How to Master the Métro
Wednesday July 24, 2013

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Moving more than six million Parisians and tourists to and from their destinations each day, the Paris Métro system is one of the most efficient mass transportation systems in the world. And with a few simple pieces of information, it can be easily and safely navigated even for someone who has never ridden a subway.

After coming to appreciate London’s Tube last year, I was anxiously eager this summer to master Paris’ underground as well. And here is what helped:

1. Pack a Métro Map

Before you hop on the plane or train, make sure to pack a map of the metro. I kept a small one that was included in this tourist guide book to Paris.

Designed in 1900 by engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe and architect Hector Guimard, a first glance at the map can render one perplexed, but it is actually quite simple. Let me talk you through it.


2. Purchase a Paris Visit Pass or Book of Billets (tickets)

Depending upon how long you are visiting Paris, there are two popular options for tourists – purchasing a Paris Visit Pass (good for the Metro, busses and all public transport systems) for one, two, three or five days. Make sure you purchase the pass in the morning, not the evening as the day you purchase it will count as one day. The other option is to purchase a book of billets (tickets) that you can use when ever you need to hop on the metro.

When purchasing the Paris Visit Pass, it will ask you for which zones you want to travel, if you want to mainly stay in the heart of the city, only choose through zone 3, but if you wish for example to travel to Versailles, you will need to purchase zone 5.

Also, while you can purchase them online prior to leaving, nearly all metro stations have a ticket booth where you can buy tickets. Credit cards are accepted, and the screens have the option of being translated into many different languages for tourists. Click here to learn more about the options for traveling on the Paris Metro system.


3. Download Helpful Metro Apps

If you are traveling with a smart phone, download the following app – Visit Paris by Metro as it allows you (once after you’ve downloaded the map) to use the app offline. It will give you line by line directions on how to arrive at your preferred destination based on where you are. It will also let you know what attractions are nearby. I used this constantly this summer and found it very helpful.


4. Be Aware of Pickpockets

Paris is a fairly safe city to visit, as it is a city that thrives on tourism and needs to ensure tourists feel safe; however, the biggest problem they have is pick pockets. You may remember this past spring Musee de Louvre had to close its doors because the workers went on strike as they were indignant about the lack of security to stop the pickpockets running rampant.

A simple understanding of how they work and how to protect yourself was offered to me by one of Haven in Paris’ guides – Roger. While traveling on the Métro, he actually pointed a pair out to me as they worked the train. It was baffling and insightful at the same time.

Things to know:

  • they work in pairs
  • usually shorter in stature, often children, but not always – they will be people who appear to be harmless – thus small and childlike
  • they strike most when a tight crowd occurs and lots of jostling (bodies bumping into one another and you think nothing of that nudge you felt on your hip)
  • often a distraction will be used to catch you off guard or they will take note that you are focusing your attention on something else (perhaps your phone?)
  • they usually carry a bag across their body or have a pocket in front where they can quickly place their findings without being noticed.
  • women – carry your bag under your arm and close to your body and keep your bags closed/zipped
  • men – move your wallet and phone from your back pocket to you front
  • don’t wear flashy or expensive labels. In other words, don’t make yourself a target.
  • dress like a Parisian rather than a tourist


5. Simple Things to Know

  • Every building in Paris is less than 500 meters from a train station
  • Know the end point of the line
  • Push the button of the train door to get off or get on (on most lines)
  • Signs and stops along each line are on each subway car
  • Follow the Sortie (exit) signs to get out of the Metro
  • Follow arrows, colors, Line #s (metro) or letters (RER) – there are 15 lines and 368 stops on the Metro. Each line is labeled with the color, number and end destination of the line


6. Use as a Respite from the Busy, Bustling Streets

~The Metro station just blocks from my Cobblestay vacation rental in the Marais – line 8, Saint-Sebastien Froissart~

Once you understand the above information, knowing you have the Métro at your fingertips to get you where you want to go, the trip becomes much more enjoyable. Trust me, you will still do a lot of walking. So feel free to eat that pain au chocolat, because you will work it off poking into neighborhood boutiques or making your way through your favorite museum.

I found the Métro to be a bit of a respite after walking in the warm air this summer. It was cool, and I could catch my breath (don’t worry, my bag was safely tucked under my arm), and my feet appreciated the break.

Most importantly, as someone who grew up on the west coast where underground transportation doesn’t exist, it can be daunting especially when you’re traveling alone.  But as someone who travels alone often, as long as you arm yourself with knowledge, the Métro is not something to be intimidated by, but rather something to aid you in fostering a memorable trip. Bon voyage!


~The Cure for the Paris Syndrome

~A Luxurious Travel Sanctuary – Haven in Paris

~Why Not . . . Travel Alone? (2 part series)

~Why Not . . . Travel Internationally? (3 part series)


Images: Metro Map – source, all other via TSLL

Metro | The Simply Luxurious Life,

One thought on “How to Master the Métro

  1. Mastering public transportation can make all the difference in how you experience a city. It can open up areas that are just too far away to walk to, and it’s such great people watching. By the end of a stay, if you can jump on the subway/tube/metro during commuting hours and arrive at your destination unscathed, you are halfway to becoming a local.

    LOVE your Paris posts – my own trip this year was thwarted so I am living vicariously through you!

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