Paris: 50 ways to save time and money in 2014
Worried about what your upcoming trip to Paris might do to your wallet? Fear not! The City of Light might be Europe’s most visited, but it doesn’t need to be its most expensive.
Below you’ll find tips for saving on every aspect of your trip, from getting in from the airport to sleeping, shopping and eating out. Ready to save? C’est facile!
Saving on hotels
At EuroCheapo, we’re passionate about affordable accommodations in Europe. Our core mission is to help readers find great, inexpensive places to sleep that will also get you closer to the local culture. Our Paris hotel guide includes more than 100 hotel recommendations, but here’s some quick advice to get you started:
1. Save on transit by sleeping in a central neighborhood
Considering that it’s a world capital, Paris is a fairly compact city. If you have a central starting point, you can get to most of the city’s main sights by foot. The city is divided into 20 districts, called “Arrondissements.” Numbering starts in the center of town, at the Louvre, and spirals clockwise out. We recommend choosing a hotel in a central “arrondissement,” perhaps sticking to 1-9 (possibly skipping the 8th, which is a bit more far-flung and can get expensive).
Choosing a hotel in these neighborhoods (especially near the Louvre, in the Marais, in the Latin Quarter, near the Eiffel Tower, and near the Opéra) will put you in the center of the city. You’ll save on transportation, especially at night, when you’ll be most tempted to hop in a taxi to get home.
2. Don’t mind a commute? Save by staying outside the center
Okay, some Cheapos will certainly take issue with my last point. If you don’t mind taking the Metro to get to and from your hotel, you certainly can find cheaper hotels if you’re willing to stay a bit outside of the center of town. Just know that you’ll spend more time in transit.
3. Don’t be afraid of these super cheap hotels
Some great hotels in Paris are really, really cheap. Many of these are inexpensive because they’ve kept things really simple—some haven’t even added a TV to the rooms and some don’t have Wi-Fi. Here’s the list of our favorite hotels with rooms less than €80 a night.
4. Take public transit in from Charles de Gaulle
If you’re taking a long-haul flight to Paris (especially from the US), you’re probably landing in Charles de Gaulle airport. To make the 23 km trek into Paris, you have several options. To save cash, we always take the RER train or a bus.
• Take the RER B (regional train) in from the airport
It will take you 25-50 minutes (depending on your destination and whether or not you get an express train), and costs €9.50. These trains stop in Paris at the Gare du Nord, Chatelet Les Halles and St-Michel Notre Dame, among other stops. From here you can transfer to the Metro. Hold onto your RER tickets! You’ll need them to exit the RER. (Read more.)
• Take a bus in from the airport
The “RoissyBus” is operated by the city and costs €10 per person and takes 45-60 minutes. It departs most terminals at CDG and drops you off at its main stop at the Place de l’Opéra. Buses leave every 15 minutes.
The Air France buses are a bit posher, costs €17 (€30 round-trip) and take about an hour. These buses will drop you off near the Arc de Triomphe, Gare Montparnasse and Gare de Lyon, among other stops.
5. Be careful with taxis from the airport
Yes, many people do take taxis in from the airport. It will cost you dearly (around €50-70, plus tip and luggage surcharge) and take about an hour, depending on your destination. But wait, there’s more! Extra charges will be added for driving during morning rush hour and on Sundays and holidays. If you have a small group of people, however, the fare can be worth it. Here’s how to save on cabs from the airport.
6. Don’t take taxis short distances
The starting fare for a taxi in Paris is a whopping €6.60. Thus, if you’re just going a short distance, hoof it. More tips for saving on taxis.
7. Buy a 10 pack of Metro and bus tickets
Metro and bus tickets cost €1.70 each. When you’re buying your tickets, order a “carnet” (pronounced “car-nay”), which is a 10 pack of tickets sold for €13.70. (A carnet for children under 10 years old is €6.85.)
