The Best Of Paris: The Metro

If Pittsburgh had a cool subway system with museums at every stop, it might be called the “City of Light” too.

The Paris Metro is one of the biggest drivers of the city’s popularity. The Metro makes it possible to see all of the sights quickly and with relative ease, while being easy on the pocketbook. More than that, it’s user-friendly – even for the non-French speaking visitor.

Metropolitain-style Metro entrance
Metropolitain-style Metro entrance

Where Am I?: As a comparison, the Paris Metro is more straightforward and helpful than its’ cousin the London Underground. The Underground, with tons of stations and signs and heritage, sometimes only gives you “hints” that you might be close to your destination. It won’t tell you exactly. What is the best exit for London’s Wembley Stadium? Might be Wembley North. Or maybe Wembley Central. Or is it Wembley Park?

The Paris Metro will just come out and tell you where you are, provided you have some ability to bridge French to English. The exit for the Louvre Museum is Musee de Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower is at Tour Eiffel. Very straightforward, and very French, and makes you feel like you know at least some of the local language.

Metro Entrances: Also very French and artistic are the Paris Metro station entrances. These come in a few different styles, most notably the green and yellow signage for the “Metropolitain” entrances. These entrances are the oldest in the Metro system, and look like something from “Alice in Wonderland”. Who could resist a ride on that? Other stations are marked with a simple signpost, with a red and yellow “METRO” lamp – similar to London Underground station signage. For another twist on Metro entrance design, check out the entrance at Palais Royal Station. It’s basically a big ornament made of glass beads.
Metro Artwork: Once underground, you’ll see plenty of advertisements covering the station walls. Many of these ads are movie posters, which keep the subway system updated with fresh images every few weeks. And the posters are huge. Concert and theatre posters take up their fair share of the station walls as well. There are permanent works of art along the subway trail too, including replicas of sculptures found at the Louvre.
Also while underground, you’ll notice that the Paris Metro signage has a way of switching back and forth between different colors, fonts, and styles. This should be confusing, but it isn’t. It’s interesting. It gives different stations a personality and style. It also provides insight on the age of each station.

transportation in Paris
transportation in Paris

Paris Metro Decoder Ring: You’ll notice some abbreviations on the Metro maps and signs that can be confusing to the first-time visitor. The abbreviations are second nature to the locals, although most of them can’t tell you what the letters stand for. Those abbreviations are:

“RATP”: When you see this abbreviation and logo, think of it as a corporate sponsor. RATP stands for “Regie autonome des transports parisiens” (translation: Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports). RATP is the state-owned group that operates the Paris Metro, as well as public transport systems in other cities outside of France.
“RER”: When you see RER, think “trains”. RER stands for “Reseau Express Regional” (translation: Regional Express Network). The RER is a system of trains, rather than a system of subway cars. The RER intersects with the Metro inside the city of Paris, using many of the same Metro stations as connectors. The RER will carry you outside the city, while the Metro keeps you inside.
“T”: Think “trams”, or “light rail”. You’ll see the circle “T” logo on many of the Paris Metro maps, showing where these overground trams intersect with the wider Metro. These vehicles are a cross between a trolley and a train, travelling alongside city streets.
“M”: This is the easy one. The circle “M” logo designates the Paris Metro subway system. The Metro keeps you travelling inside the city, taking you to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and all points in between.
Ticket Prices: The cost of tickets (or passes) for the Paris Metro varies depending on duration and coverage. While passengers can buy single point-to-point tickets, most go for one, two, three, or five day passes. Tickets cover either zone 1 to 3, which is all of central Paris, or zones 1 to 5, which covers central Paris and all the way out to major airports and Disneyland Paris.

metro tickets
metro tickets

Some sample adult ticket prices are:

Two-day pass, zones 1 to 3: 19€ ($24 U.S.)

Two-day pass, zones 1 to 5: 38€ ($48 U.S.)

Five-day pass, zones 1 to 3: 38€ ($48 U.S.)

Five-day pass, zones 1 to 5: 65€ ($82 U.S.)

Note that monthly and yearly passes are also available. These will be more cost effective for a longer stay. The process to get these longer passes, however, is much like applying for a passport. They require a headshot and application before you can get one. Check out for details, and have your French to English dictionary handy.

Hours of Operation: The Metro runs Mon-Fri from 5:30 AM to 12:30 AM, and Sat-Sun from 5:30 AM to 2:15 AM. This includes the Metro and RER train system.

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