Paris is always a good idea. Despite visiting Paris a dozen times, it remains one of my favorite cities because there is always more to see and do in this timeless European destination. While some travelers complain that it is too busy or dirty, it remains undoubtedly a centerpiece for history, art, food, and romance. Many of my visits to Paris have been on various layovers, providing opportunities to explore much of what the city has to offer. Here are some of my recommendations for what is feasible to do and see with different lengths of layovers when passing through the CDG airport.
For transit time estimates on layovers out of CDG, I typically plan no less than four hours for the transit and check-in times in and out of Paris. There is a direct train the RER B from the airport (Terminal 2) to the Gare du Nord or St Michel/Nôtre Dame that costs 10.30€ (adult fare) each way and takes about 45 min. However, it is important to be mindful of strikes going on during a visit as they can bring public transit to an absolute standstill. Depending on the total layover time in the city, below are recommendations for what can reasonably be visited and are typically high on the bucket list of things to see in Paris.
Layovers from 6-8 hours- Anytime I have a layover that is six plus hours, I generally speed through the airport to catch the train in order to maximize the time downtown. Generally, this long of a layover allows adequate time to visit several of the top attractions in the city using the public metro to jump between locations. Getting off the train at the Louvre and walking along the Champs D’Elysee towards the Arc de Triomphe provides the chance to see one of Paris' most beautiful streets. From there it is quite easy to continue over the Seine River to visit the Eiffel Tower. Depending on the length of the layover, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur are two other historic landmarks that are easily accessible via public transit, but are both on the eastern side of the city.
As one of the foodie capitals of the world, it is important to allocate some time to sampling famous French cuisine. While time constraints may prevent enjoying a full sit-down meal, luckily there are plenty of options for street cafes, quick set meals, and most importantly- crepes. Nearly every one of my Paris layovers involves a trip to a small crepe place near Notre Dame which consistently serves the freshest crepe that positively ooze Nutella at the edges. While that is undoubtedly my favorite crêperie, there are plenty of street stands offering a variety of sweet and savory crepes or cafès to grab an quick coffee.
Layovers from 9-11 hours- On slightly longer layovers, it is worthwhile to deal with the lines to visit some of the more famous museums. Purchasing tickets online ahead of time can certainly save time by avoiding the long queues. Obviously the Louvre is a classic with some world renown works including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People painting, and the list goes on. However, depending on your preference for era of art the Musée d'Orsay across the Seine may be the better option. As a huge fan of French Impressionism and having a slight obsession with Monet, this is my favorite museum in the city both for the quality of art and because of the thinner crowds.
If museums are less appealing, taking a river cruise along the Seine will provide an excellent view of many key attractions along the river bank. Alternatively, there is always the possibility of catching a show at the iconic Moulin Rouge during an evening layover. Again depending on priorities, foodies should definitely take the time to have a full meal in the city and enjoy a glass or two of french wine or champagne. Le Marais offers a full variety of restaurants ranging from full 5-star dining experiences to small trendy cafes with delicious macron stores (Pierre Hermé is my personal favorite for macron shops but honestly it is hard to go wrong).
Layovers from 12-14 hours- Extended layovers allow the opportunity to go a bit out of the city and see substantially more than just Paris’ top monuments and museums. It is possible to use public transit to visit some near-by locations like Versailles to explore the stunning Château and gardens or to schedule an organized tour. Some even offer pick-ups from directly at the airport or in central locations in Paris. I have used Viator on numerous tours around the world and did a day trip to visit Monet’s Garden, which was one of my absolute favorite tours. After a bus ride through the picturesque countryside out to Giverny, we were given a brief history of Claude Monet's former home and the gardens that inspired so many of his masterpieces and then given ample time to explore the gardens and even cross the famous green bridge from so many of his paintings.
Hostel Average Cost: there are numerous cost effective hostels in the city for approximately €25-35 a night. However, if staying longer than a brief layover, Paris is an excellent city to get an Air bnb which tend to offer the best amenities and locations compared to both hostels and hotels.
Drink: Moët for warm weather and Vin Chaud for the cold.
Food: Again as a foodie capital, it is unfair and impossible to pick one thing so here are a few of the necessities- Nutella Crepes, Macrons, French Onion Soup, Coq au vin, Escargots de Bourgogne, and certainly a freshly baked baguette.
Electric Outlet: Type C (European)