Layover in Paris? Essential Tips for a Memorable Short Visit

Last Updated on July 14, 2024 by April Nicole

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Finding yourself with a layover in Paris can be both exciting and daunting. Often, travelers are unsure of what to do during a Paris layover, worried about wasting precious hours in the airport.

As a seasoned traveler with a couple of layovers in the City of Light, I’ve discovered the perfect ways to maximize this time, turning what could be a tedious wait into a mini adventure.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a frequent flyer, knowing what to do during a Paris layover can transform your travel experience.

From quick visits to iconic landmarks to indulging in exquisite French cuisine, I’ll share my expert tips to help you make the most of your layover in Paris, ensuring every moment is memorable.

If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of layover in Paris:

Do You Need a Visa for a Layover in Paris?

Whether you need a visa for a layover in Paris depends on your nationality and the duration of your stay. For non-Schengen countries, a short-stay Schengen visa may be required if your layover exceeds 24 hours or if you wish to leave the transit area. For US, Canadian, Australian, and most EU citizens, no visa is needed for short layovers. Always check the latest requirements on the French consulate’s website before traveling.

Planning Your Layover

Check the Length of Your Layover

Before you start dreaming of croissants and iconic landmarks, it’s essential to know how much time you truly have for exploring Paris. Here’s how to ensure you make the most of your layover:

Understand Your Total Layover Time

  • Arrival and Departure Times: Note the times your flight lands and departs. Calculate the total hours between these two points. This is your starting point.
  • Time Needed for Airport Procedures:
    • Customs and Immigration: Depending on the time of day and your arrival airport (Charles de Gaulle or Orly), clearing customs can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Be sure to factor this in.
    • Security Checks: When you return to the airport for your departure flight, you’ll need to go through security again. Allocate at least 30-60 minutes for this process.
  • Boarding Time: Airlines typically start boarding about 45 minutes before departure. Make sure you are back at the airport well before this time.

Realistic Exploration Time

Once you’ve accounted for airport procedures, you’ll have a clearer picture of how much time you can spend in Paris. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown to help you calculate:

  1. Total Layover Time: For example, if your flight lands at 8:00 AM and departs at 8:00 PM, you have a 12-hour layover.
  2. Subtract Airport Procedures Time:
    • Arrival Customs and Immigration: 1.5 hours
    • Departure Security Checks: 1 hour
    • Buffer Time for Unexpected Delays: 1 hour
    • Total Airport Procedures Time: 3.5 hours
  3. Net Exploration Time: Subtract the total airport procedures time from your total layover time. In this example:
    • 12 hours (total layover) – 3.5 hours (airport procedures) = 8.5 hours of exploration time.

Efficient Time Management

Time is of the essence, so plan your activities and transportation efficiently:

  • Transportation to and from Paris:
    • Travel Time: Expect around 45 minutes to 1 hour each way, whether you choose the RER train, a taxi, or a shuttle. Allocate a total of 2 hours for round-trip travel.
    • Exploration Time: Using the above example, if you have 8.5 hours of total time, subtract 2 hours for transportation, leaving you with 6.5 hours to explore the city.

Short vs. Long Layovers

The length of your layover significantly impacts what you can do. Here are some tailored suggestions based on different layover durations:

  • Short Layover (4-6 hours):
    • Focus on one or two nearby attractions.
    • Prioritize iconic landmarks that don’t require extensive time to appreciate.
    • Example: Visit the Eiffel Tower and take a quick Seine River walk.
  • Moderate Layover (6-8 hours):
    • You have a bit more flexibility to explore multiple attractions.
    • Consider a quick visit to the Louvre’s exterior and a stroll through the Tuileries Garden.
    • Example: Combine a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral and a leisurely lunch at a nearby café.
  • Long Layover (8+ hours):
    • You can delve deeper into Parisian experiences.
    • Include visits to multiple neighborhoods, some shopping, and a sit-down meal.
    • Example: Explore the Marais district, visit the Luxembourg Gardens, and enjoy a bistro meal.

