If you are like most travelers to France, you want everything to be perfect from the moment you set foot on French soil. To that end, this week’s post covers the various ways you can get from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport into the city. I have used each of them over the years and they all work fine. Whatever method you choose just depends on your preferences and how much you want to spend.
First, though, a note about Paris airports. The city’s main international airport is Charles de Gaulle-Roissy, located about 23 kilometers northeast of the center of Paris. The French tend to call it “Roissy” (pronounced ‘rwah-see’) so don’t be surprised when they don’t say Charles de Gaulle. Most U.S. and international flights arrive here as well as a fair amount of domestic European traffic. Incidentally, the word Roissy comes from the name of the village near where the airport was built. It used to have a beautiful castle – the Château de Roissy – but today only a few ruins remain.
A vestige of the Château de Roissy still standing near CDG Airport
Paris’s second international airport is Orly, located south of the city. While some international flights go in and out of Orly, it handles primarily domestic French and European flights. You may have heard about the original Paris airport of Le Bourget northeast of the city. It is now a hub for business and private planes as well as the location for the famous Paris Air Show held each year. And finally, there is the Beauvais airport located about 80 kilometers north of Paris. Beauvais serves low-cost European airlines such as Ryanair.
But back to your arrival at the Charles de Gaulle-Roissy (CDG) airport. Once you disembark, you will go through French passport control and get your passport stamped for entry into France. Next, you will proceed to the baggage claim for your flight (announced on your plane and posted on monitors inside the terminal). In my experience, bags sometimes come off right away while at other times, it can take a while. You just never know. Once you have your bags, it is a good idea to put them on one of the free luggage carts stored next to the baggage carousel. Finally, you will go through French customs – usually just a formality for foreigners entering France – and out into the CDG terminal. If you take American Airlines, British Airways, Delta or Air France to Paris, this will be CDG Terminal 2.
Now you are ready for that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower! Here are your options to get from Charles de Gaulle-Roissy Terminal 2 into central Paris:
The RER (which stands for réseau express regional) is the Paris suburban train system. The RER’s Line B train goes from the Charles de Gaulle airport into central Paris every 10 to 15 minutes and intersects with the regular Métro lines there. Taking the RER into Paris is quick – it’s about 35 minutes to the Gare du Nord station. And you don’t have to worry about running into a traffic jam on the roadways which happens frequently. It’s also very economical. One-way tickets to central Paris cost about 10 euros. However, if you have a lot of bulky luggage and bags, going through the turnstyles and down into the station to get to the RER train can be a real challenge, especially if some of the elevators and escalators are not working.
To reach the train station from your arrival point in CDG Terminal 2, look for signs saying SNCF/TGV or Gare/Station. The RER trains depart from the TGV station located near Halls D/E in Terminal 2. You can roll your luggage cart through the terminal and then take one of the elevators down into the station itself. Note that if you take the escalator, you can’t take the cart with you. You can buy RER tickets to Paris from the automated machines marked “Billeterie Ile-de-France” located in the train station. You’ll want to have cash on hand as often U.S. credit cards don’t work in these machines. Alternatively, I like to buy mine at from a live person at one of the CDG information desks located in the terminal – just keep your eyes out for them as you walk towards the airport train station.
CDG Airport with Terminal 2 in the foreground – the black box shows the Gare TGV / RER B station
If you decide to take the RER into Paris, here is the essential thing to keep in mind: Be sure to take the RER B express train that goes from the airport DIRECTLY to the Gare du Nord stop or beyond. Every other train is usually an express into Paris – the non-express RER B stops several times in the suburbs prior to arriving in town. You just need to look at the display board to see which stops the next RER train is making and avoid the trains with many stops between CDG and Paris Gare du Nord. Not only does it take longer but these suburban areas are not very safe. Stories are common about well-dressed travelers being accosted for their money and valuables on the RER B making suburb stops going into Paris.
RER B arrival stations in Paris are Gare du Nord, Châtelet les Halles, St Michel/Notre Dame, Luxembourg, Port Royal and Denfert-Rochereau. From there, you can take the Métro on to the closest stop to your hotel or apartment or take a taxi the last bit of the journey.
The other economical way to get from CDG into the center of Paris is the Roissybus. Managed by the Paris transport system RATP, these buses leave the various CDG terminals every 15 minutes and go directly to the Paris Opéra in the 9th arrondissement. The trip takes about an hour if road traffic is moving smoothly. If not – and this is the downside to taking the bus – it can take quite a bit longer. I often will opt for the bus if I arrive at CDG during off-peak hours, ie not during morning or evening rush hour traffic or during lunchtime as the roads into Paris can back up then too.
