How to: Get Around Paris
If you're visiting Paris then you'll hopefully also know that it is a big, BIG city. We're talking like 45 mins - 1 hour walking distance between major attractions. I've been on three separate occasions: the first two were very short, transit stays but the third time I stayed for more than a week. :) From my trips, these were the three main transportation options and my thoughts of each:
- Walking - Unless you are a 5-time-award-winning marathon walker, only suitable for exploring a small local area
- Metro - A convenient option for getting from place to place, but is very expensive as well as boring
- Biking - This was by far my favourite option - Paris has a bike rental system called Velib that even visitors can use.
I'll go into detail on all three in this post. :)
Setting the Seine
To first give you some background context first, Paris as a city is HUGE.
It's split into 20 'arrondissements' - basically like suburbs where each one has it's own personality and attractions. Each arrondissement is numbered in the below map.
To give you some indication of how far apart things are in Paris:
- Louvre (1) to the Eiffel Tower (7) - Arrondissement 7 is just across the river from Arrondissement 1
- Walking - 45 mins
- Metro - 20 mins across 2 metro lines (15 mins on metro + 5 mins walking)
- Bicycle - 19 mins
- Notre Dame (4) to Louvre (1) - Arrondissement 4 and 1 are NEIGHBOURING arrondissements
- Walk - 24 mins
- Metro - 13 mins (4 mins on metro + 9 mins walking)
- Bicycle - 10 mins
So if the above examples are of Arrondissements right NEXT TO each other, you can imagine how far it would be to get to an arrondissement two or even three over.
When I refer to walking here, I mean as a means of transportation. I'm not referring to the normal walking one does when you get to a place, walking around an attraction, walking along markets or streets, browsing restaurants, etc.
So as a transportation method, I would only recommend it if you are staying in an arrondissement and want to explore the local area. For example, some areas such as Belleville have a lot of GREAT street art - big and small - which we really enjoyed discovering.
One of the days I was in Paris with Mr. Human, we walked for a few hours and decided to explore one of the biggest cemeteries in Paris. It was a really really nice day but I think we literally explored for 4 hours straight and we didn't get that far from our home at all. In fact, I think we only managed to explore up to ONE arrondissement over.
So some cities are walkable cities - like Amsterdam, Prague, etc. But Paris DEFINITELY is not one of them.
Most people take the metro. In fact, Paris has THE best metro system I have experienced amongst all the European cities I've visited. Once you get a map from the first ticket attendant you see, the metro lines and signs are very simple to pick up.
Also, the metro on every line usually come every 3-4 minutes. It's so fast that, even as I come down the stairs and see the doors about to close for the line I need to get on, I don't even bother running for it because the next one will be THAT soon.
BUT each metro trip is 1.80€. And you usually do AT LEAST 3 trips per day, usually more if you want to see a couple attractions. For example, on my first trip, I was there only one day and wanted to have a little peek at everything so I took like 6 metros within 6 hours.
Whilst there are multiday passes that give you unlimited travel, to me these are QUITE expensive: 1 day (12.30€), 3 days (27.30€) or 5 days (39.30€) - prices sourced from the official Paris visitors website.
So you can see how the costs might add up if you are staying a few days.
Plus, the Paris metro life basically just looks like this...
You walk in between a rush of people through these tiny tunnels, clinging onto these little directional signs because they are your life's guiding force to finding the metro line you need haha.
And usually standing in silence, secretly looking at other people on the underground journey haha.
So while it is quite convenient, it's quite a dark and un-fresh way to travel for what can sometimes be 20 - 40 minute journeys.
Whilst I do love biking the most (which I'll talk about next), sometimes you are too tired or need to get to a place quickly so the metro DEFINITELY does have a place. So when you do take a metro, keep these points in mind:
- If you'd like to buy a metro ticket from a ticket machine, it only accepts coins.
- A metro station often has more than 1 entrance and you usually can only get a ticket from ONE of the entrances. So depending on where you enter from, be warned you may be stuck without a ticket and either have to find another entrance or find a way through the barriers.
- Depending on how long you're staying, a good option is buying a carnet of 10 tickets (basically a stack of 10 individual tickets) for 14.10€. Then, it's very handy to keep this in your wallet so that you don't need to go through the effort of finding a ticket machine/coins/ticket person EACH time. This is PARTICULARLY handy if you are travelling with a group. If you're travelling just you or as a couple, even if you don't get 10, it's handy to keep a couple spare in your wallet.
- If you have heavy luggage, be warned that there are NO elevators in metro stations. Some do not even have escalators so you are left to carry things yourself through a labyrinth of stairs. Be prepared. There is no shame in taking pit stops.
- If you find yourself in a situation without a ticket and need to get in, enter through the "Exit Doors". The Paris metro works like this: you put a ticket into the turnstile and it opens up for you. But when exiting, you don't need a ticket, you simply push through the "exit doors". You can only open these doors from the inside of the barriers BUT, if you're tall or just try enough, it's not hard to just grab the top of the door and open it from the outside. I do not recommend doing this if there is a lot of people exiting in a rush. You will annoy them. However, when it's quiet enough, I saw heaps of people doing this. People even opened it for me, when they saw I was stuck without a ticket. I'm fairly certain a decent percentage of Parisians probably ride without tickets. In the week+ that I was there, we weren't ticket checked once. Play this game how you will.
