Getting around Paris is fun. The metro is so easy to figure out, on time and goes nearly everywhere. In summer it can be hot and a bit stinky, but it’s almost a game using the maps or a Plan de Paris (a little book that has every neighborhood and metro stop, every street and bus line cross referenced and easy to find if you have your eye-glasses handy) to map out your trip. When I was a student in Paris I loved to jump on the metro, pick a random stop and then get out and explore. It’s pretty hard to get lost with a Plan de Paris, and I suggest all visitors buy one upon arrival.
Once you’ve traveled by metro it’s also great to get above ground. One of my favorite things to do is take the bus… any bus. Spring for a weekly pass even if you plan to only stay 4-5 days, this allows you to hop on and off and explore. Buses have their routes written on the side, with major landmarks noted, so you get a sense where the bus is headed. Each bus stop has the entire route written on little panels inside so you can know exactly where the bus goes. If you are headed towards the Beaubourg, for example, you can pick a bus that goes nearby and then navigate to the touristy area. There is a great satisfaction in finding your way in a foreign city! Buses can be full and toasty inside too, air conditioning or “clim,” short for climatisation, is not a guarantee despite the sometimes scorching temperatures, but seats are comfy and you have a great view of the city. I’ve spent so much time in Paris I don’t need to hit all the hot spots, but I do like to see them each time, sort of a touchstone, so I often do a tour by bus on my own.
Finally, the new-ish bike program Velib is just phenomenal. I had so much fun riding along the Seine, to the Parc Monceau and around the hospital where my friend who I was visiting was treated. There are many bike paths around the city. The rules are a bit peculiar and change depending on who you talk to. Vive la France! I learned that on sidewalks and in parks you need to walk the bike or risk a fine. Watch out for cobblestones; I nearly took a tumble! You have to get a card and can find more information about the Velib program online. There are big baskets for your shopping or bags, lights, bells and three speeds that make little difference. Make sure the tires are ok and the seat isn’t wonky; like any public system there are vandals and problems with the equipment. Please do take care, Parisians do not wear helmets and it can be harrowing with the crazy tuna can cars and mopeds careening around roundabouts with no lanes. Being the mother of two young boys I stuck to paths and was extremely careful at intersections, but my friend says she just doesn’t think about it!