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Transfers in Paris - would love some advice

Hi everyone,

We are spending a few days in Paris and then heading up to Caen, renting a car, and then dropping the car in Caen to go to Frankfurt via train. I know the train goes through Paris. When I look at the schedules, it seems like the trains from Caen will go to Ste Lazare and then leave for Frankfurt from L'Est, with 50 minutes transfer time. We will have luggage with us.

I'm not familiar with the various train stations in Paris. I assume this is a "legal" transfer time since the schedule is built this way, but in reality, is this enough transfer time for 4 people who are really not familiar with Paris? If so, what is the best way (would REALLY appreciate step-by-step to avoid wasting time/getting lost) to get from Ste Lazare over to L'Est. The approximate time period I'm looking at is 10:30 am, midweek, in September. Again, we will have our luggage with us.

Would it be wiser to go Caen to Paris the evening before, get a hotel near L'Est, and leave for Frankfurt the following morning? I'm trying to avoid that as our days are limited, but I'd love some experienced advice. If this is indeed the best option, do you suggest purchasing the Caen to Paris ticket right at the station on day of travel but still purchase the Paris to Frankfurt portion in advance? Lots of questions on where/when to purchase train tickets.

Thanks so much.

Posted by
8173 posts

With this little time I would not take a cab because ;you can really get bogged down in mid town traffic -- has happened to us a couple of times. I would take the train i.e. the metro but that means lugging your stuff up and down stairs and making a change with more stairs. The whole thing should take 25/30 minutes including making your way to the metro at St. Lazare and buying tickets from machines -- you can use a credit card and just get 4 ordinary tickets from a machine; the machines have an English option and will take US. chip sig credit cards -- just ignore the request for the PIN and they will complete the transaction.

That gives you 20 minutes or so for slippage and to find your train at Est --- so you should be able to do it. You do have to move quickly as this is a doable but tight connection and you don't have time to dither or make a pit stop or buy a sandwich -- don't do anything but run to train platforms until you are at Est and can then see if you have extra time.

Be sure on the metro you are pickpocket proof. Passports, money, credit cards stowed in cross body purse well controlled or money belt or inside zipped pocket -- pickpockets are very skillfull -- don't have anything accessible like in a pant pocket (including front pockets), backpack or carelessly held purse.

You can get the 3 metro at St. Lazare (just follow the signs -- stations are very well signed -- the 3 will be a 3 in a greenish goldish circle; then take the 3 to Opera (direction bagnolet) and switch to the 7 which will take you to Gare d'l'Est. The 7 signs will be in a pink circle. the direction will be Ivry or Ville Juif (it splits but you can take either one going that way and get off at Gare d l'Est. ) Once there follow signs for Grandes Lignes usually blue and white signs with a picture of a train and it will get you to the train station where there are electronic boards that show which platform you need. (know the end of the line of your train and its number in case your destination is not the end of the line). This will involve some stair climbing and rushing about but stations are very well signed and for metros, just before you enter the hallway to the platform the stops are listed, so you can double check you are going the right way.

Tickets can be checked at any time; be sure to retain the metro ticket until you are out of the metro and in the train station -- failure to provide one is 50 Euros on the spot. We have been in Paris 5.5 weeks -- the first four we were not checked once -- then we were checked 5 times out of our next 6 rides -- at 5 different stations, some touristy and some not.

Posted by
37 posts

Janettravles44 - thank you SO much for those details! I appreciate your expertise here. I figured a taxi wouldn't be the best option with traffic midday.

Ok, so the metro sounds doable if we really hustle I see. I'm ok with that, albeit a bit nervous, especially if we have purchased the Paris to Frankfurt portion in advance.

I have a few other questions and apologize for being so "green" on this. I've traveled on the trains in Europe before but not really in and around Paris. By the way, thank you for the reminder about pickpockets. I agree, you always have to be on your guard.

Are the trains generally on time or is there is a good chance the original 50 minutes transfer time may be substantially less?

In Ste Lazare, we exit the train from Caen. We are then looking for "Metro" signs in order to get the #3 metro? In other words, do the trains from Caen arrive at Ste Lazare in a different area of the train station than those trains traveling within the city? OR, as soon as we get off the train, be on the lookout for the #3 sign in the greenish goldish circle right away?

I've read that there can potentially be big lines at ticket windows and I'm fine using the ticket machines - is it generally a short wait at the ticket machines?

Once we buy the tickets from Ste Lazare to L'Est, that same ticket is used for the #3 and then the #7, correct? Do we have to validate only once at a turnstile and then keep it? In other words, we shouldn't have to do anything else with it for the transfer I assume, other than to be sure we keep it with us until the end of the journey that day?

Posted by
557 posts

A couple of thoughts to build on Janet's excellent answer:

It sounds like you (the OP) will be in Paris for a couple of days beforehand. In that case, I would at the very least buy the t+ metro tickets necessary for this transfer while you are in Paris beforehand (unless of course you will have a valid pass, which might happen by the quirk of the calendar or for other reasons). T+ tickets don't have to be used the day they are purchased, so if you get them beforehand that saves you the time at the ticket machines on the day you are doing your Caen to Frankfurt trip.

For the transfer question, on the Paris metro you don't need to do anything with the ticket when you transfer, except keep it of course.

I find signage in Paris stations to be generally straightforward, though it is essential of course to know (1) your metro line number and (2) the direction as signaled by the end station. From a mainline rail station my experience is that as soon as you get off the platforms into the main area of the station there are lots of signs indicating how to get to metro and RER transfers. However, if you're nervous about this and have time to spare in Paris beforehand, you could always do a dry run of the trip, i.e. head to St-Lazare, find the mainline tracks and then head to Gare de l'Est from there so you know what you're in for.

