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10 money-saving tips for first-time visitors to Paris

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Paris lunch
Feast away at lunch. This brasserie, for example, offers a three-course lunch for less than €14.

Your first time in Paris can be stressful, to say the very least. Among the stresses encountered when planning the trip is anticipating the costs–how much is this trip really going to cost, and what can you do about it?

Like most major cities, Paris can be quite pricey, especially for first-time visitors who don’t know the little “tricks of the Cheapo trade.” Fortunately, a little bit of planning before you land can help you save some serious euros while still experiencing the best the city has to offer.

Here’s a quick “Top 10″ list of ways to save for first-timers in Paris:

1. Restaurants: Feast away… at lunch.

Paris and food go hand in hand. While yummy baguette sandwiches and pastries are everywhere – and they’re cheap – you’ll want to sit down at a restaurant eventually. Do some research on Yelp or ParisbyMouth.com and find a nice restaurant for lunch instead of dinner to save some euros. Fixed lunch menus are usually cheaper and you won’t usually need a reservation for popular places, plus you’ll get to sit for a while and enjoy your meal.

St Andre des Arts Paris

Some budget hotels, like the St. Andre des Arts, are located in the very center or Paris.

2. Affordable lodging: Think central.

Pick a central hotel to avoid constantly taking the Metro. While the Metro is inexpensive and efficient, the costs can add up, in both euros and time. Often it’s better to book a central hotel that’s €20-30 more expensive to avoid buying an extra few “carnets” of Metro tickets. You’ll also save your feet the extra miles of walking. Check out a list of all of our recommended hotels in Paris, and this smaller list of budget hotels with great, central locations.

3. Metro: “Un carnet, s’il vous plait.”

So when you do take the Metro inside Paris (not to the airport or to Versailles), make sure you buy a “carnet” of tickets (unless you decide to get a Mobilis pass). This set of 10 tickets will save you about 40 cents per ticket instead of buying them individually. Also, they don’t expire, so any unused tickets can be used in the future.

4. Nightlife: Plan ahead.

Do some nightlife research and take advantage of happy hour(s). While Paris may not be the party town that Berlin or New York are, there are still plenty of things to do at night. The challenge is to find them. Happy hour specials abound, sometimes until 11 PM, when drinks are significantly cheaper. But if you want to hear jazz, go dancing, or experience other nightlife, it’s best to know where you’re heading ahead of time; otherwise you might find yourself on the Champs-Elysées paying a €30 cover charge for a tacky club.

Musee  d'Orsay

The Paris Museum pass will get you into the Musée d’Orsay – and let you skip the ticket line.

5. Museums: Should you “pass”?

Plan your museum trips ahead of time if you are planning to purchase a museum pass. It’s best to know how many museums you’ll actually be able to see with it during the few days that it will be valid. Otherwise, if you are buying tickets for each museum, visit the Louvre and the Orsay during their night openings (Louvre: Wednesday and Friday, Orsay: Thursday) in order to save on cheaper tickets and deal with smaller crowds.

Don’t forget the litany of free museums that may not hold any Mona Lisa’s, but that are just as memorable. The Carnavalet, the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, and the Victor Hugo museum are all favorites in the Marais that are worth a visit.

6. Fixed costs: No getting around ‘em.

Plan fixed costs ahead of time. The Eiffel Tower and the Opera, for example, offer no shortcuts or reduced fees (aside from booking your Eiffel Tower tickets in advance to save time), so you’ll have to pay full price. And fixed costs don’t stop there: Train tickets to the airport on the RER B, a ticket to Versailles, and a day trip to Giverny are all non-negotiable. While none of these will break the bank, they do add up, so it’s best to know which experiences you’ll be paying full-price for.

Falafel Paris

Tasty and cheap falafel from L’As du Falafel in the Marais. Photo: Calamity Hane

7. Fast food: Enjoy it, French-style.

Don’t shy away from fast food – falafels and baguette sandwiches, for example – just because you might have heard that Parisians don’t eat fast food. That’s a lie. Getting a falafel (€5.50) on rue des Rosiers and heading to the Place des Vosges or taking a baguette sandwich (less than €5) and fruit from the market to a picnic in a garden are all perfectly acceptable and encouraged.

8. Touring: Take a freebie.

Take a free tour – like these that we discussed earlier – to get introduced to the city. If you’re a first-timer, a tour will be a perfect way to break you in and familiarize yourself with the city’s layout and history. Sure, it’ll be more information than you’ll be able to retain, but you’ll meet new people and your guide, most likely a local, will have insider information to share with you – if they’re good!

9. Hydrate: Drink the free stuff. 

Water is one of the few truly free things in Paris – like, really free. If you go to a café and ask for a glass of water, the waiter must give you one. Never hesitate to ask for a “carafe d’eau” while at a café or restaurant, even if you just have coffee. They’re legally required to give it to you!

Also, the famous Wallace fountains keep fresh drinking water running through Paris all spring and summer long (they’re shut off in the winter to avoid freezing). If you want a bottle of Evian, head to the grocery store to browse the Mecca of water brands available for as little as 15 centimes a bottle – but be warned, cold water can cost up to €2 for a small bottle at any other bodega or snack shop.

10. Timing: What’s your style?

Pick your period wisely – Christmas and summer tend to be expensive, but have their own perks, so weigh your values and pros/cons. Do you want to picnic? Spend time lounging in the gardens? Fight impossible crowds at Notre Dame and the Louvre? Or do you want to come in April or October with some warmer clothes and an umbrella and relax a bit more with fewer tourists around? If you want to cut down on hotel rates and airfare, look to the low season, just be prepared for all weather conditions.

Your first-time tips?

Have a tip for a first-timer in Paris to add to our list? Share with us in the comments section below!

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog: www.bryanpirolli.com.

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