8. Hold onto your Metro ticket!
And once you go through the turnstile, hold onto your ticket! Officers frequently stop riders and demand to see a valid ticket. (Trust us.)
9. Don’t buy your tickets on the bus
Yes, you can buy your bus ticket from the driver (and make everyone behind you wait), but you’ll pay €2 and it won’t cover a transfer. More bus tips.
10. Take a Cheapo bus tour
There’s no need to pay for a sightseeing bus. Here are seven public bus lines that offer great sightseeing for the cost of a bus ticket!
11. Consider a “Paris Visite” travel card
If you plan to spend a lot of time getting around in the Paris Metro, consider buying a “Paris Visite” travel card, which offers unlimited travel on the Metro and bus system. Adult tickets cost €10.85 (1 day), €17.65 (2 days), €24.10 (3 days) and €34.70 (five days). However, the 10-pack carnet (mentioned above) usually serves our needs.
12. Buying tickets with American credit cards? Good luck!
Because most American credit cards lack the “chip and PIN” technology employed in Europe, they rarely work in automatic ticket machines in France. From the RER station at Charles de Gaulle to the machines in the Metro stations, you’re probably going to be out of luck using an American card (although these machines also accept cash). If you only have a card, head to the ticket window, where you might have to wait in line. Cards will work fine in Paris when handed to a cashier for swiping.
13. Save by biking around town on Vélib’
Paris’ Vélib’ bike share program was one of the first in the world when it launched in 2007 and remains enormously popular today. With 20,000 bikes in the program available from a whopping 1,800 stations around the city, it’s truly massive. Once you join (by purchasing a one-day pass for €1.70 or a one-week pass for €8), you simply head to any Vélib’ station, enter your access code and take out a bike. The next 30 minutes of riding are absolutely free. If you go over 30 minutes, you’ll pay a fee. Here’s our guide.
14. Sign up for Vélib’ once you’re in Paris
If you have a European credit card, you can sign up at any of the Vélib’ kiosks. Americans without the chip on their card can sign up online once in Paris. You’ll be given an access code to type into the kiosk each time you’d like to take out a bike.
Sights & Attractions
Paris is home to some of the world’s most famous cultural attractions, many of which have their own “cheapo tricks” for saving a few euros.
15. Saving at the Louvre
• Normal admission: €12. Closed Tuesday.
• Free first Sunday of the month in low season (October – March)
• Go at night on Wednesdays and Fridays when it is open until 10 pm
• Enter the Carrousel du Louvre to avoid lines
• More tips for visiting the Louvre.
16. Saving at the Eiffel Tower
17. Saving at the Arc de Triomphe
• Regular admission: €9.50
• Go at night. It’s open until 11 PM (10:30 PM in fall and winter)
• If just stopping by, visit the tomb of the unknown soldier below for free
• Access the Arc by taking the underground walkway. Don’t try to dodge traffic!
• More tips on visiting the Arc de Triomphe
18. Saving at the Musée d’Orsay
• Regular admission: €11. Closed Monday.
• Tickets after 4:30 PM (except Thursday) are reduced to €8.50, but museum closes at 6 pm and “cleared” at 5:15!
• Thursday open late. Tickets from 6-9:45 pm are €8.50
• First Sundays of the month are free (but packed)
• Read more tips for visiting the Musee d’Orsay
19. Saving at Notre Dame
• Admission to the cathedral: Free. Admission to bell towers: €8.50
• Go early, especially during high season. By 10 AM the crowds have arrived
• If visiting the bell towers, get there by 9 AM (unless you like lines!). And be ready to walk up 387 steps (and no, there’s not an elevator!)
• More tips for visiting Notre Dame
20. Saving at the Palace of Versailles
• Buy the Versailles Passport (€18; €25 on fountain days: Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday) for access to all major parts of Versailles.
