Back in my first year of uni, I was looking forward to the university’s Summer Ball at the end of the year. I was going to get a new dress and shoes, and be ready to dance the night away. Then we saw the price of the tickets. £65.
As it happened, the same day that the tickets went on sale, I saw an advert for return train fares London-Paris, reduced to just £59. By the time I’d added in savings on drinks and the new dress, I figured I’d rather have a weekend in Paris.
So, for roughly the same amount we’d have spent attending the Summer Ball, myself and two uni friends spent 2 nights away in Paris. Perfect.
Since then I’ve been back to Paris a couple of times, and each time I’ve done it on a budget.
1 // WHERE TO STAY
Like most big European cities, there’s a big hostel culture for travellers. Paris has some decent cheap, central hostels, which are a great base for seeing the city.
In a city like Paris, you’ll want to spend most of your time out and about, soaking up the sights and the culture, so there’s no need to splash out on that fancy 5* suite.
On my most recent trip, I stayed at St Christopher’s Gare Du Nord. As I expected, it was very basic, but as it was just a bed for the night, it didn’t matter. It was only a 2 minute walk from Gare Du Nord (station), and as an added bonus, there was free breakfast and free WiFi. And my new favourite thing in hostels: curtains around the bed, so that you can shut out the rest of the room.
2 // WHAT TO DO
Paris has a lot of things to do for free.
Unlike London, where getting into St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey costs you a small fortune, most of Paris’ churches and cathedrals are free. This includes the famous ones like Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, and Sacre Coeur perched atop Montmartre. But it’s also worth checking out some of the less well-known ones, such as L’église de la Madeleine and L’église Saint-Augustin.
There are also parks such as the Jardin des Tuileries, and the cities many cemetaries, which are fascinating to wander around. Why not pay a visit to the tomb of Oscar Wilde at the Cimitière du Père-Lachaise?
Of course, it’s also free to just explore the city. It will cost you nothing to walk through the Arc de Triomphe, or to marvel at the weird and wonderful architecture of the Centre Pompidou, or to stroll beneath the Eiffel Tower, or climb the hill at Montmartre, or take a peek inside Shakespeare & Co bookshop, or wander along the banks of the Seine, or to see the love locks on the Pont des Arts.
There are plenty of places you can pay to climb in Paris (the Arc de Triomphe, the towers of Notre Dame and of course the Eiffel Tower), but there are also free ways to get a view across the city. I’ve already mentioned climbing the hill at Montmartre, which offers spectacular vistas across the whole of Paris. But if you want to see the city skyline from more in amongst it, head to Galeries Lafayette. This huge department store is not only housed in a beautiful building (which is worth seeing in its own right), but it also has a roof terrace. Just head upstairs, and there are great views across the city – particularly of the famous Palais Garnier (featured in The Phantom of the Opera!), which is right next door.
And my final freebie tip: if you’re an EU resident under 26, you can get into a lot of places for free. This isn’t always clearly advertised at the sites, so make sure you say if you’re under 26 when you buy your ticket, just in case, and have your passport ready as proof of age and nationality. I’ve had this experience at the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre and Sainte Chapelle. I also got a discount on a tour of the Palais Garnier.
3 // WHAT TO EAT
France is famous for its gastronomic flare, but this means that eating out in French restaurants can be pricey, particularly around the more touristy areas of the city.
However, head into a restaurant serving a different culture of food, and the price drops significantly. I ate a delicious Lebanese meal in the Quartier Latin, which cost me about a third as much as the French meal I ate during the same trip.
Of course, it’s nice to eat French once during the trip. There are a number of great (but not cheap) restaurants in Montmartre, and it’s a good place to try French foods such as snails, frogs legs and moules frites. But if you make a habit of it, it soon racks up the cost of the trip.
The exception to this is crepes, which you can buy fairly reasonably from a number of street vendors around the city. Again, the cheapest ones I came across were in the Quartier Latin.
Alternatively, if it’s a nice day, head to a supermarket, a bakery and a patisserie, and buy a picnic to eat in one of Paris’ beautiful parks. (The Jardin des Tuilieries has plenty of seats for this, and you’ll often see locals congregating there as well as tourists.)
4 // HOW TO GET AROUND
As in a lot of cities, I would advocate walking around Paris. It’s such a beautiful city that there’s always something to look at, and plenty of unexpected sites to stumble across. For places that are close together, it may often be quicker than taking a taxi, because of the city’s crazy traffic.
When I was staying with a friend, her dad drove me on a tour of the city one evening. Driving around the Arc de Triomphe was possibly one of the scariest experiences of my life, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the cyclists weaving in and out of the honking swerving cars.
If you don’t want to travel on foot, then take the Metro. The Metro is as central to Paris’ transport network as the Tube is to London’s, and travelling by Metro won’t break the bank. If you’re travelling in a group or planning to take lots of journeys, you can save money by buying tickets in a carnet: a bunch of 10 tickets, each of which will work for a single journey.
5 // WHICH BITS TO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON
Paris is a bucket list kind of place, which means there’s plenty to do, and plenty to spend your money on. But with so many things to do for free, it can be easy to avoid the paid attractions altogether.
But that would mean missing out on some of the best sites the city has to offer (particularly if you’re over 25 and can’t get free access to the city’s museums).
The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are both well worth a visit. And since you could easily spend a whole day in each, the cost of the ticket soon works out as value for money. Sainte Chapelle is also breathtakingly beautiful, as is the Palais Garnier.
And of course, if you’ve always dreamed of going up the Eiffel Tower, then there’s only one city in the world where you can make that happen.
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