Quick Guide to: Getting to Paris, Getting around, Where to go and Where to eat
Paris is one of the world’s greatest capital cities. This guide to Paris will get you started. The City of Light as she’s called, has everything: a long history, some of the best museums; iconic buildings like the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame cathedral; small, winding streets bustling with street markets; wide boulevards lined with gracious buildings; famous restaurants and cafés where you sit with the ghosts of the past and watch the frenzy of the present and of course great shopping.
Paris has a relatively small centre, so it’s an easy city to navigate. Wander from the Quartier Latin to Montmartre; from the increasingly trendy Marais to the Eiffel Tower, taking in the very different characters of each area.
Getting to Paris
Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (known as Charles de Gaulle or CDG) is 26 km (16 miles) northeast of the city. It carries the main international and transatlantic airlines and is where you will arrive from overseas.
Orly is 14kms (8.6 miles) to the south. It is the busiest Paris airport with most domestic flights coming here.
There are 6 mainline stations and a motorail station, Paris-Bercy.
Eurostar from St Pancras International in London arrives at Gare du Nord.
Whichever direction you come from, you’ll arrive in Paris by one of the 30 ‘Portes’ all around Paris on the 35 km of expressway. There are two major ring roads, the inner ring road périphérique intérieur which runs in a clockwise direction and the outer périphérique extérieur which runs anti-clockwise. Check out this guide to Ferries to France from the UK.
Getting around Paris
There are four public transport systems in and around Paris: Metro, RER, Bus and Tram.
Metro: This is the one that visitors use the most. Pick up a free map at any metro information booth or download here. There are 16 metro lines and 300 stations on the 10 km square area of central Paris. Metro lines are numbered 1 to 14, each one a different colour, with two bis or secondary lines (3b and 7b).
The Paris Metro runs from roughly Sunday to Thursday from 05.30am to 12.40am and Friday, Saturday from 5.30am to 1.40am. Train frequency is around 2 minutes during rush hour and up to 8 to 10 minutes during normal hours, holidays and Sundays.
The RER (Réseau Express Régional or Suburban Express Railway) includes five express trains within Paris and further into the surrounding suburbs (Ile de France). The five lines are identifiable by letters (A to E) and the end of line names. The RER is an express underground train in Paris and an overground commuter train outside Paris. It connects to destinations like CDG Airport (RER B), Disneyland Paris (RER A), and Versailles (RER C).
RER trains start at approximately 6am and stop at around 12.45am every day – including public holidays.
Check the RER map here
300 bus routes serve the whole of Paris with many of them going through the centre of the city.
Buses run from Monday to Saturday from around 7am to 8.30pm. Some lines operate also between 8.30pm and 12.30am. There are around half the number of buses operating on Sundays and public holidays.
Night buses (Noctilien) operates in Paris and the Paris region from 12.30am to 5.30am.
Check the night bus map here
The Balabus is for tourists getting around the major sites between the Gare de Lyon and La Défense. It operates from April to September on Sunday afternoons and public holiday afternoons.
Paris has 7 tramway lines and 148 stations covering 51 miles (82 km) serving the perimeter of the city.
Most useful to visitors are T1 in St-Denis and T2 in La Défense and T3, a circular route inside the Paris peripherique, connecting Metro stations.
In 2023 the T3 will open in northwest Paris linking Porte de la Chapelle (the last top currently on the T3b route with Porte de l’Asnieres.
Tram tickets are the same as those used on the metro and the RER in Paris.
T1 operates in southern St-Denis
• Line T1: Asnières – Gennevilliers – Les Courtilles – Noisy-le-Sec
• Line T2: Pont de Bezon- Porte de Versailles
• Line T3a: Pont du Gariglian – Porte de Vincennes
• Line T3b: Porte de Vincennes -Porte de la Chapelle
• Line T4: Aulnay-sous-Boi – Bondy
• Line T5: Marché de Saint-Denis – Garges – Sarcelles
• Line T7: Villejuif – Louis Aragon – Porte de l’Essonne
Where to buy Paris Metro, RER, Bus and Tramway Tickets
You can buy tickets and passes at any metro, RER or tramway station and when boarding buses. You can also buy them at Paris Tourist Information (Welcome) Centres in the city, and sometimes at newsstands and tabacs (tobacco sellers and newsagents).
More Information on the Paris Transport System
Most Paris tourist offices, called Bureau d’Accueil (Welcome Centres), provide maps and information, can book accommodation and sell travel passes and the Paris Museum Pass. If you need a guide to Paris this is a good place to start, with plenty of free information.
The main tourist office is in the Hotel de Ville (Paris City Hall), 29 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement. Open Monday to Saturday 10.30am to 6.30pm.
Carrousel du Louvre Tourist Welcome Centre has direct access from the Louvre Museum and is at Carrousel du Louvre, Place de la Pyramide Inversée 99, rue de Rivoli, 1st arrondissement. Open daily 10am to 8pm.
