How to Visit Paris Without Breaking the Bank

16.7.19

Budget travel: The Eiffel Tower from Pont de Bir Hakeim
The Eiffel Tower from Pont de Bir-Hakeim

About a month ago now, we were off on a week-long travel adventure cramming three cities in three different countries into seven short days. A similar trip last year saw me visiting Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest in a week, but this time round it was the turn of Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. 

Both of these trips were amazing, with every one of those cities having loads to offer, and I can’t speak positively enough of the experience of hopping around Europe by train. It’s brilliant and you should all book a multi-city trip immediately. 

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that certain cities in Europe come with a far higher price tag than others, as was very apparent on our most recent trip, which just so happened to combine a string of these. It’s far easier to have a budget-friendly trip in Budapest, for example, than it is in "Gai Paris" ..but that’s not to say that you can’t visit Paris without breaking the bank! 

Whichever city you happen to be visiting, it’s almost always possible to find ways of tailoring your trip to your own budget and finding ways of cutting costs. 

These are just some of the ways we kept our spending down in Paris (though many of these apply just as easily to other locations as well)..

Budget travel: views from the Sacre Coeur
Views from the Sacre Coeur

Accommodation 

Perhaps the most obvious place to start - somewhere to begin your day and rest your weary head.
When I’m travelling solo I always favour hostels (preferably with female-only rooms, where possible) for their convenience and low cost, but have found that European hostels are generally no cheaper than other alternatives when travelling as a duo. 

Instead, Air B’n’B has become my go-to. In Paris, in particular, we found that the quality of room on offer within our budget was far higher on Air B’n’B than the dated-looking hotel rooms available to us at the same cost. 

Our Paris apartment was tiny (exactly as expected from the advertisement), but modern, well-kept, ideally located and served us perfectly for the duration of our three-night stay. 

Staying in an Air B’n’B also came with additional cost-cutting benefits: it gave us access to a kitchen, which reduced the need to dine out and allowed us to cook our own meals instead; and though not the case in Paris, our apartment in Brussels came with laundry facilities, which reduced the amount of luggage needed and thus saved on airline baggage costs. 

Budget travel: the Louvre, Paris
The Louvre

Walk 

So now you’ve found somewhere to stay and you’re raring to get out and explore. My top tip for Paris, in this respect? Walk. 

At €1.90 per single journey, the metro isn’t overly expensive, but a couple of journeys quickly adds up. And most of the city’s key attractions are actually within surprisingly close proximity!

We comfortably saw the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, the Notre Dame, the Pantheon and the Latin Quarter on foot in one afternoon. 

And walking everywhere allowed for the little surprises we might not otherwise have stumbled upon: a local food market with cheap, fresh crepes; beautiful street art of famous Parisians; a ska band playing to celebrate the Women’s World Cup. 

(If you’re going to walk everywhere, however, perhaps consider taking a Pac-A-Mac so the surprise of rain is a less unpleasant one!) 

Budget travel: views of the Eiffel Tower, Paris
Views of the Eiffel Tower

Prioritise and Pre-Book

Let's face it, Paris attractions are expensive and entrance to most of these famous landmarks comes at quite a cost. We were more than happy to see the majority of them from the outside and prioritised  our spending on those we most wanted to visit. In Paris' case, the only attraction we actually paid for were The Catacombs

Forward planning is not everyone's favourite thing when it comes to a holiday (though it's certainly mine - Captain Control Freak, over here), but it really does pay to book these big attractions in advance, where possible. We pre-booked one or two activities for each city we visited on this trip. In some cases, pre-booking marginally brought down the ticket price; and in every case it saved on the amount of time wasted in a queue. Pre-booking also allowed us to spread out the cost over preceding months, so our bank balances didn't take such a dramatic hit all at once. 

Views from Printemps Haussman's rooftop terrace

Find Free Alternatives 

Despite all that, there are actually some free things to visit across the city and, again, it pays to do your research before you go to find what interests you. Beautiful parks, pretty churches, celebrity cemeteries and stunning views: we found plenty to do in Paris that came at zero cost. 