Posted by
7007 posts

There is a slight mistake in the directions given from Saint Lazare to Gare de l'Est: it is métro line 3 direction Gallieni, and change at Opéra for line 7 direction La Courneuve, not Ivry.

But for that trip, at 10.30 am a taxi (not Uber) would work, because the taxis can take the bus lanes. It is a 15€ ride to Est, more or less.

Posted by
37 posts

Ok, perfect! Thanks for additional information! This forum has been a life-saver for me as far as information - especially on the smaller details. Very much appreciated!

So, overall, you don't think it's necessary to have to go back to Paris the night before? We should be fine going right from Caen to Frankfurt in one day? It's a long day, but I'd rather save the one night and get to Frankfurt if possible.

Posted by
7502 posts

I don't want to make a complicated situation harder for you, but if you're still not 100% comfortable, you might experiment with a later train from Gare de L'Est. I personally don't know how to do this without buying two separate tickets, but you might experiment with clicking some buttons on the Oui/SNCF website. The luggage is a pain, but being condemned to a leisurely lunch in Paris is not exactly a penalty! You also need to see if the trip costs more that way, but I'll guess that it does not.

Posted by
4062 posts

The blog Parisbytrain.com can be reassuring as it provides photographs to help you navigate the bigger train stations.

Posted by
9784 posts

You can get the 3 metro at St. Lazare (just follow the signs -- stations are very well signed -- the 3 will be a 3 in a greenish goldish circle; then take the 3 to Opera (direction bagnolet) and switch to the 7 which will take you to Gare d'l'Est. The 7 signs will be in a pink circle. the direction will be Ivry or Ville Juif (it splits but you can take either one going that way and get off at Gare d l'Est. )

As Balso said, this needs a little correction and should read as follows (just to make sure you have a clean copy):

You can get the 3 metro at St. Lazare (just follow the signs -- stations are very well signed -- the 3 will be a 3 in a greenish goldish circle; then take the 3 to Opera (direction bagnolet) and switch to the 7 which will take you to Gare d'l'Est. The 7 signs will be in a pink circle. the direction will be La Courneuve.

Also as Andrew suggested, buy your tickets during your earlier time in Paris and keep them on you. That will save some time during this transfer.

Posted by
37 posts

Tim:
LOL, I agree, there are definitely worse things than having time to sit and eat lunch in Paris!

I just looked at the OuiSNCF site. For peace of mind, I may decide to do that - buy 2 separate tickets, even if it's a bit higher priced. I wonder if, in that case, it may be beneficial to buy the Caen-Paris leg on the SNCF site and the Paris to Frankfurt leg on the bahn site??? I'll have to look at that.

Southam - I just came across that last night! Such great information on there for those of us unfamiliar with Paris! Thank yo!

Posted by
7502 posts

I would base my purchase location on how comfortable you are with the interface, and how clear it is that they will send you a Print At Home ticket. I usually buy my ticket on the site for the country I'm leaving from. But others here love the Bahn site for everything. Alas, I am not a rail expert, but for trains that do not have compulsory seat reservations and are perhaps more local, there are cases where you can use the same ticket on any train of the same type that day. That's less common on international trains. If you care to do the research.

But I think we are talking about non-changeable tickets, in a general way.

Posted by
37 posts

Tim - ok good to know. I will play around with both sites and see which is best. I would prefer to go straight through to Frankfurt with that shorter transfer time but if I'm still a bit nervous when the time comes, I may be better off buying separate tickets with more time in between.

Thank you again!

Posted by
3773 posts

I would not suggest this transfer time for a person who is not familiar with the stations. The schedule, IMO, presumes that you know where you are going and will not get lost or make a wrong turn. Things just take longer when you are not familiar with your surroundings.
A group, unless it is willing to split up, moves only as fast as its slowest person so make sure that all of you can handle the luggage and move quickly if you try this. Last May, I was traveling with an older relative and three that are my age or younger and we were cutting it very close for catching the Eurostar back to Paris. Three of the group rushed ahead and I could have joined them or actually been ahead of them but I hung back with our fifth because I knew I was not going to leave her alone in London and she could not go any faster and we would either make the train together or not. Ultimately, all five of us made it but it really brought home the point about the speed at which a group travels.

Posted by
37 posts

Hi JHK - yes, I totally agree. I definitely wouldn't leave anyone behind and for that reason, I'm going to consider buying 2 separate tickets, leaving ample time between the two train rides, and/or the other option I considered, about arriving back in Paris the evening prior, and then heading out to Frankfurt in the morning. The other couple with us has never been to Europe so ALL of it will be new to them. We're all physically fit but not sure if I want to stress about finding our way with a limited amount of time.

Posted by
12172 posts

It's probably a half mile.

Taking a metro/RER would get you to l'Est in plenty of time. The RER E is direct. It has only a couple stops between Gare Haussmann/Saint Lazare and Gare Magenta (a very short walk to either Gare de l'Est or Gare du Nord). Depending on how long you wait for the next RER, it's not likely more than a five minute ride.

I've been happy with the Next Stop Paris app. With a smart phone I can find the quickest public transportation, including walking directions (but you need a data plan that works in Paris).

I travel with only a small shoulder bag, however, and often forget the hassle with multiple bags. Since you have luggage you may be best off taking a cab. The taxis will be out front of the station, you shouldn't have to wait (but be sure to only use a taxi from the taxi stand). For four people, it should be affordable too.

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you Brad - yes, having the luggage is pain. Not that we travel real heavy but still...

Posted by
5697 posts

What is the anxiety level of all participants ? An evening in Paris doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world if it means you don't have go spend the first part of your train trip nervously hoping for a good connection.

Posted by
3773 posts

"It's probably a half mile." It's approximately 1.5 miles.