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How to Navigate the Navigo: A Guide to Paris Transport

Charlie Bodsworth

Monday, 20 November 2023

Heading to Paris for a holiday or a placement? Here's all you need to know about getting around the famous City of Love.

So, you’ve hopped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle or disembarked the Eurostar at Gare du Nord...where do you go from here? Like most capital cities, getting around Paris can be tricky to try to navigate, so allow me to be your guide to getting from RER A to RER B and every other kind of Parisian transport in between.


How it works:


In the same way that France is a pretty centralised country, the transport systems, both nationwide and in the capital, are centralised. You may well have already heard of SNCF, the public organisation that manages the French railways. There is also RATP, la régie autonome des transports parisiens, that manages most of the transport in Paris and the département of Ile-de-France. If you sign up with them, you receive a Navigo card (the Parisian counterpart to London’s Oyster card), but there is also an app and, of course, the option to buy physical tickets. Now, let’s have a look at your options for method of transport.


Metro


Paris boasts 14 different metro lines, and many people use this as the main form of transport. If you’re staying in Paris, chances are you’re no more than 10 minutes’ walk from one. While some are quite old and rickety, they are very frequent and very fast; at peak times, this can be as often as every 2 minutes, zipping you from one end of the city to the other in about half an hour!


RER


The RER (Regional Express Network) is, in scale, in between a metro and a train. There are 5 lines total, labelled A to E, and can take you out into wider Ile-de-France. The cool thing about the RER, along with pretty much all French trains, is that they’re double decker trains! But maybe it’s just me that thinks that’s cool…?


Trains


The full-size trains across Ile-de-France are, aptly, called the Transiliens. They are also labelled with letters. Run by SNCF, these trains can get you around the main areas in Paris’ banlieue much quicker than other forms of transport. For example, you can get easily a direct Transilien from Paris’ Gare Montparnasse to Versailles for a fun day trip!


Tramway


If you like Nottingham’s trams, you’ll definitely like Paris’ trams. Most of the 13 tramlines cover certain areas of the banlieue, while the 3a and 3b traverse Paris’ outer border. They are pretty seamless and usually more chill than any of the other forms of transport you could take. My favourite thing about the tramway is that each stop has its own little jingle that plays when it’s being announced!


Bus


There are SO MANY bus lines in Paris, with varying frequency, so if you’re on a tight schedule, maybe stick to the Metro. There aren’t any double decker buses, but some are articulated (the ones with that accordion-like bendy part in the middle). The buses can get incredibly crowded and jam-packed, especially during peak hours, so use wisely.


Bikes (and Scooters)


The RATP app actually allows you to quickly hire electric bikes across the city. It’s a great way to travel and see the sights at the same time! This was also the case for electric scooters, however, Paris has recently voted to ban them despite being one of the first big cities to implement them.


Tips and Advice


Just to round things off, as a seasoned veteran of Paris’ public transport, I wanted to give you some tips and tricks to making sure that navigating Paris doesn’t drag you down.


  • Plan before you set off! – French transport is infamous for sudden delays and cancellations, so be prepared.

  • Don’t always take the most straightforward routes – what may seem to be the quickest journey may turn out to be super busy and have long changes.

  • Beware of Chatelet-Les-Halles – Paris’ most central station is quite complex to navigate, so maybe look up a map beforehand.

  • Be wary of buying a Week Pass – These are NOT 7-day passes; if you buy a pass on a Friday, it’ll still expire by Sunday’s end.

  • I highly recommend metro line 6 for the amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. Also, you should try out the driverless metro lines (14 and 1) – they’re pretty cool and look a bit like science fiction.


Now you know all you need to know to get between the different arrondissements, and beyond! So, go unlock all that this wonderful and crazy city has to offer. Best of luck on your travels! Or as the French say: “Bonne voyage!”

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About the Author

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