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Cheap Paris Travel
How to See the City on Less Than $15 a Day

Yes, there is such a thing as cheap Paris travel and yes, you can still see Paris on less than $15 a day!

I have proof. My friend Gigi recently (in 2008) spent two weeks in Paris (on a visa run) on her own on an average budget of US$ 12 a day, including food (some food, anyway).

It wasn't easy, but she was able to see most key Paris sights and certainly didn't feel as though she'd missed much - budget Paris travel, definitely!

Paris is just an example, by the way.

This isn't a general travel site with full lists of where to go and what to do. But you shouldn't miss some of the world's most wonderful cities just because they have a reputation for being expensive.

If you're determined enough, you can visit a major European city with very little money.

This may not be the ideal way to travel, but cheap Paris travel - and indeed cheap travel in any city - still remains possible.

Lets see how.

1. Don't pay to sleep.
This is absolutely the first and only non-negotiable rule of cheap Paris travel. There are plenty of free couch-surfing type accommodation schemes. As of this writing, Couchsurfing listed 301 Parisians willing to provide sleeping accommodations (and that's not counting the suburbs). Hospitality Club has more than 9000 listings in the Parisian region, and Global Freeloaders has more than 500. If you plan well ahead of time, there's no reason you should have to pay. And if you happen to be a writer, Shakespeare and Co will allow you to use one of the cots in the back of their bookshop...

2. Do your research.
There are plenty of free things you can do in Paris (I've provided some ideas further down). Some things - like museums - are only free certain days (usually the first Sunday of the month) so you'll have to undertake some careful planning if you want to succeed at cheap Paris travel planning. Time your trip to take advantage of free days. Even if you pay to visit something like the Louvre, make a day of it. Don't just spend a few hours - go from opening to closing to maximize your expense. Most museums let you go in and out - so step outside for lunch.

budget travel parisCentre Pompidou

3. Avoid restaurants and pack your lunch.

Paris is a city of ethnicities and eating cheaply on the run is actually possible. While a 'tourist' crepe on the Left Bank may put you back 8 Euros, a falafel sandwich in the Arab or Jewish neighborhoods will go for a Euro or two. Better yet, France is also the country where you can buy a baguette - a loaf of French bread - for under Euros 0.80. Most supermarkets have huge slabs of pate for Euros 2-3. It may not be the healthiest diet, but for a week or two, it certainly is possible. Fill your bottle of water before leaving your room (Paris tap water is safe to drink). For nourishing and cheap Paris travel, add an apple to your lunch and you'll be all set.

4. Be prepared to walk and avoid public transport.
 Not avoid altogether, but stretch out your tickets. Take the subway or bus to your destination, and walk back. Make sure you've got more than one sight to see at your destination - if you're going to pay for transport, make it worthwhile! Just choose a neighborhood - Montmartre, the Marais, the Left Bank, the Champs-Elysées - and start walking. And by the way, most major museums have plenty of other sights within walking distance.

5. See all the sights - from the outside.
 Why stand in line (and pay a lot) to climb the Eiffel Tower when you can get a stunning vista from its base? And at night, its 20,000 lights will take your breath away. The same goes for other major attractions. Sure, if you were flush, it might be nice to climb the Arc de Triomphe but this isn't about doing everything in Paris - it's about doing a lot of things for very little money.

6. Group your sights.
Don't zig-zag across Paris. For cheap Paris travel, either pick a theme, or pick a neighborhood. Map it all out before you go so you don't waste either time or money on public transit.

cheap food in ParisCheap eats in Paris

7. Write it down.
Keep track. Some days, believe it or not, you may not spend your $15. Carry the extra over to the next day. At some point, you may allow yourself a splurge. Even a wonderful meal in a good homecooking restaurant may set you back under Euros 10 so if you've been careful, you may be able to do this once or twice.

8. Check the passes.
Cheap Paris travel comes in many sizes and shapes. There are some excellent pass deals - and others aren't. Museum passes may let you in to just that part you don't want to see, or the museums or exhibits listed might already be free. As for the subway passes, the weekly pass is a good deal - a few rides and you've paid for it. So look at these with an eagle eye.

9. Don't be afraid to ask people.
Once you're in an area, especially if it has a distinct culture or environment, people will often be delighted to share their knowledge with you - even if they don't really speak your language. If you show an interest, there's a good chance you'll be pointed towards other similar sites. Interest and curiosity are contagious!

10. Be creative about souvenirs.
Don't fall for the tourist traps - be original. Make the most of cheap Paris travel by designing or creating your own postcard or memory book with entry tickets and photographs you've taken. Do you really need a T-shirt that says I love Paris?

Cheap Paris travel: free or very cheap things to do
  • Visit Paris's magnificent gardens - they're all free: Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc du Champ de Mars, Jardin du Palais Royal and many more.

  • Paris tourists
    Enjoying the outdoors is a favorite Paris pastime
  • Get spiritual. The towers may cost, but entering a French church is free. In Notre-Dame Cathedral, catch a free Sunday organ recital, free English-language tours or Sunday choir rehearsals. Take a photo of your feet at Point 0, where all distances in France are measured from.

  • Visit other places of worship, such as the Synagogue or the Mosque.

  • Pay your respects at the Père Lachaise Cemetary: visit the tombs of such well-known former Paris residents as Molière, Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison, Isadora Duncan, Oscar Wilde, Chopin... You could always visit the site where Princess Diana died in a car accident, at the Place de l'Alma underpass. I have to admit I've stayed away from this one. Really into cemeteries? There's also the Montmartre and the Montparnasse, with their own famous graves.

