1. Line 13 north of Saint-Lazare
We, of course, join the chorus to sing the praises of the Paris metro system. But there’s an exception to every good rule, and here we would advise you to avoid taking line n°13 north of the Saint-Lazare station. It is not dangerous, but the trains are so over-crowded that taking that line is just an unpleasant experience. Try to find an alternate route, take the bus or at least be forewarned, especially if you want to visit the Saint Denis Basilica.
2. Changing trains (correspondence at Châtelet/Les Halles and Montparnasse
The Paris metro has a system of “correspondances,” where you can change from one train line to another. Most of the time, this is very convenient, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. In the Châtelet/Les Halles station, five metro lines and three urban rail lines intersect. You will need to walk long distances and search for the sign pointing to your destination, surrounded by throngs of people hurrying by, all of whom seem, unlike you, to know where they are going. The distances are so great that moving sidewalks have been installed. The situation is not much better at the Montparnasse station – with four lines intersecting – that is also the stop for the Gare Montparnasse (Montparnasse train station). If you can take the bus rather than the metro, then do it.
3. Throwing away your metro ticket
Perhaps you have opted to buy a ticket booklet (carnet), which means that you’ll insert your ticket in the ticket machine. You might be tempted to throw your ticket in the rubbish bins of the platform when you get off the train, but don’t do it. The RATP, which runs the metro system, stations inspectors who randomly check that travelers have a valid ticket. Explaining that you didn’t know won’t help, and you’ll have to pay a fine on the spot. So wait until you go through the exit (sortie) before you toss your ticket.
4. Don’t put your metro ticket next to coins or metal
There is a magnetic strip on the back of the metro ticket, which, when it comes in contact with coins or other metal objects (such as keys), becomes demagnetized. This means that it won’t work in the ticket machine. Should this occur, go to the Information window in the station, hand your ticket to the agent and say: “mon billet ne marche pas” (my ticket isn’t working). They will check that your ticket is otherwise valid and give you another one.
5. Suitcases and strollers in the metro
There are some escalators in certain metro stations, but be prepared to walk up and down several flights of stairs, especially if you are changing trains. Schlepping a heavy suitcase or a stroller is not fun. This is especially true at Châtelet/Les Halles and Montparnasse (see n° 2 above). Try to find a bus that takes you to your destination.
6. Have change for metro ticket machines
As a general rule, most U.S. debit or credit cards do not have a microchip and, therefore, will not work in the automatic ticket machines in the metro stations. You’ll, therefore, need some change (and a 10 euro bill) to buy a ticket or a carnet. At many stations, the agent at the Information window has a terminal that works with swipe credit cards, so you might try that option as well.
7. Buying your metro tickets on the first or last day of the month
Do you ever wait until the last minute to meet a deadline? Lots of Parisians do: they wait until the last minute to renew their monthly metro pass. This means that there might be long lines at the ticket machines on the first and last day of the month, so plan to buy your tickets outside of those two days.