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Demystifying Paris bus routes

Hi all,
Another trip to Paris in March. We've been there 4 times before and love it.
Love the Metro, but my wife's knees have trouble with all the stair climbing.
We have taken buses there, but always have trouble understanding the routes. Yes I have an app that is helpful, but I prefer to spend more time looking at the city than at my phone.
Can anyone help us to get a better grip on the basics of understanding how to use the bus system there, and how to use them better?
Thanks in advance, always get the best advice here.

Posted by
20309 posts

Not sure why you have to spend so much time staring at your phone. You look up the route, then you know what buses and the transfer stops, then look out the windows and see Paris.

Posted by
3980 posts

Well Sam I can relate to not wanting to stand around looking at a phone screen and looking a bit lost. This spring we thought we’d figured out the best bus route going from our hotel to a park we wanted to see across town. 3/4 of the way there the bus stopped and the driver told everyone to get off. Even the regular riders seemed surprised. This left us scrambling, looking at bus numbers on signs and studying our phone screens once again on a busy sidewalk. I don’t know what the alternative is but if there are any key bus routes or organizional numbering systems that could help the OP this might be helpful information.

Posted by
20309 posts

I am in Chicago right now and everyone is walking around staring at their phones, and I don't think they are even trying to figure out the bus routes.

Posted by
11439 posts

Mona, We have had that happen in Rome so often! Thank goodness for Google Maps! It was very hard to figure your way out of that situation before we had GPS at our fingertips.

Yo Pauly, I study a couple of bus routes related to where we are staying and where we are headed for some of our sightseeing, then let the app (or Google Maps) aid me. If I know the approximate time the journey I have planned will take, as well as the name of the stop-or-two prior to mine, I am good. Most Parisian buses display the upcoming stops, which is useful.

Posted by
4684 posts

You want a book called Paris Par Arrondisement which is sold in FNAC and other bookshops. Covers each arrondisement with maps of streets, bus routes, Metro lines, and how they all fit together. It's all in French, but self-explanatory.

Posted by
9766 posts

You want the 3 Plans Par Arrondissement Paris published by "L'Indispensable." The only problem is, the last few times I've looked for it to buy for someone, I've not been able to find it.

As the name suggests, it has three maps for each arrondissement (district).

1 - Which shows a detailed street map of the arrondissement (or two maps for really big arrondissements like the 16th).
2 - Which shows the Metro lines and stops OVERLAID on the street map of the arrondissement.
3 - Which shows the BUS LINES and STOPS overlaid on the street map of the arrondissement.

Then the book also has in the back the whole metro map, the whole RER map, and the whole bus route map.

Those books that are bus route only are to me kind of useless because you can't see how they relate to the streets of Paris, which is really what you need. That's why I've relied for years on the 3 plans map book. You do still kind of have to piece things together going from one arrondissement to another, but at least you have something you can trace.

And yes, sometimes bus routes get deviated or cropped due to planned parades, protests, or other blockages (car-free day, Tour de France final, marathon) -- and the book can't predict that. But at least while following along on the map you'll know where you are and can look at the map to see if you have other options around you.

Before heading out for the day, you can always check if there are any PLANNED deviations/blockages by looking at

https://www.ratp.fr/infos-trafic

That won't help with spontaneous reroutings, but if it's the finale of the Tour de France, when you look up even a few days before, it will start warning that bus routes in the center will be affected and give the #s of the buses.

It's in French, but very basic French and hopefully pretty easy to figure out with a few Google searches.

Posted by
9766 posts

But for me, a big part of "demystifying" the bus routes, is, I hate to say it . . .an app. I treasure the CityMapper app, which integrates real-time info from the Paris transit system (somehow better than the transit system does itself!) and traffic info and will tell you HOW LONG IT WILL BE UNTIL THE NEXT BUS will get to your stop. Enormously useful information. It will tell you if you're better off (in terms of time necessary) taking the metro, walking, taking a bus, taking a combo or whatever.

Yes, it requires data. But if you are a traveler who's going to be using data, it's an absolute godsend.

Just another bit of info - I still like the 3 plans par arrondissement because it really arms you with information. But CityMapper really empowers you because it will tell you if there are problems on your metro line or whatever or if things are running smoothly.

Posted by
784 posts

I use the public buses almost exclusively when in Paris. There are two tools I use. The first is a small booklet "Paris Bus 109 Lines" that is available at many news kiosks for about 7 euros. Each bus line is shown on its own 2-page detailed street map, showing all transfer points and bus stops. The second is the Plan Deux map available for free at Metro information booths. It is a large map with the Metro on one side and the public buses on the other. I like it because it is big enough to read and because all the routes are shown, it is great for route planning in advance.

When I decide where I want to go, usually the night before, I like to plan my route, writing down the bus lines, transfer points, etc. I carry the booklet with me for reference as needed. I also check the maps at the bus stops. Most stops have electronic signs that indicate when the next bus is expected. Be sure to check the signage at the front of the bus to be sure it goes as far as you want to go. For example, the end of the line for some route 69 buses is at Chatelet, not at Champs de Mars (west end) or Gambetta (east end). I also try to sit on the bus where I can watch the electronic signs on the bus that indicate the next stops.

