Au revoir, Junior!
Junior, my 19-year old, flew home to Seattle yesterday. He spent his last night in Paris at his grandmother’s house. We decided to meet at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport (“Roissy,” as the French call that marvel of 1970s urban design,) to send him off on Monday morning. I could have splurged on an Uber or cab fare; but it’s been a while since I rode the RER suburban train to the airport. Some of our tour members use the Paris RER; and I thought I’d test this out in the name of research (not to mention the fact that the only bus available in my neck of the Vincennes woods would have taken at least 1.5 hours to reach the airport.) Non merci.
Metro-RER-CDG VAL / CDG VAL-RER-Metro: Public transportation win.
When I lived in Seattle, and I read in the media that Parisians complained about their public transportation system, I would roll my eyes like a 16-year old; then engage in a full Gallic shrug, complete with a final, dismissive, “PFFFFFFFFFFFF…” What were they thinking? Did they need to be shipped to the Emerald City during monsoon season to fend off suburban traffic for hours on congested highways? Would they learn to appreciate what they had, then?
I had forgotten all about connecting at the infamous Châtelet / Châtelet les Halles transportation hub in Paris. We, Paris habitués (regulars) know: These correspondances (transfers) are not for the faint of heart. In fact, unless you have a Phd. in Orienteering, or are a direct descendant of civil engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe, (the “father” of the Parisian Metro,) I recommend you avoid doing this at all cost. Better die from Parisian air pollution (or after getting hit by a green trottinette,) than pass out from inhaling unidentifiable smells lurking below ground.
Congratulations: You have now left the Metropolitan network and have somehow entered the Paris RER’s grid, a.k.a. “the Matrix.” Down below, you will find interminable tunnels, moving walkways (that never seem to move fast enough for Parisians zooming by,) drafty corridors, zombies (commuters?) rushing left and right to mysterious locations, and a barrage of turnstiles showing more red than green. Bienvenue à Paris!
Warning: Boarding the wrong train could lead to a costly and time- consuming mistake (and a visit of Mitry-Mory, accessible via the Mitry-Claye station.) “What’s in Mitry-Mory?” you ask. Aucune idée. No idea. Besides, you want the OTHER train, that heads to Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport. Stay focused, please!
L’enfer, c’est les autres
Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre may have been on to something when he wrote in the play “Huit Clos,” “Hell is other people.” I reflected on this when I reached the platform where the Paris RER train to the airport was due any minute. It was 10:00am, post-rush hour, on a Monday morning in July (when many Parisians have already left the city on their summer vacation.) The train was packed. Commuters, tourists pushing huge suitcases, all tried to get on, disorganized, impatient, tense. Within minutes, an argument broke out between two women because someone had “cut the line.” Meanwhile, from the bowels of the car, a male voice boomed: “Stay out of the way so we can get out!” Bienvenue à Paris.
Paris RER: En voiture! All aboard!
It was hard to find a place to sit, yet I managed. I looked around at people, and the baggage racks travelers are well advised to keep a close eye on (Everyone knows pickpockets prey on the Paris RER’s airport route.) I looked blankly at the nondescript suburban towns we passed on the way to the airport. One caught my attention. In a bad way.
Arriving at Terminal 1 (or was it 3?)
Even if you have a good sense of direction, don’t believe the signs you have seen so far: the Paris RER does not really take you to Terminal 1 (though it takes you to Terminal 2… eventually.) From the alleged “Terminal 1,” you need to ride a free, fully automated shuttle (CDGVAL) to terminal 1 or 3. Ah, la France! You are so… complicated. On the bright side, once you have successfully passed travelers (and their bags,) and gone through yet another turnstile to get out of the Paris RER, you are very close to your goal. Also on the bright side, the CDGVAL shuttle is clean, and fast. You will reach the terminal in no time at all.
I thought I’d share this glorious sight, awaiting travelers as they get off the Paris RER train:
Of course, on the way back, you will have to go through the whole process the crowds, the bickering, the heat, all over again. This is what my Paris RER car looked like after I got off at Châtelet les Halles around 1:00pm when I returned:
Famous last words:
- Only use the Paris RER mode of transportation if you travel light. Do not attempt with a full-size suitcase. If you do not know what “traveling light” means, find out before the trip. Carry-on bags were invented for a reason. Capable bags are available here. Your favorite YouTuber or Instagram Influencer will teach you what to put in them, hopefully for free.
