Paris Charles-de-Gaulle Airport (CDG), also known as Roissy Airport, is one of the world’s principal aviation centres, as well as France’s largest airport. It is named after Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), leader of the Free French Forces and founder of the French Fifth Republic. It is located within portions of several communes, 25 km (16 mi) to the northeast of Paris. The airport serves as the principal hub for Air France. In 2012, the airport handled 61 million passengers, making it the world’s seventh busiest airport and Europe’s second busiest airport (after London Heathrow) in passengers served. Read more about Paris CDG Airport in:
Oh, Paris, the city of lights… or are these just the runway lights? You are in Paris, but only for a few hours, in an airport layover. How should you best use this time? well, that depends on the layover duration, time of day, time of year… the most important factor is the duration of your layover, that will dictate the nature of your layover, from a stressed run for your flight to a relaxed semi-vacation.
Please note that these are just general recommendations. It is always best to consult with your airline and booking agent, so take these recommendations as they are – general guidelines…
Layover of 1, 2 or 3 Hours in Paris CDG Airport
You will most likely be spending your time rushing through corridors with your hand luggage to your next flight… Keep in mind that arrival time is the time that your flight has reached its parking position in the gate, and you will still need to wait until the crew has opened the doors, you left the plane and walked all through the terminal to board your next flight. CDG airport also has 3 terminals, each with its different structure, and terminal 2 in particular is a maze of mini-terminals. Other travelers commented:
- “I got my wife a business class ticket… She had 2.5 hours and nearly missed her connecting flight to Toulouse…” (Yelp)
- “My experience is that 2 hours is a reasonable minimum time for transfers at CDG…” (FlyerTalk)
- “…all you have time for with 2 1/2 hours at CDG is to get to the gate for your next flight…” (Yahoo Answers)
For more specific information, this map of the various possible routes and their expected durations may be helpful: (map on FlyerTalk)
Layover of 4, 5 or 6 Hours in Paris CDG Airport
So you have plenty of time to make it to your next flight, but you’d still like to make the best of these hours. The security lines in CDG airport may be long and irritating at busy times, and the terminal has some long stretches of walking, while taking the RER train into town would take you approx. 30 minutes each direction (not including time to buy tickets and wait for next train). So with a layover of 6 hours or less, it will be best to spend your time inside the terminal and enjoy what it has to offer.
In general, your experience will vary based on what terminal you will be spending your time in. If you have the time, you may travel between terminals, especially inside terminal 2, just be careful not to get lost – The airport plan can be quite confusing!
Shopping: CDG airport has a reasonable number of shops, including duty free shopping, with plenty of fashion stores. You may want to browse through the list of shops and either plan a route through them, or find the terminal that appears to have the best selection for you, then head there. See the selection of stores in this link (note that the airport site returns information also for Orly, so make sure to look at CDG results only).
Dining: as much as you’d expect good food in France’s capital, food is not one of the airport’s advantages. Travelers complain about the lack of dining options, the quality of food and the steep prices. Eat well on your incoming flight, and set your expectations low for dining during your layover. You would be better off bringing your own food, or at least making sure to purchase some food before going through passport control. See the full list of dining options in the airport website (again, make sure the venues you find are located in CDG).
Storage: if your luggage is inconvenient to wander around with, you could leave it with the baggage storage service in terminal 2 for 6 EUR per item, see more details on their website.
Kids: besides play areas for the little ones, the airport also offers free Playstation terminals(!), and coin-operated game tables. This should certainly keep the children (and children-at-heart) entertained during their wait. See more details and locations on this page. If you are travelling with a baby, the airport’s website lists useful information such as location of changing stations, and where to find baby pushchairs for moving in the terminal (free-of-charge, currently in terminal 2E only).
Art and entertainment: in early 2013, an exhibitions hall was inaugurated in terminal 2E. It hosts various artwork, usually in partnership with a major museum, with admission free of charge. See more details and exact location on this page and in this dedicated website. In addition, the Playstation booth in terminal 2E also includes a small lounge for watching 3D movies from Sony’s collection.
Lounges: if you are eligible to enter one of the airport lounges, this will surely ease your wait. Check your ticket class and airline’s lounge terms for eligibility. If you are not eligible and would still like to use a lounge, the airport offers the ICare lounges for a fee of €30 per person. You may find this worthwhile if you were planning to spend a similar sum anyway for some refreshments and WiFi access. For a full list of lounges and their amenities, have a look at LoungeReview.
WiFi: CDG airport offers free basic WiFi connectivity, with faster rate plans for a fee (read details here).
Massage: from a manicure to a Thai massage, this will surely help relieve flight stress and provide relaxation, if you have the time and money to spare. Look for the B-Relax stations in your vicinity.
Layover of 7 Hours or more in Paris CDG Airport
If you’d like to use your longer layover to take a rest, you could consider taking a room in an airport hotel such as the new Yotel or the Ibis, but for a budget travel you could also just take a nap in the airport. For more information visit the CDG page at SleepingInAirports.
If you would like to use the layover time for a quick experience of Paris, visit the official Paris tourism site to review the main attractions and plan your time; if you are looking for a more unique and guided experience, you may want to also have a look at what WithLocals have to offer in Paris.
Do I need a visa in order to visit Paris during my layover?
If you are only transiting through CDG, you probably do not need to have a visa issued, unless you plan to physically leave the airport (which may happen, for example, if your next flight is from a different airport in Paris). There are exceptions to this rule for some nationals who require a visa even for transit, read the details in this French government info page.
You may need to issue a short stay visa in advance in order to leave the airport during your layover. The answer depends primarily on the passport you carry, and whether or not your destination is within the EU (Schengen area). Check your personal case in this detailed official visa information page.
Note: we get many specific visa-related questions in the comments. Please understand that visa rules are quite complex and we cannot answer most of these questions, as the focus of this site is on the airport stay itself. Preferably you should consult with your travel agent or the local French consulate in advance, but you could also start by visiting an informational site such as VisaHQ.
Enjoy your trip!