Paris City Guide for Budget-Minded Travelers

If ever there were a European city that is on nearly everyone’s must-visit list, it is Paris, France. Known as the City of Light, Paris is synonymous with art, romance, and fashion. Creative minds flock to Paris and are drawn into its artsy neighborhoods like Montmartre and the Latin Quarter. Lovers descend on the City of Love for the romance that radiates through its streets. But don’t let this deter you if you’re traveling solo, as there is much more to Paris than art and love.

One thing is certain, Paris has some of the most visited landmarks in the world, like the iconic Eiffel Tower and the famous Louvre museum. It’s easy to get carried away in Paris, spending on one attraction after the next, even finding affordable accommodations can be daunting, so I’ve geared these tips for the budget-minded traveler, as half of the attractions and sights below are free!

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Paris City Guide
Photo © Stephanie Mayo

Getting to Paris

Paris is a very easy city to get to and get around. There are two airports (Charles de Gaulle and Orly), a variety of train stations all over the city that serves different destinations, as well as bus stations that also serve various destinations and are located at train stations for easy transport.

The main airport is Charles de Gaulle, the other is Orly (used with budget airlines) and both are approximately a 45-minute car or taxi ride from the city center. The cheapest way to get from the airport to the city is to take the RER train that runs from the airport to the city center and connects with the Paris Metro (subway).

The most common mode of transportation throughout Europe is by train, and Paris is a great city to arrive by train as there are plenty of stations right in the city center. The most popular stations include; Gare du Nord, Gard de L’Est and Gare de Lyon – all of which are connected to the metro system. If you are arriving from London, the easiest and fastest route (just 2 hours), is to take the Eurostar that goes from London’s St. Pancreas station to Paris’s Gare du Nord – which is right in the heart of Paris, in the 10th arrondissement.

If Paris is one of many stops you plan to make across Europe in a short amount of time, read our helpful guide to making the most of two weeks in Europe.
We can also help you decide whether or not to buy a Eurail Pass and help you use budget airlines to get around Europe

Tips for Paris

1. Save on food

The French are known for their delicious food, from fine dining to mouth-watering desserts. And while you may want to indulge a bit at a couple of nice restaurants during your visit to Paris, food doesn’t have to cost a lot. Picnics are a staple in Paris and a stop into a bakery for a fresh baguette and to one of the city’s grocery stores, Franprix or Monoprix, for a cheap bottle of wine and some meats and/or cheeses can all be had for under €10. Also, if you’re staying at an Airbnb or hotel with kitchenette, consider checking Google for the nearest grocery store to where you’re staying to buy food to make and dine in.

Click here to save $55 on your first Airbnb stay.

2. Save on transport

Paris is a very walkable city with many of the popular attractions located along the Seine. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes, as you’ll be on your feet exploring for most of the day and night! Paris also has a great and efficient Metro system (subway) to help you get around the city easily and quickly. If you’re in Paris for a few days and plan on using the metro at least 10 times, be sure to purchase a book of 10 metro tickets, called a carnet (pronounced ‘kar-ney’), available at any metro station, as it will save you money. There are also two free apps to help you maneuver Paris and its metro: Paris Metro Map & Route Planner and Visit Paris By Metro.

3. Save on admission

Paris can be expensive with tons of museums, attractions and everything else. But, there are also many free museums including; Maison de Balzac, Maison Victor Hugo, and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Many of Paris’s famous churches are also free entry including Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur. If you time your visit to Paris right, you can even enjoy free admission to some attractions on the first Sunday of the month, or free admission to some places if you’re under 26 years of age or if you if you visit late in the day.

For those attractions that aren’t free, download the Whym app for discounted rates on attractions that you can book last minute, right from your phone. The Whym app is available for London and Paris, and you can find it on the App Store or Google Play.

Louvre Paris
Louvre | Photo © Stephanie Mayo

4. Best Views in Paris

Paris has one of the most recognizable and noteworthy skylines in Europe with the iconic Eiffel Tower standing center stage. The following are some places to find those postcard-worthy views of Paris: from the top floor of the Galeries Lafayette, from the steps of Sacré Coeur, through the famous see-through clock in the Musée d’Orsay, from the top of Notre Dame and of course from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

5. Say it in French

This is a tip for any time you are visiting a foreign country where they speak another language: it is always best to learn a few words and phrases to help you get by. This will also encourage you to speak with locals, and believe me, they will appreciate it. A great free app for learning new languages is Duolingo, it will take you through the basics from phrases to numbers and the more you use it the more advanced you can get.

