Paris on a budget? Sounds kind of crazy doesn’t it. But, from someone who has been four times I can tell you that it is possible. And possible in a good way, not the sleep in a 20 bed dorm and eat packaged noodles kind of way because, let’s be honest, that’s never fun.
So, how do you do it? Well, I’ve picked up plenty of little tricks over my visits that I’m happy to share. Now, of course, visiting Paris will never be ‘cheap’, especially in comparison to places in Southeast Asia like Vietnam, but it can be affordable. Here are 8 ways to explore Paris on a budget.
Get Your Food from Markets and Boulangeries
Let’s be honest; if you are coming to France you are coming to eat. Baguettes, croissants, pastries, crepes, cheeses… I could go on and on. France has good food. Paris has good food and you definitely have to take advantage of it. So, what can you do? Well, I’m all about treating yourself to a good meal in a restaurant but some of my favourite finds in Paris have been the simple things that I can pick up from a market or a bakery.
When I visited in 2017 I took a local food market tour with a chef (you can read about that experience here). It was one of the best tours I’ve done. Not only was it fun, but it also introduced me to a couple local food spots and markets. We had delicious, flavorful cheeses, fresh crusty breads, and ripe and juicy fruit all from the local markets. Not only was it delicious, but it was so easy to buy. Cheese was sold by weight, fruit was sold in small baskets or per piece, and bread…well there’s a lot but it’s cheap and delicious and you can always wrap up what you don’t eat and save for later (I actually travel with a couple of zip lock bags for things like this). The tour was a ton of fun, but it proved that you can find some great local food at affordable prices. Plus, since having a picnic in Paris is a ‘must’ anyway, you’re basically just having the ultimate Paris experience.
While markets are great, they aren’t the only places you can find affordable, good food in Paris. There are tons of little sandwich shops and bakeries that serve mini quiches, salads, or sandwiches that are perfect to take to go. Even in the cafes, most of them have cheap food options that are perfect for budget travellers. A ham and cheese crepe will only put you back around 5 euro and it’s an easy way to sit down, relax, and enjoy a meal in a restaurant.
Trying the local food in Paris is part of the experience and just because you can’t afford to dine in the elite restaurants doesn’t mean that you can’t eat delicious things.
Take Advantage of Free Admission Times
Paris is known for its museums and galleries and while most of them come with price tags (sometimes pretty hefty ones) there are times and days where you can get free admission.
The first Sunday of every month is your best bet, assuming you are in town. On this day, Paris’ top museums are free to visitors. This includes Musée du Louvre, Musée D’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and Musée de L’Orangerie.
There are also several museums that are free year-round including Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Petit Palais. Additionally, if you are under the age of 26, you are allowed free access to some Paris attractions including the Louvre and Sainte Chapelle.
Insider tip: If you really are keen to check out a bunch of Paris’s museums and galleries, then it might be worth your while to get the Paris Pass. It’s not cheap, but it will save you money if you already plan on paying for a bunch of attractions.
Planning your Paris itinerary? Check out my 3 Day Paris guide here.
Budget Hotels (or Hostels) Will Be Your Best Friend
Even though I’m creeping up on 30, I’m still a hostel enthusiast. Mainly because it’s easy to meet people and they are cheap. Perhaps also because I’ve been known to freak myself out alone at night when I’m in a strange city, especially after a ghost tour…but that’s beside the point. Paris has some great hostels in good locations, so if that’s your travel style then you’ll have no issues finding a place to stay.
Thinking of travelling to Paris alone? Read why I love Paris for solo travel here.
