Perhaps one of the most difficult things about travelling in a country where you don’t speak the language is figuring out how their public transportation (if there is public transportation) works. Sometimes colours guide your way, sometimes its symbols and other times its numbers, but in each city, the process of getting from Point A to Point B with public transportation is different. When you head to France, there are a number of tips and tricks you can use to successfully navigate their trains, buses and more without giving yourself away as a travel newbie.
Tickets are available for purchase at every station and an automated machine will likely walk you through the process. You can opt for English as the operating language to hopefully cut down on any miscommunications or misunderstanding with the money or pass. Keep in mind that only debit cards and coins are accepted in some stations, so if you only have bills on hand, you may need to buy your tickets from an alternative vendor. If worse comes to worse, head to an information booth to ask questions about how to get a ticket.
These are good for one metro ride within Paris (zones 1-2) and it includes transfers. You can transfer between the RER and Metro, but not from the Metro/RER to buses and tramways. Always keep your ticket in hand as you will need it to exit the station. Choose this option if you are staying for a short period of time and use public transportation lightly.
These passes are perfect for unrestricted travel in Paris via the Metro, RER, buses, tramways and more. These systems can take you out to the greater Paris region, for a span of 1-5 days. In addition to the pass, you’ll get discounts at restaurants and attractions like museums. Choose this ticket if you plan to use public transportation regularly to travel around the city. Choose the zone 1-5 ticket to get out to Disneyland Paris or to Versailles. Zones 1-8 will give you even wider coverage.
These passes are fairly self-explanatory and act much like the Paris Visite Passes, except there are no special offers attached to this ticket. Choose this pass if you are looking to get around in Paris and the surrounding areas with no frills or additions.
Try to avoid riding the RER during rush hour (8:00-10:00am and 5:00-8:00pm) and instead opt to walk or take the bus during these times. With the increased crowds that come with rush hour the chances for getting pickpocketed skyrocket as well. Bus lines may also be swamped, but it is much easier to transfer and hop off a bus than it is to get off a crowded RER car.
The first thing you need to do is get yourself a map of the metro system. There is no point wasting your time scurrying around in the underground trying to figure it out. A map will solve this problem. They can be found at any metro information booth throughout the system or, if you prefer a digital copy, there are a lot of free apps that will get you the information you are looking for.
During normal operating times, the metro runs Mon.-Thurs. and Sun. from 5:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m., and Fri.-Sat. from 5:30 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. The same late services also run the night before a public holiday. To ensure you catch the last train, you should generally aim to arrive at the station approx. 30 minutes before closing, as final trains depart at different times depending on the station.
Currently, the Paris metro has a total of 16 lines identifiable by number, colour, and end-of-line names. For example, line 4 is magenta, has 27 stations, and is called "Porte de Cligancourt/Mairie de Montrouge" because it runs from the Mairie de Montrouge station south of the city to Porte de Clignancourt in the north.
The first thing you should do when determining where to go is to figure out which direction you need to go in relative to the endpoints for your line. This is important because once you take metro in one direction, it’s impossible to change directions without exiting the turnstile and trying again. So, be sure to check your destination carefully before you get on one of these trains, to ensure it will take you to your stop.
RER lines are A, B, C, D, and E on the map. These lines can get you to your destination much quicker than the other lines as they stop at fewer stations. Many tourists never bother to learn about the RER lines, but if you do, you’ll learn that while it’s complicated at first, it is generally worth it. You can shave tens of minutes off your travel using RER instead of Metro lines.
Grab your maps, remember your routes and keep these tips in mind and you’ll be golden. Half of the fun of travelling is having new experiences and learning new things about yourself. With these travel tips in your back pocket, you will find how easy it is to get where you need to go with a little focus, a little effort and a good attitude. Protect the rest of your holiday from unforeseen problems with an international travel insurance plan from Cover-More Australia.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Pedro Ribeiro Simoes.