- If you can afford to spend 10 days in Paris, you should consider splurging on a cab ride into the city and back: Since 2016, official fares to and from Charles de Gaulle airport have been set by law at 50 to 55 Euros one way. You can reserve a cab by calling G7 taxis, a reliable company. Bus connections are also available. —- Or you could ride the Paris RER train like I did; save some money; and blog about it later.
- If you get stuck in a crowded Paris RER or Metro car, because of a “problème technique” (technical problem) or an “incident voyageur,” (incident involving a traveler,) just take a deep breath and rejoice at the opportunity to share an authentic Parisian experience: Unlike what Instagram and Facebook would have you believe, many Parisians do not live on Ile Saint Louis (only very affluent locals and foreigners do.) If Parisians work near le Louvre, chances are they are long distance commuters and live in the suburbs. As it turns out, some may have reasons to complain about public transportation in Ile de France (the Paris area.)
- Not matter what happens, remember surprises (good and bad) are part of every travel experience. Not to mention the fact that…
A native’s musings on life in the “real” France.
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G7 also has a super handy app, for those versed in Uber/Lyft!
Good point. Thank you Kim!
Love your blog! Just a point of correction: RER B does indeed stop at Terminal 2. It’s the last stop of that line. Have used that train to and from CDG for years.
Thank you for pointing this out. I updated that section to clarify. The last thing I need is to confuse our international visitors even further!
Thank you Vero for a very informative, and humorous, post! I will be in Paris for 10 days in October, and had myself all geared up to attempt the RER from the airport, to prove my know-how/grit…who knows?! But to have an actual Parisian say it’s OK to take a cab, you know what – that’s what I’m going to do! I hope to meet you at one of the Frite meets in Oct. Thanks again 🙂
You are so brave. I hope you survive and we get to meet at a Frite meet (between my last tour and my trip to Seattle) A bientôt Amy.
Merci de cette information. I always take a taxi from CDG because I’m tired and just getting my French “ear”, but we always take the train to CDG when leaving. After taking the metro all week. Since we only travel with carryon luggage, it’s really no harder than getting anywhere else, except for that last step. (What terminal?? I thought this was 2. But the signs say…) I’ve often seen those AirFrance busses in town and wondered about them, and this post reminded me to go look them up. Thanks for the info.
SO HAPPY for you abiut yourjob with Rick Steves tours! That is super!
Thank you for the kind message and for stopping by today, Darla!
Wooo! Quite an adventure. I always tempt fate and take the train to the Gare du Nord…so far, so good.
Bonjour! Read your post with interest. We have traveled perhaps 8+ times on RER from CDG to Paris because of the lower cost. However, after my husband was twice accosted by very clever pickpockets, we are converted to the taxi option.Peace of mind and convenience are definitely worthwhile!
8 times!!! You are my heroes! You made the right call 😉
Always excellent advice from you!
Entertaining as well
Thank you for the feedback Debbie. Glad you enjoyed!
I’ve taken the RER B between Gare du Nord and CDG a couple of times. What I didn’t realize the first time but did the second was that there are certain trains that don’t stop at all between the two locations. While these trains may only cut off a few minutes travel time (if any time at all) they do provide a slightly safer environment, or so it feels. There’s no opening doors with potential pickpockets coming and going a long the way and the smoother ride with less slowing and speeding up makes for a less stressful journey!
Good point Eric. Some RER trains are “omnibus” (and stop often along the way;) others are “direct.” I must confess I smiled when reading the last part of your comment “a less stressful journey.” Some people riding with me yesterday sure could have used some of your positive vibes! Make that the whole train when we stopped inexplicably for 10 minutes between two lovely locales because of “an incident voyageur” (someone had pulled the emergency brake!) Fun times!
Vero, you really went the “extra mile” for us. Merci!
(I’ll stick to the taxis or bus into town…) 😉
Avec plaisir. And… good call.
