Visitors coming to Paris might be at a loss when it comes to the cheapest way to navigate the Metro. It is one of the most convenient modes of transportation in Paris, but there are a few tricks that can help make sure it remains the least expensive as well (unless of course you walk!).
Tourist Pass vs. Passe Découverte
Vendors will often push you to buy a tourist pass, which is a convenient way to enjoy the metro, RER (regional trains that head to the suburbs), buses, and the funicular up Montmartre. But a 5-day tourist pass (excluding transport to outer zones like Versailles or Charles de Gaulle airport) will set you back €28.90. To extend the pass into the outer zones will cost you nearly twice as much.
If you want to save money, buy a “Passe Découverte.” You’ll only pay €23.85 for a full week of metro and bus transport inside zones 1-2. To travel further to airports or to Versailles will cost a few euros more.
Don’t let the French ticket salesperson dissuade you – anyone can buy the pass even though it is intended for “locals.” The card itself costs €5 and then a weekly charge-up costs €18.35 (think Oyster Card in London or Metro Card in New York). Certainly a better deal. And once the card is purchased you can continue to use the “Passe Découverte” over and over again – just make sure you print an ID photo at home to paste onto it! You will get fined for having a pass sans photo.
Otherwise, if you are just here a few days, a “carnet” for €12 will get you ten tickets at discounted rate. So two passengers can each enjoy five rides for a bargain price instead of buying tickets individually (at €1.70 each).
For more details check the city transportation site (in English).
Airport Travel and Beyond
Unfortunately tickets outside of central Paris (beyond zones 1 and 2) for the airports remain an annoying expense. But tickets on the regional railines, called the RER, to Charles de Gaulle airport (€9.40) and Orly (€10.2) are still much cheaper than a €50-60 taxi ride.
There are buses that will take you to the airport if you feel like lugging your baggage to them. One for Orly (€6.60) leaves from Denfert Rochereau, not quite centrally located. The Roissy Bus to Charles de Gaulle leaves from the more central metro station Opéra (€9.40).
Cheapo tip: One other destination outside of central Paris worth mentioning is Versailles, and a roundtrip bus ticket here costs a mere €6.10.
Words of Wisdom
The Paris metro closes a little after midnight on weekdays and around 1 AM on the weekends depending on the line. Don’t tempt fate if you are depending on it to get you home.
Also, American credit cards will usually not work in ticket machines for trains, so bring cash and queue up at the ticket booth. And no matter where you use your tickets, keep them for the duration of your voyage. Fines are common for those who try to get a free ride or who throw away their tickets after putting them through the machine!