14/30 Tips for Navigating the Subway in Paris


These days I’m experiencing tender moments of care in the most unexpected of places. Yesterday, I was hopping the subway back from the Paris Opera House. I bought a ticket to the ballet for Tuesday. I even braved the masses at the 40% off Saturday sale at Galerie Lafayette.

On the trip there, I bought two fresh subway tickets.

One for the journey there.
One for the journey back.

As I slid my slim white paper rectangle into the slot, the red “x” flashed— an ominous sign in any language. I stood staring hard at my ticket, challenging it to change its mind. Waves of people slid by me through the gates with functioning passes and tickets.

No ticket dispenser machine at this station. I’ve learned Ubers don’t seem to show up when you call them. I could walk, but I was tired. It was a good 50 minutes home. There was a lull in the crowd. A lithe woman in a white dress and short bob paused behind me. I turned to her.

“ I-I-don’t understand. I bought these two tickets this morning and they don’t work,” the frustration in my voice palpable.

I slid them into the tiny slot again to illustrate my point. Two red “x’s” glared back.

She softened and put her arm lightly around me in a maternal gesture. Her husband had already shimmied through and was on the other side.

“If you keep your tickets by your phone or a credit card, the tickets get de-magnetized,” she replied in perfect English.

Ohhhh. It clicked. I had stored the tickets in the front pocket of my backpack, by both phone and phone charger. I had 3 more tickets nestling next to my credit cards in my wallet. They weren’t working either.

“Do you want to pass through with me?”

She directed me to stand close to the gates and when she swiped, we could both push through together.

Her husband didn’t speak English but he flecked his eyes up and down, assuring me it was okay.

And we slid through.

I’m spending a month in Paris. I’m doing thought leadership and storytelling strategy with clients. But I’ve also come here to experience a different way to be. I’ve only known the American way since I was a kid. I only know the New York way for the last 25 years. I’ve probably dismissively flown past a tourist a dozen times thru the subway turnstiles at home. Yesterday was a beautiful reminder to stop and offer help if I see someone struggling. It’s just a minute out and of my day, but it may mean the world to them.

7 tips if navigating the subway in Paris

1. Buy a Navigo card at the ticket office. It’s a plastic pass card. Refill it with money as you need at machines.

2. Put your destination into Google maps or the moovitapp. It will spit out which lines to take. Once underground, there are two directions to go with the end destination marked. For example, I took the 4 line headed to “Port de Clingnancourt” there but needed the 4 line headed to “Bagneux” on the way back.

3. There are boards posted in the station in English, sharing the stops. Make sure you hop the train headed in your train’s direction. The signs of the line and the destination are listed above the stairwells and tunnels.

4. Once on the train, Monitor the track line posted above your head. It’s hard to understand the words the automated voice is saying bc of the French accent. The leaderboard tells you which stop you are at with a flashing light.

5. Be prepared to climb stairs. Escalators aren’t a thing here.

6. You will also see something called the “RER.”  Lines A, B, C, and D are a high-speed urban system that goes further outside than just central Paris. If your stops are on the RER/train line, it is a much faster option than the Metro, but it has fewer stops.

7. The Paris subway is open from 5:30 am – around 1 am (2 am on weekends/holidays)

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