Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. The wide, tree lined avenues, the meticulous architecture, the world–class museums and galleries, the theatres, cafes and shops that line the Champs Elysees, and the myriad historical marvels, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Paris Opera House, all anchored by the soaring peak of the Eiffel Tower—the city itself is a work of art that threatens to overwhelm the senses. Unfortunately, it’s also a city that threatens to overwhelm the wallet.
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Between your hotel room, a visit to the Louvre and lunch at La Cordonnerie, you can start feeling the financial stretch after just one day. But that’s not to say you still can’t enjoy the city on a budget, you just need to know where to look. Here are a few inexpensive things to do in the City of Lights:
No visit to Paris is complete without a trip through its many intoxicating museums and art galleries. And there are plenty of superb museums that won’t break the bank. The excellent Musée des Années 30 charges only €6.50 for a peek at its small but high-quality collection of modernist masterpieces from the likes of Juan Gris and Le Corbusier. €6.50 will also gain you entry to Europe’s oldest science museum, the Musée des Arts et Métiers, where you’ll find astrolabes, celestial spheres and antique clocks, as well as a massive 1938 TV set, and Cugnot’s 1770 ‘Fardier’ (the first ever self-propelled mechanical vehicle).
Still, the main attractions are the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou. Boasting some of the world’s greatest collections of Classical/renaissance, impressionist and modern art, respectively, these three are an absolute must for first time visitors – and they aren’t always too expensive. From October to March, entry to all three museums is absolutely free on the first Sunday of every month.
After a trip through the Louvre, be sure to visit nearby Bistrot Victoires. This lovely local favuorite serves up French staples like duck confit, steak frites and roast chicken, as well as a tantalizing array of pastries, tarts and chocolate-drizzled confections. It’s all topped off by the tastefully nostalgic decor that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the Paris of yesteryear. For a delicious two-course meal for under €20, Bistrot Victoires is definitely worth a try.
Düo Is part art gallery, part bookshop, part café and an all-around great place to spend an afternoon—provided of course, you’re not the type who’s easily offended. With provocative exhibitions that often probe the boundaries of gender and sexuality, the gallery isn’t always for the faint of heart. But what better to follow a look at some phallic post-modern art than a trip to the café, where you’ll find very reasonably priced coffee tea and wine, as well as a delicious prix fix menu that will only cost you €15.
Paris is full of charming little flea markets and antiques vendors, where you can find everything from fully refurbished antique furniture, to books, vinyl records and miscellaneous odds and ends. If you’re not looking to spend a fortune, head to Les Puces de Montreuil. Off the usual tourist path and a bit dingier than it’s more upscale cousin, the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, the Montreuil flea market is a great place to spend a few hours digging for buried treasure. Haggling is welcome (in French for best results), but even if you don’t spend a single Euro, it’s still worth a look.
If you’d rather someone else do the digging for you, pay a visit to Les Années Scooter. Owned and operated by avid flea market scavenger Philippe Devant, this curated second-hand wonderland offers everything from beautiful industrial lamps and vintage trinkets, to mid-century modern furniture and vintage Vespa Scooters. Although it’s a bit pricier than the Montreuil flea, you can still walk out with a tasteful and unique souvenir for around €20 to €30.
From the scenesters behind Le Social Club and Silencio (a super-stylish bar which was designed by legendary film director David Lynch), Wanderlust offers 1,600 square metres of drinking, dancing and mingling in a super refined high-end setting. Dance the night away to a well curated mix of techno and house music, or just enjoy from a distance as you sip a few cocktails out on the stunning terrace. It’s on the list because entry is free, but beware, the wait can be long and the drinks can be pricey.
Looking for live music and cheaper drinks? Alimentation Générale offers a colourful evening with affordable cocktails and nibbles. The dance floor gets going around 10pm, with everything from hip-hop and electronic to French crooners, funk and gypsy jazz, and the party doesn’t stop until around 5am. The crowd is hip and young, and the décor is minimalistic and utilitarian. Entry only costs about €5 to €10 depending on the night.
Paris is known for having some of the most breathtaking urban green spaces on the planet. While all of them are gorgeous, Bois de Vincennes must not be missed. Paris’s largest park boasts boating lakes, a serene Buddhist temple, restaurants and a botanical garden. Settle in with a baguette and a bottle of wine to enjoy a free jazz concert on summer weekends.
Part of Haussmann’s grand Paris rejuvenation project, Belleville’s Parc des Buttes-Chaumont offers lush greenery, meandering paths, beautiful temples, waterfalls and cliffs. It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re looking for a romantic spot to tuck away and take in the beauty of Paris, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better location.
The city itself is so stunningly gorgeous that even simply strolling the streets and avenues will keep you entertained for days. But if you’re still looking for some inexpensive excitement, it never hurts to ask a local. Paris has a bad reputation for being rude to tourists, but it simply isn’t true. Be polite, ask your waiter or a shop owner where you can find a good deal, and they won’t steer you wrong. Bon Voyage!
Andrew Walton is a veteran adventurer who makes travel dreams happen. With his unconventional and ruthlessly effective approaches to money, lifestyle design, and entrepreneurship, he’ll show you how to make a living on the road. You’ll usually find him off the beaten track, but he’s always within reach at his travel blog.