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On the Spot: Getting to downtown Paris from the airport

Your plane has landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. Now what's the best way to get to downtown Paris?

September 04, 2011|By Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times
  • Taking a cab to downtown Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport is convenient, but the bus is cheaper and also reliable.
Taking a cab to downtown Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport is convenient,… (Charles Platiau / Reuters )

Question: Much has been written about Paris hotels, but I don't seem to find much information on how to get from Charles de Gaulle airport to downtown Paris (taxi, train, bus?) and how much it costs. On our way back from India to South America, we need to stay at a hotel near that airport. Any suggestions?

Robyn Merino

Palos Verdes

Answer: When you're traveling, you should bounce your budget against your travel style and use that as a guide to selecting options. In this case, you have a choice from CDG: cab, train or bus.

Susan Spano, who spent three years in Paris as a travel writer for the Los Angeles Times, favors two modes. First is a cab, which will cost about 50 euros, or about $72 at recent exchange rates.

There are many fewer hassles with a cab, of course, but if you are someone who squeezes a buck so hard you can hear it gasping for air, that might not be the way to go. (I'm still smarting from my trip into Paris from CDG in which my cab got stuck on a one-way street behind a trash truck. Each tick of the meter sent me into a greater funk, as if each of the 85 euros it ultimately cost me represented one less landmark to visit, which it did. From this you may deduce that my travel budget is called, charitably, "frugal.")

Spano also likes the bus ("much cheaper and quite reliable," she said in an email) to L'Opéra (about 10 euros, or about $14.50) (Go to http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_22211/roissybus for details.)

And rail? "The train is a pain, I think, especially if you've got luggage," she said.

Ben Lam would disagree. Lam, who lives near Paris, had so many visitors for whom getting out of the airport was a key issue that he developed a website called ParisbyTrain.com. His remarkably detailed site, in English, provides a step-by-step guide to getting into Paris by train (about 30 minutes, he says — half the time of the bus — and, at 9 euros, slightly cheaper). There are, he notes, some tips and tricks to know if you choose this, his favorite option.

First, you'll probably need to pay in euros for your ticket. Yes, it's that nettlesome problem with U.S. credit cards that may or may not (in this case, probably not) be accepted in a foreign transaction. Most of Europe operates with a "Chip and PIN" system of cards; these are not widely available in the U.S. (You can get a prepaid card from Travelex.com, for instance, which might be handy for those times when an automated merchant or a small merchant won't take your U.S. credit card.) Because a kiosk won't be an option, Lam suggests going directly to the human ticket vendors, many of whom speak English.

And second — and I can just picture this as yet another way Americans can look foolish — as you're going through the turnstile to the train platform, you'll need to use the pass-through on the side to get your luggage through or you'll need to push your bag ahead of you, Lam said. Otherwise, "the gates will close and catch you," he said, and you'll be at the mercy of the passenger behind you to free your luggage.

Whew. We haven't even reached Paris, and I'm already tired. So if you choose to stay at the airport when you're connecting, here's what some Facebook respondents told me: "I stayed at the CDG Hilton once. The hotel was fine, but I do NOT recommend the steak in the restaurant." And two others gave the Ibis a thumbs up, although "my room reminded me of a tiny, functional ship's cabin," one said. Look at sources such as Frommers.com and RickSteves.com (in community forums) and, of course, TripAdvisor.com.

Bon voyage!

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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