I have explored Paris dozens of times over the past 30-plus years. And every trip I rely on the Paris Metro to get around the city relatively quickly and affordably. Detailed below are my time-tested steps and tips to help you plan your trip and easily navigate your way around the Paris Metro.
The Paris Metro is the city’s rapid transit or subway system. There are over 300 metro stations and 14 different lines that run through the City of Light. And for a first-time visitor, navigating this maze from point A to point B could be daunting.
During the Coronavirus pandemic shut-down period of 2020-2021, and as the City of Paris prepares itself to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, many improvements took place and are still ongoing in 2023 within the Paris metro system.
In addition to the 14 lines in the Paris metro system, there are 2 tramways (T2, T3) and 4 regional express trains (RER A, RER B, RER C, and RER D). In late 2022 line 14 was extended to reach the metro station Bagneux and line 12 was extended to include the Marie d’Aubervillers station.
1. USE A PAPER MAP OR DOWNLOAD A PARIS METRO APP
Free Paris Metro maps are distributed around the city. Look for them at the airport upon your arrival in the baggage claim area or at the Tourist Information desk just past the baggage claim area. Some hotels and department stores also offer free paper maps that include paid advertisements for their business and other attractions and discounts. And, of course, all Paris Metro stations offer free, folded, pocket-sized maps of the city’s Metro system. Just ask for one at the Metro service desk window. And do remember to say Bonjour, s’il vous plaît and merci beaucoup!
Every Paris Metro station has a full Metro system map, as well as maps for the lines associated with the station you are in. They are generally located at the entrance after you descend the stairs near that station’s service desk and on each platform wall.
Plan du Quartier Map Inside Paris Metro Stations
Each Paris Metro station also has a Plan du Quartier (Neighborhood Map) posted on the wall inside the metro station. It can be located as you head toward the exit either on the facing wall as you step off the train itself, or more commonly, as you approach the exit stairs of the station itself. The Plan du Quartier map is helpful if you’ve never visited the area before and helps you get your bearings once you ascend to the street level to continue your journey above ground. Because some Metro line stations have multiple exits, reviewing the Plan du Quartier map can save you time and get you essentially headed in the correct direction on the street.
The Plan du Quartier is not located on the street level, so remember to consult it before you leave the station to determine which exit is best for your destination and journey. The Paris tourism office has also placed large maps in some of the major tourist areas to assist you – Look for these if you need additional information.
Download a Paris Metro App
RATP is the parent company of the Paris metro system. The RATP website offers interactive maps for the Paris Metro, RER trains, trams, and bus lines in the Paris transport network. Download a PDF version as well as an offline version.
The RATP app also provides timely updates on traffic conditions and delays affecting the Metro system, including shutdowns or service stoppages due to strikes or other events.
While the Bonjour RATP app is native to the train system itself, I frequently use either of the following transit apps on most of my trips:
Looking for Other Helpful Paris Travel Apps?
Click this link for other helpful PARIS TRAVEL APPS you should download for your trip to Paris.
Download your choice of mobile transportation apps BEFORE you depart for France and, if available, download an offline version that needs no wi-fi connection in order to save data on your phone.
How to Download an Offline Map
Here are links to instructions on how to download an offline map for iPhones and Android devices:
2. DETERMINE YOUR LOCATION & PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Find Your Location & Your Destination at Street Level
Using a paper map or a downloadable location-based app, such as Google Maps, determine your approximate physical location in Paris.
After finding your present location on the map, locate the address of the destination you seek or plug that address into your mobile app.
Determine Which Metro Lines to Take
Study your map and determine the Metro line closest to your present location that will deliver you closest to your desired destination.
As you approach the departure Metro station on foot, look for signs or symbols like the M, Metro, or Metropolitan that designate the station entrance.
Identify the Terminus or End Stop of That Line
Follow the line to the endpoint station in the direction you want to travel. Note the terminus name, or end stop, of that line.
Choose Your Train: Line Number, Color, Name & Terminus Name
Choose the train (and platform) that directs you to that specific terminus. Otherwise, you may board the wrong train and go in the opposite direction.
