Paris on a budget: affordable ways to experience the city


Paris is a notoriously expensive city. Alexis Averbuck, author of the new Lonely PlanetParis guidebook, shares her insider tips on how to experience the city, without maxing your credit card. 

Paris might be home to haute couture, fine dining and some legendary luxury hotels, but if you’re still waiting for your lottery numbers to come up, don’t despair. With savvy planning and a bit of local know-how, you’ll find a wealth of ways to soak up the French capital without blowing your budget.

Simple walking and people-watching can fill countless days in this dynamic city, with beautiful parks and gardens to explore, awe-inspiring architecture to admire, and markets and boutiques for window-shopping. Fill up on delectable, pocket-priced cuisine, freewheel along the Seine, and prepare to be surprised by just how affordable Paris can be for budget travelers.

Daily costs

  • Fresh baguette: €1.30
  • Glass of wine: from €4-€4.50
  • Decent bottle of wine in a store: €14
  • Cup of coffee in a café: €3-4
  • Crêpe: €5
  • Main course in a bistro: €16–22
  • Two-course bistro menu: from €18
  • Ticket for the Louvre: €17
  • Metro or bus ride: €2.10
  • Hostel dorm bed: from €25
  • Boutique midrange hotel: from €150
  • Studio apartment (including Airbnb): from €125
  • Average daily cost: €100–€225
Visiting Paris in winter can bring savings if you avoid the Christmas peak © PhotoAlto / Getty Images

Choose your season wisely (and book well ahead)

Paris has no real low season, although room rates may be somewhat lower in winter (outside of the Christmas holiday peak) and in early spring. Whether you want a hostel bed, a cozy hotel room, or a short-term apartment rental, the earlier you book, the better the deal – places to stay in favored neighborhoods are always in demand.

If you can, avoid local and international school holidays and weekends in spring and summer, when crowds descend and prices soar. Escape to Paris mid-week in May, on the other hand, and you’ll have the cream of the city’s budget hotels to choose from.

Pick the right kind of lodging 

Given that Paris hotels (except the top five-star places) are often more serviceable than superlative, you might want to think outside the box. Short-term apartment rentals are very popular and can offer excellent value for money – especially for families. They’ll also give you more space and you can save money by self-catering.

Hostels are always a reasonable option. As single hotel rooms are a rare breed in Paris and cost almost as much as doubles, hostels are often better value for solo travelers too. Paris has a hostel to match every taste, from solar-powered hangouts to dorms in centuries-old mansions. Larger establishments often rent out bicycles, serve cheap evening meals, and organize excursions.

The open-air market in the Bastille district is one of the largest and busiest in the city
The Bastille district is cheaper than the center, but still close to the bright lights © lembi / Shutterstock

Choose the right neighborhood for you

Accommodation will be your biggest daily expense, so it pays to be picky when choosing a neighborhood – room rates can vary widely depending on where you stay. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Champs-Élysées areas are generally too pricey for travelers with smaller budgets, but other neighborhoods close to central Paris – particularly Bastille, Montparnasse and the 13e arrondissement – have a wider range of accommodation at lower price points.

Picking accommodation outside the center of Paris may be marginally cheaper, but this is invariably a false economy once travel time and transport costs are considered. There is little joy in ending up in a generic chain hotel that comes with a long slog on public transport to reach the sights, and little in the way of interesting local street life.

Learn the art of the flâneur by walking the streets

Paris is a perfect city for walking, and there’s no better way to experience city life than getting lost in Montmartre’s winding streets or strolling beside the Seine and its bridges, quays, and gardens, listening to buskers and taking in all the grand architecture. Exploring Paris on foot, like a modern-day flâneur (saunterer), is also the obvious budget choice.

If you prefer to wander in the company of a local guide, contact Paris Greeters to arrange a free walking tour (donations are appreciated).

Roll along the Seine

Paris’ self-service rental bike scheme Vélib’ has thousands of conventional and electric bikes waiting at docking stations across the city. The scheme is inexpensive and easy to use, providing you have decent road sense and are comfortable navigating the Paris traffic. If you have a European-compatible chip-and-pin credit card, you can subscribe at any docking station; if not, pre-subscribe online.

GettyRF131993675.jpg
 © Getty Images

Become fluent in Paris public transport

The Paris metro system and the city’s RER train and bus networks are all extensive and easy to use. The cheapest and simplest way to use public transport is with a Navigo Easy card. Simply pre-load the card with credit, and fares will be deducted for each ride. For even bigger savings, cut out the initial €2 cost for a Navigo Easy card and use the RATP app on your phone for free.

When traveling by public transport, buy carnets – credits for 10 rides sold at a discount – as this is the cheapest way to ride. You can also buy various passes for unlimited rides across a range of fare zones, valid for various time periods – the handy Mobilis pass covers one day of unlimited travel in central Paris (zones 1 and 2).

However, one disadvantage of using passes is that they are tied to the calendar and the clock. A day pass begins at 12:01am, a seven-day pass always begins on Monday and a monthly pass always begins on the first day of the month, even if your stay doesn’t. However, children under four always travel free on public transit, and kids under 10 get tickets at half-price.

The Vélib’ bike-share scheme has over 20,000 bikes, both classic (green) and electric (blue) at 1400 stations citywide. Buy a subscription online using your Navigo transit pass or credit card, or at docking stations (it only accepts European-compatible chip-and-pin credit cards).  App-based electric trottinettes (scooters), wildly popular with tourists, were discontinued in September 2023 by popular vote.

