Saturday, May 27th, 2017

How to Spend a Layover in Paris

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Is it worth going into Paris for an eight-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport? A friend of mine recently asked me this question, so I thought I’d turn it into a post for all of you!

The short answer? Hell yes! Eight hours is enough time to get a brief taste of Paris before you catch your flight to your next destination. But you need to plan it carefully — this is not a time to just wing it.

Do You Have Enough Time?

I wouldn’t attempt going into Paris unless you had a minimum of a five-hour layover, and even then your time in Paris would be very brief. Don’t attempt a trip into Paris if you have less than that.

So, Kate, my layover is four and a half hours — would that be okay?

No! I meant what I said! I wouldn’t attempt it on less than five hours.

A five-hour layover doesn’t mean that you’ll have five hours to explore Paris — it means you have five hours minus the time it takes to go through immigration, possibly check your luggage into storage, wait for a train, take the train into Paris, take the train back to the airport, and go through security again for your next flight. And even then, it could mean you’d be spending less time in Paris than at the airport.

Things to Consider

1) What’s your luggage situation? If you booked a single flight that routed you through Paris (say, if you booked an Air France flight from Boston to Rome via Paris), you don’t have to retrieve your checked luggage. It will be checked all the way through to your final destination.

If you booked two flights separately, though — say, an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Paris and an EasyJet flight from Paris to Prague, and you booked them in two separate transactions, you will have to retrieve your luggage in between and check it in once again

Whatever luggage you are taking as carry-on, whether it’s just a small bag or all of your luggage, will stay with you for the duration of your layover in Paris.

However, there is luggage storage at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It’s located in Terminal 2, across from the RER station. It’s open from 6:00 AM until 9:30 PM. Each piece of luggage is six euros ($6.50) for up to six hours and 10 euros ($11) for up to 12 hours.

2) Where are you flying to and from? If you’re flying from outside Europe, it’s obviously an international flight, and if you’re flying on to Nice, it’s obviously a domestic flight — but some flights within Europe are treated like domestic flights due to the Schengen Area.

Most countries in Western Europe (Ireland and the UK excluded) are part of the Schengen Area, which has open borders. This means that flights from Paris to cities like Stockholm, Warsaw, Florence, Barcelona, and Munich are treated like domestic flights, not international flights. You will go through security, of course, but there is no immigration between Schengen countries.

The blue countries are part of the Schengen area:

Why do I mention this? Because it can save you a bit of time. You don’t need to allow time to get through immigration if you are flying from Paris to somewhere in Italy, for example. Security, yes, but not immigration. This could save you around 30 minutes or so.

3) Which terminals do your flights arrive to and leave from? There are three terminals at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Terminals 1 and 3 are close together and share an RER train station; Terminal 2 is further away and has its own RER train station.

Write down the terminals from which your first flight arrives and your second flight leaves — this will make your life so much easier.

4) Are you arriving on a red eye? If you don’t sleep well on planes, you may be exhausted when you arrive. My advice? Have some coffee and get out there! You’re in Paris, darling! (Ask for un café for an espresso, un café crème for a latte, or un café americain for a regular coffee.

5) Do you have euros? If not, no problem — just go to one of the many ATMs at the airport and make a withdrawal. Don’t exchange money at the airport, you’ll pay terrible rates compared to what the ATM will give you.

Just be sure that you call your bank before your trip and let them know where you’ll be traveling so they don’t flag your card for fraud. Also, double-check how much you’re charged for ATM transactions and whether you’re charged a foreign transaction fee for credit card purchases.

(If you’re American and travel often, I highly recommend banking with Charles Schwab. They refund all of your ATM fees at the end of the month, even foreign ATM fees (!), and they don’t charge foreign transaction fees.)

6) Finally, how much time do you really have? Add in the time expected to go through immigration (30 minutes is a good estimate but it could be longer or shorter), walk to the train, take the train, take the train back, and go through security and/or immigration again. This will help you plan your day.

How to Get Into Paris

The easiest way to get into Paris from Charles de Gaulle Airport is to take the RER B train, which goes straight into the heart of Paris.

There are both express and local trains on the RER B. I recommend taking the express; it doesn’t cost extra. It’s about 35 minutes to the Châtelet stop, which is close to the geographical center of Paris. One-way tickets cost 10 euros ($11) per adult and 7 euros ($7.50) per child.

Alternatively, you could take a taxi from the airport, which costs 50-60 euros ($54-65) and takes 35 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.

Personally, I recommend the RER B train. It takes roughly the same amount of time, it’s cheaper, and it’s more reliable.