Remember These 5 Things:
Simplify your Metro journey and memorize these 5 things:
Metro station name where you will board the train & begin your journey
Metro terminus name, or endpoint direction to your destination
Metro stop or station name where you will exit the train
Some Metro trips will require you to change from one line to another at an interchange station. These are called “correspondance” in French and mean “connection.” When using the Metro and a connection or transfer to another train is required, you will have to exit the original train and walk the tunnels of the Metro station to connect to the other line to reach your final destination.
To find your correspondance, utilize the same procedure as your original route, using the terminus station for the direction you want to travel and memorize that train’s line number and color.
Helpful Paris Metro Train Info
Metro hours of operation
Paris Metro trains usually operate from 5:30 am until after 1:00 am (after midnight.) On Friday and Saturday nights, and on the eve of bank holidays, they operate until 2:00 am. If you need transport after 1:00 am or 2:00 am, download and use mobile apps like Uber, Lyft, or the G7 Taxi app in Paris. Download and set up these apps before you leave the United States. If you use Uber or Lyft in the states, and your account info is up-to-date, such as the credit card expiration date and CVV code, you are good to go. Use the app in Paris the same way you do at home.
Waiting on the platform
The wait time between trains is generally 2-5 minutes. Some can be up to 15 minutes. Look for an illuminated sign when you are on the train platform for the timing of the next car. Train delays sometimes occur during strikes, high-traffic times like rush hour, or other issues such as breakdowns or mechanical problems. Plan your journey with this in mind and allow additional time – especially if you have a timed reservation for a restaurant or venue.
Keep track of your connections while inside the train
When a connection or correspondance is necessary, you can see what train lines offer connections while you are inside the train compartment. They are shown as drop-downs on that particular line’s map, located above the doors inside each Metro car.
3. PURCHASE YOUR TICKET & VALIDATE IT
Purchase Your Ticket
Every Paris Metro entrance is essentially the same. They have turnstiles with controls, a service desk with a Metro employee, and an automated ticket-selling machine. Purchase your ticket or group of tickets via the automated machine or at the service desk. Both accept euros or credit cards. As with all interactions in Paris, do try to greet the Metro employee with a cheerful “Bonjour” before asking any question. They will determine fairly quickly that you are an English speaker and most are very helpful and able to speak English with you. Lastly, always thank them with “Merci beaucoup.”
Validate Your Ticket
Once you purchase your ticket, insert it into the turnstile. If the ticket is valid, it will pop out the other end – a foot or so in front of you. Take the ticket, press the door or turnstile, and look for your departure platform. If you purchase a Navigo card or pass, place it on the area indicated on top of the turnstile, look for green arrows indicating your card was validated for one ride, and proceed through the turnstile.
It’s the Law: Keep your ticket until you physically exit the Metro station
The law in Paris states that you must keep your ticket until you physically exit the Metro station at your destination. The RATP deploys random control staff throughout the Metro system and its corridors, and you could be fined up to €60 PER PERSON, depending on the violation. The fine is €50, per person, per ticket if you cannot present your paid ticket to Metro control staff. This fine must be paid on the spot and in Euros. There are no exceptions.
Additionally, the magnetic strip on tickets and cards/passes can become demagnetized if you store them in your wallet or purse. Keep them in a separate pocket, or better yet, an RFID pouch to avoid demagnetization. You will have to return to the service desk and ask for assistance if your ticket becomes demagnetized.
4. DETERMINE THE ROUTE TO YOUR DEPARTURE PLATFORM
Locate & Walk to Your Selected Metro Line & Departure Platform
In step 2 above, you determined the Metro line number and color of the line, as well as the terminus, or end point of the train you want to take to your destination. After validating your ticket/pass and clearing the turnstile, use these guide points to walk toward the train platform.
5. WAITING ON THE PLATFORM
Each station has two docks facing each other but going in opposite directions on the same train line. The train tracks run in between.
Verify You Are on the Correct Platform & Traveling in the Correct Direction
In order to verify you are on the correct platform, look for the electronic, illuminated sign above you and near the center of the platform. This sign will confirm the terminus, or last station the train will travel to, and the arrival time of the next inbound train. Many display the minutes until the arrival of a second train as well.
Every Metro platform should also have a wall map of the entire Metro system, as well as a Plan du Quartier map of the neighborhood above ground.
