Planning European adventures often seems great in theory, until you check your bank balance and have to make some serious cuts. There are countries and cities in Europe that can break your budget, and Paris is one of them. The French capital is not known for being a budget-friendly city. But never fear because it is possible to explore the city of love on a shoestring, trust me: I’ve done it several times now. With just a few concessions and insider tips here and there, you can enjoy champagne Paris on a beer budget.
Paris’ beautiful galleries, delicious cuisine, unique architecture, and world-famous landmarks, provide plenty of reason to visit the city. A lot of the city can be enjoyed simply by walking the streets and relaxing in the public gardens. A more relaxed approach to Paris which avoids tourist traps and rushing around not only leaves you more satisfied, but with more money in the pocket.
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BUDGET PARIS TRANSPORT
My advice for budget Paris transport is pretty self-explanatory as the usual rules for saving transport money in Europe apply. By using some of these penny-pinching measures, you will be able to save more money for baguettes and eclairs later (which is the clear priority). Luckily for us, Paris is an incredibly easy-to-walk city with most attractions in close proximity, and there is an effective metro system and bicycle/scooter hire system for those longer distances.
WALK AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
Paris is an extremely walk-able city and most of the beauty is in the resplendent architecture. Paris’ most popular attractions are all located close to the banks of the Seine and it’s easy to stroll from one place to the next. In my opinion, the bustling atmosphere is best enjoyed above ground and out of the car, where you can walk down hidden side streets and pop into whichever boulangeries take your fancy.
ARRIVE IN PARIS BY TRAIN
As with a lot of European cities, the airports can be far from the city centre but the train stations are centrally located. Paris is no exception. If you are travelling from nearby in mainland Europe or from London, consider taking the train to Paris which will save you money on airport transfers and will minimise your carbon footprint. From Gare du Nord or Gare de Lyon, you are well-connected to all the arrondisements through the metro or walking.
If you do arrive at Charles de Gaulle, you can catch the RER into the city as an affordable option. A ticket on the airport RER costs €10.30 and can be purchased from any ticket machine in the metro/train stations. If you have a Paris Visite card zones 1-5, the RER to the airport is included. The journey takes about 35 minutes from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle and the trains are frequent throughout the day. Be aware if you arrive at night time that the trains do not run overnight and you will need to arrange a taxi, the last train is around 11:50pm.
TAKE THE METRO
Although the metro isn’t exactly free, it can be an affordable and quick way to get around the city. A single journey on the metro costs €1.90 for zones 1 and 2, or you can purchase a pack of 10 paper tickets for €16. Day and month passes can also be purchased for unlimited travel. For the RER, within the city limits, the ticket prices are the same as the metro. If you travel further afield, such as to Versailles or Charles de Gaulle, the tickets become more costly.
Up-to-date information on metro fares and tourist transport cards, check the Paris Tourism website on transport fares.
TIP: most metro stations have several entrances. At popular tourist attractions, the lines to buy tickets from the machines at the closest entrance are extensive. For example, at the Louvre, the station beneath the museum had a ticket line about 30-40m long, but if you cross the road to the other station entrance… not a person in sight.
RENT A BICYCLE OR SCOOTER
As in most popular European cities, Paris has an abundance of bicycle and scooter hire companies to beetle around the city. I love using the Velib bike system. It is easy to find docks all over Paris and the first half an hour is free, so you can cruise from dock to dock switching bikes and travel around for free, or you can save yourself the hassle and get a day pass for . The bikes were formerly all mechanical but now Velib is moving into using electric bicycles and about 30% of the fleet is electric at the moment. For a map of the Velib docks and whether bikes are available, check their website. Lime scooters are also available throughout Paris. I haven’t used them before but they were abundant, just make sure you obey traffic laws and don’t leave your scooter lying around.
BUDGET PARIS ACCOMMODATION
The most difficult aspect of keeping a budget in Paris is the accommodation. Although Paris has some great accommodation I’m sure, none of it is very accessible on a shoestring. Hotel prices are usually quite inflated for the quality, and this is the same with hostels too. The last few times I have been in Paris, I have opted for vacation rentals and home stays to keep costs down.
BOOK IN ADVANCE
Although I’m warming to the idea of spontaneous travel and booking things a day out, Paris remains an exception. Prices increase closer to the arrival date and accommodation sells out. I would book at least 2 months prior to arrival to get the best prices.
