Written on October 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm, by Kim Albrecht
A long layover, a short business meeting or a few unexpected hours of free time could equal an opportunity to answer emails or upload your expense report. But who wants to work when there’s a world of cultural curiosities outside your door? Whether you’ve got a few minutes or a few hours, here’s what we recommend for a Half-Day Holiday in some of the top 10 most-visited cities in the world.
In just the last year, I’ve traveled on business to Paris three times. Although I don’t speak the language very well, I make a little time to explore something new on each visit. From an evening in the lively Latin Quarter to an afternoon walk on the Seine, I have a few recommendations on how to spend a half-day breathing in the aromatic aura of the city of light – after your meetings, of course.
While many Parisians speak English, they do appreciate the effort, even if you’re just killing time at the airport. Even if you stumble over “bonjour” – always, always try. A little phrasebook goes a long way, and your struggles will be a conversation starter. Of course, half of that conversation will be in a foreign language, but smiles, gestures and kindness are internationally recognized.
Going from the CDG to the CBD
If you’ve got a layover at Charles De Gaulle International Airport, keep in mind you’ll need at least four to six hours free to make the trip into central Paris worth your while. While the airport is only 15 miles northeast of the city, there is some heavy Parisian traffic during the day.
Your best bet is to take the RER (Regional Express Railway) train – they run every 15 minutes and it takes about half an hour to reach the city center. Taxis and buses also leave from the terminal, but expect to sit in traffic for upwards of an hour. Oui, each way.
The Paris Underground
Once you get into central Paris, you’ll be easily connected to everything – the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and all the romantic corner cafés you could possibly wish for. Parisians love the subway. So much that it seems like everyone in town rides it! Driving cars in Europe is so rare, you might expect to feel a little cozy in the carriages.
It helps to study the Metro map – while Paris boasts one of the most efficient and safest transportation systems in the world, sometimes the lines and colors can blur like a Matisse. And if you travel to Paris in the summer, be forewarned: there is no air conditioning in the Metro. There also aren’t many escalators or elevators – if you’re unable to walk up long flights of stairs, it might be best to grab a cab.
French art is only topped in the breadth of its beauty by the depth of its museums – literally. There are so many corridors and galleries in the Louvre, it can become an overwhelming maze – even with Mona Lisa smiling at you.
If you only have a couple of hours, I recommend the Musée Rodin, a charming collection Auguste Rodin’s most amazing sculptures. I also like the Musée d’Orsay, on the bank of the Seine that houses a great collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. Think Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh – they’re all inside.
One word: shopping
- If you’re thinking about what kinds of French souvenirs to give to loved ones back home, get your Euros out – shopping in Paris is très bon!
- My favorite is the Galeries Lafayette department store, where I can buy anything from a shirt for my husband to shoes for my daughter. Not to mention a few things for me! It’s a nice place to spend an afternoon, and if you get tired there’s a terrace on the top floor to relax with a cappuccino.
Some extra tips
Carry change for the public bathrooms; there’s generally a small fee in the city. Wear comfortable shoes – even with the convenience of the Metro, you’ll be walking a lot. And finally, sit back and enjoy a glass of French wine. Ignore your “no carbs” diet – the baguettes are to die for! Bon voyage!