(It’s very unusual to have a layover at Orly Airport, as most long-haul flights are via Charles de Gaulle, so I won’t be covering it here — but there are RER trains from Orly that will take you into the heart of Paris as well.)

What To Do on a Paris Layover

With only a few hours in Paris, you can’t do a lot — but if you concentrate on one small area with several attractions, you can feel like you’ve seen a lot of Paris.

My recommendation: take the RER B to the “St. Michel/Notre Dame” stop, which is right by Notre Dame and some of the prettiest neighborhoods in Paris. This journey will take roughly 40 minutes on the express train. Once you arrive in the station, follow the signs for Notre-Dame.

Visit the cathedral of Notre-Dame. This gothic cathedral is one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris — and it’s a solemn, overwhelming place, even without the presence of Quasimodo.

The views from the towers are spectacular, with the gargoyles looking over the city and the Eiffel Tower, but the lines can be very long. Find out how long the line is before you commit to waiting. Notre-Dame is free to visit but going into the towers costs 10 euros ($11).

Check out the kiosks on the left bank of the Seine. These iconic green kiosks sell books, art, and souvenirs. It feels so Parisian to peruse them!

Walk over to Ile St-Louis and have ice cream at Berthillon. There are two small islands in the Seine: Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis. Notre-Dame is on Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis is directly to the east. I love Ile St-Louis because there are far fewer tourists and it feels like a village in the heart of the city. Rue St-Louis, the main street, is filled with lots of cool shops.

Berthillon is famous for having some of the best ice cream in Paris with many unusual flavors that you won’t find at home.

Browse books at Shakespeare and Company. It may seem strange to browse an English-language bookstore in Paris, but trust me — Shakespeare and Company is a legendary business and one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It has a rich history, writers still live in the shop, and there are some cute cats. Have them stamp your book at checkout.

Walk over to Rue de Buci in St. Germain-des-Pres. This is one of my favorite areas in Paris, with lots of cool shops and cafes. From here on, just wander the streets at your leisure. One of the true pleasures of Paris is strolling aimlessly and seeing what you find.

Spend time in at least one cafe. It’s the most Parisian thing to do at all. Cafes are perfect for whatever you’re in the mood for. A coffee? A glass of wine or champagne? Some French onion soup dripping with cheese? A crepe? A salad with roasted duck? (One very notable exception: working on a laptop. Not like I found out about that the hard way or anything.)

Sit outside if the weather is nice. Even in the winter, most cafes have heating lamps.

If You Have More Time…

I didn’t want to plan an overly ambitious itinerary because it’s easy to end up miserable if you rush your trip too much. But if you have some extra time, you could add a few of these (not all of these!) if they catch your interest.

Visit Sainte-Chappelle. This cathedral is home to some of the most intricate stained glass designs in Europe. It’s located close to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cité.

Visit the Pont des Arts. This is the bridge that began the love locks trend around the world. These days the locks are removed regularly, but there are nice views from the bridge.

Visit St. Etienne du Mont. This is better known as the Midnight in Paris church! If you love the movie, it’s great for photos.

Have a coffee or meal at Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore. These two cafes, close to each other on Boulevard St. Germain, were the hangouts of Hemingway, Sartre, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and their eclectic circle of artists.

Visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Head further south into St. Germain-des-Pres and you’ll end up in these are some of the most beautiful and famous gardens in Paris. Stroll around, watch the kids with boats in the fountains, and pretend you’re in a movie.

Note: if you finish your visit here, you’ll be closer to the Luxembourg stop, which is also on the RER B line back to the airport.

What Not to Do

Please, please, please don’t try to pack too much in. I know how tempting it is to see everything — but you can’t see the best of Paris in just a few hours. Hell, you can’t see the best of Paris in two weeks.

I’m fairly certain that one of the secrets to travel happiness is making peace with the fact that you won’t see everything you want to see.

Don’t go to Disneyland Paris or Versailles. Both are outside the city — I’m sorry, but there’s just no time to visit on a brief layover.

Tips for a Paris Layover

Bring an umbrella. Paris doesn’t have great weather; it often rains. Or choose to risk it — you can always buy one in a shop.

Don’t dress like a slob. You may have flown overnight, but don’t schlep around Paris in yoga pants and a hoodie — you will stick out like a sore thumb in a city where locals look neat and put together. Trade your leggings for slim jeans, your sweatshirt for a nice sweater, jacket and scarf.

Wear comfortable flats. Sneakers immediately label you as a tourist. Literally all the shoes I own come from The Walking Company — their Abeo flats have FANTASTIC arch support, which I need for my bad feet, and they’re chic enough for Paris.

