My love affair with Paris started 6 years ago. About 2 hours after getting off the plane, I had lunch outdoors at a boulangerie in the 7th Arr. and I was hooked. Traveling to Paris can be expensive if you don’t plan well (or at all, like us), but the beauty and excitement of the City of Lights shouldn’t be overshadowed by budgeting for your trip. Below are some ideas for those of us traveling on a tight budget.
1. Free and discounted museum days
The Louvre, Musee Rodin, Musee Picasso, Musee d’Orsay and others are all FREE the first Sunday of every month. But beware, the museums will be packed and you’d be best off showing up early or near closing.
Speaking of closing, the Louvre is open until 9:45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays and if you show up after 6:00pm, you’ll score a discounted entry. I just experienced my first late night at the Louvre last week and it’s absolutely amazing. There was a crowd of four people admiring the Mona Lisa (you read that right- four, not 400) and we blissfully hit up all the big pieces in an hour without have to push and weave our way through the crowds. Mid-day, the photo above would have been crowded with thousands of people, but at 7:30pm, we had the whole place to ourselves.
2. Dine like a local
Parisian picnics are no joke. After work and on weekends with nice weather, it seems like everyone in the city is out along the Seine or in a park eating and drinking with friends (FYI you can openly consume alcohol in Paris parks). Who needs to spend money at a restaurant when you can grab some cheap wine and bread and spend an entire afternoon outside soaking up the city like a true Parisian?
Some of my favorite picnic spots in the city are:
- Along the Seine- This is by far my favorite place to sit down and picnic. It’s not particularly comfy, so you might want to bring something soft to sit on if you’re planning a multi-hour hang-out, but warm afternoons along the Seine will make you fall in love with Paris. If you want to be near the action (and amazing people watching), there tend to be particularly large crowds along the water between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.
- The Touleries- Grab a chair around one of the fountains and crack open a beer across from the Louvre or under the Ferris Wheel.
- Luxembourg Gardens (in photo above)- Romantic, chill, and insta-perfect. What more could you want?
- Sacred Heart- Have you ever been to Dolores Park in San Francisco on a sunny Californian day? This is the Parisian equivalent: great view, steep hill, locals and tourists alike.
- Eiffel tower- Yes, this one is touristy, but still fun. Everyone should do it once.
3. Notre Dame
Visiting Notre Dame is free all day every day. Construction started on this awe-inspiring cathedral in 1163 and I highly encourage everyone, even the non-religious among us, to visit if for no other reason than to soak up the 800+ years of history. And if you want two millennia of history, the Archaeological Crypt is located just 300 meters in front of Notre Dame’s entrance. There is an entrance fee for this museum, but if you’re a history buff, learning about the first settlers of modern-day Paris is worth every cent.
Got some money to spare?
If you’ve done all of the above and have some money left over (or if you’re not in Paris during a free museum day) here are some additional suggestions that require a little more cash.
Getting out of the city and into the quiet country surrounding Paris is a bit surreal. But seeing Monet’s house is exciting for both art buffs and people who just like looking at flowers. There are 4 major attractions when visiting Monet’s old stomping grounds- the museum, the house, the garden, and the ponds. You should budget around 3 hours to leisurely enjoy the complex. And yes, the paintings in the photo above are real. And you can get thiiiiiiisss close to them. *swoon*
Here’s the thing- and this is IMPORTANT– go with a tour that picks you up in Paris (I rarely suggest the more expensive way to go, but trust me on this one). I took a train to Vernon and then a shuttle to Giverny but it turns out trains in Paris are incredibly unreliable. I bought a train ticket from Vernon back to Paris at 3:00pm and it never showed up and we decided to spend 160 euro on a taxi back to Paris instead of waiting another 7 hours for the next “scheduled” train to show up. There are so many bus trips from the city for about 20 euro more than if you went on your own- save yourself the stress and uncertainty by taking advantage of a more structured option.
2. The Catacombs
Go. To. The. Catacombs. They’re amazing and macabre and you’ll never forget your experience winding through the underbelly of Paris. The best way to visit the Catacombs is by purchasing a “skip the line” ticket with audio guide online for 29 euro. A typical wait in line for the Catacombs is 3-5 hours. Our ticketed tour time was 6:00 and when we showed up at 6:10 there were still hundreds of people in line. Many of them probably weren’t able to get in before closing. But we walked straight through the entrance, were handed an audio guide, and descended for several minutes down a tiny, winding staircase. No wait at all.
3. Musee d’Orsay and the Musee de l’Orangerie
These are my personal favorite museums in the city. The Musee d’Orsay houses a huge collection of mostly French art created between 1848-1914. Aside from the seamlingly endless galleries of masterworks by Manet, Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cezanne to mention a few, the museum itself is a renovated train station. You can just as easily sit in the main corridor for an hour admiring the architecture as you could wander amongst the world’s greatest pieces of Impressionist art on the fifth floor.
The Musee de l’Orangerie is associated with the Musee d’Orsay and is located just across the Seine. Tip: you can get a join museum pass at a discounted price at either museum! The l’Orangerie is the permanent home for eight of Monet’s Water Lilies murals. Sit in silence and soak in the beauty and tranquility of these masterpieces in the heart of Paris.
The most important thing to remember is that you can (and should) enjoy Paris without spending a ton of money. Join the locals in the park, take long walks around the city, explore on your own terms. There is something in this city to inspire everyone. Go find your something.