Paris: 10 Tips for Riding the Metro Like a Local


Metro Paris
Go ahead and push! Photo: Adrien.Paris

Riding the Metro is a staple of everyday life for Parisians.  But the unwritten code of conduct isn’t something that comes instinctively to the 47 people who take the 14 different lines every second (roughly 1.5 billion people per year, on par with New York).

Here are ten tips to help you fit in like a local while getting around the city on the Metro.

Related: Will a Navigo pass save you money on the Paris Metro?

1) Buy tickets in bulk.

If you don’t have your Navigo pass, you might still be a local. I only use the Metro occasionally, opting for a bike, and thus use the money-saving “carnets,” books of ten tickets sold at a reduced rate. And don’t always count on your credit card working in the ticket machines, though the updated ones are getting better at it.  Not all machines accept cash either, so be patient.

Local tip: If you do have a monthly or weekly Navigo pass that you simply touch to the turnstile, be sure to keep it in the bottom of your bag and try to swipe your bag across the turnstile, ensuring that the people behind you will have to wait while you swipe four or five times before the magnetic reader catches your card.  That’s the sign of a true local.

2) Know when to sit and when to stand.

In general, if you’re sitting in one of the fold-up chairs and staring into a sea of crotches, it might be time to get up and make some room. During peak hours, those folding seats should be off-limits. Feel free to throw the stink eye at anyone who thinks otherwise.

Also, offering your seat to an older person or a child is always appreciated, but don’t get carried away with it.  Sometimes, guys, offering your seat to a 30-year-old, fit-as-a-fiddle woman could seem insulting or just kind of awkward.

Paris Metro musician

Sax in the City. Photo: Zoetnet

3) Show generosity to performers… in the station.

Generosity is a virtue, but illegality is not.  It is interdit to perform in Metro cars, and performers usually have a permit to perform uniquely in the stations themselves.

When a performer comes on board belting out an Edith Piaf song or pumping their accordion, giving them money is supporting an illegal activity, and that’s just not cool (even if they are phenomenal).  Save your coins for the respectful players in the stations that sometimes produce some amazing music.

4) Take the stares.

Make eye contact – often.  This is the Paris Metro, where staring is a national sport.  Be warned, however, that looking at someone a few too many times will be interpreted as a come-on of sorts, as it may be intended, so be sure to look for your description on a Craigslist “missed connections” later that evening.

Metro passengers

Go ahead and stare back. Photo: Shemer

5) Keep it down.

Do us all a favor and keep the loud discussions down. Engaging in a loud conversation or telephone call is a surefire way to stand out from the crowd. During morning and evening commutes, you’ll be the only one with your phone glued to your ear or chit chatting away at full volume with your friend. Read a book, listen to some music, or play Angry Birds, but save the drawn-out conversations for the café.

6) Be pushy.

While you may have to push your way onto the Metro at any hour during the day, it’s especially common during the morning and evening commute.  When the doors open, the wall of people can seem daunting, but giving an angry “pardon!” and a little elbowing will help you get aboard.

Touching isn’t balked at, so don’t be afraid to use your hand and physically reposition someone if they won’t move. Locals know the drill. And once in the train, squashed in the crush of people, you’ll often notice quite a bit of vacant space that has gone neglected. Locals love standing near the door, apparently. Laws of diffusion rarely apply.

7) Eat, drink and be exiled.

Parisians eat at tables, at food trucks, or begrudgingly in the streets. Those who eat in the Metro are shunned and eventually sent to Belgium, so don’t do it. Plus, with the bouquet of aromas wafting through the tunnels, it’s not really the most appetizing of eating environments.

Paris Metro transfer

Know where you’re going before you get off!

8) Transfer strategically.

Changing train lines once is acceptable, but annoying. Switching trains twice is sometimes necessary and really annoying. Switching three times is excessive and never required.

Know where you’re switching and where you’re going before you get off, to avoid that moment of lost panic that will signal to the pickpockets that you are, in fact, not a local. And avoid switching at the labyrinthine Chatelet-Les Halles for the love of all that is good.

9) All lines are not created equal.

Locals have favorite Metro lines, but mostly they just hate certain lines. The 13 and the 4, both north-south lines, are among the most hated. Some revile the seemingly useless line 11, though it’s my personal favorite, catering to my needs. And taking the 1 is always like a trip to the UN, since it’s the most tourist-laden of them all. The 14 is a favorite because of its speed, and the 8 is often preferred to the more-crowded 9, since they generally go to the same areas.

So learn the lines and be prepared to exhale frustrated and roll your eyes when someone says, “We have to take line 4!”

10) Love it.

While the Paris Metro is far from perfect, it beats counterparts in New York and London by a landslide – at least this is what locals think. So when anyone disses the Metro because they have to wait six minutes for a train or because it smells like three-day old urine, be proud and stick up for it, because love it or hate it, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to get you where you need to go in this town.

Your thoughts?

Have a tip to add about the Paris Metro? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More information

For more on the Paris Metro, visit the website of the RATP, the government agency that runs the Metro. They also provide information in English for tourists. Also, if you’re currently planning a trip to Paris, be sure to swing by our guide to Paris for more articles on ways to save, plus reviews of recommended budget accommodations.

