If for some reason you can’t go by bicycle, for instance if you have a suitcase that is too big or heavy to be transported by bike, a good alternative is to take the bus. The advantage of the bus over the Métro is that to reach your bus you don’t have to walk up and down stairs and through long tunnels. And with any luck you can look out the window of the bus and see the city as you ride.
Within Paris you can use a Métro ticket “t+” (which allows transfers between bus lines or between the bus and the tramway), or you can buy a one-time ticket from the bus driver which does not permit transfers.
The bus line that I have found most useful over the years is line 38, which runs every four to six minutes from Gare du Nord (North Station) by way of Gare de l’Est (East Station) and then south through the Latin Quarter to Porte d’Orléans.
In the previous century the buses tended to get stuck in traffic, but since August 2001 (after the election of Bertrand Delanoë as mayor) the city has been installing numerous bus lanes which have sped up bus traffic considerably. Sometimes there are still traffic jams which affect bus traffic (I got caught in a big one in the summer of 2016), but they aren’t nearly as common as they used to be.
Today nearly the entire route of line 38 is equipped with bus lanes, most of which are wide enough that they can also be used by bicycles. At first there was a problem with cars and trucks using the bus lanes for illegal stops, but then the city began experimenting with automatic digital cameras mounted on the front and rear of the bus. If any vehicle blocks the bus lane, the camera automatically takes a picture and automatically transmits it to police headquarters, which immediately sends out a traffic ticket to the owner of the vehicle. In 2011 this system was being tested on line 38, but I don’t know how it worked out. (Perhaps someone who knows can leave me a comment?)
In December 2000 the bus drivers of line 38 established their own (unofficial but very professional) website, with numerous details about the history and current operation of their line. Among many other things, it explains how the Paris tram lines were quickly replaced by buses in the 1930s, at the behest of the motor vehicle manufacturers and the tire companies. “In 1930 there were 3138 trams in Paris but only 1733 buses. Seven years later there were only 7 trams but 4067 buses! The last tramway circulating in Paris disappeared on March 14, 1937.”
(Now in the 21st century there are two new tram lines in Paris, the T-3a and the T-3b, but only around the edges of the city.)
Unfortunately the bus 38 website was discontinued in April 2019, because the main administrator of the site no longer drives a 38 bus, but has been transferred to line 92.
This is a side effect of a major rearrangement of Paris bus lines that took place on April 20, 2019. Line 38 is one of forty-eight Paris bus lines that was changed on that day. In the north, line 38 has been extended from Gare du Nord to Porte de la Chapelle, and the hybrid buses have been replaced by larger articulated buses.
For us bus riders, the many changes mean that our old “Paris Bus” booklets are no longer valid, so we’ll have to buy new ones — when they become available.
This was the first major rearrangement of Paris bus lines in over seventy years, so the locals as well as tourists will have to get used to the new system.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2019.
See more posts on urban transport.