Gare du Nord Tourist Welcome Centre, 18, rue de Dunkerque, 10th arrondissement is in the station near platforms 7 to 9. Open daily 8am-6.30pm. Closed December 25, January 1 and May 1.
More information from the main telephone number: Tel.: 0892 68 3000 (€0,34 per min.).
Or check the main Tourist Office website here.
Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements. They start in the centre (1st) and spiral clockwise around the centre in circles, ending with the 20th on the east side of Paris. Most visitors, and certainly first-timers, concentrate on the central area with its iconic buildings. This guide to Paris is not comprehensive, but gives you an overall view.
The 1st running along the Seine, contains the Louvre and the Tuileries of course; where else would any self-respecting French monarch live?
The 2nd is surprisingly unvisited, but seek out the Rue Montorgueil neighbourhood for its street market, cafes and restaurants.
The 3rd is known as the ‘Temple’ area.
The 4th is wonderfully historic with Notre-Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité and the Marais as well as the world class Beaubourg Centre and the Pompidou Museum.
Cross the Seine south into the 5th, the heart of the Latin Quarter and the home of the Sorbonne and the Jardin des Plantes.
To the east the larger 6th arrondissement beckons with Saint-Germain des Pres, where the literary giants of the past once hung out in cafes like Les Deux Magots. The shady Luxembourg gardens are magnificent, particularly when the summer sun beats down.
The 7th is one of my favorites with the Quai d’Orsay museum housing magnificent Impressionist paintings, and the area around the Ecole Militaire and the Champ de Mars.
Back over the river again and you’re in the famous 8th where the Champs-Elysées marches down from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, transformed in winter by thousands of twinkling lights and a Christmas market.
The 9th is grand with its Belle Epoque department stores and the famous Opera Garnier, the old opera house where a friend of mine Jean Pocton ran the unions with an iron fist and installed beehives on the roof.
The 10th with the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est is much more ‘local’ Paris. It also has the unexpectedly charming Canal St Martin neighbourhood.
The 11th continues south where the Place de la Bastille marks the start of an increasingly fashionable area to the east. It also has the new opera house.
The 12th is less well known on the outer edges of the city. The Gare de Lyon brings travellers from south east France, Lyon, Marseille and Geneva. There’s also a wonderful viaduct along a disused railway line and the green lungs of Paris, the huge Parc de Vincennes.
The 13th, another area neglected by visitors is known as the Chinatown of Paris, so good for restaurants. Otherwise the Gare d’Austerlitz is the place for trains wizzing you south.
The 14th is another of the outlying arrondissements; go there for the Catacombs and the charming Parc de Montsouris.
The 15th has the largest convention centre and a huge water park.
The 16th runs on a long narrow strip from the south west corner of Paris up to the Arc de Triomphe; it’s a good place for some unusual but excellent museums like the house of Honore de Balzac and the very good Modern Art Museum of Paris.
The northern 18th is best known for Sacre Coeur and the still racy district of Montmartre.
The 19th takes you into the 21st century with the Museum of Science and Industry in the Parc Vilette and the rounded, mirrored, huge La Geode which shows films and hosts concerts. The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is another of the delightful, relatively unknown parks of Paris.
Where to Eat
Paris has an ever changing selection of restaurants to choose from. But while it has the best restaurants in the world, it also offers small, charming out-of-the-way places, mostly family run and well established. And as eating out on holiday is as much to do with the ambience, value for money, style and location, my favourites might strike some as idiosyncratic. But hey-ho, restaurant choosing is a hit and miss affair, so I make no apologies.
Favourite cheap place: This has to be the ever famous Bouillon Chartier in the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 9th arrondissement. The building is a historic monument (it dates back to 1896), and the food should be listed as well; it’s as traditional as you can get though definitely not haute cuisine. Incredibly cheap prices, and harassed if not downright grumpy waiters – it’s perfect.
Favourite brasserie: A difficult one and every guide to Paris will have a different choice. My brother got married in Paris when I was 18 which to me was intensely romantic. On the eve of his wedding, we walked past Au Pied de Cochon in Les Halles, where late-night diners burst out onto the streets. I couldn’t afford it then, but have eaten those famous pigs trotters since.
But my all-time favourite has to be Brasserie Bofinger, in rue de la Bastille in the 4th. It’s quite beautiful though not cheap. Again, it’s the association with the past that made it so memorable for me. I went there first on a winter trip to Paris. We ate in the opulent surroundings then left to walk back to our hotel. It was midnight on New Year’s Eve. A group of young revellers approached; a remarkably handsome young man swept me up, gave me a passionate kiss, whispered Bonne Annéee, and went on his way. I’ve been back to the Brasserie since but not managed to find another encounter quite like that one. It’s not the kind of advice you find in a guide to Paris!