What to Do on a Layover in Paris?
It’s summer again in Paris and that means sunshine and sun bathing in the beautiful gardens of the city, taking a long and lazy stroll in avenues of Paris.
For those having some time in the city on a layover, you’re in luck as we’ll be giving you the top tips on what to do when you’re in the city! Perhaps you will soon have a stopover in Paris? Read on to find out what you can see and do!
Whatever the reason, you may have some time to kill in The City Of Lights. Since layovers and stopovers are of different durations, I give you below what I consider to be the best use of your time on your short stops in the French Capital, depending on the time you have.
General Principles & Time required for a safe Layover
Before I begin, let me tell you what amount of time I consider is necessary if you want to enjoy your time in Paris. Unless you have at least this amount of time available between your flights, don’t bother trying to reach Paris, you would only risk missing your connecting flight.
You should always keep some time to clear the border, and some time before your next flight. For international flights, allow at least 2 to 3 hours within the terminal itself. Also, before going further, remember to check with your airline, based on the types of ticket and connection you have, whether you are allowed to officially enter France and can exit the airport, or not and must, therefore, remain within the international area of the airport.
If you arrive into France from abroad, chances are you will land into one of the major Paris airports. There are three of them : Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG), Orly (ORY) and Beauvais (BVA). CDG and ORY offer many options to get into Paris, while BVA is a bit less practical and much further away.
Therefore, depending on how long you have ahead of you, it will not always be easy to take in the sights within Paris. As a general rule of thumb, be aware that if you have less than 7 or 8 hours between your flights, you should NOT try to come into Paris. With that out of the way, let’s explore some options below!
Less than 3 hours between Flights
With less than 3 hours between flights, you should not even consider venturing out of the airport. You still need to calculate the time needed to clear the border, the security, the potential check-in, etc. Moreover, you should always consider the possibility that your first flight might arrive later than it’s scheduled. This leaves you very little time for yourself.
While in a Paris airport, take advantage of this time to get a glimpse of what France has to offer. You may taste the excellent French gastronomy by sitting in one of the many restaurants and cafés your airport certainly offers. If you prefer spending your time shopping, head to the duty free store for good deals on some French luxury products such as perfumes and jewels.
Less than 7 hours between Flights
Having less than 7 hours ahead of you is too short to attempt going all the way to Paris. However, this leaves you quite some time to enjoy your layover beyond the mere Duty Free shopping experience.
For instance, if you are at CDG airport, you may consider the following:
- Head to Terminals 1 or 2 and look for the art displayed there. Indeed, many French art institutions – including the Louvre – lend pieces of art to decorate the terminals and allow transferring passengers to enjoy them. You may find the whole exhibition program here.
- If your flight departing from Paris leaves from Terminal 2E, you may also head to the area named Instant Paris, at terminal 2E. This place is a free relaxing area with many entertainment options, in a cosy and classy environment. You may choose to immerse yourself in a virtual visit of Paris, to read a book, watch the news, relax in massaging chairs, and even play KAPLAS!
- If you wish to freshen up a little, you may also head to Terminal 2E and have a stop at the YotelAir. This is an area of the airport where you may have a shower in a private cabin (20€) or book a room for a nap (bookable for 4 hours minimum).
- You may enjoy massages and a spa at the Be Relax spaces of the airport, located almost in every terminal for basic care, and at terminal 2E for the spa.
- You may play some arcade games in the airport arcades area.
If you are at Orly, you may also enjoy massages in smaller Be Relax spaces, see artwork across the Terminals, and enjoy a good book in the airport library. Who knew there’s an airport library at Orly, eh?!
Lastly, if you land in Beauvais Airport, you may take bus 6 of the Corolis network to head into the local town of Beauvais. Allow about 30min to Beauvais, and 30min back. In Beauvais, the impressive and atypical gothic cathedral is a must-see.
It has a vault that is considered the tallest in the world even before Saint Peter’s in Rome. The main nave was never built, resulting in a surprising ensemble. Next to the cathedral is the cute (and free) Museum of Oise or MUDO, which makes a nice stop.
More than 7 hours between your Flights
If you have more time – 7 hours being the very minimum – you may attempt to reach Paris to catch a glimpse of it.
First, consider your transportation options:
Arriving from CDG:
Charles de Gaulle Airport is located 25km (16miles) north of Paris.
If you choose to take a taxi or a driver to Paris, transportation time varies depending on the traffic. It will take you at least 50 minutes to get into the Right Bank. However, I recommend you allow yourself one hour and a half each way, and two hours if you choose to go to the Left Bank.
If you choose to use public transportation instead, you have several options: the suburban train (RER) line B runs directly from CDG to Paris (you may need to take the CDGVal free shuttle train to transfer from your terminal to the RER departure terminal) which costs less than 12€ and takes about 40 minutes.
You may check beforehand whether the service is operational here. Line B of the RER is often the first line impacted in times of strikes, so don’t forget to check.
If you prefer buses, several options are available depending on where you wish to go. In all cases, allow one hour and a half to be safe, and roughly 20€ for the ride.
You may pick the RoissyBus if you go to Opera, the Bus Direct if you go to the Eiffel Tower or Montparnasse (check the detailed lines and stops here), the bus 350 if you go to the Gare de l’Est area (cost: 6€), or the bus 351 if you go to the Nation area (cost: 6€).
