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Visiting Paris on a budget

Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre in Paris

Paris is one of my favourite European cities – I usually try and spend a few days out there most years, and was lucky enough to spend last autumn house-sitting there. But even though I had somewhere to stay, Paris is an easy place to spend money – with fantastic restaurants, shops and wine bars on every corner, and the entrance fees to all those world-class museums and attractions which soon start to add up. So can you enjoy Paris if you’re trying not to spend too much? Here are some of the tips I picked up to help keep my Paris travel costs down, and this time of year is one of the best times to try them out, with the low season between November and April having the lowest prices for travel and accommodation.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris at dusk

The Eiffel Tower at dusk

Things to see and do

Paris has so many world-famous buildings and monuments – like Sacre Cœur, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower – and going to look at them won’t cost a penny. You can also go and watch the artists at work in Montmartre, browse the book stalls on the banks of the Seine and look around Notre Dame Cathedral for free. And if the weather’s good, there are lots of parks and gardens around the city – like the Promenade Plantée on an old elevated railway line, the botanical gardens at the Jardin des Plantes, and even the atmospheric cemeteries, like Père-Lachaise and the Cimetière du Montparnasse.

If you want to learn a bit more about Paris, Discover Walks offer free walking tours with local guides. They cover a range of different areas – from the Left Bank and Montmartre to the Latin Quarter. Walks take about 90 minutes and off-season groups are usually small. In November last year, our group of three ended up with our own private guide on one of their Marais tours, who showed us some great local restaurants and bars as well as telling us all about the area’s history, all for the price of a tip.

There are also plenty of free festivals and events going on in Paris throughout the year – including the fireworks and military parades for Bastille Day on 14 July, the Paris Plages riverside beaches in August, the Nuit Blanche all-night arts festival, the Fête des Vendanges harvest festival in Montmartre in October and the Christmas markets in December. Check out the Bonjour Paris and About.com Paris websites for the latest information about what’s going on where and when.

Road curves through the tombs of Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris

Autumn colours in Père-Lachaise cemetery

Museums and galleries

If you time your visit to coincide with the first Sunday of each month, many of the big-name museums are free to visit, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée du Quai Branly, Pompidou Centre and Picasso Museum (find a full list here). They do get really busy though, so it’s best to get there early.

It’s also worth checking out the museums’ websites for details of other discounts. Many museums offer free entry at any time to 18–25-year-olds who live in the EU. The Louvre also has free entry to anyone under 26 on Friday evenings after 6pm. The Musée d’Orsay gives a 20% discount on tickets after 6pm on Thursdays or 4.30pm on other days. And you can get entry to the Rodin Museum’s sculpture garden (which I thought was the best bit of the museum) for just €1.

If you’re going to be visiting a lot of museums, it’s worth investing in a Paris Museum Pass. The pass covers over 60 different museums and monuments and gives you free entry for two, four or six days. It includes the Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle with its amazing stained glass and the sewer museum, as well as the museums listed above. Passes cost €42 for two days, €56 for 4 days or €69 for six days.

There are also plenty of lesser-known museums in the city that either have free permanent collections or are totally free all the time, like the Musée Cognacq Jay (with 18th century art in a beautiful building in the Marais), the Maison de Victor Hugo (the novelist’s former home that’s now a museum about his life) and the Musée Parfum (about the history of perfume-making).

Colourful stained glass windows in Saint-Chapelle

Top city views

There are plenty of viewpoints where you can get a spectacular view across Paris, but climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower is high on the ‘to do’ list for many visitors. Tickets for the lifts to the top cost €15,00 (book in advance on their website to avoid the worst of the queues), but you can save money (and burn off a few pain au chocolats) by only paying €5,00 to take the stairs as far as the second floor.

For free views across the city, some of my favourite spots are the steps outside Sacre Cœur Basilica, the top floor of the Pompidou Centre, the rooftop café at the Galleries Lafayette department store, the roof garden of the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Parc de Bellville out in the 20th arrondissement.

One of the best viewpoints when it gets dark is from the Montparnasse Tower, with a prime view of the Eiffel Tower when it’s lit up and sparkles on the hour. The lift up to the viewing platform on the roof costs €14,00. But for the price of a drink, you can take a separate lift up to the 56th floor and watch the lights from the comfort of the tower’s Ceil de Paris bar.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Montparnasse Tower

Eating and drinking

The French are passionate about food, but eating out in Paris can take a huge bite out of your budget, especially in touristy areas. For good-value meals, look out for prix fixe or formule menus in restaurants. You’ll get two or three courses – either from a fixed menu or with a couple of choices – for a set price. And if you want to splash out on a meal in a nice restaurant, it’s usually a lot cheaper to eat at lunchtime rather than in the evening. You can often get a similar meal for two-thirds of the price.

