They say Paris is always a good idea! I can’t agree more – even if it’s just for a day in the middle of February. This was one of those “I have a Schengen visa, I need to use it as much as possible” sort of trips.
Even though our layover was one day, we still only had about 9 hours to explore. Some can argue that’s quite a bit of time, and it is for a layover. But believe me, Paris has so much to offer that you’ll definitely want to go back. I sure do!
The reality here is that you may or may not want to leave the airport depending on the duration of your layover. I’d say a layover of 6 or more hours is pretty safe, but it’s not too hard to find flights with 13-14 hour layover, which is even better. Don’t just take my word though, consider the bullet points below and make your own judgement if you have enough time.
- Immigration may take up to an hour or more for an international flight (outside of Schengen area).
- Depending on your terminal, storing luggage at the airport may take up to 30 minutes.
- Train ride from the airport to see the major attractions in Paris takes roughly about 45 minutes one way. Add in the time to actually finding the train before getting on it.
- Security check can take up to 30 minutes or so.
- Walking time to the gate needs to be considered as well. CDG is a huge airport, and it may take upwards of 15 minutes to walk to your gate.
One of the best things to do in Paris is walk leisurely and admire the beauty – the architecture, the quaint streets, the cute cafes. Even the lampposts in Paris look pretty. But imagine having to haul your luggage around. Consider this scenario – Hey honey! Look at this building, it has such pristine design. Honey starts to look but falls over the suitcase as there was a speed bump in the front. True Story!
To avoid this situation, consider storing your luggage at the airport. I guess a backpack would be fine, but even a rolling carry on bag could be a pain to carry. CDG has luggage storage area at Terminal 2, right across from RER B station. The price is about $12 USD for up to 12 hours, $6 USD for up to 6 hours, which is totally worth it.
How to get into Paris from CDG
The best, cheapest, and most reliable way to get into Paris is RER B train, which starts at the airport and takes you to the heart of Paris. RER B departs from terminal 2 and 3. If you arrive at terminal 1, you’d need to take the CDGVAL shuttle to Terminal 3/Roissypole, and follow signs for RER B once you get off the shuttle. A one way ticket is about $11(USD), but if you plan on coming back to the airport to catch your next flight (that would be a good plan!), you should get a round trip ticket, which saves you some time later! For more information on how to get around, this link has great information.
We took the RER B train to the St. Michaels/Notre Dame stop. That was the closest stop to our hotel (Hotel Esmeralda), and also to Notre Dame which is where we started exploring. It takes about 40 minutes to get there.
This is unfortunate but worth mentioning. Many of you must have heard that Paris is notorious for pickpocketing, and it is the sad truth. Not only did we witness a few incidents ourselves, a couple of people tried to steal from us. If you are not careful enough, you may lose valuable belongings and this might leave a bad taste of Paris for you.
The good news is – most of the major attractions in Paris are pretty much in the same neighborhood and within walking distance. The bad news – you don’t have time to see them all on a short layover trip. So depending on how much time you DO have, prioritizing what you want to see and making a plan would be extremely effective. Here’s a few options to choose from to go around the city:
- Take a cab – which could be slow depending on traffic.
- Ride the metro – but you miss the good sights around the city.
- Take the hop-on-hop-off bus – which could also be slow depending on traffic.
- Walk – time consuming.
So now that you have chosen your mode of transportation, let me help you plan your perfect layover trip, so you can get a little taste of Paris on the way to your destination.
First stop? Food! Oh yeah! I was so looking forward to eating the Parisian desserts, so that is what I had for breakfast, and lunch, and snack, and second snack. Don’t judge – the desserts there are to die for. So be sure to stop at some patisserie and try croissants, crêpes, macarons, madeleines, religieuse, and anything they have to offer. Word of advice – don’t count calories. You’re only in Paris for a few hours, make it worth your while, and save any regrets for later.
The first few words that came out of my mouth where I entered – “oh wow, it’s beautiful”. I imagine that’s how most people would react, too. It’s unavoidable. Going into the cathedral is free, and you won’t be disappointed. You can also pay to go to the top of the tower, which offers stunning views of the city, but the lines can get pretty long. There were at least 100 people in line waiting when we were there, so we decided to skip it.
Sainte Chapelle is another beautiful chapel in Paris with amazing architecture and stained glass pans, depicting scenes from old and new testaments.
Pont des Arts
This used to be the famous love lock bridge, now it’s just a famous bridge, without the love locks. Yes! The locks have now been taken down. There’s still a few locks lingering around on the lampposts, but none on the bridge. It is still a great place to walk and take pictures of the Seine river.
I know we all want to go to the Louvre and see the famous Mona Lisa, but let’s be real – now is not the time. It takes about 4-5 hours to go through the Louvre and fully enjoy it. If it is on your path though, it’s worth stopping by to take the picture of the courtyard, with the iconic pyramid.
Walk by here and you’ll see street performances from local artists, street vendors, pretty fountains, and line of trees like you’ve only seen in movies.
Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde boasts the giant ferris wheel, Roue de Pari. You’ll get great views of Champs-Elysees from the top of the wheel, and it only takes about 10 minutes to ride it. But remember, tick-tick!
One of the most famous avenues in Paris, leading up to Arc de Triomphe. This is a really cool street with lots of bars, restaurants, shops etc. Right across from the Arc is a narrow lane, right in the middle of a busy street, where you can stop for a quick picture of the Arc. Be very careful though, the vehicles drive by fast and may not see you.
Walk over to Champ-de-Mars to see the one and only. I can try to come up with a lot of adjectives here to describe the tower, but nothing I say can do justice – so I won’t. What I can do is give you the facts. If possible, try to go over at night time when it is beautifully lit, and shimmering. The hours to go to the top of the tower vary with season, so check the hours before going, and plan accordingly. The second floor observation deck is a possible option if the top is closed. I believe the view would be better from the very top, but I had no complaints with the second floor deck.