Layover in Paris : the best ways to spend your time
If you’ve got a stopover in Paris it’d be a shame to miss out on the world’s most visited city. So what should you do to make the best out of your day, as a typical Parisian would?
Getting to Paris center from CDG Airport
Getting to Paris center from Orly Airport
1) Get around Paris by Coach
Discovering Paris on an air-conditioned coach with large windows is a great way to learn about the capital’s history while getting close-up views of its must-see monuments. With an audio guide in the language of your choice, you’ll cruise comfortably past the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Hôtel des Invalides, the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Orsay Museum, the Place de la Concorde, the Panthéon, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Opéra Garnier and the Place Vendôme -- to name just a few!
In Paris for just one evening? Then a City Tour will ensure that you experience the City of Light’s nocturnal magic. With its grandiose monuments and bridges all lit up, the city bathes in a fairytale-like atmosphere. Indeed, the “Iron Lady” dons her lovely, sparkling dress every evening, twinkling with a golden glow for the first five minutes of every hour, on the hour, and sometimes gets dressed up to celebrate certain events while her beacon illuminates the city below. It goes without saying that postcards don’t beat seeing the city in person.
So don’t hesitate to visit Paris if you’ve got enough time between your flights! Pay attention, however, to the passage of time; in Paris, it simply flies by...If you miss your flight, don’t say we didn’t warn you!
2) Grab a Bite at the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower, conceived by architect Gustave Eiffel, has dominated the Parisian skyline since 1889. One of France’s most recognizable symbols, the Tower was built in record time -- 2 years, 2 months and 5 days -- an amazing feat considering its architectural and technical challenges. The Tower was meant to stand for twenty-some years but its immense popularity, the fact that Radio Eiffel Tower was established in the 1920s, and its vocation as an antenna for the first radiophonic transmissions, would save the tower from its planned destruction. In fact, during the First World War, German messages were intercepted by the Eiffel Tower. More than one hundred and twenty-six years later the “Iron Lady” is still standing, as lovely as ever, its most stalwart critics waving their flags of surrender...
Enjoying a meal at the Eiffel Tower is a fantastic way to discover its history while savoring tasty treats. Whether you decide to make the climb by taking the stairs or the elevator, your appetite will work itself up quickly. It’s worth mentioning that if the elevators at the Eiffel Tower seem normal now, keep in mind that they were a technological feat for the era.
You’ll come across the restaurant 58 Tour Eiffel on the first level. Why 58? Although the restaurant is located at a height of 57 meters, the missing meter includes the kitchen countertop. Height matters aside, the restaurant takes on a new ambiance at night. During the day it proposes original, picnic-style lunches. This is a good stop if you’re looking for refined cooking in an unusual but warm setting.
And then there’s the trendy Jules Verne restaurant on the second level. The place and the name (the Iron Lady, universally recognized icon, and Jules Verne, visionary author) set the stage for what will be a marvelous culinary voyage. Refined, contemporary French gastronomic cuisine and incredible views of the City of Lights come together for an unforgettable dining experience.
3) Take a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower
Ready to share your Parisian stopover with friends on social networks? Well, there’s nothing better than taking a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower. Considering its popularity -- hashtags and posts on Instagram -- Gustave’s tower is the Queen of selfies. In fact, the Eiffel Tower is the most popular destination taken by selfie buffs from all over the world.
Selfies have become a global cultural phenomenon. Not only could an amazing selfie be had during your climb of the Eiffel Tower but also at the foot of the Iron Lady. Imagine a selfie taken with your Smartphone from the banks of the Seine, at the Parc du Champ de Mars or in the Jardins du Trocadéro, all with the Eiffel Tower in the background. And for a truly original selfie, take a riverboat cruise on the Seine, pose in front of the famous Musée du Quai Branly or in front of the Grande Roue (Ferris wheel) just near the Louvre Museum.
Why a selfie? Imagine this scenario. You’ve got a small window of time during your stopover, just enough to get to the center of Paris, check out a monument, and head back to the airport. The Eiffel Tower, internationally recognized symbol of France, is your chosen destination. Thanks to your selfie, you’ll be able to blow away family and friends who thought you’d content yourself with an expensive croissant at the airport!
