Paris: 55 ways to save on your trip to Paris in 2012

Posted in: Paris Planning

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It's cheaper to drink your coffee at the counter in Paris. Photo: Tom Meyers
It's cheaper to drink your coffee at the counter in Paris. Photo: Tom Meyers

As we prepare for the summer travel season, we turn our attention to Paris, the world’s most visited city—and a city that remains quite Cheapo-friendly, if you follow some basic rules. Fortunately, EuroCheapo’s two fantastic Paris correspondents, Theadora Brack and Bryan Pirolli, remind us of those rules in their weekly dispatches from the city.

We’ve just combed through their posts and have compiled this quick-and-easy guide to 55 ways to save euros in Paris this year. Enjoy the list—and add your own tips, comments and questions at the end!

How much will that second bag cost to check? Photo: Hoyasmeg

Getting There and Arriving

If you’re flying to France from the U.S. and haven’t bought your tickets yet, set up airfare alerts on Web sites like Airfarewatchdog.com. Let them “sniff out” airfare deals for your point of departure.

How many bags can you check on your flight without paying a fee? Two? One? The rules may have changed. Know your baggage allowance before you go.

Once you arrive in Paris, take the RER (regional train) or Roissybus from Charles de Gaulle to central Paris—never a taxi.

Free concerts are held most Sundays at the Eglise Saint-Merri. Photo: Spacejulien

Culture

Enjoy a free Sunday afternoon concert in churches around Paris. Pick up a Pariscope at any newsstand for listings.

During the summer, head to the 19th arrondissement to enjoy an open-air movie every night of the week (except Monday). You’ll get to hang out with locals AND it’s free! (Cinema en Plein Air)

Summertime classical and jazz concerts are only about €5 (or free) in the Bois de Vincennes during the “Classiques au Vert” series.

Score a last-minute ticket to the Comedie Francaise for less than €10. Just show up before showtime and see what’s left (and be flexible–your view may be partially obstructed).

Fill your bottles with spring water from a Wallace Fountain. Photo by Theadora Brack

Daily needs

Buy your water at the supermarket, never from a sidewalk vendor or the hotel.

When your water bottle runs out, fill it up with cool spring water at any of the city’s 108 historic “Wallace Fountains.”

Need to use the bathroom while out and about? Grab a coffee at a café’s counter and then head for the toilet. If the door is locked and it looks like it takes a token, ask at the bar for a “jeton.”

Day trips

Visiting Versailles? Get the “Passport” in advance and save money when visiting the palace, smaller buildings and the gardens. Plus, you get to jump the line, saving loads of time!

When visiting Versailles, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it outside the gates, along the canal.

Consider other destinations for day trips, including Giverny, Rouen, Chartres and Reims—all reachable by train in under 1 hour 15 minutes and very affordable.

Grab a tasty (and cheap) baguette sandwich for lunch. Photo: Theadora Brack

Leaving Paris for another city several hours away? Choose wisely between trains and planes. Budget flights may look cheaper and faster, but extra charges can add up.

Food

Don’t get ripped off in touristy restaurants. Know what is “normal” to pay for everyday items, from coffee (€1-2) to a glass of wine (€4).

Don’t pay for “flat” water in restaurants. All restaurants are legally obliged to bring a carafe of water to your table.

When in a cafe, drink your coffee at the bar and pay about half what you’d be charged at a table.

Opt for Gérard Mulot over Ladurée macarons. They’re equally delicious and photogenic, and, according to many, tastier. Oh, and they’re quite a bit cheaper.

Grab a delicious, fresh and cheapo baguette sandwich for lunch at the boulangerie.

Enjoy a crepe as a snack or as a meal. Photo: Dream4akeem

Shop in Paris’ outdoor markets for fresh produce, snacks and lunch. Swing by before they close (usually in the afternoon) to find real deals.