The Eiffel Tower might be the city's most famous landmark, but there are certainly cheaper options if all you're really after are the birds'-eye views. We found the rooftop terrace at Printempts Haussman department store gave a pretty spectacular perspective on the city, with the Eiffel Tower perfectly in view. (It can be accessed by taking the lift to the 9th floor and the stairs to the 10th, and restaurant staff seemed completely at ease with non-paying customers milling around with cameras in hand.) 

Other free activities included a wander around the gardens and boating lake at Luxembourg Palace, a visit to le mur des je t'aime (the 'I love you' wall), and a search for the graves of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde in the beautiful Pere Lachaise cemetery. 

One of the city's most famous - and, in my opinion, most beautiful - landmarks is also entirely free to visit. Sat on top of the hill of Montmarte, the Sacre Coeur basilica charges no entry fee (unless you want to visit the upper dome) and is stunning to see, both internally and externally, with impressive views over the rest of the city. 

Again, it might take a little bit of forward-planning, but there is plenty to do and see in Paris without spending a penny.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Avoid Eating in Tourist Hot-Spots 

You’re going to need to eat and drink at some point while you’re out and about, but if you’re going to eat in a restaurant or cafe it pays to venture a little further away from any famous landmark’s immediate vicinity. 

Everyone with a bit of common sense knows this, and yet we still made the fatal error of stopping for a coffee near the Louvre, seeking shelter from torrential rain. I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much for a (pretty rubbish) cup of coffee in my life! We were glad of the shelter and seat, but it genuinely pained me to part with that money. 

Just a street or two away and prices begin to drop, but it was in quieter areas like the 9th Arrondisement where we found food and drink at a substantially better cost. 


Luxembourg Palace

Pack a Picnic 

Alternatively, save on dining-out altogether by packing a picnic lunch. 
Both supermarkets and local food markets offer produce like fruit, cheese and fresh bread at a more reasonable price, and what’s not to love about the idea of sitting by the Eiffel Tower eating an al fresco lunch? 

The Arc de Triomphe

Water Bottles 

Likewise, cut back on the price (and pollution) of stopping to buy drinks by packing a refillable water bottle. Paris, like many European cities, provides fresh - and free - drinking water from public drinking fountains, which you can locate using this web-page

The Sacre Coeur

Toilets 

All that water you’ll be drinking is inevitably going to lead to one thing: a desperate hunt for a bathroom. 

My absolute bugbear in Paris, charging for toilets seemed to be the ultimate means of cashing-in. Whether it was a shopping centre, a park, a nice-looking restaurant or a run-down Burger King, toilets everywhere were charged for by an angry attendant or an on-the-door mechanism. And this wasn’t the 20-30 pence I’m used to here in the UK, but anything from 50 cents to €2. Two whole euros for the privilege of having a pee! 

If only I had known then what I know now: that there are free public toilets and a map to help you find them throughout the city. 

Au Clair de Lune

Happy Hour 

You've spent the day taking in the city's sites and been home for dinner at your Air B'n'B. What could round the evening off more perfectly than heading back out for a couple of drinks?

Bars in Paris can be expensive and I've heard horror stories of people paying almost €50 for three drinks - again falling prey to those tourist hot spots. That said, we saw a good number of bars on our travels offering happy "hour" offers, generally between the hours of 6 and 10pm. Both Montmarte district and the Latin Quarter seemed good areas to find cheap drinks within these times, with a pint of beer going for €3-4 and cocktails for around the €5 mark.

Contrary to many of my other suggestions, this one was particularly difficult to research and we found ourselves just keeping our eyes peeled for well-priced offers as we were passing. Au Clair de Lune in Montmarte - just a short stroll from the Sacre Coeur - turned out to be a pretty perfect place to pass our last evening in Paris, sipping on cocktails without blowing the budget.

Place du Tertre


There's no getting away from the fact that Paris is an expensive city, but I hope these simple tips help you to see that it is possible to have a great trip without coming home completely bankrupt.

Do you keep a budget in mind when you're travelling? And if so, what are your own little methods for cutting down costs?

xo

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