Transportation Options

Paris boasts an efficient and extensive transportation network, making it relatively easy to get from the airport to the heart of the city. Here’s how you can navigate the two main airports, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY), and make the most of your layover in Paris.

Taking the RER is a popular option for how to get from CDG to Paris quickly and efficiently.

Charles de Gaulle Airport

Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), located about 23 kilometers northeast of Paris, is one of the busiest airports in Europe. Here are your best options for getting to the city center:

  • RER B Train
    • Overview: The RER B train is one of the quickest and most affordable ways to reach central Paris from CDG.
    • Travel Time: Approximately 35 minutes to reach major stops like Gare du Nord, Châtelet-Les Halles, and Saint-Michel Notre-Dame.
    • Cost: Around €11 for a one-way ticket.
    • Tips: Trains run frequently (every 10-15 minutes). Follow signs for “RER” in the airport to find the station. Purchase tickets from automated machines or ticket counters.
  • Taxis
    • Overview: Taxis are a convenient option, especially if you have a lot of luggage or prefer a direct ride to your destination.
    • Travel Time: About 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on traffic.
    • Cost: Fixed rate of around €50 to central Paris.
    • Tips: Official taxi stands are located outside each terminal. Look for licensed taxis with a light on the roof. Avoid unlicensed drivers offering rides inside the terminal.
  • Shuttle Buses
    • Overview: Several companies offer shuttle services from CDG to various parts of Paris.
    • Travel Time: Typically around 60 minutes, but can vary depending on stops and traffic.
    • Cost: Prices range from €15 to €20.
    • Tips: Book your shuttle in advance to ensure availability and check the schedule for departure times.
  • Private Transfers and Ride-Sharing
    • Overview: Services like Uber and private transfer companies such as GetTransfer offer a comfortable and personalized travel option.
    • Travel Time: Similar to taxis, around 45 minutes to 1 hour.
    • Cost: Varies, typically starting around €50.
    • Tips: Use the app to book your ride once you’ve cleared customs. Designated pick-up areas are usually signposted.

Orly Airport

Orly Airport (ORY) is located about 13 kilometers south of Paris. Here are the best ways to get to the city center from Orly:

  • Orlyval + RER B
    • Overview: The Orlyval is an automated light rail that connects Orly Airport to the RER B train line at Antony station.
    • Travel Time: Around 30 minutes to central Paris.
    • Cost: Approximately €12 for a one-way ticket.
    • Tips: Follow signs for “Orlyval” at the airport. Tickets can be purchased at machines or counters at Orly and Antony stations.
  • Taxis
    • Overview: Taxis are a direct and hassle-free option for reaching central Paris.
    • Travel Time: About 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic.
    • Cost: Fixed rate of around €35 to central Paris.
    • Tips: Use official taxi stands located outside the terminals. Licensed taxis have a light on the roof.
  • Orlybus
    • Overview: The Orlybus provides direct service from Orly Airport to Denfert-Rochereau in central Paris.
    • Travel Time: Approximately 30 minutes.
    • Cost: Around €9.
    • Tips: Buses run every 10-20 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from machines at the airport or from the driver.
  • Tramway T7 + Metro
    • Overview: This option involves taking the Tramway T7 to Villejuif-Louis Aragon, then transferring to Metro Line 7.
    • Travel Time: About 45 minutes to 1 hour.
    • Cost: Approximately €4 for the tram and metro tickets combined.
    • Tips: This route is more economical but involves a transfer. Follow signs for “Tramway” at Orly.
  • Private Transfers and Ride-Sharing
    • Overview: Services like Uber and private transfer companies offer a convenient and personalized travel option.
    • Travel Time: Similar to taxis, around 30-45 minutes.
    • Cost: Varies, typically starting around €35.
    • Tips: Use the app to book your ride once you’ve cleared customs. Designated pick-up areas are usually signposted.

Must-See Attractions

Paris is brimming with iconic landmarks and picturesque spots that are perfect for a layover adventure. Even with limited time, you can still capture the essence of this beautiful city. Here’s a detailed guide to the must-see attractions that you can explore during your layover.

