Paris has three international airports: the small, inconveniently situated Beauvais airport, which serves budget European carriers, the larger and more central Orly airport, which gates a few North American flights, and the biggest, Charles de Gaulle airport (often referred to by its location, Roissy), which handles most of Paris’s transatlantic traffic.
Especially after a long flight, the easiest ways to get to the city from Orly or Charles de Gaulle are to take an airport bus (and get a cab or public transport once you're in town), or to take a shuttle (shared with other passengers) from the airport direct to your hotel. Airport buses and shuttles are significantly cheaper than taxis, which charge around 50 to 70 euros depending on the time of day and traffic. Count on a journey time of around one hour from Charles de Gaulle, and around 45 minutes from Orly into the city (again depending on the time of day and traffic, and, in the case of shuttles, other drop-offs). Orly and Charles de Gaulle are also linked by public Paris transportation, so if you're on a budget and don't mind hauling your luggage up and down stairs, it's a cheaper option again. Detailed instructions for using all Paris transportation options are updated in English on the airports' websites.
If you're coming to Paris as part of a European vacation, the train often beats flying into the French capital for convenience, as you'll arrive directly in the city. Central Paris has six mainline train stations: Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est, close by one another in the 10e, Saint Lazare in the 8e, Gare Montparnasse in the 14e, Gare d'Austerlitz in 13e, and Gare de Lyon in the 12e. Each station serves regions and countries in a specific direction, so which train you use depends on where you're coming from or going to. The Eurostar between London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord takes a little over two hours. French trains are operated by SNCF. They're safe, comfortable and frequent, but watch for potential pickpockets at the stations.
It's possible, though in most cases not really expedient, to reach Paris by bus from European cities including London. Integrated European bus company Eurolines runs scheduled services as far afield as Ukraine. But Europe has so many budget air carriers and such a sophisticated high-speed train network that long-haul buses are generally a last resort. Still, buses can be useful if you're on a super-tight budget and aren't in a hurry, especially if you're traveling to or from nearby destinations such as Brussels.
Useful information about the metro:
* Paris transportation tickets are calculated by zone. For trips within the city (including some places on the fringe, such as La Défense), you'll be using zones 1 and 2.
* Single tickets (called a t+) cost €1.70. These can be used for unbroken metro/metro, RER/RER, metro/RER, and bus/bus connections within central Paris for 90 minutes from the first to final validations, but not for transfers between the metro and buses, or between the RER and buses. Keep hold of your ticket as inspectors often run checks as you exit the station.
* If you'll be catching public transportation infrequently, buy a carnet of 10 t+ tickets for 12 euros, which have no expiry date.
* For a few days' travel, your best bet is the Paris Visite card giving you unlimited trips in for zones 1 through 3. Cards for one, two, three or five consecutive days cost 9, 14.70, 20 or 28.90 euros.
* If you'll be in Paris a while, your best bet is an electronic Passe Navigo Découverte. It costs an initial 5 euros for the card; you'll need a small ID photo (larger stations have photo booths). You then load on the credit you need: a week (starting Mondays) costs 18.35 euros; a month (starting on the 1st) costs 60.40 euros.
* Metro lines are color-coded and numbered. The direction (and so platform) you take is the name of the final stop.
* The metro runs from 5:20AM to 1:20AM, and until 2AM on Saturday night (i.e. Sunday morning), after which night buses take over.
* It’s generally safe to ride the metro alone through until closing, but late at night you're better off avoiding stations with long, maze-like corridors, such as Châtelet-Les Halles and Montparnasse-Bienvenüe. Watch for potential pickpockets on the metro, especially during the rush hour crush.
* If you're traveling with small children or have limited mobility, buses are easier as most metro stations are only accessed by stairs.
Paris’s taxi operators have over 15,000 cabs between them. All are contactable through the same phone number: 01 45 30 30 30. Taxis G7 has a dedicated English-language line: 01 41 27 66 99.
Taxis are metered. Tariff A (within the ring road, from 10AM to 5pPM) costs €0.82 per kilometer, Tariff B (within the ring road from 5PM to 10AM and on Sundays and public holidays from 7AM to midnight, and from 7AM to 7PM outside the ring road, including Orly and Charles de Gaulle airport) costs €1.10 per kilometer. Tariff C (within the ring road from midnight to 7AM on Sundays, and outside from 7PM to 7AM and the duration of Sundays and public holidays) costs €1.33 per kilometer. Flag-fall is 2.10 euros; minimum journey charge is 5.60 euros. There are additional charges for a fourth passenger, and from the second piece of luggage carried in the trunk. Look for the “Taxi Parisien” sign on the roof; if it's lit up, it's available to hail. Alternatively, you'll find ranks all over the city. When it comes to tipping, round up to the nearest euro or so, depending on the length of your journey.
The bad news: with its roundabouts, scooters brazenly cutting in and out, lack of parking, one-way streets and car-free zones on Sundays and holidays, even with a state-of-the-art GPS, driving in Paris is a nightmare. The good news: the city's efficient transportation system means you won't have to drive.
What you might want to do try is bicycling in Paris. The city has numerous cycle lanes and paths, and the revolutionary Vélib' bike scheme has thousands of bicycles at hundreds of bike stations spaced approximately every 300 yards across the city. After a small sign-up fee, Paris bikes are free for the first 30 minutes, with costs increasing incrementally thereafter. But if you don't have a European chip-enabled credit card, you may not be able to use it (although we've heard of non-chip US Amex cards working, so it's worth a try). If your card doesn't work, rent bikes in regular fashion from companies such as Paris à Vélo c'est Sympa.