For a cheap lunch, dinner, or late-night snack, grab a crêpe from one of these vendors—but make sure they make it on the spot.

For another cheap meal, eat a falafel, preferably from L’As du Falafel in the Marais.

Know—and love—Paris’ supermarkets. They’re a great resource for snacks, meals, and even souvenirs.

Cheap meals can also be had at flunch, a cafeteria-style restaurant with many locations in central Paris. (We concede, however, that not everyone loves a cafeteria as dearly as we do.)

Ask for a free map in the Metro. Photo: Anniemole

Getting around

Pick up a free Paris map at your hotel’s reception (usually sponsored by Galeries Lafayette or Printemps department stores).

Ask in the Metro for free Metro and bus maps.

When buying Metro tickets, buy a “carnet” of 10 tickets for €12.70, rather than single tickets for €1.70.

Step off the Metro and hop on a bike for (nearly) free using Paris’ Vélib’ bike-share program, now accessible to tourists with American credit cards. (If the machine won’t accept your card, book it online first.)

Taxis are a hassle: They’re expensive and can be very hard to hail at night. Be prepared to walk—or choose a central hotel. Never take a taxi from the airport.

Don’t rent a car in Paris. You’ll have to keep it parked, and garages are very expensive. Rent a car only for leaving town.

Health

Feeling sick? Before you go to a doctor, head into a pharmacy. They’re able to diagnose, prescribe and sell medication for minor illnesses, or point you to a nearby doctor.

Find a clean, central budget hotel, like the Hotel Saint-Andre-des-Arts, above.

Budget Hotels

Which kind of cheapo are you? Find a budget hotel that matches your personality (and budget).

Look for something central, compare rates, and choose your dates wisely. Here’s a list of our favorite cheap hotels.

For cheaper hotel rates, consider visiting Paris in August, when the business travelers are at the beach (along with the Parisians) and rates fall. June and July rates will be more expensive.

Don’t be confused by hotel star ratings—or think that more stars always means a “better” hotel. It could just mean that it doesn’t have an elevator.

Skip breakfast at the hotel—it’s probably overpriced and underwhelming. Head to a nearby cafe instead and enjoy a croissant and coffee at the bar. Or pick up something really fresh at a nearby bakery.

ATMs in Paris are convenient… and potentially really expensive. Photo: Nicolasnova

Money Matters

Know how much your bank will charge you to withdraw money from the ATM in Paris. It could be a flat fee (1-3%) a flat rate ($2-5), a combination, or nothing at all (rarely). Also ask your bank what you’ll be charged to use your debit and credit cards for purchases.

Don’t use currency desks to convert cash while traveling, except in emergencies. Even if they say “no fee,” you’ll be paying for it in really bad exchange rates.

Know when to leave a tip in Paris. No: Cafe, bar. Yes: Restaurant, taxi.

If you’re serious about art, the Paris Museum Pass is a great deal.

Museums

Museums run by the city of Paris are free to visit and generally open every day except Monday. Here’s a list of free museums, plus some additional museums that offer discounts.

Buy a Paris Museum Pass and save on admission to 60 museums and monuments in and around Paris. Not only do you save on admission charges, but you’ll skip all those ticket lines. (2 days: €39; 4 days: €54; 6 days: €69)

Visit the Louvre at night on Wednesday and Fridays, when it’s cheaper, calmer and open until 10 p.m.

Safety

Avoid scams in Paris! Beware of bracelets at Sacre Coeur, dropped rings, and people asking you (and everyone else around) if you speak English.

Find unusual—and cheapo—souvenirs at a flea market. Photo: Theadora Brack

Shopping

Check out the high-end designers selling cheapo-friendly fashions at H&M and Monoprix.

Buy lingerie for bargain rates at the (sometimes hectic) Sympa stores in Montmartre.

To buy something memorable, head to the “friperies,” the second-hand shops selling amazing vintage clothing. It’s usually cheaper than new clothing and far more interesting.

