Paris ranks as one of the most popular cities in the world, and its romance, easily recognized sights, history, and architectural beauty puts it pretty much on every traveler’s to-do list. Despite being the most populous city of France, Paris proper, i.e., Paris within the Peripherique, the circular bypass road, is eminently walkable and lends itself to a brief stopover, although obviously, the longer the stay, the better.
Once in the city center, the most popular, must-tick-off sights are within a 30-minute strolling radius, or a brief hop on the easy to use metro, allowing even the most time-poor visitor to admire the city’s beauty and fall under its spell on a short Paris layover.
- VISA REQUIRED: No
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME, INTERNATIONAL TO DOMESTIC: 90 minutes
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME, INTERNATIONAL TO INTERNATIONAL: 70-75 minutes
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME TO LEAVE THE AIRPORT: 8 hours
Visa info for US citizens visiting France
US passport holders can stay visa free up to 90 days.
Minimum layover times for Paris
To make an international to domestic connection in Paris: 90 minutes
Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is France’s largest and busiest airport, and most international flights arrive here, but there is also Paris Orly airport, in the south of the city. While Orly is also an international airport, it is on a smaller scale, and there are no direct flights from the US, so we will concentrate here on CDG.
CDG has three terminals: 1, 2, and 3, with Terminal 2 having seven sub terminals 2A to 2G. The complicating factor is that all three terminals cover domestic and international flights, and where you land or check in depends on the airlines you are booked with. However, most flights from the US arrive in Terminal 2E.
Transferring between terminals is easy and straightforward, with Terminals 1 and 2 connected by fast rail shuttle taking around five minutes, with shuttles leaving every couple of minutes. Signage and announcements are clear and easy to understand. Walking between the sub terminals of Terminal 2 is fast and easy with good signage leading you along the quickest route.
As Terminal 1 is somewhat separate from Terminal 2, the shuttle is the easiest and fastest option to connect between the two, while Terminal 3 is a 5-10 minute walk from Terminal 2, with signs pointing the way. If you have booked connecting flights and checked your baggage through, then the transit time, even if you have to change terminals, is much reduced, but allow yourself 90 minutes in case of delays at passport control.
To make an international to international connection in Paris: 70-75 minutes
If you’re flying in and out of CDG, time-wise there is no big difference between arriving from the US and catching a flight to another city in France or catching a flight to a European country, or another international destination. In both cases you will need to go through passport control, and while for France or most other European countries, you will not need a visa, for other international connections you may well do. As long as your visas are in place, the time should not be affected. Again, the only factor that would add to your time, would be not checking your baggage all the way through to your final destination. For the reverse journey, it works the same way, as there are no separate procedures in place for travel to the US, travelers filter through the same system of passport control.
There are several other airports in the Paris area though, and how long you need to connect will depend on which one you’re flying from.
Orly Airport lies in the south of Paris but there is a direct connection with CDG via RER B trains, which run every 15 to 20 minutes from the RER station in Terminal 2 and take around 75 minutes. There is also a direct bus Le Bus Direct route 3, leaving from Terminal 1 and 2 every 20 or 40 minutes, taking around 60 to 70 minutes, but you can add probably another 20 minutes during rush hour.
Le Bourget Airport, mostly used for private business flights, is connected by RER B, with the journey taking around 25 minutes.
Beauvais Airport, some 55 miles north of Paris, is mostly a cheap airline hub for European airlines such as Ryanair. Traveling between Paris and Beauvais is not easy but can be done by local train from Gare du Nord to the Beauvais SNCF station, and from there to the terminal by taxi, allowing a minimum of 1.5 hours. There is a shuttle bus connecting Pershing Car park, next to Porte Maillot, with Beauvais, but it has no regular times, instead is arranged to suit departure times. The journey by bus takes around 1.15 hours but can take 30 minutes longer during busy times.
To leave the airport and explore Paris for part of the day: 8 hours
To have some time to explore Paris, you will need to take into consideration the time it takes to leave the airport, which is a minimum of 30 minutes, and then get into central Paris, which, by taxi or train, can take anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes. But an eight-hour layover should give you a comfortable four hours’ worth of strolling through Paris.
