We love Paris for countless reasons, but its costly features is not one of them. The French capital can undoubtedly be expensive, from its hotels to its restaurants, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, if you plan your trip correctly, you can spend days soaking in the city's world-class sights and museums without shelling out a dime. Unfortunately, we can't promise free food or wine, but don't fret, as we've got a few ways to eat and drink your way through the best of Paris without breaking the bank. So, strap in if you're strapped for cash because we're sharing our top tips for visiting Paris on a budget.
1. Visit Paris in the off-season.
Timing your trip for the city’s off-season (or even shoulder season) can result in big wins for your bank account. Although Paris is a year-round destination, avoiding the most popular months of June, July, and August will also mean you’ll be dodging some of the highest prices when it comes to hotel rates and flight tickets. Plus, the cooler temperatures of winter can be a big plus for those who prefer not to sweat it out during the summer. As an added bonus, traveling in the low season means you’ll have fewer crowds to contend with.
2. Use public transportation to and from the Paris airport.
Taking a taxi (or an Uber) to and from Paris’ main airports can be pricey, so opt for public transportation instead. Charles de Gaulle is connected to central Paris via the RER train line, which costs around 10 euros and takes between 15 to 50 minutes, depending on where your journey starts and ends. The RER B train runs for nine stops and is often faster than taking a car. Getting to Orly Airport is even quicker, but requires both the RER B train and OrlyVal, which connects at Antony station. Be sure to pack light, though, as you’ll have to carry around your luggage through the stations.
3. Go to museums when admission is free or discounted.
Paris is home to several of the world’s best museums, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay top dollar to check them out. You can save big with free entrance to most museums every first Sunday of the month. If you plan your trip right, you can see famous museums like the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Musee de l’Orangerie all for free in one day. There are also a few museums that are always free or at least offer their permanent exhibitions for free. These include the Description Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Centre Pompidou, City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, and Musee de la Vie Romantique, among others.
4. If you plan to hit all the sights, get the Paris Museum Pass.
If you know you’re going to hit the city’s top museums and attractions, then it’s worth looking into the Paris Museum Pass. This handy pass offers free admission to over 60 of Paris’ top attractions and museums, and usually lets you skip the long line. There are three different durations to choose from — either two, four, or six consecutive days — all with unlimited entries. While several of the sights covered by the pass are already free, the value comes in being able to skip the line, allowing you to maximize your time. However, it’s worth noting that you won’t get into any special exhibitions at the museums — just the permanent collection.
5. Take advantage of the free activities in Paris.
Paris is filled with so many free and affordable things to do that you could plan your whole itinerary around them. For example, the famous Tuileries Garden is a popular spot for strolling and people-watching. Bragging rights for climbing the Eiffel Tower are free when you opt to take the stairs over the pricey elevator ride. The Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Shakespeare & Company bookstore, and several other popular sights are also free to visit. Plus, Paris is the perfect place to explore on foot or by bike. Discover the city’s character through its many arrondissements, stop into a small bar for live music, seek out the famous Van Gogh alley in Montmartre, window-shop the many boutiques, or join a free walking tour (just be sure to tip your guide).
Editor’s Note: While the Notre Dame figured high on many traveler’s lists — its free admission made it one of the best budget-friendly stops in the city — the interiors will be closed to visitors for the foreseeable future, due to a devastating fire that broke out in April 2019 and destroyed the building’s roof and iconic spire.
6. Ditch the Paris Metro day passes and buy in bulk.
If there ever was a city for walkers, it would be Paris. However, not everything is within walking distance, so if you’re trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, the metro is the way to go. At the time of publishing, one-way tickets on the bus or metro cost 1.90 euros, though there are other budget-friendly options for those who know they’ll be riding the rails more than a few times. Day passes seem like the obvious choice, but choosing a carnet (a.k.a. a book of 10 tickets) is usually your best bet. Not only do you save about five euros, but you’ll also get more flexibility since you can split up the 14-euro pack among different people and don’t have to use them within a set period of time.
7. Take advantage of the set menu deals in Paris.
One of our favorite things about Paris is the set prix-fixemenus found at restaurants. Not only can you score some great multi-course meals, but you’ll save a decent amount of money compared to ordering a la carte. It’s good to note that you’ll often see set menus for lunch (with two courses), though it’s also fairly common for an early evening meal to be set with three courses — appetizer, entree, and dessert. The only drawback to this is that your options are limited, but you’ll definitely spot a few Parisian staples, plus it’s a great way to try new things.
8. Specify tap water when dining out in Paris.
When waiters in Paris ask if you’d like water, they’ll usually specify if you’d like flat or sparkling. This is where you chime in, saying that tap water will be just fine. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bottle of water on the table and an extra charge on your bill. The tap water in Paris is excellent, so drink up and enjoy this freebie.
9. Grab food from the local markets and grocery stores.
The beautiful thing about Paris is that you don’t have to splurge at a fancy restaurant to get a worthy taste of the city. A tasty breakfast can include a flaky, buttery croissant from the corner boulangerie, and you can easily grab fresh fruits, delicious cheeses, and meats from local markets and grocery stores for lunch and dinner. Want an authentic Parisian experience? Skip the expensive meal and opt for a Seine-side picnic with a bottle of wine, selection of meats and cheeses, fresh fruit, and a fresh baguette — all which you can likely find for around 15 euros total. Hungry during the day? Grab an apricot or two as you walk by a local fruit stand.
10. Bring a refillable water bottle.
This is an especially important tip for those visiting in the hot summer months. Parisian buildings are notoriously devoid of air-conditioning, so Americans often find themselves sweating in high temps here. Running to the closest store and grabbing a bottle of water to rehydrate can get expensive, so protect your budget by bringing your own refillable water bottle. Bonus: It’s also better for the environment.
11. Join the city's bike share program.
If being underground isn’t your thing, consider taking yourself on a bike tour of Paris — or at least use the city’s bike-share program, Velib, to get around town. There are several stations around town (though many have been taken over by competitors), making it a convenient way to both transport yourself while also soaking in the sights. All you need is a credit or debit card with a chip to get started and you’ll be peddling around Paris like a local in no time.
12. Be smart about when and where you get alcohol in Paris.
Even at restaurants and bars, wine in Paris is a great deal. However, if you’re really looking to pinch pennies, head to the grocery store, where you’ll find delicious varietals and bottles of bubbly with price tags that don’t even hit double digits. However, if you’re like us and love sipping a drink on the sidewalk in the sun, then you’re going to want to go during happy hour. Happy hour usually starts around 4 p.m. and can go as late as 9 p.m, making it easy to wander up to a cafe in the evening and grab a good deal on drinks.
13. Book your Paris hotel wisely.
Paris certainly has its fair share of over-the-top luxury hotels, but there are affordable options to be found, too. Check out our top picks for cheap hotels in Paris. We particularly like Victoria Hotel, a 105-room property located in the the 9th Arrondissement. Rooms, though compact, have a hip vibe, thanks to headboards with large photographs of historic Paris landmarks like Sacre Coeur. Ideally located for sightseeing, the property is near many attractions, restaurants, bars, and theaters, plus the metro stop is just outside the hotel. If you prefer to walk, the heart of the city is just a 20-minute walk away.
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