Find a surprising souvenir at one of Paris’ flea-markets. Arrive early, go with a mission and carry cash.

Shop the “soldes”—the biannual sales held in almost every store in France. This summer’s “soldes” dates are June 27 – July 31, 2012.

It’s okay to buy wine at the supermarket.

Take a walking tour for the price of a tip. Photo: Wirewiping

Buy fun cheapo souvenirs, from vintage clothing to used books. For example, buy a bottle of Dijon mustard from the Maille store in the 8th arrondissement.

Sightseeing

Book your Eiffel Tower tickets in advance—and skip the ticket line. Book up to one day in advance of your trip. This may not save you any euros, but it will save you a lot of time!

Spend a summer afternoon leisurely sipping an aperitif at an outdoor café. It’s a cheapo-friendly way to pass the day.

Take a free walking tour given by knowledgeable guides who work only for a tip at the end.

Keep it in airplane mode! Photo: Jorge Quinteros

Staying in touch

Don’t pay for Wi-Fi anywhere. If your hotel doesn’t offer it for free, head to McDonald’s, Starbucks or any one of these places that offer free Wi-Fi in Paris.

If you’re visiting France from the U.S., put your iPhone or smartphone on “airplane mode.” Read our tips for how to set up your smartphone when you travel in Europe.

Your tips?

Do you have a tip to add to our list of ways to save money this summer in Paris? Share it with us in our comments section! And be sure to see other tips from our editors on where to stay during your visit!

About the author

Tom Meyers

About the author: Tom Meyers created and launched EuroCheapo from his Berlin apartment in 2001. He returned to New York in 2002, set up office, and has led the EuroCheapo team from the Big Apple ever since. He travels to Europe several times a year to update EuroCheapo's hotel reviews. Tom is also a co-host of the New York City history podcast, The Bowery Boys. Email Tom. [Find Tom on Google Plus]

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8 thoughts on “Paris: 55 ways to save on your trip to Paris in 2012”

  1. Great and very thorough article. I really fancy wandering the flea market you have pictured, but I think that’ll have to wait until my kids are a bit older (they insist on touching everything!).

    I have a couple of tips for those travelling with kids on a budget:
    – consider not taking that extra baggage for nappies and find out where you can buy them in france: http://www.babyabroad.co.uk/Travelling-With-Baby-To/France/baby-milk-on-holiday-france.html

    – self catering may be cheaper as you can take advantage of the wonderful markets, but still let your children try the local food, but without the mark up of restaurants. And you can prepare yourself baguettes, fruit etc as lunch on the run. It’s not a budget point – but it also means you can chill with a glass of local wine when your baby needs to sleep in the evening.

    And like the others – I’ve always found McDonalds the easiest toilet option when en route!

    Reply
  2. Re places to “go” in Paris:

    *Mc Donald’s – don’t eat the food, just use the loo.
    *BHV – the bathrooms are on the top floor
    *The *Grands Magazins* like Galerie Lafayette, Bon Marche, etc.
    *The public toilets down the stairs in front of Notre Dame – free and very clean!
    *There are a number of the (usually) free high-tech public toilettes called sanisettes (more derisively called “chiraciennes” after Jacques Chirac, the French president who commissioned them). They are a bit scary to use, but certainly better than skulking into a corner to relieve yourself

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Paris With Kids – The Best and Funnest Things To Do

  4. Bank of America is has an agreement with BNP banks in France making it free to use when using their ATM’s. And you ALWAYS get the better exchange rates when you do.

    Reply
  5. “Don’t rent a car in Paris. You’ll have to keep it parked, and garages are very expensive. Rent a car only for leaving town.”

    And if you do rent a car, go to the rental place as far out of town as you can get. Getting out of Paris at 10 a.m. on a workday might not be a problem, but coming back in at rush hour in the dark to meet the 7:00 p.m. deadline will cause great marital strife.

    Reply

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