Métro & RER

It just wouldn't be Paris without the Métropolitan (or Métro), one of the most efficient and user-friendly subway systems in the world. Its 14 lines (plus two smaller bis lines) crisscross the city and the immediate suburbs daily from 5:45am-1am (2am on Saturdays), with connections to the RER and international train stations. Each line is designated by a number and its terminus points (ie Line 1: Château de Vincennes - La Défense). Most stations can be reached with one or two changes at the most. Maps are posted in Métro cars, on platforms (quais), and next to ticket windows. You can also ask for a free Métro map (un plan) from any ticket agent.

  • Tickets

Individual tickets cost €1.80 each, or €14.10 for a carnet of ten tickets (this is correct as of June 2015). Tickets are valid throughout the RATP (Paris Transit Authority) network of Métro, bus, tram and RER lines within the city and immediate suburbs (zones 1-2). Beyond zone 2, RER fares are higher and require different tickets. Within the Métro, a single ticket is good for one journey with unlimited transfers (correspondences).

Note: Hold on to the ticket until you resurface, you’ll need it to get out and to prove you’ve paid if the RATP officials do a random check. You'll also need it to exit from RER stations.

  • Discounts for Kids

All RATP tickets, carnets and passes are 50% off for kids 4-9. Kids under 4 ride for free. Parents with bulky strollers (which are not recommended) can avoid the turnstiles by asking agents at the ticket window to open the side gate, if there is one. Be prepared for long tunnels and numerous stairs throughout the Métro and RER.

  • Transportation Passes

Back in the good ol' days, there used to be a little ticket called the Carte Orange, an unlimited transportation pass used by locals. It's a great value because it's subsidized by taxpayers. So perhaps that's why the new electronic pass, called a Passe Navigo, requires you to have a local address and bank account. Anyone who isn't a resident of Paris can get the Passe Navigo Découverte (info in French only), for a €5 fee for the card itself, in addition to "filling it up" with weekly or monthly credits. Just ask for it at any major metro station and have a passport sized photo handy (there are booths in most stations). The weekly semaine fare is €17.20 (starting from Monday) and monthly mois fare if €56.50 (starting from the 1st of the month).

The Carte Mobilis is good for unlimited travel on the RATP network for one day. It costs €7 for zone 1-2, €11.50 for zone 1-4, and €16.60 for zone 1-5. This can be economical if you only need unlimited travel for one or two days (prices good through June 2015).

You can also get the Carte Paris Visite, which specifically targets tourists. It's hardly a good deal, but it's convenient and there are a few token discounts to tourist sites (such as 10% off gift shops at Disneyland or a free Moulin Rouge ashtray). See the website for complete rates (from €11.15 for one day to €35.70 for five days within Paris). It may be better to purchase aParis Museum Pass and a separate Mobilis pass.

  • General Rules & Etiquette

Smoking, eating and drinking on the Métro and RER is not allowed (although it’s mildly tolerated on the platform). Don’t put your feet or luggage on the seats. The fold-down seats shouldn’t be used when the car is crowded. Do not try and jump on at the last second, even if you see daredevil Parisians doing it.

It's also not recommended to talk so loudly that everyone can hear your conversation. It's considered rude in France, and even if you think they can't understand you, most of them can (and so can all of the other native English speakers who are cringing in horror).

The safest place for anyone traveling alone at night is in the first car directly behind the driver. If you have any problems, use the yellow emergency call boxes found on every platform. 

Beware of pickpockets in crowded cars, especially during the jostle of getting on or off. Some people will squeeze in right behind you at the ticket turnstiles to get in without paying; make sure they’re not going through your pockets at the same time!

  • Access for those with Impaired Mobility

Only Line 14 is completely accessible. The rest of the Métro/RER system is not at all accessible for people with reduced mobility. There are turnstiles, long halls with many stairs, and escalators and elevators that are frequently out of order. That means anyone carrying heavy luggage, pushing a stroller, in a wheelchair, or having a bad knee day should take the bus or taxi.

The RER Express 

The RER suburban express railway has five lines (A, B, C, D and E) with multiple branches (such as B2 or C4), which connect to the Métro at several stations. The RER isn’t just for going to the airport or suburban towns; it’s also convenient for crossing Paris since it goes much faster and has fewer stops than the Métro. This can be useful for getting quickly from the Parc Montsouris to Gare du Nord (RER B) or from the Champs-Elysées to the Gare de Lyon (RER A).

  • How it Works

The RER operates approximately the same time as the Métro, 5:45am-12:30am, and uses the same tickets as long as you stay within Paris. If you plan on going past zone 2 and you don’t have a zone 1-5 pass, then you’ll need to buy an individual ticket before you enter the RER turnstile. A regular Métro ticket will allow you to get on any RER within Paris, but if you travel past the zone you won’t be able to exit the turnstiles at the other end.

Tickets can be purchased from automated machines or any RATP ticket window (tickets are only good for one-way trips, so ask for two tickets to save time if you’re coming back the same way). It’s important to look at the monitors on the platform to see if your destination (ie: Versailles) is lit up for the incoming train, because express RERs don’t stop at every station outside of Paris. When in doubt, ask someone before getting on. And stay at the top end of the platform (RER’s arrive from the right, so the top is to the left) because some trains are shorter than others (train court) and you’ll end up running to catch it.

Note: The biggest RER station is Châtelet-Les Halles in the center of town, where three of the five lines intersect with five Métro stations. It's a horrible maze of tunnels and should be avoided if possible for sanity purposes (get off at the station before or after if it's convenient).