Paris isn’t a cheap place to visit, it’s true, but if you want to spend some time in the City of Light then you don’t have to break the bank. Whilst you may have to make a few compromises (on the view from your hotel window, for example) and you might not be able to have steak and champagne every meal, there’s still plenty to enjoy in Paris if you’re not able to spend a fortune.
The Eiffel Tower is, of course, one of the most popular monuments to visit in Paris, but if you don’t want to pay the €10 or so to get to the top then you can still enjoy it from ground level. The stunning Champs de Mars is the large manicured garden that stretches out beneath the tower, where you can enjoy a great tasting bottle of vin rouge on a sunny day in the shadow of Gustave Eiffel’s famous construction (NB: good wine can be bought very cheaply in any French supermarket). The Trocadero sits opposite the Tower and is a large square where you can get some great photos of yourselves in front of the famous landmark. This is also the location of the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro, which has some fascinating exhibitions on the development of man and only costs a few euros to enter. There are a number of other museums and art galleries in the city where entrance is free – try the Marion Goodman Galerie, the Galerie Xippas, Le Plateau – FRAC Ile de France, or head to any of Paris’ 23 museums (such as the Louvre and Versailles) on the first Sunday of every month when entrance to the permanent exhibitions is free for everyone.
If it’s views out over Paris you’re after then take a walk up the winding streets of Montmartre to the stunning Sacre Coeur, a Roman Catholic basilica made of bright white travertine (a type of limestone), from where you can see the whole of the city on a sunny day. Take a look around the interior of the Sacre Coeur, which is a haven of hushed peace and quiet compared to the packed, tourist-filled streets outside, and then spend some time exploring Montmartre itself. You could follow the trail of the locations in the film Amélie, which was set in this area, stop and have a cold beer or a chocolate chaud at one of the many roadside cafes, or simply wander the streets where Matisse, van Gogh, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso and Degas once trod.
If you want to get around in Paris in style without paying a fortune, then the Vélib bike scheme (the one that inspired the London Boris Bikes) is a great way to do it. Paris has been gradually increasing its network of cycle paths over the years and there are now more than 440km of them winding through the city. When it comes to eating and drinking, dining out in Paris can easily be one of your biggest expenses. However, if you buy from the local supermarkets, patisserie and cafes, rather than the more expensive international restaurants, you’ll find your budget will go much further. One of the cheapest areas to find food and drink bargains is Bastille, a well-known student area where you will find lots of cafes with cheap, filling offerings for every meal. If you’re heading out in the evening then the best way to start your night out is by indulging in a tipple in some of the smaller, cosier local bars of the city, accompanied by a hearty and filling snack like a croque monsieur with some delicious, salty frites. If you want to dance into the early hours without paying a cover charge, try the glamorous ‘Le Showcase’ club under the arches of the Alexandre III bridge, where entry is free before midnight, or, if you’re looking for live music, La Flèche d’Or has free admission all night and lots of great live bands.
While you might have concerns about heading to Paris on a limited budget, you don’t need to spend a fortune here to have a fabulous time. With some canny forward-planning you’ll be able to experience pretty much everything you want for very little, whether it’s art, history, or nightlife. And even if the coffers do run dry, there’s really nothing better than wandering around this city and taking it all in – and that won’t cost you a penny.