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The Ultimate How-To: Buying Paris Public Transit Tickets

This is the ultimate guide on buying and using public transit tickets in Paris.

When I was first moving to Paris, I saw all these guides on how to take the metro and which lines to take to spots like The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Les Halles etc.

But what I didn't find anywhere were instructions on:

  • How to actually buy tickets,

  • How to use them,

  • Which tickets were best, etc.

So here I am writing that post for all future travelers like me who like to plan, plan, plan (and know what to expect!). I'll also cover:

Note 1: I tried my best to cover as much as I could in this post. Of course, things change, and I am not Parisian. If you think something is incorrect, please post a comment and let others know!

Note 2: I'm going to refer to all public transit as "metro" in this post. If I'm specifically talking about the metro trains, I'll use "metro (subway)"

Map of all the lines: (download here)
What options for public transit are there?
  • Bus - good for short in-city trips and seeing neighborhoods

  • Metro (subway) - great for exploring zones 1-3 and getting places quickly

  • RER - for exploring "outside paris" (zones 2-5)

  • SNCF - for traveling to different cities outside of Paris as well as farther out zones

  • Tram - good for traveling in specific neighborhoods and traveling across the city

Alright, the basics. There are two ways to buy metro tickets:
  • Paper tickets (please read the notes about these!)

  • Navigo card

Where to buy tickets:

You will need to go to a metro (subway) station and use the machines or speak with a person at the counter. (Don't forget to open with "Bonjour, parlez-vous Anglais?" - don't assume they speak English, it's rude!). However, the machines do have several language options and are fairly easy to use. Some are touchscreen and some have a tricky scroll bar that you use for selecting (I opt for the touchscreens)

If you don't already have a Navigo card, you'll need to go to the counter to purchase one of those, see notes below.

Map of the zones (download here):

Everything you need to know about paper tickets (or often referred to as cardboard tickets):
  • I would not recommend this option

  • These are being phased out and it is said that they won't be available for purchase after Sept 2022

  • They were originally supposed to be phased out by March 2022, but at the time of this writing, you can still purchase them

  • It is said that you can't purchase them everywhere, however I purchased them in several different metro stations

  • I bought a ten pack of these tickets for €16 which was a great deal per trip

  • However, these easily become demagnetized if they rub up against metal. So keep them away from your keys and credit cards!

  • The machines also struggle to read these sometimes

  • These tickets work for all of the different public transportation options, however, they only work on RER trains inside Paris (check out your Google map, see that big circle around Paris? That's what counts as "in" Paris). This means if you want to go to Versailles, Jadin d'Acclimatation, Bois de Vincennes, Disney Paris etc you'll need to buy a paper ticket that is valid from one stop to your last stop and then buy another for the way back.

  • Transfers: on the metro, you can go from one metro (subway) to another metro (subway) without needing another paper ticket, as long as you don't leave the station. You most likely won't need to leave the station to catch another metro, they are all connected via underground tunnels.

  • Even though it says on RATP's website that you should be able to transfer from bus to bus, I could not get this to work. The ticket spit back out at me and the machine made a mean buzzing sound. Which means I wasted a ticket on a ten-minute bus ride.

  • DON'T LOSE YOUR TICKET! For several reasons. If you are traveling to/from outside Paris, you'll need your ticket to get out of the station. I had a friend stuck inside a station after losing her ticket, it was a whole thing to get her out. The French are not forgiving. Also, there are random security officers onboard that will check tickets sometimes.

Everything you need to know about the Navigo card:
  • Download the RATP app before you leave wifi.

  • Buy this card at a service desk inside a metro (subway) station, they also give you a protective plastic case.

  • There are two types of tickets you can buy on Navigo: Navigo Easy; Navigo Liberté+

  • You can only purchase the Navigo Liberté+ pass if you have a French bank account

  • If you choose this option, you pay the following month for all the trips you took the previous month; but they are pretty discounted!

  • For tourists, I recommend the Navigo Easy pass, (because getting the Liberté+ pass requires you to go online, don't worry about accidentally buying this at a metro (subway) station).

  • You can load daily, weekly, monthly, and weekend passes onto your Navigo card

  • Important: the weekly and monthly passes are by calendar dates! Which means your weekly pass is valid from Monday-Saturday. And monthly passes start on the 1st.

