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Paris Bus Tour for €5.30

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As an alternative to the "jump on-jump off" commercial tours that cost upwards of $30, you can get a fine one-day overview of Paris by using the public transport (RATP) system for much less money. Besides the monetary savings, doing it yourself gives you much more flexibility than the canned routes of the tour buses.

Although at first glance going it alone may seem overwhelming, it's really nothing to be scared of, because even if you lose track of where you are on a bus route, there is always a Métro station nearby to get you re-oriented.

Bookmark the following site, because we will refer to it repeatedly for all of our mapping needs:

Download and print out the Bus Touristique, the Balabus, and the Montmartrobus maps. If you are doing this itinerary on a Sunday and plan to see Montmartre, also print out Bus dimanches et fêtes.

Now press the "Bus" tab at the top of the box. You should see Afficher le plan de la ligne no followed by a blank. Put "42" in the blank, and press OK. You should see a route map of Bus #42. Click the button at the upper-left reading Ouvrir ce plan en PDF and print out the resulting map. Close the window, and repeat the process for buses #54, #67, #69, and #82. (Note that these route maps are not geographical; rather, they unfold each route to a linear representation.)

Almost done. Go back to the original page, and select Plans de quartier de Paris. These are little maps of the neighborhoods surrounding Métro stations. Notice that there are three drop-down boxes with OK next to them. The maps are listed in alphabetical order in three groups; the first and last stations included in each drop-down are shown just above it. For example, the second box ranges from Gaîté to Pigalle. Open the appropriate drop-down, highlight the station, press OK, print out the map, and close the window. Rinse. Repeat.

Print these:

Gare du Nord
Champ de Mars
Porte Maillot

... and any others around sights that you may want to stop off at. Ready? Let's go!

You have just arrived at Gare du Nord from London. When you exit the Eurostar gate, turn left and go all the way to the east end of the station. Follow the signs having an M in a circle to the Métro station. There is also an RATP sales office along the main hall, but it may or may not be open when you arrive. If you plan to stop into many sights, get your Carte Musées et Monuments at the same time you buy your pass (the main ones on our tour covered by the card are the Louvre, Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, and Invalides). Check other threads for details.

At the Métro ticket office or RATP bureau, buy a Mobilis pass for Zones 1-2. This entitles you to unlimited transport on Métro, bus, suburban train (RER), and trams within downtown Paris for one calendar day. The zones are shown on Plans des zones tarifaires, and in better detail along the bottom edge of each numbered route map. If you plan to transgress your paid-for zones, learn to say, "Day-soe-lay. Zheh sweez ay-tronh-zhay." (Sorry. I'm a stupid American.)

Time to head out. Refer to your map of Gare du Nord. On the east side of the station outside the north door, you will see the #42 bus stop. (Note that it says Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou. Bus stops and Métro lines are always labeled by the terminus of the line in the direction you will be traveling, as we will see later.) Climb aboard, show the driver your Mobilis ticket (do NOT stamp it with the machine), and find a seat, preferably on the left side. In minutes, you will be off on your great adventure.

Refer to your #42 map. Notice that each stop has a name; the name of the next stop is always displayed on a little readout in the bus. If you want to get off at a stop, wait until its name is displayed, and press the red button on the seat back or hanger pole. Get off anywhere you like, look around, get on the next #42 Direction Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou that comes along. If the stop reads Direction Gare du Nord, you are on the wrong side of the street. Sights of interest along this route (and their bus stop names) include the Opéra, Madeleine, Concorde, and Tour Eiffel, your destination. When you have seen enough of M. Eiffel's creation, you might want to drop in at Napoleon's tomb at Hôtel des Invalides (which is also a military museum). Refer to the #69 map for navigation to the Esplanade des Invalides (note that the return stop is a block south of the outbound).

Now look at your Plan Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel for the location of the stops for #82 Direction Neuilly-Hôpital Américan (there are three of them - pick the nearest one to where you wind up). Get on the next bus and ride to the Porte Maillot stop. You will now get on the Balabus, but you have a choice: if you are interested in seeing the Grand Arche de la Défense close-up, you want the Balabus Direction La Défense; if you'd rather not, then get on the Balabus Direction Gare de Lyon. Refer to your Plan Porte Maillot to locate these stops. Now get out your Balabus map and watch for your next point of interest.

IMPORTANT! The Grand Arch is in Tariff Zone 3, outside the validity of your Mobilis pass. If you don't want a hassle, get off (and back on later) at the Pont de Neuilly - Métro stop. If you want to get closer, you can walk to it in 10 minutes (about a kilometer), or buy a 3-Zone Mobilis for €7 before you start your tour.

In any case, you will next be eastbound on the Balabus Direction Gare de Lyon. The stops on your route will include Charles de Gaulle - Etoile (2 stops), Pont Royal - Quai des Tuileries (walk across the Pont Royal to the Muséee D'Orsay), Musée du Louvre, Louvre - Rivoli, and Cité - Parvis Notre Dame.

Continue on to the Place des Vosges, and Bastille. A little further is the Marais district (off our bus route). If your timetable can tolerate a look, it's certainly worth the trip. If not, get off the bus at Bastille - Rue Saint Antoine.

Next, you will be going to Pigalle stop in Montmartre. The quickest way to get there is by taking the Métro from Bastille station. Get on Ligne 5 Direction Bobigny-Pablo Picasso and ride to the Stalingrad station. Then change to Ligne 2 Direction Porte Dauphine and ride to the Pigalle station. This should take about 22 minutes total.

The other way (which will allow you to see a lot more of Paris above ground, but takes an hour) is on the #69 bus (Sunday: see Bus dimanches et fêtes) Direction Champ de Mars at Bastille - Rue Saint-Antoine, on the west side of the Place de la Bastille. Get off at Rue Veille du Temple-Mairie du IV (third stop), and get on the #67 at the same stop. Ride it to the end of the line (Pigalle). Welcome to Montmartre!

At the Pigalle stop/station, get on the Montmartrobus. It wanders around Montmartre, stopping at Sacre Coeur on the way. The Funiculaire just west of the basilica is included on your Mobilis, in case you're interested. Back at Pigalle, your last bus ride will be #54 Direction Porte d'Aubervilliers to the Lafayette - St-Quentin - Gare du Nord stop.

Note: if you want to see how the whole bus system looks on a geographic map, select Bus Paris (avec rues). This is probably a little large to print out, but if you have a PDA with Adobe Acrobat Reader, it makes a handy little reference source.

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