With the cost of living on everyone’s minds, follow these top tips to enjoying Paris while saving money on your trip to France
Visit a museum for free
Fancy soaking up some culture at one of the capital’s world-famous museums? Well, the good news is that you can do so without spending a cent. For a start, many of the museums offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month, including such cultural behemoths as the Musée d’Orsay, the Pompidou Centre and the Picasso Museum.
Even better, several others have free admission all year-round, including the Musée Carnavalet, the Petit Palais and the Musée de la Vie Romantique. Just be aware that pre-booking is sometimes required – and the temporary exhibitions often have an entrance fee.
See the Eiffel Tower sparkle
One of the great joys of being in Paris is the sense of anticipation as your watch edges closer to the hour and the Eiffel Tower suddenly lights up like a giant Christmas tree. Seeing the wrought-iron structure illuminated by some 20,000 twinkling light bulbs is quite something. Among the best places to watch the magic are the wide-open plaza at Trocadéro, the roof terrace of Galeries Lafayette or, for a nicely-framed street view, looking along Rue Saint-Dominique. The light show takes place on the hour from nightfall until 11pm and lasts just five minutes, so cameras at the ready!
Be a flâneur for the day
The French noun flâneur means a person who strolls aimlessly while observing the world around them. Popularised in the 19th century, the word became synonymous with Paris – and, to this day, there is no better way to explore the city than by wandering along the wide Haussmannian boulevards, climbing the steep steps of Montmartre or getting lost in the maze of streets across the Marais. One of the great things about Paris, of course, is that it’s small enough to walk from one end to the other in two or three hours.
This means it’s often feasible to go on foot between the main tourist sites, discovering more authentic parts of the city along the way.
Enjoy a panoramic view over the city’s rooftops
As one of the highest points in the capital, the area in front of the Sacré-Cœur offers a spectacular vista. The only thing missing is the Eiffel Tower, which is further to the right, but head over to the little dog park and it can be spotted from around there. Also, for a modest fee, you can climb up to the dome of the Sacré-Cœur for a 360° view – Eiffel Tower and all – that is one of the best in Paris. For other free viewpoints, try the aforementioned Galeries Lafayette rooftop – an Instagrammer’s heaven – or the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont looking out towards Montmartre. Back at ground level, the forecourt of the Louvre is also freely accessible, providing a striking perspective on the pyramid.
Watch the tango dancers beside the Seine
Come the summer, one of the favourite activities for locals is to head to the banks of the Seine, or one of the canals, with a bottle of wine or some beers. It’s certainly far less expensive than spending (we use the term advisedly) an evening at a bar – and what can be lovelier than sitting by the water as the sun sets? Best of all, though, is when the tango dancing by the Seine begins. Just hearing those first bars of the music is enough to send shivers down the spine, but watching the dancers strut seductively across the quayside is pure spectacle. Channelling the spirit of the old guinguettes, the Saint-Bernard quay in the 5th is a great place to experience the sultry magic.
Have a picnic in a park
While Paris’s parks tend to be quite manicured, with the grassy areas often off limits, they nonetheless make an enchanting setting for a picnic or a packed lunch. Just get there early enough to secure one of the iconic green benches and settle down to enjoy the scene. From pocket-sized parks such as the Jardin des Abbesses in Montmartre, brimming with medicinal plants, to the formal splendour of the Jardin des Tuileries, once the gardens of a royal palace, to the renowned Jardin du Luxembourg, a favourite with families, there are some 500 parks and gardens from which to choose. For the best deals lunch-wise, stock up at the local market, or look out for the special formule offers at the boulangerie.
Wander through the historic shopping arcades
There is nothing like stepping back in time at one of the 19th-century covered passageways that crisscross the city. Filled with a mix of shops, galleries, ateliers, cafés and restaurants, each arcade has its own character but most feature a combination of a gorgeous glass roof, wrought-iron metalwork and/or decorative tiling. This makes strolling through them a joy in itself, even if only window shopping. At the other end of the scale, for actual shopping in a less refined atmosphere, there is no better place to bag a bargain than one of the second-hand stores of Emmaüs, which raises money for good causes, or those of Guerrisol. Local garage sales, known as vide-greniers, can also be a veritable treasure trove and fun to browse.
