Not always cheap, but Paris is always a good idea
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.