Financial Goals

Paris On a Budget: Your Definitive Travel Guide

photo: trixnbooze

Ah, Paris! The history, the architecture, restaurants, grand attractions and sites, and wonderful nightlife. A whole package, when it comes to travel.

But all that comes at a price that’s often too high. If you have your dreams set on a Paris trip, you should set your budget with planning and realistic expectations.

Deciding when to visit Paris can be part of the adventure. Spring and early summer are classic, busy times to visit, with gorgeous weather to explore parks and outdoor spaces.

Late fall and winter should not be overlooked, however, especially if your travel budget is tight: the crowds are reduced in popular museums and attractions, restaurant reservations are more attainable and lodging and transportation deals abound.

The city is divided into twenty arrondissements, or districts, arranged in a clockwise spiral, starting from the first arrondissement in the middle of the city on the north side of the Seine near the Louvre. Each arrondissement has a slightly different cultural flavor, as well as individual municipalities.

Lodging

As Pauline Frommer writes, “What’s a hotel primarily for? To sleep in.” Spending more money on a hotel in Paris can ensure a better location, but not necessarily better accommodations.

Finding a hotel in Paris can be a hefty task, with many choices and options. Narrowing down the desired arrondissements can help – the 4th (Marais), 5th (Latin Quartier) and 6th (Saint Germain-de-Pres) arrondissements are more desirable, touristy, and thus, more expensive. Expect to spend $200 to $1000 per room per night.

Hotels in the 7th and 3rd are less expensive, with many of the same benefits of the nearby, more expensive districts. Budget lodging options exist further from the center of the city, and run $100-$300 per room a night, but require more time and money spent traveling to attractions.

Start with Trip Advisor or Expedia, and read up on traveler reviews and recommendations to find lodging within your budget.

Vacation rentals, through Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), Paris Perfect and Paris Attitude, for example, are great for groups or families, with more space, kitchen facilities and central locations. Trusted rentals will always work with a contract, or travelers can work with a local agency to ensure a good rental experience. Expect to spend between $99-$500 per apartment a night, depending on location, size and amenities.

For really cheap sleeps, check out home-share options, including Couch Surfing, which ranks Paris as the top couch surfing city. Via this vast social network, connect with locals who provide hospitality and education about their home city.

Food

Eating in Paris is one of the great joys of visiting France. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little planning, eating well, and on budget, is definitely possible.

Most Parisians opt for a quick espresso on their way to work or daily errands – taking your coffee at the bar is much less expensive than table service. Small restaurants and hotels serve morning breakfast, usually a fresh pastry or bread roll with butter and jam, along with juice and coffee or tea, for 3-10 Euros. For more substantial morning meals, try Ladurée or Mariage Fréres, with delightful brunches ranging from 20-30 Euros.

Lunch is flexible, from sit-down lunches in small bars and brasseries, to takeaway falafel in the Marais, or even a picnic in Jardin de Tuileries. A well-stocked grocery store is a fun excursion and provides all the necessary items for a mid-day break. Farmer’s markets take place across the city every day of the week, and are also ideal spots for picking up fresh fruits, vegetables and baked goods. Budget 3-10 Euros for a creative picnic. Sit-down lunches are more expensive, 8-25 Euros.

A favorite budget trick in Paris, and many other destinations with excellent restaurants, is to have a big lunch and a small, picnic dinner. Often, lunch is less expensive in the same restaurant, and eating earlier in the day provides energy for afternoon sightseeing.

If eating in classy Parisian restaurants is part of the travel plan, research the restaurant online to gather ideas about proper budget amounts. Generally, expect to budget 50-100 Euros per person in 2- and 3-star restaurants in Paris, more with wine and desserts.

Transportation

From Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, several discount transportation options exist to travel to the city- the RER Train (8.40 Euros), with 6 stops at major train stations in Paris; or the Roissybus express bus (8.90 Euros), with two destinations in the city of Paris; and Air France operates two shuttle busses for passengers of any airline (13 Euros), with destinations in the western and eastern parts of the city.

Paris is a city made for walking, and the best way to get around is on foot. Bring a good pair of walking shoes, and depending on the season, pack a small umbrella in case of showers. Join one of the free city walks sponsored by Discover Walks, and explore some of the great districts of Paris.

If walking is not possible or practical, check out the bus and Metro lines for inexpensive, reliable transportation. Buy a carnet, 10 tickets for about 11 Euros, usable throughout the city on busses and Metro.

Only use a cab when absolutely necessary – charges can add up quickly. Count on 6 to 10 Euros a ride around Paris proper. From the airport, taxi trips are about 40 Euros, depending on the final destination.

Adventurous travelers, with compatible credit cards, can rent bicycles from Vélib’, at one of the many stands through the city. Enjoy a leisurely ride through the Marais, or perhaps ride across the city, visiting both the Right and Left Banks. 30 minute rentals start at 1 Euro.

Entertainment

Sightseeing and entertainment are the biggest expense when visiting Paris, but also the best reason to go!

Book tickets to the Eiffel Tower on line and save time. Visit in the early evening and enjoy the lights of Paris below.

Avoid an expensive city tour and take a local bus instead – for about 2 euros, take a street-side tour of the city.

Check out the Paris Museum Pass and find out if it makes sense – not only can it save time in long lines at the Musee D’Orsay, but less crowded, off-the-beaten-path museums are also included and can be just as interesting.

Paris boasts many free and inexpensive sightseeing options, including people watching in the Luxembourg Gardens and Place de Vosges, free summer concerts in the park, and evening walks along the Champs-Elysees, the world’s most famous promenade. Pick up a copy of Time Out Paris for weekly events and entertainment options.