Monthly Archives: April 2015

Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

Bonjour et bienvenue !

Looking at all the messages you left on the blog or on the French Girl in Seattle Facebook page, you have enjoyed last week’s French dining tips! Here is part 2 of our Travel Tips Series: Getting around Paris, another popular topic. You think you have heard it all? Read on, and join me for another informative and fast-paced pictorial visit of la Belle France.

Deux CV
La vie est belle, from the seat of a Deuche (2CV)

Tip #1: Driving in Paris.

Just don’t. You do not need to; there are more transportation options in Paris than in many other cities. Parisian drivers follow their own rules (creativity and anarchist leanings are prerequisites,) and they will test you. Parking is nearly impossible to find and expensive, except in August when locals flock away, and the whole city seems to fall into a heat-induced torpor.

DrivinginParis
Trying to get in/out of a parking space can be taxing
ParkingBornes
Concrete or steel posts all over the sidewalks make parking nearly impossible

If you need to rent a car to explore other French regions, pick it up on the outskirts of the city, or better yet, outside of Paris (for example, to visit Normandy, you could ride a train to Rouen, then rent your car there.) Even if you live in Manhattan or Los Angeles and love driving at rush hour, familiarize yourself with French rules of the road. “La priorité à droite” (giving way to vehicles coming from the right) is a concept you will be well advised to study before driving in France. Find more info here.

Tip #2: Riding a bicycle in Paris.

Unless you are an experienced – or at least habitual – cyclist, stay away from bicycles in Paris. Bicycles are everywhere, and they will tempt you. Parisians make bicycle riding look so romantic and so easy, don’t they? It’s not.

Bicycle

Bikes

BikesinParis

There are private bikes, and there is Velib, one of the largest bike-sharing systems in the world. All over the city, the grey bikes beckon, and you can rent one for a few Euros. Many visitors do (read about their experiences here.) Be aware Velib bikes do not come with helmets, or a guide to the rules of the road. Use them at your own risk, and never on the sidewalks, (it will help if you have the peripheral vision of a fly.)

Velib2
Velib: A familiar sight in many Parisian neighborhoods

If you really want to experience Paris by bike, there are a couple of companies out there who organize guided tours of the city in English. They would be a fun and safer option.

FatTire
Fat Bike Tours

Tip #3: Riding the Métro.

A favorite mode of transportation in the French capital, and the most efficient. Of course, it is not perfect. Avoid riding the Metro during rush hour to avoid displays of the famous Parisian (short) temper, as locals try to get home. It gets hot and occasionally smelly in the summer. There are pickpockets. There are tourist with huge backpacks hitting you left and right. They are people begging for money. There are strikes. My take on this: Try and live in an area with inadequate public transportation for years, as I have. You will beg for a chance to ride the Paris Metropolitain again, even in the summer, even at rush hour.

Metro

Metro3

The Paris Metro works, and it is easy to use. You only need a little planning, and the observation skills of a 10 year old to get it. The logic is directional. Know the name of your stop, the number of the line you have to ride to get there (there are 16 total,) and the name of the last stop on the line (it indicates the direction of the train.)

Metro4

Tickets? Navigo Découverte is a popular option for out of town visitors. The pass replaced the beloved Carte Orange years ago. Getting one is a bit of a hassle unless you always travel with a passport-size photo in your wallet, and you will be spending enough time in Paris to maximize the pass. Details about Navigo Découverte are here. I prefer Metro tickets, and purchase un carnet (10 tickets) when I arrive. I can use those tickets in the Metro, the RER train (commuter train) as long as I travel downtown (referred to as Zone 1) and even in the buses. When tickets run out, I purchase another carnet. Cost of a single ticket: 1.90 Euros. Cost of a carnet (10 tickets:) 14.50 Euros. You do the math. The little Ticket-t+ will be one of your best friends in Paris, whether you prefer riding le Metro or buses. More information about public transportation rates here.

MetroTicket

Tip #4: Walking the sidewalks of Paris.

This one may not come naturally to visitors used to spending several hours a day in their car. It remains the best way to experience Paris. (Disclaimer: This French Girl may be biased. Speed walking has always been her favorite form of exercise, and she ranks cities and neighborhoods based on their walkability.) Parisians love walking. Many stay fit by walking miles every day. They walk fast, and with a purpose. On Sunday afternoons, they revert to strolling.

Parisiansonfoot
Monsieur et Madame, somewhere in the 16th arrondissement

This means your shoe choice is one of the most important decisions you will make before visiting Paris. We have all heard the jokes about the conspicuous, brand-new white sneakers that immediately identify you as a tourist (not a good thing in a city plagued by pickpockets and other scam artists.) Always go for comfort first. You will walk miles every day. Leave fancy shoe options to (some) Parisian women, or save them for elegant dinners on the town when you can ride a taxi. I have news for you: Colorful sneakers have been a hit in Paris and in France, for many years. Over the past two years, logo sneakers, (yes, the types you see all over American suburban malls,) have been popping up everywhere. They include white ones (mostly on ladies, that’s true.) To be on the safe side, choose neutral or dark colors, with no patterns.

Sneakers
“Les Tennis,” Monoprix, spring 2015

Walking in Paris can be hazardous. Be aware of your surroundings. This means you can’t be walking while holding a giant, unfolded map of the city, looking for the Eiffel Tower or your favorite macaron shop. Most free maps are incomplete and don’t show all the streets. Your best friend? Le Plan de Paris par Arrondissements, (titles may vary) a small book with detailed neighborhood maps, showing even the tiniest streets, Metro stations, and more. Best money you will ever spend in Paris.