We have done the RER several times over the years. You are so correct suggesting not to attempt this with large luggage. Also transferring to the correct metro in the city can be confusing. We lately have been taking the Air France Bus which now become Le Bus. It is about 17euro and drops us right by our favorite little hotel ..The Cecelia.
You can also buy your ticket online…..Works for us….Janey
These buses have been getting increasingly popular… Hmmm… I wonder why 😉
The first time I went to Paris I took a taxi with a wonderful driver and arrived just as the Tour Eiffel was beginning her hourly twinkle. I decided I’d never be able to match that first experience, and have taken the Air France bus ever since. A good alternative, clean and fast–once you manage to locate it in CDG.
Buses seem to win in this comment thread. Maybe I will try that next time.
You brought back many memories of taking the RER between Etoile and Les Halles and other stops along the way when I was younger. When I came back for vacations, I always took the RER, even with luggage! Ah, youth! Now, bien- sûr, he prends un Uber ou taxi…
Yes, same. I was always a big proponent of the Metro and RER when I was Parisian for a decade back in the 90’s. Things are a boy different now. More options I guess, and we also get more selective with age.
I did the CDG-Paris (or Paris-CDG) via RER dozens of times (I guess, in my younger and somewhat braver days), but I now prefer the bus. I am also learning a bit from you about traveling a bit more lightly than I used to!
I did the cab gig two years ago to return from Paris to CDG, and that was great. It is reassuring to know that the rate cannot be higher than 55 euros. Some years ago (probably before that limit was set by law), my husband spent close to 100 euros for a cab ride from a hotel near the Luxembourg garden to CDG…. A bit steep, if you ask me.
Le Bus Direct sounds like the best (and cheapest) way to go these days for those who don’t want to take a cab. With the “controlled” fares, that’s a much better deal than it used to be. Lots of scam artists out there!
Merci Véronique. Headed to France this Sept and I have an overnight in Paris before heading south. I was musing over which method to use to get to my hotel near Gare de Lyon. I found something called Le-Bus Direct which picks up at sortie 32 terminal 1 and stops at all the major hotels in Paris (close enough for me). Or … might go with your suggestion of a cab.
I like le Bus Direct. Chatted with a few people who were about to board the Montparnasse bus on Monday, and everyone seemed to like it. I know that’s the one we recommend to Rick Steves tour members on a couple of tours I am working on.
I still take the RER 90% of the time but I travel light and I have years of practice with public transportation in Paris. I also like that I can get a weekly Navigo pass for around 23 euros that covers my RER ride into Paris AND unlimited public transportation within 5 zones for a whole week. Then I splurge on dinner ?
All great points. It also helps you speak fluent French and, as you point out, have been traveling around Paris with the public transportation system for decades 😉 I did invest in a weekly Navigo coupon and used it to go to the airport. Now I have to make sure I leave my peaceful corner of Paris every day and brave crowds downtown just to make sure I recoup my investment… 🙂
I was in Paris in May. When I was researching hotels, No.1 was price and No.2 hotel provided shuttle (navette) to CDG. I had only carry on and a personal item, but I wouldn’t take public transportation. I paid 20 Euros to the hotel and 6 Euros to the minivan driver who deposited me in front of my terminal. At my advanced age I can’t afford the thrill of riding the RER, le Metro is even too much, but you can’t avoid it. That’s why I am moving to Bordeaux.
A private hotel shuttle is great! Moving to Bordeaux sounds great too. I may look into this myself down the line when it is time to invest in real estate. A bientôt!
You better hurry, because RE prices in Bordeaux are going through the roof.
Always excellent advise Veronique. I agree, take a taxi, that’s what I always do. For the return trip my hotel arranges for a van pickup which is very affordable. It all balances out. After an exhausting flight (I have never slept on a plane) all I want to do is drop off my bag, grab a cup of coffee and start walking.
Bonjour Jo-Ann. Great to find you here! I like to save a few Euros like the next person, but as I get older, I am all for “easy” myself. A bientôt.
This is very funny, Vero, but packed with great information too. Short of walking, we’ve tried just about every option to get from CDG to central Paris. I won’t say that we’d never use the RER again, but it’s our last resort. Le Bus is indeed a great option if it goes near your lodging.
