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Paris is served by three airports and six major train stations and several bus stations.
There are two main airports in Paris: Orly (ORY) and Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG).
You are more likely to arrive at Charles de Gaulle from international flights through major airline carriers. You may arrive at Orly if you’re traveling with a low-cost company or from another French or European city. Beauvais-Tillé airport (BVA), located northwest of Paris, exclusively serves European destinations.
Trains are a lot more popular in France than buses for traveling between cities or countries. Thanks to the TGV (high speed train), you can reach a city like Marseilles (505 miles from Paris) in just three hours. You can also take trains to cities outside France like Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam, Berlin, Luxembourg and Portugal.
Book train tickets on the SNCF website ( http://www.voyages-sncf.com/) with any major credit card, and opt for “Borne Libre Service,” which lets you collect your tickets from the automatic ticket machines in your departure station. If you’re booking your tickets from abroad, visit the Rail Europe website ( http://www.raileurope.com/index.html). Paris has six train terminals in different parts of the city, so make sure you head to the right one! Each is accessible by RER, and use the RATP website ( http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21879/to...) to find your way there.
If there’s an SNCF strike (very common) or if you’re on a budget, coaches (called autocars in French) are useful. France’s main coach company is Eurolines, and Paris has several boarding points at bus stops and bus stations ( gare routières). You’ll be told where to board when you buy your ticket.
Once you arrive at the airport, you can reach Paris via train, bus, shuttle bus, taxi or rental car.
You can take public transportation from each airport to reach Paris.
From Charles de Gaulle airport, the cheapest option is to buy a metro pass for six zones (€9,80) and take the RER train (a regional train) directly. If you arrive at the platform early in the morning you are likely to see little more than several vending machines in front of you selling train tickets. Some of these machines have the facility for using credit cards although increasingly they are set up to take only European-style chip and pin cards. If you have problems using the machines continue along the platform to the ticket booths where you will be able to buy your ticket to Paris (you may need to tell the ticket agent your card has to be swiped on the side of the credit card machine not inserted into the bottom). It costs no less to buy a return ticket (alle retour - pronounced allay raytour) but it may save you having to queue on your return journey. The ride into Gare de Nord takes about 40 minutes but can take longer early in the morning when it stops more frequently. Note that you might have to carry your luggage up several flights of stairs when you reach your station, since elevators are rare. If you’d rather take a bus, consider the Air France Bus (€15 single ticket), which leaves from all terminals; route 4 goes to Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse, while route 2 stops at Porte Maillot and Etoile (Arc de Triomphe).
Also consider the
Roissybus from Charles de Gaulle to downtown (stops at the Opera square). The fare is €10 for each person one-way. The bus stops at each terminal at the airport and then takes you directly downtown with no other stops.
Orly is connected to Paris by two RER lines and two buses. If you take the RER B, you will get a chance to board in the very high tech automatic shuttle called Orlyval (your kids will love sitting in the front). The Orlybus is €6,40 to Paris, while the Air France Bus is €11,50 (or 18,50 round-trip).
Paris-Beauvais offers a shuttle service for €15 between Paris (Porte Maillot stop) and the airport, and the ride takes about an hour and 15 minutes. The SNCF also runs an express regional train to the center of Beauvais, where you can pick up a taxi to Paris.
*More public transit details listed below.
Taxis are available at all three airports. From Charles de Gaulle, average fare is about €40-50 and the ride time is about an hour, depending on your final destination within Paris. From Orly, average fare is about €35. Taking a taxi from central Beauvais would be costly, so we don’t recommend it.
You may find this useful: in most cases, using a shuttle service in Paris is not only cost effective, but helps you plan your trip days and even weeks before your planned journey.
Renting a car is not recommended because Parisian traffic can be crazy, parking is hard to find, and public transportation is very efficient. But if you need a car, you’ll find rental companies (
Royal car, Avis, Hertz, Rent a Car, Budget) in every train station and at the airports. Prices vary from €85 (Hertz) to €230 (Holidays Auto) for a weekend.
If you intend to drop off your rental car in Paris, allow a couple of hours driving time just to get from the outskirts into the city. The “extra day” charge for late returns (Europcar defines this as being more than 30 minutes late) can be expensive.
Although Paris is filled with Michelin restaurants and boutique shops, the city is only 7.5 miles wide and 6.2 miles across, so it’s easy to explore on foot or by public transportation. Paris is officially divided into 20 districts, called arrondissements, which are numbered from 1 to 20 in a clockwise spiral from the city’s center. The city encompasses zones 1-5 in the Ile de France’s six zones – important to remember when you’re buying certain train tickets.
For public transportation, RATP oversees the métro, bus and tram networks, as well as some part of the RER-express train network. The SNCF runs the rest of the RER network and the Transilien suburban trains. The fare system is wholly integrated: any ticketing booth of either RATP or SNCF will sell you the whole range of tickets and passes.
