What to do on a long layover in Paris? It can be tricky to leave the airport, even if you have 5 hours. But if you have a really long layover — like my 12-hour gap between flights this August — you can actually squeeze in a lot.

In 12 hours I was able to hop around to seven of Paris’s top sights, plus scarf down some French food (and vin, of course!), while making it back to CDG with plenty of time to check in for my flight. Here’s how I did it:

First, travel light. I checked my bags at CDG (about 28 euros for 12 hours) near the train depot. Then I bought a 1-day transport pass for RER trains (including the airport) and hopped on the train into the city.

Stop 1: Sacre Coeur

I got to this hilltop church around sunrise. It was freezing and the church itself wasn’t open yet, but there were very few people around and it was very peaceful. A wonderful view of the city here. I then wandered around the Montmartre streets surrounding the church — most were empty, but some were starting to show signs of life at cafes. Then walked down to stop 2: Moulin Rouge.

Stop 2: Moulin Rouge

This was a total fan-nut stop, as I saw the Baz Luhrmann movie like seven times in the theater. It was still super early, nothing was open, but I stood across the street and pretended Ewan McGregor was serenading me.

Stop 3: Arc de Triomphe

This was my third trip to Paris, but the first time I’d actually gone to the top of the Arc. That was a mistake. The views from Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower are awesome. But the 360-degree view from the Arc, with 12 streets radiating from its base like spokes, feels more connected to the city and is now my favorite Parisian panorama.

Stop 4: Bastille

I metroed from the Arc to the Bastille stop and parked myself at one of the standard cafes around the square.

Stop 5: Canal St-Martin

After gorging on cheese I walked through Bastille up to Canal St-Martin. I had heard Canal St-Martin was the hip “new” Paris hood to visit. It was quiet along the canal; shady trees and bridges crossing over the green water. People were taking walks, but it was early afternoon on a Monday, so things were relatively quiet. I stopped in a supermarket and bought a 5-euro bottle of (not chilled) rose to drink along the water. It wasn’t worth the 5 euros…

Stop 6: Notre Dame

This is my favorite spot in Paris; it just feels like the center of the world. I didn’t think I’d have time to make it down here from Canal St-Martin on my way back to the airport, but I actually had plenty of time to metro down to the cathedral and wander around Ile de la Cite.

Stop 7: Seine

Before taking the RER back to CDG, I took a walk along the Seine and watched the boats. Hopped on a 3:30 train back to the airport, picked up my bags, and had plenty of time to check in for my 6:50 pm flight.

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