The complete beginner’s guide to the Paris Metro

photo by Omar Barcena on Flickr

The Paris Metro is not the oldest in the world, nor the largest, but it is without question one of the best. It’s not just that other metro systems took it as a model, or that it has a fetchingly consistent art nouveau design. The Paris Metro has a life of its own, and it is in itself one of the most interesting attractions of the French capital. The metro is also a huge labyrinth of sixteen lines covering over 200 kilometers and serving almost 400 stations, and for the uninitiated it can be a nightmare to navigate. Without a working knowledge of French or the ability to decipher the mazelike map of the metro, a tourist can easily get lost in the tangle that is the Paris Metro. So here is a complete beginner’s guide to the Paris Metro for those who want to explore Paris in style.

How and where to buy tickets

photo by Kevin Spencer on Flickr

The first thing you need to travel by metro in Paris, in addition to knowing where you actually want to go, is a ticket. Public transport in Paris is fairly cheap and there are all sorts of plans and passes that allow you to save money. A simple way to get hold of a ticket is to buy one at a ticket window at the metro station: just say “un billet, s’il vous plait” and hand over the money. English is rarely spoken by ticket sellers, so practicing your French a bit is probably the best choice. However, the easiest way to get a ticket is by buying them at an automatic ticket machine, which usually accepts coins as well as credit cards and sometimes bank notes. To save money, buy ‘un carnet’, a pack of ten tickets that is cheaper by 30% than individual tickets.

Getting around the metro

photo by John Pannell on Flickr

Getting around is the scariest part about the Paris Metro, and it can be quite confusing indeed. Finding metro entrances is not difficult, as most of them have a specific art nouveau design, but you might not notice them unless you are looking for them. Most metro stations have maps where you can see the routes, and in a few stations there are large interactive maps where you push a button and you can see the route you need to take to your destination. If your station is on the same metro line as your destination, then you’re all set, but otherwise, getting there can be a bit tricky. If your destination is on a different line, you need to find the ‘correspondence’, or the connection between the two lines – you can find it on the map at the intersection of the two lines. If the lines don’t intersect, then you will have to change trains twice.

Getting on the train

photo by edwin.11 on Flickr

You need your ticket in order to pass the turnstiles into the so-called controlled area. Just insert your ticket into the slot, and it will be returned to you, so don’t forget to take it (you need to have your ticket on you while you are in the controlled area, in case of checks by RATP agents, and you’ll be fined if you don’t have it!). If the turnstile beeps and flashes a red light, then the ticket is not valid. Once you arrive on the platform and you board your train, all you need to do is pay attention to the stations where the it stops. Keep in mind that some of the older trains don’t have automatic doors, and you will need to press a button next to the door in order to open it. If you have to make a ‘correspondence’, make sure you don’t leave the controlled area when getting on another line, because in that case you will need to buy a new ticket.

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