You can also save on drinks by ordering a pichet (a quarter, half or full litre jug of house wine) and a carafe of tap water – bottled water and soft drinks in restaurants can be more expensive than wine.

If you’re staying in an apartment or hostel with cooking facilities, you can take full advantage of the great range of produce in Parisian markets and supermarkets. There are plenty of simple dishes you can make without too much cooking – I lived off goats cheese salads and steak and frites. Supermarket chains to look out for include Monoprix, Franprix, Carrefour and Marché U.

Even if you don’t have any cooking facilities, you can always find cheap snacks and street food – like falafel in the Marais or crepes in the Latin Quarter – or pick up a French picnic lunch of a baguette, cheese and wine from a supermarket to eat in a park or on the banks of the Seine. The river’s banks and bridges turns into an informal party spot on warm evenings, lined with people chatting over a bottle of wine.

Moules and frites, French food

The classic French lunch of moules et frites

Travelling around

Paris has an easy-to-use Metro system, but it’s a really walkable city with a lot of the main sites located along the banks of the Seine. You can buy single tickets and passes, but unless you think you’ll use the Metro a lot, a carnet of 10 tickets is probably the best value. Carnets cost €13,70 and you can buy them from station ticket machines. If you’re travelling to Paris by Eurostar, you can also buy them on board to avoid the big queues at the Gare du Nord. It’s worth making the Metro trip on Line 6 between Passy and Bir-Hakeim for amazing views of the Eiffel Tower as the Metro crosses the river on a viaduct.

Boat trips along the Seine are really popular, with everything from five-course dinners to Champagne cruises on offer. But for a budget way to see the sights along the riverbank, the Batobus does a hop-on-hop-off loop up and down the river from the Jardin des Plantes to the Eiffel Tower. Tickets cost €15 for one day, but better value is the two consecutive day pass for €18 per person.

Notre Dame cathedral from the Batobus on the Seine

The view of Notre Dame Cathedral from the Batobus

So those are my tips for seeing Paris on a budget – do you know of any more Paris bargains or have any money-saving tips?

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86 Comments Post a comment
  1. Such an awesome heads up on exploring paris! Now i just wish i could be there!

    October 23, 2012
    • Thanks, and hope you get to make a trip there soon!

      October 23, 2012
  2. Very useful advice for my upcoming week in Paris 🙂

    October 23, 2012
    • That’s good timing! Hope you have a fantastic trip.

      October 23, 2012
  3. Good tip about the wine Lucy, I will remember that

    October 23, 2012
    • I’ve not had a bad house wine in Paris yet so it’s worth a try.

      October 23, 2012
  4. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Paris– and with these tips, maybe I can actually afford to visit again! Great post.

    October 23, 2012
    • Thanks, it’s one of my favourite cities too, I always find something new to see every time I visit.

      October 23, 2012
  5. Brilliant tips Lucy! Thanks. Heading to Paris for 36 hours next week – can hardly wait! Will put these tips to great use.

    October 23, 2012
    • Have a fantastic trip, look forward to hearing how you get on!

      October 23, 2012
  6. Great tips! Good to know For the next trip there! Thanks!

    October 23, 2012
    • Thanks, hope you can use some of them on your next Paris trip!

      October 23, 2012
  7. Such a useful post! The views from the Arc de Triomphe are pretty good and watching the traffic on the roundabout beneath is quite entertaining too… but I think it costs around 9 euros.
    Fab photos as always

    October 23, 2012
    • The views from the Arc de Triomphe are great, especially watching the mad traffic below. I was in a car driving round it once and it was a scary experience!

      October 23, 2012
  8. Ah, Paris…!

    Le Deli-Cieux in the Printemps department store also has great views of Paris–toward the Eiffel Tower and toward Montmarte. As a bonus, the food’s pretty good and reasonably priced.

    October 23, 2012
    • Thanks for the tip, I’ve not tried that one so will have to give it a try on my next Paris trip.

      October 23, 2012
  9. Housesitting in Paris?! That’s one of my travel dreams! Was it through a friend or one of the top housesitting sites? I’ve been dreaming about going back there! My first time was not enough; I barely scratched the surface!

    October 24, 2012
    • It was through some family who had an apartment out there when the building was having some work done. So lucky I know! I’d really like to try housesitting through one of the sites sometime though, New York would be my dream housesitting gig!

      October 24, 2012
  10. nice photos! 🙂

    October 24, 2012
  11. Stunning! Been there twice and can’t wait to go back

    October 24, 2012
    • Thanks, you can never have too many trips to Paris!

      October 24, 2012
  12. Hi Lucy, I didn’t know about the metro viaduct. Hope to go back again next Spring so will try and remember that tip for sure as well as taking my camera up to some of the roof tops you mention!