Thanks again for the great blog post.
Thank you for the feedback Bruce. Glad you enjoyed my story. Le Bus does seem to be the most popular option.
We’ve always taken the Roissy Bus (exit Door 32 at CDG). Cost 12.50E – about 1 hour to Opera. Exit bus right—cross street to Galeries Lafayette – take taxi to our hotel for @7.50E
The Roissy Bus does have a lot of fans, that’s true! Thank you for stopping by.
Bonjour Veronique. Thank you for the article! Very informative and humorous. On my first ever trip to Paris, I decided to take a cab to the city and my hotel. As a solo traveller, jet lagged and looking wide eyed with wonder (omg I’m in paris!!!!) i figure it was 55€ well spent. On my return to Paris I had no option other than to navigate my way to Terminal 1 on public transit. I had risen before the birds in Lyon, struggled with how to open the massive front door of my unattended hotel and caught the TGV to CDG. I was pleased to have got that far by myself with limited French!! ? Taking the shuttle to my terminal from wherever the train dropped me off was surprisingly straight forward. I made sure to give myself lots of extra time (like 4hr!!!!) and paid a ridiculous amount at starbucks for the best cup of tea I think I’d had in France up to that point, while I waited for WestJet to let me drop off my bag heaving with souvenirs and mementos from an amazing visit. I can’t wait to return!! But I think I’ll be splurging for the taxi again.
Bonjour Eleanor. Great story. Thank you for sharing it here. Also, glad you saw the humor. Some people didn’t 😉
I accompanied my teenage daughters to Roissy via RER a few years ago without a problem, and then made the return trip to continue my travels in la France profonde. This was a Sunday morning in May, factors which make a huge difference. But I must agree, I dislike Chatelet-les Halles because it feels like I’m walking the length of Paris, but all underground!
Bonjour Rebecca. It’s a good thing when most people can say they have never had a problem, especially visitors! Thank you for stopping by.
Noooon, Veronique, you’ve revealed that you have been Americanised more than perhaps you realised. And maybe working for Rick Steves has reinforced this. Sorry, but I can’t approve. And reading through all the comments only solidifies my opinion on this and that you’ve just brought out the worst in your Americain readers! I’ll try to systematise why.
1. Experience the real Paris. I always advise travellers to use the RER from the airport, for several reasons, not just price and convenience. In fact, even if I think vous exaggere about the negatives, the experience of using public transit into the host city is something I recommend all over the world as an important first introduction to a city, good, bad & ugly. This compares to a taxi/Uber/coach (versus local bus) which takes the freeways etc and so you see nothing but big roads and other cars, plus you never know where you are. Indeed a taxi journey from airports is pretty much the same experience wherever you are in the world. A train is the opposite. You know where you are at all times, eg. your notes about passing thru Drancy; yes, the horreur of those eastern banlieus that the Anglosphere media loves to hate even though they have never got closer than you did, peering out of a train window! And hey, you’ve just earned yourself, very cheaply, a story whenever your friends mention those nasty banlieus (RER-B and the airport itself is entirely within it, glorious Seine-Saint-Denis, “the 93”.)
2. Independence. This is a sub-clause of (1). Taking a taxi is surrendering yourself (and IMO dignity) to the “system”. Not only are you never quite sure where you are, and not sure of the route the driver is taking you, you retain more anxiety about where you will end up, how long it will take (peak hour traffic) and despite that new fixed price (which tells you about taxi experiences anywhere in the world, especially from international airports) never quite sure about payment (tipping, luggage, late-night surcharges?). All this even before you have properly arrived! Indeed it prevents you arriving properly, which in this travellers opinion is under your own control. And anything shared (Uber, shuttles, buses) is worse (more, below). Also note that Uber is not allowed to use bus-lanes like taxis are. Even with a so-called bad experience (which is extraordinarily rare for Paris, more below) you’ll feel better about your arrival. Or should, if you adjust your attitude a bit.
After the constraints of an aircraft cabin for x hours, followed by all the airport harassment these days, when I finally break free of it all, into the ‘free’ side of the airport, I like to feel free and not subject myself to someone else (taxi, uber, bus driver).
