tickets in a book, and in three days in Paris you will definitely use a whole book and maybe more.

Here is a video in English from an American tourist giving you lots of details about traveling with the metro in Paris.

I hope this was helpful to help you understand better how the Paris underground traveling works and help you not to get lost in the maze of Paris metro.

So, what this helpful any? Let me know… in the comment area.


23 thoughts on “How To Travel With Paris Subway”

  1. Ahahahahaha!!!! I wonder who gave you that idea, Sylviane? What dumb tourist wouldn’t even be able to figure out a subway 🙂

    Well, see, even after a trip to Paris I still learned something new today. I had no idea it was shaped like that and had the numbers like that. I bet that would have been helpful when I was there! It’s like being in NY and not realizing the streets and avenues count up and down to tell you which side of the city you’re on.

    As for that l’etoile, whooo, that was a scary place. It was like a video game come to life, cars whizzing all over the place. I think we took a cab once and ONLY ONCE because I thought we were going to die.

    I don’t think they had those vending machines when I was there but that would probably have been easier. Bright orange and green at least makes them noticeable.

    Well, on my next trip I will be a little smarter! Thanks for adding this to your topics, it’s really useful information!
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    1. Ah yes, Carol. I think that it’s an everyday miracle that that particular spot of Paris doesn’t see few deadly accidents per day. Miraculously, it doesn’t. But in order to come out of this alive you have to be a veteran Parisian driver. I wouldn’t do it if someone paid me.

      A friend of mine drove to l’etoile soon after she had a driver’s license and she didn’t know if she was going to die from a heart attack or an accident first. NO WAY!

      I thought it would be helpful to actually see how Paris is shaped in order to understand how you travel in it. The Subway is cheap and fast and for the most part clean, so it’s a good deal.

      Yes, you were the inspiration behind this post, Carol 🙂

  2. Since I don’t travel a whole lot I would be the one to take a cab. Of course probably having no idea about the cost or the confusion it’s something I can see I would easily regret it. Of course as I’ve mention to you many time before, I more then likely won’t be traveling to any city that speaks another language. I’m sure they are beautiful and a fabulous experience but I would be so lost and confused the entire time which to me would make the whole experience not worth it.

    I’m such a spoil sport Sylviane!!! But, I’ve been told Paris is a beautiful city. My sister, Mom and uncle have all visited and loved the experience.

    Thanks for sharing this with us and the video was helpful.

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    1. Wow, Adrienne, Your mother and sister both have been to Paris and you haven’t? Well, they made it, and they didn’t speak French did they? People in Hotels, restaurants and some stores do speak some English. I won’t tell you that’s going to happen all over the place, but you would be able to find people who do speak English.

      Maybe one day we should go together. Years ago I took a Friend from New York to France and I don’t think she met anyone speaking English but me there. But since I was there, she didn’t even mind at all. Everybody was so nice to her, that she forgot all about the language barrier.

      Most of my mother’s friends invited us to dinner taking turns, so we were eating a lot and she said she’d never seen that much food in so little time. She really enjoyed her trip and loved it. Everywhere we went she was the only non-white and non-French speaking, yet she fit so well. Everybody was so excited to have her.

      I hope you’ll go one day 🙂

  3. Hi Sylviane,

    Great informative post about travelling inside Paris.

    I have been to Paris twice when I was single and that was in the late 1980s. I loved it and I had a great experience, but I was there for business trips both times. I didn’t need to use the subway or any other transportation as the office was just walking distance from the hotel where I was staying. But we used to go as a group in the evenings touring Paris or eating outside and if we needed any transportation at that time, we just rented a cab.

    I hope I will make another trip to Paris with my family, and if I will, I know where to come for tourist information and guidance.

    Thanks a lot for such an informative post Sylviane. I am sure it will help lots of people who are planning to travel to Paris.

    Be Blessed,

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    1. Hi Neamat,

      That’s interesting, I was living in Paris in the late 1980’s we could have met there 😉 I tell you, the world is a small place.