Visit Saint-Ouen flea market
There are few better ways to spend a Sunday than sauntering around Le Marché aux Puces, the flea market at Saint-Ouen, even if just for the atmosphere. One of the largest concentrations of antiques and second-hand dealers in the world, it’s like a giant open-air museum, with everything from ancient maps, crystal chandeliers and Art Deco furniture to sunburst mirrors, scientific instruments and vintage fashion. For the best deals, check out the street-side vendors, delve into the stalls that look less curated and brave the outer edges of the Puces where anything goes. Just be sure to keep valuables close – and take cash: some traders don’t accept cards and there’s always a queue for the ATM.
Follow in Emily’s footsteps
Love it or hate it, there is no doubt that Emily in Paris shows off the city at its finest – and, for fans of the series, following in the footsteps of their heroine is an essential part of any trip. From the grounds of the Palais-Royal, where Emily first meets Mindy, to Gabriel’s restaurant, a ‘real life’ Italian called Terra Nera in the 5th, to the Samaritaine department store, the place to go for an extravagant shopping trip, there is no shortage of scene-stealing spots to seek out. The Paris tourist office, Paris je t’aime, has compiled a handy guide to some of them on its website. Alternatively, have fun compiling your own equally stylish itinerary – and remember to Instagram everything.
Explore some of the city’s cemeteries
Oases of calm in the capital, and home to a surprising diversity of fauna and flora, the city’s cemeteries are fascinating places to explore. The largest and best known is Père Lachaise, the final resting place for such famous names as Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf, and home to a family of foxes. For a more intimate experience, head to the Cimetière de Montmartre, where the graves of Edgar Degas, François Truffaut and Dalida can be found, along with a clowder of stray cats. Alternatively, for one of the lesser-known cemeteries, venture to the smaller still Cimetière de Saint-Vincent, hidden away at the back of Montmartre.
Go to the (huge!) library
Reopened just a few months ago following a renovation spanning more than a decade, the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France is a book-lover’s dream. An architectural masterpiece of the late 19th century, the main library room is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Set beneath an enormous glass-panelled ceiling, the cavernous space is lined floor-to-ceiling with some 20,000 books. Freely accessible to visitors, it does fill up quickly, however, so get there early to secure a spot. Elsewhere in the complex, there is also a museum showcasing priceless items from the collections, although that incurs an entrance fee.
Discover paris’s street art
Paris is renowned for its street art and, whether on a budget or not, it’s worth making time to see some of these striking visuals. From graffiti tags and political statements to fantastical frescoes and monumental murals, there is a plethora of artistic treasures to be found. The tourist office has put together a list of the best spots. Otherwise, look out for the creations of the iconic French artist Invader, whose mosaic-style Space Invaders can be spotted on street corners across the city.
Attend one of the many free seasonal events
There’s a whole host of free events throughout the year in Paris, so check with the tourist office website to see what’s coming up. One of the undoubted highlights is the annual Nuit Blanche, where contemporary art installations take over the city for one night. This year it takes place on June 3. Another big date in the calendar is the Fête de la Musique, on June 21, when music of every kind fills the streets all evening long. Then there’s the famous fireworks display for Bastille Day on July 14; European Heritage Days, on the third weekend in September; and, of course, the Christmas illuminations and markets throughout the city. For a range of free cultural events, including talks, screenings and performances, head to The Dissident Club in the 9th.
Know (exactly) where to eat and drink
When visiting a café, it’s worth remembering that it can often be cheaper to consume a coffee at the bar. Conversely, sipping an expresso en terrasse can bump up the bill, so the choice of spot is everything. When it comes to dining out, a cost-effective option is to head to one of the modernised bouillons. Dating back to the late 1800s, these brasserie-style dining rooms were named after the broth, or bouillon, which was served as an affordable meal for workers. Today, with a rather wider choice, try the Petit Bouillon Pharamond in the 1st or Bouillon République in the 3rd. Lastly, it’s worth knowing that some bars offer complimentary dishes, such as couscous, with the purchase of drinks.
Seek out a good place to rest your head
In terms of accommodation, the best bet for those on a budget is often to book an Airbnb or an apartment-hotel, as this also enables visitors to cook their own meals. The key here is to book early and to be as flexible as possible with dates. Otherwise, the new-generation hostels, such as Generator Paris or Joe & Joe, offer good-value stays in modern and stylish environments. Finally, it could also be worth considering one of the home-swap websites, as these can make a trip far more affordable all round.
To save money at a host of top attractions, pick up an official city pass. It covers all types of activities, from Seine cruises to bike hire to VIP experiences.
Planning a trip to Paris? Head to our sister site BonjourParis for the best insider’s tips to visit the City of Light
Lead photo credit : The Sacré-Cœur is located at the highest point in Paris and offers a great view of the city © Caroline Harrap
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