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Cheap Paris Guide – Tips for Conquering Paris on a Small Budget

It is certainly no secret that Paris is not a cheap city. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. However, just because you find yourself in the City of Lights surrounded by expensive hotels, designer boutiques and bars serving €20 cocktails doesn’t mean you have to empty your back account just to enjoy Paris.

Here on WhyGo Paris we cover a huge variety of things to do and places to go, but I myself have always been a budget traveler. Living in Paris as a student without a whole lot of money also taught me great lessons in finding the best ways to enjoy the city without spending a whole lot at all.

So, whether you are a budget traveler out of necessity, or simply like to travel cheap because it allows you to do a whole lot more with the same amount of money, this is the one-stop hub to find all the greatest information on cheap things to do/see/eat and enjoy in Paris.

Free Things to Do in Paris

walkingtourparisOf course, strolling the streets of Paris, taking in the beautiful architecture, people watching and admiring the fantastic window displays will never cost you a penny, and this is often the best way to enjoy the city without spending a dime. However, aside from enjoying walking and enjoying the sights and sounds of Paris, there are actually plenty of other free things to do in Paris—from free museum nights to enjoying some of the city’s churches and cathedrals.

Paris is also full of great outdoor markets almost every day of the week. Whether you are shopping for fresh produce or antiques, Paris’ many outdoor markets are always free to browse and can be a cultural experience in and of itself—from watching the old lady negotiate the price of cheese to rotisserie men standing in front of spinning and dripping chickens, belly shaking as he laughs with the regular customers—there is always something interesting to see and be a part of at the markets.

Free Walking Tours of Paris

While there are certainly plenty of tours you can sign up for that cost money, if you are interested in taking yourself on a tour of Paris and keeping a few extra Euros in your pocket (maybe for a fabulous meal at lunch), then the Paris Tourism office also offers guides to free, self-guided walking tours that can help direct you to the main attractions in Paris.

If you are interested in taking a guided tour, but don’t want to spend a whole lot of money, Sandeman’s New Europe offer free walking tours in Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam and now Paris as well. Everyday (rain or shine), tours start in front of the St. Michel fountain (metro St. Michel). No sign-up is necessary, just show up and you should be all set.

The catch with these free tours, however, is that the guide work for tips only (which means unless you are a total jerk, you are going to have to spend at least a few Euros for the tour). However, tipping your guide is still sure to cost you a whole lot less than paying for a traditional guided tour. Plus, the guides are all Anglophones and the tour is hilarious and very informative. It’s a great way to get to know Paris in an afternoon without spending much at all.

Cheap Flights to Paris

airfranceWhile I certainly don’t tout myself as THE expert on finding the cheapest possible airfare, I have traveled enough and done enough research to know there are some helpful hints when trying to find a cheap ticket to Paris.

First off, remember that how much your ticket to Paris costs will be dependent on what season you plan on traveling. Typically, flights in the busy summer months are anywhere from 30%-60% more expensive than flights in the fall, winter and spring. In general, flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are also the cheapest.

You are also going to want to shop around quite a bit before you hit that “book now” button if you want to ensure you are getting the cheapest ticket. There is a booking widget at the top of almost every page on this site that you will probably find not only convenient, but also remarkably good at digging up the best fares to France. My advice is to usually check a minimum of three sites before you book anything and you may also want to read up on Which Airfare Site is the Cheapest.

If you are really aiming to save money, the best way to get the cheapest ticket to Paris is to keep your schedule as flexible as possible. Sometimes, adjusting your trip itinerary just a few days or a week can mean huge savings on airfare, so check a few different dates before you buy those plane tickets.

Cheap Paris Hostels

hostelpicWhile Paris is a city that is notorious for overpriced hotels, there are actually many great hostels located in the heart of Paris with beds usually starting around €20-€25/night. While you may find that Paris hostels on the outskirts of the city cost less, I think even the most frugal of travelers would agree it’s probably worth it to cough up an extra couple of Euros to stay in a prime location (it will just make everything about your trip better and easier. Trust me).

Plus, if you are a backpacker type, social traveler, or generally looking to meet some other people while in Paris, staying in a hostel can be a great way to make friends. Whether you are looking to stay in the best party hostels in Paris or not, there are some hostels that are more social than others.