4) Visit the Louvre
The Louvre Museum is one of the biggest museums in the world. With an exhibition surface area of 73,000 m2, the museum has a whopping 38,000 works of art on display. It’s been estimated that 9 months are needed to see each and every one. Imagine the time it would take to see the 460,000 works of art that the museum actually has!
The Louvre’s most famous works of art are obviously the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory of Samothrace, recently put on display after a period of absence. The museum houses other exceptionally rich works of art such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Captives of Michelangelo, Delacroix’s “Liberté Guidant le Peuple,” the “Regent” diamond and an incredible Egyptian Art collection.
The famous glass pyramid and the former royal palace is also home to 8 other fascinating galleries: Oriental Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Arts, Decorative Arts, Sculpture, Painting, and Graphic Arts.
Whether you’re an expert in art or an amateur art lover, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée du Quai Branly or the Georges Pompidou Center are all worth taking a look at.
The Louvre: 99, rue de Rivoli. Open every day from 9 am to 6 pm except Tuesdays (Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:45 pm).
Tip: One can quickly forget to keep track of time while at the Louvre. We recommend that you make a list of the works of art you really want to see so that you’re not running after the clock -- or your plane!
5) See a cabaret show or a play
Wherever you are in Paris, something is always happening. So why not spend a memorable evening out to see one of the capital’s countless shows! Besides, what would a city like Paris be without its night owls to keep things festive?
“La Belle Epoque” (end of 19th c. to beginning of 20th c.) marked the birth of the cabaret that would lend the capital its unmistakable party-loving spirit. Theaters began springing up and for some time, café-concert halls brought down social barriers. Numerous artists and intellectuals contributed to a veritable cultural burgeoning, the effects of which are still present today. Butte Montmartre was the place to be, a boisterous, animated neighborhood where revelers got together to have a good time.
Today, Paris can lay claim to three exceptional cabarets. Straight from the Belle Epoque era, and one of the world’s most famous cabarets is, of course, the Moulin Rouge and its French Cancan. The Lido is another mythic cabaret that happens to be ideally located on the Champs-Elysées. An even more sensual one (with its self-proclaimed “art of the nude”) is the Crazy Horse cabaret, located just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower.
A night out in Paris is more than just sightseeing: it’s a play, a concert, a dance show, a masked ball at Versailles and even pyrotechnic shows. There are always loads of things to do after the sun goes down. Here’s an idea that goes to show what Paris has to offer: go to the grand masked ball to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV at the Orangerie (Château de Versailles), without a doubt the most elegant, refined and fabulous ballroom in Paris.
6) Dine on the Seine
The city of eternal love isn’t short of romantic spots for lovers. One of the most beautiful “walks” remains a romantic cruise down the Seine on a typical Parisian riverboat. Navigating in total serenity past monuments and Haussmannian buildings, the sun setting before you as you sip champagne and savor tasty hors d’oeuvres, Paris begins to change color, to take on another, more ethereal ambiance.
7) Go for a Stroll in the Heart of Paris
If you’re dying to discover Paris’s hidden treasures, the best is to explore the heart of the city. Did you know that the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by tons of must-see tourist sites? You don’t even have to go very far - at the foot of the “Iron Lady” is the Parc du Champ-de-Mars and the Jardins du Trocadéro.
Just around the corner, on the right bank of the Seine, is the Musée du Quai Branly, the huge building complex, Hôtel des Invalides, and the Musée d’Orsay. On the other side of the river is the Petit and Grand Palais, the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre.
We also recommend heading to the Ile de la Cité, the geographical and historical center of the capital where everything began. There you’ll discover the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Finally, no matter how short your Parisian stopover may be, a walk along the Champs-Elysées with its symbolic Arc de Triomphe is not to be passed up. Take the time to stroll along this famous avenue lined with luxury shops, cafés, and cinemas before leaving Paris behind.
8) Visit the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral
Notre-Dame was built over an extended period (1163-1345) and on top of two former churches. Damaged during the French Revolution, this gothic, architectural masterpiece was considerably restored during the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. Countless events have taken place at the cathedral throughout its history such as the coronations of Henri IV as King of France in 1431 and of Napoléon I by Pope Pie VII as well as the beatification and canonization of Joan of Arc in 1909 and 1920.
