Paris on the Cheap
It has that certain je ne sais quoi, Paris. As the largest city in France and with approximately 28 million tourists visiting per year, Paris thrives on tourists and their money. While it can be fairly easy to find things to do, things to see, and places to stay, it’s not often easy to do so while staying on a budget. Paris is very (note: very) expensive!
Here are some tips and tricks to visiting Paris on a budget without staying in a hostel or eating dry sandwiches for a week.
LODGING: First and foremost, rent an apartment or a room in an apartment for short-stays. Renting a room or small apartment for a week generally costs less than a hotel, plus you have the advantage of being able to cook at home. Eating out in Paris for every meal (as you would if you stayed in a hotel) would cost a small fortune, so limiting your need to eat out will save a lot (a LOT) of money. Check Craigslist (beware of scams!) and Air BnB for local apartments (generally a studio can be found for 60-80 euro a night for two people) or, for those who have a better knowledge of French, LeBonCoin. Yes, hostels are cheaper, but once you throw in costs for food…
TRANSPORTATION: You’ll need to take the metro. The easiest way to get around Paris region is underground, and the prices are pretty reasonable. A one-way ticket on the metro will cost 1.70 euro, but if you buy a packet of ten tickets (called a “carnet”) you’ll pay 12 euro, or 1.20 euro per ticket. These can generally be purchased at any of the self-ticketing machines on the metro and have multiple language options.
Your second option, for those who speak decent French or want to try, is to go to a RATP (the metro company) window at the Chatelet, Gare de Lyon, or Gare du Nord station and get a Pass Navigo/Carte Orange. This pass will allow unlimited travel within one weeks’ time and can be swiped at any metro entrance. The cost for the card is 5 euro (last I checked) and the price per week is 18 euro. If you have your French address ahead of time and trust receiving one in the mail you can order one for free at the Navigo site https://www.navigo.fr/pages/accueil.html (only in French). ATTENTION: check to see when the travel week starts before buying the pass. The week is pre-defined and does not start automatically from the date purchased. You may purchase it half-way through the week and realize it’s only valid for two more days even though you paid for a week. Purchasing one on Monday is probably the best bet.
You’ll be seeing lots of these grey bikes around, they’re called Velib bikes and they are the city’s bike rental service. There are hundreds of pick-up and drop-off locations around the city. The bad news is, for Americans or those without a chip in their credit card (like a sim card), you won’t be able to use it in the Velib machines. If you really want to rent one of these bikes, you’ll need to find the Velib office and obtain passes in person. You can also add one or seven-day passes to your Pass Navigo. More information can be found on the Navigo site (in English). ATTENTION: Every time a bike is borrowed, the system automatically notes a 150 euro charge on your card. This charge will be cancelled when the bike is returned but may not show as cancelled on your bank account for a few days.
Okay, now that you’ve got lodging and transportation all sorted out, we can focus on the fun details.
Check out Groupon.fr and LastMinute.fr for deals in the Paris area. You can find anything from deals for up to 70% off the regular price for restaurants, theater shows, cruises, and art exhibitions at a great price with tickets delivered to your email. The sites are in French.
Grab a Paris Museum Pass (you can get it online and sent to your email before you leave home or buy it in Paris) which can be purchased in passes in 2, 4, or 6 days. This gives you access to a slough of museums, including the Louvre and the Pompidou at a deeply discounted price.
You probably have a list of all the places that you want to visit, and I’ll just list a few of them which are free to roam around:
The Eiffel Tower, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Luxembourg Gardens, Invalides, the Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the Arc de Tromphe, the Pantheon, visit Montmartre, pass by the Moulin Rouge.
On a personal note, I highly recommend three things:
- Bring a picnic to the Pont des Arts. As you cross the bridge go down the stairs, it will lead you to a little island and park that juts out into the Seine. This is a very popular spot in the evenings on warmer days!
- Have a drink at La Lucha Libre, a quirky bar which offers 1 euro glasses of sangria during happy hour.
- If you are in Paris during July and August, Parc de la Villette offers free movies on the lawn of the park (Cinema en Plein Air). They always have a good selection of films! You’re free to bring food and drink; make sure to bring a blanket or extra sweater.
Good luck and bon voyage!