      Thank you for coming here, and I hope you’ll travel to Paris, or anywhere in France again in the future.

  4. Hi Sylviane

    What a great post and explanation. I am like Carol even though I have been to Paris several times I did not know it’s shape.

    Now I am opposite to Adrienne. Oh Sylviane if you are taking her there I am going to meet you both. I would love to go with someone that really speaks the language and not have to use by limited vocab.

    I have always been able to find someone to help me and find my way around. As you know I love Paris. Just the mention of the Champs Elysées around the Arc de Triomphe makes me want to go there again.

    Unlike our good friend Adrienne I really enjoy going to places that are very different and it does not matter if I do not speak the language,

    Thanks for some great info Sylviane.

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    1. Well, so we will meet you somewhere, and go together, Sue 🙂

      I mean, I’m not kidding, it would be great that we made this happen one day.

      I understand Adrienne worries, that’s why my family never step foot to Germany, because no one could speak German, but that’s just part of the many fears that we have. We can still have fun while not speaking the language.

      I remember the first time I went to the UK, me and my school buddies didn’t speak very much English at all, and because of this we had lots of laughing moments that I would never forget.

      1. Oh I am not kidding either Sylviane I think it would be great to go there together.
        I can imagine the fun you had in the UK. When I was living in London we traveled through France down to the tip of Italy and caught a ferry over to Tunis. Then we did one of those tour buses full of kids across North Africa. We got to take turns in cooking.

        I was cooking with my friend from Australia and we were shopping in Algeria. Everything was written in Arabic so we had to rely on the pictures. We bought what we thought was tins of carrots to put in the evening meal. It turned out to be carrot jam! We laughed so much.

        At least when we got to Morocco most store keeps also spoke French and I know the names of vegetable and count in French 🙂
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        1. Yes, Sue. I assume you would managed much better with the French than Arabic. I was laughing myself reading your comment.

          Not speaking the language is actually quite fun. Most of the crazy laughs we had in England was because we didn’t understand or misunderstood. It was just hilarious.

          We were at that restaurant once and they served us those terrible sweet vegetables that they like so much in the UK but which we don’t like at all in France, and me and my friends were so stoked at the taste that we spit them up, and start laughing like crazy. Traveling is fun!

  5. Thanks Sylviane for the heads up.

    One of my clients has a home in France and always invites me. I’ve never been there, so if and when I go, I plan to be in Paris for a few days. I do have an extended family there that I never met. So that is one place I want to go before I die.

    I would take the subway. Growing up in NYC, it comes natural to me. I go to Toronto often and learned the subway system better than the trolley.

    I guess I’m a subway rat at heart!

    Thanks again,
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    1. Hi Donna,

      That’s right, if you’ve used the subway in NY you’d be fine in Paris. For me it was the other way around that’s why I got used to NY subway so easily.

      I hope you’ll go to Paris one of those days, you will love it.

  6. Sylviane,
    Great write up about the Metro system in France. It’s also good to note that some metro systems are very similar. Having lived in Montreal, the system there is very similar to the system in paris.
    When we stayed in Berlin, I found the system there very confusing. Unlike Paris and Montreal, there were multiple systems in place due to legacy issues and i often got lost.
    I found paris’s metro system one of the easiest to understand.

    I did get lost once because i fell asleep. I went to a part of town that was um, not so good. It was an eye opener to a side of Paris you hardly ever hear about…
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    1. I agree with you Annie, Paris has one of the easiest subway system and it’s also very similar the the one in New York.

      Now I’ve never fell asleep in any metro I’ve ever taken, because I would have been to darn scrared. Wow, I’m glad you made it alright 🙂

      Thanks for your input 🙂

  7. Hi Sylviane.

    That was indeed an interesting suggestion . I have never been to Paris but I am sure now I an well equipped with all the knowledge that would be required to use Paris subway with no difficulty at all. Liked your share.

    1. Hi Purnima,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this information. If you get to go to Paris, I’m sure you’ll love it!

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