Unfortunately for budget travels, there are plenty of luxe hotels but not many high-quality hostels available in the city and they are often far from the city. Of the hostels in Paris, these are the best rated:
- Adveniat Paris (8th arr.)
- Les Piaules (11th arr.)
- Le Village Montmartre by Hiphophostels (18th arr.)
- FIAP Jean Monnet (14th arr.)
- The Loft Boutique Hostel (20th arr.)
- Vintage Paris Gare du Nord by Hiphophostels (9th arr.)
- St Christopher’s Inn Paris – Gare du Nord (10th arr.)
- The 3 Ducks Eiffel Tower by Hiphophostels (15th arr.)
VISIT IN SHOULDER OR OFF SEASON
Despite Paris’ year-long popularity, there are seasons that are busier than others. In the summertime and around holiday periods, finding accommodation in Paris can be difficult and even more costly than baseline. The hotter weather can also make Paris uncomfortable to travel in. I would highly recommend visiting in Spring and Autumn, I love Paris in April and September. Also try to avoid holiday seasons as prices are jacked over Christmas, New Year, Easter and school holidays.
USE DISCOUNTS AND CODES
If you want discounts for your accommodation in Paris, you can use these:
- $15 off your Booking.com accommodation
- Sign up to Airbnb using this link and receive $55 off your Airbnb stay and a further $21 off any Airbnb Experience booking
Always, always shop around and look at several accommodation websites for the best price. Compare on booking.com and the hotel/hostel website to see where it’s cheapest to book.
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CHEAP FOOD PARIS
Paris has its fair share of top-end restaurants but there are plenty of affordable eateries throughout the city to taste the famous French cuisine. France, and Paris specifically, is a foodie destination so you want to be able to sample this despite your budget. When I visit Paris, I only go to restaurants for special occasions, and otherwise eat at smaller bakeries and street stalls.
BOULANGERIES AND PATISSERIES
Paris is teeming with boulangeries and patisseries. Not only are the atmospheric bakeries vendors of the worlds’ best breads, they have fantastically affordable lunch options. There are well-priced quiches, filled baguettes and other authentic lunch fare for a fraction of the price. The cheapest places are away from the main boulevards and on the side streets.
BRASSERIES ON THE LEFT BANK
The Left Bank is the home of Sorbonne University so there are lower prices than other parts of the city. In the side streets, you can find plenty of restaurants doing entree + main + dessert for €10 with cheaper prices for lunch compared to dinner. Some streets with plenty of restaurants include Rue de la Huchette, Rue de la Harpe, Rue Saint-Séverin and Rue de Buci.
One of my favourite French snacks are crêpes, these thin, Nutella-filled delicacies are the perfect thing to eat in between meals. There are cast iron crêpe makers on almost every street corner and the smell of batter fills the air. You can expect to pay between €3 and €5 for a crêpe and you can usually choose between Nutella, jam, and lemon and sugar as a topping. My all-time favourite crêpe store in the the Jardins du Luxembourg, I visit here every time in Paris (and the crêpe guy must think I’m crazy), but he makes a darn good crêpe. It’s a little wooden stall near the Kiosque à Musique on the Boulevard Saint-Michel / Rue de Médicis side of the Jardins.
AFFORDABLE THINGS TO DO IN PARIS
VISIT THE LOUVRE FOR FREE
The Louvre for free? Oui oui! Nothing beats losing yourself in halls full of world famous art except for losing yourself in halls full of world famous art without spending a single euro. There are a couple of ways you can see the Louvre for less, including: free entry on Fridays after 6pm for anyone under 26 (as long as you carry ID to prove it), and on the first Sunday of the month for all ages and nationalities.
READ A BOOK IN THE JARDIN DU LUXEMBOURG
This is the best park in Paris, hands down. The relaxed atmosphere at the Jardin du Luxembourg is unrivalled, with a perfect blend of manicured flower beds, lush lawns, and relaxed seating areas. Of course, in true Paris style, Jardin du Luxembourg is complete with a palace and picture-perfect lake. There is usually plenty of seating around the garden, so pull up one of Paris’ iconic khaki-coloured park chairs and dig into a good book. Oh, and you need to get one of those crêpes I was talking about to complete the scene.