The iconic Louvre Pyramid offers an unforgettable experience during a layover in Paris. Perfect for a quick cultural exploration.

Iconic Landmarks

Paris is home to some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. Even if you only have a few hours, these spots are worth a visit.

Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is perhaps the most famous symbol of Paris. It’s a must-see for any visitor, and luckily, it’s quite accessible even if you’re short on time.

  • Quick Visit Tips:
    • Trocadéro Gardens: For a quick visit, head to the Trocadéro Gardens, which offer one of the best vantage points for viewing and photographing the Eiffel Tower. It’s just a short walk from the Trocadéro metro station.
    • Elevator Ride: If time permits, take the elevator to the second level for panoramic views of the city. Keep in mind that lines can be long, so consider booking tickets in advance.

Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum, located in the heart of Paris, is one of the world’s largest and most visited museums. While a full tour of the museum would take several days, even a short visit during your layover can be incredibly rewarding. Here’s how to make the most of your time at the Louvre.

  • Quick Visit Tips:
    • Plan Ahead: Research the highlights you want to see, such as the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Use the Louvre’s website or app to map out a quick route.
    • Enter via the Carrousel du Louvre: The main entrance at the glass pyramid can get very crowded. Instead, use the underground entrance at the Carrousel du Louvre, which is often less busy.
    • Tuileries Garden: Adjacent to the Louvre, this beautiful garden is perfect for a leisurely stroll. Enjoy the statues, fountains, and neatly arranged flowerbeds.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Although Notre-Dame is currently under renovation, it remains a must-see landmark. Its Gothic architecture and historical significance make it worth a visit. During my own visit to Notre-Dame, I was struck by the sheer grandeur of the cathedral, even from the outside.

  • Viewing Tips:
    • Île de la Cité: Walk around this small island in the Seine where Notre-Dame is located. The island itself is charming, with narrow streets and beautiful views of the Seine.

Scenic Walks and Parks

Paris is a city best explored on foot, with numerous scenic walks and parks that offer a glimpse into its charm and beauty.

Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe

The Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe are two of Paris’s most iconic landmarks. Stretching from Place de la Concorde to Place Charles de Gaulle, the Champs-Élysées is renowned for its theaters, cafés, and luxury shops. At its western end stands the majestic Arc de Triomphe, a symbol of French national pride and history.

  • What to Do:
    • Stroll the Avenue: Start at Place de la Concorde and make your way towards the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way, you’ll find luxury shops, historic theaters, and charming cafes.
    • Arc de Triomphe: Climb to the top for a stunning view of the Champs-Élysées and the surrounding area. The climb is manageable and worth the effort for the panoramic views.
  • Tips:
    • Shopping: If you’re interested in high-end shopping, this avenue is home to flagship stores of many luxury brands.
    • Cafés: Stop at a café like Ladurée for a quick break and enjoy a pastry or a coffee.
I always recommend the view from the Arc de Triomphe to see the city of lights.
Experience the iconic Champs-Élysées from above!

Seine River

The Seine River is the lifeblood of Paris, flowing through the heart of the city and offering picturesque views and a sense of romance and history. A walk along the Seine provides an ideal way to experience the essence of Paris, whether you have just a few hours or an entire day.

  • Best Walks:
    • From Pont Neuf to the Eiffel Tower: This walk takes you along the Seine, offering beautiful views of the river, bridges, and iconic landmarks. Make sure to stop at notable bridges like Pont des Arts and Pont Alexandre III.
    • Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis: These two islands in the Seine are perfect for a scenic stroll. Enjoy the charming streets, historic buildings, and riverside views.
  • Sightseeing Cruises:
    • Bateaux Mouches: One of the most popular options, offering hour-long tours with commentary in multiple languages. These boats have open-air decks for unobstructed views. Check here for rates & availability
    • Bateaux Parisiens: Offers cruises departing from near the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame, with guided commentary highlighting the history and architecture of Paris. Check here for rates & availability
  • Dinner Cruises:

Luxembourg Gardens

Children sail toy boats at the serene Jardin du Luxembourg, a delightful activity for families during a layover in Paris.