Walking is arguably the best way to enjoy the City of Light. Since Paris is a small city, you can cross it in a few hours, though you’ll more likely lose track of time in one of the many cafes and shops. Most of the city’s older streets are extremely narrow, with just enough space for small cars to squeeze through, so you may have to walk single file down the sidewalk. If you get lost, ask a nearby hotel concierge whether he speaks English (“Bonjour Monsieur, parlez-vous anglais?”) and see if he can help direct you.
The metro is another fast and easy way to navigate through Paris. It has 16 lines, each with a different color and number. At any given metro station, each line will have two platforms, one for each direction. Train direction is marked by the terminus station, or the last station on the line.
You’ll notice a metro map on the platform wall; find your current station and your destination station, following the line to its end, or the terminus station. By keeping the terminus station in mind, you’ll know which line to take (and in which direction) if you transfer lines.
Regarding fare, it’s practical to buy 10 tickets at once (locals call the pack a “carnet”), as opposed to a single ticket (“t+”). A carnet costs €12,50 while a single ticket costs €1,70. Each ticket is only valid for one trip (including changes within the metro system). Transferring to a bus with the same ticket is not permitted. You can also buy a one day Mobilis pass for €6,30, with fares ranging according to the number of zones you will pass (most tourists can stick to zones 1 and 2).
For those who like to stay out late, remember that the metro stops between 12:30 and 1 a.m., depending on the line.
You can go almost anywhere in Paris by bus ( http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_5044/bus/); the only tricky part is determining exactly where your bus will stop. Tickets are the same ones you use in the metro, and you can buy them in a metro station. A standard "t+" ticket transfers among buses for up to 90 minutes from the first trip, but if you buy your ticket onboard the bus you don’t get a free transfer. Also, there are no transfers between bus and metro.
Certain bus lines (Balabus, Noctilien, Orlybus, Roissybus, and lines 299, 350 and 351) are not valid with a normal ticket and require tickets priced according to the length of the trip, available for purchase at the point of departure.
Buses usually stop between 9 and 10 p.m. Reduced service continues with Noctilien buses, which run through the night.
The RER is another great option, though it has fewer lines and stops. RER trains are most useful for traveling to nearby suburbs, but they can also help you cross the city within minutes. For example, the closest train stop to the Eiffel Tower is RER’s “Champ de Mars - Tour Eiffel” stop.
Tickets are the ones you use on the metro, but on the RER they’re only valid inside zone 1 (within Paris). If you’re traveling outside of zone 1, you need to buy a more expensive ticket at the station. And don't be fooled if there is a "2" on your metro ticket – it does NOT mean zone 2, but rather harkens back to a time when the Parisian metro had both first and second classes.
Commuter rail (Trains de banlieue)
If you need to go to suburbs even farther from Paris, or suburbs that aren’t reachable by RER, you may need to use SNCF commuter trains. Each of Paris’s six major train stations has SNCF trains for the suburbs (Gare Saint Lazare: western and southwestern suburbs; Gare de l’Est: eastern suburbs; Gare du Nord: northern suburbs; Gare de Lyon: southeastern suburbs; Gare Montparnasse: southwestern suburbs; Gare d’Austerlitz: southern suburbs).
A fun way to see Paris is by boat. The Batobus is a unique line with eight stops along the Seine, including the Eiffel Tower, the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre and Notre Dame. A one-day pass is €14, and you can preorder at http://www.museumpass.com.
The almost-free bicycle system in Paris is called VELIB – a contraction of the French words velo (bike) and libre (free). At bike stations throughout the city, you can check out a bike and take it for a ride, returning it at a dock once you’re finished. Although the bikes are regularly maintained, have a quick look before you select one to ensure that it doesn’t have problems with the tires, chains, brakes or seat.
To use the VELIB system, you need to buy a short-term membership card (either for a day or a week) with a chip-embedded credit card (magnetic-strip only cards don’t work). When the €150 bond (refunded at the end of the hire period) is processed, your membership number is printed out. You create a personal identification number (PIN), which you use to check out a bike.
Cycling around Paris is remarkably easy. There are many bicycle lanes (marked by a painted bike symbol on the road), including a beautiful one alongside the Seine. If you can’t find a designated bicycle lane, use a designated bus or taxi lane.
It’s not easy to find a taxi in Paris; the city lacks the ubiquitous yellow cabs of New York. You’ll have the most luck at taxi stands or on large avenues. Taxis don’t have a common color or type, but licensed cabs have a special sign that says Taxis parisiens. If the sign is lit, the car is available.
You can also call several taxi companies, including Les taxis bleus ( http://www.taxis-bleus.com) and Taxis G7 ( http://www.taxisg7.fr/index.php). They each apply the same rates, which vary according to the time of day and the day of the week. There’s a starting charge of €2,30 and a minimum fare of €6,20, and you don’t have to tip the drivers.
BlaBlaCar is where you can see who is going your way online and reserve a seat, determine how much you want to talk during the ride, see the car and driver, find out the driver's musical preferences, agree on a price and meeting place, etc. Rates are extremely reasonable. Prices are capped so that drivers only offset their running costs (without making a profit), in accordance with regulation. The amount of baggage allowed and how many passengers that can be accommodated is indicated.