Paris on a Budget

We've decided we probably won't make it back to France in calendar 2009. For one thing, we've got some home repairs and upgrades next year, and for another, I feel a bit guilty spending the money.

But we will return for at least a week sometime in the next 18 months. We know how to do Paris on a very small budget.

When my husband and I look back on our trips, the moments we cherish most are those that cost us very little in the way of financial outlay.

On a warm spring May Day four years ago, our favorite moment came when we fed pigeons in Place Paul Langevin in the Latin Quarter. I had a half-bag of cashews in my purse, and we enjoy teasing the ubiquitous critters while children played nearby in the sun-dappled little square not far from the Pantheon.

In 2007, an afternoon in Musee Carnavalet on a rainy afternoon and a visit to Square Georges Cain provided us with an equally low-cost and enjoyable moment on our last day in Paris.

We've found great pleasure simply exploring and lingering in the many gardens in Paris. We even enjoyed a wet walk along the Seine one Sunday afternoon when buses were infrequent.

Recently we found pure joy in the Places des Vosges (above), just watching children play.

You can enjoy Paris on very little money indeed, I assured a reader who recently e-mailed me.

We've all got favorite tips, but here are a few of mine.

• Choose a value hotel. They abound in Paris. I find hotels on Tripadvisor, and have yet to go wrong that way. Expect a small room. You can adjust for a few days or even a week. You'll do a lot of walking as soon as you step outside the hotel.

• Make sure you have a mini bar in the room. Mini bar prices are often very reasonable when compared to those in snack shops and cafés. Your body clock will be off, and you may get hungry at odd hours.

• Fill up at the hotel breakfast, if it is reasonably priced, or buy a croissant from a bakery.

• If you will be in Paris for a week, rent a studio apartment. Most have microwaves and many have stovetops. Some even have ovens and all have coffeemakers. In 2007, we ate well for two weeks with just a stovetop and microwave.

• Shop for food basics at Ed l'Epicier, FranPrix or LeaderPrice. I found prices had gone up a bit from 2007, but they were still reasonable.

• Buy a carnet and use it to ride the Paris bus system. You will see a lot, observe real Parisians close up and not have to worry too much about pick pockets on the Metro. You can use public transport to get to and from Charles de Gaulle airport.

• Check out the city's free museums and sites. We thoroughly enjoyed Carnavalet and the Crypts. There are other freebies to enjoy.

• Walk. Explore hidden spaces. In my book, they - not the well-known monuments and open spaces which teem with tourists - are the true essence of Paris.

• Consider cafés and cafeterias located in one of the city's train stations. I found Le Train Bleu a bit steep, so we ate at the cafeteria just below and enjoyed a pretty darned good meal for a fraction of the cost of the fancy lady upstairs.

• Looking for entertainment? We chanced upon a string ensemble on Oct. 4 at the Place des Vosges (below). The music was sweeter than anything I'd pay for - it was spirited and spontaneous.

I'd love to hear your favorite tips for traveling anywhere and not spending a bundle.


Judy said…
Hi Mimi, I think if you look around you you can find inexpenive ways to save money and still have a grand time even at home. With the price of everything these days I think we all need to get inventive and ask ourselves if we really need something. Maybe even find a quaint cafe in a new neighborhood where you can still have a great meal.
Christine said…
I like your recommendations, Mimi. And the photos of the Places des Vosges take me back. Our musical surprise were three classical guitarists playing their hearts out.
Judy, I agree. I have not really cut back on shopping for clothing, because my job requires me to be out in public a lot and attend many evening functions. But I have gotten some wonderful bargains this year.

On the other hand, I am trying to save more and spend less on food, energy and gas. We've cut back drastically on meals out.

Christine, there is something about music in the Place des Vosges! I mean, it's heaven. The Place really is one of the loveliest spots in Paris.
lady jicky said…
Mimi - my Mother and I went to paris this year and we had the main meal at lunchtime at the fancy restaurants and bistro's we liked the look of. they are cheaper!
We would be full and so had a sneaky kayser bought roll (oooh some were delish) with wonderful tasty filling in our room with a bottle of champers we "stopped" and kept in that mini fridge that we cleared out and placed their bottles that we did not touch (too $$) infront of our table for them to see! We would have a cake we bought at Laudree sitting inside that fridge for later too! He, he!
We did the same thing one year, Lady Jicky. We'd have lunch out and munch on cheese, yogurt and other odds and ends at night. There are many bistros that offer an affordable lunch - but supper can total as much as $70 if you aren't careful. More, in my experience!
Martha said…
It seems like the best memories from any of our European trips are those things that cost very little money. The dinners in nice restaurants were great but talking to a lady who had survived the bombing of Coventry and what it was like the next day was priceless!