However, hostels aren’t always the best option. The more I travel the more I realize how much I appreciate my alone time too, and sometimes spending the money on a budget hotel room for a bit of much-needed privacy saves my sanity. The good news: I’ve found that Paris has lots of great little budget hotels as well. Sure, the rooms are small and you aren’t getting an Eiffel tower view, but when all you want is your own bed and bathroom and some quiet, then they are perfect. My favourites so far:
Bring Your Own Water Bottle
I always bring my own reusable water bottle when I travel (as should you!) to save money and the environment, but Paris makes it extra enticing to do so. Not only is the tap water safe to drink but there are also about 800 water fountains spread across the city making it really easy to fill up during the day. As someone who drinks a ton of water (I’m basically a camel who’s just finished a desert trek) this is something I really appreciate.
Check the Tourist Office for Discounts
I hadn’t visited the Paris tourist office until my third visit when they actually partnered with me by supplying my friend and I with City Passes. As I waited for the woman behind the counter to find my envelope, I noticed a wall filled with tiny little cards. On a closer look I noticed that these cards were all for local attractions and restaurants, and most of them offered a discount of some sort or a freebie. Since the tourist offices are pretty central anyway, it’s worth your while to pop in and see if there are any discounts for things you are interested in. You can find an office near Hotel de Ville and another at Gare du Nord.
Wondering is the Moulin Rouge is worth it? Read why I think so here.
Use Public Transit to get To & From Airports
Getting to and from airports is always the most annoying part of travel. When you arrive you’re tired and jetlagged and just want to get to where you need to go. When you leave you end up in this panicked rush that you’ll miss your flight. (That’s not just me, is it?)
Sometimes, it’s just easier to hail a cab, toss your luggage in the trunk, and hop into the back seat while letting the driver do the work. Unfortunately, this is also a hideously expensive option, even when there is no traffic.
My last visit to Paris I had a really early flight to Israel and I didn’t think the train would get me there in time so I took at taxi. It cost me 50 euros for twenty minutes (it was really early so no traffic). That’s $75 Canadian. For twenty minutes. Yes, I wanted to die.
Which is why I always recommend taking the local public transit. From Charles de Gaulle Airport you can take a train to the city center (Gare Du Nord). It’s about 30 minutes and costs less than 20 euro. Once you reach Gare Du Nord you can hop on the metro (it’s still included under your ticket), if you are lost or have tons of luggage, at this point hail a cab to take you the rest of the way.
There is also a bus from CDG called the Roissy Bus. It’s an even cheaper option (around 12 euro) and takes approximately one hour. I took this the first time I ended up in Paris and got completely lost so it’s not my top recommendation but, if you are savvy with directions and tight for money, it’s worth it.
Buy Metro Passes in Bulk
I’m a big fan of walking as much as possible in cities (I prefer being above ground because I think it’s a better way to see and experience new place. However, while I am a big fan of walking around parts of Paris it’s impossible to see all of Paris by foot. Paris is pretty big.
The best alternative; the metro. Paris actually has a really good metro system that’s easy to use. Maps and directions are well marked in every station and the stations themselves are always easy to spot as well. Plus, it’s cheap. But, to make sure you get the best deal on the Paris Metro, you’ll want to buy your tickets in bulk. As of January 1, 2019 a single ride ticket is 1.90 euro while a pack of 10 is 14.90 euro. Sure, it’s only 4.10-euro savings but that could be a meal somewhere.
And, for those wondering, it is pretty safe. If you have a backpack I do recommend wearing it on your front while you ride, but I’ve never had an issue or felt unsafe while using the Paris metro.
Follow Your Feet
As mentioned above, I love exploring cities by foot and Paris is one of the best places to do so. In fairness, I’m not really a museum person and I’d rather be outside anyways, but with so much beautiful architecture and tons of cute cafes and boutiques, I really think that the best way to experience Paris is just by walking and exploring the different neighbourhoods. The best part? It’s free! Well, free until you see a new macaron shop and decide you need to try them even though you already have two in your bag from other bakeries you passed earlier. When in Paris, right?
Paris may not be known as a cheap travel destination, but if you follow my tips and tricks above you can explore Paris on a budget!
For more Paris tips read my post on what not to do in Paris!