Hello! I am Sara Ullmer, a teacher, lover of travel, adventure, the outdoors, and interesting people. Cori asked me to do a guest post on a layover in Paris, so here I go!
I only had three simple goals for experiencing Paris on my layover: 1. Eat something delicious 2. See something interesting 3. Drink something delicious. Without too much agony, I accomplished those and a couple bonus experiences. Before I layout some tips and advice, I have to give a shout out to Adventurous Kate’s Solo Travel Blog, I used her ideas as an outline for my first layover in Paris and gave me confidence to independently create a plan for my second layover.
I was ultimately flying to Croatia, but spending an afternoon and night in Paris both there and back. Though getting to areas in Paris are very doable from the airport, I would caution you to be conservative with time. The security lines (varies day to day obviously, but something to consider) were very long and I had to go through passport checks as well, making my check in take over 2 hours when leaving Paris. Depending on how savvy you are traveling, I would say you need at least 5-7 hours of layover to make it worth it to go into Paris. Each of my adventures (which could be significantly shortened by cutting out the immense walking I did) took about 7 hours.
Some general tips/advice before I give itineraries:
- There are three terminals at the Paris airport, that are disconnected and spread out. Terminal 2 is the easiest to figure out train from, but doable from others. Terminal 2 has storage for baggage. Carry-ons up to 10 kg up to 12 hours was 10 euros. Make sure to keep track of your retrieval tag!
- The easiest trail to take is RER B line and will cost you 20 Euros for a two way ticket.
- Trains will often show their final destination on the screens in the stations, so know what direction you are headed and more than just your exit.
- To get to the Notre Dame stop, it takes about 30-40 minutes depending on what train you take (see more below).
- There are kiosks in terminal 2 (long lines when I was there unless you can pay cash) or terminal 3/1 (funnel to the same place). There is also a person selling them in terminal 3/1 if you prefer to ask questions.
- Keep your train ticket (even if you get one ways) because you need to use it to exit the station. Save yourself some embarrassment and have it ready.
- On some of the trains there are lights lighting up the stops that the train is going to. It is a good way to double check you are on the right train.
- Downloading the off line maps on Google maps on my phone was VERY helpful in my wanderings. Directions of how to do that are here.
- If you are spending the night, I’d say it was easiest to stay at an airport hotel which has free shuttles to and from the airport. I arrived, explored, went back to the airport, and then caught the shuttle to the airport. It took out the stress of trains the morning of my flight.
Itineraries (2 separate layovers):
Notre Dame, wandering, and river:
Take the RER B line to the Notre Dame stop. You will pop out across the street from the Notre Dame (you’ll see it!). Some trains stop and force you to transfer at the Gare du Nord Stop (they will announce in French and English that it is ending and heading the opposite direction and everyone will get off). Get off, and catch the next RER B train going to Notre Dame. There will be signs towards the direction you are looking for (either Robinson or Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse).
After you are out of the train, enjoy the Notre Dame. I didn’t go inside because of long lines, but there is a lovely park behind to sit in. Because I always want to know where the bathrooms are–let me save you some misery and let you know that bathrooms near the Notre Dame were the only public ones I found outside of restaurants in that area and it cost me 2 euros a time. Cash only!
From Notre Dame, I walked across the river and walked around the little alleys and shops for a bit. I ate ice cream at Berthillion Glacier (fantastic), got a crossiant from a little bakery with some café (save yourself some trouble and know that café is espresso and café crème is with milk. Check out more specifics about ordering coffee here.) and went to the river to sit and sip. It was lovely to watch boats and people go by. I also checked out Shakespeare and Company–a fantastic used/new English book store. Then I walked along the river for a long time, trying to get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower (I eventually did after about 45 minutes of walking). People were drinking wine and having picnics all along the river–so fun to see!
Then I found a cafe (you must wander through the streets of Paris at least a bit!) and ordered some bread and wine (my menu for the day was mostly carbs and liquids and so delightful for it!). I sat and read in a tiny walkway and loved it. I highly recommend absorbing Paris through drinking and eating at a cafe off the beaten trail. Then I caught the train back to the airport (same line but opposite direction).
Eiffel Tower, crepes, walking
During my second layover my two goals were to go to the Eiffel Tower, see the Luxembourg gardens and eat crepes (I like to keep my goals simple!). I took the RER B line to the Luxembourg exit. It gets you right across from the gardens! There are multiple crepe shops up the road (to the right from the stop) where I found lunch before exploring the gardens. A note about cash–I got out 20 euros from my first stop in Paris and it was nice for bathrooms, small purchases that I didn’t want to use my card for. Every restaurant/cafe I went to accepted card, as did the kiosks to get train tickets.
The gardens were beautiful and a perfect stroll (and had free public bathrooms!). There are ice cream kiosks, fun water fountains, and plenty of people! I then walked to the Eiffel tower through some gorgeous streets, walking by many beautiful buildings. I will warn you though, it was quite the walk. It was a bit over two miles one way. I love walking through towns and I had the time so it was great (took me about 45 minutes). You could take a transfer at Gare du Nord that would get you closer to the Eiffel Tower.
I highly recommend walking up to 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. It is cheaper (prices and information here.) and saved me quite a bit of time with shorter lines. The lines at the base were shorter for walking and I didn’t have to wait to get to the elevator from the second floor. The views were stunning and I’d recommend going up in some capacity!
I walked back to the gardens, enjoying the shops and buildings along the way. Then I went to another crepe stand to get a crepe to go and caught the train back to the airport. I highly recommend embracing your Paris layover, have fun!