Paris, Abbreviated. Getting From Charles De Gaulle Airport to Downtown

Previous (and future) posts in this trip report:

1. Lufthansa Business Class To Paris Via Frankfurt
2. Park Hyatt Place Vendome
3. Walking Around Paris, Angelina And The Pont Des Arts Bridge
4. Eiffel Tower
5. Laduree
6. Café K? Trocadero and The Eiffel Tower At Night
7. Lufthansa New Business Class, Upstairs On The 747-8i

We had a bit of an odd experience getting from the airport to downtown Paris and I figured it was worth sharing.  I hope this helps those of you bound for Paris or other foreign cities where you’ll encounter unfamiliar surroundings.

The first thing I did when we scheduled our trip to Paris was call a friend who’s an expert on the subject.  Michael R. (who follows my blog and is bouncing around the Pacific ocean as we speak) was more than happy to donate a ton of time to helping me craft the perfect 2 days for our family in Paris.

As a general rule, I’m a fan of public transportation (mostly trains, not buses) in foreign cities.  They tend to be reliable and if you keep your wits about you (don’t flash money like a tourist) you’re likely to be left alone.  Michael guided me through how to do this in Paris so I didn’t have to research.  And, he left me with a couple of tidbits you likely won’t find in a guide book.

First, a cab ride from the airport can be quite expensive because of traffic on the ring road that surrounds Paris.  And, cab drivers have been known to take folks on longer routes than necessary to score a higher fare.

The train you’re looking for to get you downtown is called the RER/B.  It’s about a 25 minute ride to Gare du Nord, the station that Michael recommended was easiest to get to the Park Hyatt Vendome from.  Gare du Nord is a large, old rail station that handles a ton of people, according to Wikipedia more than any other train station in Europe.  We easily followed the signs in the airport and had to take a quick shuttle ride to get to the RER/B station located at Charles De Gaulle airport (CDG).

Here’s a very important tip if you don’t want to wait in a long line for a ticket.  The automated ticket machines only take “chip and pin” credit cards, which are not commonly issued by US-based credit card companies.  If you don’t have a true chip and pin card, you can use Euro coins, but not paper money.  I had already gotten currency via the World Wallet program that Citibank provides me for free before I left town.  I swung by one of the currency exchange kiosks at the airport and asked if they would exchange some paper currency for coin.  I thought for sure they would charge me a fee but the gentleman was nice enough to make the exchange without charging a fee.

If you’re going from CDG to Gare du Nord, the fare is a hair over 9 Euro.  I shoved 29 Euro worth of coins into the automated machine and it was nice enough to spit out 3 tickets to Gare du Nord.  It wasn’t immediately apparent to me which track the next train to Gare du Nord would arrive on but there was a helpful guide at an information booth that quickly pointed us in the right direction.

There were a couple of small restaurants and a newsstand at the station to buy food or drinks to take with you on the train.  We were onboard about 10 minutes after we bought our tickets (trains run every 10-15 minutes) and settled in for the quick ride downtown.  Happy faces for the first part of our Paris adventure.

Getting From

Upon arrival at Gare du Nord it took a minute or two to find some signs towards a taxi stand.  It had been suggested that the walk to the Park Hyatt from the train station was a bit long.  I would have probably tried to do it but we were all still a bit groggy from a long night of travel.  It took us a bit of wandering through the train station to find something that looked like a taxi stand (though it ultimately probably wasn’t, as you’ll see).

We walked outside and there were a number of taxis pulled up to the curb with no line or organization of any sort for passengers.  As we got closer to one of the taxis the driver beckoned to us and a guy nearby started to load our bags in the back of the taxi.  I thought that was a bit odd.  He also asked where we were heading.  I told him Park Hyatt Place Vendome and he shouted that to the driver, and then told me 40 Euro for the ride, or at least I thought he did.  The bags were in back at this point and I confirmed 40 Euro because that seemed insane for the short trip.  He replied to me 40 Euro!  I confirmed that number with him and turned to look at the taxi driver who was already in the car.

At this point, my wife and daughter were already in the car so I decided to fight the battle on this when I got to the hotel.

This is a really good tip I picked up a number of years ago. I’m not positive where but I’m guessing it was View From the Wing.  When you’re in a foreign country and there  may be language issues, if a taxi driver tries to take advantage of you, don’t start the fight with them while they have your precious cargo, whether that’s your suitcases or, in my case, my family!  If you’re staying at a hotel and that happens to be your destination, wait until you get to the hotel and enlist their help.

Inside the cab I noted there was no cab license or working meter in the cab.  Another strong signal this was a hustle.  I sat quietly with the family until we arrived at the hotel.  I got out and waited while the taxi driver got the bags out and advised the bellman who greeted me what the taxi cab driver wanted to charge me.  He gave me a look that told me he would deal with the issue.  He went and spoke with the driver in French for a moment and then the driver shouted “20 Euro” at me.

That still seemed a bit high to me, including what I likely would have tipped for helping with the bags.  But, it was a lot better price and I handed over a 20 and we were on our way inside the Park Hyatt.  I thanked the head bellman warmly for assisting us.  He lamented this issue of taxi drivers trying to take advantage of foreigners and was glad that I had asked for help.  He seemed to enjoy yelling at the taxi driver.