3. Luggage. Veronique talks of travelling light ‘for the train’, but you should always travel light! It’s the first rule of travel. The (ok, my) rule is that you only bring what you can handle by yourself, without travel-companions or porters or taxi-drivers (reliance upon which you should avoid). It is true that the Paris Metro (less so the RER) still means navigating steps but if you can’t manage that then (a) you’ve got too much luggage, and of the wrong type; (b) you’re disabled in which case you will have to use some other transport. IIRC, at the airport, Gare du Nord and Chatelet, you can get to the surface from the RER without using steps (ie. escalators or elevators).
4. Timeliness. No competition here despite what car drivers/users might think. The train is totally reliable and will get you to where you want on a predictable timetable (except possible rail works, see below). Not that I travel that way but with a taxi or a car in a mega-city like Paris (12m residents) you simply never know. It remains true if you need to take a correspondance from RER to a Metro line (using the same ticket, zero hassle). Sometimes, and arbitrarily you’ll come across enormous queues (lines) at airport taxi ranks, and those buses often seem to run on a timetable different to the one you saw … Further to point (1) all the while your brain will be assimilating the geography of Paris, without you even being aware.
5. Personal safety. Veronique, you’ve exaggerated the risks and scared your easily-scared Americains! Pickpockets on public transport, who knew? And in a city of 12 million that gets more visitors than any other city in the word. If you aren’t able to make yourself safe against pickpockets then perhaps you shouldn’t be travelling? But anyway, here’s the trick. First, from the airport where the train will arrive empty (it’s the end of the line), you will be able to sit in one of the ‘compartments’ so that by itself means you are (a) automatically shielded from opportunistic thieves; (b) more comfortable, both seated and less crushed (which happens as the train picks up commuters if in fact it is not a semi-express); (c) have time and space for luggage (RER trains have overhead racks plus are full-size trains not light-rail). Actually, I sometimes choose to sit in one of the strapontin, the 8 fold-down seats in the door-foyer area, mostly because it is more convenient for exiting. (Keep in mind, if it gets really crowded you are expected to get up from these seats and remain standing.)
Paris is one of the safest big cities in Europe and the world. Far better than, say London or any big American city. In such cities you always need to be vigilant against opportunistic thieves (pickpockets, other scams) but physical violence will be extremely rare.
6. Chatelet-les-Halles. On this I agree with Veronique, though I have a theory about why every travel writer inevitably has to pass thru Chatelet and write uncomplimentary things about it. Simple. It’s a bit of ‘colour’ to add to the writing. It is the biggest metro station in the western world (Tokyo Shinjuku & several Chinese stations leave it in the dust) because it has 3 RER lines (A, B, D) and 5 Metro lines, so of course it can get very crowded. (If you think RER-B is crowded, don’t even think of using RER-A at peak: 300m riders p.a. busiest in western world). In general every Parisian knows to avoid changing trains there unless unavoidable; of course it is convenient so many put up with the crowds for the few minutes it takes. OTOH, it is well sign-posted and well-ordered though, yes, some correspondances involve those long travellators (but a glance at a Metro map will tell you this even before you leave home, or at worst on the RER trip from the airport).
The thing is that you can always plan to avoid getting on or off at Chatelet, since RER-B has 7 stations within intramuros Paris. Of course the first is Gare du Nord, and at peak times it too is crowded (the busiest mainline train station in Europe), but again, manageable and with many Metro connections.
For heading to the airport, at peak hours, it is better to get on anywhere south of Chatelet; even if crowded a lot of people will leave the train at Chatelet so you can be poised to get a seat … The station to its immediate south is Saint-Michel (more below).
But anyway, this is at peak hours and in all the time I lived in Paris I hardly ever had this problem, often arriving either very early (5 to 6 am as overnight planes from Asia do) or late at night (trans-Atlantic flights). I like either end, as they both add a certain something to one’s impressions on arrival (more below).