    October 24, 2012
    • I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with taking photos of Paris from up on high so am always on the lookout for the next viewpoint. The view from the Metro is great too, though you need to be ready with your camera as it goes past pretty quickly!

      October 24, 2012
  13. I’d like to take a boat trip on the Seine the next time I’m in Paris and I appreciate the information about getting tickets. Thanks for the great tips!

    October 24, 2012
    • Thanks, I seem to end up taking the Batobus every time I’m in Paris – it’s a good way to get around if you’re travelling up to the Eiffel Tower, and to have a rest from the walking and let the views come to you instead!

      October 24, 2012
  14. So helpful, but don’t forget us oldies can get discounts sometimes, as well as students. it is always worth asking.

    October 24, 2012
    • There are a lot more discounts listed for students in Paris but I did find a couple for seniors – like €6 entry to the Arc de Triomphe instead of €9,50 – and it’s definitely a good idea to ask just in case, especially for EU residents.

      October 24, 2012
  15. Pretty comprehensive post, Lucy- a brilliantly common sense approach. It’s surprising how many cities do have free walking tours and they’re a great way to get your bearings if you don’t want to waste time. Love the tips on views (and your new header too)

    October 24, 2012
    • Thanks Jo, it’s good to show that even notoriously expensive cities can be do-able on a budget. Free walking tours are a great idea, there were loads of them in lots of different languages when I was in Prague recently too.

      October 24, 2012
  16. Thanks for the awesome tips! I particularly appreciate the alternate suggestion for free walking tours. We took the Sandeman’s tour there last time, and while it as informative, we have taken their tours in a number of different European cities and we would like a change of pace next time!

    October 27, 2012
    • The tours are definitely worth a try – the guy who led ours was an actor and had loads of great stories about the Marais and the people who lived there, plus we came away with a big list of bars and restaurants to go back to!

      October 30, 2012
  17. My favourite city too Lucy! And very valid advice.
    Planning to spend a week there next summer with my daughter, but it all depends on her children’s schedules. Keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

    October 29, 2012
    • It’s one of my favourite cities too, every time I go I find something else interesting to see. Hope you manage to make your trip out there next year!

      October 30, 2012
  18. Great tips! So informative. I just moved to France last month. I feel like my brain may explode with all the information that is flowing into it LOL. Great Blog… I will follow. 🙂

    October 30, 2012
    • How fantastic to be living in Paris! I spent a few months there last year so have a lot of posts about things to see and do, and it’s great to have the time to really explore the city.

      October 30, 2012
  19. Thanks for sharing this. It brought back wonderful memories from my last trip there.

    November 4, 2012
    • Thanks, it’s been great to relive some of my memories of Paris too!

      November 4, 2012
  20. Shelley #

    Beautiful photos and great tips!! We visited Paris on our RTW (www.travel-stained.com) a few weeks ago, and it was definitely the most expensive place we’ve visited in the last 8 months. Still, I can’t wait to go back. What an amazing city! 🙂

    November 11, 2012
    • Thanks – it’s such a fantastic city but you can really burn through the cash out there!

      November 11, 2012
  21. Great tips! I also travel on a budget so every piece of advice is priceless for me. I have been to Paris and at first I found it expensive, but it was long time ago and I was on my holiday with friends. What I love about Paris is that there are so many galleries, museums and churches you can visit without paying anything. Seems like Eiffle Tower is the most expensive travel spot there. I fell in love with Paris as well 😉

    November 16, 2012
    • Thanks Agness,it is a pricey city (it took me about ten trips to get around to actually going up the Eiffel Tower!) but you’re right that there’s lots of things to do for free – I could spend days sitting along the Seine soaking up the atmosphere with some cheese and wine from the supermarket!

      November 16, 2012
  22. Great & interesting information! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    November 16, 2012
    • Thanks, hope some of the tips will be useful for you!

      November 16, 2012
  23. Looks lovely – I do enjoy a good moule frite :0)

    Duncan

    November 21, 2012
    • Certainly can’t – though bad time for me to look at that picture again just before lunch with an empty fridge!

      November 26, 2012
  24. Amazing post! I spent 3 days in Paris last year (as a teacher as I was on a school trip!) and I look forward to returning with my husband in tow! 🙂

    November 26, 2012
    • Hope some of the tips will come in useful – I did a school trip to Paris when I was about 13 and I think that’s what started off my love of the city, so hope it inspired your pupils too!

      November 26, 2012
    • I am sure they will! It’s funny that it was your school trip started off your love of Paris. I think the pupils were inspired as they were talking about it for months afterwards! It was such a lovely time to visit at Christmas too and see all the lights.

      November 27, 2012
  25. Saj #

    Lucy: I have visited Paris twice but the way you meticulously covered things is really wonderful. I have also covered my trip in few words however your budget tips would definitely help me in my next rip.

