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A Guide to Getting Around in Paris: AKA, the Paris Metro is My Boyfriend!



The Paris Métro is my boyfriend! It's good looking, fun, reliable, and while it has made me shed a few tears over the years, it's always stay by my side in Paris!


Picture it - Paris 1895. At last, the decision was made to modernize transportation in Paris with the construction of an underground network - creating a sub terrain, veined, labyrinth of interconnecting lines. Today, the Parisian métro is the second busiest in Europe, with over 300 stations and nearly 1.5 billion passengers per year. Let's take a look to see how we got here...


Paris was not the first city to open an underground transport system. London began the trend in 1863, followed by New York City in 1868, and Chicago in 1892. Budapest then followed with another in 1896.


Fulgence Bienvenüe -- image: wikipedia.com

Back to 1895 in France: the state and the city decided that they really needed an impressive solution to the lack of street level transportation. Keeping in mind that Paris was set to be the host of the Exposition Universelle, or World's Fair as we commonly call it, they really wanted to pull out all the stops. The métro stops!


Fast forward to 1897. Fulgence Bienvenüe accepted the role to oversee this exciting project. Prior to this, he had been the very successful Chief Engineer for bridges and roadways.


Bienvenüe's original thought process was composed of a circular line running Étoile-Nation-Étoile and two transversal lines, one running north-south (Porte de Clignancourt-Porte d'Orléans) and the other east-west (Avenue Gambetta - Porte Maillot).



image: researchgate.com

Very quickly, construction began in a race against the clock to the World's Fair. You can imagine that this disruptive and revolutionary work caused quite the disruption to the Parisians. As you can see from this photo, taken on June 30, 1899, the entire rue de Rivoli is torn up to make room for the tunnels to house the carriages.


If you look closely, you can see down the unearthed rue de Rivoli and the Tour Saint Jacques popping up on the far right side.



image: aboutartnouveau.wordpress.com

Finally, on July 10, 1900, the métro welcomed the first excited Parisians aboard.


P'Nichers, can you even imagine what it must have been like to ride this new method of transportation (all while the World's Fair is going on?) Well, due to that World's Fair, it is estimated that over 4 million people rode the métro within her first months of operation.


What was the first line opened? Well, I am glad you asked! Logically, the Line #1 opened, connecting Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes. Today, the line runs from La Défense to Château de Vincennes. By 1913, the métro had grown quickly to 10 lines and continued to grow to the current structure we ride today. It is run by the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), who also runs Paris' buses and tramways, as well as partially overseeing the RER (Réseau Express Régional).


image: paris-metro-map.info

As a special architectural note, the Line 1 travels along Paris' Axis of Symmetry. More on that later, so make sure to subscribe to stop back off at the Parisian Niche. You you can see that this line is dotted with many of the most beautiful and historic monuments the eye can behold. From La Défense to the Arc de Triomphe (in fact the entirety of the Champs Élysées) through the Place de La Concorde and Tuileries Garden and the statue of Louis IV (portrayed as Alexander the Great) in the Cour Napoléon beside the Louvre's Pyramid - what a glorious ride (pun fully intended)!


image: smashingmagazine.com

Today's métro circuit is composed of 14 lines - that's around 220 km (or 138 miles) of affordable, public transportation.


The métro currently operates daily from around 5:30 to 1:00am.


Beep, Beep, get in!


Now, was is always baguettes and roses for our beloved métro? Of course not. In fact, during The Occupation, some lines (the 2, 6, 11, and 14) were lessening services. Lines 4 and 13 stopped service completely.


During this time, thousands of incidents were recorded - attacks, bombings, and breakdowns. What a horror!


On the flip side of that Euro coin, with the many crowded platforms and train cars, it was the perfect place for the French Resistance to hide in plain sight and heroically fight for their city and country -

and fight they did...


Back to the future (well, today)...


Did you know you could also leave a métro station and end up in another country? The métro's busiest station is the Gare du Nord. It's a major hub for transport from Northern France, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands. Another, the Gare de l'Est, will travel non stop to Amsterdam-Central (no change of train needed!)


Ok, ok, how to get to all of this miraculous sub-terrain travel? Let's dig in...


First, you will need to find a métro station. Métro stations / entrances within Paris are placed very closely together to form a grid structure, ensuring that most points in the city are close to a métro station (each less than 500 meters, or 1,600 feet, apart).


Many stations are gorgeously decorated in the Art Nouveau style by Hector Guimard (and we will take a look at that beautiful functionality in a future post.)


