Budget travel: a penny-pincher’s guide to Paris
It's no secret that Paris, by its very nature as a capital, can be pricey and often stars on the 'World's Most Expensive Cities' lists. But with savvy planning and know-how, you can indulge in the city without blowing the budget.
Sleep cheaply in historic mansions, fill up on gourmet cuisine, freewheel along the Seine and be surprised by just how affordable Paris can be for budget travellers.
Paris fills up fast at peak times. If you can, avoid school holidays and weekends in spring and summer. Escape to Paris mid-week in May and you’ll have the cream of its budget-hotel crop to choose from. Reserve as far ahead as possible: the best accommodation in every price range goes quickly – the further in advance you book, the better the deal.
Museum lovers should visit the first Sunday of any month when museum admission – including top sights Musée d'Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and the Louvre (October to March only) – is free. Or time your stay with a festival yielding a bonanza of freebie or reduced-price exhibitions and happenings: La Nuit Européenne des Musées (mid-May), Nuit Blanche (early October) and Journées Européennes du Patrimoine (mid-September).
Discounts & freebies
Build your itinerary around any discounts you’re eligible for: EU citizens aged under 26 years enjoy free admission at national museums and monuments, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Sainte Chapelle, Musée Picasso and Musée Rodin.
For serial sightseers, a Paris Museum Pass is a money-saver. It covers admission to over 50 sights (among them, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame towers, Arc de Triomphe and Château de Versailles). Alternatively, the Paris Passlib' covers unlimited public transport in zones 1 to 3, Paris Museum Pass admission, a one-hour boat cruise along the Seine, and a one-day hop-on hop-off open-top bus sightseeing service, with an optional supplement for a skip-the-line Eiffel Tower tickets. Buy passes online or at the main branch of the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau at 25 rue des Pyramides, 1er.
Then, of course, there are numerous free things to see and do in Paris, including Notre Dame (not the towers), Pavillon de l'Arsenal, Cimitière du Père Lachaise, Parisian street markets galore and beautiful city parks such as the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Accommodation is the biggest daily expense so it pays to be picky with your neighbourhood – rates do vary depending where you stay.
The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées areas are generally too pricey for smaller budgets, but there are exceptions.
- Low-cost Hôtel Tiquetonne has close-up views of the Eiffel Tower from some rooms.
- Hôtel Monte Carlo is a unique budget address near Opéra.
Central but affordable Left Bank districts include the student-busy Latin Quarter.
- At the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, bookworms can ask about stacking shelves in exchange for a free bed.
- Hôtel Esmeralda is in a quiet street with prime Notre Dame views.
- Boutique Hôtel Vic Eiffel in the 15e is an easy stroll from the Eiffel Tower.
On the fringe of the fashionable Le Marais district on the Right Bank there are a few choices.
- Hôtel Beaumarchais is brilliant value if you book online to secure its nonrefundable but dramatically cheaper internet rates – this is common with Parisian hotels.
- Cosmos Hôtel, footsteps from nightlife-busy rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, is budget gold.
- Hôtel du Nord – Le Pari Vélo, near République, stands out for its bric-a-brac soul and free bikes it lends to guests.
Single hotel rooms are a rare breed in Paris and cost almost as much as a double – making hostels better-value for solo travelers. Paris has a hostel to match every taste, from solar-powered to centuries-old. Larger establishments such as the thoroughly modern St Christopher’s (at Gare du Nord and Canal St-Martin) rent bicycles, serve cheap evening meals and organise excursions. In Montmartre, top-choice Plug-Inn Hostel has a kitchen for guests to cook their own meals.
Top tip: Paris hotels don’t usually include breakfast in their rates. Buffet-style hotel breakfasts (read: stuff yourself silly) can be good value. Otherwise, nip to the local boulangerie (bakery) for a croissant or pain au chocolat (chocolate-filled pastry).
Eating out in Paris can be at the lower end of the spending scale. Dining out in the budget price range moreover is varied, delicious and easy to find.
Cuisine might not be haute, but classic French fare served in traditional bistros like Au Pied de Fouet (in St-Germain des Prés), Le Bougainville (walking distance from the Louvre) and Le Réveil du Xe (in the up-and-coming foodie 10e) is top quality and excellent value. Ordering the menu (two or three courses at a fixed-price), lunchtime formule (two-course meal at fixed price) or plat du jour (dish of the day) is cheapest. Ask for the complimentary basket of bread to be refilled when empty and order une carafe d’eau (a jug of water) instead of bottled water.
Wine bars like Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, Les Pipos and Le Verre Volé are attractive low-cost options. Or go Asian – invariably budget in price – with Chinese hand-pulled noodles at Les Pâtes Vivantes, the finest Japanese udon in Paris at Kunitoraya 1, giant Cambodian spring rolls at Le Cambodge, or bento boxes at trendy Nanashi in Le Marais. Paris’ oldest covered market, Marché des Enfants Rouges, is a glorious maze of food stalls selling ready-to-eat dishes from around the globe – to take away or tuck into around shared tables.
Avoid restaurants near major sights. Buy bread, cheese and charcuterie from shops on foodie streets like rue Cler (a short walk from the Eiffel Tower), rue Montorgueil (near the Louvre) or rue Mouffetard (Latin Quarter), and picnic over million-dollar views in a park or quays along the Seine.
The best budget eats to grab ‘n go include:
- crêpes from Chez Nicos
- pastrami rolls from wildly popular Frenchie To Go
- fish and chips on Canal St-Martin from the Sunken Chip
- meal-sized sandwiches from CheZaline or Huré
- tacos at terribly cool Candelaria
- hot dishes to take away from Traiteur Jegado
- falafel sandwiches from L’As du Fallafel
Exploring Paris on foot is obviously the budget choice. If you prefer to do it in the company of a local guide, contact Paris Greeters for a free walking tour. Paris’ self-service bike scheme Vélib’ costs peanuts and is easy to use providing you have decent road sense. If you have a European-compatible chip-and-pin credit card you can subscribe at any docking station, otherwise presubscribe online.
Save on the metro or Paris buses by buying a carnet (book) of 10 tickets at any metro station – cheaper than buying individual tickets. If you intend using the metro more than three times, buy a one-day Mobilis travel card allowing unlimited travel in central Paris (zones 1 and 2).
Arriving at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, RATP bus 350 (to Gare de l’Est) or bus 351 (to place de la Nation) is the least expensive way of getting into town; from Paris Orly airport tram 7 to Villejuif-Aragon metro station.
Last updated in July 2017.