Or you can study abroad in France as Jackie did!
Related: Why (and How) You Should Learn a Foreign Language

10 Things to do in Paris

1. Eiffel Tower

Built for the World’s Fair in 1889, the Eiffel Tower has become the icon of Paris, if not, France. Dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’, she stands over 1,000 feet high over the Parc du Champ de Mars and is Paris’s most visited attraction. You can climb all 1665 steps to the top or take the lift for 360-degree views of beautiful Paris. If you do plan on ascending, consider booking tickets online in advance to avoid the long queues (on average 25,000 people visit every day!). The tower can best be seen at night when it lights up and even sparkles like a giant towering diamond for 5 minutes every hour on the hour.

Metro stops: Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel, Bir-Hakeim or Ecole Militaire

2. Notre Dame

Notre Dame is one of those places where you are just enveloped into its history and wonder as soon as you enter through its grand doors. Opened in 1345, after it took nearly 200 years to build, the Notre Dame is a must visit while in Paris, and, it’s free! Though it does cost to ascend its narrow, spiral staircase, up nearly 400 stairs through its tower to the top, you will be rewarded with my favorite vantage point over Paris, among the gargoyles who watch over the city. After a visit within its candle-lit darkness to see its awesomeness and beautiful stain glass windows and ascending to see its famous bell (Emmanuel) and taking in the views, be sure to wander around behind the building for more fantastic views of its architecture and pretty, petite park.

Metro stops: Cité, St. Michel Notre Dame
Other notable churches to visit: Sacré Coeur, St. Sulpice and Sainte-Chapelle.

Notre Dame Paris
Notre Dame | Photo © Stephanie Mayo

3. Louvre

I once heard that if you were to spend one minute in front of every piece of art in the Louvre it would take you weeks to see them all. That is how massive its collection is, and that’s just to see the collection, not including its grandiose architecture and stunning painted ceilings. The Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums and was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century. It has been extended and built upon for centuries and was a palace before it became a museum in 1793. Some famous pieces include Venus de Milo, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Large Sphinx and my favorite, the Greek winged goddess of Victory, Nike of Samothrace, who stands center stage in the grand stairwell.

Note: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
Metro stop: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre
Other museums that are worth a visit are Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin, and Maison Victor Hugo.

4. Explore Paris’ Parks

One of the most Parisian things to do on a nice day is to sit back and relax in one of Paris’ over 400 amazing parks and gardens. Whether you take a picnic, sit and soak up the sun, or wander their paths exploring, Paris has some of the best parks in Europe. There is something for everyone, from Jardin des Plantes – home to botanical gardens, a museum, and a zoo, to La Promenade-Plantée, which was built on an old railway line. Some of the famous parks include Parc du Champ-du-Mars – located beneath the Eiffel Tower, Jardin des Tuileries – running along the Seine from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde, and Jardin du Luxemburg in the 6th arrondissement, home to the Medici Fountain. Other parks you should check out are Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement where you’ll find a beautiful lake, temple, waterfalls, and grottos, and my favorite, Parc Monceau, which is popular with locals and home to a classical Roman colonnade, an Egyptian pyramid, and more treasures. A day in a Parisian park is always a good idea!

Paris Parks
Jardin des Plantes | Photo © Stephanie Mayo

5. Catacombs

Created in the 18th century from overflowing cemeteries, the Catacombs of Paris have been called ‘The World’s Largest Grave’, with the bones of millions and a length of 186 miles. A visit to the Catacombs just might surprise you. As you descend 19 meters below the streets of Paris, you are welcomed by the dark and dampness that lurks below. Wandering the dimly lit paths with row on row of bones, you’ll notice how they are expertly placed and at times even appearing as a work of art.

Note: the Catacombs are closed on Mondays, and to avoid long queues in the summer months, either arrive before opening or go later in the day.