For a layover, the best option is to take RER B.
Arriving from ORY:
Orly is located 13km (8 miles) south of Paris. Using taxis or buses, you may expect roughly the same amount of time (from 45min to 1h30) as the one needed from CDG, as the roads south of Paris are generally saturated and delays are long. From ORY you may take the OrlyBus leading to Denfert-Rochereau or the Bus Direct to the Eiffel Tower.
You may prefer the rail system, which is much faster (count 30 to 40min). Expect to pay 12.10€ if you choose to take the OrlyVal shuttle from ORY to “Anthony” and take line B of the RER from Anthony into Paris.
Another option is to take the bus shuttle “Go C Paris” from ORY to “Pont de Rungis” and take line C of the RER into Paris (take trains named GOTA or NORA heading to Pontoise or Montigny)
From ORY the best option for a layover is to take OrlyVal and RER B.
Arriving from BVA:
Beauvais Airport is not convenient because it is located 75km North of Paris. There is a direct shuttle (check hours and fares here) but it requires at least 1h15 (expect more 1h45-2h) just to get you to the outer rim of Paris.
Considering these long travel times (at least 4 hours round trip) I don’t recommend doing a stopover in Paris if you arrive into Beauvais, unless you have one night between your flights.
Now, let’s consider that you managed to enter Paris. You now have a few hours ahead of you before needing to run back to the airport.
In this situation, I don’t recommend visiting specific places or museums. Indeed, Paris museums require you to purchase a ticket and lines can be long. During a layover, you want to minimize wasting time.
Luckily, Paris is an interesting city to tour even without entering buildings. To optimize your visit, choose to discover the Right Bank if your airport is CDG or BVA, and the Left Bank if your airport is ORY.
One of your best options is to book an hour or 90-minute tour to see the best of the French Capital. Remember that we, at Discover Walks, offer both: a 90-minute sightseeing tour of the Right Bank and of the Left-Bank.
If times don’t fit your schedule you may consider any of our other tours or choose to book a bus tour instead.
If you prefer to see the French Capital by yourself, there are thousands of options as to what you can do.
If you have never been to Paris, one good option on the Right Bank is to leave RER B at Châtelet-Les Halles, and walk to the yard of the Louvre. Then, walk across the Tuileries Garden and Place de la Concorde.
Walk the Champs-Elysées all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and take Avenue Kleber, all the way to Trocadero for a fantastic view out to the Eiffel Tower. From there, take line 9 back to the center and head back to RER B. You will need from two to three hours to complete this.
The Louvre is located between two important landmarks of the capital, the garden of the Tuileries, and the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois church, on the right bank. We don’t recommend standing in line unless you have an overnight stay in Paris. Being one of the most popular museums in the world, the lines are long and you won’t want to miss your flight!
The two closest metro stations are Palais royal – musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7), and Louvre-Rivoli (line 1). There are three main entrances to the Louvre museum Paris, by the Pyramid and the Carrousel gallery, by the Richelieu passageway, or by the lions’ gate.
Take line 9 back to the center and head back to RER B to Châtelet station then subway line 1 to Louvre-Rivoli station (55 min). You will need from two to three hours to see the Louvre from the outside and go back, but it’ll be a tight schedule!
On the Left Bank, consider leaving RER B at Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame for a great view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
From there, depending on the time you have, you may spend some time in the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain des Prés. If you wish to see the Eiffel Tower, take line 10 at Odéon and get off the train at La Motte-Picquet Grenelle, from where you will be able to walk to the tower.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Are you a nature lover and prefer to discover Paris’s natural beauty and history all in one place? Then, head straight to the Luxembourg gardens in the centre of the city.
The gardens sit right on the boarder between two important Parisian neighborhoods: Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter. They’re on the Left Bank, and are known for being a cultural hub.
The easiest way to get from anywhere in the city to the gardens is to make use of the metro and ride it up until the Luxembourg stop. This is toward the north of the grounds, and there is another stop further south called Port-Royal. You have to take the RER B to Luxembourg station and back and you’ll need at least 2-3 hours to do this.
Only One Night in Paris
By far your best situation is having only one entire night in Paris. It is a great way to take some time without rushing.
All I have said before remains valid, but you can enjoy things in a much calmer way. Also, you know that I usually advise travelers to go beyond the tourist paths. I say that because I know that when you spend a full weekend or even a week in Paris, you always have time to do the cliché activities, so I’d rather focus on the rest.
However, in this specific case of a stopover, I would say the exact opposite and advise you to see the cliché Paris that makes us all dream! You only have a few hours before leaving Paris (or maybe even France) so you might as well make the most of it.
In addition to the tours I suggested earlier, why not spend your night in the Montmartre area, for instance? You could wander the winding old streets and enjoy the village feel, eat French food in good restaurants (see our great article here on where to eat), and, if your budget allows it, even spend the night at the Moulin Rouge!
Another option could be to take a Bateau Mouche and see Paris from its most impressive: from the River Seine.
One piece of advice though: depending on your time of flight the next day, you may need to book a hotel next to the airport. If you do so, be careful for RER train service because it ends at 00:30AM at night. You may also consider booking a hotel near the train line, which is near Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, or in the Marais near Châtelet-les-Halles.
You have a stopover in Paris coming soon? Tell us in the comments what option you have chosen!
Updated Farah in June 2022