My husband and I have a one-and-a-half day stopover in Paris en route to a cruise that begins in Budapest (we’re flying in one afternoon, then flying out the following evening). We have never been to Paris and would like to see a bit of the city. Would you suggest staying at an airport hotel and commuting to the city, or staying in a Paris city-center hotel? Do you think we are allowing enough time for a little jet-lagged sightseeing? We have no idea about transportation between Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris or what to see (I only know that I want to eat in a local café and see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night). We are also a little apprehensive about the language issue.
–Gerry, Hickory Hills, Ill.
A: I think that staying in the center of Paris would make more sense, since you’ll likely to want to go sightseeing on the day you arrive and the day you leave. Being right in the heart of the city will preclude you from having to make several back-and-forth trips on public transit to and from an airport hotel for your tours or excursions.
You’re right that a day and a half isn’t a lot of time for sightseeing, but as long as your expectations aren’t too high, you should be fine. When you arrive, I would suggest getting a taxi from the airport into the city rather than attempting public transit. It will cost more but save you time and hassle, and time is what’s going to be most valuable to you.
You’ll save even more time by booking a hotel that’s near the attractions you’re most interested in, so that you can walk easily to them. Since you said you’re interested in seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, you may want to book a room in the 15th arrondissement, which is adjacent to the arrondissement where the tower is located (the seventh). The 15th arrondissement has plenty of hotels, cafés, and shops, but not a whole lot of touristy stuff—although the nearby Champs Elysées offers all the souvenirs you could want. Perhaps spend your first evening eating at a local brasserie, then walk over and see the tower all lit up.
The second day, you can take a hop-on, hop-off tour to get a whistle-stop view of the major sights (Viator has a two-day pass for a bus tour), or pick a famous museum (or two) to browse, such as the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. Both are easily accessible on public transit. Another idea would be to take a short cruise on the Seine. Companies such as Vedettes du Pont Neuf offer basic, one-hour “bateaux-mouches” tours that would suit time-pressed travelers like you. They depart from most major bridges over the river.
These suggestions should give you enough of the flavor of Paris to satisfy you before you have to jump on a plane again.
And as regards the language barrier: I wouldn’t worry about it. Paris is one of the most popular cities for English-speaking tourists, and as a result, most of the people who work in the hospitality and retail industries have more than a passing acquaintance with the language. If you are really shy about interacting with merchants or getting around, ask your hotel concierge to book your tours and help you out with logistics.