Download a Paris map app to your phone. It’s the easiest way to keep track of where you are, rather than using a paper map. If you plan on taking the metro, there are lots of free metro apps as well.

Be conscious of pickpockets. Pickpockets target tourists in Paris. To minimize your risk, I recommend using a crossbody purse that zips shut and you hold in front of you, or a backpack that locks like my Pacsafe backpack. Consider getting a Speakeasy Travel Scarf — they have a secret zippered pocket no pickpocket can get into.

Make sure you have travel insurance for your whole trip. If the worst happens — if you’re pickpocketed, or if you trip and break your ankle and need to visit a hospital, travel insurance will protect your finances and reimburse you. I never travel without it. I use and recommend World Nomads.

GET BACK IN TIME FOR YOUR FLIGHT!!!!

The most important tip of all. Everything here is meaningless if you end up missing your flight to your next destination!

I like to give myself a nice, comfy cushion of time so I won’t be stressed. (Ask anyone who has ever traveled with me and has seen me freak out when we’ve cut a deadline too close.)

Get back to Charles de Gaulle at least two hours before your onward flight departs. I like to give myself two and a half. It may seem a bit excessive, but when you consider the alternative — missing your flight, being stranded, possibly fucking up your return flight as well — this is one place where caution reigns supreme.

Save This Map For Your Trip

Here are all the locations mentioned. As you can see, they’re all close together!

Have a fabulous trip!


READ NEXT: 100 Travel Tips for Paris


Have you been to Paris? What would you recommend doing on a short layover?

Comments

36 Responses to “How to Spend a Layover in Paris”
  1. Stephanie says:

    If Immigration arriving at Charles de Gaulle takes 30 minutes you’re lucky! Also, you have to go through passport control then pick up your luggage to do immigration and then drop it off again. I’ve never done that in less than an hour. I’d recommend taking a day (or more!!) and visiting in a leisurely way! Also, if you wear clean, new looking sneakers (like addidas or nikes but not running shoes) you’ll be dressed like 75% of French women now!

    • It depends on whether you’re booked all the way through or not.

      Yes, I agree — the French only wear sneakers if they’re slim and stylish. Americans were bulky, gross, unfashionable sneakers that wouldn’t fit in in France.

    • Liz says:

      I was just in Paris and I noticed people wearing sneakers too- but slim ones, and a LOT of glitter and metallic sneakers on some of the younger women.

  2. Anna Belkina says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. I studied abroad in Paris ages ago but revisited last spring for the first time in 13 years for work, and only had about half a day to myself. I hit up a lot of the spots on your map because it really is the best of quintessential Paris even for someone who has lived there!

  3. Brittany says:

    Excellent advice! I’ve spent a lot of time traveling to Belgium to see my brother and almost every trip I take the train to Paris, sometimes just for a day trip. I can’t get enough of it! So, I don’t have to deal with security/customs/etc I do like to see some advice for just a few short hours in Paris. It’s my favorite city in the world so when I’m close, I stop in. I’ll be in Belgium next month, maybe I’ll go again 🙂

  4. Taylor says:

    LOL I literally booked a flight yesterday with a 16 hour layover and was starting to google “Paris layovers” and was surprised when you didn’t have a post on it. Excellent job rectifying that in under 24 hours 🙂 Your advice here is pretty similar to everything else I’ve read as well, seems like a no-brainer.

    Since we’ll have time for two meals is there a great dinner restaurant recommendation (somewhat splurge worthy) you have in the area? TIA!!

  5. Really useful post – thanks!

  6. ‘Love the post Kate!

    I’ve been to Paris many times, and this is excellent advice. I’d still advice at least 7 hours rather than 5, as you’ll need at least 2 hours when you get back! And definitely take the train rather than a taxi as traffic (depending on the time of day) can be a right killer lol!

    And possibly doing just 3 things:
    1. Stroll along the river and around the cobbled streets.
    2. Aim to “see” rather than go into a tourist sight. And if you do go in, spend not more than 30 mins!
    3. Spend time at a cafe and have some refreshment and a glass of wine, champagne, or cup of coffee. Choice your poison!

    We’re going to France this summer, but sadly, our layover in Paris is just 1.5 hours. No champagne for us lol!

  7. Great post and lots of great tips! Notre Dame is my favourite building in Paris by far. I’ve taken a couple of short trips to Paris before and always end up sitting for a while in Champ de Mars (sp?) by the Eiffel Tower. As touristy as it is, it’s great for people watching!

  8. Maggie says:

    Was in Paris for a layover in January, I think its important to note if you are on a layover on a Sunday to keep in mind a lot of things are closed so it might not be worth going in to the city.