  • For the most fashionable in cheap Paris travel, window shop - it's as good as this season's high fashion shows. Stroll along the Avenue Montaigne and Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré and nearby side streets to get a taste of Chanel or Hermès. And if you're a fashion fan, take in the free show at the Galeries Lafayette department store every Friday afternoon.

  • Take a free audio tour of Paris. Just download free guided tours to your iPod or MP3 and start walking. Or a free walking tour - a great three-hour bargain (though you should leave a tip).

  • Become a bookworm. There are several decent English bookstores in Paris, and browsing is free. Some are also open Sunday, which is unusual in France. If you'd rather be outdoors, linger among the Bouquinistes - the bookstalls along the Seine River's Left Bank. Browse through first editions, second-hand books and antiques, just as others have done before you for centuries.

  • paris flea markets
    Flea markets in Paris
  • Visit the antique market at the Puces Saint-Ouen (admittedly my favorite). Tiny streets and huge market stalls mix to provide you with an overview of the best in French antiques. You don't have to buy anything - just wander around, pick things up, and admire one of the city's great treasure troves. There are plenty of other antique markets - but this in my opinion is the best.

  • Go to one of Paris's many free museums such as the Modern Art Museum, Fine Arts Museum, the Fragonard Perfume Museum or the Paris Fashion Museum - and there are plenty of others. The Louvre may not be free, although it is free one Sunday a month, as well as Friday evenings if you're under 25. Beware, though, the lines will be long so get there early. Same for the Rodin Museum - it's free the first Sunday of every month. One more thing: teachers and students get discounts.

  • Many otherwise paying museums have free exhibits, a mainstay of cheap Paris travel. Find out when and where they are, and make them part of your tour. Conversely, exhibits are sometimes paying while permanent collections are free. Either way, check it out. And spend time on the computers most museums provide - they often contain the museum's entire collection.

  • Art in Paris
    Cheap Paris travel: free art is everywhere
  • Surround yourself with art, whether by gazing at street artists or visiting the hundreds of art galleries that dot the city - free of charge, of course. Don't miss the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, where painters come to paint.

  • See Paris by night. When it's lit up, the Eiffel Tower is a magnificent sight. So is the Arc de Triomphe. And the shores of the Seine. There are few sights as romantic and thrilling as Paris by night - even when it's pouring rain.

  • Explore the Seine and its more than 40 bridges. Just cross back and forth all day... or all night. I remember a romantic walk through Paris when I was 18 that had me crossing bridges all night. What memories...

  • budget paris travel
    Romantic bridges in Paris
  • Have a free couscous. That's right - a number of Parisian restaurants offer this North African specialty free very Friday and Saturday night, often to the sound of live music. You will have to pay for a drink though - but it's cheap Paris travel at its best.

  • Explore exhibitions and festivals in Paris. Many will have free food and attractions. One of the best is the Fêtes de la Musique on June 21, with free concerts all over Paris (and across France, for that matter).

  • Take advantage of the dozens of other cheap Paris travel free concert venues: the National Conservatory of Music produces hundreds of student recitals each year; Saturday and Sunday free concerts at the St. Merry Church and the American Church of Paris; or Radio France's 180 or so free concerts every year - get a free ticket half an hour before the show. Like jazz? 7 Lezards in the Marais provides free music with no cover charge.

  • paris cycling
    Ride, don't drive

    For more cheap Paris travel, take a free bicycle ride with Paris Rando Velo on Friday nights at 9:30 pm starting in front of the Hotel de Ville or every third Sunday at 10:30 am. And don't forget to pick up a free bicycle map at any Paris tourist office.

    Do you have your rollerblades with you? Then join rollerbladers every Friday night for three-hour tours of the city, leaving from Place Raoul Dautry at 10 pm.

    An easier version leaves from the Bastille on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 pm. No blades? Then join the French hiking club for their Paris walks. The site is in French only so you'll have to get a bit of translation help.

  • Love to move? Dance the night away at Quai Saint-Bernard all summer long with an open-air dance party when the weather permits. Or try the Caveau de la Huchette jazz club in the Latin Quarter has free dancing late nights starting at 2 am on weekends.

  • This isn't free, but invest in a weekly edition of Pariscope - the best Paris entertainment listings of what's on in the city.

Gigi's cheap Paris travel experiment

Gigi did have a place to stay in town so her Paris budget experiment - under US$ 15 a day - covered food and entertainment. She divided her visit into themes: this is her Oriental theme day (all expenses are in US$).

  • Bought Arabic sweetmeats: 50 cents
  • Subway ride to near the Mosque: $1.40
  • Two figs at outdoor market: 40 cents
  • Visited three Islamic bookstores on the way to the Mosque: free
  • Mosque visit: $3
  • Walk through Latin Quarter: free
  • University art exhibit: free
  • Arabic Institute exhibit and view from the top of the building (one of the best): free
  • Arabic bookstore visit, purchased two postcards: $2
  • Lunch in front of the Arabic Institute: brought with me (paid for the day before)
  • Walked along the Seine, bookstalls and outdoor art: free
  • Botanical Gardens: free
  • Walked home, bought a loaf of bread, cheese and fruit: $4
  • Total cost for the day: $11.40 (and that leaves you $3.60 to carry over to another day!)
There you go: cheap travel to Paris is indeed possible!

All photos taken for Cheap Paris Travel are by Amy 'Gigi' Frank.