Certainly, métro stations are located centrally, near all monuments and points of interest.


image: discoverwalks.com

It is worth stating that at the métro stations, as well as aboard the trains and all points of interest, pickpocketing is an issue. While we will address this crime as well as other scams in future posts, you will definitely want to keep your eye on your belongings to safeguard your items from these well trained, professional thieves.



image: thelocal.fr

Ok, so you're at your métro station and need to get a ticket to board. You have options. For our brave travelers, there is the Paris Visite Card. It's an unlimited tourist pass that can be purchased in increments of 1, 2, or 5 days. This card also provides discounts on other items, such a boat cruises and other tourist attractions and points of interest. And don't forget, if you are traveling with a child under 4 years of age, they ride the métro for free.


image: bu.edu

Another option is P'Niche's way to get about. It's the Passe Navigo and can be used on the métro, bus, RER, tram, Montmartrobus, Noctilien (night bus) and the Montmartre Funiculaire.


A few drawbacks. This card runs from Monday - Sunday. So, if you arrive on a Friday or Saturday, it's a bit tricky. You'll also need to bring a passport photo with you to obtain the pass. The new pass fee is €5. After the €5, the cost of the pass is €23 for a week or €76 a month for the zones 1-5. All this aside, my Passe Navigo is my most cherished Parisian possession!


image: europeforvisitors.com

Purchasing tickets is easy. You can either visit a teller, in person, at stations that offer this service (remember to greet them with a bonjour) or purchase from an automated vending machine, located in each métro station.


These machines accept Euro cash and credit cards, so long as your credit card has a chip that works in Europe.


image: travel-cam.net

Ok, we're on our way!


You will now hover your card over the purple "pads" along side the turnstile.


At that moment, you will hear a little "ding" and those little "gate doors" will automatically open for you to pass through. Do note, only one person may pass thru at a time.


image: discoverfrance.com

Once you’re past the gates, look around. There will be signs with métro line colors and numbers. The signs will have maps of the stations each line stops at. Look for your station. Along the line, you will see other colors and numbers. This means you can transfer to that line at that stop. For instance, as you can see here, you can transfer to the #2 Line at the Villiers stop.


There are two directions for each Métro line to head in. The name of the direction will be whichever stop is the very last on the line in that direction.


Look at the map, see where your destination station is, and then look for the name of the last stop on that map. Head to that métro. Just follow the signs.

image: whereeverwriter.com

When you get to the tracks, you will see a lit-up sign overhead. This tells you how many minutes until your train arrives, etc.


As you can see from this example...


You are on the 1 Line (Yellow Line) heading in the direction of Château de Vincennes (which is the last stop).


It is 14:47 (or 2:47pm in the afternoon).


The 1ere (or first) train is arriving in zero minutes (so immediately approaching the platform). After that, the next train arrives in 3 minutes. Easy Breezy!


image: whereeverwriter.com

Once your train approaches, hop on board. Many (not all) doors are automated. There will be a loud buzzer to sound when the train will leave.


When announced on the loud speaker, the métro stop names will most likely not sound how you think they will, so keep a close eye. The maps on tops of each door likely illuminate as you go, and will help you as you can see here in this example.


image: foursquare.com

Nervous about making that transfer? Fear Not, P'Niche is (figuratively) with you...


When you arrive the stop you need to transfer at to get to another line, exit the train. Now, get as close to the wall as possible, to allow the rushing Parisian pedestrians to get past you (seriously). Now, look for the signage to your transfer and head to it.


As you can see from this example, you are at the Miromesnil stop (on the #13 line) and can now transfer to the #9 line in the direction of Pont de Sevres.


image: blog.prototypr.io

No need to transfer lines? Great! Welcome to your destination stop.


You will exit the train and look for the blue "Sortie" signs. Simply stated, Sortie is "Exit" in English.


Often, signs will indicate which exit is closest to which street or point of attraction. As seen here, you can get closest to Notre Dame by using Exit #1.


Congrats - you did it!


image: ratp.fr

Key to the success of your Parisian métro travels is preparation. You will need a métro map. Good news, maps are free and easy to come by.


You can find an interactive métro map here, which can also be downloaded converted to PDF for ease.


This map (with streets and monuments) can also be quite helpful.


Another useful tool can be found here.


Do not panic when you see it - it looks much more complex than it is and reading it will quickly become second nature.


Both Google Maps and CityMapper will include métro stations and transfers in their directional guidance, often times telling you which exit to use as well. Google also offers and offline map app option to alleviate the need for wi-fi.


Above all, give yourself some grace. You may get lost or turned around. The good news - if you head in the wrong direction, you will know it in less than 60 seconds and be able to double back, adding no more than 5 minutes to your journey. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey. Pun intended, and I'll see myself out the Sortie…


All jokes aside, if you are still anxious, just take your time and review the steps. Plan ahead.


P'Niche personal, I am terrible at maps and directions. But if I can head down to the métro with no fear (and actually, quite a bit of enjoyment), you can do it too.


You will be able to navigate Paris quickly like a pro in no time at all.


Grab your Navigo and...allons-y - let's go!


If you are more of a bus route person, that's cool! We will be exploring the Parisian bus system in a future post, as well as some of the more unique métro stations and artistic endeavors therein, so we will look forward to you subscribing and riding back into the Parisian Niche. Beep beep, et à bientôt!


image: mamalovesparis
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