The cathedral is particularly known for its three magnificent rose windows. The one on the northern side of the transept has remained practically untouched since the 13th century and one that measures 10 meters in diameter on the western side of the cathedral (actually obstructed by the 8,000 pipe organ) are the most well-known. The latter happens to be the smallest of the cathedral’s three rose windows.
Structurally, there exists a significant harmony even if here and there one can detect certain inharmonious or asymmetrical elements that were introduced in the cathedral’s design to avoid the monotony found in classic gothic edifices.
The main entrance to the cathedral’s towers is located at the North Tower. A winding staircase with more than 400 steps will lead you to the top, and will also require some physical and mental preparation. Visiting the towers gives access to the Galerie des Chimères (Chimera Hall); perched on the cathedral’s balustrade these terrifying creatures look like they’re keeping a watchful eye on Paris.
Once you reach the top, frightening, gaping gargoyles (whose purpose is to drain rainwater) greet you on the western façade. From here there are incredible views of the Latin Quarter’s picturesque streets and the Eiffel Tower. You’ll also be able to admire an impressive tenor bell called a “bourdon” that announced the liberation of Paris on August 24, 1944.
Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral: 6 parvis Notre-Dame, Place Jean-Paul II. Free access every day from 8 am to 6:45 pm (7:15 pm on Saturday and Sunday) except for tower visits, 10 am to 5:30 pm (11 pm on Saturday and Sunday during the summer season).
9) Eat an Authentic Parisian Croissant
Parisians are famous the world over for their buttery croissants. You’ll be able to savor this delicious pastry at any typical Parisian bakery or on the terrace of a café.
Want to eat a pastry made by artisans? To make the distinction between a real croissant and a “fake” one, you’ve got to ask the “fait maison” question. In other words, is the croissant homemade or not. A real, authentic butter croissant must be rolled into a beautiful, crescent shape with all its ends tucked in towards the center. Another way to spot an authentic croissant is that no croissant is identical.
Benjamin Turquier, a French baker in the 3rd arrondissement, was voted the 2015 Laureate for the Best French Butter Croissant. Croissants are judged on their smoothness, baking perfection, tenderness, and layers. Turquier’s popular, “fait maison” pastries can be had at 134, rue de Turenne and 59, rue de Saintonge.
10) Taste a Typical Parisian Pastry (macaron, eclair, crêpe)
There are seemingly endless pastry specialties in France. Typical Parisian sweet pastries include the Mille-feuilles (thousand-leaf puff pastry), the Paris-Brest, the Saint-Honoré, the Puit d’Amour (Well of Love) or the Opéra. There’s also the famous macarons from Saint-Emilion, the eclair from Lyon, the canelé from Bordeaux or crêpes from Brittany. Each region seems to lay claim to its own tasty sweet treat!
Today, creative pastry-making knows no bounds. In addition to being some of France’s best workers, a large number of French pastry chefs distinguish themselves by their stark originality.
The history of Parisian “salon de thé” (tea parlors) is intimately linked to the Ladurée house, founded in 1862. Savoring some of their treats and authentic macarons at one of their six Parisian pastry shops should definitely be on any tourist’s list. Delicious, original goodies can also be savored at Pierre Hermé whose pastries have delighted Parisians and French tourists from all over. Another must-try pastry shop that has become a notable address is the Pâtisserie des Rêves. There you’ll be pleasantly surprised by modernized versions of several French pastry classics.
To taste other French regional specialties, there’s a crêperie (crêpe restaurant) that’s 100% pure Breton located at 67, rue de Charonne. With buckwheat galettes and perfectly buttered crêpes, this cozy crêpe restaurant is full of charming photos from Brittany.
Wherever your appetite takes you, one thing is certain: countless bakeries, pastry shops, and restaurants will welcome you with open arms, ready to titillate your taste buds!
Required luggage and documents:
Please note that lockers are available at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. You can also store your luggage at any of Paris’s train stations, at the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, as well as in city-located lockers with the company City-Locker.
Verify that you have all the necessary documents to enter France and that you do not need a visa to leave the airport.