Paris is a big city and it is always crowded being the most visited place in the world. It can be daunting for the first timer to navigate around, so I thought I write some basic logistics that hopefully can help.
WHERE TO STAY – UNDERSTANDING PARIS NEIGHBORHOODS
Paris is huge and the city’s attractions are all spread out across the city. Hence there is no single place that is at the center of everything. Let’s first understand about Paris neighborhood or arrondissements as the Parisian calls it.
Paris is set up into 20 Arrondissements and each Arrondissement in Paris has its own unique charm and character. Which arrondissement to choose will depend on what you are looking for and what you want out of your trip. Each and every one of the Arrondissements in Paris are pretty well connected by the Paris Metro and bus so you don’t have to worry at all with the public transportation.
You can take a look at the map below to get an idea of how the Arrondissements in Paris are laid out. You can see that the first one begins in the center of the map and the higher numbers are on the outer just at the border of the city. Paris major attraction is also laid in its respective arrondissements. This gives you idea of where you want to stay. The accommodations prices in each arrondissements is different. Obviously the more central arrondissements (the lower numbers),is more expensive Vs the others on the outer (the higher numbers)
Here’s an overview of some of the city’s more significant and well-known arrondissements:
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd are the most central area of Paris, is best known for The Louvre and the surrounding gardens, known as the Tuileries. There is also a lot of high-end shopping along Rue Saint Honoré and Rue de Rivoli.
The 4th makes up the lower part of the Marais, as well as Paris’s two islands, Île Saint-Louis and Île de la Cité. Notre-Dame is on the latter, but Île Saint-Louis is far more interesting, with narrow shopping streets, renowned bakeries and lots of ice cream. In the Marais, the Place des Vosges is one of the city’s most beautiful squares. There’s also the Jewish quarter, home to falafel restaurants, synagogues and a lot of compelling history.
The 5th is home to the Sorbonne, the Latin Quarter is a mix of students and professionals, and has a small neighborhood feel. Shopping can be found along the main drag of Rue Mouffetard, which is also home to restaurants, bars and cafés.
The 6th formerly a bohemian hangout for artists like Picasso and Hemingway, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is now quite trendy. Tourists come for the famous cafes, like Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, but it’s also home to Le Jardin du Luxembourg, one of Paris’s most beautiful gardens, and tons of high-end shopping.
The 7th is the wealthy area of Paris contains foreign embassies, numerous expats and, of course, the famous Eiffel Tower. It’s also well known for its museums and Le Bon Marché, a massive luxury department store that is like a museum in itself.
The 8th has the iconic Avenue des Champs-Elysèes, boasting both chain store and chic designer boutiques. The street, which runs down from the Arc de Triomphe, is often very busy with tourists.
The 9th comprises two main areas, the Paris Opera and Pigalle. It’s also famous for the Galeries Lafayette, a bustling shopping center featuring designer goods.
The 15th: While the Eiffel Tower is not technically in the 15th, the monument is adjacent, so it’s a good home base for travelers who want to be near the landmark. Busy train station Gare Montparnasse can be found here, as well as skyscraper Tour Montparnasse, and there’s a lot to see, buy and eat throughout the area, especially for tourists interested in experiencing local Parisian life outside the center of town.
The 18th arrondissements: Centered around the Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre is an artsy neighborhood with amazing views overlooking Paris. It’s been home to many artists, including Picasso, and these days it’s a good spot to find a nice café or bakery. The arrondissement extends south to the edge of Pigalle, where you can find the Moulin Rouge and a lively nightlife scene, as well as many restaurants and bars. The accommodation prices are also cheaper here but the location up on the hill is a little further out than some people might prefer (especially if it’s a shorter trip).
Where we have stayed and where we would like to stay next
I stayed in the 9th arrondissements on my first trip because it is not too far from the major attractions I would like to visit but it is also not so center so the accommodation price is reasonable.
