I recently booked a flight to Ireland from Abu Dhabi which included a 7 hour layover in Paris. 7 hours? That’s an awfully long time to spend in an airport. You’re right, it is.
Which is why, since I still had my valid schengen visa, I decided I would use this opportunity to explore a little in the city of love.
Lots of articles online said it wasn’t possible and that you need a minimum of 9-10 hours to see anything worthwhile in Paris. Well… again it’s all a matter of opinion. In 7 hours I was not expecting to be able to write a guidebook on the city but I figured I would at least see/experience SOMETHING. It beats 7 hours in an airport anyway. With Singapore and Hong Kong being my other two favourite cities to explore on a layover, I was curious to see how Paris would match up. But again, there are so many articles online talking about the challenges of traveling around Paris that it would put any sane person off luckily for you- I am not a sane panda. So off I went through venturing into Paris without a tour guide. Here are a few of those myths and here’s why they’re untrue:
1. If you speak English, no one will help you
Just so that we are clear- I ONLY speak English when I travel in Europe. My linguistic background favours Indian and African languages making me sound like a word butcher everytime I open my mouth to say even the most basic French/Portuguese/Russian phrases (well I am good with Dutch but that’s another story). So I keep it simple and use my mother tongue- English. I asked for help at many places and was given it- in English- by many people. Granted they weren’t warm or friendly but I put this down to culture rather than discrimination.
And just so we are clear- there are a lot of tourist information places around that offer help (even at 8am in the morning!).
2. Getting around Paris is confusing and difficult
I am not afraid to make the proclamation that- Western Europe is expensive. There was no way I was going to jump in a cab when I knew I could take the metro for a much smaller fee. So I decided I would navigate the Paris metro against the advice of all those smart people online in travel forums. Apparently the Paris metro is confusing if you don’t speak French. But here I am, having successfully used it to the maximum during my time in Paris. If you can read this blog post, you can read and decipher the Paris metro. Sure the way you sound the station name out in your head is NOT the way it’s announced on the metro but you can read it on the ample screens provided in each carriage and that’s enough to get you where you need to go. Just pay attention!
So just to reiterate- I went to Paris with no French (nope I didn’t even do it in school), I received help when I needed and I didn’t get lost because of my inability to converse in the local language. (We also call these Expat Superpowers).
3. There’s nothing to see if you only have a short layover less than 9-10 hours
If you’re hoping to take in the Louvre, shop on Avenue des Champs-Élysées and go up the Eiffel Tower during your layover then yes, perhaps you’re being too ambitious. The trick with layovers is that you have to be strategic in what you visit- pick one goal or site and give it your all. My goal for this layover was to take in some stellar views of Paris while I was there. All I wanted was some pretty pictures that encapsulated the city as a whole. Well… all was working out beautifully until I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, watching the sunrise and the memory card on my camera became corrupted. So no photo I took was getting saved. Fabulous. I couldn’t fathom how to format it while I was standing around in 5 degree weather so I put it away and pulled out my GoPro. Only to find that the battery had died a slow painful death in my handbag doing the plane journey to Paris despite me charging the night before. GREAT. I threw that back in the bag and pulled out my trusty iPhone 7.
This is what it is to travel- not everything goes to plan and sometimes the best laid plans are affected by technology/weather/miscommunication but in the end, I walked away with these beautiful views so I cannot complain:
For those of you wondering how I made it work, here was my plan of action (merely decided upon on the morning of by the way, using the wifi at Charles De Gaulle Airport)…
If you have to opportunity to explore a new city through a layover, don’t let anyone dissuade you from doing some exploring. Even if you see one thing and take one train journey, at least you will seen more than the airport! I am by no means an expert on all things Paris but I do hope that my blog post encourages people to believe less of what they read online and to do more investigating of their own 😀
Tips for visiting Paris:
– If you arrive at Charles De Gaulle Airport, you will head toward the RER-B train station in the basement. The RER-B is well marked so just follow the signs. Depending on your arrival terminal, you may have to take a free shuttle train or bus to get to the RER-B. Again, everything is well marked so it’s easy to find where to go.
One-way tickets cost €10.30 and you can buy tickets from ticket windows or automated vending machines (you need exact change for the machines). This train runs from 5am-11:50pm.
The journey will take about 30 minutes to arrive at Gare du Nord which is your first connection point. Some trains make local stops along the way to Paris so those will take a little extra time — but they’ll get you to the same destination. Look for express trains if you don’t want to make those extra stops.
The RER-B will stop at multiple stations within Paris — Gare du Nord, Châtelet-Les Halles, Saint-Michel Notre-Dame, Luxembourg, Port-Royal, Denfert-Rochereau and Cité Universitaire. Each of these stations is connected to the Paris Metro and you can use your RER ticket to transfer (for free) to the Metro.
-Souvenirs in Paris (and other Western European countries) are ridiculously overpriced. Be prepared to fork out a fortune or buy your magnets and keyrings from the touts at Trocadero Gardens. I don’t know whether its bad to support these guys or not but they have really low prices compared to what you would have to pay in a store (even those dodgy looking ones in the metro stations).
– The men in Paris are delicious and diverse. Have fun and be safe!