A crepe pancake with raspberries made by a Paris street vendor
Crepes are just one of the inexpensive treats served on the streets in Paris © Petr Jilek / Shutterstock

Find excellent cheap eats all over town

Eating in Paris can easily be enjoyed at the lower end of the spending scale, with a wealth of fine food opportunities at traveler-friendly prices. In restaurants and bistros, ordering the prix fixe menu (two or three courses for a fixed price), the lunchtime formule (a two-course fixed-price meal), or the plat du jour (dish of the day) will be the least expensive option.

To maximize value, ask for the complimentary basket of bread to be refilled when empty and order une carafe d’eau (a jug of water) instead of bottled water. Also, house wines are usually excellent and cost less than well-known brands.

Avoid restaurants near the major sights. Instead, plan your meals in nearby neighborhoods where regular Parisians eat. It pays to reserve ahead even at the most reasonable bistros to get the best service and ensure you get a table.

Browse and snack in Paris’ incredible markets

With Paris’ bodacious open-air street markets and covered markets, you’ll be able to find fresh produce, delicious cheeses, olives, charcuterie, and more, at a fraction of the cost of eating in restaurants. For a market feast, head to Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais arrondissement – it’s a glorious maze of food stalls selling ready-to-eat dishes from around the globe, to take away or tuck into around shared tables.
 
Paris also has some excellent biologique (organic) markets, such as Marché Raspail (Sunday), Marché Biologique des Batignolles (Saturday), Marché Biologique Brancusi (Saturday) and Marché Biologique Place du Père Chaillet (Wednesday and Saturday).

Snap up bargain-priced unsold items at bakeries and other food vendors via the app Too Good to Go, part of an innovative scheme to help prevent food waste.

Various kinds of cheese for sale at a street market on Rue Mouffetard in Paris
Rue Mouffetard is a great place to pick up tasty French cheeses © Stuart Dee / Getty Images

Bypass the restaurants and picnic in style

Buy a baguette from the boulangerie (bakery), stuff it with a chunk of Camembert, pâté, and cornichons (miniature gherkins), and voilà, you’ve found picnic perfection!
 
In addition to the markets, it’s easy to buy tasty takeaways or bread, cheese, and charcuterie from shops on foodie streets such as Rue Cler (a short walk from the Eiffel Tower), Rue Montorgueil (near the Louvre), and Rue Mouffetard (in the Latin Quarter).

French wine purchased from grocery stores and neighborhood shops is also excellent value – bottles are sold for a fraction of what they cost outside of France (and in Paris’ restaurants). Picnic over million-dollar views in a park, on a quayside along the Seine, beneath the Eiffel Tower, or along Canal St-Martin.

Shop for souvenirs and fashion on a budget

Paris’ eclectic second-hand and antique markets offer all kinds of finds, and they usually offer great opportunities for people-watching. The Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen sprawls over 7 hectares (17 acres) with 11 market zones brimming with an extensive array of bric-a-brac, from vintage jewelry to antique furniture.

Over in Bastille, Marché d’Aligre combines a fresh produce market and an extensive flea market. In the 14e arrondissement, Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves has over 380 curio stalls. If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll adore the enormous Marché Georges Brassens, a weekend secondhand and antiquarian book market in the 15e arrondissement.

For clothes, seek out Paris’ many independent vintage boutiques, where you can find anything from consignment haute couture to secondhand blue jeans.

Visitors crowd around the Louvre's main courtyard (Cour Napoleon) in Paris
Always investigate the free times to visit famous Paris museums such as the Louvre © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Save money on attractions with just a little forethought

Museum lovers should try to visit on the first Sunday of any month, when admission to many museums is free – including top sights such as the Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou. Alternatively, check for special free opening times; entry to the Louvre is free after 6pm on the first Friday of the month from September to June. And kids always get into many museums for free.

Timing your stay to coincide with one of Paris’ cultural festivals will yield a bonanza of free or reduced-price exhibitions and events. Mark down the dates for La Nuit Européenne des Musées (mid-May), Nuit Blanche (early October), and Journées Européennes du Patrimoine (mid-September).

At any time of year, build days out around any discounts that you’re eligible for. EU citizens aged under 26 years get free admission to national museums and monuments, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Sainte-Chapelle, the Musée National Picasso, and the Musée Rodin.

Don’t forget all of the city’s free attractions – like majestic churches, myriad elegant gardens such as Tuileries, Luxembourg, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, and the city’s historic cemeteries. Be sure to pay your respects to Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and Marcel Proust at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise. 

You’ll also have beaucoup chances to heat up your social media feed with selfies at the Trocadéro or along the Pont de Bir Hakeim or Pont St-Louis.

Celebrate Parisian art and history in the city’s free museums

Paris’ many municipal museums are free! For example, the Musée Carnavalet (Museum of the City of Paris) – set in a historical townhouse at the heart of Le Marais – will help you see how Paris has changed over time, with no entry fee.

The permanent collection at the beautiful Petit Palais is fantastic and free, as is the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris – a chance to see world-class art without as many crowds as the better-known Louvre and d’Orsay.

Visitors admiring the gardens of Versailles palace in Paris
A Paris Museum Pass can get you cheaper entry to sights such as Versailles © Grant Faint / Getty Images

And save on the rest…

For serial sightseers, a Paris Museum Pass is a money-saver. It covers admission to over 50 sights, including the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Notre Dame towers, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Château de Versailles. Alternatively, the Paris Passlib’ offers various sightseeing and transit combinations at a discount price, including a Seine boat tour.

Embrace Paris’ joie de vivre, for free

For pocket-friendly entertainment, concerts and DJ sets take place for free (or for the cost of a drink) at venues throughout the city. And busking musicians and performers entertain crowds on Paris’ streets and even aboard the metro, so even the simple act of being in Paris will fill you with pleasure.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top