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog:

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18 thoughts on “Paris: 10 Tips for Riding the Metro Like a Local”

  1. I have lived in Paris for three years, and I was just informed by a couple of natives that putting lipstick on in the Metro is akin to advertising that you are a hooker. Apparently, it is a very sexual gesture to put lipstick on anywhere in public. Who knew?

  2. You might add that you should always stand to the side to let the passengers get off before getting on. Standing in the doorway is frowned upon. And I laughed at your remark about Chatelet. I call that stop Metro Hell!

    Great post. I”m keeping this for a workshop I do on Paris!

  3. Parisbreakfast

    A handy app is ParisbyMetro for changes, directions from here to there etc. you’ll never need to carry a map again and it doesn’t require wifi to work.
    Thanks for lots of useful info Bryan

  4. If you use tickets and are not on the metro, you can use the same ticket to transfer within 90 minutes. So, for example, you can take the tram #3 from Porte d’Ivry, transfer to tram #2 at Porte de Versailles, then transfer at La Defense to any bus going to Colombe, as an example. However, you cannot do this from metro to bus. Also, if you have a monthly pass (Navigo) for zone 1 and 2, you can now use that pass to go anywhere, but only on the week-ends.


  5. I liked the convenience of a Navigo Decouverte pass. If you arrive at CDG, it may be cost effective to get a zone 1-5 card, instead of a separate RER ticket. I arrived on a Tuesday, so it worked well for me. Would not be a good deal if you arrive on the weekend since the card is for a calendar week, not a 7 day period.

    There is also a Paris Visite pass that is good for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days. Check it out to see it is a better deal for you.


  6. I was in Paris last year for the first time, and my wife and I each purchased 10 subway passes. After we passed through the turnstile, we would each discard our subway pass so that we did not get it mixed up with the unused passes. (This might sound dumb, but we live in the Midwest and do not use public transportation on a regular basis.) You can see where this is going.

    One night, on our way out to dinner, as we were exiting the train and walking up the stairs to the street and there were police checking tickets. They asked to see a pass that was stamped within the last 60 minutes. I explained to the officer that we had thrown them away, but pulled out many unused tickets and asked if he could just take one of those. He told us we were lucky, because the fine is normally 75 Euros/person with no ticket, but since we had unused tickets to provide, the fine was only 35 Euros/each.

    I explained to him that it was only our second day in France and was an honest mistake, but the officer told me that it is our obligation to understand the rules. I did not have cash on me, and he pulled out a credit card machine and swiped my card for 70 Euros.

    So that one little train ride cost us 4 passes + 70 Euros!

    1. I usually keep my unused tickets in one pocket and transfer the used ones to the other pocket. Of course, I need to remember to clean the “used” pocket out regularly.

  7. Great article, Bryan.

    The locals purchase a week-long pass called the Navigo Decouverte. It costs about 5 euros to get the picture ID card (a driver license size photo will do) and then about 21 euros or so for the week long pass Zones 1-3 that gives unlimited travel on metro, bus, intracity RER, and funicular (at Montmartre). However, it only goes from Monday-Sunday.

  8. Another tip — if a train is too crowded and you’re not in a rush, it might just be wiser to wait for a less crowded train or head to a different car. This is especially true during rush hours.

    I was once on a Metro car that was so crowded and hot that a woman fainted, but remained on her feet since she was pinned up against the other passengers.

    Sometimes it’s worth it to wait out the crowds.

  9. As visitors we found it essential to know the ‘direction’ (last station on the line) we were heading. It sounds obvious I know but you need to make quick decisions at times. Also, know which train track of a pair is going in the direction you need. I suppose trains keep Right, like cars, but it isn’t clear when you are feeling under pressure! We dragged cases up and down steps several times looking for info, but the platform we needed was just ‘over there’ on the other side. Thank heavens for the local who solved it for us!

  10. Know that as the hours advance, pickpocketing increases. The “children pickpocket” segment has a quota to meet each day, and if they don’t lift enough cell phones, wallets, cameras, etc by the time the metro shuts down, they get slapped around by the parents when they return to their encampments outside the city. So watch out on line 1 and RER B and the night falls…these are their prime hunting grounds and they ratchet up their activity from 10PM onwards.

  11. And beware the trio of teenage girls who seem to be endlessly running around catching trains haphazardly. I never know what those chicks are up to, but they look suspicious. They remind me of Whiskey Jack (birds) who work together to steal your stuff.

  12. Let’s also add: if you are on a metro car that is very overcrowded (or the line 1 any time of the day or night, no matter how crowded) WATCH YOUR CELL PHONES, BAGS AND WALLETS. The pickpockets are everywhere and you can’t let your guard down. Even those of us who think we know better (ahem) have fallen victim (line 1, I’m looking at YOU).

  13. A great post. Might I add an important item?

    Beware of anyone who drops a cell phone. Don’t be inclined to help them pick it up. If you are standing, move to another part of the car. Why? This is a favorite ploy of pickpockets, who work in teams. I have a good friend who lost his wallet and a lot of cash this way.

    I did, however, see a totally innocent person drop a cell phone. Within a matter of seconds, literally the time for him to bend over and pick it up, he was standing completely by himself, with people packed together at the ends of the car. Looking very embarrassed, he got off at the next stop.

      1. ‘Drop the phone’ scam happened to me in Chicago, and gosh damn if it didn’t work like a charm…my wallet was swiped in one swift moment. Been on guard ever since.


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