7. RER-B changes. The reason why RER-B gets busy is that for half its route (junction is at Aulnay-sous-Bois) it serves suburban commuters and shares the line; B3 is the airport train while B5 is the eastern suburbs train. The Paris Metro and RER has been incredibly successful and now carries 3.1bn passengers, more than any other except Tokyo (and I suppose, soon Shanghai & Beijing) more than London and NYC combined; don’t believe anything you read to the contrary as they irrationally exclude the RER (on that basis you’d exclude half of Tokyo lines too, whose total is about 3.2bn pax p.a.). Despite the grumbles, especially RER-A, this is a result of its huge success, and it still voted best public transport in the world by the ITDP. It is currently at the beginning of a massive expansion (Grand Paris Express; GPX) which will create several orbital metro and RER lines designed to remove the need to travel into the centre of Paris for many inter-suburban journeys and thus take pressure off the centre and the radial lines. Part of this is the creation of a completely segregated express line to serve CDG airport (so RER-B will not be compromised by serving airport trains as well as busy eastern suburbs; B5 is being extended easterly as well). Its construction has been slow and it is not clear if it will be opened in time for the ’24 Olympics. As alluded to earlier, these works occasionally cause interruptions to the current RER-B3.
Personally I will be sad because the new express will terminate at Gare de l’Est (though note that a giant project is underway to effectively integrate Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est into one big station) which will mean a necessary train change. Also it is going to be a lot more expensive: they say €24.00 which is London price-gouging levels! Here’s the latest news:
Charles de Gaulle express train: Summer closures on RER B scrapped
The Local, 29 May 2019
8. Romance of Paris. I’ve left best for last. I suppose I’m the oddball in having picked up a deep aversion to airport taxis over the decades, such that I avoid them most of the time. In Paris it is another thing altogether, perhaps conditioned by the fact it was also ‘coming home’ for so many years. And to paraphrase Hemingway, “it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable (Metro/RER) feast”. The thing is that once I get on that RER-B at CDG I immediately feel at home, feel a Parisian. Contrary to Jo-Ann Oaks’ comment, after a long flight one may be tired but coming into a city like Paris it also adds a certain hyper-sensitivity, almost surreal sensitivity, to your experience. It’s exactly why Jo-Ann wants to dump her luggage and immediately go out walking; that part I agree with but why not make the journey into Paris part of this? And especially when you can choose to get off RER-B at station StMichel-Notre-Dame; as the name suggests, when you exit to the street right at Petite Pont you will see a panorama of Notre Dame, even more poignant today, the Seine & its bridges and rive gauche. What a great entrance to Paris! Night or day.
/End of sermon.
Veronique, my throw-away comment about seeing Drancy out of the train window was not a dig at you, but a obscure reference to:
A Journey Through the Paris Suburbs
Francois Maspero, 1994.
From the blurb of the English edition:
I would like to clarify , in my nitpicking style, that this depiction of the banlieus is somewhat misleading to those unfamiliar with Paris, ie. greater Paris or Ile de France. The banlieus contain about 10 million people (together with intramuros Paris makes >12m residents) but in many contexts that the media uses the term, it refers specifically to the 93 department, Seine-Saint-Denis, which is the north-east segment of extramuros Paris. It contains about 1.6m residents (about one sixth of all Parisian banlieusardes) and has the highest percentage of immigrants, and it has to be admitted, is much poorer than the rest of Paris including many of the other banlieus some of which are the richest areas of France.
In an earlier epoch, it was known as the Paris Red Belt because in the late-19th and early-20th centuries it evolved into a working-class region that nurtured the French Communist party which in turn fostered many improvements in working and housing conditions for the working poor. People might know it from movies like La Haine (made by Mathieu Kassovitz who is perhaps more famous as Amelie’s love interest in the eponymous movie) and District 13.
In fact many tourists do visit Seine-Saint-Denis, to see its eponymous cathedral St Denis where a millenium of French royalty is interred. This segment of the 93 is much better off than the eastern areas, and its western segment, between the Seine and the Stade de France, will be the main Olympics site in 2024.