But on my second visit I would like to stay in a more central location where I can walk to various locations. We chose to stay in the border between 4th and 5th arrondissements. And we were not disappointed. We could walk to Notre Dame and also Pantheon and Jardin du Luxembourg in the opposite direction. I love the location as it was easy to walk and there were times we had a few strikes with bus and metro. When that happen we just walked back to our Hotel. What I would do differently in my next trip to Paris would be to split my stay to stay near the Eiffel Tower so we can watch the Eiffel tower light blinking after dark. We traveled in summer so the Eiffel tower only started blinking at 11pm which is already so late for my no.2 We were lucky we did get to see it from the distance when we were waiting for our bus back.
How to get to Paris City Center from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport
Charles de Gaulle airport lies 30 km outside of Paris, in the northeast and it’s the 2nd biggest airport in Europe. CDG airport has 3 terminals, 1, 2, and 3/Roissypol. Terminal 2 is the biggest with 7 sub terminals. Both, terminal 2 and terminal 1 have a train station with a connection to Paris. Between all 3 terminals runs the free airport shuttle train CDGVAL. Within terminal 2 there is a bus (N1 or N2) that connects the different sub terminals of terminal 2, but walking is an option as well.
- By Train (RER B Line): You can catch the train from Terminal 2 and 3. If you arrive in Terminal 1 you need to take airport shuttle train CDGVAL to Terminal 3. The train will take you to the following RER B stations at Paris: Paris-Gare du Nord, Châtelet-Les Halles, Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame, Luxembourg, Palais-Royal, Denfert-Rochereau.
Journey time is 25-35 minutes and the train leave every 10-15 minutes on weekdays
Fares: €11.40 (Day Pass Navigo, zones 1-5 accepted), 7.90€ for kids (4-9 years)
- Take Roissy Bus heading to the Opéra, in the central of Paris. It’s a direct bus without any stops in between. Roissybus leaves at all 3 terminals of CDG airport. Journey time between 60 and 75 min and it leaves every 15 to 20 min, from 06:00 a.m. to 00:30 a.m. Price: €12.50 one way and the ticket can be bought from automatic vending machines in the stations and on board the bus from the driver. Ticket can also be bought online here.
- Bus no 350 to Paris Porte de la chapelle and no 351 to Paris (Place de la Nation).
Price €2 and ticket be bought at the ticket counter or ticket machine. Journey time 60-90 minutes
- By Taxi: Always take an official taxi located at the gates of the arrivals levels are authorized to pick up customers. These official taxis are recognizable by the light sign on the roof of the vehicle. If you are approached at the exit of the baggage claim by people claiming to be taxis, decline them.
These are the locations
Terminal 1: exit 24 on the arrivals level
Terminal 2A: exit 6
Terminal 2C: exit 14
Terminal 2D: exit 7
Terminal 2E: gate 10 on the arrivals level
Terminal 2F: gate 11 ont the arrivals level
Terminal 3: exit of the arrivals hallTerminal 2G: blue gate
Taxi fare: There is a flat rate to Paris “right bank” €53 and to Paris “Left Bank” €58
- Take Uber: Uber works perfectly fine in Paris. There is no designated pick-up zone for Uber, so you just add your location and wait. You might also have to wait for pick-up instructions from your driver if your location isn’t reachable for him. Charles de Gaulle airport has free Wi-Fi, so you should not run into problems using the app.
PARIS HOW TO GET AROUND
The Paris public transport network ( Métro, RER train, tramway and bus) serves the entire city and all its suburbs.
Métro is the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to get around Paris. There are 16 metro lines and some 300 metro stations; the entrance is indicated by a large yellow letter ‘M’. Metros start running every day – including public holidays – at around 6am and stop at around 12.45am (from Sunday to Thursday) or at 1.45am (on Friday and Saturday). The frequency at which metros run depends on the time and day: at peak hours, metros run every 2 minutes. A single metro ticket costs €1.90, and can be used for one journey, including all connections. This is why it is cheaper Vs the bus. Metro tickets cost € 1.90 each and you can buy the ticket from the machine inside Metro station or by using your travel pass.
Beware that in certain Metro lines where it gets crowded, pickpockets are common. Line to Montmartre is one example. So watch out your belonging.
On my first trip to Paris I strictly use Metro because it is easier. We know where to get on and get off. But on my second trip, I use Buses more because now Google Map can tell me which bus stop to get on and where to get off. Plus I love seeing the view of Paris as a city which you don’t get if you travel by Metro.
