Last Updated on 7th January 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Paris is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, if not the world. And don’t I know it. My friend once ordered a vodka and coke in the 15e arrondissement… it cost her €15. If you want to use the toilet near a certain famous museum, you’ll have to cough up €1.50. And no, unfortunately, neither of these statements is an exaggeration! But while Paris may be pricey, you can still do Paris on a budget! Here’s how:
Watch the Sunrise at Trocadéro
Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, you definitely should make sure to catch at least sunrise or sunset while in Paris, making an extra effort to head to the Seine for sunset. After all, the only thing more magical than seeing the Eiffel tower is seeing the Eiffel Tower surrounded by a candy coloured sky.
Hint: If you go to the Trocadéro for sunrise during the weekend, you’ll be pretty much alone. Parisians lie in. Sunset is another matter altogether. Just make sure to bring your camera along and have plenty of space left on your memory card- you’re going to want to snap plenty of photos!
Go vintage shopping at the Marché aux Puces
The largest flea market in the world is based in St-Ouen, to the North of Paris. In total, the Marché Aux Puces (literally translated into English as ‘flea market’) consists of 14 markets; all carrying goods of varying time periods and styles. As such, it’s possible to find everything from dishes, to armchairs, to vintage clothing.
For example, I picked up a vintage postcard from when the Eiffel Tower was still the tallest man-made structure in the World for just €1! If you’re looking to pick up vintage postcards for a low cost, then I highly recommend also heading to the Passage des Panoramas and checking out Prins Patrick. Once there, you’ll find authentic postcards for as little as €2 each!
Explore the secret side of Montmartre
Of all Parisian arrondissements, the 18e district is that which has maintained its village vibe the best. So if you’re looking to experience Paris on a budget, then whisk your way up to the top of the Butte (fancy french word for ‘hill’) and see the iconic places which make Montmartre a dream destination.
Wander around the cobbled lanes, soak up some history, and perhaps even purchase yourself a crêpe or ice cream from one of the many vendors dotted around the district. Wondering what else to see while there? Here’s a quick guide to the best secret spots in Montmartre!
Wander along Canal St Martin
Canal Saint-Martin is over 4 km long and was commissioned by Napoleon I in the early 1800s. It’s the perfect place to go cycling, walking, running or jogging and where all the locals hang out. As it’s slightly off the beaten tourist track (as opposed to the shops, cafés, and restaurants along the River Seine), prices are marginally lower to reflect the fact.
Highlights of the Canal include shopping in the many boutiques which line its two banks, as well as searching for street art (Miss Tic’s work can be found throughout the city but there’s plenty here in the 10e arrondissement), and eating some delicious vegan and reasonably priced food at Tien Hiang (14 Rue Bichat).
Picnic in Jardin du Luxembourg
Situated in the 6e arrondissement, the Palais du Luxembourg was built in the 17th Century for Marie de’ Medici. Today, while the Palais still stands, the gardens are free to visit. They are the perfect place for a Parisian picnic. So what are you waiting for? Pick up some Paris picnic essentials (bread, cheese, wine!) and head to the 6th arrondissement.
If you want to slash costs while in the City of Love, then take yourself to one of the many parks in Paris, pick up some picnic supplies from a supermarket and save on the cost of a restaurant by enjoying your food en plein air! Another cheap eat in the city can be found in the form of L’As du Fallafel, a takeaway sandwich falaffel on Rue des Rosiers!
Visit the cemetery of Père Lachaise
I don’t know what it is about cemeteries in Paris, but they are something of a major touristic attraction. The most famous, as well as largest, of Parisian graveyards and cemeteries, is that of Père Lachaise, a leafy cemetery in the 20e arrondissement of the city.
Once there, you can see the final resting place of fated middle ages lovers Abelard and Heloïse, author Oscar Wilde, and iconic singer-songwriter Edith Piaf. Other interesting cemeteries in the city include the Montmartre Cimetière du Calvaire (which is only open one day a year) and the cemetery at Montparnasse.
Lick some windows around Le Marais
No, I don’t mean literally. Window shopping is ‘vitrine lèche’ (window licking in French). Le Marais is full of little friperie shops and independent boutiques. The narrow roads date back centuries and are one of the only parts of the city to have escaped the dramatic Hausmmannian overhaul of architecture in the 1800s.
As a result, the winding maze of alleyways that form Le Marais are littered with tiny independent boutiques, cafés, bars, and shops selling a mass of luxury goods ranging from Roman glass to limited edition prints to gelato. It’s possible to spend an entire day meandering through the little side streets, walkways and arcades that form Le Marais. While there, make sure to check out Place des Vosges, a beautiful brick façaded park.
Visit some of the best bookshops in Paris
If you’re an anglophone, you love reading, and you love old things, you’re sure to love Shakespeare and Co. Founded in 1919, Shakespeare and Co. actually comprises of two neighbouring bookstores; one for antiquarian books, the other for more modern editions.
A little way down the street, towards the oldest tree in Paris and Square René Viviani, Shakespeare and Co. also run a quaint coffee shop overlooking the Seine. Nearby, the Abbey Bookshop is lesser-known than its more famous counterpart but also well worth a wander around. Think: all the coffee and books stacked from floor to ceiling!
First free Sunday of every month (Museums & Art Galleries)
On the first Sunday of every month, many Parisian monuments and museums are free for everyone to visit. Of all the ways to tackle Paris on a budget, this is probably one of the best! After all, since 2000 all of the museums in the French capital are free to visit (with the exception of the Grand Palais).
Some of my favourite small museums in the city include Musée Jacquemart-André and the Musée de Montmartre. A complete guide to free museums in Paris, be it on the first Sunday of the month, or on other occasions, can be found on the Paris Tourist Information website here.
Take yourself on a self-guided tour of Île de la Cité
If you truly want to soak up some history and experience a side of Paris that many never get to see (even in the most touristic of areas), then you simply must take yourself on a self-guided walking tour of old and vintage Paris. Along the way you’ll see gems like Sainte Chapelle and varying Seine viewpoints.
Best attempted on a sunny day when the weather is warm and when you won’t have to duck inside every storefront to hide from the rain, highlights of Île de La Cité and its surrounds include Notre Dame and Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole (i.e. the cutest café in Paris!) For more attractions in the arrondissement, check out this guide to the best secret spots in Ile de la Cite.
Book your Paris accommodation well in advance
While Paris is a notoriously expensive city (though there are plenty of ways to save money if you’re creative), the biggest expense during your time in the city is probably going to be your hotel/ guesthouse/ hostel. As such, in order to ensure the best rate, I recommend booking well ahead of time. Check rates and availability for the best hotels in Paris here.
When planning your stay, be sure to book a visit in the centre of the city. Many people mistakenly believe that it would be better to book your accommodation outside of the city centre, but believe me when I say that that would be your first mistake. Instead, take a look at this Paris arrondissements guide to decide where in the city you would like to stay.