PlandeParisParArrondissement

This French Girl never leaves her homebase without it: My blue book is heavily highlighted before I explore corners of the French capital. In an emergency, it always gets me back on track.

ParisPratique
Mon ami et moi, chez Cream, Belleville

Hazards to look out for while walking on Parisian sidewalks include: Hurried Parisians (who will bump into you then glare at you as if you had hit them,) Parisians grocery shopping with their sacs à roulette/caddies (these can prove as lethal to the tibia as the steel and concrete posts illustrated at the beginning of this story.)

LaPoussette
Monsieur fait les courses

There are cyclists (who should not be there unless they are pushing, instead of riding, their bikes,) mopeds, (see previous comment,) and dogs. In Paris, dogs rule. They are not confined to cars, or to their suburban yards.

Dogs
Chien du Haut-Marais
Dogseverywhere
Chien de Belleville

Dog poop is a classic Parisian sight. The city has spent millions to try and convince locals to pick up after their dogs. Communication campaigns. Check. Fines (currently 68 Euros.) Check. Watch this hilarious video of a young Parisian, Antoine, asking one of city’s éducateurs canins du chien citoyen, (Canine Educators of Citizen-dogs,) how to use poop bags. You see what we are dealing with, here. Changing cultural habits can prove an arduous task.

Truth be told, I noticed during a recent visit that things have improved drastically. Parisians dislike dog poop as much as visitors do. I smile when I read stories about “les gross Paris sidewalks,” (if nothing else, it gives people something to talk or write about.) In my corner of American suburbia, I occasionally spot signs like this one on the local trail, (if not abandoned dog poop around my apartment complex.)

DogPoop2
Dog poop: An international conundrum
NoDogPoop
Spotted on the Left Bank: French dogs don’t speak English, folks!

Getting around Paris: An adventure, always. Whether you drive, ride a bike, use the Metro, a city bus, or just walk, be aware of your surroundings. Prepare, but be flexible too. Bonne visite !

A bientôt. 

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Additional reading: 

Get a chip+pin credit card before you visit Europe this summer! This is why.

Biking in France: Rules and tips.

Biking in Paris: Know your street signs. In general, a square sign indicates something is optional. A round sign indicates you have to follow instructions. Article in French.

New fines for people who don’t pick up dog poop or litter Paris with cigarette butts.

The sounds of Paris (a video by French Girl in Seattle.)

Visit my YouTube Channel for more.) 

20 Responses to Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

  1. When we got our Navigo Decouvert cards we arrived in Paris with passport sized photos taken at Walgreens for about $14.

    • Preparation is essential, I like to say, and it looks like you were prepared for Paris, Sandy. Good for you! (Who wants to line up at the Photomaton – that small photo booth inside the Metro – then line up again to get a Navigo Découverte? Bringing your own photo saves a lot of time!

  2. Wonderfully informative post. Thank you.
    The dog in the poop video looks exactly like our Samoyed “Vika.”

  3. Excellent Travel tips of Paris. Your blog is such a joy to read and so informational. Merci beaucoup!

  4. During my last visit to Paris I wanted to use the Autobus as much as possible. Not as fast as the Metro but you can look around. We caught the 95 bus at Porte de Vanves all the way through town to the Place de Clichy. Great sightseeing all along the way. I took the Montmarte bus from Abesses north… think Toads Wild Ride at Disney World. East on number 60 to Place des Fetes. Saw all kinds of places and people most tourists miss.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Danna. Buses make a lot of sense if you have time to sightsee. You see more of a city from the window of a bus, than you do inside the Metro. You picked interesting routes, and you got to see a more authentic face of Paris, a multi-ethnic city, a far cry from the stereotypes in old Hollywood movies.

  5. Excellent article! I have a question about the Metro tickets. If my destination includes two Metro lines, will I be using 4 tickets total for the roundtrip?

    • Bonjour JoAnn. No, you will not be needing 4 tickets, as long as you keep transferring inside the Metro (or from the Metro to the RER suburban train in downtown Paris) to reach your destination. You will use one ticket each way. Look for orange signs indicating “Correspondance” when you reach your first stop. They will take you, via long corridors, to the Metro line you have to take next. Bon voyage!

    • Bus travel is great, and enables you to see the city “from above,” which the Metro doesn’t. You can use the same tickets for both. Buses do take more time, because of traffic, so if you are trying to pack a lot in a day, they may not work. A combination of Metro/bus/walking is perfect, I think. Hope this helps.

  6. It is a good suggestion to cycle in Paris with a tour group. It gave my wife and I a good sense about how to get around by bike. It gave us confidence to use the Vélib’ service on our next visit to Paris. We rode Vélib everyday for two weeks. We are daily bicycle commuters in Seattle and found cycling in Paris enjoyable and very memorable. All things considered, the cars and truck were considerate of cyclists and many routes have dedicated lanes. Following a route was our biggest challenge and our biggest thrill. Apps and paper maps were essential.

  7. De parisienne à parisienne ,rien ne manque dans votre blog Véro , pour arpenter Paris dans les conditions les plus agréables et les plus sûres .

  8. Just was referred to your blog. If you need passport photos for a Navigo Decouvert card or a real passport, and have a smartphone, you can use a free passport photo app. I did so for my US passport and they were accepted, the printing cost at a Walgreen’s was 31 cents including tax.