  9. monsoonmiss says:

    CDG is always a mixed bag for me, time-wise. I once spent 2 solid hours in a mass of people that just pushed forward (rather than snaking like a line) waiting for passport control. I have also arrived around 9 PM, when there’s barely another soul in the airport, which is lovely. The information booth was still open and they gave me such detailed instructions on which train to take, and a woman from the airline very nicely translated for me when all plans went awry and my Couchsurfing host couldn’t understand a single word I said over the phone.

    I don’t know if I would risk anything less than 10 hours getting outside of CDG, but I think this is a great idea for a blog post and def recommend people get on out there, if they can!

  10. Becky says:

    I have never been to Paris, but this is all great information to know! One of the places I would totally hit up is the Shakespeare and Company! There are still so many places I want to visit, but I’d have to plan a trip to Paris.

  11. k says:

    I just want to add a warning about immigration control- SCHENGEN IS NO LONGER REALLY SCHENGEN!!!

    Given the refugee crisis and general anti-immigration positions being taken in all sorts of corners of Europe, free circulation is no longer a given. I’ve had to go through immigration returning to Paris from Portugal, which theoretically shouldn’t happen. European countries are using various emergency measures to not comply with Schengen rules.

    Don’t count on sailing through anymore!

  12. A few years ago my mom had a six hour layover in Paris and she ended up hiring a taxi driver to take her around the major sites. She said it was a blast to see Paris like that =o) I hope to try it one day too =o)

  13. Nina says:

    Super useful, Kate! I love booking long layovers on purpose. Sometimes it means getting a cheaper flight AND getting to see a city, even if it’s for a brief moment. I find it fun to jam pack my day(s) on that long layover as it’s usually different than my regular traveling ways, which is sloooowww. haha. Going to Paris again for a few days next month so I’ll be able to use some of the destinations here for one of my days. Thanks 🙂

  14. Anne Morgan says:

    This is a great itinerary. I went on a boat tour when I had a day a Paris a couple of years ago and that was a good way to see a lot in a short time and get an overview of the city. Next time I’d focus on a particular area as you suggest.

  15. Lisa Michele says:

    Really handy tips! I especially love the part about not dressing like a slob…my first trip to Paris I was in full Aussie mode and wore thongs on my feet, the amount of stares I got was hilarious 🙂

  16. Jonathan says:

    Learned a lot from this post, thanks for sharing

  17. John Parker says:

    These tips are awesome,I wish I could just travel back in time to visit Paris. Thanks for sharing

  18. Stephanie says:

    Hey! I’m from Paris and I totally agree with everything you said! 🙂

  19. Rachel Brown says:

    I visited Paris for 36 hours and i saw a lot in that time because of a tour i had picked out weeks before. I’d love to go back and spend more time but anytime in a country is better than no time in my eyes!!

  20. K. says:

    Now I want ALL my flights to stopover in Paris. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  21. Carolyn says:

    I used to live in Paris in the 1990’s, and you certainly need a minimum of at least those 5 hours. With the city being amazingly compact, you can see a few things in one area with that amount of time. The metro and the rer are excellent ways to get about. On the metro, you will find the stops are only minutes apart. If you have more time, walking around Paris is best. I’ve walked from one side of the city to the other in just a few hours. I was young though then!

  22. Stefan says:

    Just wanted to thank you for this guide, Kate.

    Definitely an action packed list but Paris was sooooo big I underestimated how much I would be able to see during my layover.

    Getting into the city center was really easy though from CDG and I also had a quick experience going through passport control.

    I think this definitely works a lot easier if you have a connecting flight since you don’t have to worry about luggage but I guess you could always jsut check it into a locker for a few hours while you head out to explore.

    Anyways, thanks again Kate! You def made my layover 100x better than waiting around in CDG (which is a pretty boring airport!)

  23. Andrea Crain says:

    Great post Kate, with lots of useful advice. It just made me jot down ways to manage my visit to Paris. I have planned a family tour to Prague with a 9-hour layover in Paris. Your information will help me a lot. I believe we won’t have any problem there.

    Thanks 🙂

  24. Vanessa says:

    This is great advice! I never get good long layovers; just a couple of hours usually, which is barely enough time to leave the airport, lol! This summer I’m headed to Paris with a 2 hour layover in Berlin…oh well, maybe there will at least be enough time to find a German Chocolate bar!! 🙂

  25. Great tips kate, will use these tips if I get a chance to have time for Paris.

  26. CherylBean says:

    Wonderful list. Thank you so much for this list of travel blogs. These are just amazing. Keep it up with the travel journey.This is great advice! Thanks and regards..

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