Getting around in Paris isn’t a great challenge. The city is, in fact, quite small. Compared to other capitals like Berlin, London or Madrid it’s even tiny: a bustling metropolis but on the surface of a village. That’s why my best advice is: walk.
Or be adventurous and take a bike. I love it. In case you’re not an experienced biker who’s used to dense city traffic, you might risk your life – but it’s worth it. Take the underground (metro), buses and even boats on the Seine, hail a cab from time to time but never ever go by car! Just forget about it while you’re here.
Walking in Paris means really discovering it. Step by step you can stroll around shops and palaces, museums, cafés, boulevards. Have a map ready! Paris may be small but the dense universe of narrow streets and grand avenues can be quite confusing, too. And don’t panic should you get lost! The next landmark will be just around the corner.
Parisians who are in a hurry take a bicycle. It’s a good way to explore the city, too. Again: the main attractions are close to each other and as long as you don’t leave the city centre around the banks of the Seine river you won’t find any hills or mountains you have to climb. Not long ago, the city of Paris installed the Vélib system, a pretty easy and cheap way to hire a bike for short rides. On the French website they offer a How-to-do?-file in English. But take care: They only accept smart cards with chip; credit cards with only a magnetic strip won’t work to take a rental.
The Métro is the main workhorse of the Parisian traffic. It is old but still very functional. The yellow line no. 1 links many of the major sites from Bastille to Arc de Triomphe with the Marais, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and Champs-Elysées in-between. Since a lot of tourists take this line, a lot of pickpockets are on duty there. Be aware and take care. They are very gifted.
There’s no sophisticated ticketing system: you buy one ticket (1,70 Euros) – and with it you travel for how long and how far you want to (I’ve once witnessed an American couple trying desperately to buy a „return ticket“ to the Louvre. They really were close to tears because the man at the counter repeated his „no“ over and over again). It’s useful to buy a „carnet“, that’s ten tickets. You’ll use them up easily.
It’s a bit cheaper but much easier. You get 10 tickets for 12 Euros (6 for children). It’s available at metro-stations and every Café-Tabac (it shows the red Tabac-sign outside). Take a coffee at the zinc and get your carnet from the guy who sells the cigarettes.
For more information, check this official website, it’s in English.
Buses in Paris are good, too. Yet for a tourist it’s tough to find out the line he really needs. If you want to take the bus, make sure you’re on the right one otherwise you’ll end up somewhere in the suburbs. For all buses and trains, here’s a very useful link where you can download or just print a Paris bus map. And remember: If you want to change from métro to bus or from bus to métro, you need a new ticket.
Taxis are a real issue in Paris. There’s not enough of them to begin with which makes it almost impossible to get one at peak time (7h30 to 9h30, 19h to 22h). During the day it’s easy to hail one, just step on the street and wave or walk up to a taxi stand. You’ll notice that some taxis aren’t occupied but the driver still ignores you. Don’t take it personally. You never really know what they’re up to.
it’s still very hard for foreigners to tell the difference between an occupied cab and a free one. I often see tourists trying to hail a cab that for Parisians is obviously occupied. But a new law has been passed obliging cab holders to change their signs.
Until January 2013 every Parisian cab (there are 14 000) has to have the new marking: A bright green sign on the roof when they’re available that turns red when the cab is occupied. So easy! But until then you’ll still see a lot of cabs with the old marking. So remember: When the roof sign is fully illuminated, the car is available. When a cab is occupied, the lighted sign is turned off and only a small fare light is lit up (to show the police what rate is being charged).
If you really need a taxi – go to the front desk of your hotel to call one. If you’re stranded and have to make the call yourself, there’s three main taxi companies and here are their phone numbers leading you to interactive menus:G7 – 01 47 39 47 39
Taxis bleus – 01 49 36 10 10
Alpha Taxis – 01 45 85 85 85
Here’s the unique number for all firms bringing you in contact with the nearest taxi station (only in French):
01 45 30 30 30