13 Helpful Tips for Navigating the Paris Metro

April 30, 2015
13 Helpful Tips for Navigating the Paris Metro

Oof! I jumped into the metro car as the buzzer sounded, indicating that the doors were closing. This is normally one of my metro ‘Don’ts’, but I was sure I could make it. Unfortunately not all of me did- my hand, clutching my umbrella, was stuck outside with the metro doors closed on my arm as I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to pull them back open with my free hand. If a woman standing  near me hadn’t said, “Ooh la la!” and helped me force them back open, I’m not entirely sure the conductor wouldn’t have driven off with my hand waving outside of the train. Slumping into a seat, embarrassed and a little sore, I sighed. Such is life when using the metro in Paris.

Underground systems can be tricky to navigate, especially for visitors to a new city. As my major source of transportation in Paris, I see a lot of bizarre things (men with their legs crossed Indian style balancing on their heads for money), a lot of things that annoy me (the musicians who play so loudly in the confined space of the metro cars that you can’t hear yourself think), and a lot of things that I’ve just come to accept as normal. Here are some ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ for using the Paris metro and making the experience as painless as possible (minus the possible burn in your thighs from all the stairs).

13 Helpful Tips for Navigating the Paris Metro

Tips for Navigating the Paris Metro

1. DO buy your tickets in bulk.

If you’ll be in Paris for a few days, get a pack of 10 metro tickets. There’s always the option to sell back the ones you don’t use and it’s way cheaper than buying them in smaller numbers.

2. DON’T stop right in front of turnstiles to dig out your ticket.

Back up a few feet and let the rest of us, especially those who live in France and pay for a monthly pass, called a Navigo (if you will be in Paris long term, you may want to consider getting one of these- find more info here), swipe through. It’ll speed up the whole process and save you a lot of dirty looks and people running into you.

3. DO plan your trajectory in advance so you’re not left standing on the quai staring at your metro map trying to figure out where you’re supposed to change lines.

Not only will this make your overall trip faster, you’re less likely to have multiple people running into you, which can be as embarrassing as it is irritating, especially when it’s easily avoidable.

4. DON’T stand there staring at signs and maps like a lost puppy.

Besides making you a prime target for pickpockets, it’s also just annoying to have someone standing in the middle of the walkway.

Tips for Navigating the Paris Metro

5. DO accept that changing lines is probably going to be a giant hassle.

Sometimes it’ll take twice as long to switch from one line to another as it does to do the inverse at the same station. Just follow the signs, be patient and try to appreciate the fact that all these stairs are a great workout.

6. DON’T run.

Unless it’s the last metro of the night and/or you are literally on the platform and the train is right there and the “door closing” buzzer is sounding and you can actually make it if you sprint, just don’t run. There will be another train in a few minutes.

7. DO look up metro stop locations/lines before just getting on one.

Chances are, a ten minute walk above ground will save you from having to change lines more than once and endure a pee-scented walk underground.

8. DON’T inhale too deeply.

All the metro stations smell like urine. It’s not pleasant. (Unless you’re at Opéra in which case do inhale because there’s a cookie shop near the exit and it makes everything smell like chocolate chip cookies. Heaven.)

9. DO wear your headphones and look disinterested.

Everyone in Paris is in their own little world anyways, so might as well at least try to look the part (while keeping an eye on your stuff, of course).

10. DON’T throw away your used metro tickets.

You don’t want to risk a fine if the controllers are waiting to check tickets right in front of the exit you want to take. Even if you misplace the exact one you just used, usually evidence that you have in fact paid for your metro rides is enough to get them to let you go. Fines can be up to 70€ and you’ll have to pay more if you don’t have the money on the spot, so just do yourself a favor and hang on to your metro ticket.

11. DO stay aware of where you are.

Not all of the metros have automatic systems announcing each stop, so if you get distracted it’s easy to miss yours. If the car is crowded, make sure you’re standing and in position to push your way out with a lot of “Pardon, excusez-moi’s” when you do get to your stop.

12. DON’T make eye contact with anyone asking for money if you don’t want to give it to them.

Do it if you feel compelled, but if you feel uncomfortable, don’t make eye contact as they’ll move on to the next person. And don’t be fooled by the people with adorable animals- many times they have the pets not just for company but because it’s considered animal cruelty if the police or metro workers kick them out onto the street.

13. DO appreciate how incredibly convenient this form of transportation is for getting around a big city.

The metro may have its downsides, but it’s cheaper than a taxi, warmer than a bike, and less scary than driving. Enjoy it for what it is.


Tips for Navigating the Paris Metro photo by Unsplash.

About Emily Jackson

Currently working as an au pair in Paris, France, Emily loves to take photos, sing, and drink French wine. She spent four months in Geneva, Switzerland during university studying international relations, so when she didn’t want to go to grad school directly following graduation, going back to Europe seemed like the best option. Follow her travel adventures on her blog or on Instagram.

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