>>With many hostels to choose from around the city, you’ll probably want to take a look at this great, comprehensive Pairs hostel guide to figure out the best hostel for your trip to Paris.

Cheap Hotels in Paris

parishotelHotels in Paris are expensive. You also get what you pay for in Paris. Sure, if you have a big budget you can opt to stay in a great hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower, like the Plaza Athenee, but for most of us, small budgets mean you are going to want to do a little hunting to find something that’s both affordable and not a dump.

Since I always think there is a lot more to be said for VALUE rather than something just being cheap (who cares if it’s cheap if you have a bad time and it sucks. You still just wasted your money), than I would opt to spend the extra €20 or so a night and stay in a at least 2 or 3 star hotel in a good a location.

I am personally a huge fan of the Latin Quarter, so I always point people to stay in one of the budget hotels in the Latin Quarter, but there are budget hotels all over Paris. Keep in mind that budget is a relative term, however, and you should plan on spending a minimum of €80-€150 a night (depending on low or high season) for a decent hotel room in the city.

Cheap food in Paris

crepeeatingWhile you can easily spend hundreds of Euros going out to a fancy and very expensive restaurant in Paris, you certainly don’t have to spend a lot to eat great in the City of Lights. There are plenty of cheap street food options in Paris—whether you are in the mood to snack on a fresh crepe, a Panini, a kebob or even a gyro—that can make for a cheap snack or meal on the go while you are sightseeing.

Bakeries also often offer simple sandwiches on baguettes, which not only taste pretty damn good (I’m partial to the classic jambon fromage), but also only cost a few Euros. I have also always been a fan of saving money on eating by going the picnic route in Paris. Stop by an outdoor market or grocery store and pick up the makings for a great little picnic—a cheap bottle of wine, a baguette, some cheese, fresh produce and maybe some pate or other meat and enjoy a simple and cheap lunch in one of Paris’ many great parks.

Also, while there are plenty of ways to get a meal on the go or pack a picnic for just handful of Euros, as I wrote in 12 Things You should Know Before you Visit Paris, eating a three course meal in France can actually be quite affordable. David Lebovitz, a Paris based pastry chef and author of the book a Sweet Life in Paris writes:

    “There’s lot of top-notch restaurants in Paris where you can get a terrific…no, make that superb…three-course meal for 30€ including tax and tip…. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any restaurant in San Francisco or New York that offers a three-course meal with wine for less than $50pp, including wine, tax and tip. If you avoid the high-end places, there’s great bargains in Paris.”

More articles about Eating in France:

Cheap Drinks and Happy Hours in Paris

happyhourparisThere’s just no two ways around it. Alcoholic beverages (that includes beer) tend to be really expensive in Paris—meaning those who like to indulge in numerous cocktails on occasion may find getting your buzz on in Paris a costly affair. However, there are some ways you can drink up without spending all the money you had allocated for food the next day.

There are plenty of Paris happy hours (restaurants and cafes will usually advertise their happy hours in the windows or on chalk boards outside), where you can find drink specials and half priced beers. Happy hour sin Paris tend to last from about 5 pm til 9 pm (then it’s dinner time).

Wine is also almost always cheap in Paris. You can easily pick up a decent bottle for just a few Euros in a grocery store and you can get carafes (pitchers) of house wines at most restaurants for a very affordable price.

If you want to experience the Night Life in Paris, but don’t want to spend your weight in drinks out at the nightclubs (where a standard cocktail can easily cost €10 or more), than investing in a bottle or two of wine at dinner or after dinner before you go out is a cheaper way to go.

>>Want to know what the French are drinking? Find out more about French Apéritifs

Cheap Shopping in Paris

shoppingparisWhile Paris is a huge fashion capital and full of all the big designer names like Luis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes and others, you can definitely pick up some great new duds in Paris even if you aren’t on an unlimited budget.

Despite being on a limited budget when I lived in Paris, I found it hard to resist not filling my wardrobe with some new and oh-so-stylish French pieces before I returned home. While I often enjoyed heading over to the area near the Opera to hit up the big chain stores where you are sure to always find bargains—H & M, Mimi, Zara and more–I also found that I could get great, unique items around the city without spending my rent money.