There are numerous bus lines and many buses go through the centre of the city, along the banks of the Seine, and through historic district. 64 bus lines run alongside and complement the metro network. The installation of special bus lanes along main roads has improved journey times.
Buses operate from Monday to Saturday from around 7am until 8.30pm. Some lines operate in the evening between 8.30pm and 12.30am, in particular those departing from stations or which serve major metro/RER interchanges. Almost half of bus lines operate on Sundays and public holidays.
The line number and direction are indicated on the front of the bus, above the driver’s compartment, and on the sides of the bus. At bus stops, electronic display signs indicate the waiting time for the next bus to arrive. They will also tell you if the bus is not operating. Bus stops comprise either of glass shelters or simple poles. They display the number of the bus lines serving the stop and a map of the bus routes followed. They also display the time of the first and last bus in service, as well as the average frequency at which buses serve the stop.
You get on the bus at the front and get off in the middle or at the back of the bus. Remember to validate your ticket or your pass. To request a stop whilst you are on the bus, press one of the red buttons in the bus. The ‘stop requested’ light appears in front of the driver’s compartment.
After midnight there is a night bus service (Noctilien) that operates in Paris and the Paris region from 12.30am to 5.30am. 47 lines crisscross Paris and the Paris region so that everyone can get around by public transport.
Paris has 4 tramway lines serving the perimeter of the city: T1, T2, T3, T4. Tram tickets are the same as those used on the metro and the RER in Paris.
RER (Suburban Express Railway) operates in more or less the same way as the metro, except that you need to put your ticket through the automatic barriers a second time on the way out. If your RER station has a connection with the metro, you can use the same ticket for the whole journey. You will use RER train to go to Disneyland Paris or Versailles.
The RER train network consists of 5 lines that serve Paris and the Paris region (Ile-de-France). Each line has a distinctive colour that is shown on RATP and SNCF signs and maps.
RER trains start running at approximately 6am and stop running at around 12.45am every day – including public holidays.
TER or Transiliens are regional trains departing from major Paris train stations (Nord, Est, Lyon, Austerlitz, Montparnasse, Saint-Lazare). Tickets and passes are on sale at ‘Ile-de-France’ ticket desks, automatic ticket machines in train stations and in metro/RER stations and online from SNCF Connect. I always buy ticket from SNCF connect apps in my mobile phone so I don’t need to queue and worrying that I would lose the paper ticket.
TRAVEL PASS AND TICKETS
Paris Visite Pass.
Paris, like any other city has its own Paris Visite Pass. It is an easy solution if you you want to travel as long as you want on any form of public transport within the fare zones you’ve chosen to visit. Plus you’ll also get discounts at many of the attractions you may want to visit.
Note that Paris Visite Pass is only for public transportation. It is not the same with Paris Pass which is a sightseeing package offering admission to over 80 attractions in the city. The Paris Pass does not include Paris Metro tickets, these will need to be purchased separately.
Paris Visite Pass is valid for 1, 2, 3, or 5 days in a row, so you can adapt it to the length of your stay. In order for your pass to be valid, you must write your name and surname on it along with the date, and validate it before you travel.
Your Paris Visite pass is strictly personal, and can’t be used by anyone else. This ticket is non-refundable and non-exchangeable.
If you’d only like to travel in Paris and the immediate suburbs, choose zones 1-3. Choose zones 1-5 to explore the entire Paris region. You’ll need Paris Visite zones 1-5 to go to the Château de Versailles, Disneyland Resort Paris, and the Château de Fontainebleau. It also gives you access to Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.
Paris Visite Pass is expensive and if you are not going to travel extensively using public transport, the best alternative is purchasing Paris Navigo Easy Card. Of course you can also opt to buy single-ticket each time you travel though it can be a hassle because you will have to queue at the ticket machine every single time.
Paris Navigo Easy Card
RATP has released a brand new type of transport pass in summer 2019 that is guaranteed to be traveler-friendly: the Paris Navigo Easy! It is a rechargeable card you can use throughout your entire trip (using metro, Bus, Tram and also Montmartre funicular) which replaces the old single-use paper tickets.