3. Biking with Velibs
Anyways, if you don't want the cost of the metro system and want something fresher, my favourite way to get around was by Velib. It's a bike renting service where visitors to Paris can pay for a 'subscription': 1 day for 1.70€ or 7 days for 8€. Then, there are 1,800 Velib stations around the city, placed one every 300m, with a total of 20,000 bikes.
This is the map of all the Velib stations in Paris. It's pretty funny.
Within your subscription period, you can take a bike out of any station and use it for 30 minutes for free. This is generally enough time to get you from one point to another in Paris. Then you just dock your bike at any of the Velib station, ready for someone else to use, and head off to where you need to go.
If you go over 30 minutes, they charge 1€ for the next 30 minutes. But you can always dock the bike at 30 minutes, wait 2 minutes (you can usually take this time to just walk to the next Velib station) and then get a new bike. I recommend keeping a timer on your phone so you know.
Why do I like it so much?
- Because I lived in Amsterdam (where almost every single person bikes everywhere), I really grew to love biking as a mode of transport. It's truly liberating and feels really good. Now every city Mr. Human and I go to, we always try to rent bikes and see the city - something I really recommend if you enjoy biking.
- You get to check out the city as you bike and get a feel for it. When you're in the underground metro, you don't really get to see a lot - you travel half the city but the tunnel looks the same. The vibe is also a bit darker, dingier and quieter down there.
- You can stop whenever you want to take a further look at things that you come across
- It feels really good for your body and it's a really sustainable way to travel :)
How is bike riding in Paris?
Paris as a biking city: I'd recommend it for riders who are comfortable bike-riding, not for beginners.
- Some of the bikes paths are shared next to cars.
- Generally though there are dedicated bike lanes
- Some bike rides can get pretty long (30 mins+) as Paris is so big. People not used to it likely will find this a bit tough
- There's usually at least one uphill in your journey. A lot of the uphills are small and manageable. Other's are just.... no. You should see me when there's a painful uphill and Mr. Human (who is an INHUMANELY good bike rider) tries to encourage me with "You can do it, it's just a little one." I am just like "JUST GO AHEAD OF ME YOU INHUMAN BIKING BEAST!" and crawl along on my bike at -5km/hour.
But, besides those haha, I did genuinely love biking there so much that I wanted to write this whole post about it and gushed to all my friends about it. :)
How is the Velib system?
Overall I am a huge fan of it because I really enjoyed the bike riding all week (despite the occasional uphills) and I was just surprised that Paris was more bike friendly than I thought it'd be. Also, quite a surprising amount of the locals do it too.
Points to consider, although this is strictly from a visitor's perspective and not a local's perspective
- YOU MUST first check the bike you want to take before you take it out. So our system went like this: Mr. Human goes to check a bike (e.g. Number 9) for if the bike tires are flat and that the gears work (just use your foot to give the peddle a push around). You have to do this beforehand otherwise you undock a bike, start peddling it down the road for a minute and realise you've got a flat tire or a stuffed bike. So then you have to go to the trouble of finding another station and repeat the whole process, etc etc. This didn't happen a LOT while we were there over a week, but at least a few times the bike was no good so DEFINITELY check.
- Sometimes it took a while to find a Velib station which had bikes we could use. For example, in popular areas, the docking station will be completely empty and you'll have to go to the next station. Same goes with docking bikes - in popular spots, the station(s) will already be full and there's no space for you. However, luckily, there is maps at each station that shows the closest Velib stations so it was easy to find the next one over.
- For locals and people with internet on their phones, there is a Velib app that tells you where nearby stations are and also how many bikes are available there or how many free docking spots there are. We didn't have internet on our phones though so we had to forego this luxury. Luckily, the stations were numerous enough that we generally always found one, and also you start to get a feel for where they tend to be (e.g. next to bigger/main roads).
- We went over the 30 minutes a few times. In the end, I was billed 15€ for exceeding 30 min journeys during the week, which means I went over 30 minutes on 15 separate journeys. Which DEFINITELY does not sound right because that means I exceeded it twice a day everyday of the week we were there. Which is not true at all. But the bill didn't come through until a while after I'd left Paris and I was not motivated enough to chase it up because I can imagine the headache. All in all, I think it was still very cheap for bike rental for a week considering we used it multiple times a day. But take this as a warning to try stay within the 30 mins if you want to avoid this issue, we were quite lax about it haha.
If you'd like to check out the Velib website, feel free to go here to browse the subscriptions and details.
Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on my most recent week-long trip and the bike-riding was a huge part of the joy! :) You can read more about the little Parisian life we made for ourselves or about a cool art centre to check out, if you'd like to see more about my experience in Paris.
Otherwise, as always, I hope this 'How to' helps some person out there! :)