What should you do if you’re stuck in an airport for half a day? Well, firstly, let’s dispel the myth about whether you can or can’t leave an airport during a layover. The rules are that unless you’re jumping from one plane straight onto another, all airports will allow you to leave their premises between flights.
With this in mind, so long as you’ve got enough time to play with, there’s nothing to stop you heading out and enjoying some sights and sounds that don’t involve duty free shops and ‘last calls’.
Visitors with a long layover in Paris (the city has two international airports – Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly) have an added incentive to get out of the terminal and explore. On your doorstep is one of the world’s most visually stunning and culturally captivating urban metropolises.
Of course, with such a limited amount of time, you’re going be on a tight schedule. So here’s my hour-by-hour suggestion for how to make the most of a long layover in Paris:
If you’re arriving into Garde du Nord, you will be in a plum spot to begin your whistle-stop tour of Paris, being within walking distance of many of the city’s main sites and attractions.
From Gare du Nord, take a stroll west down Rue la Fayette. This exclusive avenue is the perfect introduction to Parisian street life and its juxtaposition of traditional and modern architecture. Drop into Galeries Lafayette, a 10-storey department store, for a browse of the latest fashion fads in one of the word’s sartorial meccas.
Once you reach the end of La Fayette, head south and you will eventually arrive at a vast area of greenery called Jardens des Tuileries. This is one of Paris’s most important landmarks, with the world-famous Louvre Museum to the east, the River Seine to the south, and the Place de la Concorde to the west. Spend 45 minutes here, taking in the panoramic views and enjoying refreshments in one of the riverside cafes.
Hour 3 & 4
After that well-earned rest, you’ll be ready to enter one of the world’s most important cultural institutions: The Louvre Museum. Home to nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century, the museum could keep you captivated for hours, but with time of the essence, you’ll have to restrict yourself for just a couple on this occasion.
Walking west out of the Louvre and across the Jardens des Tuileries will land you at the start of the Champs Elysees. This wide and exclusive avenue, lined with fashion boutiques and the cafes that epitomise Parisian street life, is one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world. Here you can stop for food, though you will pay a price owing to the prestigious location. A relaxing amble will lead you to another famous Parisian landmark – the Arc de Triomphe, an imposing concrete arc that looms large over the Place de l’Étoil.
Walk south from the Arch de Tromphe down Avenue Kleber and you will get to Palais de Chailot, located in the Trocadero district. This is the famous back-drop to the Eiffel Tower, which you will now be able to view in all its majesty across the river. Take in the views and enjoy the wonder of the landscape before heading across the river (via the Pont d’Iéna bridge) for the main event.
No trip to Paris would be complete without a trip up the Eiffel Tower. The iconic structure is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, allowing visitors to take elevators to near the top for panoramic views of the city.
Hour 8 & 9
Now it’s time to experience Paris’ famous metro system. But not just for the experience. You should head north and get off at one of the following stops: Place de Clichy, La Fourche or Abbesses. This should give you plenty of time to explore the bohemian Montmarte district and the nearby Basillica Sacre Coeur.
And that will just about bring to an end your mini Paris adventure. From here you can catch a metro or RER high-speed service back to Charles de Gaulle.
Paul Joseph is a London-based writer and author. He writes for CharlesdeGaulleAirport.co.uk, a definite guide to Paris’s largest airport, including things to do, Charles de Gaulle Airport hotels and much more.