How to visit Paris like a Parisian (without breaking the bank)
January 1, 1970
by Mafe Martinez
Paris, “la plus belle ville du monde” the most beautiful city in the world. We all love Paris, we all dream about the Eiffel Tour and Montmartre. The city of lights seems like delightful in our minds. But it is so sophisticated, so elegant, so glamorous, that it may seem like you will have to be rich and famous or save big loads of money, just to have the privilege to see it once in your life. But I am here to tell you that this is not the case at all. Paris is indeed fantastic, but it is by no means unreachable and I will tell you exactly how to visit it without saving for years or breaking the bank.
I went to Paris for the first time when I was 22 and I was backpacking around Europe in a very tight budget. 3 Years later I moved to Belgium and living just 300 km away, I visit it every month. I am a Paris addict! But of course I am always trying to find ways to save money, so here are my recommendations on how to visit Paris, enjoy it like a local and save lots of money:
The first time I went to Paris, during my backpacking trip, I stayed with hosts I contacted through Couchsurfing. It was a great experience and I was able to see how Parisians live. If you are willing to sleep in the couch, you will not only save a lot of money but will also have a great experience living like a Parisian and meeting the locals.
Lately in my most recent trips to Paris I have been using Airbnb. If you have never used it, you are really missing out. Airbnb is great, because compared with hotels, the prices are much lower and the locations are much better. An average hotel close to the Eiffel Tower would cost around 140 per night, while with Airbnb I have stayed twice in apartments for two people, 10 min away from the tower for 45. If you want a hotel for the same price, you will have to stay in remote areas of the city, or the peripheries of Paris. Another advantage of using Airbnb is that you will be able to cook. This is very important if you are trying to save money. Breakfasts in a Parisian cafe would cost between 7 and 13 per person, but if you go to the local supermarket, buy your own baguettes and your own beverages and fruit, you will spend less than 8 in breakfast for 2.
Eat like the locals do. First rule, if the menu is in English do not go there, it means that the restaurant is targeting tourists, the food will not be that great and the prices will be high. Also, do not eat close to the monuments and in the most touristic areas, instead walk along quieter neighborhoods and find the local bistros and restaurants. You will not need to walk very far, just a few blocks away from the touristic areas. One of the best places to find great inexpensive local food, is in the Latin quarter. This neighborhood is remarkable, not only for its great history, but also because you will find hidden places with great atmosphere and good prices, since this is the student’s neighborhood. If you go to Place de la Contrescarpe and walk down the alleys, you will find small cute restaurants serving different kinds of food. I always good there for crepes, which are hugely popular among the French. A basic crepe with ham, cheese and 1 egg would cost around 5.
A little trick that tourist usually don’t know is that water is FREE in restaurants. You only need to ask for a “carafe d’eau”you will get a nice free pitcher of tap water, which is completely safe to drink in France.
Another inexpensive options for food are shawarma places, which cost around 4 or 5, and Chinese menus, that for 6 offer and entrée or dessert and a main dish.
In local supermarkets you will find very affordable high quality French cheese, wine, bread, charcuterie etc. For less than 10 you can have a picnic for 2. And what could be a better way to eat lunch than sitting in front of the Eiffel tower with fantastic French wine and cheese? This is exactly what Parisians do all the time, you will see them.
Another great experience to have in Paris is to visit the local markets in the street (marché) every morning. You will find fresh produce, fresh fish, fruit and very affordable prices. You can try new foods here and you will enjoy a very Parisians experience.
THINGS TO DO
Entering the monuments and doing all the usual touristic activities in Paris can get very expensive, but there is a better way to enjoy what the city has to offer for less than you imagine.
By far the best activity to do in Paris is to walk. A walk along the Seine will take you to all the places you have always dreamed to see, and will give you the real feeling of the city. You can start at Pont de Bir-Hakeim for a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and walk towards it. If you keep going in that direction along the Seine, you will see the tower, the famous bridges, the museums (Louvre and D’orsay), the facades, the islands, the Concergerie, etc. This is a very long but rewarding walk. It will take you all the way to Notre Dame, where you can relax sitting in the Riverfront and taking in the views.
A lot of people dream about going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and it is possible to save money if you are willing to claim steps and go to the 2nd floor: 7 vs 17 for using the lift and going to the top. But even thought it is a nice experience, in my opinion it is not the best view of Paris, because if you are in the tower you can’t see the tower! My favorite view of the city is free and I’ll share it with you: If you go to Galeries Lafayette and go up to the terrace, you will enjoy the magic of the city, its architecture and of course, the Eiffel Tower right in front of you, and without all the crowds.
If you want to learn more about the city, its buildings and its history, do the Free Walking Tour. Just google it and you will find plenty of options. This is a great way to see and learn about the city and at the end of the tour you will only need to give a tip to your guide.
- Always use the metro or buses. Public transportation is excellent. One single ticket costs 90 but if you buy a book of 10 tickets, you only pay 14,50. Very useful if you are staying for a few days.
- Museums are free on the first Sunday of the month.
- If you go to Paris during the summer, there are many things you can do for free: The beaches along the banks of the Seine, outdoor cinema, free concerts on La Fête de la Musique (June 21st) and the most magical show, fireworks on the Eiffel tower on Bastille day (July 14th)
If you can only afford one activity, it should be the Batobus. This is a River-Boat Shuttle Service that takes you to the main attractions in the city by the river. There is not better way to see Paris than from the Seine. Plus, you will be able to use it as means of transportation to see the main sights, since the ticket lasts for the whole day and you can hop on- hop off in each station.
Wander around, take it easy and enjoy Paris like a true Parisian.