Not always cheap, but Paris is always a good idea

November 18, 2010 in Europe,France,Places

Paris is always a good idea. While that was Audrey Hepburn’s opinion, I’d have to say I agree. Paris is a city that captures the heart of Francophiles and Franco-wary alike, with its iconic architecture, world-famous gastronomy and unbelievably fashionable women. Despite its status as one of Europe’s most sophisticated capitals, it’s still possible to enjoy all that Paris has to offer without blowing your budget.

IMG_1808

If you’re under 26 (or kept hold of your university ID card), you’re particularly lucky. Don’t hesitate to ask for a jeune or étudiant discount at museums, landmarks and movie theatres. If you’re under 26 and a European citizen, it’s often free!

Travel like the locals: Buy a carnet of 10 tickets to travel on the Metro or the bus system. While many prefer the buses of Paris—the argument is that you actually see the city, instead of just an underground tunnel—I’m quite partial to the Metro. I think it’s an easy system to figure out and you can barely walk two blocks without seeing a station. Plus, Paris is much more walkable than most people realize–if the weather’s nice, don’t hesitate to wander. That’s how I’ve discovered some of my favorite streets in Paris!

IMG_1752

Take a load off: If the weather’s nice—which, admittedly, isn’t always the case in Paris—grab a book and head to the Jardin du Luxumbourg or the Jardin des Tuileries. Grab an iconic green chair, watch the motorized miniature sailboats in the pond, or simply soak up the sunshine. Head up to Sacre Coeur to enjoy an unparalleled view of the city on a clear day, with the background noise of talented street musicians.

Eat on the street: I think that L’As du Falafel is simply the best street food in Paris—if you order from the outside window, a special falafel is only 5 Euros (and with a solid helping of veggies, it’s a full meal). However, I fell in love with crepes on my first trip to Paris and they’re still my go-to for a cheap meal. Don’t miss Au Petit Grec on Rue Mouffetard for a delicious savory crepe, with plenty more options than just the traditional ham and cheese. You can’t go wrong with a Nutella crepe at any street vendor—just add a banana, and you have a serving of fruit, too!

IMG_1960

A coffee and a view, please: Grab one of those teeny-tiny tables on a brasserie terrace for the best people-watching view. No matter whether you order an espresso or a whole meal, you’ll be allowed to linger at the table as long as you want. I love the secret courtyard at Café Contrescarpe for something more relaxing, and splurging on an espresso on the Champs-Elysée to gawk at tourists and Parisians alike. For a truly kitsch experience, don’t miss Les Deux Moulins, the café where Amelie famously worked in Montmartre.

Cover the tourist bases: Head up the Arc de Triomphe instead of the Eiffel Tower for an amazing view of the city. The lines are shorter, it’s a lot cheaper and you actually get to see the Eiffel Tower—the Paris skyline just isn’t the same without its most famous landmark. Bring a picnic and a bottle of wine to enjoy on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower—there are plenty of Chinese takeout places in the neighborhood if you’re craving something other than bread and cheese.

IMG_1180

Get some culture: There is no shortage of museums in Paris. My personal favorite is the Pompidou Center: awesome modern art that makes you think, exciting temporary exhibits and fun street performers outside. The building’s crazy cool architecture and extensive bookshop is an added plus. Don’t miss the most famous art in the world at the Louvre Museum, the impressionist classics at the Orsay Museum and the floor-to-ceiling water lilies at the Orangerie Museum. There’s also the Museum of the Hunt and Nature for some unexpectedly pleasing taxidermy.

Be social: If you want to mingle, head to a Jim Haynes dinner on a Sunday evening. Held in the writer’s courtyard garden, the three-course meal (for a suggested donation of 25 Euros) attracts people from all over the world. The host (best known for his appearances in After Eight commercials) is remarkable at remembering people’s names, making you feel welcome and setting up a conversation with someone with similar interests.

IMG_1260

Wander lust: Take a stroll through Père Lachaise, and find the most important names in French history (and in the case of Jim Morrison, American rock and roll culture). Wander through the medieval streets of the Marais, which are now dotted with vintage shops, gay bars and the best falafel in town. Window shop in the luxurious Sixth before resting your feet and soaking up the intellectual inspiration at Les Deux Magots, where Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso used to trade ideas with friends. There are plenty of off-the-beaten-path alleyways, art galleries and independent clothing stores in Montmartre to make a walk interesting.

Mostly, just soak up the inspiring beauty of the City of Lights. While Paris is a moveable feast, it’s a feeling that can’t be recreated anywhere.

  • Great tips. I’d add –

    # Leave your worries of getting lost at the hotel! Wander around with your spiral bound copy of Michelin Paris Par Arrondissements and a keen sense of curiosity and adventure.

    # Head to the Louvre on a Wednesday or Friday night after 6PM when it stays open until 10PM, the crowds have thinned, and it costs less, to boot.

    # Catch a sunrise at La Tour Eiffel (tout seul) and then, later, share a sunset with the hordes

    # Repeat with Sacre Coeur

    # And again with the Place des Vosges

    # Hot and sweet mint tea at the Grande Mosquée de Paris and a meal fit for a sultan, inside

  • I always make the same suggestion about going up the Arc de Triomphe instead of the Eiffel Tower. Plus it’s free to go up the first Sunday of every month. When I studied in Paris I went up on Sunday during the day and the next month at night! The night trip was at Christmastime to boot. Can’t beat seeing the Champs d’Elysee all twinkling with Christmas lights!

