The Paris Layover: Advice for Those Planning a Layover + My Own Experience
When traveling to many cities in Europe from the U.S. it is very likely that you will have at least one layover. Many people (including me at one point) try their best to avoid layovers and try to just fly straight through. However, I think a layover can actually be a very good thing. If it is long enough, you can explore a city without paying extra money for the airfare to get you there and you also get to split up your flights a little bit and you will feel well-rested when you arrive at your final destination. If you are given the option to have a layover, I recommend doing a long one in a city you would like to explore.
On my way to Madrid, I had the option to have a layover in New York, London or Paris. I decided on Paris since I had wanted to go there last time I was in Europe but did not have the chance. When I was thirteen, I went on a People to People Student Ambassador’s trip to Europe and we went to Paris for a few days and did all of the touristy things, so I have wanted to explore the city more for a long time.
What to Do at Home
You must decide how long of a layover you would like to have. At first, the nine hour layover seemed like a good option for me because it would give me 4.5-5 hours to explore the city and I would be able to get back to the airport in time for the flight. However, this would push back my arrival into Madrid to about 11:00-11:30pm which seemed a little too late for me.
The next option was a 22 hour layover. I initially ruled this out because it seemed a little ridiculous. Who wants to stay awake for 22 hours straight? Not me! However, I eventually decided on this layover because it would allow me plenty of time to explore Paris and I would not have to rush back to the airport to make my flight. I figured I could sleep in the airport or look for a cheap hotel/hostel.
Learn Some French!
This should really go without saying but if you travel to a foreign country, you should really learn some words and phrases in the country’s language. I’m not saying that you need to take a course in French before you go to Paris, but you should really make an effort to learn some common words and phrases, such as:
Bonjour Good Morning/ Good Day
Bon soir Good Evening
Ça va? How are you?
Ça va Fine
Merci Thank you
Merci beaucoup Thank you very much
De rien You’re welcome
Excusez moi Excuse me
Pardon Pardon me
Parlez vous anglais? Do you speak English?
Je ne parle pas français I do not speak French
Je voudrais… I would like…
Au revoir Good-bye
Many people in Paris do speak some English, but you may encounter the occasional person who knows little to no English so it will help you a lot if you know some basics and try to pantomime the rest. Also, you are in France, a French-speaking country, so it is polite to at least attempt some French. It will gain you a lot of respect from the locals. =)
What to Do at the Airport and How to Get Around
If you, like me, are moving to Europe or need to take a lot of carry-on luggage with you (which you really should not! When it comes to packing, LESS IS MORE), you will probably wonder what to do with your luggage. You certainly do not want to walk around Paris with a 50lb carry-on suitcase, backpack and purse. What a buzz kill! Luckily, there is a place in Charles de Gaulle airport where you can check in your luggage for a small price.
Located in terminal 2F across from the Sheraton Hotel, Bagages du Monde is open from 6:30AM to 9:30PM. You can check in as many bags as you’d like for a small fee based upon how long you will leave them there. I paid 12.00 € per bag to leave them for 12 hours. If I decided to leave them overnight, they informed me that the rate would go up to 15.00 €-a small price to pay to be able to explore Paris with no worries about luggage!
The next step to enjoying your layover is getting from the airport to the city. I love Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, but he always takes taxis to the city-a method which is pricey and, depending on traffic, not very reliable. I suggest grabbing a free Île-De-France transit map (Plan de Poche Transilien) from the airport and taking an RER train into Paris. It costs 9.50 € and only takes about 40-50 minutes depending on where in Paris you decide to exit the train.
In order to do this, you must first buy a ticket. Apparently, this is much easier said than done. If you ever find yourself buying a ticket for the RER, make sure you have euro coins. The machines where I tried to buy them would not take my debit or credit cards or euro bills. Also, the one change machine in the whole area was not working, so I ended up struggling for about 30 minutes trying to get change. Moral of the story: when you are exchanging money, make sure you get a good amount of euro coins or buy something so you will get change.
What to Do in Paris
This is really up to you. It depends on whether or not you have already been to Paris and what you are trying to get out of your experience. On The Layover, Anthony Bourdain says, roughly, do not do too much. I could not agree more with this statement. Oftentimes, we are pressured to rush and do as much as we can, to take advantage of our time because we do not know if or when we will have the opportunity to return. We do too many things and when we look back on our time, it seems to have gone by in a blur. I am so guilty of this! As part of my plan to learn to be, I decided to take it easy and did not give myself a set itinerary or places to go.
I decided to get off the RER train at the Luxembourg stop because it seemed to be in a good location to walk around, plus I really wanted to see Les jardines du Luxembourg, or Luxembourg Gardens.
I walked through the rows of perfectly parallel trees until I reached the beautiful palace. It is surrounded by palm trees and beautiful flowers. In front of the palace, there is a pond. Many people were sitting around the pond chatting and eating lunch and children were sailing small boats.
It seemed to me like the perfect little piece of paradise. I just wanted to sit there all day outside in the warm sun with the rest of the Parisians and tourists who decided to relax in this idyllic oasis.
However, my stomach started to rumble and I knew I had to find food. So, I figured I would just wander around until I stumbled upon somewhere to eat.
Instead of finding food I ended up finding the Seine River and another beautiful Parisian gem, the Pont des Artes!
