Ahh Paris. The City of Lights. The most romantic city in the world. And also … one of the most expensive. That is, if you don’t know how to do Paris on the cheap. If you stay at a trendy hotel on the Seine, eating at restaurants surrounding the Eiffel Tower, you’ll end up with what’s charmingly known as the tourist-tax-inflated prices based on proximity to in-demand locations. It exists in nearly every big city, and Paris is no exception. But venture out a little further, and you’ll be surprised at how affordable you can see Paris, without skimping on any of the important stuff (namely: cheese and croissants and macarons —  in that order!). So all you thrifty travelers out there, here’s what you need to keep in mind when you’re doing Paris on a budget.

Where to Stay

How to do Paris on a budget: girl with long hair in pajama having breakfast on balcony in the morning in city. She holds a cup, reading on tablet

Generally speaking, the closer you stay to the Seine, the more expensive the hotels will be. It can be nice to stay in a central location, but also limiting financially, since the tourist tax is alive and well in these areas. Stay outside the central area however, and you’ll be surprised at how inexpensive hostels and hotels can be in Paris. And since the Metro connects everything easily, you’ll still be able to get wherever you need to go without paying hefty prices.

Hostels are abundant in Paris and tend to run for about $50 per night, depending on the season. Home rentals can be a cheaper option than hotels as well, especially for bigger groups; the best part is that, most times, you will have access to a kitchen, which will allow you to buy baguettes and yogurt/other breakfast foods in advance instead of having to eat out. There are also some free options if you’re willing to take a chance. Couchsurfing and The Hospitality Club are the most common — but you can also try to arrange a house swap using sites like Home Exchange and HomeLink.

When to Visit

How to do paris on a budget: Girl happily jumping in Paris on a winter day

The time of year matters big time when you’re looking for the lowest airfare and cheapest accommodations in Paris. The most cost-effective time of year to visit Paris is in the winter months — specifically December, January, and February. The best time to visit in regards to weather and expense is April to June and October to early November. The crowds are smaller than they are during the summer months and you’ll pay more as airlines and hotels and even restaurants inflate their prices to account for tourism. However, August is also a great time for hotel prices since many locals leave the city for their summer holiday. Airfare generally peaks in August so you may not save much overall, but if a summer trip is the only one you can swing, August is a cheaper time to visit.

Where to Eat

How to do Paris on a budget: woman eating crepe in Paris cafe

Food is one thing in Paris that’s worth the splurge — but luckily you don’t have to look too far for excellent, inexpensive eats. Neighborhood bistros are on nearly every corner, and the farther you venture from the tourist attractions the more affordable they will be (a good rule of thumb is that if the menu is printed in more than three languages, you’re in a tourist area).

Be sure to ask what the special is for the day, since most bistros offer them. The plat du jour (plate of the day) can especially be a great bargain, since it’s specifically marked lower to appeal to guests. Most often they feature French specialties, like beef bourguignon and steak-frites — items you may have wanted to try anyway.

Also don’t be afraid to venture into grocery stores instead of only eating at restaurants. Many employ excellent pastry chefs, and you’ll save money getting a baguette from the store instead of from the fancy bakery down the street.

TIP: that if you ask for water in a French restaurant, they will bring out bottled water, or fizzy water ranging from 3 to 5 euros, but sometimes even more. If you want to order a free tap water, ask for, “une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait.” As long as you order something to go with it, most waiters won’t mind. Also, keep in mind that while beer and other alcohol can be absurdly expensive in France, wine is much cheaper.

You may also like: How to Do Paris Successfully with Kids

What to Do

 How to do Paris on a budget: Directional signpost to Parisian landmarks in central Paris

You definitely don’t want to skimp on the big attractions in Paris like you might be willing to on accommodations or food. Fortunately, most of them aren’t too expensive.

If you’re going to be in Paris for at least a week and are a careful planner, the Paris Museum Pass is a great value. You can buy either the two- or four-day pass, but the four day is typically a better value. This pass gives you access to the hop-on bus tour which will take you to all the main attractions.

Many of the attractions require extra money for specific areas, like going to the top of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. Both are beautifully viewed from the street, since from the top you get views but not of the structure you’re actually in. It’s better (and cheaper) to get a high vantage point of the city (say, from the top of Notre Dame or Sacré Coeur Basilica) than pay to go to the top of these attractions.

There are also plenty of free attractions in Paris. Most museums have free-entry days once per month (typically the first Sunday of the month). These days tend to be crowded, but can be worth it if you arrive early. Much of the Parisian architecture can be seen walking through the city without any form of payment. And Sandeman’s New Paris tours are free (minus the tip for the guide at the end), and will take you all over the city with excellent information.

Some of my favorite free attractions in Paris include:

  • Wandering through the Tuileries Gardens looking at the various statues and doing some people watching
  • Picnicking at the Luxembourg Gardens
  • Wandering through the haunting and beautiful Père Lachaise cemetery and looking for monuments and gravestones
  • Watching the sunset on the banks of the Seine
  • Window shopping on the Champs Élysées
  • Visiting the Marché aux Fleurs (flower market)
  • Getting lost in various neighborhoods and trying to find my way home
  • Enjoying the twinkling lights of the Eiffel tower

How to Get Around

The best way to see Paris is on foot. The city generally has wide walking paths (at least in major areas) and there are plenty of pedestrians. The Metro is very efficient and will take you anywhere in the city for a reasonable price. You can purchase single tickets for a one-way journey, but you’ll save time and money by buying a book of 10 t+ tickets, which is 10 individual tickets offered at a reduced rate.

The train can take you further distances (to Versailles, or Disneyland Paris for example) and you can buy tickets at any Metro station or Réseau Express Régional (RER) station. The bus system is also fairly easy to understand, and runs for a longer duration than the Metro. However, it is slower but more scenic, so keep that in mind when you decide how to plan your travels.

Taxis and Uber are also plentiful — but you may not save as much money taking Uber as you can in other cities. Sometimes they can be priced even higher than taxis, especially for longer rides like from the airports.

Download the free RATP app before you get to Paris for the easiest transport options right at your fingertips. It will tell you in real time how long you’ll have to wait, where the closest Metro or bus stations are, and more. You’ll also have access to the best itineraries in your location.

Paris has without a doubt earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And you don’t have to be rich to see it. In fact, the best things in Paris are free — the sites, the sounds, the smells of the city. You just have to get there, and then let the city of Paris take the lead!

 

Do you have any tips for doing Paris on a budget? Share them with us in the comments!

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About The Author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.