Luxembourg Gardens, or Jardin du Luxembourg, is one of Paris’s most enchanting green spaces. Whether you’re looking to relax, take a leisurely stroll, or enjoy some local culture, Luxembourg Gardens has something for everyone.

  • What to Do:
    • Medici Fountain: Find a spot by the Medici Fountain to relax and take in the peaceful surroundings.
    • Statues and Flowerbeds: Wander through the gardens and admire the many statues, fountains, and meticulously maintained flowerbeds.
    • Palais du Luxembourg: The palace itself is a beautiful backdrop to the gardens and houses the French Senate.
  • Tips:
    • Picnic: If time permits, grab some food from a nearby bakery and enjoy a picnic in the gardens.
    • Children’s Activities: If you’re traveling with kids, there’s a playground and a puppet theater within the gardens.

Culinary Delights

Paris is a paradise for food lovers, and even a short layover can provide an opportunity to indulge in the city’s renowned culinary offerings. From quick bites at local bakeries to leisurely meals at traditional bistros, Paris offers a diverse range of gastronomic experiences.

Quick Bites and Cafés

For those with limited time, Paris’ boulangeries, cafés, and local markets offer quick and delicious options.

  • Boulangeries:
    • Stohrer: As one of the oldest bakeries in Paris, Stohrer has been delighting customers since 1730.
    • Du Pain et des Idées: This beloved bakery is famous for its “Pain des Amis” (Friends’ Bread) and delightful escargot pastries filled with pistachio or chocolate.
  • Cafés:
    • Café de Flore: One of the city’s most famous cafés, Café de Flore has been a meeting place for intellectuals and artists for decades.
    • Café Kitsuné: Located in the gardens of the Palais Royal, Café Kitsuné combines Japanese minimalism with Parisian chic.
  • Local Markets:
    • Marché Bastille: If your layover falls on a Thursday or Sunday, this market is perfect for fresh fruits, cheese, and other snacks.
    • Marché d’Aligre: Another great market for local produce and quick bites.
Du Pain et des Idées is a renowned Parisian boulangerie-pâtisserie
A variety of their delicious escargot pastries

Dining Options

If you have more time and can sit down for a meal, here are some recommendations for enjoying a leisurely dining experience in Paris.

  • Bistros:
    • Le Comptoir du Relais: Located in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, this charming bistro offers classic French dishes with a modern twist.
    • Chez Janou: Known for its Provençal cuisine and lively atmosphere, Chez Janou is a popular spot for both locals and tourists.
  • Quick Service Restaurants:
    • Breizh Café: Famous for its delicious crepes, Breizh Café offers a variety of sweet and savory options.
    • L’As du Fallafel: Located in the Marais district, this bustling eatery is known for its mouthwatering falafel sandwiches.

Shopping and Souvenirs

Paris is a shopper’s paradise, offering a diverse range of options from high-end fashion to unique souvenirs. Whether you’re looking for luxury goods, trendy fashion, or charming keepsakes, the city has something for everyone.

Famous Shopping Streets

Rue de Rivoli

Rue de Rivoli is one of the most popular shopping streets in Paris, stretching from the Louvre Museum to Place de la Concorde. It’s lined with a mix of high-end stores, popular chains, and unique shops.

Rue de Rivoli is lined with chic boutiques and shops, showcasing the vibrant experience of shopping in Paris.
  • Shops to Visit:
    • Zara: For fashionable and affordable clothing, Zara is a great option.
    • H&M: Another go-to for trendy and budget-friendly fashion.
    • Local Boutiques: Explore smaller shops for unique finds and Parisian flair.
  • Nearby Attractions: The street is close to the Louvre and Tuileries Garden, making it easy to combine shopping with sightseeing.

Le Marais

Le Marais is a historic district known for its charming streets and eclectic mix of shops. It’s a fantastic place to discover unique fashion, vintage items, and artisanal goods.