Thanks for sharing your tips -- they are spot on!

Martha, I have had some of those priceless moments, too, mostly when I met friendly, helpful people:

The older blond lady who looked like MFK Fisher and spoke to us as we rested on a bench near Place de la Contrascarpe... the old farmer who stopped to help us find out way somewhere east of St. Cirq Lapopie...

There are many more. I will never understand why so many Americans think the French (and others) are unfriendly. I have never seen that.
JC said…
Hello, I agree that the free things are the best in Paris. We have a favorite little hotel in the 9th which is quite comfortable and includes breakfast. For lunch we grab a baguette and some fruit and are quite satisfied. We usually just pick a neighborhood for the day and just walk and explore. We stumbled into a wonderful antique music store one afternoon and spend hours in there while the proprietor told stories of each instrument. It was one of the nicest afternoons we ever spend it Paris.
Great travel tips -- cities like Paris can be frighteningly expensive, but there are always ways to economize without sacrificing any enjoyment.
My take on those recommendations is that's sort of the way I think anywhere I am. I guess I enjoy things, places and people that really aren't about $$. We've been in everyone of these spots and so enjoyed them.
JC, was that shop near Place des Vosges? Richard from Eye Prefer Paris introduced us to that lovely place.

Lydia, I normally don't spend too much in Paris. My biggest purchase to date was my copper bowl from E. Dehillerin. Oh, and some books from Shakespeare & Co.

Tanna, I agree. This is the only way to travel. I did splurge on breakfast at SFO a few months back, but only to keep myself from getting hungry on the plane home.
JC said…

Yes it was near Place des Vosges. We were out walking in that neighborhood and just happened to see the beautiful display in the window and went in. What a great time. Now that you mentioned it, I also spend a great deal of time in Dehillerin and Shakespeare & Co.

Cassoulet Cafe said…
I wholeheartedly agree that our best trips have been the ones on a budget. It forces you to get creative and you discover places you would have passed over.

As for Paris, I've only ever done it on a budget. The other day, one of my friend's mother said, "I'm saving for a trip to Paris. I guess I'll have to save awhile because meals there are $700."

Eyes rolling.

PS. My verification word is ISHARE....another blogger (La Belette Rouge) and I think it's hilarious to give them definitions.

Ishare=what you do when you share your experience on a blog. :)

Dont' mind me, I'm a little nutty today. haha!
JC, that's the place alright! The owner is enchanting - a lion of a man!

Cassoulet, I'm a little goofy today, too. I am not sleeping well, worrying about this or that. Then there is the election, which is making everyone nuts.
Eileen said…
I'm always good for a stretch, watching my Euros, saying no to that second cafe creme. Then comes that day when I buy one little thing, and it just opens the door. I try so hard, but always seem to fail.
Eileen, I think I have experienced that, too. I usually do very well the first 5-7 days, and then I start spending a bit more.
Anonymous said…
I've only been to Paris once. We ate street food and bread and cheese from the grocery stores. There was a outdoor cafe across from L'Esperance Hotel where we had equisite lamb. On Saturday morning we were awaken by a brass band from the Market on the Rue Muffutard where we had a wonderful brunch and then strolled the market. It was our first trip and it wasn't as well planned as I would like but one day we hope to return. riverpath
Fiona said…
Great tips for visiting Paris on a budget. Though I was sad to read it will probably be a while before you re-visit your favourite city.
Hi Riverpath, I had a similar experience when my husband and I rented an apartment near the Eiffel Tower. We heard a jazz ensemble serenading diners at a nearby cafe late one night, and it was a charming moment that we savored. It's the little things.

Fiona, I will certainly try to get back as soon as possible. My husband and I are city lovers, and I've promised him a mini vacation in Chicago (which has suddenly become more exciting as the home of our next president), a city we both love.
Jann said…
All of your suggestions are wonderful~I have heard the music before in the Place De Vosges a few times. Some of these performers need to be on stage! Listening and watching in this area is a great way to enjoy the city! I love just grabbing a cheese sandwich and sitting on a park bench -eating and watching! It doesn't take much to please me in Paris~

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