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The things you need to know about Paris Metro tickets (before they go)

It's the beginning of the end for the traditional lovable/annoying little paper Metro tickets as Paris introduced its new travel card 'Navigo Easy' on Wednesday. But before they're gone for good, here are few things worth knowing about them before they disappear.

The things you need to know about Paris Metro tickets (before they go)
Photo: AFP

It's true that the new card will probably make life easier for those traveling in the Paris region, but that doesn't mean we can't get a bit sentimental about the disappearance of that little ticket that has been with us for so long.

In memory, here are a few things you might not know about the Paris Metro ticket. 

Originally, the Metro tickets were printed on paper and then soon after were passed onto printed cardboard with a of 57 X 30 mm format. 

The ticket said the name of the company, class, price, date of issue, a letter corresponding to the fare (from 1925) and a serial number.
Following WW1 (1914-1918), the price of a Metro ticket increased for the first time by 5 centimes (second class tickets became 20 centimes and first 30 centimes). More price increases followed shortly afterwards.  
In 1925, a new principle was introduced where a letter on the ticket would indicate its tariff, for example Tariff A, and so with each new increase, a new letter was introduced. Tariffs B and C were introduced in 1926, and in 1930, a special reduced Tariff D was introduced for the war wounded. It was only in 1948 that large families could obtain a reduced rate. This letter method lasted until the mid-1970s.

It's been white since 2007, but the Paris Metro ticket has appeared in many colors of the rainbow including red, yellow, green, orange and purple. 

But its shape has always stayed the same, although it had been a vertical ticket in the early years.

Indeed this video below will quickly run you through a visual history of the Paris Metro ticket and how it has changed over the years.

Until 1991, you could buy first-class Métro tickets

Photo: Naval History & Heritage Command/Flickr

In 1900, when the Metro was first opened, travellers paid 15 cents (of France's previous currency, the franc) for a second-class ticket and 25 cents for first-class.

Some 30,000 tickets were sold on the first day the Metro opened.

These days everyone is in the same class and you'll pay €1.90 for a single journey or €14.90 for a book of ten.

The tickets once carried advertising on them.

As this great blog on the history of the Paris Metro ticket pointed out, the printing of millions of tickets obviously created an advertising opportunity that some took advantage of including companies selling Cognac and bras.


The tickets have been made into works of art.

Photo: Luc Grateau

French Painter Luc Grateau painted tiny portraits on Metro tickets, building up a series of more than 2,000 portraits from six years of Metro commuting. 

Some have put their origami skills to use by transforming the tickets into the X-wing fighter ships from Star Wars. 

The tickets have been given makeovers for specific, important events

The Metro tickets have been redesigned many times over the years, but they've even gotten temporary makeovers for special occasions, such as the Europride LGBT event in 1997. 

And in the picture below a Paris Metro worker shows a special edition of subway tickets as part of the celebrations of the Europe Day, 09 May 2006 in Paris.

They have confused and annoyed millions of visitors to Paris over the years.

A quick search of the websites YouTube or Tripadvisor and you will realise just how confusing buying Metro and transport tickets is for foreign visitors.

There are scores of helpful videos trying to explain to visitors why they should buy a book of ten tickets rather than a single one and how the ticket machines work.

Messages left by visitors also reveal their frustration with the ticket system, notably getting mixed up between the tickets they have already used and ones that are still valid. Because the only thing that shows the ticket has been used is a code that gets printed on the back, that is often hard to notice.

Other visitors complain about the small size of the tickets meaning they are easily lost.

Whether you'll miss the tickets or you're happy to see them go, there's no denying that they have been a significant part of Parisian life over the years. 

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5 ways the Paris Metro catches out unwary tourists

As capital city public transport systems go, the Paris Metro is a good one - relatively cheap, it's also mostly efficient and quick. It does, however, have several quirks that can catch out unwary travellers and lead to fines from the notoriously unsympathetic transport police.

5 ways the Paris Metro catches out unwary tourists
Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

While the Paris Metro map is pretty easy to follow, some of the rules of the system are not so obvious. Agents of operator RATP regularly patrol the network checking tickets and if you are caught in contravention of the rules no amount of crying, playing the dumb foreigner or offering to buy them a beer will spare you from a fine.

