Paris is an amazing city with tons of museums, sites, and history. Given the plethora of museums and cost of food, Paris could easily break anyone’s budget. However, being on a budget in Paris does not mean that one has to survive on baguettes and water alone and sit at home. It is possible to eat well and enjoy the sites and still stay on budget. I thought I might share some tips on how to see Paris on the cheap, at least the cheaper side.
Pay a little more for an apartment that is closer to the center, near the sites and has a kitchen, as it will save both time and money in the long run. Eating out in Paris is definitely a budget breaker and quickly adds up. With a kitchen one can prepare delicious foods at a fraction of the cost and shopping at the different shops and trying to communicate is half the fun.
Being closer to the sites also allows one to walk. Paris is a very walkable city, because it is relatively flat and most of the major museums and sites are close together. Besides the excellent exercise walking provides, it is fun to try to navigate Paris’ labyrinth of streets and allows one time to admire the city that would not be seen by taking the Metro. While staying in Paris, it seemed like every corner had a historical marker, statue, or museum. Come well prepared with a good map and compass to help navigate Paris’ streets and beware where you step because there is lots of dog poo. My husband nearly gave himself a concussion from slipping in huge pile of dog poo while crossing a cross walk.
A couple good websites to help find an apartment in Paris are: airbnb.com, homeaway.com and vrbo.com. The nice thing about airbnb.com is that all the fees are included in the price. Be careful in reading the fine print at each website as some sites charge large service fees that do not show up in the initial cost.
Paris’ mass transit system is one of the best I have ever used. It is overall cheap, efficient, and arrives frequently. One can get practically anywhere with the Metro and navigating the Metro is a breeze. Just pick up a free map from any Metro service window and you will be able to find your way anywhere in the city.
There are several options to help you save money with taking the Metro. If you will be staying more than a week and using the Metro more than once daily a good option would be the Navigo Pass. The Navigo Pass is a reusable card. It has a one-time cost of 5 euros to purchase and in addition the card requires a postage stamp size photo of yourself. The Navigo Pass is valid from Monday through Sunday regardless of the day that you purchase it. The total cost for a weekly Navigo pass is 23.85 euros (including the 1 time 5 euro fee to purchase the card but excluding the postcard size photo). There is also the option of purchasing the Navigo Pass for a month if you are staying longer.
For most the way to go is to buy a Carnet, which is a booklet of 10 tickets. For us, we found the Carnet was cheaper despite being in Paris for a month as we walked a lot. The cost for a Carnet is 12.50 euro for an adult and 6.75 for a child. Carnets can be purchased at the machine in the Metro, at the Metro service windows or a Tabac shop.
Parks Walks and Free Museums
There are tons of parks throughout Paris, which are free. Most parks are beautifully tended with lots of interesting art and areas for children to play. Bring a lunch and enjoy the day.
Rick Steves Paris and Around Paris with Kids have some great suggestions for parks that are kid friendly and fun. Our favorite park was Champ de Mars next to the Eiffel Tower. It was close by and had an excellent play area for our daughter. The park also had some ping pong tables and I was tempted to see if we could find some paddles and ping-pong balls to play.
In Rick Steves Paris there are also several self-guided walking tours for the different areas of Paris. These walking tours can be downloaded onto an iPod and Rick Steves does an excellent job pointing out important sites of Paris and revealing some interesting history.
There are also several excellent free museums in Paris including the Carnavalet museum and the Holocaust Memorial. The Carnavalet museum contains the history of Paris ranging from the time of the Romans to the 18th century.
The Holocaust Memorial is a powerful reminder of the tragic history of the Holocaust. There is a white wall when one first walks in that contains the names of the 76,000 French Jews that were rounded up, deported, and sent to the concentration camps during WWII.
Another free “museum” is the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Although it sounds kind of creepy visiting a cemetery, Pere Lachais is fascinating as it has several very famous residents including “Fred” Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and the most famous person of all according to my husband, Jim Morrison. Walking through Pere Lachaise Cemetery is like walking through an open-air museum. The crypts of even the non-famous residents are works of art.
Another great way to save money is to time your visit for the first Sunday of the month, as most of the museums are free in Paris. However, expect huge crowds on the free day.
Paris Museum Pass
If you want to see some of the big sites in Paris such as the Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou Versailles and Napoleon’s tomb then the Paris Museum Pass is well worth the cost. The Paris Museum Pass is either good for 2, 4 or 6 days. We choose the 6-day pass as we were in Paris for a month and it paid for itself. We did not buy a pass for our 8-year-old daughter, because most of the museums are free for her.
With our pass we saw the Louvre, Army Museum, Napoleon’s Tomb, Versailles, Conciergerie, Saint Chappelle, Orsay Museum, Cluny Museum, Jewish Art and History Museum, Paris Sewer Tour, Museum of Art Decoratifs, Arch de Triomphe, Science and Industry Museum, Pompidou and climbed Notre Dame Tower 2 times. If I had paid for each individual museum the cost would have been 139.30 euros versus the 69 euros I paid for the Paris Museum Pass.
To make sure we saw all the museums covered by the museum pass on our wish list we wrote out a schedule of what days we would go to what museums and opening and closing times. This strategy was helpful, as museums vary on times and days that they are open. In Rick Steves Paris, he does an excellent job on suggesting when to go for fewer crowds
Visit during the off-season
The off-season for Paris is from November to March. We found that the advantages visiting during the off-season were we did not need to worry about lines, crowds were minimal, and we got our apartment at a significantly cheaper price. I imagine that Paris during the spring is lovely with tree-lined boulevards and flowers blooming. But admittedly, Paris is rather gray and “dull” during the off season. The sun does not come up until 8:30 am during December and the trees have all lost their leaves for the winter. While we stayed in Paris, it rained a lot making it difficult to get out to the parks and meet other children for our daughter to play with. Despite the drawbacks, I would still go back to Paris during the off-season. After Christmas we got a hint of what Paris is like with the crowds and breathed a sigh of relief that we did not have to deal with the crowds for most of our stay. Paris has so much history, activities, and sites that it is worth seeing any time of year.
Hopefully these tips will help you to save some money, but allow you to enjoy all the sites of Paris.