“Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history; so she seemed in this age of Napoleon III with her towering buildings, her massive cathedrals, her grand boulevards and ancient winding medieval streets–as vast and indestructible as nature itself. All was embraced by her, by her volatile and enchanted populace thronging the galleries, the theaters, the cafes, giving birth over and over to genius and sanctity, philosophy and war, frivolity and the finest art; so it seemed that if all the world outside her were to sink into darkness, what was fine, what was beautiful, what was essential might there still come to its finest flower. Even the majestic trees that graced and sheltered her streets were attuned to her–and the waters of the Seine, contained and beautiful as they wound through her heart; so that the earth on that spot, so shaped by blood and consciousness, had ceased to be the earth and had become Paris.”
The City of Love is one that is in most bucket lists, one of world’s most popular destination. Paris is a dream destination, be it for lovers, artists or fashionistas. For all it’s glory, Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world. So, if you are traveling on a budget, you will have to plan it well to experience the city. In this post, I have covered my Parisian experience and couple of tips for budget conscious travelers.
Where to Stay
Paris is divided in to 20 arrondisements (areas) as the picture above illustrates. These arrondisements used to be little villages that grew on to one another until it came to be known as Paris. Generally, the best pick for tourist would be to stay near the Seine where most attractions are located at. Many seasoned travelers suggest the 4th, 5th and 6th arrondisements for its history and vibe.
Since we were on a budget and did not mind the travel time, we stayed in the 19th arrondisement which is 45 minutes away from downtown Paris.
However, our personal favourite is Montmartre in the 18th arrondisement. Artists such as Picasso, Degas and Renoir once called this place home. It is home to Moulin Rouge. The lanes of this place are evoke a sense of nostalgia on how it would have looked back when the artists flocked to find their muse. Adding to that, the building and lanes are so instagram-worthy.
Getting around Paris
The city is well-connected with metros and buses, so getting from one place to another is easy. Moreover, the city is structured making it easy to walk around. We feel that the best way to see Paris is on foot, to soak up the beautiful Parisian sidewalks and buildings.
There are various types of transport passes available, from single tickets to buying in bulk at a slightly cheaper rate (a carnet – 10 single tickets). There are also day passes (1,2,3 and 5 days) called Paris Visite.
Since, we stayed for 5 days, we opted for a Navigo Decouverte Pass which is a weekly pass which gave us access to the metros and buses for all 5 major zones. The locals use this pass for their daily commute. The validity of the pass starts on a Monday and ends on 11.59 pm on Sunday. This would cost approximately €22.15. With an additional €5.00, the cost of travelling to and from the airport is covered. To save some money, bring along a passport sized photo for the pass to avoid having to get it done there. This is a pass that you would need to ask when you are purchasing as it is not listed on the sales brochure.
We found this Pass to be most cost beneficial based on our own itinerary. This also allowed us the flexibility of roaming and getting lost in the city without having to worry about the cost of getting on the wrong bus/metro.
Highlights and Hacks
- Downtown Paris is best seen on foot, so we would highly recommend taking a Free Walking Tour to get a feel of the city. It would usually take about 2.5 to 3.0 hours. This would give you an opportunity to get a feel of the major attractions and learn the history behind it. The guide would also throw in tips on surviving Paris. At the end of the tour, you can tip the guide. We recommend Sandemans!
- We highly recommend checking out Sainte Chapelle, a gothic-styled royal chapel that was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis. The upper deck of this chapel houses stained glasses that are arranged across 15 windows depicting 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Go early in the morning, it is worth beating the crowd to see sunlight streaming through. It looks like magic. You will want sit there and soak that up in some silence. Additionally, there is a combined ticket to visit the Conciergerie where Marie Antionette was locked up before her execution. We skipped the Conciergerie. (For details: Official Site)
- The Notre Dame is another beautiful gothic styled church. The access to the church is free and you will find a long line waiting to go in. It is fairly fast-moving because the officials are only conducting security checks. However, if you want to beat the line, you can just go right in front and access the gate for those attending the “Mass”. Take note that it is the same gate, just different entrances.
