How to do Paris on a budget

Photo of Mary NovakovichPhoto of Mary Novakovich
By Mary Novakovich

18 November 2023 | Updated 18 November 20237 min read

Pinkish clouds and skies over Paris' Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the Carrousel de Saint-Pierre

Who doesn’t love the thought of a romantic city break in Paris? Your wallet, perhaps, if you’ve been feeling the financial squeeze lately.

But that doesn’t mean France’s beguiling capital is off limits if you’re not rolling in it.

Strolling along its wide boulevards and admiring the city’s graceful Belle Epoque architecture costs nothing, and there’s no shortage of free places to visit. As for the rest? Our expert guide reveals how to keep things cheap in the City of Lights.

Where to stay on a budget

Start off with an affordable place to stay – preferably one that’s within walking distance of some of the main attractions.

The three-star Mob Hotel in the Saint-Ouen area in northern Paris is a great choice for anyone wanting to get their shop on at the famous flea markets. Rooms are simple but chic, plus there’s a friendly restaurant and trendy rooftop bar. Prices start from just €71 a night.

Between Montmartre and the Opéra is Hotel Arvor, a friendly four-star that shows you can still get stylish rooms on a budget. Gaze upon the rooftops of Paris from the brightly decorated rooms, some of which have views of the Eiffel Tower.

Alternatively, consider a hostel such as JO&JOE Paris Nation. The relaxed atmosphere and communal terrace make it a top choice for those looking to meet like-minded travellers, and you’ll find plenty of local cafes and music bars on the doorstep. You can pick up a bed in a shared dorm from around €30 a night, or there are private double rooms available too.

Where to eat on a budget

While Michelin stars litter the streets of Paris – 118 at the last count – not all of its restaurants are quite so astronomical.

If you’re hungrily wandering the streets of Montmartre and want to avoid the tourist traps, head to cosy Tifinagh. The two course set menu at this traditional French bistro comes in at about €16 - €20 per person with classic dishes including duck terrine and sirloin steak – astonishing value in a city where steaks alone regularly break the €20 mark.

If you want a quick but filling lunch, refuel with a huge falafel or shawarma at L’As du Fallafel. You’ll probably have to queue, but it’s worth it for a big plate of falafel with hummus, tahini, aubergines and salad for about €8.

Middle Eastern – Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli – and North African restaurants in general offer good-value food that’s packed with zingy flavours. You can find all those flavours and more in the food hall of Ground Control near Gare de Lyon train station – a great place to grab lunch or dinner on the go.

What to see on a budget

If you’re in Paris on the first Sunday of the month, take advantage of the free admission to the city’s museums, including the Musée Picasso. Otherwise, one of its most fascinating museums happens to be free all the time. Musée Carnavalet tells the compelling history of Paris in exhibits spread throughout two handsome 16th-century buildings in the Marais quarter.

Paris is particularly rich in beautiful parks, including the Tuileries by the Louvre and the Luxembourg Gardens.

If you’re feeling energetic, head east to Parc de Belleville – the highest park in Paris at 105m (344ft) – for panoramic views of the city. From there, it’s only a 15-minute walk to the captivating Père-Lachaise Cemetery, the place of pilgrimage for fans of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, among many others.

For a different perspective, take a walk along the Promenade Plantée, or Coulée Verte, a disused railway line that’s been transformed into a 4.7km (2.9 miles) elevated landscaped walkway. Tucked into the arches below are shops and galleries, but the main attraction is the close-up view of Parisian rooftops.

If the Eiffel Tower is on your must-see list but you’re put off by the queues (and the prices), buy a ticket for the second-floor entrance. It’s only €11.30 via the stairs rather than the €21.50 fee to go to the very top, and the views are still spectacular. Order online and you book a specific time slot, saving you from joining the never-ending queues.

There’s a variety of Paris passes (via the tourist board’s website) you can buy that will give you free admission to museums, attractions and free public transport.

The Paris Museum Pass for adults costs €55 for two days, and you could make this money back by the time you’ve visited your fourth museum – depending on what you visit. If you’re a keen museum-goer and want to take in as many cultural riches as Paris offers, this could save you money.

But you could end up cramming your schedule with visiting sights and leaving little time to enjoy one of the most pleasant things to do in Paris: merely ambling along and enjoying the atmosphere.

Alternatively, you could go the whole hog and spend €144 for a two-day Paris City Pass, which adds public transport, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour and a boat trip along the Seine to the mix. But remember that it’s a lot to realistically squeeze into two days – plus all those museums you’d have to visit to see any savings. And none of the passes includes the Eiffel Tower.

Hôtel d'Alsace

  • Paris, France
  • 19 May 2025
  • Room only
  • From Manchester

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How to get around on a budget

If you’re staying somewhere fairly central, it’s easy – and a great pleasure – to explore much of Paris on foot. It’s also just as easy to use the Métro if you want to cover more ground.

Single Métro tickets cost €2.10, but you save money if you buy a carnet of 10 tickets for €16.90 on the Navigo Easy pass(€19.10 paper tickets). You can use these on the Métro and RER suburban trains within Paris’ zone 1, as well as buses and trams. If you take the Eurostar to Gare du Nord, you can buy the tickets at one of the machines – but never buy them from people trying to sell them to you while you stand in the queue.

There are travel cards available, but unless you’re chronically hopping on and off the Métro for much of the day, they’re not always value for money. A day pass within Paris costs up to €20.10, and it’s valid only for a 24-hour period – unlike a carnet of 10 tickets.

If you’re arriving via Charles de Gaulle airport, you can take the direct Roissy bus to the Opéra for €16.20, the RER into the centre of Paris for €11.40, or a slower bus to the Gare de l’Est or Nation for around €7.50.

Insider tips

  • Save cash – and the environment – by not ordering bottled water in restaurants. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for tap water (une carafe d’eau). And don’t forget that all bills automatically include a 15% service charge, so don’t assume that you’ll have to add another 15% for a tip. If the service is outstanding, you can round it up or add a couple of euros.
  • Lunchtime menus are often the best bargain of the day – offering excellent value for two or three courses as well as a well-priced special.
  • The French like their happy hour – time for an apéro – when drinks are usually half price and some bars do the Italian thing and bring out free nibbles.

Please note: all prices correct at time of writing.

Best Western Hôtel Ronceray Opéra

  • Paris, France
  • 21 August 2024
  • Bed & breakfast
  • From Manchester

Prices and availability shown can change. Always check pricing with the provider before booking.

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