Paris is the cosmopolitan capital of France and has been one of the most popular tourist cities in the world for several years. Located in the north of the country on the river Seine, Paris has the reputation of being perhaps the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historical association and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food, and design.
With its bustling metropolis, tourists tend to be confused with the city’s options in getting around Paris. Here is our guide on how to get around the City of Lights.
Do not rent a car
It is generally a bad idea to rent a car when visiting Paris. Traffic is very congested, and parking tends to be difficult. This is especially true in areas surrounding tourist spots, since many of these are in areas designed long before automobiles existed. Also, many Parisian households do even own cars.
However, driving may be an option if you plan on going to some sights in the suburbs like the Vaux-le-Viconte Castle or ever other places in France. For a cheaper cost, you may prefer to rent a car from a location not situated in Paris proper.
Walk your way around
Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. You can actually cross the entire city in only a few hours, if you can somehow keep yourself from stopping at numerous cafés and shops. In a few years, walking combined with biking and riding the subways will be the only way to get around the very center of Paris, as the Mayor’s office has announced plans to declare the first four districts (or "arrondissements") almost totally car-free by 2012.
Stay above ground
Speaking of walking, smart travelers take advantage of Paris’ walkability by staying above ground as much as possible. A subway ride of less than 2 stops is probably best avoided since walking will take about the same amount of time and you’ll be able to see more of the city.
From west to east
Still on the topic of walking. To get a great orientation of the city while seeing many of Paris’ major sights, you can do a west-to-east walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Ile de la Cité. This walk takes two hours without any stops.
Start at the top of the Champs Elysees (at Arc de Triomphe) and begin walking down towards Place de la Concorde. On the way towards the obelisk on the square, you would see all of the major stores and restaurants of Paris’ most famous avenue. Once you’ve passed the main shopping area, you would see the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais to your right. At Place de la Concorde, you would be able to see many of Paris’ major monuments around you. In front of you is the Truileries, behind you is the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, to you right is the Eiffel Tower and Musee D’Orsay, and finally, the Madeleine on your left.
Continue straight ahead and enter the Tuileries Gardens, passing by fountains, flowers, and lovers, in the park. Walk further ahead, and out of the garden, you’ll see the pyramid entrance to the Louvre directly in front of you. Then, turn right and walk towards the river Seine. Now walk eastward along the Seine until you reach Pont Neuf, then cross it and walk through the Latin Quarter. Cross the river again to reach Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cité.
Worry about dog droppings no more
You may heard of the hazard of walking into dog droppings in Paris. However, this ordeal is now a thing of the past, with the current city administration aggressively enforcing fines against dog owners who do not properly clean their pet’s litter. Offending pet owners pay a fine ranging from 183€ (euros) to 450€.
Try the Métro
Paris has an excellent subway train system known as the Métro (short for Métropolitan). In this system there are 16 lines on which trains travel between 5:00 a.m. To 1:30 a.m. the next day. It stops at all stations on the line. Line 14, which is fully-automated, is called the Méteor. You can check for scheduled times for first and last trains posted in the center sign of each station.
Each station also has a detailed map of its surrounding area with a street list and the location of prominent buildings such as monuments, schools, places of worship, etc. These maps are located on the platform if there are many exits, or near the exit if there is only one way to get out of the station.
In addition, there are 5 express lines called RER A, B, C, D, and E. They can be used within the city limits with a regular ticket. There are also stations outside the 20 districts of Paris, which you can check at the information board on the platform.
The lines are named according to the names of their terminal stations. If you ask the locals about directions they will answer something like: "Take line number x towards "end of station 1," change at "station," take the line y towards "end of station 2." The Métro system has started implementing a color code, and on some lines compass directions (like N, E, S, W). Although it could be helpful to tourists, they are apparently ignored by the locals.
The Métro tickets
There are many options in buying a Métro ticket. A single ticket costs 1.40€, but it is better to buy a "carnet" of ten tickets, which costs 10.70€ at any station (making individual ticket price at 1.07€ each). The ticket is valid for unlimited transfers between the Métro, RER, bus, and trams within one hour.
