Paris, the city of love, the city of light. The city of big price tags. But it doesn't have to be. In our continuing series on how to save money on travel, we'll explore Paris on a budget.
Timing is Everything
All tourist destinations have an offseason, and things like airfare and hotels tend to be less expensive during those times. The offseason in Paris is winter, with the few weeks around Christmas being the exception. Not only are things less expensive, but because there are fewer tourist visiting that time of year, it will be less crowded for your trip.
Keep an Eye Out
There is all kinds of advice about when to book a flight to get the lowest cost, but the easiest way to find a bargain is to search using Google Flights. You can enter the desired dates for your trip, and you'll see prices for those dates and dates close to it. Some days of the week are cheaper to fly than others, so if your dates are flexible it can save you hundreds of dollars.
You can use Airfare Watchdog to track drops in flight prices. Enter your dates, and when the price goes down you'll receive an email alert.
A Place to Lay Your Head
After airfare, lodging will be your largest travel expense. The second time I went to Paris I stayed in an apartment rented through Airbnb. Not only was it about halfthe price of a hotel, it was much larger, had a full kitchen (which meant we could save money by food shopping and eating a few meals at home), and staying in an apartment makes you feel more like a local and less like a tourist.
That said, I only rent an apartment when I go on vacation if I'm staying a week or longer. For shorter stays, I prefer the convenience hotels offer. If your stay in Paris is short or you just prefer a hotel, using the right credit card can save you money.
Use the Right Credit Card
The right credit card can save you money on more than your hotel stay. Find a good travel credit card. It not only saves you money but may offer perks like free checked bags, free lounge access, points toward future flights and hotel stays, and no foreign transaction fee.
Let's Talk About Food!
This is one of my favorite subjects, and Paris is one of my favorite cities to eat in. Eating out in Paris can be expensive, but if you know a few key things you can eat like royalty on a peasant's budget.
Get off the main tourist track to choose a restaurant. You don't have to go far, just a few blocks off streets like Rue Moufettard or Rue De La Huchette and you'll find much better food at much better prices.
Look for restaurants with prix fixe, also called "formule", menus. Many Parisian restaurants offer them. You'll get to choose a starter, main, and dessert for a set price. It's much cheaper than ordering a la carte.
If you do want to indulge in one of the city's many Michelin starred restaurants, go for lunch rather than dinner. Lunch is often considerably less expensive.
There are creperies and boulangeries all over Paris where you can get a sweet or savory crepe or sandwich for just a few Euros. You can also hit up one of the beautiful outdoor markets or a grocery store to gather the makings for a picnic.
Don't Forget the Drinks
My favorite thing to do in Paris is to sit at an outdoor cafe with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and people watch. If you want to sit outside with your coffee, it will cost a little more to do so. Ordering a coffee and drinking it at the counter is a bit cheaper.
When ordering wine in Paris or anywhere in France for that matter, you don't have to order an expensive glass to get a good quality wine. The house wine in most places is of really good quality and a Euro or two cheaper than the wines offered on the menu.
Europeans drink a lot more mineral water than Americans do, but mineral water is expensive. If you want free tap water, just ask for a carafe d'eau.
The Paris Metro is great. As a former New Yorker, I am completely dazzled by it. It's so clean, and the trains come so quickly! It's also much easier to navigate than the New York City subway, so don't be afraid to try it. It's the cheapest, fastest way to get around the city.
You can buy individual metro tickets for €1.90, or you can buy ten tickets, called a carnet, for €14.90. Be sure to keep your ticket until you exit the station. If you're stopped by a transit authority worker and don't have it you'll be subject to an on the spot fine of at least €45.
If you prefer to go by private car, Paris does have Uber, and your App will work the same in Paris as it does at home. I found Paris Ubers to be cheaper than New York Ubers but not as cheap as New Orleans (where I live now) Ubers. Still no match for a metro ticket though!
But the best way to see Paris is on foot. The city is relatively compact, especially the areas where a tourist is likely to go, and there are beautiful things to see around every corner.
Fun For Free
The Promenade Plantee is a three mile long elevated park in the 12th arrondissement (Paris is broken up into 20 different districts called arrondissements). It's full of beautiful plants, flowers, and trees. If you get a lucky weather day in Paris, this should be your destination.
You might not think walking around a cemetery sounds like fun, but then you've never been to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The graves are above ground making the cemetery look like a mini-city and some of them are really elaborate.
If that's not enough to pique your interest, Pere Lachaise may be home to more notable people than anywhere else on earth. Residents include Oscar Wilde, Abelard and Heloise, Chopin, Proust, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Colette, Edith Piaf, Georges Seurat, the list goes on and on.
If you're looking for the hipsters, (called bobos, bourgeois bohemians in Paris) head over to the 10th arrondissement and stroll along Canal St Martin, a nearly three mile long canal in Paris' trendiest neighborhood. The canal is lined with interesting shops, restaurants, and bars.
Want to see some Roman ruins? You can find the Arenes de Lutece, the longest Roman amphitheater ever constructed and dating back to 1AD, right in the Latin Quarter. You can sit in the same seats the ancient inhabitants of the city sat in to watch gladiator battles. Bet you weren't expecting to see that in Paris!
Seeing the Sites
Of course, you came to Paris to see the famous sites, but you don't have to break your budget to do it. The Louvre offers discounted tickets to those aged 18-25, and the permanent collection is free for anyone every Sunday from October to March.
The Musee d'Orsay offers discounted tickets for those aged 18-25 and is free for anyone on the first Sunday of each month. It's also discounted for everyone on Thursday evenings from 6 pm to close.
The Eiffel Tower. I know you want to go, but it is crazy expensive, the lines are long, and even worse given all the new security procedures put into place after the city suffered a series of devastating terrorist attacks.
Here's my advice: Skip it. If you want the best view of Paris, go to Sacre Couer (which is free to visit) and look out over Paris from the steps in front of the church.
When you view Paris from the Eiffel Tower it's like looking at it from Google Earth. You're too high up to make out anything you're looking at. The view from the steps of Sacre Couer is much nicer, and if you walk down the stairs and go right along the fence you'll get a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower.
This tip isn't particular to Paris, it's a good one anytime you vacation abroad. Make two budgets, one in dollars and one in the local currency. You can use a currency converting calculator to do it. I'm not good at math, and I'm especially not good at math under pressure.
In the heat of the moment I don't know if 100 Euros for a bottle of wine is a good deal or not (it's not). But if you know how much you can spend on a bottle of wine in the local currency, you'll know 100 Euros is over your drinks budget.
With a little planning, traveling to Paris can be very affordable. And it's so worth it. It's a wonderful city full of beauty and magic. What are you waiting for? Start packing your bags.