Are you a penny pincher with wanderlust? Don’t fret Paris-seekers, here is our guide to continuing your love affair with the City of Lights without spending more than $100 a day.
About Paris, France: What to do in Paris on the Cheap
The common theory is that a trip to this fabulous city is only for those with fabulously padded bank accounts. Au contraire! Those packing a sense of both adventure and thrift can make the most of the City of Lights in many romantic and authentically Parisian ways. There’s a reason why starving artists are drawn to this enchanting world capital: because a €1-baguette and €5-wheel of divine French cheese are enough to fill your belly and leave a few coins for a glass of fine house red. With smart planning and open-mindedness, navigating Paris on the cheap will be easier than hitching a Bateaux ride down the Seine.
Freedom of Expression
The Left Bank of Paris has two of the city’s most famous intellectual neighborhoods—the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Both teem with bookstores, libraries, and cinemas as enchanting as any museum or Parisian park. Shakespeare & Co. is the most famous bookstore, with its long history as an English-language haven for expatriates from back before WWII. The bouquinistes of Paris—the small bookstands that line the Seine River—offer another charming opportunity to stroll-shop for printed goods, be they books, postcards, or vintage posters while in Paris on the cheap. These stalls are rich eye candy, and offer glimpses of French culture and history that you’ll find nowhere else. Meanwhile, the American Library in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower, offers another literary destination with a long history, robust collection, events and readings, and kid’s and holiday programs. Total cost: $0.
Don’t Stop Velibin’
Get this: It costs just €8 ($10) to have a conveniently located bicycle at your disposal for a full week in Paris on the cheap. Launched in 2007, Velib is the city’s successful bike-sharing program. For either a one-day or seven-day “subscription” (plus a $195 refundable deposit), you can use a Velib bike for up to 30 minutes, as often as you like. If you go over that half-hour, another one will set you back just €1. Velib bike racks are all over the city and are easy to find with an online or printed map. The sturdy bikes have baskets and adjustable seats. And to top it off, the city’s network of bike lanes is ever-expanding and European drivers, in general, are accustomed to sharing their roads with bikes, making Paris one of the safest big cities for bikers. Besides, what’s better than cruising the Seine with the wind in your hair and a baguette in your basket? Total cost: $2.20 or less per day.
OK, so maybe biking just isn’t for you. No problem—the Paris Metro rivals any mass-transit system in the world for efficiency and economy. A metro pass will set you back a reasonable amount for either a 10-ride card (a “carnet”), or a daily, weekly, or monthly unlimited Navigo pass (which requires a passport-sized photo). Note that Metro fares vary by zone, but most tourists stay within zones one and two. Total cost: $4 to $8 average per day.
Paris is a city made for picnics. In no other metropolis could you derive quite the same joy from the simple combination of fresh, crusty bread and soft cheese or hot crepes filled with Nutella, enjoyed while basking in the sun in one of the dozens of gorgeously landscaped parks. Picnicking is a quintessential Parisian pastime, even when winter chills the air. Most parks, like the spectacular Jardin du Luxembourg, are also home to petite cafés serving up distinctly French café au lasts, usually for no more than €3 or €4 (around $4). It’s easy to let an entire afternoon float by while, say, watching wooden toy sailboats bobbing about in a park fountain. The best part is that the money you’ll save lunching in a park in Paris on the cheap will free up your wallet for set-service restaurants for dinner. Total cost: $5 to $15.
Culture du Jour
The Paris Visitors Bureau offers a range of packages that help visitors explore the city’s stunning museums and other cultural attractions for less dough than buying individual tickets. The Paris City Passport is valid for one to five days and offers priority Louvre entry tickets, a Bateaux Mouches sightseeing cruise, Metro passes, and discounted entry to select museums—starting at €33 ($43) per day. Or you could try the Paris Museum Pass, sold for two, four, or six consecutive days that give you the freedom to visit more than 60 museums or monuments in and around Paris, starting at €39 ($50) for the two-day pass. Either way, the time you’ll save on priority entry alone will make this a worthy investment. However, if you want to save to the max, consider touring on free-entry days (usually the first Sunday of the month) at select museums. Total cost: $0 to $35 per day.
Rendezvous for Less
Remember two wonderful facts when planning for Paris: Americans love visiting Paris and Parisians are ardent international travelers. These add up to a beautiful benefit: you probably already know someone there, either directly or through friends. Consider approaching such worldly new acquaintances for a place to crash for cheap or free (not counting the dinner or gifts you should contribute, Bien sûr). Alternately, look into swapping homes for the trip, especially if you live in a popular U.S. city. And if the personal connection doesn’t do the trick, look for a room on AirBNB.com or a couch to crash on with CouchSurfing.com, two great ways to save money in Paris on the cheap. Total cost: free to $80 a day.