The Paris Metro and RER systems are a great way to get around Paris and Île-de-France. However, it can be a little challenging to navigate for first-time travellers. Our France expert answers your most frequently asked questions.
Yes and no! If you are familiar with this kind of system (for example, London Underground or New York subway), you will find it a bit easier to navigate but it is still quite complicated at first glance. We recommend looking at the map carefully before you start your journey, note down which changes you need to make and where so you don’t have to keep stopping to check the map.
You can download the RATP app to help you use the system and find your way around.
There are turnstiles at the entrances and exits of stations. Enter to the left of the green arrow. You will need to put the ticket into the slot and go through.
Do NOT pull the ticket out until you have started going through the turnstile or you won’t be able to get through. Remember to remove your ticket as you go through it – you must carry that ticket with you at all times. If you don’t have it and a ticket inspector stops you, you may be asked to leave the train or even receive a fine.
Important: If you’re travelling with luggage and there isn’t a special wider gate/turnstile, we recommend you push the luggage through ahead of you, THEN go through and take your ticket, otherwise you will get stuck!
When you exit the Metro, you do not need to do anything with your ticket; when you leave an RER station, you will need to put it through a ticket turnstile again.
We have found it to generally be very safe BUT you do need to watch out for pickpockets! Keep all your valuables where they cannot be snatched and hold bags, rucksacks, etc. in front of you. As with any other city, night time and travelling alone when there are few people about can be risky so always stay alert and cautious.
Likewise, when it is very busy and there are crowds squashed together, this is a risky time for pickpocketing. Just be aware of your surroundings (as in any city).
Note that, although buskers are allowed in the stations, they are not permitted to busk on trains, nor are you permitted to give them any money.
In our experience, no, it isn’t easy! Many stations do not have escalators or elevators, particularly outside the centre of Paris, and there can be a lot of walking and stairs. Be prepared to drag bags up and down stairs.
The trains themselves do not have space set aside for luggage and they can be very crowded, making it difficult to get on and off with luggage. It is best to avoid travelling at peak times (approximately 08h00 – 10h00 and 17h00 – 20h00).
You may be lucky and someone will stop to help you but don’t bank on it and be aware that staff will almost certainly not assist you (also, be careful of people being very pushy to assist as they may have ulterior motives).
Therefore, if you have luggage and may physically struggle, are travelling with children, or have a lot of luggage we suggest taking a private transfer instead (for longer journeys like from the airport into Paris) or catching a taxi* or Uber. (Note that most Paris taxis do not accept credit cards.)
*Be careful of scam artist taxis at trains stations and airports who charge excessive prices. You want to look for taxis at the official taxi stands with a proper meter and a taxi sign on top. They should not approach you inside airports or train stations.
More often than not, your route will not be a straightforward one-train option; you may need to change trains at certain stations. This can seem daunting but it is actually really easy - everything is well sign-posted and each line has its own colour.
However, one thing to bear in mind is that, on the maps, it can look like the connections at a station are very close and you can just zip across to another platform. But, in reality, some of them are actually quite a walk through long passageways and up and down lots of steps! Don't assume that, because the map shows that the connection is at the same station, that you will just need to hop across to a different platform.
We strongly recommend that you plan your route before you go if you have never used the Paris Metro before to avoid becoming stressed out. Also, be prepared to do a fair bit of walking and allow for extra time in your planning.
They are different. A quick way to check is to look if there is a letter or a number - Metro uses numbers and RER uses letters.
Metro: Métropolitan chemin de fer (Metropolitan railway): A train system running mostly underground, only in central Paris. Trains cover short distances between stations and have a frequent, but unscheduled, service – similar to the London Underground. One single fare zone.
RER: Réseau Express Régionale (Regional Express Network): A scheduled commuter train system, most of which is above ground except within Paris. There are 5 lines (A through E) and it covers most of the Île-de-France area. Trains cover longer distances than the Metro and have fewer stops; routes are usually faster. Separated into fare zones (1 – 5). If you get a train from Charles de Gaulle into Paris, you take the RER B train; if you go to Disneyland Paris, you will take the RER A.
When you purchase a Paris Visite Card, it allows for travel on both within the applicable fare zone.
Although it’s fairly obvious that people should behave appropriately in public spaces, it’s important to remember a few things when using the Paris Metro and RER as a tourist.
Firstly, bear in mind that it is a commuter system and people are often in a rush to get to work, home, etc. Try not to stand in the way or block up doorways, entrances, and exits, and if you aren’t sure where you’re going, move to the side – Parisians can be impatient (understandably so) and you don’t want to experience antagonism on your holiday.
Secondly, for your own safety and others', it is important to always be alert and to follow the rules carefully.
RATP has created a nifty little etiquette guide for using the metro, which you can view here: Manuel de savoir-vivre.