Paris Charles de Gaulle vs. Orly: Which airport should you fly into?

Paris, the City of Light, is a global hotspot of culture, art, history and fine dining. A popular spot among both business and leisure travelers, Paris is one of the largest cities in Europe and has two major airports.

Having recently compared the major airports in Chicago and Tokyo, we’re going to turn our attention today to Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Paris Orly (ORY) and help you decide which one to fly in and out of on your next trip to the French capital.

Distance to downtown and transportation options

The 20 arrondissements (districts) of Paris are laid out in a spiral pattern, like a snail shell. The first arrondissement, home to the Louvre, is located in the center of the city and the numbers increase as you spiral outwards in a clockwise fashion. One of the most central locations downtown is the Notre Dame cathedral, a great choice for this comparison since it sits on the RER B line that serves both de Gaulle and Orly.

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 16, 2019: A view of the Notre Dame Cathedral after the 15 April 2019 fire. Arina Lebedeva/TASS (Photo by Arina LebedevaTASS via Getty Images)
A view of the Notre Dame cathedral after the April 15, 2019 fire.  (Photo by Arina LebedevaTASS via Getty Images.)

Here’s how the two airports stack up:

Getting downtown Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Orly (ORY)
Distance (by car) 23 miles 12 miles
Time (by car) 50 minutes 25 minutes
Average taxi cost €55 (~$60) €40 ($45)
Public Transit RER B (~1 hour) ORLYVAL to RER B (40 minutes)

Charles de Gaulle to the northeast is much farther out of the city than Orly to the south. However, Paris has one of the world’s most comprehensive and easy-to-navigate metro systems, making it a cinch to get from either airport to just about any point in the city. The RER B is a very long train (both in terms of the number of cars and the length of the line) that runs north-south through the city. It’s even possible to get an express train that skips many of the stops between downtown and de Gaulle, but make sure you board a train that is actually bound for the airport (B3) and not headed to Mitry-Claye in the north (B5).

If you opt to drive or take a taxi, the trip from de Gaulle can be about twice as long as the drive from Orly before accounting for traffic, especially in the narrow streets that make up much of downtown Paris. It’s also important to note that the RER B doesn’t run directly from Orly. You’ll need to transfer at Antony to get to the center of the city. When leaving, transfer at Antony for Orlyval.

Winner: Charles de Gaulle is farther from downtown, but it can actually be easier to get to than Orly if you’re starting at Notre Dame. It’s about the same number of stops to each airport, but there are express trains to de Gaulle and you don’t have to switch lines, so Paris’ larger airport has the upper hand.

Airlines and flight options

Charles de Gaulle ranked as the 10th busiest airport in the world in 2018, serving 72.2 million passengers, second in Europe only to London Heathrow. If you’re taking an intercontinental flight to Paris, it’s a near-certainty that you’ll be flying into de Gaulle. United, Delta and American connect over 15 different American cities to Charles de Gaulle, and Air France flies to more than 10 North American cities.

The heavy demand for travel to and from Paris is reflected in the jumbo jets that fly to de Gaulle. Etihad and Qatar each fly two daily A380s while Emirates flies three. The following popular and highly rated airlines also fly to de Gaulle:

  • Cathay Pacific flies from Hong Kong (HKG) using a 777-300ER
  • Singapore flies from Singapore (SIN) using a 777-300ER
  • JAL flies from Tokyo Haneda (HND) using a 777-300ER
  • ANA flies from Tokyo Haneda (HND) using a 787-9
  • EVA Air flies from Taipei (TPE) using a 777-300ER

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and of course it doesn’t even begin to cover the many short-haul regional flights to and from de Gaulle. On any given day, there are 10+ flights from de Gaulle to other major European cities like Amsterdam (AMS) and Frankfurt (FRA), giving travelers plenty of flexibility in their choice of airline and the time of day they travel.

Orly, by comparison, is primarily used for shorter flights, secondary markets, and low-cost carriers. On any given day you’ll find that about 50% of the flights to and from Orly are operated by low-cost carriers, as gate space and departure slots are much more affordable than at de Gaulle.

Still, Orly does have a few longer flights worth mentioning. Low-cost carriers French Bee and Corsair fly to destinations like New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Miami (MIA), and their prices are often quite reasonable.

Winner: Orly is great for regional flights around Europe, but so is de Gaulle and it also offers international service to dozens of far-flung destinations. When you add the multiple daily A380 flights from the gulf airlines, many global destinations are just a one-stop routing away, leaving de Gaulle the winner here.

Further Reading: The best ways to get to Paris using points and miles

Airport amenities and perks

If you look at a map of Charles de Gaulle, you might assume that with only three terminals, the airport is relatively orderly. What you don’t see on that map is that Terminals 2A/2B/2C/2D/2E/2F all function as independent terminals, meaning you actually have the pandemonium of eight different terminals when arriving or departing.

Terminal 1 is home to most Star Alliance airlines and is my favorite terminal to depart out of since you avoid the chaos of the Terminal 2(s). Lufthansa, Qatar, SAS and Star Alliance all have lounges in Terminal 1, and the Star Alliance lounge is accessible through Priority Pass as well. I’m also a huge fan of the futuristic design at the center of the terminal, where various escalators criss-cross the atrium to take you from check-in to security or down to arrivals.

Moving into Terminal 2, you’ll find lounges for Air Canada, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad and more, with a few Priority Pass contract lounges available in terminals 2A, 2D and 2E (in addition to the Air Canada lounge, which is accessible through Priority Pass).

By far the best lounge on the premises is the Air France La Premiere lounge in Terminal 2E. Air France offers arguably the best ground experience in the world for first-class passengers, which TPG himself got to try out when he flew in La Premiere first class from Paris to New York.

Further Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Air France’s “La Première” 777-300ER First Class

Orly, on the other hand, is a much more modest affair as you would expect from a primarily regional airport. There are two Priority Pass lounges available, one in the south terminal and one in the west terminal, but you won’t see any ultra-premium lounges here. Airlines usually reserve that treatment for passengers flying on longer flights.

Winner: Charles de Gaulle can be an infuriating airport to navigate depending on what terminal you’re departing from, but once you clear security you’ll have many more options for your time, be it shopping, eating or relaxing in a lounge.

Bottom Line

I had a love-hate relationship with de Gaulle when I studied abroad in Paris, but the more I’ve traveled, the more I realize that it isn’t really that bad. The RER B gets you to the airport quickly from almost anywhere in the city and the flight options, both for cheap, short hops and longer intercontinental trips, simply can’t be matched by Orly.