Here's what everyone knows about Paris: It's beautiful (right!), the food's great (right!), the atmosphere can't be beat (right!)...And it's one of the the most expensive cities in the world to visit (wrong!).
Paris On The Cheap
Paris's metro system provides a surprisingly affordable transit option.
What guidebooks fail to tell you is that you can enjoy every inch of this wonderful city for next to nothing; in fact, you can see much of Paris for nothing at all. Just do what the Parisians—most of whom, not incidentally, live on budgets—do.
Here are 10 tips for getting the most out of Paris on a budget, selected from the city's countless offerings.
The Inexpensive Necessities: Food and Transportation
1. Breakfast. Go out early, like a Parisian, and buy bread or a croissant at the local boulangerie, then get coffee at your hotel. (Supermarket butter will keep unrefrigerated in your room in all but the hottest weather.)
2. Lunch. Picnic in a park on tartes, saucisse, quiche and bread from the same boulangerie, along with fruit from a fruit stand and juice from the supermarket.
3. Dinner. Find any bistro with a posted fixed-price menu. Among my favorites are le Mouffetard (116 rue Mouffetard, 5th arr.) and Restaurant Polidor (41 rue Monsieur le Prince, 6th arr.) There's also at least one moderately priced vegetarian restaurant in Paris, Le Grenier de Notre Dame (18 rue de la Bucherie, 5th arr.) Finally, there's the Chez Papa chain: 12 bistros scattered around Paris, all prepared to stuff you with the food of southwestern France for €15. The original is at 6 rue Gassendi in the 14th arrondissement.
4. Getting around. The second-cheapest way to get around Paris is via the safe, quiet and very efficient Metro. Tickets are €1.70 each but a package of ten (called a "carnet") costs only €12.70, bringing the cost of a ride down to less than €1.30. The cheapest form of transportation, however, costs even less than the Metro. Walking really is the best way to see Paris, which is so compact that you can easily walk between major landmarks.
The views of Paris from Sacré Coeur can be spectacular.
The Glorious—and Free!—Ambiance
5. The spot with the best views: Instead of paying for the elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower, head for the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur atop Montmartre, or the 9th-floor terrace of the Institut du Monde Arabe (at rue des Fossés St. Bernard and the Seine, 5e).
6. The most fun spot: Check out the crowds at the Centre Pompidou (rue Rambuteau and rue Beaubourg, 4th arr.), and, around the corner, the huge fountain at Place Igor Stravinsky, filled with whimsical sculptures by surrealists Niki Saint Phalle and her husband, Jean Tinguely.
7. The most charming spots in Paris: Visit the exquisite Place des Vosges (also in the 4th arr.), the green, placid and picnic-worthy square within a 17th-century housing complex for the very rich. Also check out the Latin Quarter's rue Mouffetard, the very old street (with a street market) that runs downhill from the top of the Montagne St. Geneviève, near the Panthéon.
8. The most historic spot: Check out the Arènes de Lutèce (off the rue Monge at the rue de Rollin, 5th arr.), the oldest structure in Paris still in use. A second-century Roman amphitheater, the Arène is enjoyed today by people playing soccer and pétanque, the French version of Italy's bocce.
9. The most fascinating spot: Buried in the Cimetière Père Lachaise (boulevard de Menilmontant and avenue Gambetta, 20th arr.) are the 12th-century lovers Héloïse and Abélard, singer Edith Piaf, movie star Yves Montand, expatriate writers Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde and rock star Jim Morrison.
10. The most amazing spot: The Parc de la Villette, in the northeast corner of the city (avenue Jean Jaurès and Porte de Pantin, 19th arr.). Built from scratch in the 1980s on the site of the city's old slaughterhouses, the park contains the serene Canal St. Martin, a science museum, music venues, specialized playgrounds and gardens and a giant bicycle by pop-art sculptor Claes Oldenburg.
If you do walk through the city to see all these sites, though, I promise you'll find just as many favorites on your own. There's always more to see and do in Paris, on any budget, than anyone can see or do in a week or a month—or a lifetime.
About the Author
The author of "Timeless Places: Paris" (Barnes & Noble, 2000) and a EuroCheapo Person We Love, Judith Mahoney Pasternak has visited Paris 11 times. She isn't tired of it yet, and doesn't expect ever to be.
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