- 30 minutes to deplane and go through immigration and customs
- 30-60 mins to transit to downtown, depending on traffic
- 4 hours to explore
- 30-60 minutes to return to airport
- 1.5 hours to go back through security, get to your gate, and board the plane
Getting from the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to the city center
- BUS: 60 mins
- TAXI: 30 mins, depending on traffic
- RER: 40 minutes
The best bus to take is the Roissy Bus shuttle, which stops outside each terminal and drops you off in the center, by Opéra Palais Garnier. The bus takes roughly 60 minutes, and costs €13.70 each way.
Taking a taxi is by far the easiest, if most expensive option to get into the city center, but with the distinct advantage of dropping you off exactly where you want to start your excursion. On a normal day it should not take longer than 30 minutes, but that can at times double if you hit extreme rush hour traffic. Prices are fixed at €50 to the centre, or €55, if you go further south. Avoid any rides that say otherwise. An easy, cash- or card-free way of ordering a taxi from Paris is by smart phone app: G7 Taxi, whereas the airport has a rank.
With a train station in Terminal 2, and trains running roughly every 15 minutes, the RER B train is a fast and reliable way of getting into the center, with the most convenient stops being Chatelet-Les Halles or St Michel-Notre Dame. Tickets cost around €11.40 each way. Note that there are faster and slower trains, and regular strikes that can affect travel.
How to spend a short layover at the Paris airport
While there are plenty of superb airports for in-airport layovers around the world, Paris CDG, or any of the other Paris airports, is not one of them, to be honest. If you have time to spend, then Terminal 2 is the best option, but you will not get an option as to where you land and takeoff from, and you cannot leave your terminal while in transit. While you can shop and eat for a couple of hours, there really is nothing thrilling to tempt you to stay at the airport for any longer than you have to.
That said, Terminal 2E offers plenty of nice options to while away an hour or two, from the be relax spa in Terminal 2E to the Yotel Air, which offers sleep cabins on an hourly rate to passengers transiting through Terminal 2E. There are a variety of restaurants and shops in all terminals, but Terminal 2 is the best for both (Terminal 1 has limited options; Terminal 3 has pretty much nothing.)
There are a few lounges open to those not flying business or first class, such as the Icare Lounge in Terminal 1; and the Sheltair Lounge in Terminal 2D. There are a few dedicated rest zones in each terminal, together with a handful of arcade games, and WiFi throughout. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to change terminals if you don’t have a boarding pass for that terminal.
Foodwise, you can expect the odd McDonald’s in some terminals, Brioche or Paul cafes, and, for best croissants there is Maison Pradier, at several sub-terminals. There is one fine dining option, I Love Paris by Guy Martin in Terminal 2E.There is a Starbucks in Terminal 1, and in several subterminals of Terminal 2.
How to spend a Paris layover outside the airport
If you are lucky enough to have an eight-hour layover, and can spend four of those hours in Paris, you can see a lot of the city. If it is your first time, you could go on a Big Bus tour to get an overview of the best sights and their location, hopping off and on as you go.
To get the best of the Paris atmosphere, concentrating on arrondissements 1 to 5, where you will find the grand boulevards, the Louvre (book ahead), the Musée d’Orsay (again, pre-book), Notre Dame, La Conciergerie, and many other sights. For a perfect afternoon of shopping and the odd stop for coffee, people-watching or an aperitif, head to the Marais, which never disappoints.
If you have a four- to six-hours layover, you might not have the time to travel into central Paris, but you could go to Disneyland Paris for a ride or two. The TGV trains from Terminal 2 take you to the stop Marne la Vallée Chessy in around 10 minutes and run several trains per hour.
Alternatively, the mall Aéroville, with ample shopping, food options, and cinemas, is four miles away. It’s a 10-minute taxi or bus ride, with the T’Bus stopping outside Terminal 2.