VISIT FANTASTIC CHURCHES
Paris is full of beautiful churches which are free to enter and enjoy. There are dozens of churches scattered throughout the city from different time periods and architectural styles, but all are peaceful escapes from the bustling city. In terms of free churches, my favourites to visit are:
- Sacre Coeur
- The Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois
- Église Saint-Eustache
- Église Saint-Sulpice
SEE THE EIFFEL TOWER
People often say that you cannot visit Paris without climbing the Eiffel Tower. However, I have to respectfully disagree. It would be a stretch to visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, but it is not completely necessary to go to the top if you’re on a budget. As an adult, getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower costs €25.50 and requires an hour or so of queuing. Although the view from the top is undoubtedly cool, I personally prefer views of the skyline with the Eiffel Tower in them, and these can be found from cheaper/free viewpoints.
You can walk around the tower base and the Champs de Mars free of charge and get a sense of the fantastic scale. If you cross the Seine, you will reach Trocadero which has steps allowing you to get postcard-perfect views of the city’s icon, too. There is undeniably something special and iconic about the Eiffel Tower, and it is a place which has captured travellers’ minds for decades.
My other favourite places for looking at the Eiffel Tower are from:
- The Arc de Triomphe viewpoint (€11), detailed below
- Parc de Belleville to be surrounded by greenery
WANDER THE STREETS OF THE LEFT BANK
The Left Bank, or ‘Rive Gauche’, harks back to an era of Paris where it was habited by philosophers, artists and actors. A more relaxed and bohemian part of Paris, the famous streets of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Boulevard Saint-Michel transect smaller streets with quaint architecture and bubbling with restaurants, cafés and unique shops. Home to the Sorbonne, this area is full of students and has a real sense of creativity. It is my new favourite place to wander in Paris, spending time strolling cobbled streets and ducking into bookshops.
CLIMB DREAMY MONTMARTRE
The Montmartre district covers a hill and has a unique village-feel with stunning views over Paris. Aside from visiting Sacre Coeur church, there are dozens of atmospheric eateries lining the streets, viewpoints, and Montmartre is famous for being a hub for Paris’ most creative historical residents including Van Gogh, Derain, Picasso, Renoir, and Matisse. The artistic history and romantic architecture have made it a quaint and dreamy part of the city. Montmartre is no secret though and can be incredibly busy, so try to arrive early in the morning.
HUNT OUT A GOOD HAPPY HOUR
Paris is full of atmospheric cafés, brasseries and bars which spill their seats out onto the streets. Luckily, there are plenty of establishments which cater for us budget-friendly folk with generous happy hours. I have found particularly good specials along Rue Saint Denis and the surrounding side streets. So, treat yourself after a hard day of museum hunting with a €5 cocktail and watch the world go by.
STROLL UP THE CHAMPS-ELYSÉES
The Champs-Elysées is, indeed, a busy street. It is also strikingly beautiful and the ideal place to window shop. Running almost 2 kilometres and connecting the Arc de Triomphe with the Tuilleries, it has often been referred to as the ‘world’s most beautiful avenue’. With classical Parisian architecture and vibrant trees lining the avenue, it is no wonder that it is the backdrop for national events and the world’s luxury brands have flocked to have store fronts here.
CHECK OUT THE ARC DE TRIOMPHE
Once you’ve walked the Champs-Elysées, you end up at the striking Arc de Triomphe. Although getting to the top of the Arc de Triomphe isn’t free, it costs €11 which is significantly cheaper than climbing the Eiffel Tower. The view from here is unreal and spans across the city skyline from La Défense, to Montmartre, and the Eiffel Tower.
VISIT THE MARIE CURIE MUSEUM
One of my favourite free things to do in Paris is visit the Marie Curie museum. The former site of Curie’s laboratory is where huge developments in physics and chemistry were made and is where artificial radiation was first discovered. It’s a fascinating museum with plenty of history and information around radiation, the Curie’s, and how their discoveries have changed the world (and won the family five Nobel Prizes).
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CYCLE THROUGH THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE
Grab one of those Velib bikes we were talking about and head to Bois de Boulogne, an expansive park outside of the city centre of Paris. The greenery is incredibly refreshing and the park is simple to cycle around. Bois de Boulogne has been a public park since 1852 and is a brilliant combination of lakes, un-manicured greenery, and plenty of pathways.
ENJOY A PICNIC BY THE SEINE
As the sun sets, dozens of people make their way to the banks of the Seine and lay out their evening picnics. So grab your friends, a bottle of Bordeaux red, and some delightful French fromage, and bid goodbye to the afternoon sun. It is the quintessential Parisian golden hour activity and a relaxed way to end the day.
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Do you have any budget Paris advice? Leave a comment below — I would love to know your tips!