Layover Lowdown: Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
Our "Layover Lowdown" series features airports and destinations around the world where you're likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as suggesting things to do if you have time to explore the nearby city. TPG International Contributor Lane Nieset takes us through Europe's second-busiest airport, Paris-Charles de Gaulle in the City of Light.
Thirty-four million passengers pass through Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) each year, with Air France customers accounting for over half of the traffic at the airport. There are more than 18,000 options for connecting flights, which means there will be plenty of people with time to kill during a layover—so don't feel alone.
Fortunately, there are tons of distractions scattered throughout CGD's three terminals, from world-class shopping to a Sony video lounge. If you're stuck here on a long layover and itching to get out and see the sights, the airport is just 14 miles north of the city and you can reach the center of Paris in less than an hour by taxi or train.
At the Airport
In Terminals 2E and S4, kids can play in Disney-themed areas with games and video programs featuring princesses and characters from "Cars." Parents can keep an eye on their kids from the outer edges of the nearby bars, and teens can also play games in departure terminals at any of the airport's free PlayStation 3 consoles in the lounges. Over in Terminal 2E, the new Sony Galerie Parisienne video lounge shows free films on 3D HD screens. This terminal also has the first music lounge with listening stations where you can hook up your iPod or tune in to free Webradios. For those who want to hit the spa before taking flight, Terminal 2E Hall M offers the Be Relax spa where passengers can get anything from a massage to a facial and foot treatments.
In the same hall, stop by the Espace Musées to catch an exhibit in partnership with some of Paris' top museums. Exhibitions change every six months, but the current theme is "The Art of Travel," with travel-related artwork and fashion by French artists.
If you're traveling first class on Air France, VIP treatment starts at the airport in Terminal 2E where you can relax in La Première lounge while dining on Alain Ducasse cuisine or detoxing with a personalized spa treatment from the Biologique Recherche center. Those traveling in other classes can still access the Arrivals lounge in Terminal 2C, which features showers, a buffet and drinks, and Wi-Fi for 50 Euros ($57) before 10 a.m. and 35 Euros ($40) anytime after.
Store your luggage with Bagages du Monde in Terminal 2 on level 4 at the TGV train station across from the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel. It takes about four minutes to check in your bags, and rates start at 7 Euros ($8) per item for up to six hours.
One of the best ways to beat boredom during a layover is shopping, whether you're just browsing the designer brands or stocking up on beauty products and regional cuisine from Duty-Free. While in Paris, take advantage of BuY Paris Duty Free's (Terminal 1, Terminal 2C, 2E Halls L & K, and 2F) deals on French cosmetics like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as Diptyque candles and perfumes. Terminal 2C is also home to a number of designer boutiques like Dior, Gucci, Hermès and Prada.
If you have time to leisurely enjoy a meal, take a seat in the Philippe Starck-outfitted La Terrasse (top floor of T1) and have a glass of vintage wine while taking in panoramic views of Paris. If you're feeling a bit decadent, take a seat at the Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar (Terminal 2C and 2E Hall M) and try the Balik smoked salmon and Champagne (you can also order a seafood box to go for your flight). For grab-and-go fare that's on the healthy side, snag a salad or sandwich from Belgian chain EXKi (outposts are in Terminal 2A; 2D; 2E Hall K, L, M; and 2F), which incorporates organic and vegetarian options into its menu. If you didn’t have a time to try one of Paris' favorite macaroon shops, take a seat at the charming Ladurée Restaurant (Terminal 2F) for breakfast, lunch, or pastries and tea. The brand also has kiosks spread throughout the airport if you want to take a few macarons home to friends or savor them on your next flight.
Travel To the City Center
The RER B train departs every four to 15 minutes from "Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 1" (which serves T1 and T3) and "Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 2-TGV," and the journey takes about 45 minutes to reach the Châtelet-Les Halles station. If you arrive into Terminal 2G, catch the free N2 shuttle to get to the station at Terminal 2F. A one-way trip (which covers zones 1-5) is 10 Euros ($11) and it's one of the quickest ways to get straight to the city center, stopping at other major stations like Gare du Nord and Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame.
Another way to get into Paris is on the Roissybus, which costs 11.60 Euros ($13) for a one-way ticket and takes about an hour to reach the Opéra station. You can catch the bus every 15 to 20 minutes outside of all three terminals (once again you'll need to take the N2 shuttle to get from T2G to T2F).
If you want to save a few euros and don’t mind a slightly longer journey, bus number 350 heads from CDG to Gare de l'Est taking about an hour in total, while bus number 351 heads to Place de la Nation, taking about an hour and 20 minutes. You can purchase tickets for 6 Euros ($7) from the bus driver.
If You Have a Half Day
See the sights from the Seine on an hour-long cruise tour of Paris departing from the Eiffel Tower, passing by landmarks like the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre and Notre Dame.
If You Have a Whole Day
Take the French term "flâneur," which means stroller, to heart and start by exploring the formal French Tuileries gardens, which borders the Louvre. Stop in the Musée de l'Orangerie, set in the gardens near the Place de la Concorde, and check out Monet's 360-degree Water Lilies painting. Walk along one of the top fashion streets in the world, the nearby rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, lined with boutiques like Lanvin and Chanel.
For more affordable shopping, head to the Champs-Élysées and make your way to the Arc de Triomphe, where you can go to the top of the monument and take in views over Paris. End the day with a well-deserved dinner and view of the Eiffel Tower from the new Peninsula Paris' L'Oiseau Blanc rooftop restaurant.
If You Have the Night
The 385-room Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport Hotel is just a quick walk from Terminal 3, or a short ride on the CDGVAL light rail from Terminals 1 and 2, getting off at the Terminal 3 Roissypole station. Suites show off panoramic views of the airport from the eighth floor, but all of the rooms feature soundproof windows, so you'll be able to get a good night's rest before your flight. The hotel offers a free shuttle to Terminal 2, and room rates start at 126 Euros ($143) or 30,000 HHonors points per night.
If you want to experience the more up-and-coming side of Paris, stay at the newish Hotel FABRIC Paris, named after its former life as a textile factory. The 33-room hotel's design is inspired by a workshop, so décor features raw materials in a modern way with lots of color, exposed brick and restored furniture. Located in Oberkampf near Place de la Republique and Place de la Bastille, you'll be surrounded by tons of trendy restaurants, bars and shops like concept store Merci and the French-meets-Korean restaurant Pierre Sang. Room rates start at 153 Euros (or $173).