This is a live-written account of my 7.5 hour layover in Paris which happened on Tuesday February 9th.
I was traveling alone, carry-on luggage only, I already had Euros and it was my first time in the CDG airport.
My game plan was to see 1 place. Visit and go up into the Eiffel Tower, walk through the surrounding streets and have the classic coffee and a croissant treatment at a nearby coffee shop. In my planning for this layover I googled and sifted through so many forums on people’s opinions and feedback; but no hard evidence on how/if it could be done. I found plenty of people only bickering; saying 7 hours is not enough time, can’t be done, don’t risk it etc. Well, I did it, and I wrote each step laid out and time-stamped as I was doing it.
I hope this write-up can put an end to all your searching and the questions regarding your possible Paris layover, and for non layover tourists it can still provide directions on how to get into the city (It was also written after a 9 hour overnight flight from the US with no sleep, I was deeply jet-lagged but still very eager!).
5:30am Landed (30 minutes ahead of schedule).
Used the restroom, changed clothes, brushed teeth that whole routine. Trekked through the terminal, up escalators, through long hallways, around corners.
6am Hit customs. Through customs in 3 minutes; over 12 lanes were open which was great.
6:05am Searched for 20 minutes and asked 10 different people the same question. “Excuse me, where is bagage du monde?” This means baggage storage. I Finally found it in terminal 2 top floor. That sounds vague, but once you get through customs you enter the main departing area, and this is where it is. The bag checkin took less than 5 minutes and was 7€ for 0-6hrs of storage time.
6:20am Went straight downstairs and there were the metro/train ticket kiosks, but directions aren’t very clear on buying an unlimited ticket. FYI, to get from CDG to the Eiffel Tower you need to take the RER train line B to C. I explain more when that step comes. Side story: A random guy (not CDG staff) noticed I was struggling with buying a ticket, he walked up asked if I had cash and before I could answer he stuck his credit card in the machine and tried to buy my ticket for me. He asked to get the $20 from me he saw in my wallet. As anyone would, I got annoyed, told him to back up and I can figure it out. Turns out he was trying to take advantage and overcharge me. He kept floating around to other people at their machines and tried to pull the same thing.
So I purchased 1 “to Paris” ticket, €10. About $13. Out came 1 ticket. But that part was simple. Then I went to select the return ‘to Paris’ ticket. €20. Why was the price different? Why did the return option also say, “to Paris”? Didn’t make any sense. I walked into a few shops to ask, most weren’t that helpful. The information desk finally opened at 6:30. As she also didn’t understand my questions, I just went ahead and selected return “to Paris” ticket, which just seemed confusing but I didn’t want to waste time. You would think it would say return “from Paris”. Who knows. So I bought, and this time 2 tickets came out. I selected 1 ticket only, just like my other ticket. I think it cheated me out of €10. Whatever, let’s get into the city!
6:45am Jumped on the RER B train nearby, was easy to find, in sight of the ticket kiosks. The train only departs I believe every 10-15 minutes.
6:55am I was in route. The longest hold up from landing to being in route on the RER train was the buying ticket confusion, nearly 30 minutes wasted.
From getting off the plane to being on the train: 5:35am – 6:55am (1hr 20min)
7:40am Made it to St. Michael Notre dame station (transferring to C line station)
7:50am Unclear where to make the line B to C transfer; eventually found it and walked to the C line. (I have little good advice on how to find it. It was through a random hallway and a small sign stated C yellow line, but no arrow.) Waited 5 minutes and it came. The train outsides are unmarked. The C train was a double decker, two levels of seats and the seats were decent quality cloth and clean. From here the Champs de Mars tour Eiffel station is only a few stops away. Check above train doors to see the map.
8:05am Made it to the Eiffel Tower! I was the only one outside, very windy and cold. Walked around the river, crossed a bridge, found a coffee shop at 8:45 and waited until the tower opened up at 9:30.
9:25am Met a group of 3 people in the ticket line, 2 from Düsseldorf Germany. They were coming back from Thailand and on a layover just like me. The 3rd guy they met in the airport and decided to all visit the tower over their layovers together. The 3rd guy was coming from Tel-Aviv, an American student off a 4 month school session now on break headed home to Boston. Some pretty cool guys.
9:45am Went up to the 2nd level of the tower, the top floor was closed due to wind.
10:15am Waiting for the elevator to go down; waited about 10 minutes. Walked back to the Champs de Mars station.
10:35am Hit the C train headed back to the Notre dame station to pickup the B train. (Don’t forget to get on the opposite side of the train tracks, opposite side in which you came!) Helped some French people find their way to another train stop as they were lost, and obviously I’m a Paris expert haha.
10:50am Hit the B train. I got on the right train but going the wrong direction. Got off on the next stop and just walked over to the other side of the tracks and waiting to get back on the right track.
11am Headed to CDG. Once again, soon after I got on this train I noticed it was going the right direction, but this time it was in route to split off into another line, missing the airport. I found the right line, B3, after about 15 minutes of searching and asking a couple people.
11:50am Arrived back at CDG terminal 2, terminal 1 and 3 are the 2nd to last stop on B3, and terminal 2 is the last stop. Exact same location where I boarded the train to Paris. That was relaxing, knowing that my stored bags are right upstairs and I already knew how to get there. Now I can walk back to my next flight terminal with plenty of time.
12pm Picked up my bags from terminal 2 bagages du monde and started my way to gate L. I assume it was within terminal 2 but it was so far away it didn’t feel like the same area.
