The Best Layover in Paris: What You Can Do and Why You Should Do It

We can all agree that sipping wine on a sunny terrace is more enjoyable than hanging around the airport. 

But Paris’ airports are not in the city center. So can you soak in some culture during your layover in Paris and make it back in time for your connecting flight? Well, as long as you have at least six hours, you can do a lot.

What can you see in just a few hours? Paris is a city of huge monuments and incredible museums, but if you pick one of our itineraries, you can soak in a little bit of the City of Light—just don’t try to cram in too much! Be sure to leave time to get in and out of the airport, and to and from the city center. A five or six-hour stopover should be enough—just don’t blame us if you want to stay forever! 

Guide to how to enjoy a long layover in Paris

How to get from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city center

The quickest and most reliable way to get into the center of Paris is the RER B train, which takes around 45 minutes. Signs for the RER are all around the airport, and a return ticket costs around €20. You can also take a taxi, but Parisian traffic can be awful and we don’t want you to miss a second of your valuable time!

What to do during your layover in Paris

Itinerary option 1: Explore the historic center

Our first itinerary is fairly leisurely, and you’ve even got some time to stray off our suggested route. We’ll weave our way around the historical center of Paris, starting in the shadow of the world-famous Notre Dame church.

The RER B train takes you straight to the Saint Michel-Notre Dame station in 40 minutes. This is right in the historical heart of Paris, and with so many things to see and do, it’ll be hard not to get carried away. Like we said, this itinerary is flexible, but there are a few things that you definitely shouldn’t miss.

First port of call: Shakespeare and Company. It might seem odd to recommend an English-speaking bookshop in the center of Paris, but once you get here, you’ll know why we did. A former hangout of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein (just to name a few), this unique bookshop is made up of tiny adjoining rooms filled to the rafters with books. Stock up on some literature for the next leg of your journey, or simply browse the extensive selection.

Exterior of Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris
Shakespeare & Company is a bookworm’s dream come true.

Just next door is their own coffee shop, with benches outside so you can sip your flat white and soak up the magnificence of Notre Dame. While the church is still undergoing renovation works after the devastating fire in 2019, from the coffee shop you have a perfect vantage point over its famous rose window, which is thankfully still intact. 

Tucked down the cutest cobblestone street around the corner is one of Paris’s most celebrated new bakeries, Circus. Selling some of the most amazing sourdough croissants and cinnamon rolls in the city, it’s a sure stop-off if you need a real French pastry during your layover in Paris. 

All along the Seine are booksellers and people selling prints in an open-air market. Stroll and peruse the shelves as you wander across the bridge to take a closer look at Notre Dame. Because of the renovation, a visit inside the church is not currently possible, but a selfie in front of those two iconic towers is! 

Once finished, weave your way up to the Cité metro station. Just next to it is one of the city’s oldest markets, now selling plants, cut flowers and birds from all over the world. Take a wander through, and stop at the other side—you’re on the other edge of the island now. Over the bridge you can see the impressive Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and the deep green Seine wrapping itself around the island. Take the quay and walk up to Place Dauphine. 

Place Dauphine square in Paris
Place Dauphine is the perfect place to soak in French life in the heart of Paris. Photo credit: Sheila Sund

Place Dauphine is a quiet, leafy square framed by cute cafés and traditional bistros. If you’re there at lunchtime check out Restaurant Paul, a traditional French spot with great outdoor seating and a classic French menu. If you miss lunchtime hours, we suggest sitting in the sun at La Rose de France and soaking up the rays with a carafe of wine.

Next, you’ve just got the short walk across the bridge and back down the banks of the Seine to the Saint Michel-Notre Dame station to conclude your Parisian adventure in enough time to get back to the airport. 

Walking distance covered: 2.2 km (1.3 miles) or about 30 minutes walking

Estimated total time: Two to three hours depending on the pace you explore!

If you’ve got more time, stroll a little further down the river to the Pont des Arts and cross over into the Louvre’s famous courtyards—but be careful about grabbing a ticket for the museum! Waiting in line alone can take up to two hours. Alternatively, we suggest grabbing a glass of natural wine at Chez Nous, a small bar on the Left Bank of the river, open from 6 p.m.  

Itinerary option 2: Take a foodie adventure

If you’re looking to eat everything you possibly can during your layover in Paris, this itinerary is for you. Get off the RER B at Châtelet,  the biggest interchange in Europe, which is attached to a shopping mall. It’s easy to get lost in here, so look for exits 6, 7 or 8 to make your quickest escape!

Once outside, you’ll be confronted with Église Saint Eustache, one of Paris’ most unique structures. Started in the Gothic period and finished in the Renaissance, this out-of-the-ordinary church boasts France’s biggest organ and original works from both Keith Haring and Rembrandt inside. Intrigued? You should be; it’s well worth a look inside if you have some time.

Saint Eustache church exterior, Paris
The Saint Eustache church is one of Paris’ most breathtaking architectural wonders. Photo credit: Jimmy Baikovicius

From Saint Eustache, take rue Montorgueil, one of the many streets leading away from Châtelet station. This is Paris’ oldest foodie street, and we’re headed for Paris’ oldest pastry shop. Maison Stohrer has been serving pastries at this address since 1730, and we strongly recommend a “puits d’amour.” Invented by Monsieur Stohrer himself, it’s a crème brulée in shortcrust pastry… need we say more?  

If it’s a quick lunch you’re after, try one of the bistros that line this famous street, or if you’ve got a bit more time, we suggest taking a wander up to Le Bougainville. About a 10-minute walk from Stohrer, Le Bougainville is located in one of Paris’ iconic 19th-century covered passageways, Galerie Vivienne. 

Le Bougainville is a family-run bistro, serving market-fresh French cuisine and natural wine in a Formica wonderland—we love the art deco style of the place! Even if you miss lunchtime hours, they’ll put together a mixed plate of cured meats and cheeses for you. If you’re short on time, it’s always better to let them know before you are seated—they’ll let you know what’s possible. From here, a direct walk back to Châtelet to catch the train will take you about 15 minutes.

Walking distance covered: 2 km (1 mile) or about 25 minutes walking. 

Estimated total time: Two to three hours

If you’ve got more, time we suggest you venture into the Palais Royal, a hidden garden in the middle of Paris. Take a moment on a bench or grab a coffee at the trendy Café Kitsuné, an Instagrammer’s dream!

Make your way back to the station, and be sure not to get distracted! 

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