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How to spend 8 hours in Paris on a layover

If you have the time, working in a long layover in a city can be a great way to plus up your trip! For our 2018 Thanksgiving abroad trip, we chose the flight options that gave us 8 hours of daylight in Paris. There were 4 of us together for this leg of the trip and we were all on the same page regarding making the most of the short time we had. As a brief side note, it makes all the difference to travel with people you’re on the same page as. You can definitely make trips work if you are not all on the same page. But when you’re trying to maximize your time, it helps to either be traveling with people who want to have the same experiences you do or who agree it's okay to break off and do your own thing. Before going on this trip we all talked about what we wanted to do and openly chatted about what our personal priorities were in Paris. That made it easier to get up and go once we arrived.

A question that I’ll answer now because it will eventually cross people’s minds, is what did we do with our bags? We definitely weren’t dragging them around Paris! None of us checked bags, but we each had 2 carry-ons. So we found a bag storage locker (most international airports have them, you may just have to ask around) near where the trains departed, checked our bags (admittedly, for a larger price than any of us wanted but it was worth it – the total for 8 bags stored was 96 Euros), and only took side bags or cameras with us. Then we headed down to the ticket stations and bought metro tickets into downtown.

Of course, it’s impossible to truly do Paris in a day (let alone 6 hours — getting into the city took an hour and getting back to the airport and to our gate took an hour), but you can hit a few of the key highlights. We chose to take the train in from the airport and hop off at a stop near the Louvre to grab a bite to eat at this cute little spot called Loup. We had cappuccinos and croissants (leaning into French food right away) for about 15 Euros each and then got on our way. After transit time and eating we had about 5 hours left before we had to take the train back to the airport. So we chose to see L’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and explore the more well-known exhibits in the Louvre.

The first 2 are free and the Louvre requires tickets which we purchased while waiting on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare. It was actually Josh who purchased them and was very on top of it because he had a date with Mona, somewhere on the second floor (the map labels it as 1 because the ground floor is 0) of the Louvre in the Denon wing (tickets were 20 euros). Being the active, overly ambitious, and the somewhat frugal group that we were, instead of taking a Taxi or Uber we decided to joyride on some scooters using Lime. Our first stop was L’Arc de Triomphe which was the furthest away. The idea was to start far out and work our way back to the Louvre to end the day there, stopping by the Eiffel Tower on the way. The distance from the Loup restaurant to L’arc de Triomphe would have been a 45-minute walk. Since we had scooters we figured we could cut the time in half…we did not account for the French traffic, our lack of direction, and multiple bloopers along the way (being side-tapped by a car, falling into a puddle on the street and taking more than one wrong turn, to name a few). After a solid 30 minutes, we made it to L’Arc de Triomphe in one piece and naturally took pictures. When you visit this beautiful arch it is surrounded by a traffic circle which seems confusing because, how do you get across to see it?? Well none of us realized that there is an underground tunnel until we had dodged multiple lanes of traffic. I would not recommend what we did, but we lived so it all worked!

After the fiasco with the scooters (and the fact that it was in the mid-40s and we did not have winter jackets), we took an Uber to the Eiffel Tower. The ride was about 15 minutes and 20 euros. The driver let us out across the bridge from the tower which allowed us to get a nice view walking towards it. The Eiffel Tower is an impressive structure no matter how many times you see it! We didn’t have time to go up to any of the viewing decks but the prices vary depending on which viewing deck you want to stop at and whether you’re willing to take the stairs (10-25 Euros). I think we spent about 30 minutes here just walking around, taking a few pictures, and grabbing a coffee at a small stand to warm up. We then hopped back in an Uber to spend the rest of our time at the Louvre.

We arrived close to noon (which was the time on our tickets), and then waited in the entrance line out front. Thankfully, on a Monday it was moving very quickly. The Louvre is a remarkable place, not just because of all the artwork it houses, but the exterior is gorgeous and there is a work of art right in the middle of the square the museum surrounds. The clear glass pyramid is built in exact proportion to the Great Pyramid of Giza (part of I.M. Pei’s vision) and inside a jaw dropping gold throne floats (as of July 2018) by Kohei Nawa to create an impactful entrance in an already overpowering experience. The Louvre is massive. To give you a small snapshot of what’s inside its gorgeous walls, here’s what we explored in our short time…

For those who enjoy the history of a place, the Louvre was once a royal residence dating back to the 1200s and only became a museum in 1793 during the French Revolution. There are 5 levels and 3 wings, with each wing named for a prominent member in French history: Richelieu, chief minister of King Louis XIII; Sully, chief minister of King Henri IV; and Denon, first director of the Louvre Museum (the welcome brochure and map shares this quick little history with you). Once inside the Louvre it can be overwhelming to decide where to begin if you have multiple days to explore it, but when you only have 3 hours it makes you pause and over-analyze which exhibits really are the most important to you. We already had our sights set on seeing the Mona Lisa (anything to help Josh keep a date) and she was near the Italian Renaissance exhibit so we strolled through that as well. We found the winged Nike statue (which marks the switch over from the Denon wing to the Sully wing) and then wander into the Sully wing’s ancient Roman and Greek exhibits slowly making our way to the Egyptian one. We figured, if we were on our way to Egypt we should see what parts of Egypt were in Paris. It was at Egypt that we lost Josh for the first time, spent entirely too much time looking for him and then realized we really only had a few moments left to walk aimlessly through the halls. At one point our group split up and after Alli and I finally figured out how to exit the maze of hallways (all with signs that said exit but did not actually lead to a workable exit) we made our way quickly back to the train station to catch one at 330. Our flight was 515 so we made it back with enough time to get the hungry members of our group some food before the next leg of our trip.

Needless to say, 8 hours (or really 6 hours) in Paris is possible with a group that vibes and has the ability to stay active for 6 hours straight. It was fun, but tiring. All 4 of us fell asleep immediately on the flight to Cairo.

For those interested here are a few of my favorite facts about L’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower and why I would recommend seeing both when you visit Paris:

L’Arc de Triomphe facts

  • Napoleon ordered its construction in 1806 to honor the French army (also called the Grande Armee) who had conquered most of Europe.

  • After the Grande Armee won the battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon said the soldiers would “Return home through arches of triumph” but the Arc wasn’t finished before Napoleon abdicated. Napoleon never lived to walk through the Arc either.

  • It’s one of the world’s best-known commemorative monuments with the names of 128 battles of the first French Republic and Napoleon’s empire inscribed on the walls under the vault along with the generals’ names.

Eiffel Tower facts

  • The tower only had a permit to stay standing for 20 years and was constructed as a part of the 1889 Paris Exposition but was allowed to remain because it was a great radio antenna.

  • In 2015 it became the world’s most popular paid monument

  • Its estimated worth is 400 billion Euros and was originally intended to be built in Barcelona but Spain refused it.

Reach out with any questions about this trip and others! And definitely connect with me on IG if you have trip suggestions, ideas, or asks! We all find different jewels in each place we visit and I would love to hear from you about what you’ve experienced.

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