Paris, bless its tri-coloured heart, is not well-known for being a cheap city. In fact, its restaurants, hotels and bars are notoriously expensive. This can deter travellers on a tighter budget, who may feel excluded by the high prices for which the city is renowned.
However, it needn’t be that way. There is another side to Paris, the bohemian, artistic Paris of modern mythology, where struggling creatives live off baguettes and cheap wine in a subterranean modernist paradise. If that’s a little too far the other way from you, then don’t worry. We can all enjoy Paris, even those of us on a shoestring budget.
Flying into Charles de Gaulle airport, you can easily find inexpensive flights online. The same is true of your airport transfer, which is absolutely imperative to book in advance when travelling to Paris, as public transport can be a little daunting when you first arrive and local taxis are jaw-droppingly dear.
Plenty of airport transfer companies offer promotional discounts when you book in advance, so this can be done in an affordable manner to get you to your accommodation without too much financial impact. And speaking of accommodation, forget about Paris hotels. Book into a hostel for about 20 Euros a night. You are not likely to be spending much time in your room anyway, and besides, hostels are the best way to meet fellow travellers and have a fun, sociable time in Paris. Though hostels further away from the centre are cheaper, it’s worth spending an extra couple of Euros a night to be closer to the action. Not only does this make things easier in terms of accessibility, but it will save you a massive amount in transport costs.
If planning to enjoy the city’s nightlife, remember that wherever you go, it’s more a matter of who you’re with than where you go. The fancy nightspots might look more appealing, but they will set you back, and if you’re with fellow travellers from your hostel, or with the friends you came with, you will have a great time regardless. Take some time to research the more underground, inexpensive clubs and discotheques before you go, so you have some sort of idea.
Also listen to other travellers, who may have experience to offer. And rather than heading out to bars, make like the old Parisian artist folk and grab a couple of bottles of wine from a local shop and save a whole lot. If bars are a must for you, then research when bars have their happy hours, and drink within these times. And however late it gets, remember that a taxi will set you back much more than if you just leave before 1am when the Metro stops running. Alternatively, you can always walk, which is – after all – completely free, as well as being rather pleasant on a temperate Paris night.
When it comes to food, you can live off the delicious produce of the city’s fantastic markets and bakeries. One of my fondest memories of a trip to Paris was eating a picnic in the gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower, comprised of enormous, juicy peaches, French brie, baguettes and wine. My memories of eating food we’d sought out ourselves are far fonder than those meals we paid through the nose for in the city’s restaurants. Now I mention it, the very worst part of that trip was trying to find a local taxi outside the train station. I really wish we’d booked ourselves an airport transfer from Charles de Gaulle in advance!
The markets themselves will have you spoilt for choice. Head to the incredible Marché Bastille at the Boulevard Richard Lenoir on Thursday and Sunday mornings for a mouth-watering array of fresh produce. This, and the Marché Mouffetard, are both uniquely Parisian in atmosphere and ambiance, and the food you buy here will exceed any gastronomic expectations you could imagine! The markets are a fantastic way to spend time in and of themselves. On Saturdays, the Marché Bastille holds ‘Le Marché de la Création Bastille’, an arts and crafts market where you can find a wide-range of unique, handmade crafts and paintings.
Follow in the footsteps of great writers such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and take a trip to the Bouquinistes, along the banks of the Seine, which is a wonderful book market.
Although a trip up the Eiffel Tower is relatively inexpensive, and an absolute must on any trip to Paris, the best views should be those that actually include the iconic tower. For the ultimate view of Paris, you need to take a trip to Montmatre, to the lawn of the Sacré Coeur. From here, you can see all of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, with breathtaking clarity. And you can enjoy a bit of wine along with those views, a luxury not possible up the Eiffel Tower, for obvious health and safety reasons.
On the first Sunday of every month, all the museums in Paris, including the Louvre, forego their admission charge, making this the perfect time to visit. Having said that, some smaller museums are always free, like the Musee de la Préfecture de Police. The Musée de l’Erotisme is 8 Euros admission, but actually incredibly fascinating and informative, which you wouldn’t expect from a museum in the seedy Pigalle district.
These are just a few ideas for enjoying Paris on a tight budget, but I hope that I have managed to convince you that it is entirely possible. As with anything in life, sometimes going against what is expected, and taking your own path on your travels, can lead to much richer, more memorable experiences that go beyond anything you would ever discover on the standard tourist trail. So, be an independent traveller, a savvy traveller, a money-saving traveller, and enjoy the wonderful city of Paris without breaking the bank!