Things to do with long Paris layover besides explore Paris?
October 9, 2015 8:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm arriving at CDG from Seattle around 8 am tomorrow morning and have a subsequent flight out of Orly around 5 pm. I've never been to Paris before. Ordinarily, I'd head into the city with this long of a layover, but I'll be back in Paris later next week and for sappy romantic reasons would like that to be my first time actually in the city. Where should I go for my long layover? Possibly relevant: American, non-francophone, willing to shell out for cabs, and into books/art/music/food/just about everything.
posted by bassooner to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Versailles is probably the easiest place to visit while staying out of Paris proper. Orly is about 50km from Fontainebleau or Chartres, but getting to either of those is trickier by public transport and pricey by cab.
posted by holgate at 8:48 AM on October 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

How much luggage will you have and will you need to stash it? How comfortable are you with navigating maps and public transport?

Versailles is my go-to suggestion for getting out of Paris on a quick day trip. You can do it entirely by public transport (the RER lines=regional train), and you will certainly get your fill of art and architecture. If it's a nice day the gardens are worth it alone, and are free to explore. The town of Versailles is walkable and sufficiently not-Paris while still being close to Paris, so I think it would tick your box of not being in Paris yet. Taking the RER doesn't count because you'll be underground the whole way.
posted by Liesl at 8:50 AM on October 9, 2015

If you do go to Versailles, wear the most comfortable shoes you have. Maybe bring an extra pair, and rest often. Probably by this time of year you won't be kept waiting hours on the cobblestones to get in, but the houses and especially the grounds are enormous and I was almost crying in pain by the end (after the culmination of several days of pretty nonstop walking around Paris [in new shoes, what was I thinking] and its cobblestones in my case, but if I can spare you a similar experience...).
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:57 AM on October 9, 2015

spelunkingplato, my feet were literally bleeding at the end of my trip to Versaille! I thought it was just me!

OP, Versailles is super beautiful and I found it very easy to get there on the RER. Petit Trianon was my favorite part of it! CDG has luggage lockers where you can stash your stuff.
posted by chatongriffes at 9:06 AM on October 9, 2015

Versailles is kind of out of the way, but yeah, would be doable.

Otherwise there are direct buses (Air France runs one, you don't have to fly AF to take it) to La Défense, which is not in Paris proper. I live here and quite like it - there are a lot of neat sculptures, shops, shopping mall (Les Quatre Temps, one of the largest in France), fountains, and architecture, if you like that sort of thing. You can catch a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel, but it's really just a glimpse. Easy to get to Orly from there as well.

For public transport, ViaNavigo is your bestest friend.
posted by fraula at 9:14 AM on October 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey there --

I have two suggestions that are a little off the beaten path and don't involve going into Paris proper, so you can save your grand entrance for the following week. You're right -- the city is beautiful, and deserves more than a brief in-and-out your first time. Both options are at the northern end of Paris and not very far from CDG. You would definitely be able to head down from the airport with plenty of time to check out the area, grab yourself a lunch, take in the sounds and sights, and head back.

The first is the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (open Saturday and Sunday) at the Métro stop Porte de Clignancourt. It is a "flea market," not in the traditional sense, though. True, you'll find a group of largely immigrant vendors selling mass-produced sweatshirts, jeans, shirts, shoes, etc., at the entrance, but beyond that you will find all kinds of antiques ranging from affordable keepsakes that you might want to take home with you (old-timey postcards, old watercolors and oil paintings done by art students or artists of yore, dusty books) or just gawk at. Speaking of gawking, you'll find professional vendors who are in the big leagues, selling what look like pieces from Versailles or any other royal palace -- furniture from the 1700s, gilded clocks, busts, and everything in between. It's really astounding how much of this stuff there is in one tiny country. I loved going here for the day because it was great for wandering: taking a trip through time, imagining what kind of people are buying these things, what their houses must look like...

The other is the Basilica of Saint-Denis, in a suburb just north of the highway (Périphérie) that surrounds Paris proper. It's a place not many tourists make it out to because the suburb is home for lots of immigrants and has the reputation of being somewhat sketchy at night. I've never been there, so those could well just be rumors from people who don't really know what they're talking about. I'm sure you would be fine in the day, but you can look up more information if you're concerned. Anyway, I've always wanted to go here. Almost all of France's kings are buried here, their graves marked by stone effigies of them facing skyward. It would be surreal to have them all there with you in one place.

Just two ideas. Enjoy your trip. I'm sure you'll fall in love with the city.
posted by Mdomdom at 9:16 AM on October 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

I admire your dedication to appreciating Paris in full. If you want something completely non-Parisian, you could zip over to Disneyland, the TGV runs there direct from CDG in like 20 minutes.
posted by wnissen at 9:56 AM on October 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is your flight out of Orly within the Schengen zone, or does it involve leaving the zone (such as going to the UK)? If the latter, be sure to allow time for passport control.

It looks like the weather will be sunny and reasonably warm tomorrow in Paris, so a park might be a good bet. I am fond of the Parc de Sceaux, laid out by André Le Nôtre for Jean-Baptiste Colbert. It has gone through many vicissitudes since then, but now it's a public park and a lovely place to stroll. The current château is a 19th-century building built in 17th-century style, and it houses a museum of Île-de-France (the region where Paris is located). I haven't visited the museum, though.

Sceaux is easy to get to; it's on the RER B, so you could go there directly from CDG. From the Parc de Sceaux station on line B4 it's a short walk to the main entrance. It's also close to Orly: just two more stops from Parc de Sceaux to Antony on the RER, and then the OrlyVal shuttle. For that matter, it's a 15-minute walk from the southern end of the Parc to the Antony station.

For easy navigation without expensive roaming fees, you can use the Here iPhone or Android app and download maps of France (and wherever else you're going) before you leave. As long as you have GPS, Here will provide turn-by-turn navigation even with data roaming off.

Have fun!
posted by brianogilvie at 10:35 AM on October 9, 2015

You're going to be seriously jet-lagged by noon. Taking long walks anywhere, especially when dehydrated from the flight, will be painful and tiring. One trip my feet swelled up so bad I had blisters for days...during an important trade show. My toes are currently bleeding at the thought of walking Versailles.

Personally I'd find an airport hotel, ask them for a day rate, have brunch and then take a nap until about 2 or 3pm. See the sights in rested fashion once you're acclimated.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:26 AM on October 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some follow-up: I'm flying on to Morocco, so I do have to build in some extra time for passport control at Orly. I have comfortable walking shoes, a medium sized suitcase to haul around or store, and general consider with navigating public transit and maps.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far; this is very helpful!
posted by bassooner at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2015

Great suggestions here. Just for your planning, CDG is served well by both express TGV and regional RER trains. Orly has RER access. (And both are reasonable, if expensive cab rides in to the center of Paris).

Versailles is a long RER ride from CDG and then a medium ride to Orly. I'd consider doing it no problem if I didn't have to deal with luggage and weren't jet lagged. But those add a lot of complexity. There's probably some way to leave a bag at Versailles; either at the monument or at a hotel for a small fee. Visiting Versailles is only a huge amount of walking if you are serious about touring the garden. That's a choice you can make when you are there.

Chartres is a lovely place to visit and could be done in a few hours from Paris. But it's a longer train ride. The town center itself is pleasant and the cathedral has some of the best stained glass in the world.

I second Mdomdom's suggestions of things to do in suburban Paris. Much less ambitious travel, and interesting sites that may seem too much bother once you're settled comfortably in Paris.
posted by Nelson at 1:15 AM on October 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

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