Paris isn't cheap, granted, but it's not nearly as expensive as the lore would have you believe. With a little advance planning and careful avoidance of tourist traps, you can have a fantastique time in Paris without breaking the bank.
Expect to Spend: Paris
Boulangeries are a popular option for an affordable meal in Paris.
Basic hotels cost anywhere from €60 to €140 for a double, depending on location, renovation status and whether or not part of the bathroom is in the hall. The three-star joints can climb up as high as €280 for a double, though this is not typical. Usually, you can sleep in style for about €130 per night.
For much more on this subject, see our article on finding the perfect hotel in Paris (including how much you can expect to spend on each type).
Meals in the city of famous cuisine range in price from a couple euros for coffee and a croissant to checks that can cause extreme financial panic. Be sure to check out the three-course "menus" and two-course "formulas," fixed-price meals served at most restaurants. These meals are often presented within different price categories, depending on the restaurant.
Lunch at a typical non-tourist trap restaurant will run about €15 and dinner will be about €25. At trendier spots, the prices are about €10 more expensive.
Sometimes a glass of wine, or a quarter of a liter pitcher (a "pichet") is included in the cost of a set menu. You can order a good bottle of wine at a restaurant for about €15. At the grocery store, an equivalent bottle of wine costs €8. At restaurants, you can almost always order a pitcher of the house wine for a reasonable amount.
You'll save a lot on the bill if you order (perfectly drinkable) tap water. If you don't specify "un carafe d'eau," your waiter will bring you bottled water, which costs extra.
Many restaurants in Paris offer a "plat du jour" as the cheapest entrée.
Some Quick Dining Tips
At many restaurants, the plat du jour is often the cheapest entrée. Brasseries often have inexpensive snacking options like sandwiches and light salads in addition to heartier restaurant fare. Patisseries, creperies and boulangeries are great places for quick, cheap dining.
Grocery stores provide an even cheaper option. Even if you don't have a kitchen, the supermarché is a great place to stock up on snacks and drinks to have as you are walking around town. As we mention in our blog, only buy your water at the grocery store, as it's much less expensive. Also see our related post on the top supermarket chains in Paris.
Open-air markets are another cheap eating alternative. The Marché rue Montorguell offers meat, wine and cheese. The Marché Monge is a good place to buy everything else. Always consider eating breakfast outside of the hotel. An in-house breakfast can cost between €4 and €8, depending whether the meal is included in the price of a room. Many cafés, right outside hotel doors, offer croissants for as little as €1.
Some Notes on Tipping and Haggling
By law, service must be included at all restaurants, bars and cafés in France. Look for the words "service compris" on the menu. There is no space on credit card receipts to add a tip. Even when service is included, it is polite to leave about a euro, or 5%, of the bill. This amount is referred to as a "pourboire." It is certainly not a requirement.
If you get your hair cut or styled, tip about 10%. Do not tip taxis more than a euro. In nicer hotels, the concierge may expect a tip if they've provided you with any extra service. Do not give a concierge less than €2.
Bargaining with prices is only acceptable at outdoor markets. Nowhere else. Full stop.
About the author: Tom Meyers is the Editor in Chief of EuroCheapo.com.
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