Metro stop: Denfert-Rochereau

6. Père Lachaise Cemetery

While it may seem odd or macabre to visit a cemetery, Père Lachaise Cemetery is actually a beautiful place to wander and pay your respects to some of the world’s greatest artists. Père Lachaise Cemetery, located in Paris’s 11th arrondissement, is the world’s most visited cemetery, thanks to those who now rest there. Some of the most famous of graves are Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, and Edith Piaf. A stroll along its tree-lined avenues and past stunning tombs will reward you with a haunting beauty only Paris can give.

Metro stops: Alexandre Dumas and Philippe Auguste

7. Attend a FREE Fashion Show

Paris is known for being a forward-thinking city and very chic city when it comes to fashion. So, when in the city of haute couture, why not take in a fashion show – a free one, at that! Every Friday at 3 pm on the 4th floor of the glorious shopping center, Galeries Lafayette, there is a free fashion show where you’ll see the latest trends in the fashion capital. If you plan on attending, it is by reservation only, so be sure to send them an email as soon as possible. (fashionshow@galerieslafayette.com)
Metro stop: Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette

8. Café Culture

If there were ever a place to immerse yourself in Parisian culture, it would be in one of Paris’ over 9,000 open terraced cafés and bars. The best place to sit in a Paris café is always outside, surrounded by the bustle of life in the streets. Cafés are the center of the Parisian social scene, making them great places to sit back and enjoy the people watching. Be aware that the server will not rush you out by giving you your bill within minutes like in North America. In Europe, be prepared to sit awhile and enjoy your café experience, and when you’re ready to go, you’ll have to ask for the bill. Some famous cafés include: Café de la Paix, Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, Café de la Rotonde and one of the oldest is Café Procope, which opened in 1686. Many of these cafés were once frequented by famous artists like Hemingway, Picasso, James Joyce and many more, and because so have become attractions themselves that come at a price.

Cafe culture Paris
Café de Flore | Photo © Stephanie Mayo

9. Stroll the Seine

The banks of the Seine are a UNESCO site, and a stroll along this beloved waterway is a must for any visit to Paris. It doesn’t matter if you go by day or by night when the City of Lights is aglow. Not only do many of Paris’s landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre and many more, lie along the banks of the Seine in central Paris, but there are plenty of beautiful bridges. There are over 30 crossing the river. Some worth checking out are Pont des Arts and the oldest, Pont Neuf. One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to browse the bouquinistes. Bouquinistes are stalls set up along nearly two miles of the Seine, selling everything from souvenirs to antiques and used books to paintings. These stalls have been around since the 16th century, and if you are willing to haggle, you can find some unique and cheap souvenirs and gifts among their wares.

Seine shops Paris
Photo © Stephanie Mayo

10. Go to the Opera

Whether you simply take a tour of Palais Garnier or opt for a fabulous night out and attend a performance, a visit to Paris’ grand opera house is a must. The Palais Garnier is probably the most famous opera in the world due to it being the inspiration and setting for the classic Phantom of the Opera novel. A tour of the breathtaking interior starts at €7, or if you’re feeling like indulging, a ticket for a performance is roughly €100, with occasional tickets being sold online for €50.
Metro stops: Opéra or Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette
Want to see more than just Paris while you’re there? Read our budget guide to Southern France including tips for Nice, Aix-en-Provence, and Avignon.

Where to stay in Paris

Budget – 3 Ducks Boutique Hostel

Located in the 15th arrondissement and a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, the 3 Ducks Boutique Hostel is a great option for hostel accommodation. This funky hostel offers modern rooms, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, free maps, plus a picturesque outdoor terrace with a bar all in one of Paris’s historic buildings. Rates for dorm rooms start around €30/per person but you can also book a twin room with private ensuite for €90/room if you’re looking for privacy but still want the social atmosphere of a hostel.

Budget – Mid-Range – Mary’s Hotel

Located in the fun and vibrant 11th arrondissement, and a 5-minute walk from plenty of trendy bars and restaurants, Mary’s Hotel is a fantastic option for budget travelers that aren’t looking for the hostel life. Mary’s Hotel has helpful staff, breakfast available, free Wi-Fi, clean, modern rooms and is steps away from the metro. For travelers on a longer trip, there is also a laundromat around the corner on the Boulevard Voltaire. Rates start at €45 for a single room with private ensuite to €135 for a quad, which is a great rate for Paris and good for a group of friends or a family.

By Stephanie Mayo