How to spend an overnight layover in Paris
Spending an evening in Paris could turn out to be the best part of the layover, as Paris isn’t called the City of Light for nothing. Stay in a hotel in the city center, in arrondissements 1 to 7, and you can walk the city at night, enjoy the sparkling Eiffel Tower (after dark, it twinkles for five minutes every full hour), and sit outside at one of the many café terraces. The center is utterly safe at night, even after dark.
Hotels such as The Edgar or The Hoxton offer a central location and trendy design, all at an affordable budget, within walking distance to all the sights. If you have an early flight to catch, you could opt to stay closer to the Arc de Triomphe, in a place such as the lovely Hotel Regent’s Garden, for quicker access to the ring road.
With most of the main attractions within easy walking distance from each other, you can walk from the Eiffel Tower along the Seine past the Louvre to Notre Dame for the best scenery in town. On Thursdays most museums, such as the Musée d’Orsay stay open until 9.45PM, and, remember, in France people do not go out for dinner until around 8 or 9PM, so there’s plenty of time to stroll and stop for an aperitif before dinner time.
Need to Know
- CURRENCY: Euro
- LANGUAGE: French
- SAFETY: B+
- COST: $$$ (out of $$$$$)
- BEST TIME TO GO: Spring/Fall
Currency in France
The currency is the Euro, and the best way to get cash is from the ATMs. There are plenty of exchange bureaus near the main attractions, such as on Rue de Rivoli next to the Tuileries Gardens, should you need to change cash for cash. Cards are widely accepted, with tap on service available in even the smallest shops and cafes.
Cost in Paris
Paris is not cheap but can be done on a budget. The closer you are to a tourist attraction, the more everything will cost. Sit outside one of the most popular cafes, such as the Café de Flore and a cappuccino will cost you €7.40, but go to a side street, and it will cost you less than €5.00.
A decent enough dinner for one will set you back around €30, but go to a boulangerie for a baguette sandwich, and you can fill up on less than €7.00. An overnight stay in a small non-chain hotel can be found for around €150, while that inevitable glass of champagne will cost around €12.
Weather & Best Time to Go to Paris
To paraphrase the cliché, Paris is always good, whatever the season. Generally speaking, spring and fall are best, but can be rainy. Winter is beautiful with the bare trees allowing the architecture to shine, but summer can be uncomfortably hot with AC not prevalent in the city, crowds at their worst, and all Parisians away for the summer.
Safety in Paris
France ranks 66 out of 163 countries on the Global Peace Index, a statistic affected by the protests that have taken place in recent years. But Paris on the whole is very safe to walk around, even for women alone, as long as you stick to the inner center. Two problems Paris does have are pickpockets and tourist scams, so keeping a close hold of all possessions at all times is a must, especially in train stations and on public transportation.
Transport in Paris
The metro and the city’s buses are fast, reliable, and easy to use. Visitors can buy a Mobilis Pass at most larger metro hubs, which serve more than one metro line, valid for a day, that allow travel on all transport within central zones. The RATP app shows all connections, where to change, and times, even carbon footprint.
Food & Drink in Paris
Skip the (usually overpriced) hotel breakfast. Instead, do as the French do and order a coffee and croissant on any café terrace, for a cheaper and better experience. For lunch, you cannot do better than buying a fresh baguette and some cheese from small local stores and picnicking in a park or along the Seine.
But for dinner you might want to try an old-fashioned and pretty brasserie such as Chez Julien near the Hôtel de Ville, or Brasserie Bellanger near Gare du Nord, for traditional fare, ranging from steak frites to an Île flottante dessert, where a soft dollop of meringue floats in creme anglaise, making it light and delicious at the same time.
French is the local language, and even though English is widely spoken, an attempt at greeting everybody, from waiters to shop assistants in French is not only appreciated but will also result in better service.
Place Dauphine must be one of the prettiest squares in the city, yet you can easily miss it. In the middle of the Seine, on the Île de la Cité, is it the place to sit and watch locals play boules (similar to Italian bocce).
Climbing the Eiffel Tower. The queues are long, and the eventual views are of Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Instead, go to the rooftop terrace of Galeries Lafayette Haussmann department store for views across the city with the Eiffel tower.