Paris is one of the most fashionable, vibrant and scenic capital cities in the world and is a must-visit for travellers to Europe. However, it is not known for its value for money; the ultra chic does not come cheap. Nevertheless there are ways to get around The City of Light on a budget.
An effective way of getting around for any visitor to the city is the Paris Metro, the second-busiest metro system in Europe after Moscow. The network’s 16 underground lines carry an estimated 4.5 million passengers a day. Not surprisingly then, the trains can get very busy. If you have time on your side avoid rush hour — delays and frustration don’t make for an enjoyable trip.
The metro stations themselves with their Art Nouveau-inspired architecture are an attraction in their own right, standing under one of the famous Métropolitain signs you could be nowhere else in the world other than Paris. Trains run frequently throughout the day and into the night, ideal for visitors who have plenty of exploring to do. The first trains begin at 5:30am and the last train, known as the “balai” or broom, sweeping up the last of the passengers, leaves at 1:15am (2:15am on Fridays and Saturdays ). If you know you are going to be out late, make sure you have alternative arrangements to get back to your hotel or hostel. Walking back through unfamiliar streets, in France’s notoriously unpredictable weather is not fun!
A common mistake for visitors when travelling around the city is to mistake the RER train system for the Metro; even in the hustle and bustle of the crowds it’s important not to confuse the two, as it can prove quite a costly and time-consuming mistake. The RER trains travel out of Paris to the outlying areas; you don’t want to spend a day finding your way back to the city when you could be sightseeing!
If you are going to be in the city for a week or longer an excellent way to save money is to purchase a Navigo Découverte. This pass entitles you to unlimited use of trains in the zones you have selected for seven days from the time you purchase the ticket. You can choose passes covering just zones 1 and 2 all the way to zones 1-6. If you’re staying in the city centre you will only really need access to zones 1-3. When purchasing the pass do not confuse it with the similarly titled Navigo Card, as this is only available to local residents.
Another useful tool for getting around is the Paris Visite. The pass entitles the bearer to access to unlimited transport (the number of days and zones is chosen by you) on all metro, RER trains and buses. Ideal for organised types who like to plan ahead, the pass can be bought in advance and only begins its countdown to expiration once it is first used.
Taxis in the city are common and taxi ranks are marked by a blue-and-white “taxi” sign. Be sure to only use registered taxis, although this might mean a short wait in a queue. You may be approached by drivers of other taxis who tempt you with the idea that you won’t have to wait in a queue by using their cab; never take them up on their offer not matter how long the wait may seem, more often than not the queues move quickly and efficiently. Although taxis can be expensive, they are sometimes the best option. If it is late at night or you don’t feel comfortable somewhere, jumping in a taxi can have you en-route back to your hotel room faster than any bus or train.
However strong the lure of having your own wheels during your visit may be, avoid car rentals at all costs. The public transport in the city is so fantastic that you don’t need your own car, but more importantly you do not want to drive in the centre of Paris. It is an especially challenging place to drive, and worrying about where you are going to park is the last thing you need when you should be enjoying exploring the city.