  • I love popping into a boulangerie for a breakfast croissant in the morning. Secretly I confess to usually buying a macaron for morning tea too…

    Paris is definitely a great city to walk around, my favourite chance discovery was Rue Mouffetard in Latin Quarter which was only a couple of minutes from my hotel. It is a quaint street which has traditional vendors selling cheese, wines, chocolates and gorgeous little boutiques as well.

  • P.S. And the Tour Montparnasse. Have you been up for the view there? Whoa. Now that is Paris from on high! I went for the first time this April. It was crazy. There were kids up there in bikini tops and short-shorts, tanning. I’d go again for sure, and at different times of day for different light/effect.

    http://www.tourmontparnasse56.com/uk/

  • When we went to Paris, we totally bought a bottle of wine, grabbed some cheap food and sat for hours under the tower. It was cold (so I always tell people to bring blankets!) but one of the most wonderfully romantic nights ever. ahh… paris.

  • Anonymous

    Great tips! One time when I was in Paris, I never took a map and just sorted myself out whenever I saw a Metro stop (with those neighborhood maps). It was so much more fun that way!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I haven’t been up at night yet! What a great tip–especially around Christmastime!

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t been–I like the idea of tanning there on the rare sunny day in Paris, though!

  • Anonymous

    I stayed on Rue Mouffetard my last time in Paris–while I hated the hostel, I loved the area! There are a lot of great food shops on the street, like Au Petit Grec!

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it just the most romantic thing? In summer, you can’t beat it!

  • What gorgeous pics! I really need to return to Paris again…

  • Ah so many memories from just months ago. I spent an entire morning at the cemetery just looking at the tomb stones and finding Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.

  • Anonymous

    Merci! I miss it already!

  • Anonymous

    We couldn’t find Oscar Wilde this time–and we went right before closing! Next time, he’s first on my list!

  • I always love Paris, but this post makes me miss it even more! And with such beautiful photos! Ah….someday I’ll return.

    Now, how about you, lady? Coming to Chiang Mai? I really think it’s a perfect place for you!

  • We made the mistake of not taking a cemetery map along with us. We walked for hours before finding Morrison, Wilde and Collette, but not the others. Was a fantastic afternoon nonetheless.

  • Anonymous

    I’m shooting you an email now re: Thailand! Even though I adore Paris (as shown), I think I’m ready for a change 🙂

  • Anonymous

    We showed up a half hour before closing, so couldn’t wander as much as we wanted. And we almost got locked in!!!

  • Anonymous

    I left the City of Lights less than thrilled primarily because I was there on a strict budget; tough city to do on the cheap as a backpacker, yet these tips will certainly help.

    I especially like the idea of seeing the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe.

    Excellent photos as always!

  • I love Paris. I managed to stay in pretty affordable hostel so I could explore the city for a whole week.
    Nice post and awesome pictures!

  • That’s a great idea, too!

  • Anonymous

    It’s certainly not the cheapest city in the world, but I’ve found that I mostly enjoy just wandering around the city and soaking up its charm (which is totally free!). There are some great budget food options if you know where to look–if you ever return, let me know and I’ll hook it up 🙂

  • A great post Christine! I did almost all of these when in Paris. I think walking around is such a great way to experience this beautiful city. And picnics under the Eiffel tower are just a beautiful way to spend an evening.
    I was incredibly lucky that my brother’s ex-fiance is a Parisian, whose family lives a block away from the Eiffel Tower. Every time I went, I stayed with her family who thoroughly spolied me and of course she was a great personal tour guide of the city.

  • Anonymous

    How lucky! Paris is ALWAYS better if you’re with someone who speaks the language and knows the ins and outs of the city. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Paris by my fluent-in-French mom, and all my friends who have visited it with me have always loved it. The ones who didn’t speak a lick of French weren’t quite as enthralled 🙂
    My parents just flew over to Paris today–I’m so jealous! Already dying to go back, even though I left France just a few months ago 🙂

  • Love the tips you have for Paris. Like you, I really enjoy the Metro there and it’s a great system for getting around. I have spent hours in the Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s a great place to people watch! There are some fabulous ways to spend time in Paris without it being expensive. The Louvre by itself could take days! Also, Paris has a museum pass which can also be a great way to save money.

  • Anonymous

    I think that Paris offers good value for what you spend. For example, museum admissions aren’t outrageous and you can spend the entire day in one, including all the constantly changing and exciting exhibits. I also adore the green spaces: I could spend all day reading a book in the sunshine and people watching (granted, this only works in summer!). Glad that you love the Metro as much as I do!

  • Pingback: Melbourne: a city to live in | C'est Christine()

  • You speak the truth!  It certainly can be done cheaply if you know how, and posts like yours will help people a lot! Wandering was definitely the key for me, money-wise and enjoyment-wise, and when you get tired, then jump on a metro. A beautiful post for a beautiful place.

  • Anonymous

    So glad a fellow Paris lover has discovered my blog! I’m enduring quite a bout of Paris envy at the moment–must get back soon 🙂

  • I’m so glad to discover someone who knows Paris as intimately (if not more!) as I do! I miss it so much, its only across the water for me but I still haven’t made it back for too long!

  • Anonymous

    Ahhh so jealous–it’s SO far away from me! Take advantage of the Eurostar!

  • Pingback: Best ways to work, play and stay in France | C'est Christine()

  • Hi Christine, love this post! I’ll be house-sitting in St Germain this autumn for two months and you’ve given me loads of ideas of things to do while I’m out there. Am looking forward to wandering around, getting lost and seeing what I come across.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoy! What a great gig–I love the St Germain neighborhood! Lots of wonderful little streets to wander.

Previous post:

Next post: