Best app for navigating Paris: Citymapper

What’s your favorite app? What’s the best designed app you use? What app do you use every day? What’s the app you recommend most to other?

For me the answers to these questions is a no brainer. It’s also the same answer to all the questions: Citymapper! In short, it’s the best app for getting around Paris (and other major cities).

Anyone who has taken one of my tours knows I rave about this app. I also often give a little demo to show the fun features like the number of pain au chocolat (depending on the time of day) burned while walking, and catapult or teleport options that only appear some of the time. In addition to being an app that’s not afraid to have a little fun, it’s a highly practical tool for getting around. From the design of the app, to the use of real-time data Citymapper makes navigating the city a breeze—even during strike season in Paris!

While I’ve been a fan of the app from day one, yesterday I attended an Ask Me Anything with Citymapper founder Azmat Yusuf at Station F (one of the recommendations in my previous post) which made me love it even more. It was fascinating hearing him describe the app as a tool to combat congestion, as it was built around the idea of mobility, and not just maps. In fact, Citymapper is interested in the layer above the map and how people move through a city. What started with busses only expanded to public transportation, cabs, and bikes, is now expanding to including floating transportation, like the electric scooters you see around the city. Citymapper takes the time to clean up open data to help ensure we have the best experience getting around. This is good news for cities too.

Station F is a former train station turned into the world’s largest start-up campus. They regularly host AMA sessions with founders and innovators. Azmat Yusuf is pictured on the right.

Azmat sees the importance of having players from tech meet with those of the public sector to create something that truly has an effect and impact. Furthermore, it ensures you’re responding to an actual problem. GovTech Summit is one place where these conversations are starting to happen (the first one happened a few days ago in Paris). He believes to truly combat congestion in cities and shift the mentality around saving the city, there need to be more public sector incentives such as a $2.50 surcharge when you’re not sharing a taxi in NYC. He also made the point that innovation tends to come from the smaller players and then is extracted away (ahem, Google), but when it’s for social good, that’s not a bad thing.
Running late? Citymapper tells you where to stand on the platform to make sure you can make your connections as fast as possible. 

The first version of the app was released as Busmapper, believing that busses are one of the best ways to help alleviate congestion in cities. In London, their latest project, Smartride, goes beyond the digital where Citymapper has become part bus operator with shuttles. They’re expanding their scope to real world experiences, looking to innovate and create an experience around shared transportation (yet within the strict regulations of busses both in the UK, and even more restrictions that are specific to London). Like many companies—Netflix with their own productions, Airbnb with their own hotel, and Deliveroo with their own restaurant—Citymapper is going “full stack” in order to have the full experience and continue to challenge the status quo.
No detail unturned. Walking instructions are always converted into local food that change throughout the day. In Boston you may encounter “lobstah” 😂. 

The —based in London—started with cities that had complex transportation (Europe makes a good target), that has been adapted for each market. Launching in new cities was never the real challenge. It’s the maintenance, and understanding what a city needs as infrastructure is added that is key. While initially users voted on the next city Citymapper should conquer, for now the focus is on improving the cities they’ve already created a base for.
Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Boston. Even if you’re not traveling anywhere, it can be fun to switch cities just to see the local “mascot”.

During the Q&A session, Azmat also addressed the “fun stuff” recommending surrounding yourself with a team that is highly motivated and passionate about the subject. Find people you can geek out with around the mission and then let them have fun. It’s not only how you’re able to differentiate your product, but it’s also how you get through stressful days.

Always scroll down to see all your transportation options. Click ‘catapult’ for a good laugh. Read the fine print when you do. And look for the smile in the moon :)

So what’s next for Citymapper? They’re looking at anything that will help get users from point A to B in a way that becomes seamless and disappears into the natural experience. They listen to user needs, while also considering bigger picture goals like multi-modal routing (train to cab), sustainability (emissions), and accessibility (which has proven to be one of the bigger challenges). What if an elevator is down? Or something isn’t working as they expected. There are plenty of people with wheelchairs, parents with strollers, and travellers with heavy suitcases that could benefit from a more accessible system. That’s the challenge of building these digital products, sometimes you have to ship it and see what happens.

At the end of the day Citymapper is more concerned with the user than the competition. That’s how they keep innovating. Turns out my favorite app is even more awesome than I thought, and doing great work to help cities thrive. If you’re still intimidated by public transportation—or just want a fresh look at the city—consider booking one of my tours :)


P.S. If UX (user experience) design sparks your interest, check out the UX courses I created for OpenClassrooms. (You can take them individually as well).

P.S.S. For buying train tickets within France and Europe, check out Formerly known as Capitain Train (a French startup with phenomenal customer service), it’s another favorite app with a clean, easy to use interface. It completely changes the experience of travel.

For more on creative entrepreneurship, check out my new business blog here. I’ve also started a new weekly newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. Sign up here to get it direct to your inbox. (You can peak at past editions here.). As always you can find me as @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, I offer my own creative ways to see Paris on!

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