    November 29, 2012
    • Thanks, hope you can use some of the tips next time you’re in Paris, and I’ll check out some of your posts about Paris too.

      November 30, 2012
  26. Some great tips in here! Thanks!

    January 6, 2013
  27. I love Paris and reading this brought back some fabulous memories, cannot wait to return and put some of your tips into practice.

    July 8, 2013
    • Hope they come in useful and you get back there soon – I haven’t had a Paris trip this year and am already getting withdrawal symptoms!

      July 9, 2013
  28. Such a great idea for a blog post! Taking different budgets into consideration when writing a travel blog is a really great way to connect with the audience on a deeper level. I just started writing a travel blog that connects famous literary destinations to actual places around the world (http://travelingbeyondthebookshelf.wordpress.com/). I am really glad to see a new perspective on travel blogging as my own blog begins to develop. Keep up the good work!

    July 30, 2013
    • Thanks, I love the idea of your site, I’m a huge reader and there’s a few places that I’ve been to after reading about them first, it’s always so interesting to compare the literary versions and the real place.

      July 31, 2013
  29. Great tips and suggestions! I was fortunate enough to live in Paris for a time, and believe me it took a bit to figure out my way around the high priced tourist areas. This post really brings me back, and stirs up some wonderful memories! 🙂

    August 13, 2013
    • Thanks, I just love Paris and it’s such a shame that some people get put off visiting by the cost as it so can be done on a budget. Must’ve been a great place to live. I’m planning a Christmas trip out there this year and can’t wait!

      August 14, 2013
  30. Great tips Lucy – thank you very much.

    November 12, 2013
  31. Great post Lucy, thanks so much. I will be returning to Paris in May next year and this post is going to be very useful. I just discovered your blog via a WordPress recommendation – it is excellent and I will be following from now on.

    November 18, 2013
  32. Cari #

    Family of 4 making our 1st trip to Paris but it will be December, any winter tips? We are staying in the Rue Saint-Honore area.

    March 12, 2014
  33. Tim #

    Paris is one of my favourite European cities as well. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time there in the late 80’s when I was a tour guide. I have great memories. Unfortunately I have only been back once since then. Thanks for putting it back on the agenda.

    April 8, 2014
    • Sounds like you are definitely due a return visit then! I love it there – however many times I visit I can always find something new to see and enjoy just wandering around the different neighbourhoods, soaking up the atmosphere.

      April 9, 2014
  34. Reblogged this on 6 t trees and commented:
    Paris dreams

    April 18, 2014
  35. All I can say right now is a huge THANK YOU for this post!!! I am planning my first trip to Paris for four days at the beginning of July. I started working on the budgeting this week and my head is starting to spin already. These tips are really great and I will be keeping them all in mind when I head over there. My wallet and I can’t thank you enough 🙂

    May 15, 2014
    • That’s great, hope it comes in useful and that you have a fabulous time in Paris, it really is a fantastic city!

      May 16, 2014
  36. Soooooo wonderful tips i’ve ever read…Thanks a ton!!

    May 29, 2014
    • Thanks so much, hope you can put them to use on a trip to Paris sometime!

      May 29, 2014
  37. Tanneaka Alexander #

    These tips are wonderful I have screen shot them lol this will be my first trip I hope a week is enough time. One thing I haven’t seen is about there nightlife. Do u recommend anything?

    June 14, 2014
  38. I’ve just reread this, Lucy, because I’ve booked flights for our Silver Wedding in August. I’m dithering over accommodation though. Any ideas? One of our objectives will be to see Versailles (on Sunday so the fountains are playing) and Giverny- opposite ends of the spectrum 🙂 I’m recommended Montparnasse by a friend who goes there quite often, but I’m not sure that the Marais wouldn’t be better. I’m currently trawling Booking.com for bargains 🙂

    June 24, 2014
    • How lovely, Paris is a great place for an anniversary trip. Montparnasse is not a bad place to be based at all, I usually stay just down the road from there in St Sulpice. I also like Montmartre as there is always a lot going on there. I’ve managed to miss Versailles so far despite lots of trips to Paris so look forward to seeing how you get on – I will make it there one day!

      June 24, 2014
    • Thanks, Luce 🙂

      June 24, 2014
  39. i always go to montparnesse tower when i’m in paris great views less queues and the resturant isnt half bad with lovely views of the tower at half the price of eating in the effiel tower …

    August 2, 2014
    • I’ve been up to the Montparnasse Tower viewing platform but not tried the restaurant out yet (or the cocktail bar!) – may have to try that out on my next trip.

      August 3, 2014
    • The view of the twinkling Effiel tower is great be sure to ask for a window seat.

      August 3, 2014

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