To find the Roissybus departure points in each terminal, you’ll want to look for the signs saying “Paris by bus” or “Roissybus.” Tickets cost about 10 euros and are sold near the boarding point. There is space for luggage on the buses and since you’re above ground, you don’t have to worry about lugging your bags on escalators or elevators or through turnstyles. Once at the Opéra, you can take a taxi to your final destination or enter the Métro there. For more info, click here for the Roissybus brochure and look for the instructions in English.
Air France Coach
The other CDG airport bus service is run by Air France though travelers on any airline can use this option. Their coaches depart CDG every 30 minutes and serve various stops in Paris including the Gare Montparnasse, Gare de Lyon, Place de l´Etoile/Arc de Triomphe and Porte Maillot. In particular, the Air France coach line 2 takes about an hour to reach Paris and makes stops at Porte Maillot and the Etoile. The Air France coach line 4 goes to the Gare Montparnasse and the Gare de Lyon, taking about one hour and 15 minutes. Of course, both of these routes can take longer if traffic is backed up.
Tickets for the Air France bus cost about 17 euros per person one way and can be purchased ahead of time online or from the bus driver at the airport. There is space for luggage on the coaches, and porters are available at both the departure and arrival points to help with bags. For more details, click here to visit the Air France Coach web site.
The plus side of taking a taxi into Paris is that they drop you off exactly where you want to go. If there are no traffic issues, you can get into the heart of Paris in about 40 to 45 minutes. It goes without saying that a traffic jam means you’ll have a longer ride as well as a higher fare.
To take a taxi from CDG, follow the airport signs that say “Taxi.” You will exit the airport terminal building to find the taxi line outside. Note that you can take your luggage cart out there with you. There will be a person coordinating the taxi line – wait until they flag you to get into the next taxi. If you need to pay by credit card, be sure and say so to the taxi coordinator as not all Parisian taxis take plastic. The maximum number of people a taxi can take is three unless it’s a van. The cost to go into central Paris is about 50 to 60 euros plus a slight surcharge for each piece of luggage. Occasionally, there can be a long wait for taxis at CDG when several flights come into the same terminal at the same time, but I don’t run into this all that often. Regarding tipping, you can tip the driver up to 5% of the fare for good service.
After a long overseas flight, it can be really nice to know that a private driver will be waiting there at the airport just for you. They meet you right outside the customs area inside the terminal and hold a sign with your name on it so there’s no way to miss them. They will help carry your bags out to the car – or roll your cart if you still have it – and will whisk you directly to your hotel or apartment in Paris, traffic permitting.
Private drivers must be booked in advance; this can be done through your hotel or various companies. I also have companies I work with regularly to book transfers for French Affaires’ clients. If you are ever interested in this, feel free to email me at email@example.com. The cost for private drivers starts at about 100 euros one way for two people and goes up from there. Some hotels and companies charge exorbitant rates for a one-way trip (sometimes 300 or 400 euros or more) so it pays to shop around. You will have to provide the car company with your flight information so they can track your arrival time. Be sure and know their policy for pick-ups in case you are extremely delayed, ie an hour and a half or more. Payment is sometimes done in advance or upon your arrival in Paris, depending on the vendor. You can tip if you want to – up to 5% of your contracted rate. If you are sharing a private driver with several friends and use a reasonably-priced company, it can be a good deal and you avoid the wear and tear of public transport.
When you arrive at CDG and exit customs, you may be approached by individuals asking if you need transport into Paris. Beware! These are not officially licensed drivers and they often charge more than the going taxi rate. Just say “Non, merci” and walk on. Note that they are very skilled at trying to convince you that they are just like a taxi but say “Non” firmly and WALK ON. I once fell for this in Sweden and later was so annoyed that I got taken in. Ah well, live and learn.
There are also shared ride options from CDG such as SuperShuttle. The up side is that they run about 25 euros per person one way so are more cost-effective than a taxi and you do get dropped off at your destination. The down side is that you may have to wait there at the airport for the other passengers before heading into Paris. And of course, you could also be the last person dropped off once in Paris so shared rides can take a while.
To sum up, it’s helpful to know your airport transfer options. Then you can decide how quickly you want to get into Paris and how much you want to spend. Once you’re on the road or on the train, just sit back and enjoy the ride into the city. The Eiffel Tower will be waiting!
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