  • What to Find:
    • Vintage Shops: Le Marais is famous for its vintage clothing stores. Check out shops like Free’P’Star and Kilo Shop for unique fashion finds.
    • Independent Designers: Discover one-of-a-kind pieces from up-and-coming designers. Shops like The Broken Arm and Merci offer a curated selection of clothing and accessories.
    • Artisan Goods: Browse for handmade jewelry, home decor, and artisanal products at boutiques like Fleux and Popincourt Market.
  • Recommended Stops:
    • Merci: A concept store offering a mix of fashion, home goods, and a cozy café.
    • BHV Marais: A department store with a wide range of products, from clothing to home decor.

Shopping Malls and Department Stores

In addition to individual shops and boutiques, Paris has several iconic shopping malls and department stores that are worth a visit.

Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette is a world-famous department store located on Boulevard Haussmann. Known for its stunning Art Nouveau architecture and impressive glass dome, it offers a luxurious shopping experience.

The stunning interior of Galeries Lafayette offers a luxurious shopping experience, perfect for a memorable layover in Paris.
  • Fashion and Beauty: Galeries Lafayette is home to a wide range of high-end fashion brands, from Chanel and Louis Vuitton to Dior and Hermès. It also has an extensive beauty section with cosmetics, skincare, and fragrances.
  • Rooftop Terrace: Don’t miss the rooftop terrace, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Opéra Garnier.

Printemps

Located next to Galeries Lafayette, Printemps is another prestigious department store that offers a wide range of luxury goods.

  • Fashion and Accessories: Printemps boasts an impressive selection of high-end fashion, including ready-to-wear, accessories, and footwear from top designers.
  • Beauty and Fragrance: The beauty department offers a variety of luxury skincare, makeup, and perfumes.

Souvenir Hunting

Finding the perfect souvenir to remember your trip to Paris or to bring back for friends and family is a delightful part of the experience. Here are some of the best places to hunt for unique and meaningful souvenirs.

The vibrant Place du Tertre in Montmartre is ideal for souvenir hunting in Paris, offering unique artworks and charming keepsakes.

Best Places to Find Souvenirs

  • Montmartre: This artistic neighborhood is great for finding unique art pieces and classic souvenirs.
  • Saint-Germain-des-Prés: Offers a mix of upscale shops and quaint boutiques perfect for special gifts.

Tips for Quick and Meaningful Shopping

  • Look for Uniquely Parisian Items: Macarons from Ladurée or Pierre Hermé, artisanal cheeses, or a bottle of French wine make great souvenirs.
  • Avoid Tourist Traps: Stick to reputable shops and avoid buying from street vendors to ensure quality.

Practical Tips for a Smooth Layover

Navigating a layover in Paris can be a delightful experience if planned well. To ensure you make the most of your time without any hiccups, here are some practical tips to keep in mind.

Make the most of your time in Paris, by storing your luggage in a locker

Luggage Storage Options

Carrying your luggage around while exploring Paris can be cumbersome. Luckily, there are convenient options for storing your luggage safely.

  • At the Airport: Both Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY) airports offer luggage storage services.
    • CDG: Look for “Bagages du Monde” in Terminal 2, where you can leave your bags for a few hours or the entire day. Prices vary depending on the size and duration.
    • ORY: Luggage storage is available at the South Terminal. It’s a secure and convenient option if your layover is relatively short.
  • In the City: Services like Nannybag and Radical Storage provide secure luggage storage options throughout Paris.
    • Nannybag: Partnering with local businesses, Nannybag offers numerous drop-off points around the city, including near major train stations and tourist attractions.
    • Radical Storage: Similar to Nannybag, Radical Storage offers easy-to-find locations where you can store your luggage for a small fee.

Time Management Tips

Maximizing your time during a layover requires careful planning and time management.

  • Prioritize Activities: Based on your interests and the duration of your layover, choose activities that are close to each other to minimize travel time.
  • Avoid Long Lines: Use apps like Viator or the official websites to book tickets in advance for major attractions. This can save you significant time, allowing you to skip the ticket lines.
  • Local Apps: Download useful apps like Citymapper for the best routes and real-time updates on public transportation. The RATP app is also helpful for navigating the metro and bus systems.

