How to Take the Paris Metro

The Paris Metro is probably the quickest way around Paris. Above ground, you are never far from a station. However, if not taken seriously, the Metro can be a strange and confusing world, if it's your first time on it.


  1. Image titled Take the Paris Metro Step 1
    Locate a metro station. As mentioned, you are never too far away from one, but here are a few tips to spot them. They will normally have a sign saying "Metro" or a big, yellow "M" on them. There are some stations (Like Miromesnil) whose entrances are within a building. So if you swear you cannot see one, look at the nearby buildings- the station could be hiding in them.
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    Refer to a metro map. Find a place to sit down inside the station and look at a map on the wall or, if you have one, a pocket map. Decide where you want to go, and try to locate the appropriate stop on the map. Check what line it is on, then locate your current position and see what direction (what is the last station) you will need to follow.
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    Buy a ticket at the machine by the desk. A carnet is a bundle of 10 tickets. You can also buy tickets by 20. Consider the following packages:
    • The "Navigo Decouverte" is a contactless card that allows you to travel by Metro, Bus, RER and Tramway in a selected set of zones of Paris and the Ile de France for at least three days.
    • Paris Visite is a card that will get you entry to museums too (not the Eiffel Tower, before you ask).
    • A Carte Mobilis will get you a day's ride on Metro, Bus and RER.
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    Once you have your ticket or 'Navigo' contactless card, proceed to the tolls.
    • If you have a ticket, insert it in the slot in front of the machine and it will instantly pop out on top of it. Get it back as you proceed through the machine and store it in your pocket.
    • If you have a Navigo card, briefly present it about half an inch above the purple area of the machine as you proceed, a sound and a green arrow will notify you that you can go through.
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    Follow the signs to your platform. There will be signs showing the number and color of the line, and the terminus where it stops (the Direction). Make sure you get the correct Terminus direction. For example, if you want to get to the Arc de Triomphe on line 1 (Yellow), look for a sign saying "Direction La Défense". This means that the train is heading in the direction of La Défense, and will pass through and stop at all the stations on the way.
    • If you are in a big station like Nation, Châtelet, Gare de Lyon, Montparnasse etc, you may walk through a lot of intersections, corridors and stairs, that is okay, just make sure to carefully follow the signs, for example, if you have to take Line 1 in the direction of La Défense, in a big station, you may at first see a sign like [<-- M1|M4|M11|M14|RER A|BUS], follow it. later one, it will clarify to [<-- M1: La Défense/Vincennes], and then, just before the two corridors to the platforms split, you will choose the one indicated by a sign entitled [M1: LA DEFENSE] with all the stations to it listed underneath. (Just make sure your station is in the list).
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    Wait at the platform. Once on the platform, locate the overhead sign near the middle on the platform which must wear the number and color of the line along with the Terminus. Check if you are on the right platform and see how long you have to wait before the train comes (first set of 2 digits, typically 00 to 04 minutes). Keep an eye out for people too close to you, and wait for the train. When the train arrives, keep behind the white line. Let people leave the train first, and then you can get on it.
    • On most lines, you have to open the doors of the train if no-one else does. You either have to push a button or pull up the handle.
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    Find somewhere to sit/stand. The ability to sit down on the Metro is determined by the time which you go on it. So if you go on at around 8am or 5pm, you will probably be standing up. When crowded, do not be tempted to sit on the fold down seats. You will be making a nuisance of yourself. You can check on the line maps above each door how many stations are left before yours. On some lines, the map has a yellow light for each station, the light is off for passed or closed stations, lit for the remaining ones, and blinking for the next or current one.
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    Stay away from the door when the buzzer goes off. If you are approaching the train when the buzzer goes off, do not follow suit to others. Stay on the platform and wait for the next train.
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    Keep an eye out for your stop. While traveling on the train, keep an eye out for the stops you stop at, and try to predict when your stop comes. If you want to remain unnoticed, do not make eye contact with anyone. Do not whistle or talk loudly.
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    Get off the train when your stop comes, and look for the appropriate sortie (exit). #*There will be maps of the area nearby with the location of the sorties nearby.
    • If you are in a big station, find the map "Plan du Quartier" ("District Map") on the platform and locate which exit ("Sortie") you want. In regular stations, a street name will do the trick, but it big stations with up to 15 different exits, you may need to remember the exit number as you may come across signs like: [<-SORTIE 1,3,5,6,7|SORTIE 2,4,8,9->]. Follow the blue "SORTIE" signs. As you come closer to the exit, it will have the street or place name instead of a number, though.