The Paris Navigo Easy is primarily intended for those traveling to Paris. Unlike the Navigo Pass for local where you have to commit to a fixed full-month rate or a fixed full-week rate, the Navigo Easy is similar to London’s Oyster Card where you just load your card for as many tickets as you think you’ll need. It is anonymous and transferable to only one person at a time: the same Navigo Easy card cannot be used by several people simultaneously.
You can load t + tickets individually (full price) or in a 10 pack (full price and reduced price), Navigo Day passes, Orlybus and Roissybus tickets. Buying a ‘carnet’ or a set of 10 metro tickets is cheaper when you have the Navigo Easy. With the Navigo Easy, 10 t+ tickets will only cost 14.90€. However the Navigo Easy cannot be loaded with RER tickets yet. So if you’re planning on going outside of the Paris city limits, like visiting Versailles or visiting Disneyland Paris, you’ll still need to buy a single-use paper RER ticket from a ticket machine or counter.
Full rate and reduced rate t + tickets cannot be loaded at the same time. So if you are traveling with children, children need their own Navigo Easy Pass and load it with tickets that have the child rate: 1.90€ for single t+ tickets and 7.45€ for 10 t+ tickets. They don’t have a specific children card so you have to remember which card is for your children and which one is yours because the rate is different. I marked mine with a pen
The content of the Navigo Easy card can be viewed on vending machines by depositing the pass on the reader, at the counter with agents and on certain validation devices with a digital screen (the balance of titles is displayed when validating the Navigo Easy card).
You can buy Navigo Card at several metro stations which have a ticket counter with a person but remember they are only open at certain hour, at selected tobacco shop and Relay Shop for only €2 and it is anonymous therefore no photo ID or name is required.
I got myself a Paris Pass back in 2014 on my first visit. At that time Paris Pass came with a travel pass as well. Looking back, it was not a good investment as I didn’t have sufficient time to visit all the attractions listed in the Paris Pass and it’d be cheaper to just buy each admission separately and a carnet of 10 paper tickets to use for metro and bus. This time around on my second trip, I get smarter and buy myself a Navigo Easy Card.
Navigo Decouverte Card and Weekly Pass
If you are going to spend one week in Paris and arrive on the beginning of the week you can consider purchasing Navigo Decouverte Card which you then fill in with weekly pass. Here’s what you need to know about this pass:
- The Navigo Découverte travel card includes a case, an ID card, and a chip card onto which you can load your Navigo Day Pass, Navigo Week Pass or Navigo Month Pass which gives you unlimited travel in the zones you choose. Before you use the card, you need to write your name on the attached ID card, and attach a photo (passport size).
- Your Navigo Découverte card is only for your own personal use, and can’t be used by anyone else.
- The Navigo Découverte card costs €5 plus the fares that you choose to buy with it. If it’s lost, stolen, or damaged, though, it won’t be refunded or replaced. Your Navigo Découverte card is valid for 10 years
- You can get Navigo Découverte card in an SNCF Transilien, OPTILE, or RATP sales office. You can get your card loaded in with the week pass or load the week pass from the ticket machine available in any metro station.
- The Week pass is valid for one week, from Monday to Sunday, and gives you unlimited travel within the zones you have selected. It can be purchased starting on the Friday before the week in question. eg. if you come on Tuesday, your pass will be in effect immediately and it will still end on Sunday
- The pass gives you access to all modes of transport (bus, subway, commuter “RER” train, tram and T zen except Orlyval).
- You may chose an “all zones” or “2 zones” (2-3, 3-4 et 4-5) which is only valid in the selected zones.
Other Tips for an Improved Experience in Paris
- Parisians are very formal, so don’t expect to start up a conversation with a stranger in a cue
- Say hello and good-bye (bonjour and au revoir) any time you enter/leave a store or a restaurant. Failing to do so is perceived as very rude and may attract a rude treatment in return
- Be sure to use the bathroom whenever you are at an attraction or in a restaurant. Free public restrooms are rare and usually very dirty in Paris.
- Know your hotel’s name and address. It seems obvious but there are multiple Novotel (or whatever) in Paris and things can get confusing with the language barrier
- Be careful with your bags and don’t put your wallets within easy reached inside your bag especially in crowded places like in metro
I hope this post helps and Enjoy Paris!