Explore Paris on a budget
Save money and still enjoy Paris with our guide to visiting the French capital on a budget
Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world but don’t let that put you off visiting the French capital. Paul Lamarra decided to see if he could explore Paris on a budget of €100 (for two), including accommodation.
Finding cheap accommodation in Paris
On this particular trip, I was looking for something very cheap and I found on Airbnb a seventh-floor garret flat in the Latin Quarter that I immediately imagined was once home to an impoverished writer or artist. And it was only €65 per night. However, such was the bargain high-season price that water was not included: no shower, no washbasin and, crucially, no toilet. Artists and writers must have sacrificed personal hygiene for their craft. Thankfully, there was no need to resort to a chamber pot, because there was a WC at the end of the corridor shared by six other flats; you could buy drinking water and you got a kettle; and a public swimming pool was nearby for freshening up. Despite being in the centre of Paris, my flat (two floors beyond the lift) had a contemplative silence, with rooftop views of a floodlit Notre-Dame Cathedral that would have induced poetry even in the famously terse Ernest Hemingway or the misanthropic George Orwell – both survivors of the Paris garret.
Try a public swimming pool
As my flat had no shower, and certainly no hotel pool, I decided to try one of Paris’s public swimming pools – the Piscine Pontoise on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The Piscine Pontoise turned out to be a work of art and a historic monument. Its art deco architecture confirmed its 1930s origins. Its changing cubicles are arranged on all four sides and over two levels, and are unlocked for shivering swimmers by a pool attendant patrolling the open walkways. Its only rival in Paris is the Piscine Molitor, but that can be accessed only by guests of the attached five-star hotel, whereas the Piscine Pontoise charged €4.80 and it was full of Parisians fulfilling a daily ritual.
Museums don’t have to be expensive
A visit to Paris isn’t complete without a visit to a museum and the Marais has the highly recommended but often overlooked Musée Carnavalet, which best tells the story of the capital. A collection of evocative black and white pictures goes some way to conveying the life of the garret dwellers and the less-than-romantic figures who really occupied them. Admittance is €6 and for temporary exhibitions a donation of €5 is suggested.
Eating on a budget
The Marais is a great place to get lunch on a budget. I joined the queue at L’As du Fallafel, a kosher deli. The falafels were served through a hatch and overflowing with turkey, chicken, beef, sauces and chickpeas, which I carefully carried to the nearby Place des Vosges – Paris’s original planned square and a beautiful place to eat lunch. Evening entertainment and dinner would take more thought, so following the logic that east was cheapest I settled on La Bellevilloise, a co-operative restaurant and arts venue in the 20th arrondissement near Père Lachaise Cemetery, which can trace its origins back to the era following the radical Paris Commune of 1871. For the price of some French-style tapas I secured a table in the former workshop now known as the Halle aux Oliviers and had a good view of a young singer, Pauline Paris, performing traditional chansons that evoked life in the capital’s old working-class districts.
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Enjoy a glass of champagne with a spectacular view
Budget travellers deserve a treat, so why not enjoy a glass of champagne on the roof terrace of Printemps department store, which offers incredible views and more than a modicum of sophistication. The view is free, but a glass of champagne costs €11.
Go for a picnic is one of Paris’s parks
Authentic Paris need not be expensive if you follow the locals and have a picnic. Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement is lined with specialist food shops and only ten minutes’ walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg, where you can pull up a chair and dine like an aristocrat. Alternatively, buy some snacks from a Jewish deli in the Marais and head to the Place des Vosges.
Watch a film in the open-air cinema
A free open-air cinema in the Parc de la Villette on the north-eastern margins of the city runs most nights from mid-July to late August. Sitting on the grass is free while a transat deckchair costs €7. Save more by bringing along your own bottle.
Watch the sunset over Paris
The ultimate freebie is watching the sunset from the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre – for a romantic moment that you cannot put a price on. Turn up early to claim a good spot and to watch the street performers and puppet shows.
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