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The Cheapest Way To Get Around Paris

Posted by Lindsay Hall on 5/30/18 10:18 AM

Backpack Europe

We all know the saying, "Paris is always a good idea", but it's really only true if you know how to get around without breaking the bank. 

All of our ILP volunteers in Europe love visiting Paris. How could you not love the idea of hopping over to France for a couple days of cafes, museums, and the Eiffel Tower? It's dreamy. 

Not an ILP volunteer yet? That's not a problem. Go ahead and start your application (it's a cinch). 

The City of Lights has so many things to see and do that you're going to be taking public transportation a lot to make sure you hit them all. Make sure you have a game plan so you're not bouncing from one end of the city to the other just to go back to the side you just came from. 

For iOS devices, we like using this Paris Metro Map and Routes planner app, but Google Maps is also very helpful. If you type in the spot you want to see (like the Louvre) Google Maps will help you find the best way there. Handy, right? 

What's the best (and cheapest) way to get around Paris?

  • Metro/RER
  • Bus

A Bit About The Metro/RER

Like most major cities the metro is the most popular way to get around Paris, but can be overwhelming. There are a lot of lines and zones and can look really intimidating. Don't worry. You will get the hang of it and you'll be cruising like a pro in no time with a couple of tips. 

There are actually a couple different railways in Paris, one called the métro (short for Chemin de fer métropolitain) and the other is the RER.

There are 16 Métro lines, which all have a corresponding color. Trains run early (5:00 AM to 12:30 AM, 1:30 on Saturday night/Sunday morning), and trains leave every 2-10 minutes depending on the line. Get a map of the Paris metro here. 

The RER is more of a traditional, longer-distance train, taking you across the city to outside suburbs like Versailles or to transportation hubs, like the Charles De Gaulle Airport. Get a RER map here. 

When buying tickets for the metro/RER, make sure you look at all your options. There are different ways to buy them and if you're going to be taking to metro a lot, you'll want to get a pass rather than a book a single ticket. Here's the difference:

Buying Tickets 

Single ticket

A single ticket is exactly what it sounds like...you buy a one way ticket every time you get on the metro. A single ticket is 1.90 Euros (around $2.30). If you're just planning on taking the metro just once or twice, or a few times ... this is the way to go.

One thing to note:  a single ticket will get you anywhere within the city of Paris on the metro and RER and you can transfer between lines (even between the metro and RER).

If you're planning on using the metro as your main way of transportation and will be traveling a lot, you will NOT want to do this -- it'll add up so fast. You'll want one of the next two options.

Paris metro

Book of 10 tickets ("Carnet")

This book will give you 10 trips at a discounted rate. You can purchase this book at the metro stations for 14.9 Euros (around $18) -- it'll save you about $5 by booking them together, rather than individually. This works well if you'll be traveling for a couple days and using the metro a lot, or traveling for longer, and using the metro sparingly.  

You can purchase these in little vending machines next to the ticket turnstiles in metro stations. 

Paris Visite Pass

If you will be staying multiple days and will need unlimited access to transportation, look into this pass. 

It comes in one, two, three and five days (sorry, not four day option). You will need to map out your destinations because you will have to purchase these via the zone you need. Just so you know, Paris is broken up into 20 districts/zones (called arrondissements). They start at “1” in the center and spiral out clockwise. It’s helpful to know when you’re researching because places to visit will often have the name and the district next to it to help you orient yourself. 

There are two different options:

  • Option one -- For zones 1 to 3. This is pretty much anywhere with in the suburbs of Paris, and covers most of the touristy spots you'll want to visit during your stay. 

  • Option two -- For zones 1-5. This will cover the same things that are covered in option one, but zones four and five. Zones four and five are where the airport, Disneyland and Versailles are located so this works better for many tourists who want to see places outside of the city and want a way to get to the airport. 

The passes cost between $15 (for one day) to $50 (for five days) for option one and between $30 (for one day) to $85 (for five days) for option two. 

This website can help you pick the best package for you (plus you can book your ticket passes online here, too). 

Pro Tip: If you'll be in Paris for 1-3 days, then want to explore places outside of Paris for 1-2 days, you can buy two separate ticket cases. Get Option 1 for your first half of the trip and stay within zones 1-3. Then, purchase Option Two, and see zones Four and Five.  

That strategy will make it a bit cheaper. 

Paris Disney

Using The Bus

The buses will use the same tickets as the metro and can be purchased on board. One thing to know is you'll need to have exact change because the driver will not be able to give you back any. 

You will only be able to purchase a single ticket with no connections. If you have to transfer between buses, you will have to purchase a new ticket on the next bus. This is why the metro is more popular -- you can transfer as many times as you want to make it to your final destination without having to take the time to pay with each transfer! 

You can also buy the book of 10 or Paris Visite Pass for the bus. 

Here is a bus schedule and map to help you orient yourself. 

Paris bus

If you need some ideas of what to do in Paris with your ILP group besides going to the Eiffel Tower (duh!), check out our guide to visiting Paris (it is full of other recommendations like what to see, places to stay and our favorite restaurants). 

Oh, BTW: Make sure you check out the ILP Instagram so you can see what our current International Language Programs volunteers are up to — you may spot a few of our ILP Europe volunteers parading around Paris, or another favorite vacation spot. 

Have some more questions about serving abroad with ILP? Go ahead and text one of our awesome ILP representatives and get your questions and concerns taken care of. That green button below will help you out!

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