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Paris. Free, cheap and uncomplicated!
(or, “how to enjoy the most beautiful city in the world without breaking the bank!”)
(or, “Paris on a budget”)
If you're reading this, you are most likely either planning to go, or on your way to the most beautiful city in the world; Paris! Years of being THE tourist mecca have allowed “The City of Light” to become rather pricey, and in the eyes of many, pretty much unaffordable.
But before you hit the brakes on your Paris adventure, here's some very good advice on how to actually enjoy Paris without smashing your piggy bank!
Lodging – Let's face it. This is where your money counts, especially for people travelling on a tight budget or with their families.. Hotel prices in Paris have risen, over the last decade, and finding anything decent under €100, especially in the center of Paris, will be difficult. However, there are approximately 150,000 hotel rooms currently available in Paris - in all price ranges, in all neighborhoods, and many with family rooms. Hostels are inexpensive options for single travellers or those on a very tight budget. Some offer kitchen and laundry privileges, some will have private rooms, others will be dormitory situations. Searching for hotels or hostels on the internet is easy, if you narrow down your requirements, neighborhood and price options. It's a good idea to check out traveller's photos of any place that interests you, rather than relying on reviews - which may not be genuine. There are many hotels which offer triple or quad rooms, as well as connecting rooms - you must mention each person in your party, even children who may share a bed. Kids do not stay free anywhere, in Paris. If you arrive with more people than are allowed in the room, you will be turned away.
Until recently, many people rented apartments, which allowed them to save some money on meals and laundry, especially if staying several weeks and/or with a family. The internet used to be a good source for finding anything from budget to luxury units. However, since Mayor Hidalgo took office in 2014, a crackdown began on short-term rentals, which are illegal in Paris. This has made renting apartments much more complicated, and even risky - especially if you are travelling with a family. Approximately 1 to 2 % of the estimated 30,000 short-term rentals are legal. That's not very many, and those units book up far in advance.
One way to save money on hotels or apart'hotels is to look just beyond the most popular arrondissements, where prices are often significantly cheaper for comparable lodging. The Metro and bus systems in Paris are excellent, and most hotels or apart'hotels will be within 5 minutes' walk of a station. Paris is a safe city, so any fear of being outside "tourist central" is unwarranted. Choosing a hotel or apart'hotel in the 15th, as opposed to the 7th arrondissement (right next door, and both are close to the Eiffel Tower), can mean a significant savings, with perhaps an extra 5 - 10 mins travel time to the usual attractions. All arrondissements have markets, most have a museum, churches and a monument or two, and the less-popular areas have the added benefit of being much less crowded. Prices in cafes and restaurants are always noticeably cheaper, in the less-touristy areas.
Tours, DIY Walks – Once you make it to Paris the task of figuring out where to go and what to see might seem daunting. Wego Walking Tours, provide free and fantastic daily walking tours of Paris. There are also several DIY tours that you can download for free - check on TA, Frommer's, Fodor's, Un Jour de Plus a Paris - the last company features DIY or escorted walks in unusual neighborhoods or following unusual themes, like "street art". Buy yourself a good street map - "Paris par Arrondissement - L'Indispensable" is available at most newsstands for about 7 EU. A very smart investment, especially if you want to wander the streets without getting hopelessly lost. Discover Walks organize walking tour related to museums and combine it with the visit, you recieve tickets for the museum which allow you to cut-the-line at the museum. You can visit the Marais quartier and get ticket for Picasso Museum or Montmartre and a ticket for Orsay Museum.
Transport – There are few things as Parisian as the Paris métro. With their art nouveau signs, old trains, and smelly corridors, the metro is the easiest way to get nearly anywhere in the city. Weekly and monthly NAVIGO passes are available. There are also 10 ticket carnets available that provide a good discount when buying tickets. If you run out of carnets, single tickets are also available for purchase. Mobilis tickets allow for a full day of travel both on metro, buses and trams and are a good idea if you're in Paris for a short stay. Vélib public bicycles, are absolutely fantastic for getting around. If you have a chip and pin on your card, you can go get a bike right on one of their stands. If you don't, go on their website(it's available in english) and buy your bike pass there. Keep in mind helmets are not provided and you should bring your own. Walking is the best way to experience Paris - the city is small and safe to wander, day or night - normal "street smarts" apply, of course. In fact, it will often take less time to walk from Point A to Point B, rather than dealing with lots of stairs and corridors in the Metro or waiting for the bus.
Eating – This is another area that if not done carefully can burn a hole right through your wallet. The pastries, escargots, croque monsieurs, accompanied by endless flowing streams of wine are tempting, but there really is an easier way of going about this. Tap water is free at cafes and restaurants, provided you purchase something else to eat or drink. Most supermarkets sell pre-prepared meals, to be eaten on the go. You can get a chicken salad, taboulé, veggies or all of the above and eat them on a park bench. Boulangeries (bakeries) are your go-to if you're craving a big sandwich on freshly baked baguettes. Cheap sandwiches will be around €4.50, much cheaper than sitting down at a brasserie
Most cafes and restaurants feature a daily special - "menu" or "formule" - which will be much less expensive than ordering from the regular carte. Many places offer "entree + plat - 15 EU" or "entree + plat + dessert - 18 EU" - (for example), but drinks are not included. A soda or glass of wine costsabout 5 EU, so ask for tap water - "un carafe d'eau". If you like being outside, picnics are a great idea. Buy yourself a baguette at the bakers, get some cheese at the supermarket of fromagerie, and get some cheap wine anywhere (remember to get a corkscrew!). Then go to the park, then go look for a place to enjoy the heavenly cheap meal. Drinking alcohol in public - especially where children play - is technically forbidden, but if you behave properly and discreetly, chances are good that nobody will bother you. Sitting on the grass is generally prohibited in the parks in Paris - though there are a few exceptions. It's a good idea to bring something to sit on, no matter where you go. Make sure to collect all your trash and dispose of it properly. Most hotels do not mind if guests picnic in their rooms, as long as they clean up and dispose of their trash.
Toilettes - There are many free public toilettes, located on the sidewalks of major streets in Paris. The "Sanisettes" are self-cleaning units, sterilized after every customer exits. This process takes 20 minutes, so if you see a line of people waiting, you might not want to hang around. When the light is green, you can enter and stay for 20 minutes, then an announcement tells you the door will open and cleaning will begin. Free toilettes are located only in the very large department stores - Printemps, Galeries Lafayette - though Printemps currently charges for the privilege. There are a few free public toilettes in the garden areas of the Champs-Elysees, behind Notre Dame and in other locations. Toilettes in cafes are an option, but you are expected to make a purchase before using them - the cheapest item would be a coffee at the bar, usually 1 EU.
Museums – Very few attractions in Paris are free, and museum tickets can really start adding up. If you want to visit many museums, the Paris museum pass is a great chance at getting a discounted ticket into most museums. The best part is, you algo get to skip the line at many of them, hence saving lots of time, and as they say, time is money! Everyone must pass through the security checks, which can take time, depending on the museum.
Put all of this together and you have the perfect mix to a cheap, fun filled stay in Paris!