- Montmartre is a really beautiful village in the metropolis that is Paris. On top of it stands the Basilica Sacre-Coeur. Just try to lose yourself in the steep and cobbled streets of one of the most historic and interesting neighborhoods in Paris as explained above.
- While you are exploring Montmarte, check out Basilica Sacre-Coeur, one of the most visible churches in Paris as it is situated on a high point. This church has vibe that is really hard to put into words and the fresco of Christ inside the church is something spectacular. You can get one of the best views of Paris from here, so try to catch the sunset here. Entrance to the church is free, but you would need to pay a small sum to climb the dome. (You can also see get an amazing view of Paris from Mont Parnasse)
- Of course you cannot miss the Eiffel Tower, we liked it best at night with the light show. Walk around until you find a nice spot to take pictures from. We would suggest grabbing some pastries, cheese or wine and have a picnic and watch the tower come to life. You could also do the river cruise which passes along the Eiffel Tower.
- Paris is full of museums, with the Lourve being it’s crowning glory. Due to it’s sheer size, you cannot see all of Lourve. So, decide in advance what you are interested in seeing and get the map (You could also download the app). There are 2 entrances into the museum, the Pyramid and the Carrousel du Louvre. The latter hardly has any line and you could even buy the tickets from the kiosks. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum is open till 9.45pm and you might get to enjoy Lourve without battling hordes of tourist. Also, consider getting the audio guide to help you understand what you are seeing. Otherwise, it could get frustrating (We found Rick Steve’s app to be very useful and reasonable to navigate around Europe, plus it is free). Every Friday from 6 p.m. admission to the museum is free for under-26s of all nationalities on presentation of valid ID.
- During the first Sunday of the month, all the museums are free. The downside would be the crowd but definitely huge saving for budget travelers. We took this opportunity to check out the Musee D’Orsay which houses contemporary pieces. We checked out the Impressionist collections. Again, huge place, so plan accordingly.
- Again if you are into museums and planning to check out most of it, then the Paris Pass might be worthwhile. Otherwise, check out the free museums like we did!
- We definitely enjoyed walking the Tuileries Gardens, Champs-Elysees and the other sections of Paris. Spend some time sitting by the banks of Seine, soaking up the ambience of Paris. La Marais is another hip neighbourhood which has nice cafes and back lanes for pictures.
- We also checked out the Père Lachaise Cemetery which has more than 3.5 million visitors, making it the most visited cemetery in the world. It is famous for housing the tomb of Oscar Wilde.
- For antique lovers, the St.Ouen’s Market will be a delight. Tucked right in the middle of bustling neighbourhood is a piece of quiet elegance. You would be able to find such diverse pieces.
- Toilets in Paris are not free. It cost about €1 per use. So, we suggest either using the facilities in the museums/cafes that you are visiting. Otherwise, walk into any cafes /McD’s as if you own it and use the facility. Alternatively, ask nicely 🙂
- We personally found the Parisians to be nice and helpful. Pick up some French, they will love it.
- Beware of these scams!
- To be honest, we did not explore much of the cuisine/cafes as we were on a budget. The general rule would be to eat away from the popular tourist areas. As you wander further, you can see the prices going down.
- Be sure to try the pastries in as they are divine and simply amazing!
- You can either check out the Marche Bastille or Rue Mouffetard to explore the Parisian cuisine – we loved the latter.
- Grab your wine and cheese from local grocery shops and have outdoor picnics.
Blogs that We Love
Apps that We Love
- City Mapper
- Rick Steves Audio Guides (it’s Free)
One of the important things to remember is that there is truly a lot to see in Paris. We were there for 5 days and spent most of our times roaming the city and enjoying its vibe. So, accept that you will not be able to see all of Paris.