Paris Subway: Le Métro
Most tourists and Parisians use the subway (i.e. metro) to move about in Paris. The state company that operates the metro is called the R.A.T.P.
Pros: It's fast, inexpensive and everywhere. It is also safe, mostly clean and easy to understand. Using the metro also simplifies estimating your travel time. For instance, when I lived in Paris I used the averaged scale of 1 minute and 30 seconds between metro stations. If my destination was 10 stops away, I knew it would take about 15 minutes to get there. Try it! Finally, if you enjoy 'people watching', the Metro is great.
Cons: Strikes; usually once or twice a year. Also, the metro is not open 24/7. Stations open between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., with the last run ("le dernier métro" in French) between midnight and 1:00 a.m.
When using the subway, do not take it personally if people seem standoffish. Most onboard are Parisians traveling to or from work. They are not there to socialize. Many simply read a book or newspaper. Finally, during rush hour some lines can be extremely crowded. You may find yourself pressed against strangers. If this bothers you, simply avoid the busiest time slots.
To use the Metro you must purchase tickets (see green image above). There are ticket counters at every station. For the greatest savings, buy them in sets of 10 (e.g. 'un carnet'). A carnet is a small book of ten tickets, and comes with a 30% discount.
Prices and details, in English, from the RATP web site.
When you buy your first carnet, don't forget to ask for a map ("un plan"). It's free, and you'll need it!
The subway is basically made of 15 lines. These lines are referred to, by the name of the end stations. For example line 4, goes from "Porte de Clignancourt" to "Porte d'Orleans". If your trip includes line 4 and you need to go south, you would take line 4 in the direction "Porte d'Orleans".
So how do you use the map? (click image for larger map)
First, determine where you will start your trip and where you will exit. Ninety percent of the time, you will need to make at least one connection (i.e. get off your subway, walk a little, and get on another subway).
For example, lets say you're staying at a hotel on "Ile Saint-Louis" (the smaller island in the middle of Paris, great choice!) and you want to go to the "Arc de Triomphe" (Champs-Elysées). Open the map and determine that you could start your trip at the subway station "Pont Marie", in the direction of "La Courneuve-8 mai 1945", exit at the station "Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre" take line 1, in the direction "La Défense", and exit at "George V". According to my previous rule, it should take about 12 minutes (8 metro stations).
Remember, never hesitate to ask for assistance. Even though most Parisians are rushing somewhere (they're always late! LOL) most French people make it their duty to assist someone in need. Also, during tourist peak season, the city of Paris hires younger people to assist tourists. Use them.
Visit FrenchFriends.info regularly for future articles on additional subway tips, using the RER (regional train), and how to travel in Paris after hours (when the metro is closed).