12:20pm After the very long walk it was, at least 20 minutes, I then ran into customs/border control. It was a very long line. In fact I barely had any left over time. Customs earlier this morning was a breeze, but mid day was a nightmare.
1:05pm I arrived at the gate L44 and almost everyone was already boarded.
1:30pm took off at the scheduled time.
2: Restroom, morning routine, change clothes for weather (optional)
4: Baggage storage (optional)
5: RER train ticket
6: RER line B
7: Transfer to line C
8: Arrive at Eiffel Tower
9: Walk around, take photos, relax in a coffee shop
10: Enter Eiffel Tower
11: Back to train station
12: Train line transfer
13: Arrive at CDG airport
14: Pick up bags
15: Enter customs
16: Locate and arrive at gate
I spent a total of 8 hours from plane touchdown to sitting on my next flight. I was in the city for 2 solid hours; about 2:10 to be accurate. As you can see, my 7.5 hour layover using 2 hours in the city was the max I could have spent, which worked out perfect, because I made a couple timely mistakes with train switching and asking newbie airport questions. Keep in mind my method was using the RER train. My train travel time was about 1.5 hours each way.
Maybe you can squeeze 2.5 or even 3 hours in the city, if you can get 3 hours in the city from a 7.5 hour layover then you would have time for the ET and possibly 1 more nearby attraction. I didn’t want to rush; I took my time with the Eiffel Tower enjoying it and the stroll around the nearby area all I could.
So if you follow my schedule with a 7.5 hour layover, and you have common sense but are still a first timer, you should have 2 solid hours to do the 3 things: Eiffel Tower, a short walk around the area and a 30 minute coffee shop and croissant unwinding session.
If I could do the layover again I honestly wouldn’t change anything. Personally I didn’t forget anything, everything I wrote down here was just what I needed. A couple important tips:
- The information desk in terminal 2 doesn’t open until 6:30am
- The Eiffel Tower doesn’t open until 9:30am and they close the top deck if there is bad weather
- Every CDG employee I encountered spoke English at least fairly well, but some weren’t much help.
Consider walking time.
You either know the airport/terminal layout of CDG or you don’t. CDG is a very big airport, and can feel even bigger to a foreigner. There’s no way to study for it appropriately; I tried to get the layout stuck in my head in my pre-layover planning but it’s so different once you actually get in there. Pad some time in for asking multiple people the same question, as most of my airport staff members were vague in directing me. Also if you’re going from terminal 2 to any L gate, all I know for sure is you’ll spend at least 15 minutes walking.
Focus when on the RER train.
The RER train has crappy intercom speakers which fade in and out, and they quietly announce the station stop, only once, over the intercom. A good tip is to pay attention to the lit up dots on the overhead map within the trains; make sure your destination is lit up, if lights exist on your specific train as some don’t have lights at all. If you’re lights aren’t lit up, you may be on the correct letter line but wrong number line (I was on B5 on the return, I needed B3). In Paris each lettered line has multiple lines within; B lines have B1-7. It was very difficult to locate the right number within the B line. In station ‘Châtelet-Les Halles’, there are many connecting trains in that terminal (A,B,C,D etc.) so it was difficult to find B out of 8 choices. I saw an arrow pointed to the left for line B, then I walked around the sign on the other side had an arrow pointing down for the same line B. That didn’t make sense. Very confusing, if you don’t know the train system in Paris add in some extra time for missed train connections. The Champs station drops you off right on the corner of the Eiffel Tower, a half block away. You have to walk 30 seconds straight from the station exit and you will run into the tower.
Complete any steps which can be done in pre-trip planning.
It’s always a good idea to do any errand for your layover ahead of time if possible. It can dramatically cut down on wasted time. I bought 50€ in the US at a local bank the day before my flight to save time on my layover. There is no reason to do that in CDG when you can do things like this ahead of time.
Have your money situation under control.
There’s no worse feeling than being in a foreign country with insufficient funds! I had my €50 but I try to use my credit cards often as possible because mine are special. They have no foreign transaction fees, and the rate I get at the time of swiping is the exact currency exchange rate the CC will charge it as. It won’t take any CC fees or even a conversion fee. The thing with paper money, a fee is incurred when changing currency. Still, to be safe I had cash, only as a backup. I use the Marriott Rewards card and the IHG Rewards Club card. I called Chase bank before notifying of my travels, but still had a declined swipe with my IHG. Thankfully I have 2 credit cards! Luckily my Marriott card went through. I highly recommend owning at least 2 credit cards; having only 1 is the same as having 0. If 1 ever gets declined you have no backup card.
Customs is an unpredictable but necessary step.
I was coming from USA and going to Egypt, so yes I hit customs twice, leaving CDG and coming back in. Take note of the day and time you are going through; mornings are usually empty but as the day grows customs lines at CDG get very long. My morning customs visit was great but the return customs was packed.
Leave time for the unexpected.
Like I said, I studied the terminal map to find the path of where I’d be landing to where the bag storage is, but there’s no knowing the lay of the land until you’re in there. Luckily I had no line in the storage area, and it only took 4 minutes to check it in, pay and leave. I also had problems with buying RER tickets, train station transfers, and a longer than expected customs line. Factor in an hour or more if you want to be smart and play it safe.
The Euro is very strong right now; more so than the USD. My simple trip was not cheap. What I spent money on during the layover in order (all with credit card):
– Baggage storage, I chose 6hr option: 7€
– 2 RER tickets: 30€
– 1 coffee & croissant: 7€
– 1 Eiffel Tower elevator ticket to 2nd floor: 17€
– 2 small touristy souvenirs in the ET gift shop: 10€