Unfortunately, there are times when a bus route will terminate for no apparent reason - who knows why - the driver makes an announcement in French, but we English speakers are left in bewilderment. It happens. Sometimes, too, and bus will be rerouted - this often happens due to demonstrations, construction, or street closures - and you might end up far from where you wanted to go. This is why I carry the little booklet with me so I can figure out what to do next. The booklet also comes in handy for figuring out where to catch the return bus. Because of one-way streets, you might have to walk a block or two to find the stop for the return trip on the same line.

If you are using the Navigo pass, you have unlimited access to all the routes, including those in the suburbs, and can travel in all directions. However, if you are using t+ tickets, you can transfer as many times as you need to as long as you are going in the same general direction on different bus routes within 90 minutes from when you first validated your ticket. You cannot use the same ticket for the return trip or hop off the bus, then get back on the same line.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
93 posts

Wow, lots of great info here, and yes we use Navigo Decouverte!
Yes I am a planner so this is a big help!
Thank you all so much.

Posted by
3767 posts

I did not read all of the replies but one thing to remember with the busses is that with all the one-way streets, the return bus stop may not be on the street that you were on when you exited the bus.

Posted by
2573 posts

I believed that it was Kim who mentioned Citimapper. This app will do it all for you. Simply enter your destination and the options, with times en route, appear. The apt will warn you, it vibrates, one stop in advance, when you need to disembark. You can follow your progress station by station if you like. It has many more features you'll discover when you use it.

Maps will only work if you always know where you are and from a moving bus, it is not easy for a visitor to really know, particularly during irregular operations.

A note about buses: ground transportation can be very problematic in Paris. There are road closures due to construction and due to demonstrations (there are a lot in France). Once in a while a bus will not continue to its scheduled destination or skip a number of scheduled stops. These irregularities are always explained by the driver and only explained in French. Never take the bus to an appointment.

Posted by
54 posts

Another vote for CityMapper ... the best on the ground tool for finding your way. More tourist-friendly than the RATP and a bit more accurate than Google Maps. And yes, an investment in data tools is worth your while. I love Travel Wifi, a mobile hotspot that costs about $70US and can be picked up at the airport. I know others say those are too expensive and then go through complicated explanations of why data cards etc. are better ... more power to them, but I find the Travel Wifi so reliable, and easy.

I'm all for studying up on a destination for a trip but I'm not sure the bus network needs a big comprehensive study. You probably know where you are staying so just use Google maps from home re-trip and plug in some destinations from your lodging to, say, the Louvre or a restaurant. Be sure you plug in the local (Paris) time when you will likely make the trip.

As far as wanting to see the city -- that's exactly why I prefer buses, staying above ground as much as possible.

Posted by
52 posts

The Paris bus guide in the RS France book was the single most helpful information that I had in my visit to Paris. If you don't have the book, it is worth many times the price just for simple explanation of the most useful bus routes.

Also, I found that the free maps from hotels clearly show bus routes and stops although you made need to employ your bicfocles.

I was 70 yrs old with not great knees and really valued the bus system.

Posted by
3194 posts

I love the buses in Paris. I found the RATP app to be most helpful.
If you have it on a tablet or Ipad it works really well.
Also on your phone of course.
Each night , I would map out my route by bus, then take a screen shot of it to save to look at while out and about.
The maps on each bus stop in Paris are quite detailed, and the stops all have electronic signs telling you when the next bus ids due.
Lots of "street theatre" aboard the buses for want of a better way to observe people.
One bus I was on had a massive argument going on between two older women. something about a local problem where they lived, but carried on at high volume with people chipping in their two cents.
Navigo Decouverte is the best pass for transport, IMHO; it pays for itself in about 2 days if you are hopping on and off.

Posted by
45 posts

I'm planning my Paris trip, which is coming up in a few weeks. From what I gathered, the Paris bus system isn't any more unique than other bus systems of other metropolitan areas. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Normally, I just use Google Maps and it tells me exactly the bus number to take and where the bus stop I need is. I mention this last bit because a previous poster pointed out that bus stops aren't always symmetric, especially when you take into account one-way streets. Which is why I love Google Maps. It will give you directions to the actual bus stop you need.

I do love to watch the passing scenery and sometimes worry I will miss my stop -- which isn't the end of the world unless you're strapped for time. But I do use earbuds so I can hear Google's directions instead of looking at my screen.

Posted by
11294 posts

In Paris, I used Google Maps for bus and metro routes. Even with the slow connection I had on T-Mobile roaming, it worked well to tell me exactly where to get buses and when the next one would be arriving. I didn't find them particularly "mystifying," but I agree that they are trickier than the metro, since they can turn anywhere, and if you don't know the city well, just looking at a bus route without seeing it superimposed on a city map is not that helpful.

Yo Pauley: will you have internet access while you're out and about? If you find the buses confusing, it really is helpful to be able to access Google Maps, City Planner, Movit, RATP, etc (everyone favors different apps and websites). Depending on your US carrier, you may be able to get this for free, like with most T-Mobile and Sprint plans. Even if you have to pay for it, it will be worth it for the convenience and peace of mind.

Posted by
6362 posts

Mona, that happened to us a few years ago. I think we were coming back from La Chaise cemetery, or that neighborhood anyway, and the bus just stopped about a mile or so short of our stop, which was listed as the end of the line. We never did figure out what happened; we just walk back to our hotel, not knowing if another bus would actually take us where we wanted to go.