So, there you have it.  Some tips for getting to downtown Paris from CDG airport.  Next up is my review of the Park Hyatt Place Vendome, a splendid hotel.

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20 Comments

  1. Personally I think that your total planning on this could have been far better. You did good in getting to The Gare du Nord but you would have been closer (walking distance with light luggage) to your hotel if you had taken the non stop bus to the Opera.
    The cab situation is very easily avoided. Never let anyone take a hold of your luggage or family. This was a dangerous move IMHO. Thankfully you were smart enough to do what you did at the hotel but remember you were in an unlicensed cab and as such had no idea as to insurance or who might be driving the vehicle. For future reference the cab rank is on the right side exit from the station and the fare is about €20. Bear in mind that cabs also charge additionally per bag and tipping is not necessary.
    I don’t mean to berate you on this but frankly a little due diligence and you could have avoided much of this situation.

    1. Rings, I’m just not a bus guy. I like trains in most European countries because they operate on efficient schedules, are generally clean and avoid traffic. Buses have the element of traffic built in. If I’m going to deal with traffic I’d just as soon have my own vehicle. I wouldn’t trade off comfort and potential efficiency for price. Plenty of folks do.

      The taxi cab we got into had all the proper taxi markings on the outside. It just didn’t have a license inside the cab. There was a meter present, just not functioning. Certainly I could have asked the driver to stop when I noted there was no license hanging in the cab but I thought the best decision at that point was to wait until we arrived at our destination when I had the assistance of the hotel.

      I certainly don’t take your comments as berating, but I do think we see the potential transportation options differently. Thanks for sharing the bus information since I’m sure others will find it useful.

      1. You say “I’m just not a bus guy”. The thing is… for some parts of Paris it is arguably the best answer, sometimes by quite a margin, even if you’d normally avoid busses.

        I encourage you to embrace the wide range of travel tools available to you. I appreciate the bias away from busses, but writing them off completely may be a poor choice.

  2. You could have gone one stop further, to Chatelet-Les Halles, and transferred to RER A one stop to Auber/Opera, which is about 2 or 3 blocks from the Park Hyatt. No scams to deal with.

    Also if you are staying 4 – 7 days, a weekly transit pass is economical. If you buy that zones that include CDG airport, then it also includes the train to Versailles. I think you need to bring a small photo. That then includes all subways, buses, trams and RER trains. The pass is loaded on a Navigo Decouverte card and they’ll issue it right at the CDG RER station.

    1. Carl, thanks for the suggestion on transferring to the RER A. I’m sure others will find it useful, along with the information on weekly passes. Ours was a short trip so the passes didn’t make sense but I always look for those types of packages when traveling to an area like Paris or Rome that has a good transportation network.

    1. Andi, these are the types of things that can discourage normal folks from traveling to foreign countries (or being adventurous when they go as opposed to booking a tour and painting inside the lines). There are certainly risks when traveling in any country but as I’m sure you’ve learned, keeping your wits about you will help navigate those situations.

  3. Looking forward to this review series. One of my favorite places, although I do treat it as a day trip destination often going only for 26 hours at a time.

  4. Also loving the series since we are about to go there in April, but before reading this I was already leaning toward either a cab from the airport, or if we wanted to save a little the Super Shuttle. After reading this I’m more convinced that after traveling all night with just my 4 yo this public transport sounds like more trouble than it is worth. Great info, thanks. 😉

  5. We are in Paris now and stayed at the Vendome the first two nights. The Roissey bus costs 10.50 euros a person and goes nonstop to the Opera which is 3 blocks from the hotel. It is just outside the CDG terminal and took 45 minutes. No stairs!!!

  6. Has anyone tried Uber? I’m going to Paris later this week. The website says it’s 70E from CDG for a van (we have 4 people). That seems pretty reasonable considering we would most likely have to take 2 cabs

  7. Back in 2009 when I went to Paris, I took a cab from CDG to Opera Bastille and it cost me around 50 euros. If the RER train cost 29 euros for three of you and your cab ride to the hotel from the station was 20 euros, the total would have been around 50 euros as well. Even though it is 2014, the cost of a cab from CDG to city center probably would have cost you around 60 euros at most. Your unlicensed cab probably thought he could scam you because you were staying at the park hyatt vendome, arguably one of the most expensive hotels in the city!

  8. Glad that this ended well for you. It’s easy to say, after the fact or removed from the situation, of things you could have done better. So yeah, many factors enter into the decision to pick the transport between airport and hotel (number in party, number of luggage, time of arrival,language, etc). CDG is not a welcoming airport, since it’s usually so crowded. The train station in it is even more crowded and noisy, so it’s easy to be sensorily overloaded after getting off the plane. There is a good train network within Paris, but keep in mind that transferring trains with luggage is not easy as you may end up having to take only stairs.

    1. grrlock, all good suggestions. We got lucky and landed at a relatively quiet time or I’m sure it would have been a more harrowing experience taking the train.

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