Safety and Security

Paris is generally a safe city, but it’s always good to stay vigilant, especially when you’re in a rush or carrying valuables.

  • Stay Safe:
    • Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Keep an eye on your belongings, particularly in crowded areas like metro stations, tourist sites, and markets.
    • Pickpockets: Be mindful of pickpockets, especially in busy tourist areas. Keep your wallet and phone secure, and consider using a money belt or a secure bag.
  • Emergency Contacts:
    • Emergency Number: The emergency number in Paris is 112. Save it in your phone for quick access.
    • Local Embassy: If you’re an international traveler, note the contact information of your embassy or consulate in Paris.

Keep Track of Time

Managing your time effectively ensures you don’t miss your departing flight. Here are some tips to help you stay on schedule:

  • Set Alarms or Reminders: Use your phone to set alarms or reminders for when you need to start heading back to the airport. Give yourself plenty of buffer time to account for potential delays.
  • Monitor Traffic and Public Transport: Check real-time traffic updates and public transport schedules using apps like Citymapper or Google Maps. This will help you avoid unexpected delays.
  • Return Early: Plan to return to the airport at least 2-3 hours before your departure time, especially for international flights. This gives you ample time to go through security and reach your gate without stress.

Plan for Unexpected Delays

Traveling can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to have a backup plan in case of delays.

  • Flexibility: Allow some flexibility in your schedule to accommodate unexpected delays or changes.
  • Know Alternative Routes: Familiarize yourself with alternative routes back to the airport in case of traffic jams or public transport issues.
  • Emergency Kit: Carry an emergency kit with essentials like a portable phone charger, snacks, a bottle of water, and any medications you might need.

Language and Communication

While many Parisians speak English, knowing a few basic French phrases can enhance your experience and help you navigate the city more smoothly.

  • Common Phrases:
    • Bonjour (Hello)
    • Merci (Thank you)
    • S’il vous plaît (Please)
    • Excusez-moi (Excuse me)
    • Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)
  • Translation Apps: Download translation apps like Google Translate to help with language barriers. The app can translate text, speech, and even written signs or menus.

France Travel Planning 🇫🇷

Accommodation 🛌

  • Booking.com – Find diverse accommodations, enjoy easy booking with great deals, and rely on real reviews and 24/7 support.
  • Expedia.com – With its user-friendly interface, it simplifies the process of booking hotels and holiday packages to France.
  • VRBO.com – Your go-to platform for unique and comfortable vacation rentals in France.

Transportation 🚘

  • DiscoverCars.com – Offers a seamless booking experience, ensuring you find the ideal car for your adventures in France.
  • GetTransfer.com – Is the ultimate solution for your travel transfer needs, offering an efficient, flexible service and comfortable transportation.
  • Trainline.com stands as a quintessential tool for savvy travelers seeking to navigate France’s extensive rail network with ease and confidence.
  • Skyscanner.com – Simplifies your travel planning with its user-friendly interface, offering a comprehensive comparison of flights.

Attractions, Activities and Tours 🇫🇷

  • Viator.com – Stands out as a trusted resource for travelers seeking unparalleled experiences across the globe.
  • GetYourGuide.com – Offers an extensive collection of tours, activities, and attractions in France.
  • ParisCityVision.com – This tour company specializes in crafting exceptional experiences across Paris and France.

Communication 📱

  • Orange Sim Card – Discover seamless connectivity on your French travels with an Orange Holiday Europe Sim Card, a top choice for tourists.
  • Airalo.com – The world’s first eSIM store that solves the pain of high roaming bills by giving travelers access to eSIMs (digital SIM cards).

Travel Insurance ✈️

  • SafetyWing.com – Travel with peace of mind knowing you’re protected in almost every corner of the world.
  • Travel Insurance Master – Visit their website to discover the ideal insurance plan that aligns with your travel dreams.

These are only a few of my favorites; for more, see my comprehensive guide to the top travel booking websites for France.

Keep Up with April Nicole

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