• Save by picnicking along the Grand Canal just outside the gates
• More tips for visiting Versailles
21. Avoid crowds whenever possible
During the high season, the lines at top attractions can be overwhelming. But it is possible to plan your day so that you show up outside the peak visiting hours. Check out our tips for beating the crowds at top attractions.
22. Culture fanatic? Buy a Paris Museum Card
Tourist cards aren’t always worth the money, but if you plan on spending lots of quality cultural time in Paris’ museums, consider picking up a Paris Museum Pass. The card offers free and discounted admission to 60 museums and monuments around the city, and it lets you skip the ticket lines! Prices: €42 (2 days); €56 (4 days); €69 (6 days)
23. Take advantage of First Sundays & Museum Discounts
If you happen to find yourself in Paris on the first Sunday of the month, you’re in Cheapo luck, because most of the city’s major museums offer free admission. The downside: Everyone knows it. Check out our full list of discount times for popular museums.
24. Don’t forget free sights!
The city boasts a long list of places that are free to visit. From museums operated by the city like Musée d’Art Moderne, Maison de Balzac, and Maison de Victor Hugo to most churches and parks like Jardin du Luxembourg and even an ancient Roman amphitheater (Aréne de Lutéce), admission is always free.
25. Take a free walking tour
Free walking tours of Paris’ central sights are available from several tour companies (who do expect a tip at the end). A less publicized option is the Paris Greeters program, in which local Parisians lead you on a free guided tour of their Paris.
26. Save on boat rides
Taking a boat ride along the Seine is an experience that manages to strike us as both romantic and overly touristy. However, these bateaux mouches offer a unique vantage point from which to see the city and can give your legs a break. We recommend the Vedettes de Pont Neuf, as they offer a live commentary and great discounts when booked in advance on their website.
Eating and drinking
27. Think twice before tipping
Whether you’re dining in a restaurant or enjoying a coffee on a sidewalk cafe, the tip has already been included in your bill. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t leave anything, but you certainly shouldn’t leave 15-20% of your bill. Here are some thoughts on tipping.
28. Save on breakfast
The breakfast that will be offered by your hotel will likely be an underwhelming and overpriced affair (think baguette, jam and hot drink). You can get the same thing (but fresher) at almost any bakery or patisserie in your neighborhood. Shop around for breakfast.
29. Water and bread are free in restaurants
No need to order bottled water. The local stuff is great and gets plunked down on your table in a carafe, free of charge. Ditto for the bread.
30. Splurge on a prix fixe lunch
Go heavier at lunch and enjoy a 2- or 3-course meal with the locals. Restaurants throughout town offer “fixed price” deals—just look for the sandwich board out front or a sign in the window with the day’s menu (“menu du jour”) and price. With prices that hover between €10-20 for 2 or 3 courses, you’ll even have some money left for a little vin.
31. Pick up lunch at outdoor markets
Foodies will be in pure heaven in Paris, and not just for the mouth-watering restaurants and to-die-for patisseries. Don’t neglect the outdoor food markets that overflow with fresh produce and local delicacies. Whether picking up for a Seine-side picnic or stocking up for a long train ride, Paris’ outdoor markets have you covered.
32. Go light at lunch with a baguette sandwich
The city’s bakeries (boulangeries and patisseries) do more than bake bread and pastries. They also do a brisk lunch business, selling hot-and-crusty baguette sandwiches and delicious homemade quiches. Here’s a list of our favorite sandwich shops.
33. Pull over to a food truck
The food truck craze has hit Paris. Here are three food trucks that offer an American-style food truck experience with a French twist.
34. Opt for a light dinner with a crepe or falafel
35. Head to the grocery store for basics
When you do need to buy a bottle of water, don’t touch that minibar! Head to any of the local grocery stores. Same applies to wine, candy, soda, etc.
36. Wine from the supermarket? Oui.
Don’t assume that the wine being sold at the grocery store isn’t up to snuff. Some of it is quite good, and yes, quite affordable. Here are some tips for buying wine in Paris.