  • So if you land in Paris on a Saturday, don't buy a weekly pass! It will expire at midnight and you just wasted over €20.

  • Loading the card: Once you buy your card, you can:

    • 1) have the person at the window load it for you

    • 2) load it by going to a machine

    • 3) scanning it on the app.

  • On the machine, you'll hold it up to a purple circle (also seen on the machines to get into the metro station)

  • On your phone, you'll click Tickets>Read Pass>Hold the card up to your phone's camera (witchery! 🧙🏼‍♀️) > Follow the prompts.

  • Zones: Paris has five zones, and they actually stretch pretty far outside the city center. Zones 2-5 are "outside Paris" (see pro tips on what "outside Paris" is).

  • If you're buying a daily pass, you'll have to select which zones you want it to be valid in, this sort of restricts you and makes it harder to switch up your plans, but if you're hitting up the popular tourists spots, you'll be fine within Zone 1 & 2

  • I prefer the weekly or monthly passes, which have the most flexibility. They are valid in all the zones and there's no limit on how much you can use them.

  • It's important to note that your pass can only be scanned once within 15 minutes - so if you accidentally enter the wrong metro (subway) station, scan your card, and have to go back out, the next machine won't let you through. If this happens, go to the service counter and explain the situation, they'll help you.

  • My friend scanned his card to close behind someone in front of him as he went through the machine, and the machine thought he had already gone through, so he was stuck buying a paper ticket. So just be careful and wait until the person in front of you has gone totally through the turnstile before you scan your card!

  • You'll need to put your photo on your card. This is a mild inconvenience. But there are photo machines in almost every metro (subway) station. Pay the €8 to buy the passport photos, cut one out, and place it on the sticky area on your Navigo card. Also write in your name and phone number. You can be fined €35-50 if you don't have your photo on your card (however, the one time I got my card checked, they didn't look for photos, but take your own risk!).

  • When you're getting on the metro, scan your Navigo on the purple circle to validate it/be let in through the turnstiles, the machine will make a positive-sounding "ding!" to let you know it worked; or a negative-sounding buzz if it didn't.

Voila! You've now learned the ins and outs of buying and using metro tickets in Paris.

Here is some extra info that you might find helpful:

What's in each zone of Paris? Here are some popular spots in each:

Zone 1: Effiel Tower, Arc de Triomphe

Zone 2: Chateau de Vincennes, Jardin d'Acclimatation

Zone 3: Château de Sceaux, Bois de Vincennes (this park actually borders zones 2 & 3 but is very large, so you could get off at Château de Vincennes (zone 2), and walk through the park to the other side (zone 3) or walk back

Zone 4: Palace of Versailles, Saint Germain en Laye, ORY Airport

Zone 5: Disney Paris, Fontainebleau, CDG Airport

Helpful pro tips:
  • Paris is actually a small big city, you can get nearly anywhere within the city in about 30 minutes on the metro (subway).

  • Lower the handle of your luggage (you may even have to put it on its side on the ground if it's very large, or pick it up!) before scanning your ticket/card and entering the turnstile. It will get caught, you will look like a fool, and you might lose your chance to walk through on your scan.

  • The majority of metro (subway) stations are not ADA accessible

  • You most likely won't have to leave metro stations to make a transfer, they are all connected via underground tunnels.

  • If you're traveling to/from outside of Paris you'll need your ticket/Navigo card to get out of the station. However, this is not the case while inside Paris.

  • "Outside Paris" is anywhere outside of the large circle highway that surrounds the city. Some really amazing sights are out there, so don't be afraid to venture out!

  • Download the RATP app on your phone before you leave the comforts of wifi

  • If you've bought a daily, weekly, or monthly Navigo pass, the machines will make an odd sound when it's near the time of expiration. I've had it make this sound two days before my week pass was up.

  • On Google Maps, turn on your public transit layers so you can easily glance and see where the lines are and how they connect. (A lot of the times if you are one metro stop away from a line it'll tell you to walk there, but most likely there's a metro stop close by that you can ride for one stop. It's these small things that make traveling more convenient!)

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