  • You fell asleep or got distracted and missed the last stop, this is the end of the line and the doors just slammed closed, you find yourself alone in an empty train as it starts to go beyond that last station: As stressful as the situation might look to a non-local, the train isn't heading to a black hole, that would be too expensive for the company after all those years. Neither will you spend the night in the depot. This is called a turnback maneuver, your train will stop in tunnel a few hundred feet later, stay here for a couple minutes as the driver goes to the other side and and then go back to the departure platform. The lights might twinkle during the maneuver, this is okay. Don't pull the alarm signal as it will get the train stuck for good in that tunnel and you may eventually get fined. Instead, wait peacefully those 1 to 3 minutes, the driver will see you as he changes cab. (If you are on line 1 or 14 (automated and thus driver-less) and that after 5 real minutes (and only after 5 real minutes) the train hasn't moved, use an intercom (green button), the operators at traffic control will make the train unpark and send it back on the line.
  • In the entrances and corridors, you will see screens overhead, quickly check it:
    • Blue background: Usual awareness message about pickpockets, smoking and abandoned luggage
    • Yellow background: Service disruption ! The disrupted line(s) are noted on top, and the details below. It can go from a very slight slow-down to a totally suspended traffic. If it's your line but you can't read the message, you can either try your luck, wait, or use an alternative route.
  • Plan your journey beforehand. You can use the RATP website, which is the service provider for Paris metro.
  • Same goes for "Navigo" contactless cards, a big red 'X' appears along with an unpleasant sound, the reason to it is written on the display, but if you don't read French, here are the possibilities:
    • (You are "out of zone" (you are now or are trying to go in a zone you didn't pay for (the suburbs): Buy a ticket for this journey and consider extending your transportation plan)
    • The machine didn't recognize the card: Try again, closer to it and more slowly, or try at a different machine. (Be careful not to bend the card, as you may damage the antenna inside)
    • Your transportation plan is expired, recharge your card at a violet "Rechargement Navigo" machine or buy a ticket for this journey
    • If you don't understand why the card is rejected or want some help, go to the "Information" booth, the attendant will help you.
  • Don't hesitate to ask for a map at any "Information" booth. They are free and they have plenty of them, regular size, pocket size, for tourists (with the monuments, museums etc next to the stations), for visually impaired, Paris only, Paris+suburbs etc...
  • Do not underestimate walking in Paris or taking the bus. It is a great way to get your bearings of the city, and see the sights above ground.
  • Don't worry that a train won't stop at your station - Paris' Metro trains always stop at every stop on the line.
  • If you miss the last train, don't worry, "Noctilien" is a bus service that operates all night between 00:30 and 5:30, and you can use the same tickets. Check on the Noctilien map on the back of your metro map to see how it can get you closer to where you have to go.
  • If your ticket gets rejected (it beeps, there is a red square on the display and the machine won't let you through), you may have already used it: check for violet marks on the sides of the ticket and always keep the new ones in a different place than the used ones.
  • The Paris metro operates between 5:15 AM and 1:15 AM Sunday to Thursday and up to 2:15 AM on Friday and Saturday nights, and the night before a holiday. On some days like New year's Eve, June 21st and July 14th, the main lines operates all night. (1:15AM and 2:15AM are the time the last train reaches the terminus, so the service may be over for up to 45 minutes before that depending on your position on the line)
  • If you are sure you haven't used it, try again at a different machine, if it still doesn't work, it may have been creased or torn, or more likely the magnetic strip has been demagnetized. (Don't keep it next to magnets, cellphones, credit cards etc) Go to the "Information" booth and give the damaged ticket to the attendant, maybe you'll have a new one for free.
  • If you are in a wheelchair, have big luggage, a stroller or anything that won't go through the tolls, ask the attendant at the "Information" booth to open the service door, or use the intercom by the door.


  • Take a quick look at the people when entering the train and be very careful if you are texting/using your smartphone just next to the doors, a common (perfectly timed) metro-theft is someone snatching off your phone and jumping off the train just as the doors are slamming closed.
  • Metro lines 1 and 14 are automated (driverless) and I usually see tourists being crushed in the doors. Remember that when the buzzer goes off, you have a maximum of 3 seconds to get in/off the train.
  • Stand back from the platform edge. You'd be amazed to know the statistics on that one.
  • It is not possible to take your tickets at the desk anymore, but you can always ask for help while planning your journey.
  • Do not give out money to anyone, do not sign petitions, and do not purchase tickets from people in the metro, they are either counterfeit, invalid or expired.
  • The doors will not be open for long - often less than 10 seconds - and they slam shut very quickly.
  • It goes without saying, keep an eye on your belongings. Paris is a safe city, but it is still better to be safe than sorry. Pickpockets can steal your things in a flash.

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Categories: Public Transport