37. Fill up your water bottle around town
Paris has more than 800 drinking water fountains located throughout the city where you can easily fill up your water bottle for free. And if you’re a fan of sparkling water, there’s no need to run into the store for a few bottles. The city has just introduced some new fountains that even dispense the bubbly stuff!
38. Picnicking in your hotel room
Tired of eating out? Take advantage of the outdoor markets, wine shops, and bakeries and whip up the perfect cheapo meal in the comfort of your own hotel room. Treat yourself to a deluxe spread of meats, cheeses, breads and anything else that tickles your fancy.
39. Get happy for cheap drinks
Wine might be cheap, but a cocktail is Paris can easily cost you €15. Don’t worry, be Happy! Here’s a list of bars with happy hours and reasonably priced drinks.
40. Enjoy free summer festivals
When the temperatures start to climb, so do the number of free events around Paris. Free entertainment is easy to find on almost every night of the week, including music series like the Paris Jazz Festival to outdoor film screenings like Cinéma en Plein Air. Head to Parc de la Villette which is packed with culture come summertime.
41. Hit the “beaches” along the Seine
Every summer the Seine and the Canal St-Martin transform into one of Europe’s coolest urban beaches. Yes, in a city hundreds of miles from the nearest stretch of coastline, you’ll find Parisians lounging about in their hottest swimwear soaking in the rays.
42. Take advantage of discounted movie tickets
Paris is famous for its film scene. Take advantage of some of these great deals on movie tickets when catching a flick.
43. Get cheap (or free) seats to opera, dance and classical concerts
Love world-class opera and classical music? Grab a cheap seat at the Opera Garnier and Opera Bastille, and find cheap and free concerts around town by picking up a Pariscope listings magazine at any newsstand.
44. Serious shoppers, don’t forget your tax refund!
Do you plan on doing some serious shopping? Non-EU citizens who spend at least €175 at any one store, may qualify for a 12% cash refund! This is available, with different requirements, throughout Europe. Read more in our post about tax refunds.
45. Hit the flea markets for cheapo souvenirs
Paris is home to several fabulous flea markets. Selling everything from new clothing to vintage cookware, these outdoor markets offer unique shopping and souvenir opportunities, often at low prices. Here are some tips for flea market success.
46. “Friperies” offer cheap vintage shopping
“Friperies” are inexpensive secondhand clothing shops where you have to dig through piles of cast-offs to find a vintage pearl. Here are a handful of addresses where Parisians go for a wallet-friendly vintage fashion shopping spree.
47. Head to these 3 pharmacies for the best prices on beauty products
The French are famous for their beauty lotions and potions. You can buy most of these at corner pharmacies, however, not all shops are created equal. Here are three pharmacies that offer the best selection and prices.
48. Avoid sketchy situations
With millions of tourists visiting every year, Paris also attracts more than its share of con artists and shady types. Fortunately, they’re usually pretty easy to spot. A stranger approaches you to sign something, hold something, pick something up that they’ve dropped… Just say no and walk away. No drama. Just move on. No story is better than endlessly kvetching about it later.
49. Find free Wi-Fi
If you’re traveling with an American smart phone, do everything possible to limit your roaming and data charges. We usually turn our data off and rely, whenever possible, on free Wi-Fi. Fortunately, free Wi-Fi is easy to find in cafes, fast food joints (all McDonald’s), in parks and museums. Here’s a list of places.
50. Talk to your bank before you go.
Call your bank before you leave to let them know that you’re heading on a trip to Paris. You don’t want them to block your card when they see international charges pop up. And while you have them on the phone, ask them about foreign transaction and ATM cash withdrawal fees. They might have a partnership with a bank in Paris that avoids ATM fees. (Here are some questions for your bank.)
Have tips to add to our list? Please contribute your thoughts on ways to save when visiting Paris in the comments section below.