Here are the some of the things that regularly catch out newcomers and visitors to the city.

Paris airports are not in Paris

You might naturally assume that Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly airports are in Paris. But you would be wrong.

Technically both airports are in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France and if you’re travelling on the Metro or RER train network this is important, because it affects the kind of ticket you buy. A single ticket for the city, or an all-day pass for Paris, is not valid for a trip out to either airport.

While a city pass will allow you to enter the network inside Paris, it won’t be valid to exit at the airport and transport police frequently patrol there to catch out unwary tourists. Travelling without a ticket valid for your entire journey nets you a fine of €35 per passenger.

Instead you need to either buy a single ticket directly to the airport or a day pass for the whole Île-de-France region.

READ ALSO The strange rules of the Metro you should know about


Buying a ticket is not enough 

But just buying your ticket is not enough, you also need to validate it.

Tickets can be bought either in paper form from machines in the station, or in digital format on passes such as the Navigo pass or phone apps such as ViaNavigo. However you buy your tickets, every time you enter the Metro, bus, tram or RER network you need to validate your ticket (in order to stop people using a single ticket for multiple journeys on multiple days).

For paper tickets this means passing it through the machines on entry, while passes and phones can be swiped.

If you see an open gateway next to a long queue for the turnstiles it can be tempting to just walk through, but this means that you are not in possession of a validated ticket for your journey, and if you are stopped you will be fined. 

One of the very few exceptions to the ticket rule is for people who have no hands (either through amputation or medical condition) – provided they are not accompanied by a carer.

Getting lost is forbidden (sort of)

Some of the larger Metro stations like Bastille, Hôtel de Ville and (the daddy of them all) Châtelet can be confusing for newcomers, with their vast warren of tunnels. But as well as signs for the exit, keep a sharp eye out for one-way signs or arrows. Many of the tunnels have a designated direction and walking the other way is actually illegal.

Several tourists have fallen foul of this rule and been slapped with a fine by RATP agents, along with a pregnant French woman who was trying to take a short cut out of Bastille (those ticket agents really can be pitiless).

RATP says this is a safety issue and one-way systems ensure the flow of movement, and to be fair at rush hour you do need everyone to be moving in the same direction to avoid jams.

Follow the rabbit’s advice

Speaking of safety, once the train is about to leave the station a long beep indicates that the doors are about to close. Technically it is forbidden to enter the train once the beep starts, but this rule is widely ignored and many people seem to enjoy taking a balletic leap into the carriage at the last possible moment.

Once the doors actually begin to close, though, don’t be tempted to try and hold them open – the doors will carry on closing and will trap your hand/skirt/baby buggy.

That’s where a rabbit named Serge comes in.


The door of every Metro carriage has a warning sign in which a cartoon rabbit warns you either Ne monte pas après le signal sonore, tu risques de te faire très mal (Do not enter after the signal sounds, you risk being badly hurt) or, in older versions of the sign, Attention, ne mets pas tes mains sur la porte, tu risques de te faire pincer très fort (Beware, do not put your hands between the doors, you risk a very hard pinch).

Created more than 40 years ago, Serge le Lapin is now a design icon and even has his own Twitter account.

Keep a close eye on your pockets 

And it’s not just the Metro police that you need to look out for – unfortunately some of your fellow passengers may be a problem.

While it is a relatively safe city, Paris does have a serious problem with pickpockets and they frequently congregate on Metro trains or in stations, so keep an eye on your pockets and bags. For women, sexual harassment and groping is unfortunately not an uncommon experience, particularly on packed trains.

READ ALSO 14 tips to avoid pickpockets and petty thieves

It’s not uncommon to also see beggars on public transport. They are very rarely aggressive and whether you give them money or not is entirely up to you.

Anyone playing music in Metro carriages or on the platform is an unlicensed busker, but the transport network does have a system of official buskers who play in the tunnels. They have to audition to get a spot and you can hear some really good music this way. 

And keep it secular

Unfortunately it’s no use asking for divine guidance to help understand the system, praying is actually illegal on the public transport network.