An existential question in my opinion! Most people moving or even traveling to Paris have asked or at least wondered about this, including myself. So I thought it might be a good idea to evaluate the various options that Paris provides.
While Paris is a VERY walkable city with its beautiful boulevards and sidewalks making walking a pleasure, we can’t walk everywhere all the time. This is where public transport can come in handy.
Paris, like most European cities, has an amazing public transport system that constitutes the metro (underground), buses, trams and regional RER trains. All of these are run by the RATP and within the city limits one ticket can get you to one destination, however far it might be, including changes. What this means is that you can use the same ticket to change metro lines or hop from a metro to RER/bus or vice versa, in order to get to your destination.
Over 300 metro stations cover the length and breadth of the city, which is served by 16 different lines, making it the quickest and the most efficient way to travel, not too mention the cheapest.
The RER are express trains that connect Paris to its suburbs. There are five lines – A to E, that used by thousands daily to commute to the city for work. The RERs are also a great option when traveling from Paris to the Palace of Versailles or to Disneyland.
The bus network is also great but given the traffic on the roads, it can be much slower. I love to travel by bus in a new city because you can see so much more over the ground than under the ground!
There is also a form of river transport that is my favourite – the Batobus. Not much of a commuting option, but it covers 9 of the most touristy sights along the Seine including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame, to name a few, with the option of hopping on and off on the same ticket!
When public transport is not the most feasible option, taxis can be a good alternative. They can be hailed on the street – a green light on top means its free while a red means it’s occupied. Always use registered cabs. Taxis can also be ordered via apps such as Uber, G7, Kapten, etc.
Driving in Paris
The French drive on the right side of the road. Important to remember for folks coming over from the UK and other countries where you drive on the left.
From what I’ve observed, people can be quite aggressive here on the roads (whilst following all the rules), which can be daunting to a first-time driver in Paris! But it’s something you do get used. The roundabouts are scary as despite the rule of yielding to the right, it always seems to be a free for all. So one needs to be very cautious.
Paris is a very congested city in terms of traffic. On most days, driving in the city is far from pleasurable and you can take a long time getting from place A to B on any good day. Weekends seem to be a lot better though.
Getting in and out of the city by road means driving on the peripherique (motorway) – a two ring, multiple roadway system that controls the traffic entering and leaving the metropolis. During rush hour and weekends, these roads can usually have traffic backed up for miles. So even during weekends, when we do decide to go for a day trip, we always add an extra hour for the journey back!
Parking in Paris is like finding a needle in a hay stack!! If you manage to find street parking close to where you are going – consider yourself lucky. Parking is paid almost all over the city Monday to Saturday, 9am to 8pm. Sundays and holidays are free (best to check before you leave the car though) and one of the best days to drive around. Parking meters are located on all sidewalks and the parking fee can be paid via card or mobile phone apps.
There are however, many underground parking lots all over the city and you have a better chance of finding a spot in one of these than on the street. These are open 24/7. Parking spots can also be bought here for a month or more if you are looking for a long-term solution since most apartment buildings don’t usually have any underground parking and street parking can be tough.
If you live in Paris and have bought a car, you have three options of parking in case your apartment does not come with a parking. In a majority of cases, it won’t. The first option is street parking near your apartment. You will need to apply for a residents’ parking permit from your local Mairie (council). But there is no dedicated spot – everyday you will have to park your car wherever you find a spot.
Second option, rent an underground parking spot nearby. This will be more expensive than the street parking but most people prefer this option because you get a dedicated spot and your car is protected. Paris street parking does come with a lot of additional wear & tear!
The third option is to buy long-term parking in one of the many underground parking spaces. The major drawback here is that you may have a bit of a walk to & from the parking and your apartment.
With the rise of car sharing apps, hiring a car in Paris has become super easy. You don’t have to plan in advance or queue up at traditional car rental agencies anymore. All you need to do is create and verify your profile on your selected car sharing app and voila, you are ready to hire a car from a few hours to a few days!
K and I have been using one such app called getaround with no complaints! Be it day trips or weekend aways, getaround has provided us with the flexibility we need without the headache of owning a car. We can choose cars based on their location, the models and the rental price. Oh, and the cars can be unlocked via the app so we don’t need to meet the owner at any time! When dropping them back, we just need to park them on the same street where we picked it up from sans any parking fee.
For those that prefer traditional car rentals, Paris is served by all the major names including Hertz, Euopcar, Enterprise, Sixt etc., with multiple offices located across the city, airports and the main train stations.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It really depends on your circumstances, needs and where you live. If you ask people with kids they will tell you that having a car is a necessity. But if you ask young couples or singles, they will swear by the public transport system.
Where you live will also influence your decision. If you live in one of the suburbs, then perhaps having a car us easier given that public transport might be limited. While you can use the RER and other trains to commute for work, a car will make life far easier for everything else you do in the suburbs. Parking also, will be less painful.
However, I can tell you that K and I have survived in Paris for a year without a car.
Do we miss having a car – yes!
Do we really need one – no.
Until the time we discovered the car sharing app, I really missed having a car over the weekends especially. I felt we were losing our spontaneity by not not being able to just leave the city to explore the countryside on a whim. But now, with getaround, we have managed to hire cars on short notice too. So overall, because we live in Paris and are so close to multiple transport options, not owning a car has worked quite well for us.