How to Travel on a Budget in Paris, France

As a female backpacker and first-time traveler in Europe, I was both excited and anxious of my 5 days in Paris. I knew beforehand that it’s a big city that could get very overwhelming. Also, as a well-known and top destination in the world, Paris tends to be an expensive city to travel, thus the question "Is Paris for backpackers?" was left hanging.
Moulin Rouge
Despite the hearsay that Paris is an expensive city to travel in, I took the challenge of spending days there on a budget. After being there myself, I realized that by smart trip planning, anyone can enjoy the beauty and elegance of the city without spending too much. So here are some useful tips and money-saving hacks, hopefully to help anyone who plans to go to Paris soon.


Treat the metro as your friend

Paris Metro
The Paris Metro is one of the biggest metro lines in the world with a total of 16 lines with 300 stations. I applaud the accessibility and tourist-friendliness of the metros in Paris. Most tourist spots have at least 2-3 nearby stations. Even if you get an accommodation away from the tourist spots, you can easily get to the center in minutes. Just make sure to carry a map with you because the numerous stations could get confusing sometimes.
Carnet: 10 tickets in a single purchase
A single journey ticket, called the Ticket t+, costs EUR 1.90 regardless of the number of transfers and stations you travel in Paris within 1.5 hours. If you’ll stay in Paris for a few days and will take the metro more than once, a good tip is to get the carnet (pronounced as “kar-nay”), a type of ticket purchase where you buy 10 tickets in one transaction. It saves you money since the carnet only costs EUR 14.90 for 10 tickets, giving a 22% discount (priced at EUR 1.49 each) per ticket. There’s no expiry of the ticket but should only be used once. Also, remember to keep the ticket while in the metro for random checks by Paris Metro officials (which happened to me twice).
Ticketing office at Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 2 train station
The tickets are sold at self-service ticketing machines, but note that only coins are accepted. With my experience, since it was my first time in Europe, I only had banknotes and no coins upon arrival. I went instead to the ticketing office at the airport's train station. There, my banknotes were accepted with change. The ticketing officers also speak English.
Free maps are available at the airport, or you can download the Paris Metro app
To find a metro, simply look for the “M” sign which are represented by line numbers 1-14 and 2 secondary “bis” lines, the 3b and 7b. Aside from “M” lines, however,  some stations are labeled “RER” which should not be confused with Paris Metro lines. The RER (Réseau Express Régional) is another type of railway in Paris that consists of 5 lines (labeled in letters A-E instead of numbers) that serve Paris and extends up to its suburbs.

In particular, RER serves trips from the airport to Paris (vice versa). Note that the 2 airports (Charles de Gaulle and Orly) are outside Paris, but the RER railway is conveniently connected to Paris Metro. One-way fares are as follows:

  • CDG to Paris: EUR 10.30
  • Orly to Paris: EUR 12.05

Another common RER station is the Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy station, the nearest station to Disneyland Paris. One-way fare is EUR 7.60.

Paris Metro and RER operate from 5:30AM to 12:40AM Sunday-Thursday and extends up to 1:40AM on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays.

Treat walking as your best friend

Arc de Triomphe
The metro may be your friend in Paris, but walking is your best friend there. Paris is a very beautiful city to walk on, especially that it’s surrounded by the Seine River. Walking works both as a hack to save cash and a healthy way to explore the city too. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
Luxembourg Gardens
Luckily, autumn has just kicked off when I traveled in September (which they say is the perfect time to go), so the weather was all sunny but slightly cool at 15°C to 20°C. I was able to walk for kilometers without really getting exhausted.

Making a daily itinerary by area is what I advise when traveling Paris to make the tour on foot work. Here are tourist spots that are close to each other:

Set 1: Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Trocadero Gardens, Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars (picnic area with Eiffel Tower view)


Set 2: Hôtel de Ville, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, Pantheon Paris, Luxembourg Gardens

Set 3: Royal Palace, Louvre Museum, Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay), Tuiletries Garden, Orangerie Museum (Musée de l'Orangerie)

Set 4: Place de la Concorde, Petit Palais, Grand Palais, Pont Alexandre III, Esplanade des Invalides, Les Invalides (includes Army Museum)

Set 5: Louise Michel Square, Sacre Coeur Basilica, Place du Tertre, Moulin Rouge


Get an accommodation outside the center

I say this straightforward: Accommodation is really expensive in Paris. Of all the cities I’ve traveled, my accommodation in Paris was the most expensive despite booking in advance and staying outside the center.
Eiffel Tower's 10-minute sparkling show of lights run every hour at night.
As I noticed, accommodations near and with view of the Eiffel Tower (in 7th arr.) are the most expensive. Also, those hotels located within 1st-8th arrondissement (arr.) are priced higher than the rest of the districts since these places are the ones considered the “center” of Paris with several tourist attractions around.
Sacre Coeur Basilica
The cheaper accommodations are located at 18th arr. which is the hilltop side of Paris called the Montmartre. This district has a lot of affordable backpacker hostels and shared Airbnb apartments. It may be away from the center, but it's easily accessible by metro (in 20-30 minutes). The 18th arr. is said to be the center of nightlife with the presence of local cabarets including the famous Moulin Rouge. The area also includes sights like the Sacré Cœur Basilica and the so-called African district called Barbès.

