Paris is a beautiful, yet expensive and complex city, and the public transportation system is no different. While researching for my epic six-day solo adventure, I discovered the cheapest, fastest ways to travel in Paris and decided to share what I learned with you!
When I started my journey, I wanted to know what my cheap Paris transportation options were. I asked questions like, how do I get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris city center? How do I get from Paris to the Palace of Versailles? How much does the metro, bus, or tram cost? What’s this Navigo Découvert Pass – how much does it cost, where can I buy one, and how do I use it? What are the pros and cons of certain transportation methods in Paris and what are the hours of operation? Overall, I wondered how to get around in Paris on a budget.
Look no further, because first, I break down the Paris transportation system! We’re talking about everything you need to know about prices, zones, metro, bus, airport transportation, maps, hours, etc. Next, I get into the three money-saving tips, including the rarely-advertised Navigo Découvert pass. Finally, I explain the ultimate money-saving-ist tip of all so you can navigate the Paris transportation system with confidence on your first, or next, visit to the Ile de France!
Paris Transportation System – Explained
In order to find the cheapest Paris transportation options, I had to understand how the system works. The Paris region is broken up into five zones laid out in concentric circles labeled zones 1 to 5. Most of the major attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, Musee de Louvre, Arc de Triumph, and many other museums and monuments are within the city center in zone 1. Outside of zone 1, for reference, is Stade de France (zone 2), the Chateau de Versailles (zone 4), and Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport and Disneyland Paris in zone 5.
Within zones 1-2 are 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods) that are in the shape of a snail. The bus, metro, and trams run to all 20 arrondissements.
Paris is a major metropolitan city and has all of the major forms of public transportation: Bus, metro, transition train, tram, boat, uber, taxi, private car – whatever you need it will be in Paris! If you decide to take public transportation, you are sure to see these acronyms:
- RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). Loosely translated to “Self-Governance/Autonomous Paris Transport”. This group runs the metro, tram, and bus systems.
- SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français). Translation = “French National Railway Company”. These trains travel longer distances within the Paris region (Transilien train) and to different cities in France.
- RER (Réseau Express Régional). Translation = “Regional Express network”. This is a regional train system, lettered A-E, that runs between zones 1-5. It is operated by the RATP and SNCF groups.
Hours of Operation
- Metro, Bus, and Tram: On weekdays, Sunday through Thursday, operating hours are between 5:30a.m. to about 1:15a.m. On Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as on the eve of bank holidays, trains run until about 2:15a.m.
- RER: Daily 5:30a.m. to 1:20a.m.
- Night Bus (Noctilien): Operates when metro closes from 12:30a.m. to 5:30a.m.
Before I left home, I downloaded an offline map of the Paris region using google maps. I also found and downloaded the metro, bus, and RER train maps as a PDF to read in iBooks. As a bonus, when I arrived at the airport I picked up a free “Paris Poche” (Paris Pocket) map that lists the metro, bus, and RER routes, schedules, and timetables.
Now that you have the proper background information, let’s get into the knotty gritty of saving money!
4 Cheap Paris Transportation Options – Explained
Buy t+ Tickets
What is it? A t+ ticket is a small paper ticket with a magnetic strip. It gives you access to one ride on the bus, metro, or tram, mostly within zones 1-2.
- Metro: Valid 2 hrs between 1st and last station.
- Bus or Tram: valid for 90 minutes between 1st and last validation.
Where to Buy: at the airport RAPTF counter, metro stations, vending machines, authorized retailers, food service bar, or online. I purchased my tickets at the tourism booth at the airport.
Purchase info: Can buy an individual ticket (€1,90) or a pack of 10 (carnet de 10, or “carnet”) wrapped in plastic (€14,90).
How to use: Slip ticket in turnstile slot. The t+ ticket will pop out the top for you to grab quickly then walk through. Each time you change busses or trams, you have to run your ticket through the system. Tickets are time stamped on the outside.
Pros: It’s so tiny and can fit anywhere- in skinny women jean pockets, a purse, a wallet, socks, anywhere! The tickets are cheap; this is truly a cheap Paris transportation option, as an Uber or taxi will easily cost at least €8 each way. As a bonus, there are discounts on the metro for kids (4-10yrs old), a “Large Family,” blind/disabled/disabled vets, and a group of 10 youths under grade 12 with an accompanying adult (not valid on bus or tram).
Cons: Single use only. Does not cover regional transportation- so you can’t visit places outside of the metro or bus network, like the airport, Versailles, or Disneyland; must buy a special Ile-de-France/RER ticket to visit these sites. Because of the magnetic strip, t+ tickets demagnetize quickly. They are made of paper and are subject to jean dye, rips, and spilled beverages; but fear not- metro representatives will replace them for free if asked. Note there are special rules for night-bus- 1 ticket is required for the first 2 zones, and an additional ticket is required thereafter. So the number of tickets required is equal to the zone number (i.e.- zone 4 requires four tickets). Once lost, can’t be replaced.
Île-de-France (IDF) Point-to-Point & Airport Tickets
What is it? A small paper ticket with a magnetic strip, looks just like t+ ticket but gives you access to ride RER train through zones 1-5 and metro networks. Non-transferrable.