However, you can still shop at boutiques and for designer duds without maxing out your credit card. Around the Saint Supplice metro station, for example, you’ll find plenty of affordable boutiques. You will also find some affordable shops in the Latin Quarter that cater to students (and student budgets).

The big department stores like Printemps and Galleries Lafayette also shouldn’t be skipped, for the experience in and of itself. You can also find affordable items in these large stores, bursting at the seams with beautiful clothing, bags, jewelry, perfume and more.

There are also designer depots scattered around Paris, which are kind of like really high-end consignment shops often managed by ladies who know a lot about fashion. These are great places to get some really great and often designer pieces and great prices.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there are only two sale seasons in France (les soldes), which are regulated by the government. Each sale season lasts 6 weeks. The winter sale season starts at the end of January and the summer one in late June.

>>read more about Shopping in Paris and check out the Guide to the Annual Sale Periods in Paris

Cheap Ways to Get Around Paris

metroProbably because the Metro is so quick and easy to use, Taxis in Paris tend to be on the expensive side. A ride that is only a few kilometers long can end up costing you a small fortune. This is especially true late at night, when taxi fares go up even more. This means if you are stuck after the Metro shuts down (at 1 am), you may find yourself having to part with a fat stack of cash just to get home. Stick to the metro or be prepared to pay hefty taxi fees if you decide to travel above ground.

You can also save a bunch of money by not renting a car in Paris. I won’t even begin to delve into the hundreds of reasons why driving in Paris (and trying to park) is a bad idea. That being said, walking is always free (and Paris is a very walkable city) and the metro is cheap, easy and usually a very efficient way to get around. Stick to public transportation on your trip and you’ll save a pile of cash you can use on something way more fun than a rental car.

>>Read more about your options for Getting Around Paris or check out the Paris Transportation Guide

Cheap Views of the City

viewfrommontmartreThe best way to really soak in the spectacular views of Paris is usually to climb up something that’s tall. While paying to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower doesn’t cost a whole lot and is definitely something everyone should do at some point, it isn’t necessarily the best view of Paris (you don’t get the image of the iconic tower itself in the skyline).

My personal favorite view of the city are on the lawn of Sacre Coeur in the Montmartre neighborhood (which is perched on top of a large hill in the city) and from the roof deck at the La Samaritaine department store at Pont Neuf on the banks of the Seine—both of which are completely free. (Note: The famous department store closed its doors in 2005 for “safety reasons” and will not reopen before 2011, though you can still have dinner at Kong, located on the top floor of the building)

Any city on water is usually best seen from the water. This includes Paris. Familiarizing yourself with the city—and getting views of many of the city’s most famous and spectacular buildings, bridges and churches—is well worth the cost of your ticket on a boat tour down the Seine. In fact, the few Euros you spend on a Paris boat tour may just be one of the more memorable parts of your trip.

Cheap and Free Museums in Paris

louvreLuckily, there is no shortage of great events in Paris that open many of the city’s most-loved museums and institutions for free. A city that prides itself in its rich cultural heritage, Paris has made it a priority to ensure these cultural institutions are accessible to everyone.

The first Sunday of every month, museums around Paris open for free (including the Louvre). In May, you will also find the Nuit de Musees (Museum Night) opening the doors of the museums in the city for free after sunset. In September, France celebrates its cultural heritage with Les Journees du Patrimoine, which opens all of the city’s museums, galleries, monuments and other buildings to the public for free.

>>Read more about coinciding your visit with free museum days

Nuit Blanche in Paris takes place during the first weekend in October and is an all-night FREE celebration that includes free concerts and shows, as well as many huge art installations, free admission into museums, pools, monuments, galleries and other public buildings, along with being one hell of a great party. And none of it will cost you a dime.

Also keep in mind that some of Paris’ unusual museums are also always free–no matter the time of year or day of the week.

If you miss all of these events, you can also check out Paris discount cards and passes to help make stomaching museum entrance fees a little easier.

>>Read more about how Paris museums could be free at all times if you are under 25 or how you can save money on museums by getting a Paris Museum Pass.

paris photos from top to bottom: Herberts Excellent , Caribb, comcinco , annethelibrarian, batigolix, beyrouth, t.bischoff , stevecadman, ed from ohio , j.salmorai top slideshow photo by stuck in customs