Meanwhile, a one-day ticket is called "Carte Mobilis" that you can purchase at 5€. Tourists can also avail of one- to five-day tourist passes called "Paris Visite" with price starting at 8.35€ for one day of unlimited travel within Paris and its inner suburbs. "Carte Orange" is a cheaper alternative. Although for some obscure reason the tourists are not supposed to buy them, you can easily purchase a Carte Orange. If you get rejected on one window when buying Carte Orange, just try at the next window.
Carte Orange comes in two types: the "Hebdomadaire" (pronounced "eb-DOH-ma-DAYR"), which is one-week pass costing only 16€ valid in Paris and the inner suburbs; and the Mensuelle, which is a one-month pass. In buying one, you need a small photograph of yourself; you can either use a photomat in a larger Métro station or simply photocopy and trim your passport photo. Note that an Hebdomadaire starts on Mondays and a Mensuelle on the first day of the month.
To avoid the long and often crowded lines at the ticket windows, check if your credit or debit card works in the automatic machine and buy tickets for the whole group.
Remember to keep your Métro ticket or Carte Orange with you at all times, as you may checked or "controlled." You will be cited and forced to pay on the spot. Spots most likely to be checked are the big Métro stations or during line changes. Rail agents may be present in the Métro even on Sunday night.
Rent a bicycle
Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport, especially with the lengthy traffic jam. Bikes are allowed to travel along designated bike lanes, as well at bus lanes on most major boulevards. You can find an excellent map of the bike network at the information center in Hôtel de Ville.
Bikes can be rented in from numerous private vendors, but the best deal is available from "Roue Libre." Some of its rental places are located at Passage Mondétour near Les Halles Métro station and at Boulevard Bourdon near Bastille Métro Station. Rental rates vary depending one when you would rent the bike. Renting on one working day costs 9€, on one weekday costs 14€, from Monday to Friday at 20€, or for weekend at 25€.
Buses let you see more of Paris
The Parisian bus system is quite tourist-friendly despite its complexity. A bus ride lets you see more of the city. It uses the same single-ride tickets and Care Orange as the Métro, and electronic displays inside each bus tell riders its current position and what stops remain, eliminating a lot of confusion.
These same payment devices are also valid in the "Noctilien," or the night bus, where tickets normally costs 2.70€. It would be good to know your night bus route ahead of time in case you miss the last Métro home. Women travelers are advised to avoid taking the Noctilen on their own.
Know how to deal with the cab driver
It is not advisable to take a taxi during the day with all the traffic, as walking or taking the Métro could be faster. However, taxis are relatively cheap especially at night, when there are no traffic jams to be expected.
When a taxi stops, the cab driver would pull down his window and expect you to tell him where you want to go. If the driver does not feel like going where you want at that time, he might tell you directly in a sometimes rude manner. The taxi driver does not allow you to sit in the front seat, and expects you to enter in the back.
Keep in mind that all taxis in Paris have a flag-down rate of 5.50€, but the meter does not show this amount, which can result in being asked to pay more than the metered amount on short rides. Also, you might not always expect the taxi to drive you to the doorstep. They could actually let you out a block away from your destination if the route is difficult. Be watchful that the driver gives you the correct change, as you might risk that they drive away with all of your money.
Parisian taxi drivers are individualists and come in different personalities: some are nice, others are rude, and some would tend to chat with you’re, other do not. Although smoking in taxis are not allowed, but if you ask the driver he might want a cigarette, too. With that, the two of you could smoke in the cab.
You can give a tip of up to 15% if you like the service, although it is not necessary, considering that the service is not always up to par. Even though dealing with Parisian taxi drivers can be problematic, it is worth the effort to try and be nice to them anyhow. You just have to expect the unexpected, as a few of them can be really nice if you try to talk to them.
Further more, if you know a little bit of French, the conversation would be a little more free-wheeling. If you wish to make a complaint, note the taxi’s number on the sticker on the left hand backseat window.