First, I want to start by saying I do not endorse everyone to leave the airport during a layover. It can be nerve racking and scary thinking you might miss your connecting flight. However, with the right amount of planning and preparation, it is possible.
In June, my wife and I had a 7-hour layover in Paris before our final destination. After an 8-hour flight from the states, the last thing you want to do is sit in an airport. After a lot of research, we decided to try and attempt our first trip to downtown Paris. Once our plane landed, we sprinted through customs and followed the signs to the subway station to buy our tickets. We hopped on RER B Express train, made a change to the C Line and 45 minutes later walked out staring at the Eiffel Tower.
We walked a little over 3 miles from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame Cathedral taking pictures along the way. We walked along the Seine River and enjoyed seeing the different river boats, houses, and landmarks along the way. The Louvre has some beautiful gardens to walk through along with views of the Arc De Triomphe. Our speed was brisk, and we did the whole walk in about 2 hours. We took a few minutes to enjoy a local croissant and crepe before hopping back on the subway.
We did not know how long customs and security would take, so we buffered 2.5 hours to get through everything. This was more than enough time. We actually walked right through both and made the round trip in just under 5 hours. Enough time to relax before hopping back on the plane.
Everything went as well as it could. Here are a few things I learned from our experience with a 7-hour layover.
3.Take the Train\Subway and know your exact route. Don’t forget about getting tickets!
This will be the biggest time saver of them all. This also might be the break point of completing your trip or not. Even though a taxi might seem easy, they can be very unreliable with Paris traffic. A quick car accident and you might miss your flight which is way more common than a subway breakdown. The subway is also quicker to get downtown.
I worked really hard to know what subway routes we needed and what our options were if we had to quit and leave earlier. We also had to know what tickets to purchase as Paris has multiple different prices and routes. The RER is unique and requires a different level ticket than the normal subway within the city. We purchased a round trip at the airport, so we did not have to deal with a machine in the city. Also, make sure your credit card works in Europe. There are some cards that do not work in the machines and would require you to visit the subway desk. This would slow you down dramatically.
4.Don’t travel in a Group. Keep it Small
This might sound obvious, but keep it to a small number of people with the same physical capabilities. If you plan the trip out for yourself, but someone else cannot make a 3-mile walk, this will dramatically change your plans and cause it to fall short.
5.Don’t Book Tours or Museum Tickets
I cannot repeat this enough. Do not try to go up in the Eiffel Tower, do not buy tickets to see the Louvre, etc. You will not have time. The lines to get into these places can easily be an hour long and the tours usually last at least a couple hours. The Louvre itself takes a day to go through. Some cathedrals let you walk in without a wait which is nice, but be careful of long wait times at major attractions.