With an abundance of luxury hotels, pricy museums and Michelin star hotels, it is easy to assume that a holiday in Paris equals big bucks. While this can easily be the case, it doesn’t have to be. During my time living and holidaying in this delightful city I have learnt several cost saving strategies that have allowed me to enjoy the finer things Paris has to offer but at a much lower cost.
I am a firm believer that the best things in Paris are free, however, I know that it is easy to arrive with a Paris check list as long as your arm containing everything from photos next to the Mona Lisa to Champagne lunches in the Eiffel Towel. Alas, I have created a list of tips and tricks to help you achieve your dream Paris vacation without completely blowing your budget. My list is rather long so instead of boring you with one never-ending post, I will split it into 2 parts.
I’m going to admit something here- I’ve never stayed in a hostel, nor have I couch surfed. It doesn’t matter how little money I am traveling with, I always like to stay somewhere nice. I spend hours researching special rates, discount offers and comparing trip advisor reviews. Honestly, the time you put in researching will pay off. In the past, I’ve stayed in some really beautiful hotels at only a fraction of the cost. Remember, just because you are booking online doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate a better price. Don’t be afraid to email one online booking company and see if they can give you better deal than their competitor. Most of the time they will.
My second tip when finding accommodation is don’t limit your searches to hotels. It pays to look outside the box. Sites such as Air Bnb and House Trip allow you to rent actual French apartments giving you a much more realistic Parisian experience. Other sites such as BedandBreakfast.com, Home Away, and Paris Attitude, Allow you to rent anything from houseboats on the Seine to luxury apartments so close to the Eiffel Tower, you could touch it. This type of accommodation is incredible useful if you are travelling in a large group. It will be much cheaper to rent a large luxury apartment than rent a few individual rooms.
If you have been dreaming about a Michelin starred dinner, but you are unsure if your budget will allow it, rest assured that it is possible. It is significantly cheaper to go out for a three course lunch in Paris than it is a dinner, and it is even cheaper again if you go out for lunch during the week instead of the weekend. My advice here is, leave your extravagant dining experiences for weekday lunches and go to the more humble establishments for a light dinner. Take the beautiful restaurant Les Ombres for example, lunch Monday-Friday includes an entrée, main and dessert and is €34, whereas if you come for dinner it will be €68. Why pay double just to dine there in the evening?
If you’re not necessarily after silver service dining, but just some good quality, traditional French food, my advice is to avoid the touristy areas. This can be difficult as there are so many touristy areas, but as tempting as it may be to have dinner next to the Notre Dame or on the Champs-Elysées, remember that the quality of the food for the price you will pay is not justifiable.
Some of my favourite spots include:
- Marché des Enfants Rouge – This is such a great spot for affordable brunches, amazing Italian food and Marocain delicacies that are so good the line is out the door by 10am. They also have modern, organic French food; the best crepes in Paris (debatable); as well as plenty of fresh fruit and veg to take home to cook later. Make sure you click the link to check out their opening hours.
- Chez Gladines – Do you ever have those days where you can eat and eat and you’re still hungry? Well, if that’s the case, Chez Gladines is where you need to be. There is nothing fancy about this establishment and it really doesn’t need any embellishment. Chez Gladines specialises in traditional food from the Basque region of France – that means lots of chicken, praprika and capsicum and absolutely enormous servings!
- Le Chalet Savoyard – This isn’t as cheap as the two listed above, but I do think it should be a requirement on entering France that you try a restaurant Savoyard. Basically, this is a restaurant that specialised in food from the Savoy region of France (this is my favourite type of food). Think cheese, cheese and more cheese. My favourite thing from this restaurant is the raclatte. Basically it’s a large heat lamp that slowly melts a giant piece of cheese (it’s usually bigger than your head) onto a plate of potatoes and charcuterie…. It’s heaven!
- Pourquoi Pas – This translate to ‘why not’ and it’s exactly what I said the first time I walked past and contemplated entering. Looking back, I’m very happy we did as it is now one of my favourite spots for dinner. The food is traditional and great quality and what I really love about this restaurant is that it’s quite. I know that sounds like a strange reason to like a restaurant, but in a city of over ten million sometimes all you want is a quite dinner with good company where you are not jammed in like sardines trying not to overhear your neighbour’s conversation. Pourquoi pas gets an extra tick for their great value ‘menu’ options. ‘Menu’ in France doesn’t mean a piece of paper with a list of options and prices…. Well it does, but it also means ‘the special deal’. For example, the menu might say entrée or dessert + plat for 18€ and then underneath you will have a list of items. That means the total price is 18€. If you take the ‘menu’ you will usually save a lot of money.
- Coutume Café – This is such a great lunch time spot if you’re after some refreshing, modern French cuisine and an excellent coffee to seal the deal. The atmosphere is relaxed and there is somewhat of a hipster vibe without it being overly pretentious. This café was close to where I used to study so often I would drop by between classes and take the 14€ menu option. This generally included the soup of the day (always delicious!), the main dish and a coffee at the end.
- Passage Choiseul – This tucked away little passage was built in 1825 and while originally it contained a unique array of boutiques, it is now it predominately filled with small, three storey dining establishments that includes everything from Korean food to bagels. In general you can find yourself a good, cheap lunch or early dinner for between €7- €
To sum up my tips for eating out, eat at the finest restaurants during the week for lunch; always choose the ‘menu’ option, avoid touristy areas; and try some of my recommended restaurants. You should also note that great meals shouldn’t be restricted to restaurants. The quality of produce in France is like no other. If it’s a warm summer night why not get yourself a crispy baguette, some stinky cheese and bottle of wine and do as the French do and picnic by the Seine. Trust me, the view is unbeatable!
A Night at the Opera
This may not be on your initial list of things to do in Paris, but after seeing the exterior of the incredible Palais Garnier, I guarantee you will be filled with curiosity and wanting to explore the stunning rich velvet and gold interior. Tickets for the ballet or opera tend to be around the €100 mark, if not more. For those working with a strict budget, this may not be an option, but it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out.
What many people don’t realise is that last minute tickets can be purchased an hour before the show is due to start and they cost a measly €10! To get your hands on one of these tickets, you do have to be organised and reasonably patient. The first step is to access the Opera de Paris website, pick a performance you would like to see and take note of the starting time. At least 1.5- 2 hours before the show is due to commence, go the billetterie (ticket office) at the Palais Garnier and line up (the line is usually incredibly long). An hour before the show starts the billetterie will open and start selling discount tickets. Make sure you ask for a €10 ticket or they may try and sell you one of the unused season ticket-holder places for a very unreasonable price. To ask for the ticket in French you can say ‘bonjour/ bonsoir, je voudrais (une/deux, trois…) place(s) de €10 pour l’opera ce soir, s’il vous plait. And voilà, you have your ticket and away you go!
So, even if the opera isn’t quite your forte, look at this an excuse to frock up in your finest, get up close and personal with an extraordinary monument and take in a little French culture….all for €10.
Well readers, I hope this has helped you a little in planning dream Paris vacation. Part two will be up in the next couple of weeks and will include tips on how to avoid paying €8 for a café latté, avoiding museum and monument entry fees, and where to find the best free look out points in Paris. If there is any advice that you would like that I haven’t mentioned, just leave a message and I will be sure to include it in a future post!