Unlike other Parisian bridges, this bridge (as well as the Pont de l’Archevêché) is famous for being covered in locks. It is a modern steel bridge on which lovers will place a lock that is inscribed with their initials or some other kind of message. I heard that this is supposed to make their love last forever. This is a relatively new tradition in Paris but the bridges are both fairly covered.
I crossed the bridge and the next street and continued walking and eventually stumbled upon a beautiful courtyard. I made a left and lo and behold:
I did not plan on seeing the Louvre at all since I had been there before. But seeing the pyramids again was very cool. I was upset I could not be there at nighttime. The Louvre is a great and huge museum and if you haven´t been to Paris, you may want to visit. The only issue is that you will probably end up spending more time waiting in line than you will spend in the actual museum. It seemed to be packed when I was there.
At this point I was basically famished! I spotted the Eiffel Tower and started to walk towards it. I figured there had to be restaurants and crêperies there.
Along the way, I saw the Egyptian Obelisk:
I realized that the Eiffel Tower was on the other side of the bridge, so I crossed the Seine and wandered towards the Eiffel Tower up some more side streets. I found rue Cler, which seemed like a good place for a little café or crêperie, and stumbled upon Ulysse en Gaule (28 rue Cler).
The restaurant is a bit tiny but has some outdoor seating. They offer a variety of French dishes and have a huge selection of both sweet and savory crêpes which you can order to go as well. I decided to sit outside and I ordered a cafe au lait and their speciale crêpe which has tomatoes, red peppers, green peppers, onions, feta cheese, emmental cheese and is topped with a fried egg.
I sat outside people-watching and enjoying my crêpe and coffee. Both tourists and Parisians strolled up and down the narrow pedestrian street and it was evident who was who. I did not have to hear them speak to know who was French and who was a tourist. The French seemed to exude elegance and confidence. Men were dressed well in tight pants, dress shirts and polished shoes and the women pulled off the infamous look of effortless beauty. I wondered who they were? What they were doing? Where they were going? Then I remembered that I had finished eating 30 minutes ago and needed to pay the bill.
My lunch, which was scrumptious and filling, only cost 15,50 €. Not too bad for Paris.
Afterwards, I slowly meandered over to the Eiffel Tower.
The weather was absolutely beautiful and sunny-perfect for being outside.
Paris has a number of great museums to visit and if you happen to have a layover there when it is raining, it may be a good idea to check them out. However, since I was cooped up in a plane for 7 hours, I wanted to be outside and walk around. Walking around a town or city-or at least part of a city-can show you a lot about the culture of the place. You can discover many hidden treasures this way, as well as famous monuments, and you really feel like you are a part of the city or town you are visiting.
After more people watching and relaxation by the Eiffel Tower, I decided to find another place to walk around. Since it was recommended to me many times, I headed over to the super posh Avenue des Champes Elysées.
Packed with Parisians and tourists from all around the world, the Avenue des Champes Elysées is a great place to go if you are looking to do some high-class shopping. The Avenue des Champes Elysées, along with the Rue Saint-Honoré, are both full of designer clothing stores (Louis Vuitton, Hermés-you name it!) as well as nice restaurants and many souvenir shops.
If you are at the Avenue des Champes Elysées, you can also see the famous Arc de Triomphe:
At this point in my trip, I was exhausted from walking (once again, I tried to do too much… sigh…) so I kept walking, slower, towards the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Along the way, I noticed people sitting along the banks of the Seine River, so I decided to do as the Parisians were doing and sat down with my feet hanging over the river.
I felt so calm and at peace, sitting there by the Seine. I enjoyed the smell of the river, the heat of the sun and the beautiful sights that surrounded me. The 30 minutes or so that I spent by the Seine were very “Zen.”
I had about 45 minutes until I planned on leaving Paris, so I decided to stop by the Notre Dame Cathedral because it was a two minute walk from the train station.
It is absolutely beautiful, majestic and impressive. Construction of the cathedral began in 1163 and when I was there, they were celebrating 850 years of Notre Dame. There were bleachers set up in front for people to sit, so I sat down and took in the beauty of the cathedral during my last few moments in Paris.
I’m done in Paris, so now what?
Unfortunately, Bagages du Monde (the place where I stored my luggage) closes at 9:30pm and because I didn’t want to feel rushed to make my flight the next morning, I had to leave Paris around 7:30pm. Overall, I spent about 6.5 hours in Paris. It was the perfect amount of time to explore and eat.
I returned to the train station, picked up my luggage and grabbed some food at a nearby restaurant. I ordered a sandwich and an extra-strong espresso. Despite its extra strength, the espresso could not wake me up enough so I decided to look for a hotel.
I had neither a reservation nor the means to make one, but I found out that there is a free hotel shuttle that leaves from the 5th floor of terminal 2 (as well as the other airport terminals). Since I did not want to pay €269 for one night in the Sheraton Hotel inside the airport, I took the shuttle to a hotel that everyone claimed was inexpensive and clean. Premiere Class in Roissy (the town that Charles de Gaulle is located in), along with a few other nearby hotels, had many open rooms and welcomed me with open arms. I paid €57 in all for the night in a single with a queen size bed and full bathroom plus the “free” airport shuttle (it actually costs €5… sigh). The room was very comfortable and the shuttle to the airport starts picking up at 5:20AM so I was able to make it to my 7:15AM flight to Madrid with time to spare.
Au revoir, Paris!