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Have you heard that infamous urban legend that Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world? We had, too, and we even believed it – until we booked cheap flights to Paris and booked relatively inexpensive accommodation on several occasions. In Paris, most of the major sights have free or reduced-rate visiting times and there are plenty of inexpensive bakeries or markets to pick up a baguette, some delicious French cheese and wine and have a picnic lunch for no more than 10€ ($14) for two. Paris on a budget is all about advance planning, so we have listed here our top five inexpensive things to do in Paris – read on for our best Paris budget tips:
Our Top Five Things to do in Paris
1. Explore Montmartre
Montmartre is the name of the highest hill in Paris (130meters) as well as the surrounding neighborhood. Montmartre, which has been featured in movies like Amelie or Moulin Rouge, began to attract artists in the mid-19th century. Famous painters such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec have all lived in Montmartre, and the neighborhood still draws many artists. Up here on the hill, you’ll spot painters on the Place Du Tertre, stroll through the cobble-stone streets, sit down for a café au lait in one of the many cafes and listen to the street musicians playing the violin. Montmartre is also home to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica on top of the hill. The basilica features the most unique architecture of any church in Paris, combining Romanesque and Byzantine styles, and the breathtaking views over Paris are even more spectacular from the top of the church.
2. Marvel at the Eiffel Tower
Without a doubt, the city’s most iconic landmark is a must for a first-time (or tenth-time) visitor to Paris. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the World Expo, and no one ever expected that this structure would continue to be the most iconic symbol of Paris with six million annual visitors over a century later. If you’re on a tight budget, there’s no need to ride to the top of Gustav Eiffel’s masterpiece, as the whole visit feels electric just visiting tower. If you do choose to pay for the visit up to the viewing tower, the views over Paris are so worth it – both during the day as well as at night, when the City of Lights earns its romantic nickname.
3. The Louvre
There is a reason that the Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world, and it is not solely because of the Mona Lisa. This massive museum houses over 35,000 pieces of art, so make sure to plan in enough time for your visit. Plan in at least one day and wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be traversing 652,300 square feet to visit this impressive 12th century structure.
Tip: Admission to the Louvre is free for all visitors on every first Sunday of the month, and on Friday evenings after 6pm if you’re under 26.
4. Sightsee on a local bus
There are plenty of tour companies that offer sightseeing bus tours in Paris, but most of them are very expensive. So here’s one of the best Paris budget tips: Scrape together just €1.30 and take the No. 29 bus from the Gare St Lazare to Bastille district. Passing through some of the most beautiful areas in Paris, the bus passes the Opera house, through the Marais district, including the beautiful square Place des Vosges and past plenty of peaceful side streets you may never otherwise spot. Alternatively, you can consider a Paris hop on hop off bus, which stops at all major sights.
Tip: If you want to see Paris beyond the main sights, here are my five favorite off the beaten path experiences in Paris. Most of them are free!
5. Stroll along the Champs-Elysées
This is one of the best things to do in Paris on a budget: stroll along Paris’ best known street. The Champs-Elysées, a long chestnut tree-lined boulevard, stretches from the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin de Tuileries to the Arc de Triomphe in what is a grand Parisian thoroughfare. The Champs-Elysées is well-known for the many designer shops that line the avenue, but it doesn’t cost a penny to peek into the many cafes, cinemas, car showrooms and hotels. Walk the nearly 2km (1.2 mi) avenue toward the Arc de Triomphe at night to witness the chestnut trees lit with sparkling white lights, and it is no question why some consider this to be the most beautiful avenue of the world.
Paris Budget Tip: Stay in an Airbnb
If you are visiting Paris on a budget, staying in an Airbnb will cost you a lot less than staying in a hotel. Here are some tips to make sure your Airbnb stay will be enjoyable:
1 Look up how far it is to the city center. The further away from the city center the Airbnb, the cheaper it is. But is it worth traveling on the metro an hour every day just to save a few dollars? If you’re not sure how far the Airbnb is from central Paris, message the host and ask for the name of the closest metro station. Then map out on Google Maps how long it takes to get from there to the major sights. Staying on the outskirts of Paris may safe you a lot of money, but traveling an hour into the city every day might frustrate you eventually.
2 Room vs apartment. An Airbnb is usually cheaper than a hotel room, and it offers the amenities of having a kitchen, which means you will also save money by cooking your meals instead of eating in pricey restaurants. The cheapest Airbnb offers are usually not entire apartments, however, but rooms within an apartment. Many locals rent out their spare rooms for additional income. If you’re opting for a room inside someone’s apartment, be 100% sure that you are comfortable living with a stranger. If you’re not comfortable with that, fork out the money for an entire apartment instead.
3 Read recent reviews. To make sure your Airbnb is decent, always read reviews – including the most recent ones. That’s how you’ll find out if there have been any major issues like broken ACs, WiFi problems, noise, or any other nuisances. If there’s anything written in a review that you feel unsure about, don’t book that Airbnb, and look for another one instead.