I am fairly at home in France but I do avoid the RER, and take the Roissy bus when possible. At the end of one trip during a May full of transportation strikes, my plans were foiled and we had to take the metro from the gare de Lyon to CDG. At a transfer point (maybe Chatelet) I got us to the next platform and I was starting to feel like it wasn’t so difficult after all when I heard the loudspeaker say something. I only heard/understood enough to know that this platform was not the place to be because of a strike. Just as I was about to freak out, a kind monsieur gathered all of the suitcase wielding travelers in the area and led us to the correct platform, like a mother duck. I was so very thankful!
Everyone has an adventure in the public transportation system eventually, mostly because travelers have no control over what happens. On the bright side, it’s not unusual to see travelers show some solidarity when the going gets tough, and help each other: They have been there before and empathize. I am glad you found your mother duck. During my Parisian decade a while ago now, I was one myself on many occasions. A bientôt Rebecca.
I thought I was a battle-hardened public transport veteran after living in NY for years. But when I took the RER from CDG–no luggage; it was a business meeting and I was returning south the same day–it was a nightmare, a long underground slog, very hot, inadequate signage. Usually I think of trains as being faster than cars/taxis, but with the walking it certainly wasn’t. I took a taxi for my return flight.
Another time, with my then-little kid, I had inadvertently booked a domestic flight into Orly and then our transatlantic flight out of CDG. (What happens when you check multiple sites searching for good fares and then click on something you shouldn’t.) So I had to navigate with my kid, our two big suitcases full of presents for family back home and our two big-enough carry-ons, out to the bus, onto the bus, then around CDG….and we barely made the connection. A reminder to triple-check your connections. I hadn’t noticed the two airports weren’t the same when reserving.
Thank you for sharing your travel adventures. Hectic trips are the ones we remember the longest, for some reason 😉 A bientôt!
Don’t they have transit cops in Paris? Or trains with the current CCTV systems to prevent such things from happening (and to have a record of anybody pick-pocketing people) like we have here in Toronto on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission)? For all the talk by one of the commenters about how things are safety-wise in the United States, Paris seems to have an even bigger problem when it comes to theft of other’s money.
Looks like I’m a bit late to the party… I was just looking for other people’s experiences on the RER B to see if I’m overly fussy and stumbled upon this post. I’ve been to Paris with my wife several times in the past few years and we always have a blast there, but this line gives us the creeps every single time, so much that we’re at the point where we’re just going to take a cab from / to CDG next time.
On paper the RER B is great, the trains run every few minutes and stop at all the major transport hubs in Paris. But it’s also important to mention that the line goes through the worst suburbs of Paris, and the trains get _really_ packed as you get closer to the city centre. Sure, you can catch an express that doesn’t stop at all these places if you are lucky (they run every 20 mins except for peak hours), but that’s not going to help you within the city where the trains still stop everywhere. So if you decide to travel with a suitcase for example, you better prepare for hell. This is especially true when you’re going to the airport, because unlike at CDG, you will have to get on an already jam packed train. We always travel light and still increasingly hate this whole ordeal.
So how safe is the RER B actually? Hard to tell. Being safe and feeling safe are two different things. It sure doesn’t feel safe enough, at least to us. Most passengers seem totally fine, minding their own business going to work, but there are always some sketchy people as well. You definitely have to be alert of your surroundings. Someone above compared the RER to subway lines in Tokyo, which is a bit ridiculous. They are in a completely different league in terms of safety, convenience and cleanliness. On our last trip, on the way to CDG, a woman sat down next to my wife and decided to kick her in the leg on purpose, probably to teach her a lesson not to take up too much space, which she wasn’t by the way. She usually rolls into a tiny ball to survive each minute that feels like an hour on this train. I’m pretty sure the people who must rely on the RER B every day to get to the city hate tourists with a passion for disturbing their already very inconvenient, crammed commutes.
Then there’s the random, unannounced changes in schedule. You board a train and it terminates earlier, for example at CDG Terminal 1 instead of Terminal 2, messing up your plans, or you board at the airport thinking you’ll go all the way to Paris and the train terminates at the Parc des Expositions, causing mass confusion each time. 2 out of our last 6 trips were like this. Good luck finding out which trains are express, too! Just get on and enjoy whatever adventure RER B will deliver you that day.
Please don’t tell me this is normal.