Paris, the City of Light, the City of Love and the most popular tourist destination in the world. There are so many things to see and do that you’ll find it hard to choose. Wear comfortable shoes, as half of its charm is just walking around.
But before getting elbows deep into sightseeing spots and neighborhoods, here’s what you need to know even before buying your flights!
ARRIVING in Paris
As one of the main Western European capitals, Paris is very well connected, and it is possible to arrive by flight, international train, bus or car.
When booking, as a rule of thumb, consider only CDG and ORY.
Arriving at Charles de Gaulle…
your best option to reach the city is the RER B, which crosses Paris from north to south, connecting with various metro stations along the way.
It departs every 6-15 minutes and takes 30-40 minutes. You can buy tickets from automatic vending machines in RER and metro stations, as well as online (see “Getting Around” below).
There are also buses available, but they can take 60-90 minutes and you would be subject to unpredictable traffic. Find more info here.
Arriving at Orly…
is also a convenient choice, with easy integration into the metro system:
- Orly Airport <> Antony (RER B): driverless tram every 4-7 minutes, with a journey time of 6 minutes.
- Antony (RER B) <> St. Michel/Nôtre Dame (for example): departing every 6-15 minutes, with a journey time of 30 minutes.
Beware that this is not a step-free connection (at least the last time I used it). So if you have heavy luggage, prepare for some unscripted workout. There are also buses available, taking 30-40 minutes, since Orly is much closer to the city than the other airports. Find more info here.
Arriving at Beauvais or Vatry…
should be last choices, due to far away locations and lack of a rail connection to the city center.
- Beauvais (BVA): at 85km from Paris, you can take a direct shuttle bus or bus+train, taking at least 1h15, depending on traffic conditions. See all options here.
- Vatry (XCR): it’s a staggering 150km away from downtown Paris, with the options of private transfers or train (45min with TGV) + bus/taxi (for remaining 25km to the airport). This one is just a huge no-no, avoid-at-all-costs in my book.
Paris does not have one central rail station. Instead, international trains arrivals depend on the origin’s direction, and are spread out among:
- Gare de l’Est: from/to eastern France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg; connects to M4 and M7;
- Gare de Lyon: from/to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain; connects to M1 and M14;
- Gare du Nord: from/to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Eurostar to London; connects to M4 and M5 and through a connecting hallway to La Chapelle (M2).
If your point of departure allows you to choose which station you’ll arrive, you can save precious time by taking your subsequent journey into account.
There are coach stations/stops around the city, but the main ones are Paris-Gallieni, served by M3; and Gare Bercy, served by M6 and M14. Wherever you arrive, you are sure to have a connection to the metro.
GETTING AROUND Paris
The transport network in Paris is operated by RATP and is divided into zones. It is served by the métro (subway), RER (suburban trains), trams and buses. The Métro is well known for its density within the city limits, and at 214km long, chances are high that you won’t need the other types of transport. You can buy tickets at metro/RER stations, self-service machines and online (here).
If you want to keep the flexibility of taking whatever means of transport as you wish, you can get a Paris Visite Pass:
- first choose how many days: 1, 2, 3 or 5; then
- which zones: 1-3 or 1-5.
Some things to keep in mind:
- the airports (CDG and ORY), Versailles and Disneyland are on zones 4-5;
- the tickets are valid starting 0h of the first day until 24h of last day, on consecutive days;
- if you buy the ticket for zones 1-3, you can always buy a complement for the eventual trip outside of this area;
- valid for the Montmartre funicular.
A significantly cheaper alternative is the Navigo Semaine (Week Pass). However, there are two important points to take into account. First, it’s always valid from Monday to Sunday, regardless of the date of purchase or first use. Second, you need to purchase a Navigo Découverte Travel Card, costing €5, which is a reloadable and personal chip card onto which you need to write your name and attach a picture.
However, if this is too much for your needs, you can buy a set of 10 t+ tickets (savings of 27% compared to 10 single tickets), but it does not allow metro/bus, metro/tram, RER/bus and RER/tram connections with the same ticket. Buy here.
TIP: Avoid the insanely huge lines at the airport by buying the tickets online (here).