Beware of Pickpockets
The train platform is when you should begin paying very close attention to pickpockets, especially during rush hour or when the trains are crowded. I have also noticed that Metro trains, with stops at the primary (RER) train stations, or “gares” in French, (Gare d’Austerlitz, Gare de Bercy, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare du Nord, Gare Montparnasse, Gare Saint-Lazare) are extremely crowded on weekends or when there is a national holiday.
Have a Plan if Your Group Gets Separated
I have seen it happen. In a massive crowd of other travelers trying simultaneously to exit and enter the train car, people and families traveling together can get separated. A simple plan, to discuss and prepare for in advance, is to agree that each person in the group should proceed to the next station in that same Metro line and meet there. Avoid panic and come up with a hand signal such as waving your hand and pointing forward toward the next station. It may delay your plans a bit, but having a backup plan will save the day.
6. RIDING ON THE TRAIN
Be Courteous & Stay Together
As the train approaches, do not rush to the do to get on board. Allow those that need to exit to do so first.
If you are traveling with others, stay close together but do your best to board the train in a single file. When the train is crowded, which is most of the time, it will be easier to make your way into the car of the train in a narrow line rather than a group trying to fit into the space.
Manual Door Operation
If the doors do not open automatically, some trains have buttons you must push or metal latches you must lift in order for the door to open.
Pay Attention & Closely Monitor Your Belongings
Once inside, keep your belongings close to and in front of your body. If there is no seat available, keep one hand on the opening of your purse or backpack and use the other to steady yourself as the train begins to move. Thieves will take quick advantage of you being distracted or not paying attention. Check back soon for links to products I use in Paris to manage and protect my belongings.
Metro Line Station Map Inside Each Metro Train
Each Metro train’s route map is shown above the doors. It shows every stop on that specific line, as well as any connecting lines, or “correspondences” at the specific station. Some have electronic indicators to show the next stop and most trains use public address announcements inside the train car to advise you which Metro station stop is next. You can also look out the windows as each train arrives at the next station and look for larger wall signage with that station’s name. Pay attention while riding so you don’t inadvertently miss your stop.
7. REVIEW THE PLAN DU QUARTIER
Most Paris Metro stations have a Plan du Quartier on the platform, as well as another in the station lobby area, just past the exit turnstile. There will not be one at the street level, so be sure to review it before you leave the station and emerge onto the street.
How to Use the Plan du Quartier Map
Using the Plan du Quartier to determine your exit/sortie can save you from walking as much as an entire city block, or having to cross busy streets and navigate ground traffic. Reference your destination or direction at street level to help determine which “sortie” or exit you should take.
8. DETERMINE WHICH PLATFORM EXIT (SORTIE) TO FOLLOW
Exit the train at your correspondence point or desired station, but pay attention and do not just follow the crowd into any given exit tunnel. Instead, use the Plan du Quartier (neighborhood street map with corresponding exits) to determine the exit closest to your destination.
Look for the word “SORTIE” to designate the exit(s). Some stations have only two or three exits, but large Metro stations, such as Châtelet, the largest Metro station in Europe, has 19 exits and is organized into Secteurs to help you find the one you want. Trying to navigate the “secteurs” of the Châtelet station can add a lot of time to your journey. I recommend routing your Metro travel on different train numbers without using the Châtelet station if possible.
Study the “Sortie” or “Exit” Signs
On the Plan du Quartier, study the exit signs (Sortie) and the actual locations of the stairways, (some stations offer escalators and/or elevators.)
Follow Your Selected Sortie (Exit) Number Up to the Street Level
Once you determine which exit you want, follow the “Sortie” number assigned to that exit. shown on the Plan du Quartier in order to find the exact exit/sortie closest to your destination on the street level.
At most stations, the sorties are numbered, which makes following those signs to your desired exit very easy.
9. PLAN YOUR ROUTE AFTER LEAVING THE STATION AT STREET LEVEL
Once you’ve reached the top of the exit stairs, if you have not already determined what streets to look for or landmarks to navigate by using the Plan du Quartier, I suggest that you open up Google maps to orient yourself at the street level and proceed confidently to your final destination.
Bon Voyage! And have the most wonderful time in Paris!