Buy tickets online and check free entrance days

When in Paris, always expect a crowd. To get into an attraction, you have to go through the ticket counter line and the security check line. To at least get away with the first, I suggest you buy tickets online. In that way, you save hours in queue. As said, the line could take 30 minutes to hours especially during summer.
Louvre Museum
Also, there are days when there’s no entrance fee to selected museums for tourists, usually on first Sundays of the month. If you happen to be in the city on those days, grab the chance to enter for free because some entrance tickets cost something too.

I’ve listed some popular attractions in Paris with their respective operating times, closed days, entrance fees, and free entrance days. Note that these are subject to changes, so it’s still best to check the official website (linked below too):

  • Louvre Museum
    • Open every Mon, Thu, Sat, Sun: 9AM to 6PM, Wed and Fri: 9AM to 9:45PM
    • Closed on Tuesdays and holidays: Jan 1, May 8, Dec 25
    • Standard entrance fee: EUR 17
    • Free to tourists every first Sunday of the month from Oct-Mar
    • Free to all nationalities under 26 years old every Friday at 6pm
  • Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay)
    • Open every Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sat: 9:30AM to 6PM, Thu: 9:30AM to 9:45PM
    • Closed on Mondays and holidays: May 1, Dec 25
    • Standard entrance fee: EUR 14
    • Free to tourists every first Sunday of the month
  • Orangerie Museum (Musée de l’Orangerie)
    • Open all days except Tue: 9AM to 6PM
    • Closed on Tuesdays and holidays:  May 1, morning of July 14, Dec 25
    • Standard entrance fee: EUR 9
    • Free to tourists every first Sunday of the month
  • Versailles Palace (Château de Versailles)
    • Open all days. Palace: 9AM to 6:30PM, Estate of Trianon: 12PM to 6:30PM, Gardens: 8AM to 8:30PM, Coach Gallery: 12:30PM to 6:30PM
    • Closed on Mondays
    • Passport type entrance ticket: EUR 20, Passport type with entry to Musical Fountain Shows or Musical Gardens: EUR 27. View other ticket types and compare them.
    • Free to tourists every first Sunday of the month from Nov-Mar. 
  • Sainte Chapelle 
    • Open all days. Jan-March: 9AM to 5PM, Apr-Sep: 9AM to 7PM, Oct-Dec: 9AM to 5PM
    • Closed on holidays (Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 25)
    • Standard entrance fee: EUR 10
    • Free entrance to tourists every first Sunday of the month from Jan-Mar and Nov-Dec and Sat and Sun of the 3rd week of Sep (European Heritage Days)
  • Disneyland Paris
    • Open all days 10AM to 9:30PM
    • Ticket prices generally depend on the season: Mini (low season): EUR 55, Magic (mid season): EUR 72, Super Magic (peak season): EUR 83

Drink water from the tap

At first, I was hesitant to drink water from the tap in Paris since back in the Philippines, we never do that (and we know we should not). Also, in most Asian countries I’ve been to, drinking water from the tap isn’t advisable all the time.
A type of fountain in Paris. Some fountains even provide sparkling water.
To my surprise, I proved it myself that tap water is potable in Paris. Before leaving my accommodation, I usually filled up my water bottle from the sink, then refilled at any public fountain found in most tourist attractions like Hotel de Ville.
Les Invalides
Doing so saved me a few euros, considering that a small 50 cl bottled mineral water is around EUR 2 in touristy areas (and EUR 0.50 only in the supermarket). To me, the water tasted neutral just like any bottled mineral water. It’s something I can recommend if you don’t have a sensitive stomach. Not only it saves money, but it also saves the environment as it lessens consumption of plastic containers.

Parisian bread is survival food

 At restaurants, a set menu composed of an appetizer, main dish, dessert, and a drink is usually priced at EUR 14 and up in Paris. It isn't bad to try the local restaurant once or twice, but you won't do that all the time because it could get really heavy in the pocket.
Paris is home of the best boulangerie (bakery), so expect quality bread there even if you just buy at a neighborhood bakery. You can simply get a baguette (long bread) or croissant (crunchy half-moon-shaped bread) at EUR 1 each, which to my surprise were enough to fill up a stomach. As an Asian, I'm so used to eating rice for a long day of travel, but after a few days in Paris, bread became a good alternative. Aside from the bakery, breads are also sold cheaper at supermarkets. Common supermarkets in Paris are Carrefour (City or Express), Franprix, and Monoprix.
Crepes aren't only a dessert in Paris. There are also crepes stuffed with meat or vegetables
Aside from bread, Paris also boasts its expertise in pastry. You'd probably find a patisserie (dessert or cake shop) at every block with all the artistically baked cakes, tarts, and other desserts. You should try eating a macaron or a crepe at least once!

Have you been to Paris? Any other tips you can recommend? Leave a comment below!




How to Travel on a Budget in Paris, France How to Travel on a Budget in Paris, France Reviewed by Shelly Viajera Travel on 11.1.20 Rating: 5

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