With its gilded statues, immaculately manicured gardens, and world-renown cuisine, Paris is indisputably expensive.
When you factor in a week's stay in a hotel, dining out for meals, museum tickets, Métro passes, a boat cruise on the Seine and the obligatory Ladurée visit, you’ve got yourself a bill for a few thousand dollars (and that’s without traveling as a family).
Francophiles everywhere needn’t despair, however, with these resources you’ll be gallivanting around Paris, money in pocket, in no time.
Booking Your Trip
The days when reserving trips with a travel agent or booking flights directly through an airline were the only options for preparing for a trip are long behind us. TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Travelocity put the control in our hands and revolutionized the way we travel. But their interfaces can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Now, finding affordable flights to Paris or any other city in the world is made easier with comparison sites like Kayak.com, Skyscanner.com and one of the newest, Hipmunk.com which recently helped me scour the web for the cheapest direct flight to Philadelphia for my forthcoming trip.
Another great site is Yapta.com which tracks airline prices for your desired flight and sends you email alerts when the price drops below a certain amount or within your designated budget. If the flight drops further after you’ve booked, Yapta sends you an alert when you can claim a refund/voucher for the price difference.
Of course, the easiest way to land a deal is to have flexible travel dates. Coming to Paris mid-summer isn’t ideal anyway so sign up for alerts on Kayak.com or Airfarewatchdog.com and take advantage of an off-season offer; the amount you save on the flight is money you could put toward a chocolate walk of Paris with Context Travel or a cooking class at La Cuisine Paris.
Where to Sleep
I’m a firm believer that time spent in a Paris hotel should be kept to a minimum, especially if it’s your first or second visit. There is too much to see and do to be concerned with how much room you have to lay out all the impractical shoes you brought. However, I can understand that for seasoned visitors and longer stays an additional level of comfort is necessary. Such comfort can easily be found in a short-term rental apartment which includes a kitchen – all the more reason to hit the open-air markets over the city to shop for fresh products to prepare an at-home meal. A number of companies propose a curated collection of furnished apartments in different arrondissements and cater to a wide range of budgets.
Launched in 2003, Haven in Paris offers a selection of studios, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments all over the city (in addition to a few apartments in Provence and Tuscany) ranging from 625€ to 5800€/week and pride themselves on attentive service and immeasurable professionalism. Other services include Perfectly Paris, specializing in Montmartre rentals, Paris Perfect, New York Habitat and Paris Studios.
Riding the trend of social lodging, Airbnb, a self-policed community marketplace where users can list or rent spaces, has proven to be an incredible resource for international travelers looking for a good deal. You can choose to rent a room in someone’s home and have a more social experience or opt for an apartment or home to have for yourself; for the weekend or for up to a month. In just two years, Airbnb has expanded their marketplace worldwide and is now present in over 8,000 cities and over 160 countries. Renting from this rapidly-evolving community might mean spending a week in a centrally located Paris flat for hundreds less than an equivalent space and location in a hotel.
While the apartments up for grabs are not vetted, travelers do not seem deterred. Many of my friends have used their service and been pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the process was, from booking online and dialoguing with the seller to picking up the keys on the day of arrival. Catherine Mangosing explained its appeal, "it's always more interesting to stay in places that have you living like a local - no matter where you travel to in the world".
For more adventurous types, apartment swaps can offer a cost-effective alternative to hotels as well as Couchsurfing which is free-of-charge but offers little protection against unwanted surprises and cancellations. The possibilities are endless if you’re willing to forgo room service and housekeeping.
Getting Around/Seeing the City
Transportation within the city is probably the least expensive element to any Paris stay. Whether you visit in the warmer or colder months, hopping between sites is almost entirely feasible by foot. But if that’s not your style, Paris’ public transportation systems is one of the most efficient in the world. Buying a week pass vs. individual tickets with each trip will save you money and I recommend taking the bus when possible for scenic views of the city (lines 28, 63, 84, 92, and parts of 96).
If you have a smart card (a chip-and-PIN credit card), you can get daily (1€) or weekly (5€) passes on Vélib
, Paris’ bike rental service with over 1200 stations but if not, consider a bike tour of the city. Fat Tire Bike Tours
is the largest city bicycle company in Europe and have been offering tours since 1999 while New Paris Tours
, which is known for their free walking tours, began offering 2 hour bike tours in English only a couple of years ago. If you’re interested in seeing a lot of the city quickly and inexpensively and don’t mind being pegged as a tourist from afar, these tours can be a fun change of pace.
Where to eat
While it may be challenging to dine out for all meals and stay within a tight budget, it isn’t impossible. Paris is host to a variety of open-air markets twice a week all over the city. Beginning early in the morning and closing up by 2pm, you’ll find fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, dairy producers, butchers, and florists. Fresh fruit from the market and a stop in any corner bakery for a croissant or baguette, and you’ve got yourself breakfast under 5€. A quick visit to the supermarket could provide the essentials for an afternoon picnic along the Seine or in Luxembourg Gardens.
Some of the most affordable lunch (or dinner) fare outside bakery doors is located in the heart of the Marais’ Jewish quarter. On rue des Rosiers you’ll have your pick of authentic falafel restaurants (a must whether you’re on a budget or not), Jewish bakeries (Challah!) and a modern Jewish deli right off Rosiers on rue des Ecouffes. While most people have an almost religious allegiance to L’As du Falafel (where Lenny Kravitz has been known to enjoy a sandwich or two), my vote goes to Chez Marianne, a matter of mere preference. If you combine some of the cheaper eats with the sit-down meals at places like Les Cocottes, Pomze, Le Chateaubriand, Au Bourguignon du Marais, and Frenchie you should be able to eat affordably during your stay.
Paris doesn’t have to be about Zagats ratings and luxury shopping -some of the most memorable experiences in this city can be created on a 20€ bill or less. You just have to get out there!
Other lodging resources: HomeAway, HomeExchange, HomeLink, Crashpadder
Lindsey Tramuta is a home & culture columnist for BitchBuzz and the creator of Lost In Cheeseland where she writes about food, love, life and obstacles in Paris. Follow her on twitter @LostNCheeseland.
Photo 1 courtesy of Pedrosimoes7
Photo 2 screenshot of Haveninparis.com
Photo 3 screenshot of Airbnb.com
Photo 4 courtesy of Aschaf