How to Enjoy Paris on a Budget: Tips and Tricks
Seeing Paris on a budget can be a challenge. Because it’s such a remarkable city, things in the French capital can get a little pricey. Certain items, like drinks at trendy bars, nights in fancy hotels, and entrance to the more popular museums, can blow your budget in matter of hours. But with a bit of planning and a frugal mindset, you can make your euros stretch further without compromising on the experience.
Paris on a budget
Avoid the peak times
Paris may be popular with tourists year-round, but there are certain times when it’s more expensive than others. If you have some flexibility with your schedule, try to avoid the peak summer period. If you are there during spring and summer, it’s often cheaper to book midweek stays rather than stay over the weekend. School holidays also tend to increase prices, so try to avoid those as well if possible.
Skip the hotels
Paris has some famously fancy hotels, but if you’re on a budget you should consider skipping formal accommodation altogether. There are several hostels worth staying in at reasonable prices, but even these can get a bit pricey. AirBnb has taken the city by storm, and this is the best option for the budget-weary travelers. You’ll find hundreds of private and shared apartments throughout the city that offer all the amenities you could want, with the added bonus of a social aspect thrown in as well. If AirBnb is a bit too rich for your taste, then there is also a large CouchSurfing community based the city.
Choose your area
Even mediocre AirBnb apartments can get pricey if you stay close to the city centre and top attractions. Avoid staying too close to the likes of the Champs-Élysées or the Eiffel Tower. Staying in outlying districts (usually those in the double digits) means you’ll get much cheaper accommodation, and insight into how most Parisians live their lives. Don’t be afraid to venture out into an arrondissement away from the centre of the city — public transport is good and you’ll be at attractions sooner than you realize.
Plan ahead for museums
Paris’s museums are an essential addition to any itinerary, but visiting several of them can add up quickly. The good news is that admission to many museums in the capital is free on the first weekend of the month. This includes the likes of the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou. Certain events and national holidays unlock even more specials. If you want to explore the very pride of the city at no cost, plan a visit in mid-September, when Journées Européennes du Patrimoine means you’ll get free access to most museums and monuments.
Buy a museum pass
If you aren’t able to visit over a special weekend but still want to get your fill of museums, pick up a Paris Museum Pass. It’s a bit of an investment up front, but it’ll save you money if you use it wisely. The pass will get you into dozens of the city’s top sights, including the Arc de Triomphe, Centre Pompidou, and Musée national de l’Orangerie.
Skip the breakfasts
Don’t fall for the included buffet breakfast traps. If there’s one meal that Paris knows how to do cheap and good it’s breakfast. Pull into pretty much any boulangerie and order a fresh pastry to go. While you’re at it, pick up a baguette for lunch as well.
Head to the supermarkets
With fresh baguette under your arm procured from your neighborhood boulangerie, make your way to one of the city’s numerous supermarkets. You’ll be able to pick up a variety of ingredients to make up the perfect Parisian picnic. Be sure to buy local produce, and you’ll be surprised just how affordable a tasty and healthy homemade meal can be.
Eating out in Parisian restaurants can be costly, but if you want to treat yourself to tasty French cuisine don’t exclude the restaurants altogether. If you skip establishments close to popular sights and busy thoroughfares you can pick up good value meals in atmospheric restaurants. The fixed menus, often just called the menu, includes two dishes and usually represent the best value for money. Alcohol can be expensive at bars and restaurants. Skip the pints of beer and opt for a glass of wine instead.
Skip the taxis – walk, or take a Vélib
Paris is an incredible city to explore on foot. The very home of the flâ·neur, there are few activities more pleasurable than a casual saunter down a Parisian boulevard. If you must get somewhere slightly faster, hop aboard a Vélib – one of the city’s shared bicycles. You can purchase tickets online that are valid for various periods of time, and provided you dock your bike within the maximum time period you won’t pay anything extra. For greater distances, there’s always the Metro. If you pre-purchase a book of 10 tickets you can save on the cost of individual rides.
Stick to the free activities
Many of Paris’s best activities don’t need to cost you a cent. Walking the Seine, popping into Shakespeare and Company book shop, visiting the Notre-Dame, relaxing in a manicured park like Jardin des Tuileries, walking the Champs-Élysées, taking in the view from the Sacré Coeur, tiptoeing through the famous cemeteries, and gawking up at the Eiffel Tower from its base are just some examples of things to do in the capital that are free and essential to any visit.
Though many consider Paris to be one of the most expensive European cities to visit on a Eurail trip, with a bit of pre-planning and some careful budgeting, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much money you can save. Pair it with a France Eurail Pass, and you can explore even more of the country without blowing your budget.