Purchase info: Similar to the t+ tickets, you can buy an individual ticket or pack of 10. The price of a ticket depends on how far you’re traveling. As an example, a single ticket costs €2,80 traveling from Gare du Nord station to an event at Stade de France.
Bonus Tip: You need a special Airport Ticket if you’re traveling to/from CDG by train or Orly (ORL) Airports by bus (€10,30 or €8,30 respectively). Again, this is another cheap Paris transportation option because a taxi or Uber will cost between €30 – €50 from the airport! The train ride from CDG to Gare du Nord takes 45 minutes – 1.5 hrs, plan accordingly.
Where to Buy: same as t+ tickets- at the airport RAPTF counter or Paris tourism booth. You can also buy at metro station counters.
How to use: Show to RER attendant if asked.
Pros & Cons: same as t+ tickets.
What is it? A plastic card and holder with a chip inside; think DC smartrip, NYC Metro, or London Oyster Card. There are two types of Navigo Cards: Navigo and Navigo Decouvert. Navigo is for residents of Paris only and you need to show proof of residency in order to purchase. A Navigo Decouvert pass can be purchased by visitors, like yourself! Funny thing is I couldn’t find detailed information about this pass on the RATP site in English, but the pass truly exists! I found a few sites explaining the pass in English (Paris by Train and SNCF Transilien) but the official Navigo Decouvert explanation in French is available if you want to do further research .
Purchase info: Valid for unlimited trips inside zones 1-5 on bus, metro, RER, and tram for an entire week OR month. Can also purchase for unlimited travel between zones 2-3, 3-4, or 4-5 for a reduced price. Valid from 12 a.m. on the first day of the period and ends at 11:59 p.m. on the last day. You can buy Decouvert passes for the current week up until Thursday, midnight. Next week’s Decouvert pass is on sale from Friday morning onwards. Does not include: Orlyval train (only bus included in price), SNCF train lines with reserved seating, or the Optile special fare lines. All transfers are included! Everyone (4+yrs old) need their own card and a passport photo (3cm x 2.5cm) to purchase.
Cost & Where to Buy: One-time fee of €5 for the card + weekly (€22,80)/ monthly (€75,20) rates. Zones 2-3(€20,85); 3-4 (€20,20); or 4-5(€19,85). Can only buy at a metro, RER, Transilien, or OPTILE stations. Can purchase online but I do not recommend because it takes 3 weeks to ship! I purchased mine at a metro station because the airport counters at CDG ran out, so this is a possibility to consider.
Why the Navigo Decouvert is the BEST money-saver: It is much cheaper than the widely advertised Paris Visite travel pass!
The Paris Visite card is valid for 1, 2, 3, or 5 days and is valid in zones 1-3. For a comparable Paris Visite 5-day pass valid in all five zones, your wallet is hit with a €65,80 charge for adults, 1/2 price for kids. You do the math: €22,80 <€65,80 so the Navigo Decouvert is a cheap Paris transportation option and one of the best ways to travel around Paris!
How to use: Write your name and attach a passport-sized photo on the back of the card, tap on circular card readers, doors open, quickly walk through.
Pros: First of all, this pass is the best and cheapest way to get around! It’s reusable – you can return to Paris and load another pass as it is good for 10 years. Spill-proof. Can ride everything!
Cons: This card is irreplaceable; once lost, it’s gone. There are no discounts for kids and does not include certain direct services to airports (Orlyval, Bus Direct Paris-Airport formerly Air France Cars, VEA Disney shuttles) or tourist buses (OpenTour, Red Cars). This pass does not give you access to museums and monuments, but there’s a separate Paris Museum Pass available for purchase. If you arrive after Thursday evening know that the pass isn’t valid until Monday. This situation actually happened to me, but I was prepared! I arrived on Thursday, purchased an RER B airport ticket from CDG to Gare du Nord and a carnet of t+ tickets to ride everywhere from Thursday to Sunday night. Once Monday morning hit, I used my Navigo Decouvert pass to travel everywhere else (literally!) and back to the airport to return to the U.S.
Bonus Tip: Walk
Paris is a BEAUTIFUL city! Chances are you will find yourself wondering the streets naturally, anyways, so build it into your itinerary/transportation time. Most sights are within walking distance. This is truly, a cheap Paris transportation option. In fact, it is the cheapest of them all!
Pros: Walking is FREE! It doesn’t cost a thing and is great exercise. Plus, you can take gorgeous street photos and have the opportunity to run into amazing musicians and artists.
Cons: after sightseeing all day (i.e.- walking everywhere), your feet may be tired. Also not that Paris drivers are kind of insane, so watch the road carefully!
Those are the 4 cheap Paris transportation options – explained. If you’ve done research or know of other ways to save money on Paris transportation, please let me know in the comments below!
- How to Get Around Paris on a budget YouTube Video
- Maps (RER, Metro, and Bus): Paris public transportation maps
- 20 Arrondissements by the Paris Insider’s Guide
- t+ Tickets / Carnet
- How to get from the Airport to Paris City Center
- RATP: English translation, other languages available. Find useful information (maps, schedules, operating hours, etc.)
- Navigo Decouvert Pass
- SNCF site in English
- RATP site in French:
- Paris by Train: This site is perfect for first-time visitors! It explains the Paris transportation network in great detail with pictures, maps, and helpful links. There’s even a dedicated section on the Navigo Decouvert pass.